Category Archives: discipleship

Spring Fever

“He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” -John 12:6

Spring fever has hit these parts. I don’t know about where you live, but for those of us living in eastern NC, spring arrived early, somewhere along January. Warm weather has been our companion throughout the winter, and it’s been a seasonal nightmare for the wildlife as well as the flora. The Canada geese arrived early (although I’m not sure they ever really left) and the finches, bluebirds, cardinals, and robins have been dining dutifully and daily at my bird-feeder. The poor azalea bushes bloomed a few weeks ago, only to be prematurely side-swiped by a drop in temperature, leaving them limp and colorless (as if they needed any less time to be lovely). The dogwoods are blooming, the pollen is thick, and the playgrounds are filled with students who’ve been celebrating the arrival of spring … well, since January.

It’s been a long, not-so-much winter around here. Which brings me (albeit slowly) to a spring scene, a spring thought I’d like to share with you. It’s been gnawing on my brain and in my heart since I witnessed it a few days ago while out on my afternoon walk. As afternoon walks go, mine are fairly routine. The 1.5 mile loop around my neighborhood is filled with established yards, driveways and basketball hoops, mailboxes, pine trees, and a few ponds tucked in and around for aesthetic purposes. And where there are ponds, folks, there are fishermen, all of them currently eager to see the catch that has emerged after our long, not-so-much winter.

One of them parked his car precariously close to the water this past week. I didn’t recognize it, nor did I recognize him. He was in his early twenties, and his uniform indicated his vocation as a Pepsi employee. Instead of holding a fishing pole in his hand and patiently waiting for a bite, he was scanning the pond, running back and forth along the water’s edge in sporadic, frantic fashion. Realizing that spring fever can do strange things to a person (remember, I am a fourth grade teacher), I gave him a wide berth before initiating a conversation.

“Did you lose something, Sir? Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no Ma’am. I just like to come out here after work and watch the fish swimming. There sure are some big ones in here this spring … bass. Have you seen ‘em? Seeing ‘em just makes me so happy.”

“Well, I sure hope you catch some today. Enjoy.”

“Oh, I’m not catching today. I’m just taking a look.”

True to his word, within moments he got in his car and left … a happy man. It didn’t seem to matter to him that his catch would be delayed. Instead, just seeing the fish, just knowing the fish were there, was enough to fuel his passion for a catch yet-to-be.

Spring fever indeed, and I am both thunderstruck and elated by his pure and unadulterated joy.

When was the last time you saw a fisherman running up and down the riverbank getting excited about the potential catch of fish rather than the actual catching therein, about sensing the possibility before it actually happens? It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that kind of joy about a catch yet-to-be. Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve scanned the riverbank for any signs of fish.

Spring may have come early to eastern NC, but spring has yet to arrive in my heart. Instead, I’ve been stuck in my long, not-so-much winter. Rather than looking for fish … anticipating fish … I’ve been content to look elsewhere, to keep a downward gaze instead of casting my eyes forward to the horizon of possibility. In doing so, I’ve missed out on something significant. I’ve missed the joy that comes from running alongside the Fisherman and seeing what he sees—a school of prospects swimming close to the riverbank and hovering even closer to the surface.

I’ve missed the opportunity to do a little early, spring fishing with the Master Fisherman.

And that, friends, has been gnawing terribly on my heart and in my spirit. It’s left a hole of sorts, a spring-shaped one that can only be filled with the letting go of winter. So, instead of lingering in what might have been, I’m going to do a little scouting with Jesus this week, take some time to walk the riverbank with him and to see, instead, what’s yet-to-be. Unlike the Pepsi man, I’ll bring my reel and rod. If the fish are biting, I don’t want to wait another moment to snatch them up and bring them home.

There’s a holy catch readying itself to be caught, maybe even a big bass. Keep your nets in hand, friends. Keep fishing next to Jesus. I’ll meet you at the pond. As always…

Peace for the journey,

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the song of the brook …

My students and I have just finished reading Song of the Brook by Matlida Nordtvedt. As literary prose goes, it doesn’t measure up to the classics, but it does serve a purpose in our classroom. It’s one book in a continuing series of books presented annually to students who use the Abeka curriculum; they seem to enjoy keeping up with the Johnson family from year to year.

