Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I love this clip of the twin boys at nap time. As soon as I saw it I knew it would have to go into my lectures for my Ed Psych class, but I couldn't decide where.

Do I include it in moral development because climbing out of the crib did not warrant an "uh-oh" until mom walked into the room?

Do I include it in modeling because one twin learns enactively and the other vicariously?

Do I include it in problem solving noting that the brave twin re-thinks and finds a way to keep his actions secret?

I finally settled on motivation because one twin sees naptime as his fate and the other refuses the inevitable. My question to the class will be: "Which twin would you rather have in class, the one who is obedient, or the one who can think outside the crib?

I will let the students mull over that one for a while.

It is interesting how the twins understood the camera meant they were being watched. Of course, they don't realize, yet, that mom has other ways of knowing what is happening in the nap room. They might still be at the stage where they think if they cover their own eyes no one can see them. They certainly don't like to be watched.

O God, You know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from You. Psalm 69:5

My mother-in-law does not like to be watched, either. Her current cognitive abilities make it wise that she be checked-in on from time to time. I see her when I set up her meds, my daughter stops in when she goes to the studio to work and now the in-home aide assigned to clean her house needs to check on hygiene and eating habits. Understandably, Dorris expresses frustration with this series of events. Still, we do it, because we know it is what is best for her. Even though she doesn't like it, she probably understands that it is better than the alternative which requires moving to a place that can maintain constant supervision.

From when we are babies, until we are elderly, we require some level of supervision, for play, for work, for life skills. We don't generally like it; we usually accept it.

You know when I sit down and when I rise; You discern my thoughts from afar. Psalm 139:2

The Bible has 887 verses that include the word "know." Both reminders of what God knows about us and what He chooses to let us know about Him. The Bible contains everything we can know about God, this side of heaven. Even if we read it continuously, we will still only know an infinitesimal amount. And we can't know that without God making it possible.

God, however, knows everything about us. Because we grow up in a world that values "privacy" and because we know we have a lot to hide, this causes us much consternation. We want to move the camera, and hide our words, thoughts and actions from a God who is perfect.

It is better, I think, to contemplate the up-side to an omniscient God. He knows our faults; this is true. But, He also knows our sorrows, our joys and our needs. We may not like nap time, but it sure is nice to have someone who knows we would like some milk and a cookie when we wake up.

My God knows me and loves me in spite of that. My God knows me and provides for me before I even know I need it. My God knows me and knows His plans for me. My God knows me and died and rose again to take a way my sins, even before I was born.

Our God knows.

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ian has

I had my phone off because I was in a meeting. When I turned it back on, it buzzed letting me know what texts were waiting. I scrolled down the list until I saw the title of one that made me catch my breath.

Ian has

I didn't want to open the text and finish the sentence. I knew there had been an MRI to check on the reason for back pain. I knew there had been two previous devastating MRI results, one six years, and another three years ago. I did not want to see the reality that this fine young man was facing his enemy for the third time in his short life. I didn't want to finish the sentence "Ian has ______" as if not opening that text would somehow keep it from being true.

But, it is true. Ian has cancer, again. This is the third time he has heard this news, the third time he has had to rearrange his life, the third time he has had to face treatment and the uncertainty it brings.

Yes, Ian has cancer, but he has so much more. We can finish that sentence with better words that are just as true.

Ian has peace.

Peace I leave with you: My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Last Sunday, Ian stood up in front of the congregation and thanked us for our prayers. He took time to reassure us that he had peace about the diagnosis and treatment. This young man, barely a teenager, has the courage and presence of mind to share his peace with those of us who pray and grieve over him. God has blessed him with a peace we cannot even imagine and in that peace we see evidence of the gift of his faith.

Ian has prayers.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

Ian has a huge cloud of witnesses surrounding him in this race. We pray for him, cry over him, cheer him on, and stand ready to help in any other way that is needed. Because of his premature birth, Ian has literally grown up in the midst of this cloud of people who love him and pray for him. He feels this every day in a tangible way. His courage in this race gives us evidence of the gift of our faith.

Ian has the promise of eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

In the light of Ian's challenge this verse takes on a whole new significance. He will not perish; he has eternal life. We pray the next 80 years or so of that eternal life are spent here on earth, but we know that he has eternal life, none-the-less.

