A Beautiful Story

When a new school year begins, there are always adjustments to be made. Sometimes, it’s learning to wake up early again. Other times, it’s remembering how to keep track of homework. For one of my young students, it was learning that daily devotion would be a part of every school day.

The first day, when I told my class it was time for morning devotion, this child visibly deflated. His shoulders slumped, his face fell, and tears began to roll down his cheeks. It took a while, but eventually I coaxed him into church to join everyone else for devotion. Over the next few weeks, this turned into a pattern. One day he looked at me with a mournful expression and said, “You know I don’t like devotion!” I kneeled down and said, “I know you don’t. But it’s really important and that’s why we do it.”

So. What’s the point of telling you this? It certainly isn’t to “out” my little student and make an example of him. In fact, if you were to ask me who it is, I would tell you it’s you. And it’s me. Our sinful flesh fights against going to church or making time to study God’s Word. We find excuses to skip that devotion or worship service. On our own, it’s the way we will always lean. The path our feet will always turn down.

Sometimes the solution to our first instinct is simply to tell ourselves, “I know you don’t want to. But it’s really important and that’s why you do it.” Rarely does one walk away from a church service, a Bible study, prayer or devotion time, and say, “Well, that wasn’t worth it.” Much like forcing yourself to get that exercise time in or eat those vegetables, we are always glad when we’re done. We recognize the benefits and value in giving ourselves what we need. However, unlike eating healthy and exercising, regular time in God’s Word includes the promise of His powerful, faith-giving Spirit. Not to mention God’s guarantee that His Word will not return to Him void, but will accomplish what He desires (Isaiah 55:11).

Fast forward a few months. These days, when it’s time to go into church for devotion, there is no fuss from my student. No problem. In fact, he’s often the first one to line up. He listens and participates in devotions. He includes his petitions with the others that fill our prayer request board. He sings his praises and recites his memory work.

Isn’t this a beautiful story? Great blessings come from making God’s Word a regular part of life. It’s how the Holy Spirit works in the heart, encouraging and strengthening faith, and preparing one for the life to come.

And just in case you’re still wondering who this story is about,
let me say again:

It is your story. And, praise God, it’s also mine.

 

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The Cause, The Cure

Last week during our September 12 devotion at school, Mr. Ohlmann held up a picture of the New York City skyline. In the photograph, the twin towers were still whole and standing strong. He asked the students, “Does anybody know what city this is?”

My mind immediately began racing. Is he doing what I think he’s doing? Is he going to say what I think he’s going to say? Will the kids be able to understand such an awful event? Won’t it scare them?

Next, he held up a second picture of New York City, and in this one the towers were missing. No doubt about it now, he was going to do it. He was going to talk about the horrible events that occurred in our country on September 11, 2001. As he went on to explain that day, he used words like “terrorist,” and “murder.” He talked about the tragic destruction and countless deaths.

I kept a wary eye on the students, ready to stage an intervention at the first sign of distress. To my surprise, they accepted the information in a perfectly calm, yet somber way. Because Mr. Ohlmann didn’t just tell them what happened, he went on to tell them why it happened.

In that moment, it struck me that this is a blessing to treasure in our school. We are able to teach our students about the reality of sin and all its ugly consequences. We can teach them that there are no “big” sins and no “small” sins, and that even the sins committed on 9/11 were fully paid for on the cross. We are able to point them to the sin that exists in their own hearts. What a blessing it is to not just learn about history, but to discuss it in the light of God’s Word. What better lesson can we impart to children then to remind them that even when terrible things happen, our loving and merciful God is still in control. Not only that, but He has promised to make “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

By the end of devotion, I saw everything differently. They didn’t need a teacher like me, who wanted to “protect” them from this truth. They needed a teacher like Mr. Ohlmann to remind them that sin is the cause, and Jesus the cure.

