When You’ve Changed

I love teaching the single-event memoir to students because they learn how to look at times in their lives when they changed. Great stories show transformation. Something happens to you, and it impacts you in such a way that it becomes a powerful story to tell. The reader experiences that transformation along with you, and perhaps they change a little themselves.

Someone has to change. And normally, change happens because the character conquers an opposing force. The opposing force represents anything that destabilizes identity, both in a negative sense and also a beautifully positive one. Students write about encounters with overwhelming beauty as often as overwhelming hardship.

But something changes them. You read a before-and-after account. We learn how experts in story tell us that the brain is hard-wired for transformation. We love it. We look for it. We expect it.

So I invite students to think about transformative moments. They write them down. They realize they have wisdom to share. I cannot wait to read them. I will change as well.

 

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An Original

Today my daughter tells me how much she enjoys this one person at school because this person is “original.”

Originality! I haven’t heard that compliment in a long time, and I remember again how much I treasure originality in people who let their unique personalities truly shine. The more you you are, the better.

As I was thinking about this, I laughed about how much I love this original, unique daughter I have right here–the one who takes her cat on walks on a bright red leash and who grows avocado plants from a seed.

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Fighting Despair, Pride, Dread, and Confusion

As I look back on the last few years of ministry, I take note of the predictable forms of spiritual warfare most noted in scripture. More than anything else, I battled these: despair (Isaiah 63:1), pride (1 Peter 5:5), dread (Psalm 53:5), and confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33)

Even on this very day, I pray that God would strengthen me against despair, pride, dread, and confusion and replace those prisons with hope, humility, faith, and clarity.

It’s no surprise when these harassing experiences come, but you’ll find you become wiser and better at recognizing and standing against what comes against you as you move into new places of ministry. You’ll daily put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6), acknowledge that you live a crucified life (Galatians 2:20), belonging completely to Jesus, and move on into your day.

Living with flair means living in victory. It means living with wisdom to interpret what’s happening to you. It means appropriating the full privileges of being a child of God.

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Your “Cave Ministry”

I picture David there in the cold, dark cave. I picture him there, afraid and yet so authentically desperate for God that people came to him to perhaps listen in on his words to God.

We’re told in 1 Samuel 22:1-3 that, while in this cave to flee from Saul, “all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander.” I think they might have come to learn how a hurting person relates to God.

From this place, David wrote Psalm 142. I wonder if he read it aloud. I wonder if he cried when he read it.

He writes, “When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way” (Psalm 142:3). I love how David asks God to “set [him] free from [his] prison” so he can praise God. Then he writes this beautiful idea into words: “Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me” (7).”

I remember meeting a young couple who endured much suffering and loss in their lives. They told me that God had placed them in a dark cave of misery, but from there, a ministry came about. God brought the distressed and despairing to them, and they cared for those people. I wondered about their lives, and the story of David and his “cave ministry” for years.

I reasoned that if God brings me to a dark, scary place in my life, He is there. He knows my way. And I’m there because He is bringing people to me, right there in that cave of sadness, to lead and care for. They will listen to how I talk to God from that place. David wrote from that cave, and I thought that I might write from dark places as well.

Sometimes, we minister from bright, clear places of joy. Other times, we minister in a cave where all we have is a cry from our heart for God to set us free.

 

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Keep Moving Forward with Senses Alert to Beauty

Today I stood outside by the Weeping Cherry tree to detach what seemed like one hundred little snowflakes and icicles we attached with wire hooks. We placed a spotlight on the tree at night to illuminate a sparkling wonderland of snowflakes as part of our Christmas decorations.

It’s always easier to decorate than to un-decorate.

It feels like an impossible and tedious task as I uncurl tiny wires on tiny snowflakes. It’s going to take forever. It’s going to bore me to tears. I’m mostly becoming stuck in a tangle of branches, and I don’t want to be doing this.

But then I remember to notice the beautiful winter branches, the dark soil beneath me, and the smell of winter all around me. I see the sky above and feel the suddenly unusually warm wind at my fingertips. I listen to the neighbors walking their dogs. One by one, I take down the snowflakes and icicles. One by one, one by one. It’s peaceful and ordinary and just what I’m doing now, right now. Nothing else matters but this one wire on this one snowflake.

I want to stay right here.