The main character of the story is Hilda, a young girl from Bellingham, Washington, who is learning to live with change: a move to a new community, the disappointment with that community, discord amongst extended family members, bullying on the playground, overcoming insecurities, and the like. Despite the chaos in Hilda’s new life, she finds solace in an unexpected place – the babbling brook running beside her dilapidated house. At night, she sits next to the open, bedroom window and listens as the brook “sings” her a song. Repeatedly throughout the story, the brook impresses upon Hilda’s heart various phrases to soothe (and sometimes to meddle with) the aches within her heart. Her brookside meditations are Hilda’s way of spending time with God and hearing his voice therein.

Even though Hilda’s story is set in time nearly 100 years ago, the problems she faces back then are not unlike the problems we face today. Who of us haven’t known the ache of relocation, the tears of disappointment, the fracture of beloved relationships, the taunts of a bully, and the crippling of insecurity? Today’s troubles aren’t much different from yesterday’s harms; the scenery simply has changed.

Unlike Hilda, I don’t have the beauty of a singing brook running by and next to the parsonage in Laurinburg, NC. I don’t raise my windows in the evening for fear of unwanted critters (or humans) disrupting my night’s slumber. The sounds of my city at night are no match for the idyllic evening lullabies of the countryside, those wide-open spaces that seem to more easily host the voice of the Creator.

Still and yet, I hear the Father’s voice. His words speak to me as I take the time to listen in, to open up the window of my soul and to meditate upon the scriptures he has written to me in his holy Word. Sometimes God’s melody soothes the aches within; sometimes his refrain meddles with my will. At all times, his song is truthful. God cannot lie; neither will he sing a song over me that will lead me down a wayward path. Instead, his song … his words are for me, for my good and, most importantly, for his kingdom good.

Lately, his holy refrain has been crystal clear:

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

Over and over again, for the past several weeks, these words have cycled repeatedly throughout my mind, like the lyrics of a song you just can’t shake.

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

In living out this obedience from John 13, there are always ample challenges. Stinky feet aren’t my preference. It’s easier to touch cleanliness than dirtiness. It’s less problematic to embrace the feet of a friend than it is to embrace the feet of a betrayer. Even so, the Father sings…

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

I don’t know what this will look like for me in the days to come, how this yielding will play itself out. But of this I am certain … it will play itself out. Whether at school, at church, at home, and maybe even at Wal-Mart, stinky feet are everywhere – walking in front of me, behind me, next to me, over me, and, yes, sometimes within me. We all get our feet dirty from time to time. The Father’s basin and towel are equal to the cleansing task, yet another undeserved grace from his heart to ours that allows us to get clean and then to offer that same cleansing to others.

As I have done for you, Elaine, so you must do for others. Wash their feet.

The window of my soul is open. The song of the brook is singing. Even so, Father, I am listening.

As you have done for me, Lord, help me to do so for others. Amen.

Image Credit: Copyright: ideastudios / 123RF Stock Photo

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when harvest comes …

27569576_sRough edges. I have some. They were readily exposed for me to clearly see this past year. The catalyst for that exposure?

Fifteen students hand-picked by God to move me on toward my perfection!

For the past several years, I’ve been incubated from such exposure; life and its many detours have allowed me some shade and protection along these lines. Certainly, there have been occasions when I’ve felt the soul-shaped sanding from others but not as intensely as I have experienced it in these past ten months.

Most days, I wanted to run away and hide, crawl back into the shell I had so carefully crafted for myself during my earlier season of isolation. Exposure was painful and bloody, with precious few moments of joy to temper the ache. But I hung in with Jesus … every single day. I called upon the name of the Lord more times than can be counted. Together, he and I walked the school year through, and as we rounded the corner toward the finish line, I was finally able to see the amazing work of grace.

Growth.

I grew. They grew. And as we spoke our final good-byes, I held a little fruit in my hands – the same hands that (to date) had only held seeds, only sown seeds in hopes of one day having them grow into something more substantial.