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The “Only Haves”

We’ve officially begun another year of school here at Grace. I enjoyed my summer, with the kids home and the extra family time, but I realize how much I thrive on routine. It feels good to be back in the classroom, spending time with my three little students and looking for new ways to teach old things. The start of another school year also means I will be writing regularly for the Christian education inserts we put in our bulletins, and I’ll be sharing some of those here.

I’ve spent all too much time lately trying to force my plans through instead of trusting that the Lord is in control. His plans don’t always align with mine, obviously, because He is all-knowing and I, clearly, am not. I want to see our school filled to bursting, but it’s not. I want to serve new families in our community through our preschool, but so far, I’m not. It confuses me at times and sometimes I want to ask God, What’s the plan here?  The following article was born from these struggles and thoughts. It’s given me great peace to “take my hands off of my life” and give God control (as Tenth Avenue North would say).

My prayer is that you would find peace as well, in whatever struggle you are currently facing. May we all trust the promise of Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

So. It’s been a year. One year since we opened the doors to our Christian day school. In that time, I’ve fielded the same question over and over from family, friends, and fellow CLC members and it goes something like this: “How is your school doing?” I would pause, sometimes a little too long, before saying, “Pretty good. We only have eight students, but it’s a start.”

I said it like an apology. Like I had to explain that we know we can’t “compete” or “compare” to the other schools in Sleepy Eye, or even the other Christian schools within our small synod, but maybe someday. Maybe someday we will be a respectable school, with a respectable number of students, in a newer and updated facility. Maybe someday we will have what those other schools have: the latest technology, our own sports team, music and drama classes, a fully stocked art room, our own bus…and the list goes on. Maybe someday we will be “good enough” but for now we “only have”.

Over the summer months, God has had me rethinking this attitude. There is no minimum number of students needed before nurturing a young soul is worth it. What does it matter if we have 6 students or 60? It doesn’t change what we have been called to do, or make it more or less important. Then, just a few days ago, I was reading through 1 Corinthians chapter 4. In this chapter Paul is telling the Church how complete they are in Christ. He says, “You are already rich! You are already full!”

I suddenly thought of our small school in a new way. We are already everything we need to be in Christ. We are not lacking in anything that really matters. The same can be said of each one of us, members of Grace Lutheran Church, who have been so blessed to know our Savior and who are now called to comfort each other in that truth and share that good news with our community. We are already rich, already full. Not someday. Right now.

You know, maybe we are the Only Haves after all. We “only have” been called “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). We “only have” this amazing opportunity. We “only have” been blessed with saving faith. We “only have” a congregation of believers who are committed to supporting Christian education. We “only have” the truth of God’s Word to guide us, His Son to cover our sins, and His Spirit to strengthen us. We “only have” everything we need.

As we begin another year of preschool and elementary school here at Grace, please join me in praying for the Lord’s blessing to be in our midst. May we stay faithful in our work and walk worthy of the calling which God has called us (Ephesians 4:1).

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What’s Your End Game?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how quickly life passes. Maybe it’s because my birthday is right around the corner, or maybe it’s because my son just got engaged. It could also be that we spent the last week vacationing in Michigan, not far from where I grew up. Hundreds of memories resurfaced, reminding me of how things used to be coupled with a bittersweet sadness that they can never be that way again. My parents will never be that young again, my siblings never that carefree, my childhood friends no longer a daily constant.

On top of all this, my sweet friend Virginia passed away last week. I met Virginia 13 years ago, when I was pregnant with Julia. She was finishing up cancer treatment at that time, and entering remission. She quickly went from “acquaintance” to “friend” to “family.” She meant it when she said, “Call me if you ever need anything.” And I did. Virginia came to my rescue in many ways over the years, and she taught me what it means to be a steadfast, true friend.

So, yes. Life passes quickly.