I finish the task and feel like I’ve tucked Christmas away, finally, and turn the page into a new season of a new year.

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The Right Wrong Thing

Two of my students serve as volunteer firefighters, and today we have a brief discussion about why one shouldn’t open windows during a house fire. You never want to add oxygen to a fire. If a fire begins in the oven, don’t open the oven. Keep it closed; remove the source of oxygen.

The conversation reminds me of how much I do the wrong thing, that seems right, because of instinct. Back in 2014, I wrote this about a similar revelation:

We were in an elevator:

My daughters observe the signs in elevators that tell you to use the stairs in case of a fire.

This makes no sense if you’re interested in a fast way out. Wouldn’t the elevator take you out faster than the stairs? If the building is going down in flames, wouldn’t the elevator make so much more sense?

No! Never! We learn that fires interfere with electrical systems and can trap us inside malfunctioning elevators. Also, since smoke and flames rise up in the elevator shaft, the elevator can quickly become an inferno. We’d be cooked!

I’ve been thinking of the principle that the safest and best way out isn’t always the fastest. When we feel trapped in a situation, we often go to that thing that promises a fast exit. A much better principle is to stop and think about the thing that’s promising freedom. What if that thing is just another trap in itself? What if that thing will create even more heat in your life?

No thank you. I’ll take the stairs.

I remember that the thing I’m eyeing that promises some way out often isn’t a way out at all.

Proverbs 14:12 warns: There’s a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. Even more in 2014, I want the wisdom to take the way that leads to life. I want the path of righteousness, peace, and joy. I don’t need easy or fast; I’ll take slow and safe. I’ll take life.

God, lead me down right paths.

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The Children?

Today I prayed and confessed about one of the ways I know God wants to teach me to become more like Jesus: in His love of children. Since my own daughters have grown to teens, I find myself thankfully spending less and less time with small children. I remember those days as labor-intensive, loud, and as a never-ending, sticky battle to clean up after them. I don’t like feeling this way! Isn’t that terrible? I’m ashamed to admit this to you. Can you believe I think these things and live with a thankful heart to be in a new stage of parenting?

I have been reading in the gospels just how much Jesus loves children. Why don’t I love children like He does? Could the Holy Spirit draw me again to children to love and care for them as He does? Jesus explicitly tells us this in Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

As I’m thinking about these things, I receive an email from the Children’s Ministry Director at our church to ask me if I would please be the Sunday School Storyteller for the children in March. Me? But I’m a college instructor. I’m a mom of teens. Everyone knows I’m impatient with children and have become a rusty, crusty, irritable person with those little ones!

But God moves. God teaches me. I find myself overwhelmed with love for those children as God’s spirit moves in my heart. Yes, I’ll be your Storyteller. 

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Well, You’re Home Now

You’re home now.

I say the expression to a teen wearied from stress and difficult social interactions. I say the expression to my middle schooler you endured the onslaught of everything comprising middle school. I say this to myself after a day of marching through the rain, late to my office hours, and then running from class to class.

You’re home now. Relax and refresh here. Here’s a snack placed out for you, a warm beverage, and a soft song. Here’s a candle lit, a cozy blanket, and a listening ear. Here’s the relaxation of lounging about. Here’s where you’re the favorite, the blessed, the adored. Here is where we champion you, attend to you, and promise great things ahead. You’re home now. Here is a tea tray with homework and grading, the smell of lasagna cooking, and the crumbs falling off crusty Italian bread. Here is where evening will fall on you, where you will sleep tucked in and deeply loved. You’re home now. 

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“Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” Psalm 105:4

When in distress, I wonder where we look for help. Today I love the encouragement to look to the Lord and His strength and to seek Him always. What do I seek? Where do I look? Whose strength?

It’s God! I think about how to seek His face “always” and how to set my mind upon Him. I think about how to fix my eyes upon Jesus. I remember all the ways He has taught me these past five years: I know I’m seated with Christ, and I picture it now.

I know I’m in the fortress of His care, and I think of a castle. I know I’m in the guarding care of God. I’m guarded by righteousness, peace, hope, power, and the crucified life. I know I’m included in the family of God. I think about my identity as chosen, strengthened, renewed, filled with the Holy Spirit, and proclaiming.

Why do I write all year long on verbs and images? It’s how I look to Him. It’s how I seek His face and His strength.

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