4 Requests: Psalm 119:33-37

This morning I turn to Psalm 119 and discover something I hadn’t noticed before. The psalmist asks God to do four things :

Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees,
    that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
 Direct me in the path of your commands,
    for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to your word.

What a powerful prayer! What better things might we ask for today?

I notice that, of all the things someone might ask of God, this writer wants the four best: that God would teach him, give understanding, direct him, and turn his heart towards the right things. And I notice the little phrase “for there I find delight.” I love how when we walk in the path of God’s commands, we find delight. It’s not new places, new people, or new passions to take up space in our bored, frustrated, disappointed lives. Instead, it’s following God that brings delight.

I think of the wisdom seeker. I think of the peace seeker. I think of the joy seeker. I think of the abundant life seeker. What path leads to these goals? The psalmist knows. We ask God to teach, to give understanding, to direct us, and to turn our hearts towards His word and away from worthless things that do not give what the heart wants and needs.


A Little Shake

I tell my daughters to think of life like a kaleidoscope: just a little shake, and the view changes entirely.

After a disappointing day, remember the truth that all it takes is a little shake of some tiny, new thing—and you have a new picture.

Give it a little shake. It’s a new day.

And it’s always beautiful.


The Ones Behind You

I’m learning that when you turn left on certain roads in my town, you’ll stay there forever as you wait to turn. But cars turning right–those who would by now have been on their merry way–must patiently wait behind you. Unless you leave some kind room for them.

If I scoot my car a bit to the left, all the cars turning right have space to travel smoothly.

I think about the space I take up. I think about who sits behind me needing their own space. I think about making room for others to travel on their journey. The metaphor sinks deep. I’m not everything. You’re here, too. You have things to say, places to go, roads to travel.

In my life as a writer, I think about helping make room for other voices behind me. Younger ones. Diverse ones.

In teaching, in parenting, in just plain old living: I start thinking about who comes behind me. I think about living in a kind, gracious, spacious kind of way to let others through.


A Good Bad Day

Last night, for a variety of reasons, I couldn’t sleep. At all. At all! I finally fell asleep around 3:30 AM only to waken at 6:00 AM for the morning routine. I left for campus, zombie-like and barely groomed. As I’m walking to my class in a haze, I tell God I have nothing to offer today. I have nothing. Nothing.


Like fresh air in my soul, I know that I bring nothing to God but my old worn down self, and He brings everything I need. I don’t have to be great toady. I don’t have to be happy or energetic. I can be whatever I am, and God is here, working through me as He wishes. I put one foot in front of the other, and I find I’ve made it home in time for a 20 minute nap before my daughters arrive home.

Here I am. I made it to this moment. It’s been a good bad day.


A Theology of Grading

I pray as I embark on the arduous and least favorite task of teaching: grading. I teach 50 students each semester, and grading their long, complex advanced writing essays takes up the better part of my week.

But I’m learning to love it. I’m learning to see it as a kind of worship. I think about Jesus and how He would do it. I think about a theology of grading, and I find three words jingling like joyful bells in my mind: relationship, grace, and worship.

When I grade, I’m learning to foster my relationship with my student with every comment. I build a connection. I might comment in the margins like this: This made me think of this. I feel this as well. I understand this, too. I see your point here. This reminds me of this. . . 

When I think of a theology of grading, I think of being with a student. Writing is a conversation. My life with God works as an ongoing conversation. I think of the presence of a teacher as first, relational. I think of how God is with me, and I want to reflect that to my students in how I’m with them. God is with us. God is in it. God is interacting in the midst of failure, muck, and disaster.

Secondly, I think of grace. Grace means I’m rooting for the student. I want the student to succeed. I know I’m outside of grace when I lean towards shame, towards power-struggles, and towards expressing personal disappointment. Grace means celebration, joy, hope, and blessing. It means I say things in the margins like this: This works so beautifully here. You’ve created an incredible moment here. You’ve grown as a writer here. I can see where you’re almost there. I sense true complexity here. Your written voice shines here.  

A theology of grading rooted in grace means I think about how God deals with my own failure, my own sin, my own inability to abide by the rules. He’s with me; I’m under grace at all times, so when the correction comes, it’s loving and redemptive. Try this. Not quite. If you do this, your written voice will sound more authentic. Think about the difference this makes when I show you this method. Next time, let’s work on this together.