Nathanael taught me how to play chess when we were dating. At first, I was intrigued with this game, its clever pieces and precise rules. I didn’t mind losing to him either, because I was just learning. After a while though, I realized he was a rather ruthless opponent. He came to win. He took no prisoners. He was willing to do what I had no patience for, that is, take as much time as he needed to plan ahead, to strategize, to play with his end game forefront in his mind.

I’m starting to see the value of living life like Nathanael plays chess. As in, what’s my end game? Remember, life is short. So, what happens when this is all over? I’ve always been cognizant of the passing of time, but it takes a week like I just had to really stop and think. It takes these major life events to be reminded that my time passes in the blink of an eye. Thinking about my end game is more than a good idea, or even a smart strategy. It’s a matter of life and death.

If all this sounds horribly depressing, please don’t panic. That’s just your natural, human response to the idea of change, of getting older, and yes, of dying. It’s my natural response, too. It’s likely why I have been crying on and off at random and inconvenient times for several days now. We don’t like these feelings because we know this isn’t how things are supposed to be. When sin entered the world, it drastically changed God’s creation and His design for our lives. And there was only one possible result for our end game.

The good news, the very best news, is that Jesus is the Game Changer. Jesus “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light…” (2 Timothy 1:10) This is nothing short of astounding. He has abolished the thing we fear the most. He now hands us a simple book of strategy for how to win: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Following Jesus is a sure way live life with my end game in mind. He promises to get me where I need to go. Following Jesus, staying connected to Him through His Word, and praying to the Father through Him is life changing, and life giving.

I have no doubt that part of me will always struggle to adapt to all the changes this life brings. I also know that this makes Jesus, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” even more precious to me (Hebrew 13:8). I know I can trust in Him to lead me through whatever comes my way. I am confident that, in Him, my end game is secure and I have already won.

Ye who are of death afraid
Triumph in the scattered shade.
Drive your anxious cares away;
See the place where Jesus lay.

Christian, dry your flowing tears
Chase your unbelieving fears;
Look on His deserted grave,
Doubt no more His power to save.

(The Lutheran Hymnal 203:2-3)

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The Empowered Woman

In this short and sweet post, I have a few things to say about The Empowered Woman, and what that means to me. I promise it will be pain-free!

First things first. The Empowered Woman is a new book from Chicken Soup for the Soul! It hits bookshelves on May 1st and they were kind enough to include my story “Color Me Fabulous” in this anthology. This story is about the time I dyed my hair bright red while Nathanael was gone on a mission trip to Africa. I was a bit burned out from being on full-time kid duty and was desperate for a change, and…wow. Suffice it to say, I definitely got a change.

What’s interesting is that I had originally submitted this story for a different Chicken Soup topic, so when I heard they wanted to include it in “The Empowered Woman” anthology instead, I was a little surprised. Me? Empowered? I certainly don’t see myself that way. Plus, “Color Me Fabulous” is a story about a bungled mistake, a not-so-great plan gone horribly wrong. What’s so empowering about that?

The more I think about it, the more I realize that my mistakes can and do make me stronger. Most days I’m trying to find the perfect balance for family, friends, work, church, home, and self. The pressure to do it all and do it well is tremendous, because I don’t have time for mistakes. I’m tempted to think the only way to feel empowered is to successfully manage all of this at the same time. But really, few opportunities in life teach as well and as quickly as those times I drop the ball, fail, or learn something the hard way. Surprisingly, it’s these failures that force me to change, grow, and feel empowered. Finding a way to laugh while I’m at it? That’s just a bonus.

You can find Chicken Soup for the Soul books on sale at Walmart, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. Also, if you have an empowering mistake you’d like to share in the comments, I would love to hear it! Thanks for stopping by!

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Pack Light!

w. It has been one crazy, busy, amazing, stressful, and unforgettable ride since August. Most of you know that’s when I started teaching preschool and kindergarten at our (new!) Christian Day School here in Sleepy Eye. I think I’ve learned as much as my students have, but unfortunately, I’m a slow learner and have had very little time for writing here.

