Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Plowing Through

This semester was one of THOSE kinds of semesters; one of the times in my life where I had to just put my head down, and plow through it. I was snowed-in with work; I took three classes with a total of 48 chapters and close to 100 journal articles of reading. I had four papers to write, (one that I rewrote for a better grade,) 5 presentations, and two major projects to complete. I watched my advisor teach his class and then taught that lesson to two other groups, twice a week, and I lesson-planned and graded for 80 students. I also started working on a Doctoral Seminar project that I don't actually get credit for until next semester. I even presented at two different conferences, including one that was a five hour presentation. On top of that my mother had successful surgery implanting a pacemaker. (Thank you, God!).

It was the kind of semester, much like being snowed-in, where you continue unaware of what is going on around you. I came out of the semester realizing that my daughter had managed to graduate from UNL. Thankfully, she and her good friend Tiffany had party plans under control. It is not a semester that I would have planned! It is not a semester that I could have survived – on my own. It is one of those significant times in my life when I felt God at my side, keeping me alert, giving me insights, calming my heart, and lifting me up to receive His strength. I fear there are more of these semesters to come.

It occurs to me how easy it is to wrap oneself up in the busy-ness of life; how easy it is to focus only on what weighs you down and not on the road ahead or on the loved ones around you. I buried myself in a drift of snow and don't even have a snow fort to show for it. Many of the professors, with whom I work, have an amazing ability to block out everything around them in order to focus. They are also very good at protecting themselves from outside work. This is part of what helps them to achieve what they do in their respective fields. However, it is also what keeps some of them from realizing that there is a real world out there: a world of people who are interesting, a world of people who are hurting, a world of real problems to wrestle with and learn from. I have had my taste of being buried under that kind of snowdrift. Do I like it? Not so much.

God created us to be in fellowship. He created us to look to Him for all we need and to look to others for opportunities to use our faith and to be blessed by the faith of others. He didn't put us on earth to live in separate offices. He gave us each a family, by our birth and by our rebirth in His church. My Bible reading has me in Exodus. I tend to slide through the last chapters. The excitement of the first few chapters makes the painfully precise description of the building of the tabernacle rather slow reading. It is amazing to think about the skill and care that went into their house of worship. It needed to be a place to meet God and to meet with each other and it needed to be portable. Later, Solomon's temple became the place everyone returned to during Passover. It was a beautiful place of fellowship; fellowship with God and fellowship with the children of God.

There are many of us in the Midwest digging out from under huge drifts of snow. May God bless this time as a time of rest and renewal. May God then send us out to be in fellowship with Him and with His children.

Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

Exodus 40: 34

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Philippians 2: 1-2

Friday, October 9, 2009

Wait, what am I supposed to be doing?

I just got back from an errand run. I intended to mail a birthday package to a friend, drop off a coat at the dry cleaners, and deliver a stool sample to the vet. I got home and stopped to wonder if I actually got everything to the right place. Surely, the vet would have said something if I dropped off my thrift shop find there, but, I sure hope I didn't accidentally mail my friend the stool sample. I think, maybe, I have too many things on my mental list and some practical awareness ability is starting to go.

Oh, good, the vet just called; my wool coat has a bacterial infection.

It feels like the semester has barely begun and yet midterms are right around the corner. I have lots of papers due and projects to start, and grading to complete. It is also time to get ready for next semester in terms of picking classes to take and class time slots for teaching. I create a list of things to do and sit down and wonder where to start. Next week, I fly to Oregon to present at a teacher's conference. I am relieved, that while I am on that trip, I will only be responsible for one thing at a time. I am blessed to have Paul come along to drive. In my present condition (Old age? Grad student dementia?) I didn't think even MapQuest could get me from the airport to the conference center, nearly 2 hours away. I had a feeling I would get on some highway and not stop until I realized I was in Alaska.

Wait, did I just see former Gov. Palin? I think I made a wrong turn somewhere.

I sit at my desk in my office and nervously check my schedule. What time is it? Where should I be? What should I be doing? I manage to make sure I show up to the right classroom at the right time to either teach or learn, but, just barely. I find myself slowly becoming more and more like my advisor who looked up at me the other day and asked "what building is it that I teach in, again?"

Seriously, I kid you, not.

No, really, he did. And this man is my mentor. Even though it is a long time away, yet, I hope we both make it to my dissertation defense.

My life is full of busyness, confusion, and barely hanging on. My life is full of disorder, but my God is not.

For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace. I Corinthians 14:33

In the midst of all my confusion, I can have peace, because of the orderly, thoughtful, complete, nurturing, redemptive love of my Savior and God. My life is a mess with decisions and responsibilities, surrounded by my weaknesses and inadequacies. My world is a mess with sin and grief. Yet, in that sin and grief I know that my God orders my days, protects me from harm and leads me to the place I need to be; by His side.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Psalm 32:8

Friday, October 2, 2009

Heavy Load

It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it. Lena Horne

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness; knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness; love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure, For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1: 5-11

I have not been carrying my load very effectively, lately. This is a particularly busy semester as I am watching my advisor teach one day and then repeating his instruction the next two days. I am unhappy with this because I cannot do the long range planning that is required of good teaching. Yet, this is the situation and I must make the best of it for the sake of my students.