Abba, Father, Please, send your hand of healing to your child, Ian, even as You bless him with peace, strength and faith. Amen, amen, amen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dependence day

The classes I am taking this semester are up on my on-line Blackboard page. This means I can take an early peek at the syllabus, assignments and textbooks.

Excuse me while I breathe in this paper bag for a minute . . . . . easy. . . . .calm down . . . .

I have already decided to drop one of the three classes I registered for because the first two have an enormous workload: 4 class discussions to lead, 5 papers, 73 readings and one large project. All I know about the third class is that it has 3 required textbooks and about 10 recommended. That is more than enough reason to save that class for another semester.

This time in the semester is not a good time for me. I know too much about what will be expected of me, but I have little reminder of the good parts of going to school. By next week I will still feel overwhelmed, but I will also have touched base with several people with whom I have developed a strong friendship. In seeing them, again, God will remind me that He has a plan on how to get me through this semester.

In the reading I did this summer, I came across an interesting idea. Much of Developmental Psychology of the last 100 years, or so, has centered on the idea that when we are born we bond, or attach, to our parents and spend the rest of our childhood going from complete dependence to independence. The point being made in the book was that the field is starting to realize the reverse may also be true. In other words, we are born, bond with our parents and that is the first step in learning how to work with, and depend on, others. In fact, the more we study learning, the more we realize that social skills, such as empathy, are a key component to good learning.

Becoming independent is not a theme in scripture; at least not a theme with a good ending. If we work toward independence we work ourselves away from God. Here is a good example:

For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not." Jeremiah 11: 7-8 (ESV)

In our sin we want to be independent, but the effect is similar to a two-year-old insisting "me do it." We simply cannot do anything on our own. We are completely dependent on God.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?"

Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8: 31-36 (ESV)

I am looking at this verse in a new way. I need to be enslaved (dependent on) to God in order to experience freedom (independence). So for now, I will go to God in prayer, begin my reading assignments, and meet with two good UNL friends for a picnic lunch, tomorrow. God's promise to love and care for me will filter into my brain and heart as I read and pray over His word.

Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:49-50

Thank you, God, for new adventures (even scary ones), thank you for friends and thank you for complete and utter dependence on You.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The power and pattern of hope

Hope is an interesting concept. In the secular world it is a fingers-crossed kind of emotion where you make a wish and hope it comes true. In the education world hope can often be a glass-half-full optimism; if you have a strong sense of self-efficacy you will most likely succeed at what you try. In the Bible hope is something all-together different. It is not fingers-crossed or glass-half-full, it is a grave-completely-empty assurance of God's love for us. We have hope that heaven awaits our arrival because we have assurance that our entrance into heaven has already been earned for us through Christ's death and resurrection.

Here is a World Science Federation tape of Bobby McFerrin. In this activity where Bobby turns an entire audience of science nerds into a musical instrument where they can sing one line while he sings another is a fascinating thing to see. At the end of the clip Bobby gives us a reason why this works. Apparently the pentatonic scale is hardwired into our brain. When he proceeds to teach the audience how to sing this way he has confidence that they can access this information and put it to use in this situation.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV)

and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:5 (ESV)

We are hardwired to know God. He has placed His law into our hearts and through the miracle of baptism has also placed His love and Spirit. Because of the faith He gives us, we have the possibility of knowing and feeling His love and care. We have the kind of hope that is an assurance, that is definite, that is as certain as God himself.

But there is more . . .

At the beginning of the clip Bobby talks about expectations. Bobby does not have to use any words to teach the audience the game. He uses his actions and their understanding of the pentatonic scale to teach them how to anticipate or expect the next note. The audience can instantly perform because of the many years of exposure to the scale. The audience is not lagging behind their teacher, but, is in sync with his teaching.

God has placed His word into our hearts but He has also demonstrated His love for us over and over, again. He has set up a pattern of expectations just as Bobby McFerrin set up an imaginary xylophone. God's pattern is complete and completely consistent. Our hope is an assurance and an expectation.

May you be led by God's teaching and rest in the assurance of His hope. He has great plans for you and has written those plans in your heart.