This has been a fruit-bearing year for me. I couldn’t see the fruit in the beginning, and I certainly couldn’t feel it along the way and as we went. But I always believed in it, always trusted God for the greater work of grace that surfaces as a direct result of willing obedience to the call of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we choose the mission field, friends; sometimes it chooses us. Either way, the responsibility is the same – to sow extravagantly the seeds of our faith. To break up the unplowed ground beneath our feet with the spade of God’s Word. To water it with the sweat of our brow and the tears of our surrender. To nurture the seed and soil with fervent prayers and gentle hands. To trust in the unseen work of the soil and to believe that every hour of intentional investment will yield a harvest of eternal proportion.

Sometimes we have the privilege of holding that resulting fruit; sometimes we can only believe in it. Either way, our responsibility remains.

sow extra one

Keep sowing God’s seed in this season of your life. Whether uncomfortably exposed or intentionally hidden, you have a choice to make regarding the faith seeds that are stored in your heart. In releasing them for the greater work of the kingdom, you are making a choice for growth – for yourself and for others. Don’t be surprised when the spade digs deeply and (sometimes) harshly. Expect it, believing all the while in the unseen work of the soil and in the eventual harvest to come.

What cannot be seen or held is seen and held by God. He is superintending the process, and the outcome is not in question. But don’t take my word on it, take his …

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” –John 15:8,16

In season and out, sow generously and sow believing that He who began a good work in you is faithful to see it through to completion. As always …

Peace for the journey,

Photo Credit – Copyright: nikkiphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

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What I Learned this Year (top ten from the Lunchroom Lady)

25792039_s“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” –Galatians 6:22-23

 

Well, it’s official. This lunchroom lady has hung up her apron for the summer. That’s what my kids call me . . . the “lunchroom lady.” I remember the moment the label first surfaced on our first day of homeschooling two years ago. I was busy tidying up the kitchen after feeding my two students in our makeshift cafeteria (a.k.a. the dining room) when I heard my son playfully utter his request:

“Hey Lunchroom Lady, may I have another slice of pizza?”

I laughed back then. But after two years of making lunches, administering educational plans, keeping records, and keeping the peace between sibling-students, I don’t feel much like laughing anymore. Instead, I feel like crying. Why? Because I’m just not convinced it’s working for us—mostly for me.

Maybe because of the guilty feelings I carry about altering their social scene. Maybe because my personality isn’t well-suited for round-the-clock, child supervision. Maybe because, at forty-eight-years-old, I’d rather be pursuing other goals.

Am I hurting them? Am I hurting me? Probably – at least to some degree, and this is a difficult wrestling. These next several weeks will tell the rest of the story—whether or not my “want to” will resurface for another year of more of the same. I can’t imagine it will, but time has a way of adjusting emotions, reshaping feelings into something lesser than what was first felt and believed. What now seems so traumatic will (in coming days) seem less severe. Perhaps then will be the time to make decisions regarding my children’s educational needs, not now while stress threatens to muddy the waters of reasoned responses.

As a parent, I have a responsibility to educate my children, and as a citizen of the United States, I have a legal obligation as well. Accordingly, I can either allow the state this role or I can assume my position as the “lunchroom lady” as well as the many other roles that naturally surface alongside as requirement—teacher, principal, janitor, recess monitor, and the like. For a variety of reasons, my husband and I made the decision to homeschool our two youngest children a couple of years ago. And today, on the backside of our 180 days of compulsory attendance, I’m wondering about the depth and the strength of our learning.

What did we learn? Was it enough? Was it worth the investment?

I can’t speak for my kids, but I can offer a few thoughts about the depth and strength of my learning this year. Here are a few “take-aways” written on my final exam, a few tips from this lunchroom lady for those who choose to follow in my footsteps:

1) Selfishness doesn’t belong in the lunchroom; be prepared to take the test anyway.

2) Not every good idea is the right idea; choose rightly and be at peace.

3) Independent learning can foster laziness; when no one is watching, it’s easier to default to lethargy rather than industry.

4) A wise lunchroom lady understands that she must feed her soul before feeding others. Living it in reverse promotes crankiness.

5) Test days make poor study days; study daily, and you’ll walk more confidently and peacefully through the exam.

6) Manners are free; poor etiquette comes with a price tag.

7) The cafeteria is never really closed; after lunch comes supper—family life after the school day ends. Keep the apron handy as well as the Kleenex.