I was recently diagnosed with asthma. I am not carrying this burden well, either. I have let it cause me stress as the medicine has begun to work. Now that I am breathing somewhat better, I realize how bad my breathing got and so each new attack brings a bit of panic. It is interesting to me how the asthma did not cause panic before I knew I had it. At that point the inflammation had developed slowly and crept into my daily life unbeknownst to me – kinda liked the frog that boils to death because he doesn't realize he is in a pot in water that is gradually getting warmer. It is only now, when I can notice the difference between good breathing and labored breathing, that I panic.

You may have met someone, or heard stories about people who grow up in horrible situations, or who endure despite disease or injury to go on to live a happy, productive, often amazing life. These people have something called "resiliency." It is the characteristic that allows some to overcome terrible circumstances while others succumb to the burdens of their lives. For them it is not the burden, but how they carry it, that matters. In fact, for many of them, the burden is what made them successful.

Faith is our resiliency. Faith does not guarantee us a carefree life. Faith does not promise we will never carry a burden. In fact, our sinful lives, which point us to our need for faith, almost assuredly guarantee we will have burdens. Some burdens are temporary, and some are life-long. Some burdens sneak up on us and fool us into thinking we can carry them on our own. Other burdens fall on us like a ton a bricks and render us helpless and pleading to God. We all have burdens, and because of the covenant of our baptisms, we all have the faith to carry those burdens.

What a beautiful picture of Grace. This faith is a gift and because it bestows us with resiliency, and at the same time points us to our Heavenly Father, it carries the burdens for us, in a way that they will make us stronger instead of beating us down. If God took the burdens from us, we would not learn from them. If He left us to handle them ourselves, we would break under the strain.

We will not fall; He has blessed us with faith resilience. This truth is in more ways than one, my very breath.

This is what God the LORD says- He who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: "I, the LORD have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness." Isaiah 42: 5-7

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall like rain

Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. Deuteronomy 32:2

A print of a watercolor calligraphy of this verse, a member gift from LEA long ago, hangs on my office wall. The verse is my prayer each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before I pick up my bag and head down to my classroom. It is a potent reminder of my responsibility, and of the grace offered by my Savior.

I don't teach kindergarten anymore. I don't even teach in a Lutheran classroom anymore. One of the nice things about teaching children is that no one tells you to not get emotionally involved. Getting emotionally involved with your students is a blessing. You spend all day with them; you learn their quirks and endearing mannerisms. You get hints as to the struggles they face and know all too well the struggles they might cause in your classroom. While no teacher relishes the need to talk with parents about tough situations, and we all dread having to call Child Protective Services about possible abuse, it is, none the less, a blessing that we can do this. We can make a difference in a child's life; a difference that some children desperately need.

I don't teach young children, anymore. Now, I teach big kids on a university campus. These students are, for a mere 16 weeks, on my roster. I see them for two hours a week and some not even that much. What does "teaching fall like rain" mean in this situation?

I am starting to get to know some of the 82 students I teach. One young man has asked me for writing advice as he and his father are writing a book on divorce. Another young man turned down an offer to play pro baseball because he wants a degree in business. He will probably have that pro career but he is thinking beyond that. Another athlete gets physically ill when his football team loses a game. Then there are the students who struggle with unexpected issues, like the two students who missed class because they attended the funeral of their best friend's fathers. Or the young man who admitted to me, in a paper he handed in, that he has a drinking problem. I can't forget the foreign students who have so much beyond language to translate as they swim in this culture so different from their own. And I worry over the young man who is struggling with seizures and doesn't want to register his condition as a disability so he can ask the professor for pre-written notes from class. Then there are the students who are on academic probation due to their indulgence in new-found freedoms. For many of them their habits of last semester are still driving their decisions this semester.

For some of them, I want to call their parents and set up a parent/teacher conference. I threaten to do it, but the students and I both know, I can't. The best I can do is to refer them to available help. Again, I ask, what does teaching that falls like rain mean in this type of setting?

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants not he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. I Corinthians 3: 6- 7

This verse helps me to put things into a better perspective. I asked God to let my teaching fall like a gentle nurturing rain. I do not ask Him to give me the responsibility to make the grass grow. This responsibility always belongs to God. He blesses us by allowing us to be a small part in the process. With this small part, come huge responsibilities to take care of our behavior and to pay attention to how we represent our Savior to the young ones in our care. We are to work, through the power of the Spirit, to follow the opening line of the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm. The efficacy of the rain is God's responsibility. Sometimes we plant a seed, sometimes we water the seed previously planted. The growth of the plant is God's job.

