Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Time To Let Go

'Time to Let Go', a sculpture in Traverse City, MI
One spring evening about twenty years ago I was running around a tree in our back garden. I was tired. My back was sore. With one hand I simultaneously pushed and held upright my youngest son's bike. He was riding it. Without stabilizers. For the first time.

I thought he would never get it. The bike wobbled precariously as he careered around the lawn, trying to keep his balance. The thought of giving up and trying again tomorrow was more than appealing, at least to me. But he clung to the handle bars, determined, his little legs whizzing around on the pedals. It was time. I let go.

And joy of joys...he was riding alone! We laughed as he continued to wobble, but despite several falls, my son no longer needed my hand. And the stabilizers were forever discarded.

Twenty years later, I am still letting go. In all sorts of ways, and of all sorts of things.

But I don't let go of joy. I don't let go of hope. I don't let go of the One who helps me keep my balance as I career through life, whizzing around worries, and pitfalls, and Lent.

How could I discard the best and strongest stabilizer I know, the One who is holding me, and all the children in my life, as we wobble home? I couldn't.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Difference Between Me and Jesus

I recently discovered a marvelous little app that allows me to manage and track my followers on Twitter. 'Unfollowers' sends a message via my inbox every day to alert me when anyone decides to stop following me.

I check their name to see who they are. I briefly peruse their profile. It hurts, just a little. I wonder, just for a moment, why they would choose to unfollow me. But then, to make me feel better, I do what I'm sure most Tweeters do...I simply hit the red 'unfollow' button next to their name, and do what they did to me. Why worry? Why follow someone who doesn't follow back? Far better, methinks, to focus on the 603 faithful followers I do have, than on the one I lost today.

And then there's Jesus...who needs no app to alert him to new unfollowers; who instantly knows their name; who knows exactly why someone would walk away from his truth; who hurts, not a little, but a whole lot when this happens; and who would never, ever choose to 'unfollow' them; but rather- insanely, unbelievably, unselfishly, crazily, sets out over any and all terrain to bring that one lost follower back to him.

Like that persistent shepherd who falls and stumbles as he searches against all odds for that one lost sheep, Jesus steps out over the treacherous terrain of atheism, skepticism, unbelief, and downright ridicule with the sole aim of lifting his child high on his shoulders, and carrying her all the way home, rejoicing.

Now that's what I call a Savior.

And that's the difference between Jesus and me.

And that is why I teach.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Gift

Last Sunday morning I had the privilege of standing side by side with my husband to offer bread and wine to our church family. I watched as they made their way toward the altar. A solemn, slow, reverent procession. Some looked at me and smiled, but most bowed their heads, respecting the mystery of the moment.

And then the children came. There was no stopping them. They almost ran down the aisle, eager to receive. I laughed as one little girl grabbed her bread and plunged it deep into the cup of juice, her chubby little fingers disappearing under purple. The cup overflowed. But she held on tight to the bread. It emerged, dripping and sodden, and she devoured it like candy.

And then there were the brothers. They came trotting down the aisle, smiling, holding hands with their dad. They reached with outstretched hands as I bent down with the plate of bread. And they grinned and looked me straight in the eye. I smiled, intrigued by a glimpse of red and silver, sparkling on the younger brother's shirt. What was that? This little guy was proudly wearing two shiny bows...the kind we might use to denote a precious gift.

And I wonder how different my experience of communion would be if I were to approach it like a child-

With outstretched hands; eager to receive; expecting my cup to overflow; ready not just to be a taker, but a giver.

To offer myself, at the altar, as a gift. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Lady Who Lived in Strawberry Cottage

She lived in Strawberry Cottage. And although that name sounds like it belongs on the pages of a Beatrix Potter book, Strawberry Cottage is a real place. And this is a true story.

Strawberry Cottage is a beautiful, old home, nestled among fields in the little village of UpHolland, in Northern England. I love UpHolland. I grew up there. At the back of Strawberry Cottage, I remember walking through the woods that she and her husband had bought, so that the tiny bluebells would be preserved. She never stepped on them. Because she was Linda.

Once a month, she would invite all of us Sunday school teachers to Strawberry Cottage. We would gather in her modest living room to plan our monthly lessons. And although she was the Sunday School Superintendent, she never frowned if we had not read through the material ahead of time. She would just smile; and laugh; and pour tea. She would offer us homemade treats; and understand that we had been too busy; and pray with us; and encourage us. Because she was Linda.