I’ve still been writing though. Twice a month, I write a “Christian Education” article for our church bulletin, and these articles are based on devotions we have each day at school. It just occurred to me that none of us, school-aged through old age, ever stop learning from God’s Word. So I decided to share some of my Christian Education articles here in the hopes that they will offer a bit of encouragement for your day. Devotion is easily my favorite part of the school day because nothing refreshes like time in the Word with my Savior. I pray these little glimpses into our devotion time bless you as well.

What would you pack if you were going on a trip?

This was the question Pastor Mayhew asked at devotion recently. Some answers he received were: My dad, a friend, a blanket, a basketball, a fan, an MP4 player, a tablet, and stuffed animals. What about you? What would you pack? My packing list always includes things like my phone, camera, medicine, and books to read. These are my “must haves.”

Now, what if instead of a trip, you were running a marathon? Suddenly, things change. “Must haves” take on new meaning. A marathon runner doesn’t want to take anything that is not absolutely necessary to finishing the race. Carrying a lot of extra stuff would weigh him down, wear him out, and maybe even prevent him from finishing the race at all.

The students could understand how silly it would be to try and run a long distance with a blanket around their shoulders or a basketball in their arms. Even the youngest child understands that when you want to run fast, you drop everything and go.

As Christians, we are running a race. The race of faith. The devil, the world, and even our own flesh often try to weigh us down with temptations and sin so that we will become discouraged, worn out, and in danger of quitting. But Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us how to finish strong:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Easter LilyWhen Jesus rose on Easter Sunday, He opened the gates of heaven for us. Our goal is to drop everything we don’t need and run the race of faith, keeping our eyes on Jesus. Best of all, we can pack light, because Jesus is all we need to obtain victory.

 

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Prayer Time

Prayer Time

Growing up, my sisters and I made up a game called Cottie Too. It was a somewhat nonsensical game with two rules: It always began with the phrase “cottage cheese” and players promised to say the first thing that came to mind.

That’s it. It probably doesn’t sound like much of a game, but it was actually pretty fun. The first few comments were always the same, but after that it broke off in different directions. Often the game took us on a hilarious ride with sudden changes in direction as three separate trains of thought attempted to travel the same track.

It’s been a while since I thought about this childhood game. Then a few nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and had a hard time falling back asleep. There were so many thing on my mind. My husband and children, extended family, friends, loved ones, and strangers…all suffering with different things. Heartache, loss, hardships, illness, life changes, loneliness, depression, belief, unbelief, big problems and small problems. Too many and too much to pray for the way I wanted to.

So I began a “Cottie Too” prayer instead. I started with one person and prayed for whoever came to mind next. A face came to mind, accompanied by a need. It was fast. Intense. Effective. I realized I didn’t have to spell it all out. God knew what I was trying to say, even if my thoughts were too jumbled to get out just right. The Spirit reassured me, in Romans 8:36, that this is true: “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

What a beautiful reminder from my loving God. He doesn’t need me to fully explain myself, He doesn’t need a blueprint of my thought process, and He’s not bound by the same communication limitations that restrict me. Instead, He invites me to come to Him as a child goes to their father, and lay my wants and needs at His feet.

prayerI have a feeling I will be praying more like this in the future, and much more often. I am looking forward to more frequent visits to the throne of grace where I am promised “mercy” and “grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

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First, a Thank You

1995-11-22 Mayhew Wedding8It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for my blog. Life, you know. But today is a special day and I want to acknowledge it somehow. It’s our “golden” wedding anniversary. Nathanael and I have been married 22 years today, November 22nd. Thanksgiving has always been a special time for us, a time we picked because we were thankful God brought us together. We were married in a Thanksgiving Eve church service in one of the simplest weddings I’ve ever witnessed. We became husband and wife in between the second hymn and the sermon. The only thing “normal” about our wedding was that I did wear a traditional white wedding dress.

