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Holy Dirt

A new semester dawned last week at the school where I work.

The semester experience is new to me, for I had never attended nor worked in a school with such a timetable, and I love it!

To be in the midst of deep, dark and damp (in the Pacific Northwest) winter and have opportunity to start over is a great refreshment.

Our learning support classroom contains a new batch of students, with new and diverse strengths, needs and abilities. Those of last semester have a break from us, and we from them.

As each new class came and went, impressions began to develop about the new students.

Such new starts, with new students, make a sentence, familiar to those working in education, pop into my mind, constantly, as those impressions cross my mind:

Parents give you the best kids they have.

I love that sentence. It reminds me, not just that each student is the child of someone, but that they are also a human soul created by God, with a purpose.

It reminds me that I need to treat them gently, kindly, like the precious child of man and God that they are.

First impressions are never to be invested in too greatly, for their truth is based on the equivalent of a one hit wonder … with little substance to create an entire# life story.

So the semester begins, with a sense of freshness, newness … and a sense that the fresh soil sitting in the seats is holy ground.

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So there was a day of frustration, of sorrow, of hopelessness. A day I didn’t know what to do. Prayers had been prayed, with white-knuckle faith, with peace beyond human understanding. Chin up, saying my amens expecting the (right) answers any moment.

Nothing.

No grand answer to prayer … not even a hint that anyone was listening.

Ever been there?

Ever had your chin so far up that the air seemed too thin to provide the oxygen needed to breathe in, breathe out? Ever had your hands folded in prayer ’til they were so white-knuckled that their white-washed bones were shining through your paper-thin skin?

In frustration, in exasperation, as hope and faith fade and we cry out:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

Psalm 13:1-2

Then, from my pit, I reached out to others, sharing my story, my struggle.

In just a few days, change dawned one morning. Complete, beautiful, better-than-I-could-have-hoped-for answer to prayer.

So, why? Why did the many months of prayers in faith result only in silence? Why did answers only come when I shared what was weighing on my mind and soul with others?

For an answer, lets look to Moses (Exodus 17:8-16).

While the Israelites were still wandering, they were attacked by Amalekites. So Moses told Joshua to choose some men to fight, and that he would stand at the top of the hill, with the staff of God raised above his head.

This all sounds a bit weird, except that this staff is the staff that could be thrown down and transform into a snake. It is the staff that tapped a rock and water came from it. It is the staff that was used to bring on the plagues of Egypt. It is the staff that parted the Red Sea. It is the staff of God.

So, as the story goes, as the staff was raised, the Israelites were winning, but whenever the staff lowered they began to take losses. Battles do not end in minutes, but hours and days, and Moses could only hold his arms up for so long. So, along came Aaron and Hur and they sat Moses on a large rock, and they stayed at each of his sides, helping to keep his arms held high.

“As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.”

Now when Moses raised the staff in the air it provided at least two purposes. One was that of a visual encouragement to those in battle. The other was that of intersession to God.

That staff had been the symbol of the presence of God for these wandering Jews. Moses lifting it up was not a power that Moses had in his own strength, but with the help of Aaron and Hur. Together they were holding the symbol of God’s power acknowledging that they did not have any power without God.1

Matthew Henry’s Commentary speaks of this intersession, and of the help Moses received from Aaron and Hur:

“We should not be shy either of asking help from others or giving help to others, for we are members one of another.”

We have, at our very hands and sides, people who can and will hold us up when we get tired, when we are weak. Others who are willing to intercede on our behalf. That is the encouragement, the help that we need when in the thick of life’s battles.


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go to church oftenAs hubby and I visit a different church each week in our quest for a home church, we are now asking different questions, harder questions.

Questions such as:

if we enjoy the preaching, is that reason enough to choose a church? For there is no guarantee that the regular preaching pastor will stay.

is what we see and experience at a worship service what we should base our decision on?

should we find a church that is a good fit for us, and then commit, or just make a choice, commit and then make it fit?