And when she first met my four rambunctious sons, who were usually bouncing off the Sunday school walls, and who generally put others off teaching for life, she just loved them. Because she was Linda.

Linda taught me more about how to appreciate and retain volunteers; how to teach; how to love children; and how to live a humble, gentle, grace filled life than any book, or seminar, or training event ever could. Not through words, but simply by who she was. Because she was Linda.

It is twelve years today since Linda smiled. Outside Strawberry Cottage hangs a sign that says 'For Sale.' But her legacy lives on. And if I can leave even half the legacy that she did, I will be happy.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sunflower Dance

A sunflower at its very best,
near our chateau
This morning as I looked out at the four feet of snow piled high on my deck, I closed my eyes and dreamt about the summer of 2010, when I spent an unforgettable seven days in a gorgeous chateau in the south of France...

My family gathered, over thirty of us, to celebrate my brother's birthday. Every evening we would sit outside around a huge table, laden with crusty French bread, cheeses, and delicious food from the grill. We would talk and laugh the evening away as the sun went down over golden fields.

For as far as the eye could see, our villa was surrounded by masses and masses of yellow sunflowers. Every day, I would watch them as they swayed in the early morning light. Whenever the sun shined on them they turned their heads toward it, a splendid sea of golds and yellows- dancing at their very best.

But if, one day, the sun failed to shine, then the sunflowers failed to dance. Instead, they hung their heads, sad and despondent...utterly dependent on the sun, and quite miserable without it.

It made me think about all of us, who serve in ministry. Like that field of golden sunflowers, turning our heads upwards every morning, God shining on us, helping us dance, being the very best we can be.

May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Glimpse Into Godly Play...

I am sitting in a circle of children listening to the storyteller. She tells the story slowly, her eyes downward, focused on twelve little wooden characters as she moves them up the mountain. There is a lot of silence. The children listen. They watch, and they wonder. Wondering is a very real part of this environment, where biblical stories are retold, but not explained, and little minds are at work, making meaning out of mystery.

And as the storyteller asks the questions, the children know they do not have to answer ....because these are just things to ponder. There are no prizes to be earned for the correct response, no popcorn to be won, no gimmicks to entice involvement. Only the wondering...

I wonder how the twelve disciples feel being called to be with Jesus?

I wonder what they said when they told the news of the Kingdom of God?

I wonder how the people felt when they heard it?

And into the space and silence, a little boy ventures a one word response...


Mmm.. I wonder why they would feel happy? asks the storyteller.

Maybe because it's good news, he says, smiling.

And now it is my turn to does he know that? How does one so young know that the kingdom of God is good news?
Unless, of course, the kingdom belongs to him?

And just like the upside down teachings of Jesus-  we who plan, and prepare our lessons so diligently, we who hold our 'learning objectives' like a measuring rod in our minds.....
must remember that when we set out to teach our children, it's actually they who end up teaching us. It is they who understand kingdom concepts better than we, even if they cannot put it into words.

And as a teacher, surely this is what I must strive towards-  to nurture that spirituality already present within the child; to value the pondering, the wondering, the space created by silence, and trust that God is at work in ways that can never be measured.

This is a hard approach for me, because it requires that I change.

But I know that in the upside down kingdom, I must change and become like a little child, in order to let the child teach me.

Learn about Godly Play

Monday, February 10, 2014

Practicing the Presence of God

I kneel beside my grandson as he stands mesmerized at the window in the early morning light. I have my arm around him as we watch snowflakes gently fall. Branches are bowed heavy. Sunshine glistens on the garden's white blanket and we see jewels sparkling here and there. We are peeking into winter's treasure chest - its lid opened wide outside our window. There is no sound except our voices.

Where's God? asks Xander.

God is in the trees. I say. God is in the stillness. God is in the snow. God is in the air. God is in the sunshine.

But where is God? he puzzles.

Well God is invisible, remember?

My grandson is still. He thinks. He watches snow fall. And then he turns to me and asks,

God is in the house?

I laugh as I scoop him into my arms and affirm, Yes, God is in the house. And God is in your heart too.

And the words of Jesus and Henri Nouwen and Sue Monk Kidd echo in my mind as they share the mystery and wonder we find when practicing the presence of God.

And I think about an autumn day when I raked leaves and my neighbor came to talk. And how the only thing I could think about as I leaned on my rake was that God was in my neighbor, and God was in the leaves, and God was in our conversation, and in our worries, and in our smiles, and in our time.

And I want every day to be like this snowy day. Or the day when I raked leaves in the autumn.

How do we cultivate practicing the presence of God with our children?