Our wedding announcement had this passage from Colossians chapter 3: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (verses 15 and 16)

This was our marriage prayer, to yield to Christ, to be in His Word, and to be thankful.

So today I want to take a moment to be thankful. I don’t really have time for this. I’ve got two little boys fighting in the living room, a shower to take, a kitchen to clean, errands to run, organ to practice, and other writing to get to.

But first, a thank you.

Thank you, God, for twenty-two years with a Christian man. A man I can point my daughters to with confidence to and say, “Marry someone like your dad and you will be happy.” A man who directs me to Your Word when I have lost my way. A man who works tirelessly for our family.

Thank you, God, for seven (!) amazing children. For being with us through the sick nights, the ruptured appendix, the finger stuck in the treadmill, the concussion, the unfortunate trip downhill on the scooter, the scares. For the joys and triumphs, the spelling bee victory, the guitar and flute music, the sweet notes, hugs, kisses and giggles. Thank you for night time devotion and prayers and the privilege of leading these children to a knowledge of Jesus.

Thank you, God, for all the extra things. For three different homes, our first in Wisconsin, second in Georgia, and third in Minnesota. For eight different vehicles throughout the years, more food than we need, more clothes than we can wear, more toys than we can keep picked up and put away.

Thank you, God, for family and friends who lift us up when we are down. Who share our life with us, and who encourage us to walk the narrow path. Our parents, siblings, friends, church family, and school family. Those people who visit, call, write, and connect with us so we know we aren’t alone. They make our lives richer, our times happier, our sorrows less bitter.

Thank you, God, for the hard times. The times we struggled, couldn’t see eye-to-eye, the times we didn’t even like each other anymore. The times we wanted to give up, but didn’t. This is the thing I was ignorant of when I got married. I suppose every couple approaches marriage with a certain naïve optimism. Without it, maybe none of us would get married. I think maybe I thought our problems would be, if not non-existent, then at least smaller.  What I failed to realize it that those problems would make us stronger. Those challenging times would bring us closer. Not because we are strong people, but because God was there to do the heavy lifting for us.

Most importantly, thank you, God, for sending your Son Jesus to be our Savior. For the grace that saved us, and guarantees us a place in heaven. Thank you for forgiving us our many sins, and for leading us in Your Word. I don’t feel *quite* so naïve anymore. I know it’s all You.

These 22 years of marriage have gone by in the blink of an eye. Whatever time we have left will surely go by just as quickly. So, first, a thank you. Thank you for bringing us to this day. Second, a please. Please hold on to us for the days that remain and bring us safely Home when our journey here is done.

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Keep Me Until

I got her call as I was driving through the twin cities in end-of-Labor-Day-weekend traffic. “Mom,” she said, “I think I have a concussion.”

It hit me like a shot. I found myself scanning the road ahead for the best place to get off the west bound lane and head back east. I tried to think rationally about what was best. I tried not to panic. I ended up calling my mom, and she went to pick my daughter up from her boarding school and took her to the emergency room.

Sure enough, Hope has a concussion.

This experience has reminded me once again just how much I’ve learned in sending my children off to school. (Which I find a tad ironic since the education is supposed to be for them.) First and foremost, I’m learning to let go of my constant desire for control and to trust in God’s wisdom instead of my own.

The lessons are often painful, and I’m not the quickest study. With four of my seven away at school, I have lots of long phone conversations. Some are easy and light. Others are filled with struggles, sorrow, confusion and hurt. It’s time like these that I feel my heart pulling eastward, and my feet want to follow – if only to give them a hug.

I fight this lack of control because when I can’t be there for my children, or “fix” things, I feel helpless. After the concussion diagnosis, I found myself praying for Hope and it went something like this: “Dear Jesus, please be with Hope. Keep her safe until I can get there.”