To my friends who teach: I will remember you in my prayers this week. May God always let your teaching fall like rain. And may He show you the growth; you seek, in your students.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Control issues, again

I have an interesting bunch of students in the study skills classes I teach for the University. Some are seniors getting ready for graduate school and some are sophomores who crashed and burned during their freshman year. I also have a dozen or so student athletes, including seven who play football for the Huskers.

Part of learning study skills is in understanding what motivates you to change. I just finished a seminar class on motivation so I have a whole bagful of constructs tricks to use with this group. This past week we have been talking about "locus of control." We have been discovering where each of us believes the control of our life lies. Do we, personally, have control over what happens to us or is our life left up to external forces such as fate, or perhaps professors? People with internal locus of control have much happier and productive lives. They are less likely to gamble, to become addicted, are more persuasive, take better care of their health and are less likely to suffer from debilitating depression. They are this way because they consider themselves to be in control of what happens to them. This means they see reason to problem solve, put in effort, and motivate themselves to make good decisions. People with an external locus of control tend to complain, do little to improve their lives, and are ready and willing to give up in the face of problems. People with external locus of control are even less likely to survive a tornado. I guess they figure if they are going to die anyway, they might as well sit on the front porch and watch that F5 cloud of dust heading their way.

However, there is one notable exception to the locus of control rule: people with a strong faith in God. We know that our locus of control is external. In fact, it couldn't get more external. Yet, we are goal setters, achievers, persuasive, and happy; all markers for people who have an internal, or personal sense of control. Furthermore, this fact has not gone unnoticed by researchers. They just cannot adequately explain it.

We do not compare, in any way, to the huge football players in my class. They are remarkable athletes who had their pick of scholarships to division one schools. In achieving this goal, they have had to work harder than most of us can imagine, yet they have an external locus of control because their lives are carefully orchestrated by the athletic department, members of whom have access to all their classes, grades and assignments. This department schedules their every waking minute, even when they get their homework done, in a supervised environment. They have no motivation to change their study habits, and even in the face of real evidence; still refuse to take any notes in class. They do not believe they have any control over their life; and maybe they are right.

So why are we, as children of God, not like these football players? We have an external locus of control; we know that God is in charge of everything that happens to us. We have a goal of "going pro" (I am thinking heaven, here) but yet, we do work, in the here and now, to have a healthy control in our day to day lives. We are living in a paradox. We are simultaneous saint and sinner; we are children of an all powerful God who have been granted free-will. We live under the law and are surrounded by grace.

The twin gifts of justification and sanctification put our lives into perspective in a way no motivational construct can. We are completely responsible for our fall from grace, in no way responsible for our forgiveness. At the same time, because we have free will, we also know that through the work of the Spirit we can gain some control over our deficits and can make the best use of our gifts. Our locus of control is external but is fine tuned for our survival and benefit. Only God could create a system that works as beautifully as this.

For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 2 Corinthians 5:14

They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. 2 Peter 2:19

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4: 7-9

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Standing on the edge and looking down

I have a bad case of HDBS (High Diving Board Syndrome). I remember the symptoms from my former kindergartners. They wanted, very much, to go to kindergarten. They shopped with their mothers for school supplies, bravely endured booster shots and were excited to see me at home visit time. But, when they showed up at the kindergarten door, they just couldn't make themselves dive in.

I am prepared and ready for the semester to start. I am looking forward to my classes and getting ready to teach 80 students. I know it will be a good semester, in that, it will be interesting and challenging. I assume I will learn many things, both from my teachers, as well as my students.

But, the tightness in my stomach says I am looking off the edge of the diving board and I don't want to dive in.

The "what ifs" are lurking near, too. What if I can't keep up with my homework load? What if my students don't like me? What if I forget where I am and put one of them in the "calming down chair?" What if I can't . . .what if this doesn't. . . .what if, what if, what if? I can only handle so much uncertainty.

Hope is not an "if." Hope is an assurance. I can jump off of this diving board and know that I will hit the water. Maybe I will glide in smoothly and come up for air, exhilarated by the dive. Or, maybe I will belly flop. I don't know what will happen between the board and the water but I know God is encouraging me. I know God will catch me. No matter what happens, God will bring good out of the events of the semester.

Confidence is a tricky thing; too much and you do not adequately prepare; too little and you run from the challenge or handicap your own efforts. My faith teaches me to have no confidence and to have every confidence. I know that the old Adam in me will mess this up. I will forget details, say something I shouldn't, teach something wrong. I have confidence that I do NOT have the abilities to pull this off on my own. The new creature in me knows that with God, everything is possible; everything is good.

With hope and faith, the water doesn't look so far away from the edge of the diving board.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, Who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. II Thessalonians 2: 13-17

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sandwich, please

I am a card-carrying member of the sandwich generation. I slid in on the tail end of the baby boomers; way ahead of any of the younger, hipper, technologically savvy generations. I am sandwiched in between elderly parents and children not quite on their own. My life is layered with responsibilities, promises to keep, tasks to attend to, and no place to turn for solace. Lathered over the top of that sandwich is a nice dollop of guilt that slides down my finger threatening to leave a stain on my lap.

