Pliable, Malleable, Teachable

I’ve been opening my heart and mind more and more to learn from others, to embrace new ideas, and to question more. I want to get outside of my own experience and inhabit the stories of others to gain understanding and growth. I want to grow in love and wisdom. I want to stay fresh and vibrant instead of stale and stagnant.

But it’s scary sometimes.

So many of us don’t want to listen to other points of view, and we don’t know what it might mean for our identity to change our positions or our ideas on various issues. We’ve maybe attached too much to certain ways of thinking on anything from parenting to nutrition to politics. Or maybe how we’re thinking now is exactly right and the best representation of biblical truth. That could be. But what if we were all teachable and wisdom-seeking together as a posture of humility?

What if I allowed the possibility of changing my mind? What if you did?

(I’m amazed at how resistant I am to new theories of pedagogy as one small example or whenever someone tells me something about shame. I like to be the unchanging expert!)

Instead of always reacting, I’m listening more. I’m learning. This kind of posture matters as we age. I’ve learned that we have two choices as we grow into our late forties, fifties, sixties and beyond: We can stay teachable, or we can calcify.

We can harden. We can stop growing.

I want to say pliable, malleable, and teachable in God’s hand. He might send someone into my life with a different point of view in order to help me grow. He might have me grapple with a difficult sermon to help me grow. I might ask Jesus, “How are you teaching me here? How is this shaping my character more to be like You? Is there something I need to change here?”


Completely Yielded

Today in our Sunday School class, we talked about yielding completely to the Holy Spirit.

What I love about the Spirit-filled life is this idea of going before the Lord and saying to Him, I don’t know what I need. I don’t know how to live my life. I don’t even know what will bless people. Jesus will you take over everything and teach me how to live my life?

We do nothing on our own. We yield completely.


When You Need the Ravens

As I walk around the neighborhood, I feel the weight of a life’s purpose, of mission, and of knowing Christ-followers are sent into the pain of the world to heal, serve tirelessly, speak truth, and comfort the broken. It’s too much. There’s too much to do and too many distractions. And there’s a shadow always following me on the journey that tempts me into a life of ease and wealth and special experiences that represent a certain kind of life narrative. In this story, I laugh a lot with friends; I travel to exotic places; I feel fulfilled and joyful and always at peace. In this story, everyone succeeds and nobody suffers.

But that’s not the true narrative. I’m in the biblical story of being sent by God–as we all are–into the crucified life. It’s a journey of obedience, uncertainty, and sacrifice. As I walk, the reality feels painful. It’s doesn’t feel joyful or peaceful or anything like abundant life.

But then I remember a bird and a brook. I tell the Lord: I need the raven! I need the brook!

When God speaks to Elijah in 1 Kings 17, he sends him out. And before he goes, God tells him how He will provide: There will be a river. There will be birds.

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.” So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

The scriptures unfold in a moment of beautiful and astonishing clarity: God provides on the journey through the water and the bird. He does this in Elijah’s life and He does this in ours. How can I not see the theological continuity of another source of water and another bird? Was not God already giving me my own brook and my own bird even now? Consider this: When Jesus arises from the water at His baptism, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove to confirm, strengthen, and love. When Jesus teaches on how we might survive this thirsty existence, we’re told He is “living water” in John 7. We have the living water (the brook), and we have the strengthening and loving Holy Spirit (the bird).

Like Elijah, we have the brook and the bird.


Press On

This morning I remember to press on. Philippians comes to mind where Paul writes in Philippians 3, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Press on!

Pressing on means we haven’t arrived yet. We haven’t made it. We’re not finished yet. There’s always more to learn and new ways to grow into maturity. We’re in process, and we feel the weight of that incompletion each new morning.

But we don’t despair. We press on!

Pressing on means to keep seeking God through the Bible, through prayer, through fellowship, through worship--in every way you can. To press on means we run and run after God in hopes of catching Him anew every day. Click To Tweet


One New Thing

The kitchen now features a new stove to connect to our town’s gas line. It’s shiny, new, perfect. But what I immediately notice is this new object’s effect on everybody else: I exclaim that now I need new dish towels. Now I need to scrub up the cabinets and any dirty thing around this new, gorgeous stove. Beauty has a way of multiplying itself. It has a way of spreading out, of influencing, of uplifting everything else.

I want to add more new. I also want to be the new thing.


“One might say that he teaches best who teaches least.” –John Milton Gregory

My friend brings me Howard Hendricks’ book, Teaching to Change Lives, and I’m struck by this quote by educator John Milton Gregory. He writes:

“The true function of the teacher is to create the most favorable conditions for self-learning. . . True teaching is not that which gives knowledge, but that which stimulates pupils to gain it. One might say that he teaches best who teaches least.”