My prayer jolted to a stop as I realized what I just said. Keep her until I can get there? What is that about? It seemed I was treating my Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier God like a stop-gap measure. Someone who would do in a pinch until the more capable help arrived. I thought about it another way. Having Jesus “keep her until” was a lot like putting the professional in charge until the amateur arrived. I wondered, if I were driving home in the middle of a Minnesota blizzard, in white-out conditions with blowing snow and icy roads, would I really want to pull over and let my four-year-old drive instead?

Of course not. Yes, loss of control is tough pill for parents to swallow. I want to spend 24 hours a day with Hope while she heals from this concussion. I want to make her soup and carry her books. I want to make sure she’s resting and keep her comfortable. I want to put the world on mute so that all those noises don’t aggravate the pain. (Full disclosure: I’m in the visitor’s room at her dorm right now. Typing this while she sleeps.) I want to control as much as I can when it comes to my precious children, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But it is wrong for me to think my care and compassion it superior to Jesus’. It’s wrong to think He can’t do as good of a job as I can. It’s wrong to think He won’t keep His promise to be with Hope always, and to always do what is best for her. It’s wrong to think He doesn’t love her just as much, and more, than I do.

So tomorrow will come, and I’ll kiss her good bye and drive home. I will leave her safe in the arms of Jesus and when I start to worry I will pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” I will pray, “Lord, I can’t. But you can.” I will pray, “Jesus, help me remember. I don’t want you to keep me, or my children, or my family, or my friends, “until…” I want you to keep us always.”

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My Funeral

Better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that is the end of all men;
And the living will take it to heart.
~Ecclesiastes 7:2

Yesterday we had a funeral for one of our church members, a wonderful woman whose name was Grace. There was no question about whether or not my husband or I would attend. He had to conduct the service and I was scheduled to play organ. But should we “make” our children go?

Grace had spent the last several years of her life in the nursing home, suffering from dementia. Aside from occasional visits, my children did not know her well. So when they asked me if they “had to go” to her funeral, I considered saying no. In fact, I may have said something like, “I don’t think so,” or “Probably not.”

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a mistake it would be for them to miss out on an opportunity to attend this funeral. So yesterday morning, I woke them and up, instructed them to dress in church clothes, and told them they were going to the funeral. My four-year-old was a bit puzzled. It wasn’t Sunday, and yet I was dressing him in a shirt and tie and getting him ready for church. “Mom,” he asked, “why do I have to go to the funeral?”

I thought carefully before answering him, and then explained the two reasons I wanted him there.

First, it’s important to attend funerals so that we may offer support and Christian love to the grieving family. As Christians, we understand that death is a good thing. We are deeply happy and thankful for the victory Christ won for the person who has passed. And yet, the earthly separation is painful. It’s only natural that we miss them and struggle to adjust to life without them. As I told Noah, “We are going because Grace was in our church family. And her children and grandchildren will be sad and lonely because she is gone. We need to let them know that we care about them and are praying for them.” This reason is easy to understand, even for a small child.

Second, funerals are a tangible reminder that our own death day is approaching, and they can help us prepare for this day. This reason was a little more difficult for Noah to understand, and I suppose I don’t blame him. No one likes to think about death. It’s likely the main reason most people dislike funerals or find them depressing. No one says, “Oh, yay! We have a funeral to attend on Saturday!” But like it or not, death is a real problem each one of us will face one day. By attending a Christian funeral, we are reminded that Jesus Christ has removed all fear of death and opened the doors to heaven for us. What a blessing to hear that message of grace!

I couldn’t help but think that yesterday’s funeral wasn’t really for Grace. She has already obtained her crown of life and has been gifted with eternal life. She is rejoicing in the presence of her Savior. Her funeral was more for her family and her friends, for me, and yes, for my children. It was for those of us who are following in her footsteps and still running our early race.

So it is with every Christian funeral I am able to attend before that day of my own funeral. They are precious opportunities be blessed with the message that Christ has conquered death, and to find comfort and joy in the knowledge that heaven is open to me.

There’s really no question about it. Such a funeral is always for me.

 

 

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