Hold on . . .I think I have a piece of lettuce in my hair.

Some days I literally don't know if I am coming or going. Am I moving gracefully into the next stage of my life? If I am, I seem to be dragging the last stage along with me. Am I leaving behind the previous stage? Only if I am done raising my own parents, who seem to need me now, more than ever.

I am starting to feel the bread closing in on me. Can I be a salad, instead?

Somewhere in between the parents and the children, under the cheese but on top of the sliced turkey, is me. I am there, trying to keep the tomato from sliding out, while desperately trying to hold on to the bacon. I am there, wondering what I am supposed to do next; wondering who I am; wondering why I am here.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

Jesus didn't come so I could be a sandwich. He didn't come so I could feel pulled in too many directions. He didn't come so I could be content with wrapping myself in my life and responsibilities only to ignore the world full of ministry outside of my little life.

He came that I may have life and have it to the full.

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Psalm 34:8-11

I am going to wash that lettuce right out of my hair. I am going to grab those pieces of bread and be a sandwich to the best of the abilities God has given me. Whatever I am doing; it's all good. It's all God; and God is good.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Creative Confusion

It was my turn to lead discussion for class on Tuesday. The topic assigned to me was "creativity" and we had just finished reading several research papers on creativity and motivation. In earlier discussion of the research I had expressed my dismay at what was deemed creative behavior. The action of creativity had been divided up into small parts and students were assumed to be creative if they could write several different titles for stories. Their creativity was simply the generation of ideas. My interpretation: the students were simply taught an interesting game.

I began my discussion by talking about the action of riding a bike. In riding a bike the whole is more than the sum of the parts. If you teach a child to ride a bike by having him practice on a bike that is propped up on its kickstand, that child will not be learning what is necessary to actually ride. You have to learn to ride a bike by actually riding it. I believe the same is true of creativity. If you want to understand that amazing process, you have to watch it while it is happening. You cannot recreate it in a lab, and test it a small piece at a time. You will be looking at the parts, but not understanding the whole.

Apparently, many educational psychologists disagree with me. Oh, well.

This weekend a group of atheists and agnostics are having a conference on UNL's city campus. UNL has made it clear it is not sponsoring the group. A representative for Campus Crusade for Christ has announced they have no intention, or reason, to protest, and would hope this group would not protest their future gathering. Have you ever thought about what you would say to a group of non-believers? I am intrigued by how they like to divide faith in God, into teeny tiny parts that then can be discredited. This somehow brings them comfort, or perhaps a sense of control. In one sense they are correct; if you divide faith into small parts it is ridiculous and incredulous.

The problem is, this analysis does not bring understanding; it only creates confusion. God cannot be reduced to thought molecules that can be examined under an electron microscope. He is God. He is not parts; He is Alpha and Omega. Likewise, faith cannot be divided up and scrutinized, either. Faith comes from God. It is whole. It is living. It is efficacious. It is our personal part of God's love. It is beyond analysis.

Just as researchers are not learning about creativity by putting the behavior of "brainstorming" under the microscope, atheists are not learning about what faith really is by making lists of why it cannot be true. You must see faith in action, you must experience faith, you must be blessed by faith, and even then you do not understand it. But, in that action you become a precious child of God and that is enough.

God is not a God of confusion but of peace. I Corinthians 14:33

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James 1:5

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3: 17-19

Friday, July 31, 2009

Wait! I’m not ready!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2: 8-10

Ephesians chapter two was my Bible reading for today. This is a familiar verse, one I probably memorized for confirmation. As is common, when we are led by the Spirit through scripture, today it has a fresh meaning for me.

I am focusing on the last phrase "to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." The thought that circles in my poor addled brain is this: He prepared the works in advance; it doesn't say He prepared me in advance.

And boy, am I feeling that truth right now. I am, learning all over again, how to write papers with lots of the redundancies that make my past editors cringe. All my years of learning how to write have not prepared me for keeping professors happy; yet, this is the work He has prepared for me in advance.

I feel disoriented about many things for which I feel woefully unprepared. 26 years of teaching young children math, a GRE math score that puts me in the bottom 1/3 (excuse me, at least two standard deviations below the mean) and the work He has prepared for me includes statistics?

26 years of teaching children how to understand what they read and another 10 years of teaching adults how to teach comprehension and now I need to be able to read APA style (Barney, 1997) which puts (Dinglefritz, 2005) stupid (Carbuncle, 2009) references in the middle (Hoosenfuss, 1977) (Peabody, 2001) (Jingleheimer, et al, 2008) of what you are trying to understand.

26 years of wiping noses and solving petty arguments and now I am reading journal articles that are a whole new level of petty arguments. These are solved, not with familiar playground banter, but with huge meta-analysis studies. Yet, they still sound like "but, he said . . . ." Can you even put a theorist in a time-out?

This prepared me . . . how?

The only thing in my past that is working for me is years of convincing administrators that my idea is really their idea so they will be more comfortable allowing me to try it. (insert "professor" for "administrator").