8) Strap on the Holy Spirit; pray for his fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). It’s going to be a long day (see #7).

9) Grades are good indicators but aren’t always accurate reflectors of the rest of the story.

10) Lean into the rest of the story. This is the curriculum that matters the most.

And there you have it—a few closing thoughts from the lunchroom at Peace Academy. As you can tell, my kids weren’t the only ones who learned something this year. I was a student as well; truth be told, I probably failed more exams than either of them combined. It’s a sobering thought and, perhaps, a driving force behind my tears in recent days. At the age of forty-eight, I never imagined this would be my classroom—the curriculum that God would use as the crucible to refine and purify my heart. It’s my strong impression that we still have some work to do.

What did I learn? Was it enough? Was it worth the investment?

Time will tell, but until then, I must lean into the rest of the story . . . my story; read some more of the text and add a few lines of my own. This is the curriculum that matters. This is the course of study that counts for the kingdom, and this is the life I have chosen. God has generously laced this journey with his marvelous grace so that, no matter the grades on my report card, there is more than enough mercy and love to pass me through to forever.

Grace is not an excuse for failure—for not showing up to the classroom, not listening up to the teacher, and not living up to my learning. But grace is what it has always been—available. Available to catch me, cradle me, renew me and reshape me when I fail. Grace keeps me in step with God’s Spirit and, every now and again, he uses me as his conduit therein. Because of this truth (this overriding understanding that I am duly enabled by God’s grace to be a dispatcher of his Spirit), I am able to move forward beyond the stressors of this academic year and to consider a next one.

Maybe right now, you’re in the midst of a difficult learning season. You didn’t plan on adding this curriculum to the heavy course load you’re already carrying. Instead, it added you, and you cannot imagine making it through to the exam, much less passing it.

Take a moment to breathe. Take a moment to read, again, the ten tips from this lunchroom lady. Take a moment to pray over each one, and then take more than a moment (take two or ten or twenty) to consider #10. Lean into the rest of the story, and see if God doesn’t have something further to say to you. What you hear in those moments might just lend you enough strength and depth to walk the curriculum through to the finish.

Keep in step with the Spirit and keep company with his available grace. Against such things, there is no law. Instead, because of such things, there is life and, every now and again, there is laughter.

“Hey Lunchroom Lady, may I have another slice of pizza?”

Maybe, Son. Just maybe.

What difficult classroom are you experiencing in this season? Is there one particular tip from the list above that God is using as a prompt in your heart? Never underestimate the rest of the story. It just might be the best of your story in the end.

Click here to learn more about Beyond the Scars – a tool to help you or someone you love examine the rest of the story under the lens of grace. Peace and prayers, friend.

Photo credit – Copyright: chris_elwell / 123RF Stock Photo

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on starting the God-conversation

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A few things occur to me this morning while reading Luke’s account of “Jesus sending out the seventy-two” (Luke 10:1-24). In particular, I’m focusing on two sentiments/phrases that Jesus instructed his disciples to use in their evangelism campaigns. What strikes me is their simplicity, while at the same time their capacity for profound, kingdom results. Those phrases …

1 – “Peace to this house.”
2 – “The kingdom of God is near you.”

And here’s my thought as it pertains to my evangelism campaign, maybe even yours. Wherever your feet take you today, whatever group you wander into (either by accident on through intention), whether he or she is a stranger or friend, why not start the God-conversation with a little, “Peace to this house” followed up by a little, “The kingdom of God is near you.” It might flow a little differently than that. Maybe something along the lines of:

1 – “Peace; God is near.” or
2 – “Peace out, peace in. Peace here, peace near. Peace everywhere.” or
3 – “Peace. God. Now.”

Words like that. Words that are reliable. Words that are true. Peace is here, because God is near. And wherever God is, his kingdom follows alongside. How do I know? Because he said so.

Once having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” –Luke 17:10 (emphasis mine)

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you carry the kingdom of God with you wherever you go. Why not speak a little peace and a little kingdom into the hearts of those within arm’s reach today? It certainly would be an interesting way to start the God-conversation. It might even be effective.

Peace out, peace in. Peace here, peace near. Blessed Peace in and for our journeys, everywhere. I’ll meet you on the road!

Image credit: nruboc / 123RF Stock Photo

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