Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Do You Have a New Year's Resolution?

I am riding on a Portland bus when a sign above catches my eye. In bold letters, I read: See Something? Say Something. This is not the first time I have seen this sign. I last saw it in the airport when traveling. It reminds me to be watchful, to remain vigilant, to notice anything suspicious, or out of the ordinary.   

But what would it be like if I tried to apply this principle in a positive way? What difference would it make if instead of spying out the suspicious, I were to look out for the lovely? Suppose I made an effort to be watchful, to be vigilant, to see all the wonderful things in the world- the things that really are out of the ordinary, if only I have time to notice them?

Like a single ray of sunshine shining down on me when no one else notices...

Or a mama who is simply in love with her baby...

Or a teacher who quietly inspires you to be your best...

Or a child who teaches you more about Jesus than you could ever teach him...

And what would happpen if, when I see all these things, I say something, like:

Thank you God, or 
What a great mom you are, or 
It is such a privilege to work alongside you or
Do you know what a precious gift you are to me?

And imagine what an impact we could make in the world if we all were to See Something and Say Something. Imagine what a difference your words would make in the life of a child, or a Sunday school teacher, or your family. 

Take this little resolution into the new year. Be watchful. Be vigilant. Be an encourager. And see what happens.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Have You Seen Undercover Boss?

A repost from December 2012...

With an audience averaging 17.7 million viewers, 'Undercover Boss' ranks as the biggest new season premiere since 1987 and the most watched premiere episode of any reality series.

Each week, 'Undercover Boss' follows a different executive as they leave the comfort of their office above to work alongside their employees below. This undercover mission allows them to share in the experiences of their employees and to obtain an up-close look at how their company works.

At the end of the week, the true identity of the boss is revealed, the employees are rewarded for their hard work, and the company celebrates as everyone benefits from the experience.

Over 2000 years ago, another 'Undercover Boss' left the comfort of an executive office above and came down to live amongst people on the earth below. With an audience of millions, the true identity of the boss was revealed and each Christmas, the world celebrates. 

What a privilege we have to be part of bringing children to discover the true identity of that 'Undercover Baby' and the eternal benefits He brings.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What is Your Reaction when Wished 'Happy Holidays'?

During the month of December for the past ten years a jolly light up Santa has been standing proudly on our front porch. But this year, we decided to upgrade to the Holy Family. We arranged Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus on the front lawn, tracked down our extension leads, and plugged them in. Beautiful!  The baby Jesus brought light to our neighborhood, which of course, is what Jesus always does.
My husband and I watched from the window as the children who live in the street came to admire the display. It gave us a good feeling to advertise the true meaning of Christmas.
But last week, when the heavy snows came, the baby Jesus disappeared, buried under a deep blanket of white.  And as I scraped away the snow to see his little face, it reminded me of all the ways we bury Jesus at Christmas.
Jesus is buried under all the tinsel and trimmings; hidden in the busyness of shopping; obscured by those who feel the need to wish me Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.
But I am not worried by all of this. Instead, each day as I lift out the baby Jesus and place him on top of the snow where his light can be seen, it reminds me to elevate him to the place he belongs every day of my life- at the top of my to do list.
And to those who wish me Happy Holidays I do not frown. I smile, and say almost the same in reply. I wish them Happy Holydays, because 'holiday' is a compound word, derived from the two words 'holy' and 'day'.
And this is why I smile...because no matter how much we try to run from it, or how deep we try to bury the baby, Christmas is all about the birth of Christ, a true holy day. What a wonderful lesson to teach our children!
Happy Holydays!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Ivy

That just has to be false, I thought, as I looked up in disbelief at the ivy that was traveling all around the room. Too big, too long, too green, too shiny to be real. But my husband disagreed. I got up to take a closer look, reluctant to leave my hotel breakfast. I felt at the leaves. They felt real, but surely not? It couldn't be.

This ivy had traveled all around the edge of the ceiling, not once, but multiple times, was wrapped around two pillars, and continued into the next room, with no pot, no soil, no source in sight. It's real, my husband said. But I was unconvinced.