Somehow I doubt this well honed skill will work with my committee. Sigh.

God doesn't prepare us in advance. He prepares us as we need it; sometimes the night before the test or moments before the paper is due. Sometimes He doesn't prepare us at all, and allows us to fail so we can learn something else. He doesn't dress us up in astronaut suits that take care of our every need, and put us in a ministry rocket that has been prepared and checked over and over again. He doesn't even warn us with a countdown. He simply sends us off; ready or not, here we go.

God does not prepare us in advance. God prepares the works in advance. He has the plan, He applies the grace. He knows where we are going to land and has prepared the work waiting for us.

Right now, I am selfishly praying for a soft landing.

Abba, father, amen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Competent confusion

I was more confused than usual reading the chapter on competence. It was posted on-line and I had it blown up 200% to make reading a bit easier on my eyes. I couldn't shake the feeling that things were not making sense. I would be okay in the middle of the page but moving from page to page left me re-scrolling up and down to see if I had skipped something. Slowly it dawned on me: the pages were out of order: 62, 63, 60, 61, 58, 59, etc.

The really sad thing is it took me half an hour to figure it out.

The other day the research we read talked about testing motivation with reading passages that were purposefully confusing to see how long the subjects would persevere. I wondered if this is what the professor was attempting to replicate? I started to panic; what if I did not have the correct kind of motivation? What if I had an entity view of intelligence instead of the much more productive incremental view? What if my attributions were about blame which would obviously mean that I didn't have what it takes to succeed? What if all of this was in vain? Maybe my deepest fear is true – I am not competent to see this assignment to its completion.

Take a deep breath, have some chocolate, relax.

Our first discussion in this class was over a reading that basically took 20 pages of really big words to tell us that we cannot trust the meaning of any terms. Most of my studying this last year has been an effort to bring me up to speed on vocabulary, so I can hope to comprehend what is on the textbook page. Now they tell me that the words I have been writing down in my notes and committing to memory have no meaning.

It is times like these when it is really great to be a child of God. When you have faith you have certainty. When I worry that I am not good enough, or smart enough, or motivated enough; my faith reassures me that I am right. In fact, I can do nothing.

I am so very glad this doesn't depend on me. God is good enough, God is smart enough; God is in control. Sometimes He puts the pages in the right order and gives me a glimpse of His plan. Other times, He tells me to just keep on reading, writing, listening and learning.

When I read my psychology text books I get an interesting picture of mankind's folly. We strive to understand ourselves and how we think, work and hopefully, thrive in the world in which we live. The folly is in believing that we can understand ourselves. One of the researchers cited in my textbook is named Eccles. See if you don't think this is God's sense of humor:

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher.

"Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."

Eccles 1: 2

It is meaningless, isn't it? I don't mean to say the work God asks us to do is useless. He has a purpose for everything that happens and a promise to bring good out of it. It is just that it is meaningless to us because we are the children and not the Father; we are the tools and not the Artist. We are to trust and obey, to believe and have faith, to work and to wonder. We leave the meaning and the outcome up to God. Now that makes sense.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,

do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,

giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Colossians 3:17

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Perfect peace

It's been a long week. It started with frustration and ended with grief. From the computer to the cat, we ran the gamut of stress and sadness. One thing piled on top of the other until I felt inundated. I had trouble ordering my text book for class, so, now I don't know if I will get one book or three books; I just know it will be late. The wireless router wouldn't work so I had to travel all over Lincoln to find a place where I could successfully download readings for the class. When I finally got copies of what I needed, reading them left me stunned and confused. By the middle of the week, the long term care facility, where Grandpa lives, called to tell us he is getting closer to hospice. Then the week finished with the kids and I taking our 22 year old cat for her last trip to the vet.

It is interesting how some things are easier to cry over than others.

At the moment we are blessed with unusually cool July weather. In 40 years of Nebraska summers, I don't remember another July day when I woke up to temperatures in the upper fifties, and left the windows open all day. A rare blessing, to sit out on the deck at this time of the year, and to feel God's love in a warm breeze. So tonight we will eat a picnic supper; enjoy chicken, corn-on-the-cob, and watermelon and we will thank our God for the goodness of a warm summer evening. We will laugh and tease and talk about the next cat. There will be spoken and unspoken memories about Grandpa. We will remember how God loves us.

And He does love us. He loves us when we are basking in the sun of happy events. He loves us when our confusion leads to anxiety and stress. He loves us when we face loss and when we anticipate the good that awaits us in heaven. He loves us.

Next week we will return to the frustrations of work and school. We will find ourselves looking for our cat in her favorite sunbeam spot. We will begin talking about what hospice means and what lies ahead for Grandpa and for us. And God will continue to love us in that perfect and complete way that sustains us, forgives us, saves us, and gives us peace.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,

so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

Monday, June 29, 2009

Is your life a spiral or helix?

