Category Archives: out of the mouths of babes

an obedience to sow…

every choice plants a seed“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has designed to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. … For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”    

-1 Corinthians 3:5 – 7, 9.

She surprised me today during snack time. As I was leaving the cafeteria with my new crew of 4th graders, she was entering it as a two-week-in, sixth grader. She hurriedly made her way toward me, gave me a hug, and simply said, “Thank you, Mrs. Olsen … for planting a seed in my heart.” Her carefully chosen words paused my spirit and brought a silent tear to my eye as I patted her cheek and responded: “You’re one of the best of them, dear; one of the best.”

Seeds sown … this was her reason behind her gratitude; accordingly, it has become the reason behind my gratitude this afternoon. I’ve been waiting for her to “show up” for over a year now. When she walked out of my classroom in June 2015, I thought we’d pick up the relationship where we’d left it come fall. That was not to be, and it broke my heart. She, along with many of the other students in that class, distanced themselves from me. And while that is the natural way of letting go and moving on, it tore me up inside. I had loved them deeply, had given them the best of me for an entire year. To date, that season was one of the hardest walks of daily surrender I’ve ever had to make. So when it was over, and when an entire year passed amongst us with barely a nod from any of those students in my direction, well, I began to think that all of those seeds I had intentionally sown had fallen on fallow soil.

Apparently not.

Apparently some took root.

Apparently some are still growing, thanks be to God.

You see, it really is all God’s doing. Certainly, my obedience plays an important role in the growth process, but in the end, it’s God who superintends the heart’s development. I am nothing more than a fellow worker, a field laborer who releases the good seed of God’s love into the soil of human hearts. Every now and again, I get to hold the watering can. Occasionally, I have the privilege of seeing blooms come to harvest. But most days, I’m simply a sower, not a grower.

It’s been a tough lesson to learn.

In all of life, not just in the classroom, God intends for you and I to understand and to accept this sacred principle of kingdom sowing. We are the privileged farmers, and God alone is the King. We farm his land, and the work we do is for the betterment of his kingdom, not ours. It’s a weighty thing to try and take on God’s roll.

Who of us can grow a kingdom heart into God’s likeness? Who of us can shape a heart and make it holy? Who of us can raise a harvest that anchors deeply, grows uprightly, and points directly to the Son?

Oh, my friends, it is a dangerous thing to assume such noble responsibility. We are not fit for the task. Instead, we are fit for the plow, for some boots and for an apron full of seed. It is enough to stand there in that place of service. It is enough to walk the length and breadth of the land, broadcasting the good seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ upon the soil of men’s hearts. It is enough to just get to the end of the long day and to clean our mud-caked boots … our weathered hands and hearts from another day’s hard laboring. It is enough to live there in the shadows of not knowing whether or not the seed grabbed the earth and burrowed deeply within.

It is simply enough for us to be faithful with the sowing.

We don’t have to see the end. We only need to believe that the kingdom work we’re doing today is a step forward toward that end. In the end, we will see the fullness of the Father’s harvest, and we will understand that seeds sown in faithfulness never fall onto fallow soil. Instead, they fall forward toward fruitfulness. It is our holy privilege to stand there … in that place of release.

To understand this principle of sowing on the front side (and backside) of the planting is a good gift. But to see it firsthand … to taste the fruit of the harvest? Well, that’s one of the best gifts a heart could receive on this side of the veil. I pray that you, like me, may occasionally see and taste some of the fruit of God’s harvest through you in coming days. But if the fields seem barren and no visible fruit is seen, don’t lose your focus. Sow onward and let God do what God does best.

He gardens; he makes things grow. Of this I am certain.

Keep sowing, keep trusting, and keep knowing that He who began a good work in you and through you, is faithful to see it through to completion. As always…

Peace for the journey,

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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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Good to Me

21556439_s“Mom, I need to tell you something about that song. It just touches my heart.”

Her assessment was correct as evidenced by her hand over her heart, tears rolling gently down her cheeks.

“Just imagine, mom, people hearing those words for the first time and asking ‘Who … who has been good to me?’ Just think of how many might come to know Jesus for the first time if they took the time to ask (and then answer) the question.”

And then I did … think about it, all night long in fitful sleep and now this morning.

What about that particular question (in identifying the Giver of all goodness) might lead a person to move within arm’s reach of God?

Audrey Assad’s song Good to Me is a new favorite in our home. My daughter is learning to play it on her guitar. Somewhere in the midst of the E chord, A and F# chord, correct fingering, and strum patterns, Amelia’s heart was moved beyond the mechanics of the song to wrestle more deeply with the meaning of its words:

“I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise

And I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness

When I’m bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name

And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me

You are good to me, good to me

You are

Good to me.

I lift up my eyes to the hills where my help is found

Your voice fills the night – raise my head up to hear the sound

Though fires burn all around me I will praise You, my God

And the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

Because You are good to me, good to me ….”

(Audrey Assad, from the album Fortunate Fall, 2013)

Steadying our hearts on the ground of God’s goodness, in sorrows, through fires, even when foxes lurk in the vineyards threatening to consume the fruit of our labors. Even in these, joy can exist. Why? Because God is good, and God gives good gifts to his children, even when they are unaware of his generous dispensation. How might they begin to figure it all out?

Well, maybe by asking this simple question:

Who … who has been good to me?