Then the hotel manager came in. Is this ivy real? we asked. She nodded, and pointed to a tiny shelf above the front desk. Sitting on the shelf was a little jug of water, and from that invisible source, that massive ivy was rooted and growing. I was amazed at how far it had traveled. 

One invisible source, 
one impressive journey,
nothing false,
only real.

Be encouraged as you keep our children rooted and connected to the One who can sustain them. We never know how far they may go.

Remain joined to me, and I will remain joined to you.
No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain joined to the vine. John 15:4


Monday, December 2, 2013

The Scrap Yard

Two weeks ago I had a lovely afternoon out with my grandson. We didn't go to see Santa. We went to the scrap yard. When you are a boy of almost three years old, and your whole life revolves around wheels and machines, a day out at the scrap yard is a wonderful thing!

But it was quite a sad and sorry place for me.

We stood, my grandson and I, as huge cranes lifted one mangled mess after another. We looked out over a pile of discarded rubber tires and wheels, to where a dump truck was unloading remnants of someone's old stove, and beyond to where a giant magnet swung from side to side as it carried bars, and bolts, and bits of metal to their final resting place.

But the saddest sight of all was a little red tricycle, perched pathetically on a wall, one wheel dangling helplessly over the edge. My grandson was particularly fascinated by it-
possibly because it reminded him of his little shiny red three wheeler at home. But there the resemblance ended...

This little bike had long been forgotten and abandoned by its owner.

Covered in rust and mud, its paint flaking, and its wheels bent, that little red bike was beyond repair.

But it fascinated me too.

I couldn't help but think about the little child who had once owned that bike. Maybe it was a surprise gift, lying in wait to be discovered one Christmas morning. Perhaps it had been proudly ridden to the park and back, as the sound of laughter echoed in the street...
But it was discarded now.
No one had use for it any more.
It was simply a sorry remnant of someone's life.

But just as I was lost in thought, the owner of the scrap yard ambled along, a cheery guy in a brown wooly hat, with a big smile and a loud laugh, and I wondered how he could be so cheerful amidst such a sad and sorry place as the scrap yard.

But the owner explained cheerily how everything I could see would be recycled, made new, and used again.

And in the midst of that messy place, an amalgamation of broken bits and useless remnants of people's lives, I thought about heaven.

And how God works to make all things new. 

And how God can take all our brokenness and restore it.

And how no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind could possibly conceive what God is preparing for those who love Him.

And this is why I teach.
And this is why I write.
Because I want all children to know.
I want my grandson to know.
This life is not the end.
It is just the beginning.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Who Am I?

I remember well the day I got my glasses. I was only ten years old. And I wanted them. My mum and dad had them. My sisters had them. My brothers had them. I wanted them too.

Until I put them on and looked in the mirror. True, I could actually see, for the first time, but I suddenly became ugly. I gazed back in horror at this strange person who did not look at all like me and I knew that I would never have a good relationship with these thick, chunky, jam jar lenses that distorted my blue eyes, and made me look like some sort of alien.

And so for the next ten years, I stumbled around almost blind, but I refused to wear them. My glasses defined me. Every time I put them on, they spoke to me. Loudly. They told me who I was... ugly.

And although wisdom comes with age, so do wrinkles. And although my heart knows that I am not defined by what I wear, or what I weigh, or how I look, my mind still somehow listens to those voices of the world, who shout in that loud voice, and try to tell me who I am.

But when I focus instead on the Voice of the Word, I hear something entirely different, even though I have to really strain to hear those quiet whispers. 

When God talks to me, I hear,

I am God's beloved
God chose me
I am God's special treasure
I belong to God
God delights in me.

Now those are the things I want to hear. Those are the statements that define who I am. And those are what we need to teach our children, who are growing up in a world that threatens to devour them. And when I find myself worrying about that prospect, then I hear Jesus shout, not whisper:

Take heart! I have overcome the world!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Hand

The candle flickered as we stood in a circle at the close of our lesson last Sunday morning. Just a regular, small group of tweens-  ordinary kids, each involved in many other activities, each holding dreams, each eager to please, each with upturned hands, ready to draw a symbol on each other's palm ...a symbol that would hopefully remind us of our time together, and what we had talked about that morning as God had moved among us.