The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love Psalm 33: 13-18 (ESV)

Monday, July 25, 2011


In Bible class, this past Sunday, we talked about how humans develop trust. This goes back to our first few months of life outside the womb and marks the establishment of attachment. We saw a clip of Dr. Edward Tronick's "still face experiment." In this clip a baby and mother engage in typical communication until the mother is instructed to make her face still; to not react to the baby in any way. At this point we study the baby's reaction. She tries everything she knows to get a response from her mother and when nothing works, distress settles in. At about the time I can't stand it anymore, the mother relents and responds to the baby.

This is the typical reaction of babies with a healthy attachment to their parents. These babies have developed patterns of behavior based on the understanding that a parent will react. This is the first thing that is learned in order for a baby to develop socially, emotionally and in language. A baby without a healthy attachment would respond very differently to a still-face mother. These babies have not developed a trust that someone will respond. This creates a scar that prevents most other healthy learning.

Our discussion topic, surrounding this clip, was about trust. When God teaches us to trust we are able to engage in a relationship with Him. As with the mother and child, God does the work in this relationship. He is the one who engages, teaches and responds. Furthermore, He does so perfectly, knowing exactly what we need and when we need it. We are welcome to cry out to Him, however, He has already anticipated both our pain and our needs.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26 (ESV)

We are babies, buckled into a car seat facing our Heavenly Father. We cry, we squirm, we try to draw God's attention; all the time He looks at us in love and understanding. Trust is knowing that God has a plan for our life. Trust is knowing that God can bring good out of anything. Trust is knowing that He will provide what we need, as we need it. Trust is knowing that God has already accomplished all we need or could ever want.

And know this: God never looks at us with a still face.

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3: 17-19 (ESV)

Continue your day with the peace-filled knowledge that God blesses you with trust and always looks at you with love, mercy and peace. You are His precious child.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fixed or Growth?

The last time “This is Your Brain on God” met we discussed Carol Dweck’s theory on fixed vs. growth mindset. This researcher learned that people fall into one of these two categories, depending on whether or not he/she believes his intelligence and behavior are set in stone or can grow and change. Here is a clip on mindset that explains the basic idea.

While very few people would SAY they can’t grow, change or learn, apparently about half of the population acts as if this was true. This means there are a lot of people running around afraid of making a mistake, or trying something new because it will mark them as less than competent. They want to stay safe at their level of competence.

It also means that there are a bunch of people running around who eagerly seek challenges and know they can learn from mistakes. They are not satisfied with their level of competence.

I suspect that growth mindset people make far more mistakes but that fixed mindset people are more likely to sabotage their growth. We human beings sure are messed up in our sin, aren’t we?

So as Christians, living as sinners in a sinful world, what mindset works best for us? Hmmmm, stay away from sin, or grow? I think the real question is which one is possible?

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Psalm 51:5

We can’t stop ourselves from sinning. We have been sinners from the beginning of our lives and will continue to make mistakes until we die. Trying to prevent ourselves from mistakes is a hopeless task. Trying to follow the law only convicts us of our sin and convinces us of our need for a savior.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

Yet, this whole idea of growing and learning is not without its problems. We can’t improve ourselves anymore than we can stay away from sin.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. Isaiah 64:6a

Sounds impossible, and as always, the answer has to be found in a loving Father, the redemptive act of His Son and the work of His Spirit.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love. Psalm 33:18

We cannot save ourselves by following the law. God saw this and sent Jesus to accomplish justification for us. Through the living of one perfect life, through death and resurrection, we are made righteous in His eyes.

But God did not stop with justification. He continues with sanctification. He sets us apart and works faith in our hearts through the word and sacraments. He changes us.

For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. I Thessalonians 4:7

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 5:9-10

I suspect that we are happiest when we are somewhere in-between fixed and growth mindsets. We are fixed mindset in that we know we are sinners and cannot change that truth. We have a growth mindset in that we know that through the work of God we can grow and bear fruit.