A spiral is an interesting line. When flat it can be referred to as a whirl, when three dimensional it becomes a helix. It is common in both nature and human design, being a symbol for sun, starlight, and even hypnotism. It is a strong and efficient design as found in staircases and it is easy to doodle when one is bored with a lecture. My favorite spirals when I was young were those made by my Spirograph toy. I could sit for hours watching my pen create layers of colors and lines. Perhaps I was unknowingly practicing self-hypnotism.

A spiral could be a good metaphor for our lives. We often feel like we are traveling in a circle with the illusion that we are getting somewhere cruelly dashed as the same sight comes into view, once again. We try to venture into new territory but part of us wants to remain tethered so we simply travel in circles. I believe this describes my journey with sin, quite nicely.

I am losing my love for spirals.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.
As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. Romans 7: 15-20

I think I am getting a little bit dizzy.

Now with a helix, the story is a bit different. A helix is a spiral with the center pulled up, like the curved edges on a screw. With a helix you are still traveling in a circle, you are still tethered to the center, but you are making progress by moving in space. If you draw a spiral on a piece of paper, then take a scissors and cut along your line, you can attach a string to the center and hang your helix from the ceiling. It will spin and twirl with the air in the room.

A helix is a more apt metaphor for what our life in Christ can be. We move about our world with our faith tethered to God's word and as we move about we progress ever closer to Him. It is a slow process. It is a careful process. And, in this process we are moved by the breath of the Spirit.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 'For in Him we live and move and have our being. Acts 17: 24-28

In a helix we still struggle with our tribulations and our sins. In a helix we remain tethered to the Word of God. As we move about the world, the faith God has given us will keep us from wandering away. But, in a helix we don't just travel in circles; we make progress. We live and move and have our being; as the Spirit moves us ever closer to Him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hardwired for Faith

The PBS Nova show was about chimpanzees and how they learn. Through demonstrations of experiments we saw that chimps can solve problems, work together, use tools and copy the actions of a human, but they do not learn. They may work together accidentally, but they cannot coordinate their efforts. They can copy what they see but are not hardwired to learn. They don't look to each other or to humans as a source of learning. But humans do. In fact, the earliest example we see of this is a baby pointing at something he wants a parent to pay attention to. The baby expects the parent to look and give a response. And the baby will understand when her parent points. A baby chimp will ignore pointing, because its brain does not look to another chimp or human for the purpose of learning. This explains how chimpanzees have developed differently from humans. Of course, according to the scientists, this was all planned and designed by evolution. Funny, I always thought evolution was a theory about a process; I didn't realize it could "plan" or "design."

The experiment was fascinating to watch. The chimpanzees would copy the humans when the answer to solving the puzzle, that resulted in a piece of candy, was not readily apparent. As soon as the answer was made obvious, the chimps stopped copying the humans. When the same activity was tried with children, they followed the directions of the scientists even if they didn't need to. They were learning from the scientists, and they had faith that these adults knew best even if their actions did not match what the eyes observed.

Once our brains and our faith reach a level of maturity that allows us to understand things at a more abstract level, our lives become a constant journey of reclaiming our child-like faith. We see evidence all around us that the world is a sinful, evil place and we are sinners amongst the rest. We know the world is dangerous and possibilities of disaster loom, always, just ahead. The only way we can survive the mess we create, and the mess in which we live, is to cling to the faith given to us. That faith must be the faith of a child. We must be able to hold on to God in spite of what our senses tell us, not because of what they tell us.

We can see evidence of God's love and care, all around us. We experience His healing; we are spared many trials and helped through many troubles. We can see God everywhere, but, we cannot prove Him. Still, He is more than a theory. He is our Designer, Savior, and Comforter. He has hardwired us for faith and learning.

Hold on to instruction; do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Proverbs 4:13

Often our lives take an unexpected turn. Our human side may think we know the wisest course of action, but, through our faith, God tells us otherwise. This is when God helps us to look to Him for learning and direction, in spite of what we see around us. This is when He blesses us with childlike faith. This, I can confidently say, is part of His design!

My youngest child suddenly looks so much older as he asks to borrow the car to run an errand. Then he comes back from a youth choir servant event to show me the 5 pound jawbreaker he got at the Mall. Sigh, he is still my little boy. Likewise, his sister has grown into a fine adult who handles a budget and makes plans for her future. I must admit that I still treasure the times she comes back to me and figuratively sits in my lap asking for a small piece of advice. No matter how big they get, no matter how mature, no matter what adventures await them, I pray they are always blessed with a childlike faith in the Savior who loves them dearly.

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 17: 3-4

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Now Cats

Our cat is 22 years old and she has gone a bit senile. She pretty much sleeps all day with only one exception: 6:00am. When the radio alarm goes off the cat alarm comes on. She becomes a diva, planting herself between us on the bed and howling away.

For this cat, there is no past: even though I have been fed every day for years, today might be different.

For this cat there is no future: why should I believe they will feed me in a few minutes?

For this cat there is only "now". "Now" is hungry and "Now" knows that there are cat-food-giver people in the bed. Although, "now" probably wonders what the people have to be so grumpy about.