I took the permanent marker and drew a tear drop on a young girl's hand. Then I wrote God inside. We had talked that morning about suffering...not knowing why we suffer, not finding answers, but acknowledging simply that when we cry, God cries too.  

I traced the teardrop, and said quietly, God is with you when you suffer. She took up the pen, turned to her friend, drew the tear drop and repeated the words, until the little action had gone around the circle, and made its way back to me. I smiled as I looked at the little visual on my palm. Such a cute reminder of our time together. I blew the candle out.
And that was that.

But unbeknown to me, that little symbol was about to become much, much more...

The young girl was a greeter at church that morning. She left our class, and headed upstairs, her pony tail swinging behind her. She was ready to smile, and welcome, and shake hands, as she often does, with all who would step through the doors of our church. But this morning was different.

Little did those people know, as they took that young girl's hand in theirs, and their palms met,  that she was silently transferring that symbol, passing on the reassurance, even though they did not know it, that God is with them when they suffer.
For we all are one.

Hands meeting hands, eyes meeting eyes, God meeting us...through a young girl. And that little experience confirmed to me what I have really known all along as I serve in children's ministry...
it's not about me blessing the children, but about them blessing me.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Grandson's Name

It must be my season to be a grandma. Just three weeks ago, we welcomed a third precious grandson into the world. And for a day or two, that was his name...Grandson Number Three. But then my son told me the name they had chosen, and I smiled. His name is Brixham.

Now for most of you, that name will not mean much. But our third grandson is named after a little fishing village in the south of England, where we would go with our four sons every year for our summer holiday.

Ask any of those sons what they think of when they hear that name and maybe they will tell you, like I would, that at the mention of 'Brixham', they see images of a little seaside town where pigeons sit in a wall, and seagulls fly, and boats drift; where cottages of many different colors cluster around the harbor; where there is a little shop that sells shells, and a cafĂ© on the corner where we ate fish and chips. They will tell you how, on a balmy summer's evening, we would sit and listen to Brixham's great grandfather playing his trombone on the quay, as the sun went down over Brixham's harbor and the notes danced on the waves.
Brixham is truly a name that makes us smile.

I think that when God hears your name, God smiles too. But not because it conjures up happy memories of anything you have done, or anything you have said, or anything you have tried to achieve. Your name makes our creator smile simply because of who you are, because you're you....God's child.

Let's teach our children that lesson...surely there is no lesson more powerful.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sharing a Hymn Book

I saw a beautiful little scene unfold before my eyes in church last Sunday. Two young boys, robed in red, after playing bells and singing in the kids choir, stood together, side by side, holding a hymnal between them, ready to join in with the first congregational hymn. Occasionally they smiled; just once or twice they nudged each other; but most of the time they sang in unison, heads bowed together, holding that hymnal for each other, repeating ancient words that have been sung by generations before them.
Just two ordinary boys. Just a hymnal. Just a song. Just a little scene unnoticed by most.

But a precious moment in time seen by me, and the pastor, and the boys' parents, and God. Because it seemed to me that those boys were doing much, much more than singing together. Even though they did not know it, those boys standing side by side were nurturing and watering seeds of faith, and love, and hope, and witness, planted in their own little hearts, by their parents, their grandparents, and the generations who have chorused those words before them.

And over time, seeds grow. And maybe, one day, those boys will be dads themselves. And maybe they will watch as their own sons robe, and play bells, and sing in the choir, and stand, side by side with their brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing a hymnal from which to sing. And the seeds keep on growing.

Generations come, and generations go, but as we raise our children in God's ways, we leave a rich legacy, a heritage of faith that stands the test of time. And from little seeds, mighty fruit trees grow.

Your faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 119:90

Monday, October 28, 2013

Looking for Glow Worms

I am eight years old.
Night is falling.
And I am walking with my dad as I often do.

He holds my hand and makes up stories as I walk beside him along the country lane. We see a harvest moon overhead and he recites poetry as our feet step step through little puddles and splash the light.