Finally, a theology of grading means I push comments towards the wonder of life, towards marveling, towards–dare I say it?–worship. Student writing in the humanities taps into deeper wells that a great teacher names. I look for mystery, for beauty, for hope. My, what a marvelous thought. This connects to this. This makes me think more deeply about this. What if we pushed this further and thought about this other marvelous thing that your writing gestures towards? Oh my goodness, I have chills here. 

I sit with pages and pages of writing. I’m with Jesus here, and He’s always relating, always covering me with grace, always inviting me deeper into the life of worship. How could His nature not infuse my own through the Holy Spirit and extend even towards the mundane and dreaded act of grading?


Alone Together

I’m sitting in Penn State’s student union (the HUB), and wonderfully energetic and loud music plays over a loudspeaker. It’s fun and festive–just the thing for a mid-morning boost.

Yet, I feel like the only one listening to this public music. Everyone around me wears their headphones. I remember the day when listening to music seemed so public. We’d listen together in our dorm rooms. We played CD’s and listened together.

It felt a little lonely as I sat listening to music that nobody else could hear or wanted to hear. The whole experience felt representative of loneliness on the college campus.

As I show my students this video about loneliness in college, called My College Transition, we talk about about this problem of being alone together here. We also read The Real Campus Scourge on loneliness in college.

Just talking about it makes us all feel better. And we think about talking to others more, connecting outside of our phones, and gathering together to share our lives.


The Life You’re Wanting

When you feel frantic about building your perfect life or when you feel overwhelmed about what you should be doing, remember this:

Simply surrender to God and ask Him to bring abundant life to you.  

He will. That’s what He does. The promise of John 10:10 stands: “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” I think of the best life, the one you and I long for, and then I remember that God is the pathway to this life. In fact, He Himself is our life. God will not withhold Himself from you, and in Him, you will find what you’re looking for.

Cry out to Jesus about your loneliness and your sense of missing out. Cry out to Jesus about whatever seems off, lacking, or empty inside of you. Cry out about your friendships, your classes, and your schedule. Just go to Him and ask Him to order your life and arrange everything concerning you. Give Him your whole life.

This abundant life isn’t about changing anything externally right now. It’s about moving deeper into the abiding life with Christ. Soon, supernatural things will happen to us. We’ll find ourselves in situations that delight our soul. We’ll find our circumstances arranged by the Holy Spirit to bring us to people and places that resonate beautifully with God’s design for us. We end our striving to craft our day. We instead offer the day up to the Lord and ask for His instructions. We stay sensitive all day long to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

And we find we’ve entered into the life we never knew could be ours.


Two Questions for When You Feel Uncertain

Whenever I feel like I’m veering off course from what God intends for me–whether I’m confused about a decision to make or uncertain about an activity–I remember to ask the right questions.

Think about a decision you face. Maybe it’s something small but nagging like a question you have about your activity on social media. Maybe it’s a decision over an offer to do something or be somewhere with certain people. Maybe it’s a job change, a speaking engagement, or something, anything, that you’re just unsure about. Maybe it’s choosing a college or a church or a new neighborhood.

These two questions below set my mind right and never fail to keep me on the right course with Jesus.

  1. Which choice helps me love God and love others more?
  2. Does this thing lead me more and more into worship? If not, maybe I should say no.

I hope these two questions help you in your decision-making today.


After a Terrible Week, We Asked This

For a variety of reasons, my students collectively endured a terrible week. The enter class complaining of illnesses, stress, disillusionment, and a litany of disappointments. And what about the week’s news that started with a college admission scandal and ended with another mass shooting?

On Fridays like these, I always use the same Name Game: “Say your name and offer one piece of good news, no matter how small.”

The mood lifts. The gratitude flows in trickles that soon washes over us. We recall that it’s someone’s birthday. We cheer for a job interview granted. We even feel happy over two pennies found on the sidewalk. We celebrate enough that we realize that there’s always a small something going right when everything else goes wrong.


Serving Pie on Pi Day

You know I’m not a math person at all. At all. But when my youngest reminds me to serve pie–in particular apple pie–for Pi day, I find myself excited. (Every family, I think, has a child that’s the “Keeper of the Traditions.” For us, it’s my youngest, Kate).

It’s not just pie, though. It’s all the traditions and all the routines. They matter so much to children! I know this. So even though folks have teased me about my after school snacks and the little tea parties I still arrange for my teenage daughters right at 4:00 PM, it’s a tradition that I love so much.

Yes, it’s extra. Yes, it’s something more suited for little ones. But whenever I can hold on to traditions, routines, and regular daily demonstrations of love, I want to do it.

But I’m not crazy. I’m not making the apple pie. I’m off to buy it, of course!