If Face Book had a "What Biblical Character are You?" quiz I am sure I would score as an Israelite wandering in the desert.

For the Israelites there was no past: so what if God performed countless miracles and wonders to get us here, what has He done for us, lately?

For the Israelites there was no future: how can a land of milk and honey be better than slavery?

There was only "now": I am tired of eating the same thing and not being allowed to worship what I want to worship. Here are my earrings; make me a golden calf.

That is sooo me.

Never mind what God did to get me into a degree program that people in the Ed/Psych department gently try to talk me out of. Never mind that He has a future planned for me that will bring blessings. What has He done for me, lately? I am a "now" cat; I want everything fixed and easy and wrapped up in a package with a bow. Oh, and I want it "now". Being a "now" cat makes it really hard to trust.

I have been reading Acts and find that Peter has a different kind of ""now"" issue. His is more of a "now" what?" situation. A vision tells him that everything he thought he knew about Jews and Gentiles and segregation was changing. Generations of warnings of no intermarrying, intermingling or interfaithing, was to be set aside for a new future. "Now" was being turned on its head. This was a new kind of trust. This was a new world for faith. This was God's love and mercy for all mankind.

"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Acts 10: 14-15

A "what now?" faith is the kind of faith to have. It is a faith that, while it isn't usually ready for a surprise, can handle one none-the-less. It is a faith that can make a 180 degree turn because it is a faith that is ready for the way God's plan unfolds. It is a faith that can respond with the words "Yes, Lord." It is a faith that reminds us that God loves us and cares for our every need. It is a faith that fills our heart with gratitude at the prospect of serving Him. This is the kind of faith God gives us. A childlike faith that moves through life with the confidence that, even though I am clueless about what is going on, this is how things are supposed to happen. This is the faith God gave me at my baptism. This is the faith that the Spirit nurtures when God teaches me through the Word. I was given this kind of faith. The question is: "What have I done to it along the way?"

At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father," Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasure." Matthew 11: 25-26

Restore my childlike faith that reminds me that "now" is about God, His plan, His love, His mercy, His grace, now.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Walking humbly

It's that time again, when graduation invitations line themselves up along the counter. The smiles on the senior pictures look familiar but my brain replaces the images with the pudgy cheeked five-year-olds of my memory. On the last day of kindergarten, twelve years ago, I assured these children that they would always be my students even if they grew up; and they did.

I recently saw one of my daughter's high school band directors at a local ice cream establishment. He had a momentary look of surprise on his face when I told him Anne would be student teaching this fall. He was a first year teacher when Anne was his drum major so I suspect my announcement might have been his first experience with realizing his former students grow up. He'll get used to it. If I can watch former students grow up, marry, and bring me their babies to hold, he can get used to seeing his teenage students grow to adulthood. Life marches on.

It is still strange to me, as I think of these young people beginning their college and work careers, that I am, once again, a backpack-lugging-note-taking-paper-writing-ID-bearing college student. It still fascinates to me what wonderful twists God weaves into our lives. This past year has been stressful, terrifying, edifying, satisfying, enlightening, and most of all, good. God is good. God is good, all the time. What have I learned, or relearned this past year that I could pass on to those fresh young faces on the graduation invitations? I suspect my message would sound much like my words to them in kindergarten:

  1. God loves us, no matter what. God loves us when things are going well. He loves us when we get the job we applied for, when a professor puts a kind comment on a well-done paper and when we find any joy or success on our life. It is easy to remember that God loves us when things are going "our" way. However, it is vital that we remember that God loves us even when we fail, or when we are disappointed by the circumstances of our life.
  2. God expects us to love each other, no matter what. This means we not only love the people who love us, but, with God's help we also love the people who hate us, who are different from us, who are being hurt by us, or who are in circumstances beyond our control or reach. God expects us to do this and His love is the power by which this is accomplished.
  3. God is in control. This seems easy to accept, but, in my experience is immensely difficult to live. 99% of my stress comes from my mistaken belief that I can fix, handle, or otherwise survive the pickle I am in. God is in charge, He has the plan, He knows where I am going, and He will see to it that I get there. If He lets us in on the future He has planned that is just icing on the cake. He asks us to walk, with Him, in faith.
  4. God talks to us and nourishes our faith through His word and sacraments. Seek His counsel in scripture. Read His word, everyday. Pray and seek His forgiveness, everyday. Thank Him for His love and care, everyday. Listen, be still and know He is God.
  5. The fellowship of believers is a gift from God. Seek and build relationships with other sinners who walk in God's light. Be a blessing to them as they are to you.

I pray for these young people, now at their graduation, as I prayed over them when they were in my kindergarten class. I pray that God's will for them will unfold, day-by-day. And even as I pray for God to bless their lives with joy, I know that the sin we bring into the world will guarantee that joy will be made even more intense as it is help up against the pain and sadness that will be an inevitable part of their lives.