Rejoice that this is true: the burden for our salvation is not ours; the blessings of living a sanctified life can be known to us through word and sacrament.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Locus of Control

We started last Sunday’s Bible study with this Bob Newhart clip. Or rather, I summarized the clip as we were having internet difficulties. In the clip a woman complains to Bob of her many phobias. What is his advice? He simply tells her to “Stop it!” On one level, this advice seems to make sense, yet we know it can’t work otherwise we could all solve our problems by just stopping.
We could just stop worrying. We could just stop whining. We could just stop self-medicating. We could just stop sinning. Then life would be just great.
We can’t just stop it because even though we think we are in control; we are not.
The psychology concept we looked at is called locus of control. In this theory some people have an external locus which means they believe that their lives are out of their control. They think things are controlled by fate. While these folks tend not to worry or fret, they also see little point in planning or working on change.
The second group has internal locus of control and works from the idea that they can control what happens by working hard. They believe that what happens in their life is controlled by their own actions. While these folks tend to be successful in life, they also have a habit of blaming themselves for things that are not under their control.
I recently heard a scientist say that plants don’t have brains because they can’t move. They have complete external locus of control because there is nothing they can do about their situation, anyway. Animals and humans can move, so we need brains to enable us to make decisions.
The question we discussed was whether or not Christians are internal or external when it comes to control. The answer is not an easy one.
Christians are considered external because we believe that God controls what happens in our life. However, we behave as internal people because we work hard and make plans to change.
I like to think that we are neither external nor internal; we are eternal.
God gave us His law and wrote it in our hearts. We are conceived in sin and proceed through our lives breaking that law on a continuous basis. God sent His Son to live a perfect life and to die and rise again. In this one event we are saved from what we deserve. The control of our salvation is with God and God alone.
But God does not leave it at that. He wants blessings for us in our present life as well as eternal life with Him. He sends His spirit, and through the act of sanctification, works His good in us. We have freedom of will, we have choice, and we can work on things. Anything good that happens in our life is due to the work and blessing of God.
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 NIV
We try to take control of our life and we create havoc. No wonder we are crushed, perplexed and in despair. God creates a treasure in us and molds us into jars suitable for His work.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The power of conformity

This past Sunday I had the privilege of starting a new Bible study at our church. It is called "This is Your Brain on God." It is my goal, for each week, to examine psychology theory about humans through the lens of Law and Gospel.

The first lesson was on the power of conformity. We began with this vintage Candid Camera clip. It is a short and hilarious clip of Candid Camera people standing the wrong way in an elevator. In each clip the unsuspecting participant turns the wrong way, too. It is funny because we see ourselves in the clip. We know that we often follow the crowd, even if it is going in the wrong direction.

Well, God made us this way, so He must have done it for a reason. Of course, as sinners we always distort God's perfect plan.

A wise friend in the class pointed out that we have three ways to conform; to the world, to God's Will, or to our own idea of what is right.

Experiments done around 50 years ago by Solomon Asch help us to understand several things about conforming:

  1. If there are at least three people doing the same thing, we are highly likely to follow them.
  2. Some people actually convince themselves that they are wrong when they follow the crowd.
  3. Some people know the crowd is wrong but follow anyway because they don't want to "make waves."
  4. We are less likely to follow the crowd if we have at least one person who agrees with us.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12: 11-2 (ESV)

In this verse we see part of God's plan for creating us as conformers. We are expected to conform to the will of God. He gave us the ability to do this. However, we miserably fail at that expectation and instead conform to the world. This gets us into big trouble. We align ourselves with people who encourage us to deny our faith. We follow a group that points us away from God and toward sin.

In this verse we are expected to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. We are not to face the wrong way in an elevator, but to face the opposite direction of the world. Because of the sacrifice of God's Son, we become an acceptable sacrifice. Because of the work of the Spirit we are transformed toward what is good and acceptable and perfect. We face the right direction because He turns us toward Himself. We no longer suffer from the distortion of judgment or the fear of being different. In Christ we can give glory for the difference of being God's child.

Remember the last in the list of what we know about conforming: we are less likely to follow the crowd when we have at least one person facing the crowd with us. Fellowship with believers is a gift of God, also.

I encourage you to be in the Word; to attend church and participate in the sacraments. These are things that cause our faith to grow. I also encourage you to engage in fellowship with believers. Indulge in that particular need to conform! Stand with your believers in worship, study and service.

When that elevator door opens you will be ready to go and serve.

Abba, Father, Amen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A good book

This is my summer to read. I am reading a long list of books that have been collecting in a pile by the side of the bed. The other day, I realized that I had read over a dozen research methods and statistics books over the last three years. This is way more than any one human should have to endure. So, I promised myself a summer of reading things that are less analytical.

My first book of the summer was one by Lisa Delpit called Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom.

Go easy on me, I have to wean off of academic books slowly; I will be back to Dr. Seuss by August.