John Milton Gregory

I think about what it means to create “favorable conditions for learning.” I think about how to engage both freshmen and senior college students with relevant, impactful, and useful material that makes them want and need more for themselves. I redesign lesson plans for greater buy-in and promised pay-off. Sometimes I ask myself, “What changes if I’m not in the room?” If my presence as a teacher doesn’t matter–and the material just speaks for itself–there’s no point in being there. There’s no teaching happening. So what am I really doing? Maybe this: A teacher enlivens the knowledge and brings an authentic, vulnerable experience of it to the classroom. A teacher sets the direction and opens the gate, but if she hasn’t inspired anyone to take the journey, she’s not teaching.

I think, too, about modeling self-learning. A self-learner values growth, change, improvement, goal-setting, and reflection. A self-learner isn’t stagnant or solely relying on experience as a form of expertise. What a journey the teaching life is! It doesn’t end, and I’m thankful that Parker Palmer’s words still ring true: “We teach what we most need to learn.”

True teaching is not that which gives knowledge, but that which stimulates pupils to gain it. One might say that he teaches best who teaches least. John Milton Gregory Click To Tweet


From His Hand

I consider today how everything happening to me comes from God’s design. The work I’m doing, the classes assigned to me, the individual students in my courses—it all comes by design.

This means I might relax into God’s care and not worry so much about what’s going to happen. I do the work. I don’t fret as much as I used to. I receive everything the day brings as from His hand.

There’s a profound peace and joy that eventually comes into a life lived with the assurance that all is coming from Him, for His glory, and for our ultimate good.


In the Nooks and Crannies

Sometimes, you must write in the thin little spaces between all the other moments. You put the writing into the nooks and crannies of the day. That’s how a book gets written when life runs parallel to it. You chop veggies. You pet the neighbor’s dog. You fold a load of laundry. You drive across town. You think all the thoughts you have to think and don’t always want to, about justice and gun laws and immigration and how to love better. You make dinner. You run everybody’s errands.

You stand in your own front yard to take a breath. And you write right there in the place where everything’s happening.

That’s the only way sometimes.


Revving Up

August feels like a month of revving up. At the same time, it’s a slow month of contemplation, prayer, and soul-searching to begin the academic year afresh. It’s a strange combination of external frenzy and internal calm that’s necessary to hold everything in place.

I have one daughter beginning her senior year. This means Friday night football games to watch her march in her marching band, college applications, and a year of “lasts” as a girl at home. Another daughter will begin her high school journey. This means the stress of a new schedule with unfamiliar routines and people.

For both girls, there’s so much to pray over and so much to seek wisdom about. There’s so much to invite the Lord into.

So we rev up and slow down at the same time.


A New Year of Education: What We Might Teach

Sometimes I skim blogs I wrote on this day in years past. I enjoyed this moment from August 3, 2010 that reminded me about the goals of education:

I thought about an article I read yesterday called, “Redefining Education: Cultivating the Soul”, written by Thomas Moore (who happens to have been a monk, a professor, psychotherapist, and musician). He writes this: 

“There are many items we assume can’t be taught that will simply fade away if we don’t teach them: manners, civility, good language, mature love, good art, self-awareness and reflection, intelligent reading, responsible travel, care of one’s home and belongings, a sense of the beautiful, intelligent spirituality and empathy for our fellow citizens on the planet. This is a small part of a much longer list.”

All morning, I’ve been thinking about Moore’s words. How am I cultivating these traits in others (and myself) as a parent and as a teacher? As I help students prepare professional materials (resume, cover letter, mission statement), I always remember what they report was most useful of all. It’s not the PowerPoint slides about effective resume design or how to format a cover letter. It’s the week I take to teach them these three things:

1.  The art of Conversation
2.  The art of Conflict Resolution
3.  The art of Community Organizing

When we discuss and practice these things, we know we tap into a lost art form of living well in community. Students who know how to engage others in conversation, how to manage disagreements, and how to gather folks together to solve problems succeed more in work and in life. They know this, and time proves it.

The lost art of living vibrantly in community needs a revival. This week, I’m reminding my family how to ask good questions in conversation (What was that like for you?  Would you tell me more?), resolve conflict well (listen, summarize, find common ground), and organize community events to examine and confront problems in our community (fitness, education, environment). Perhaps these three skills will capture the essence of Moore’s hopes for education. College students find them life-enhancing and often life-changing. I know my family will too.

Three skills capture the essence of vital #education: the art of conversation, conflict resolution, and community organizing to solve problems. Click To Tweet