God be with us, keep us in Your care. Bless us with peace and strength. Abba, Father. Amen.


Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8



Friday, March 20, 2009


They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts; He made water flow for them from the rock; He split the rock and water gushed out. Isaiah 48:21

I tried to do my math homework over my lunch break at work. I had my calculator, my favorite pen, lots of scrap paper and my textbook, but, I couldn’t do it. I had just read the chapter on regression the day before, but, when I looked at the problems I had no clue as to how to even begin the calculations. I forgot to bring my notebook that contained all of the formulas and my barely decipherable scratch mark notes on how to make them work. Reading the chapter and staring at the textbook did me no good. I was lost without my cheat sheet. Even I was stunned by my lack of comprehension for a subject I have been studying with diligence and determination for more than eight weeks. I feel I have made no progress, whatsoever.

Each chapter of the text book has several pages of sample problems to complete. In typical math book fashion, the appendix at the back of the book contains the answers for the odd numbered questions. I categorically, absolutely and resolutely refuse to do the even numbered problems because I can’t check my answers. I don’t like going through this blind. I need constant reassurance that the right answer can be found somewhere.

Going through life solely on trust is harder than it sounds. I want answers, I want comprehension, I want plans, I want knowledge of outcomes I want an easy ride and I want spectacular results. I want, I want, I want. . .

But God says, “Trust Me.”

I spoke with a friend today who marvels at the strength of people who care for family members with chronic illness. She tells me that she knows about this faith stuff and everything, but, still believes she couldn’t handle the tough situation. Yet, what she has shared of her life tells me her faith is helping her handle quite a bit. Her faith and her resilience are stronger than she thinks. God is giving her just what she needs, when she needs it.

Sometimes God does not plant us by a river. Instead He parcels out water at opportune moments. It flows into our lives from unexpected places, at just the right time and in just the right amount. Sure it would be easier if we just lived by a clear stream of refreshing water. However, given our propensity to make ourselves god, we would come to believe that we were supplying all our own needs through our own hard work. Then we would never know how dependent we are on Him. We would never realize the joy of receiving a gift when it is most needed.

It would be easier if I could just understand statistics. It would be easier if I knew where God was headed with my life. It would be easier if many things were true; but it wouldn’t be better.

I will take my stats test with my trusty notebook full of formulas. I will get the grade I get and, one way or another, I will survive this class. God will provide the water, when I need it.

And while I wait to see what plans He has for me, I will learn even more about how much I need Him.

In my Bible reading I found a trickle of water from a prophet with a doomsday message:

The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good and Faithful Servant

I wrote this devotion just a week shy of a year ago. My friend, David, was called home to Jesus yesterday. I know his suffering is done, his pain is gone, and he rests in the arms of his Savior. We join with his family in grieving over our loss but also in thankfulness for God’s gift to David of a life of Christian love and witnessing. God is good.

Abba Father, please surround his family with your love and comfort.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27: 45 ESV

And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to Him to drink. Matthew 27:48 ESV

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit!” Luke 23: 46 ESV

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV

Agape Love

The infection had made its way to his blood, his fever was high, and after more than 20 years of the ravages of Multiple Sclerosis the prognosis for a meaningful recovery were very slim. The bracelet on his arm read DNR and the empty IV bags indicated that the treatment was for everything but pain, had been stopped.

He was thirsty. The fever and the effort of breathing used up all available moisture in his body. He was so very thirsty. A family member took a sponge on a stick and put it into his mouth. The water on his parched tongue felt good. His lips closed tightly around the stick.

Jesus was thirsty at his death. The sponge lifted to His lips contained vinegar. It brought no comfort. He cried “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” and commended His spirit to His Father.

We have commended our friend and loved one to our Heavenly Father’s care. If this is his time for death, then, it is a good death. In the critical care room at the hospital he is not surrounded by nurses and beeping machines. He is not surrounded by soldiers and enemies. He is surrounded by family and friends, holding his hand, adjusting his pillow, bringing him comfort and care. He is surrounded by a cloud of witnesses as he finishes the race marked out for him; as he looks to Jesus.

His medicine puts him to sleep; offering him respite. When he wakes he sees faces of loved ones all around. As he rests their reminiscing remind him of the stories of his life. It was a good life. It is a good death.

The room is filled with people coming and going, with hugs and hand holding. There are moments of quiet, there are tears, but there is much laughter, too. He was a good and faithful servant. He is ready.

The Pastor stands at the side of the bed. He asks permission to give this child of God back to his Father. The answer is “yes.” One by one, each family member takes his hand and commends him to the faith they share. They set aside their grief to give him permission to let go of their hands and to take the hand of his Savior.

It is hard to call Jesus’ death a good death. He was forsaken, beaten, tormented, in indescribable pain, and weighed down by the burden of our sin. But it was a good death. It was an agape death; God’s perfect love right before our eyes.

Agape means my friend will also have a good death, as will his family members. For now, they will grieve over him and miss him, knowing that agape love will bring them together again, one day, in the arms of Jesus.