This author worked in New Guinea helping them to develop language and culture sensitive pre-school programs. While I admit, that fact may not be interesting to everyone, she tells a fascinating story about the native people of New Guinea and their early interactions with missionaries. The missionaries were surprised to discover that there was a strong interest in learning to read. The set about teaching people to read the Bible and happily gave them copies to keep. The students took their Bibles down to the docks, tore pages from them and handed them to those unloading ships with expectations that they would be given valuable cargo in return. They expected this because they saw the missionaries receive such cargo when they handed over papers with words. When they found out that their pages held no such magic, they crumpled them up and threw them away in disgust.

They looked to the words of the Bible to bring them good fortune. They thought the words of God were some sort of magic that would create wealth and fulfill their desires. They thought they had the ticket to happiness, if only they could read and use those pages.

As I think about the crumpled pages blowing down the beach in the wind, I think about how easy it is to misuse, misunderstand and mistake God's word. It is not that His word is unclear; it is in fact, abundantly clear. It is not that His word is ineffective; we know that it never returns empty. It is not that His word is less powerful in our hands. God's word is God's word, regardless of who reads it. It is as powerful as its author and is understandable through the work of His Spirit.

So why do we think God's word will bring us fame and fortune? Why do we think His word, if magically applied, will make all of our trials and tribulations disappear? Why do we continue to believe that the efficacy of God's word depends, somehow on us; on how we use it; on how we interpret it; on how we want it to work?

I don't know, for sure, but I think the answer's got to be sin, or pride, or maybe both.

God's word will do what God determines; no more and no less. It has nothing to do with us and it has everything to do with us. We cannot bend the word of God to our wants and desires any more than those who hoped the Bible pages could be traded for cargo. However, we do benefit from God's will: our faith grows. God's word is not our tool to make things happen or to prevent what we do not want. It is God's word; no more and no less. And that is enough.

I read a face book question recently asking for parenting advice. The responses were numerous and not surprising until I got to one that had a peculiar formula. This individual felt that the best parenting advice was to read the catechism with his children every morning and every evening. He had a long response with many Greek words to justify his position. It was his stated goal to counteract the influence of the modern world by surrounding his children with the words of Luther.

Now, I am a big fan of Luther and I taught the catechism to many children (including my own) for years as a teacher. I think there is much wisdom in that book and recommend it for study. However, I found this man's parenting advice to be a bit one-sided.

It was all law and no gospel.

We cannot take God's word, (or Luther's interpretation and explanation of it) and perform it like a formula in order to direct good things. That is law and law cannot save us.

The realization that God's word will accomplish what He wills, without our input or performance, is grace.

So, am I saying parents should not bother reading the Bible or the catechism with their children? NO! Each of us should study God's word, good books that help us to understand God's word, and prayers and hymns that enable us to praise God. Furthermore, we should do this on a daily basis.

It is just not a formula for getting what we want – a good job, attention, happy, successful kids, or anything else that might be on our wish list.

We read God's word because it is God's word, and we let it nourish us in the way He intended. This is law balanced with grace. This is joy.

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty. But it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55: 10-12 (ESV)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The comfort of a mother

For thus says the LORD: "Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies. Isaiah 66: 12-14

It is a tough road to walk when a parent must watch her child suffer. I remember praying over the feet of my three year old as they stuck out of an MRI machine when we were trying to get a diagnosis for his seizures. I remember holding each of my children as they cried and told me about bullying at school. And I have hugged my daughter, and wiped away her tears, many times this year as she has struggled to serve God in the place He has provided for her.

My daughter Anne loves her students. She teaches immigrant children music and art and they love her. She teaches two subjects that are able to transcend language and culture differences. Two subjects where they can praise God, learn, communicate, and be successful. Even the school custodian likes to slip into her room, on occasion, "to watch those children enjoy learning." Anne has worked long hours, donated nearly all of her free time to write curriculum, and a chunk of her salary to provide her 100 plus students with ways to enjoy God's world and ways to share His love.

And now she has to tell them she will not be back to teach next year.

The principal and the Priest at her school, different people from the ones who hired her, decided her job is really part-time and have cut her salary for next year by almost 40% without reducing her teaching load. She can't live on that, and pay her student loans; without a significant reduction in her workload she would not be able to make up her income with a second job, so she declined the contract.