Recently I took a Sunday off, and didn’t go to church. Stayed in my pjs until noon, got a few things done around the house, and just enjoyed a quiet house to myself. Though this was not my first time playing hooky from church, though I have had beautiful and memorable times of Sabbath at home in the past … this time was different.

This time I kept thinking about much I wanted to be part of a church, to be part of a small group, to walk in the doors and be greeted by familiar faces, to serve where there is a need that we can meet, to sing, to learn, to grow with others. To be fed with fork and knife (not from a bottle).

We are not going to find the ‘perfect’ church, for, if such a place existed, it would be tarnished as soon as we entered it’s doors. We aren’t going to always love the songs that are sung, or how, or by whom. We aren’t always going to relate (or even like … did I just say that?) everyone we meet … pastoral staff included.

But,

if there is warmth in it’s walls,

if there is welcome to the imperfect,

if there is a joy in the worship

generosity in the giving

humility in the praying

Good News in the preaching

and invitation to serve …

then we will need to go, and go every week.

For it is in the going, every week, that the church becomes not just a habit, but a healthy dependency.

 

 

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Now what?

This graduation season is the first in a number of years that I do not have a child graduating from a high school or university.

Though there are no caps and gowns to be worn under my roof, I do get to annually experience high school graduation through the students I get to work alongside.

As the ceremonies approach there are often two types of graduates:

  1. those who can’t wait to graduate
  2. those who say graduation is coming too soon

The thing is that neither of those responses to graduation is any indicator of how successful they will be after they cross the stage to receive their diploma.

There is one thing for certain, graduation will indeed occur, and this season of life will now be in their past.

As a mom who has watched three of her kids go through the high school graduation process, each with their own approach to, each with their own unique next step, I can say one thing is certain …

change is inevitable, unpredictable
and
in God’s hands.

One can never guess what a year from commencement might bring in the life of a graduate.

After a dozen or so years, a young adult experiences change in every area of their lives, often all at once.

Like the grad cap that gets thrown up into the air as the graduation ceremony comes to an end, the routines, schedules and relationships of much of one’s life disappear. For those who will leave home for school, work or travel in a new community, the amount of change mounts even more.

For many a hard reality awaits as:

  • finances include not just purchasing the newest technology, but rent, a car payment and the awful reality called taxes.
  • education means actually having to be responsible for doing the work, and a due date is actually the date the assignment is due … no exceptions.
  • one’s bestie in high school might find a new bestie
  • those amazingly natural basketball skills one exhibited in high school are mediocre at the university level, and one will need to work harder than ever before to get off the bench.

For others a great and unexpected freedom reveals itself:

  • education is exciting now that one can choose courses that provide interest and stimulation
  • new friendships develop with people who accept each other as they are
  • the list of extracurricular activities grows, providing more opportunities to participate in an area of strength
  • entering the workforce means leaving homework in the past

Whatever route a graduate goes, whether it is work, school or a bit of both, it can seem daunting and exciting … all at once.

Last weekend, actress and comedian Mindy Kaling gave the commencement address at Dartmouth College. She said,

“Can I do this by myself?
The reality is, I’m not doing it by myself,”
“I’m surrounded by family and friends
who love and support me.””

As the transitions associated with graduation occur, our graduates need to be reminded that they are not all alone in their changes. That they have supporters all around them, cheering them on, at the ready for when they need advise, a few bucks, a meal, a hug.

They also need the reminder that their futures are in the hands of a God who has “created them in their mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13), “has loved them with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), “who will never leave them or forsake them” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

 

 

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When I was about fourteen I got my first prescription glasses.

They didn’t work.

Actually, they did work, but my eyesight deficiencies were so slight that my need of the lenses was not great enough to experience the inconvenience of wearing them.

Over the years I tried contacts, different frames, and lenses increasing in strength. It wasn’t until about two or three years ago that, when my prescription was increased, I wore my glasses more often than not. As a matter of fact I refuse to drive without them now. I need them to watch a movie or play at the theatre, and I certainly need them to see what is written on the board of a classroom.

They are still uncomfortable, annoying at times and frustrating to wear if I am sweating, but their usefulness outweighs the frustrations that come with them.