Go ahead, ask the question. Make a list of the many goodnesses in your life if you’d like. And, if you’re brave, ask the question:

Who … who has been good to me?

Trace it back as far as you’re able and, then, allow the Holy Spirit to finish the drawing. No doubt and with 100% accuracy, he’ll land you back at your roots, your firm foundation—the solid rock of God through the saving grace of his Son. God is where all goodness begins. He is where all goodness resides.

And therein is our salvation. Therein, lives our answer.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” –James 1:17

Sing it like you mean it. Live it like you know it, and see if God doesn’t move your heart and the hearts of those who sit beneath your influence into closer proximity with his.

Just imagine … how many. I know my daughter is. I know the Father is as well.

Peace for the journey,

Image credit: zhudifeng / 123RF Stock Photo

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Main . . .

daughters handsI gently reached down and touched her chapped hands. Tenderly they rested on the pew in front of us as we chorused our way through five verses of “We Three Kings.” Her hands have grown over the years, no longer balled into tiny fists; no longer reaching outward to explore a rattler or a peg board. Time has shaped her hands in accordance with the calendar, but I will always recognize them. No matter the weathering that life may bring to them, my daughter’s hands are forever burned into memory. As I stood alongside my Amelia and bravely sang the stanzas, I pondered this heart truth from my friend, Alicia:

This is“main” (Anonymous, pp. 18 – 21). “Main is not behind us. Nor is main way out ahead of us.” (Anonymous, p. 21) Yes! This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. Not tomorrow’s soon-to-be; not yesterday’s once-was. No, those moments aren’t here for me to hold. This one is. This is main. And this is enough.

I spent a lot of my earlier years striving for the main of my tomorrows. It would be easy for me to conclude (in these my latter years) that main has already been . . . that at forty-six, I’ve had my main moments. The rest of them, what’s left? Perhaps the crumbs or the last scrape of batter from the cake bowl. That’s what the world would have me to believe, the enemy as well. But God’s belief system takes a grand departure from the ordinary. God has something more to say about my main.

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2)

Now. Not yesterday; not tomorrow. Now salvation. Now deliverance. Now preservation. Now safety.

Now . . . Jesus.

There’s no greater main than Jesus. Hold him—touch his weathered hands while chorusing his weathered journey—and all moments become sacredly main.

Less looking back at a past hard to remember. Less staring into a future not easily predicted. Instead, more . . .  beautifully more, gazing into the moment right in front of me. In a pew; at the kitchen sink; sitting in traffic; under the covers; while conversing with a good book, a good friend, even with a blank computer screen. Wherever I am and whatever my hands find to do, these are all main because God is there with me. To delight in him and with him, even in the seemingly mundane, makes all of life a grand and glorious celebration. I’m not there yet, but I’m not far from taking hold of it.

“Glorious now behold Him arise,

King and God and Sacrifice;

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Earth to heaven replies.

O star of wonder, star of night,

Star with royal beauty bright;

Westward leading, still proceeding,

Guide us to thy perfect light.”

His star still leads me, and the earthly in me still cries out to the heavenly in him . . .

“Guide me, precious Jesus, to your perfect light.”

Today is main, no matter the moments in front of us, friends. Receive them sacredly, grasp them tenderly, and protect them fiercely. God’s light shines in them all. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

PS: Today I have the privilege of making available to one of you, the audio version of Anonymous: Jesus’ Hidden Years and Yours by Alicia Chole. Leave a comment today, sharing with me about living your main in the mundane. Where have you found Jesus today? I’ll draw a winner with my next post. Shalom.

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a prayer for the night . . .

simple trust . . .

 

“When you come to the door, kiss me on the cheek so that I know I am safe.”

So wrote my daughter on a slip of paper last week. She placed the note in the hallway, next to her bedroom door, so I would see it on my way to bed. At first glance, I thought these might be lyrics from a new Taylor Swift song that my daughter scribbled down. Upon further examination, I realized that these were Amelia’s sentiments, not Taylor’s. That, in fact, my daughter wanted me to kiss her on the cheek a final time before my own tucking in time. In doing so, she knew she’d be safe.

I suppose she reasoned that I would make it back to her bedroom before she fell asleep, but even if I didn’t, just knowing that I was coming and that she was going to be checked on and tucked in one final time was enough to rock sweet Amelia to sleep.

Momma will come to me. Momma will check on me. Momma will touch me. I am safe. I can rest.

There’s something about a parent’s love that soothes the unrest of the night . . . that moves in to overshadow the darkness and to replace distrust with certainty. Knowing that momma is on the move and making her final round quells the simmering fear of the unknown—the shadows of slumber that slip in and out of dreams, challenging reasonable thoughts.

I am not so unlike my daughter. Sometimes, I, too, need the reassurance of my Father in my darkness. Sometimes, the shadows loom largely on my bedroom wall, and my imagination gets the best of me. Sometimes, tomorrow seems like a long time in coming and a gentle touch on my cheek from a loving parent goes a long way toward soothing the fretful ache within.

“Daddy, Father, God, when you come to my door, kiss me on the cheek so that I know I am safe.”

Safe to sleep. Safe to let go of what I cannot control and to, instead, rest beneath the safety of the night Watchman who has me covered from every angle.

A simple prayer to pray. A simple trust to offer. A simple childlike faith that believes the nighttime is the right time to count on a Father’s love. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

What prayer keeps you safe in the night?

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