I have two friends, who like my daughter have served God in the places God put them. These friends find themselves kicked out into the cold, too. I know that God has a plan for my daughter and my friends but for now I don't understand why they have to suffer. So I watch, listen and pray.

It is difficult to watch your children suffer. I have friends who have watched their children survive many obstacles: premature birth, loss of a parent, illness, learning disabilities, pain, both physical and emotional. As parents, we fiercely work to defend and protect our children; we are all adamant that we would rather suffer the pain in their stead. But we cannot do that so we watch, listen and pray.

God does not want to see His children suffer. Suffering is not, and never was, His will for us. A pain-free, perfect life in a pristine garden was His will for us, but, we ruined that.

It is hard to watch loved-ones suffer and it is difficult to understand why some people suffer so much more than others, or why some seem to suffer even though they labor to do God's work. It isn't fair, somehow.

God doesn't believe in fair, and thank goodness for that. Fair would mean we each get what we deserve; what is coming to us; our just deserts. But we don't want that, because what we deserve is a punishment we could not survive.

Instead God gives us forgiveness, and grace, and mercy; none of which we deserve.

There is another way in which God is not fair; He doesn't bless each and every one of us with the same amount of faith and strength and courage. Instead He comforts us as we are needful. He comforts us so that our hearts can rejoice, even in our time of suffering.

That is something a mother can understand.

So I will watch and listen and pray for my daughter as God blesses her with forgiveness, mercy, grace and the comfort she needs. And I thank God that He loves her with a love that is much stronger than a mother's love.

The last couple of weeks have been discouraging to my teacher heart. I have seen many reminders that teaching is not a gift or profession that is respected. God reminds me that He does not ask me, or others, to teach for respect or profit. He asks us to teach for Him and that is enough. As I tell my undergrad students, we all teach and learn in some fashion. Be serious about your teaching and learning, especially during this Lenten season. Let God teach you and help you teach others. Let Him provide you with the faith you need. Let Him comfort you.

Watch and listen and pray.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Romans 12: 6-13

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In the wrong room

I looked up from my reading and realized that I was in a room with a urinal. This was a bit disconcerting, to say the least.

I have a kidney stone. This, in and of itself, is not a problem. However, the fact that the kidney stone is traveling through my renal system is a problem; a rather painful, pesky problem. I went to see my doctor, who sent me to the CT scan people and then to the Urologist. When I saw the urinal on the exam room wall, for a brief second, I panicked thinking I was back in elementary school and had accidentally slipped into the wrong room. Between the urinal, the posters on the wall, and the fact that the exam table didn't even have stirrups, I felt very much out of place.

We get used to the way things ought to be. When I am stressed, in pain and crabby, I don't want unfamiliar surroundings; I want the comfort of a familiar exam room and a familiar face. However, my regular health care provider does not have expertise in this area, so I find myself in a different world. As long as no one expects me to actually use the urinal, I think I am okay.

My kidney stone is in the wrong place, too. As long as it was hanging out in my kidneys things were fine. Now that it has decided to move to a new location, there is a disruption of all things familiar. It is a solid traveling in a world made for liquids. Funny, how that one difference can cause so much mayhem.

Many times during my weekly routine as a university instructor/ graduate student, I feel like I am in the wrong room. Not just the wrong classroom, or the wrong building, but the wrong life. If I had a nickel dollar for every time I said "what was I thinking?" regarding my decision to enroll in this program, I would have paid my tuition AND fees AND had some left over to cover the cost of textbooks.

Like my kidney stone, I am a solid on a campus full of liquids.

I feel like I am the only one who can't understand the statistics, who confuses vocabulary, or who wants to hand in a reflection paper titled "Huh?" I am too old, too tired, and too slow to learn much of what is around me. I love teaching my undergrad students but even in that class I worry someone will ask me a question I can't answer. It is as if my entire world is full of rooms with urinals and I am in a desperate search for a room with stalls.

I gotta quit talking about bathrooms. No really, I have had at least 2 liters of water today.

It is strange to think that because we are in the world but directed to not be of the world, that God created us to be perpetual aliens; strangers in a strange world. We seek belongingness, but do not find it here. We belong with God in His world, but the "here and now" is where we find ourselves. We are people of faith in a faithless world. We know truth in a world that doubts there is any. We cling to values that are considered, at best, to be passé and at worst to be politically incorrect. We read, cite, sing from, and meditate on a book that has never needed a second edition. We stand in a world full of people looking for the next biggest technical marvel that will solve their problems, but we seek only God.