To try to do much of life without wearing my glasses would be fruitless. They allow me to do and to be my best. Though I am a very competent driver, believe me, without my glasses, no one would want me to be on the roads.

I have had the privilege of working with students who also need assistance in performing to the best of their abilities, to do and to be their best. Often these students are viewed or believed to be stupid or lazy.

Some need what was taught in class to be re-explained, some need technology to assist their written output, others need more time to do an assignment, still others need less options on multiple choice or a word bank for fill-in-the-blanks, and then there are those who simply need to do their work out loud, allowing their ears to actually hear what they are thinking.

One of the greatest examples I have ever known of the assistance that educational assistants can give is of one young man who struggles with written output. For a math test, he was allowed someone to scribe for him, writing onto the paper only what he told them to write. Now, for me, to have someone else scribe a math test would drive me to distraction, but this young man thrived, achieving a test mark well above his average. He knew how to do the work, he simply struggled to get the knowledge in his brain onto the paper.

They are not stupid or lazy, they are simply impaired in an area, as I am in my vision. So, in my job as an educational assistant, I get to be their glasses. It would be irresponsible for them to not receive such help, and it would be negligent to not offer and allow such assistance to those who need it to do and to be their best.

 

 

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I feel so honoured when people ask me to pray for them. It is as though they are drawing me into an intimate trust relationship. Most often, when someone does ask me to pray I start whispering intercession immediately from my heart to the heart of God (partially because I have a short memory and I don’t want to forget).

Recently I had a day … a dark and stormy day (and night … and day … on repeat). One of those days we all have once in a while, when everything seems to go wrong, fall apart and weigh fully on our shoulders.

I was really down, and knew I did not want to stay in the mire of that day. So I did what I usually struggle to do … I contacted a handful of friends, told them of my dark and story countenance, and asked if they would pray.

It was still dark and stormy, there were still things that went wrong, that fell apart, but the load was lighter … because the load was lighter.

Praying for each other is drawing each other into an intimate trust relationship, it is sharing the load … the load of real life, that we were never intended to carry alone.

As I drove to work, the next day, the clouds parted (literally), showing the bright light of the sun and the clear blue of the sky. It was as if creation was reminding me of how the dark clouds had parted the evening before, when I swallowed my pride and asked for prayer.

“In the same way,
prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare.
Pray hard and long.
Pray for your brothers and sisters.
Keep your eyes open.
Keep each other’s spirits up
so that no one falls behind or drops out.”
Ephesians 6:18

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Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 6.53.18 PMThis past week was one where I came to understand and appreciate afresh the church as the love story that God intended.

Loving and sincere well wishes to hubby, after his resignation, from people near and far.

Visits from caring people, when one of a family member spent a few hours in hospital.

Messages from my co-ordinator at work, letting me know that there was someone on ‘back-up’ should I need to stay home the next day with my sick loved one.

True care for each other amongst our kids, all dropping everything for each other.

Offers of prayer from all around the world.

In the Greek and Hebrew language the word church is translated as meaning called out or assembly. In neither case does it refer to a building or institution, yet that is often what we think of when we hear or say the word, church.

The early church came together (assemblies) to worship the God who had come, clothed in human skin, to redeem his creation.

In John 13:34-35 (The Message), Jesus gave a new command to his followers (aka. those who would be the early Christian/Christ-following) church:

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

The Matthew Henry Commentary speaks to that verse:

“Before Christ left the disciples, he would give them a new commandment. They were to love each other for Christ’s sake, and according to his example, seeking what might benefit others, and promoting the cause of the gospel, as one body, animated by one soul. But this commandment still appears new to many professors. Men in general notice any of Christ’s words rather than these. By this it appears, that if the followers of Christ do not show love one to another, they give cause to suspect their sincerity.

Showing love to one another is the most distinctive action we can determine to do, in order to set ourselves apart, in order to be called out (to be the church).

By loving each other we mirror the way Jesus lived, we show his love to the world. If we do not show love to one another … are we truly called out? are we truly His church?

I am so thankful to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, who walk the walk, talk the talk, and be the church.

 

 

 

 

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