It is no wonder we occasionally panic.

We are aliens. We are children of God; He knows where we are and why we are here. He is what is familiar and inviting when the world seems strange. We feel at home, when we feel His presence.

We should not be surprised when, as people of faith, we stick out like a sore thumb. We should not be surprised others do not understand us, our words, our actions, or our attitudes. When God shines through us, we look as strange to others as the world feels strange to us.

When you feel like an alien; take heart. When the world gives you a funny look; be encouraged. When you feel like you are in the wrong room or the wrong life; know that you are God's child and His purpose for you will unfold.

Even if you are in the wrong room.

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15: 19

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16: 33

And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8: 27-29

By the way, if you should find you have a kidney stone, take my advice and DON'T do a Google image search. You may find this.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ruminations and Reappraisals

Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. Psalm 119: 97-98

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. Ephesians 1: 3-4

And He said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart. Luke 2: 49-50

Some people go through life without a thought or care. Others of us tend to analyze everything we do.

During the years I was blessed to teach kindergarten I remember watching the boys dive into play with few words and little planning and watching the girls verbally discuss and plan every detail to the point where they barely did any playing.

For those of us who spent a large segment of our "doing" time thinking and analyzing we have two ways we can accomplish this chore; we can ruminate or we can reappraise.

When we ruminate we churn things over and over in our minds. We examine every detail, over-praise and over criticize. In ruminating, we see ourselves as being in the center of everything and responsible for all.

Ruminating highly correlates with depression and anxiety. This does not mean that ruminating causes depression or anxiety, or that we can diagnose ourselves, as such, if we find ourselves ruminating. It just means that ruminating often occurs with depression and anxiety. When you ruminate you replay, over and over, the worries and disappointments of the day. In this way, cause yourself to feel sad and worrisome longer.

It is hard to see a good side to rumination; unless, of course, you are bovine.

Reappraising is the alternative to chewing your mental cud. When you reappraise you practice reinterpretation and mindfulness. Instead of reliving the worry, sadness or anxiety over and over, you reinterpret the situation looking for the positive aspect. Then you add to that by practicing mindfulness which is a way of being aware of what is happening and separating yourself from it. New fMRI studies are showing that rumination and reappraisal are accompanied by visible changes in our brains.

So, when we feel sad or worried and we think maybe our repetitive thought are driving us crazy we don't need to worry because it's not just all in our head . . . no wait, maybe it is . . . hmmm, I mean we aren't just imagining this, it is really something that happens . . . or is it? I guess it is happening in our brains but, yet . . . um, I think I am ruminating on this issue. Let's move on.

Whenever I learn a new idea from the world I like to re-examine it through the eyes of faith. And because I am a well-trained Lutheran I usually see things through the lens of law and grace.

Let's try rumination as law and reappraisal as grace.

When we look at our lives in the spirit of the law we can see only what we do wrong and because we have no hope of meeting the demands of the law, on our own, these thoughts sow seeds of despair.

When we look at our lives in the spirit of grace we can be mindful of the fact that God is aware of our wrongs and saves us from them through the redeeming blood of His Son. Through our God-given faith we can begin to see the good that God will bring out of everything that happens to us. We are also confident of the ultimate good found in our salvation.

Now, psychology would tell us to avoid rumination at all costs and to only engage in reappraisal. But, psychology can't save us.

I have known people, like myself, who can wallow in our own mental cud and waste our days ruminating over every little thing. We are not a happy group. People do not want to be around us. We are major party-poopers.

Yet, I have also known people who rewrite everything as not being their fault; convincing themselves they have no need to change or grow. They are not mindful of their own responsibility. They don't see a need to be saved.

Faith tells us we need both law and grace. We need to be mindful of our sin. We need to feel the guilt of what we have done and of what we have left undone.

But God knows we can't stay there. We need to also be mindful of His love and mercy. We need to re-examine the truth that we cannot save ourselves. We need to remember that Salvation has already been won. We need to feel God's forgiveness, and in turn forgive ourselves and those who have hurt us. We need to meditate on this, feel the blessings of this truth, and treasure it in our hearts.