This is England, and rain is a constant companion, even during the summer. We have at least two more miles to walk before we reach home. But the time will go fast because I am with my dad, and we are hunting, our eyes downward, our steps careful.

And if we keep looking, we see them hiding in the bushes, tiny magical lights that glow in the darkness, and will accompany us all the way home. We have found glow worms.

Almost four decades later I fly to the USA for the first time and I step outside the back door on a warm summer's evening and I cannot believe what I see. The entire back yard is filled with tiny twinkling lights, flying and flickering all around. I am amazed. I have never seen fireflies before. I feel like I am in a Disney movie. And my husband and our four sons watch them, utterly fascinated, for a long, long time.

Two years ago, I sit in a beautiful boat and I sail across water with my friends. The moon overhead is our guide and the stars our companions. We are night sailing, and it is breathtaking.

Just a few weeks ago I sit on the beach with more friends when the sun has gone down, and everyone else has left. And I think how sad it is that they have missed the best part. Because in the darkness I see the moon reflected and dancing on waves and stars appear from nowhere and lights from boats travel unaided as if suspended above water. 

And I think about all the beauty that is to be found when darkness falls...like fireworks, or constellations, or lightning, or fireflies, or tiny glow worms that accompany us all the way home...

And I want to be one of those lights that shine in the darkness for a child.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Monday, October 21, 2013

And Then Came The Fall...

It's that beautiful time of year again, when trees dress up and wear their finest costumes, and line up in the street like models on the catwalk. And I am out endlessly raking and stuffing pumpkin bags with my grandson when I am reminded of this post, that I wrote a year ago...
One of the reasons why my husband and I fell in love with our home was because of the trees. We bought our home in the spring and watched in delight as all the maples, oaks and lilacs in both our front and back yards sprouted different colored buds, blossoms and leaves. Our delight continued throughout the summer, as those same trees brought much needed shade to our deck, creating a haven for squirrels, chipmunks and woodpeckers. And then came the fall...
The trees are still beautiful, the colors still breathtaking, the sight of the golden carpet that adorns our driveway still brings a smile to my face, but the raking is endless. After another back breaking trip to the compost heap, hauling a tarp full of leaves that must have weighed almost as much as myself, I found myself wondering...how could it possibly be that those single, tiny, insignificant leaves, with an individual weight of almost nothing, could combine together to weigh so much?

When I'm tempted to feel insignificant, and I find myself wondering if my efforts in children's ministry will ever amount to anything, I'm going to remember those tiny, weightless leaves and the tremendous weight of them when combined together. We are not in ministry alone. Together, you and I can make a huge difference.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Quotation Marks

I don't notice it at first. After all, I have read this scripture a hundred times. I know if off by heart. What new thing could there possibly be for me to learn here? But then I see the quotation marks...

This is the reason I have been attending Bible Study Fellowship for 12 years now- because of the new things I learn when I take the time to really meditate on the Word.

And so I am reading from the early chapters of Matthew when into the scene jumps John the Baptist- that wild, hairy, insect-eating guy whose loud message of repentance somehow drew crowds and crowds of people- people not only wanting to listen to his revolutionary words, but also ready and willing to be dunked under the cold waters of the River Jordan. (I know they are cold...I have been in them).

But the really interesting part is when Matthew quotes from Isaiah as he describes John's ministry:

A voice of one calling in the desert,
"Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him."
Matt 3:3
But listen to the way Isaiah says it, and where he places those quotation marks:
A voice of one calling:
"In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord,
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God."
Isaiah 40:3
John is not just one who calls in the desert, but is a clear voice to all who find themselves there. 
And I hear the prophetic words of both Isaiah and John the Baptist echo in my mind. I know children who live in the desert. I know those who are out there in the wilderness. But there is always, always hope. Because no matter how dry the desert, no matter how wild the wilderness, we just keep preparing the way...and God will come.

How are you preparing the way for God to come in the life of a child?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What's Your Wallpaper?

I have the cutest photo ever of my new grandson. He is lying oh so still on his side, his forefinger curled under his little chin, his dark blue eyes focused intently on the camera. I promptly set this adorable photograph as the wallpaper on my smartphone. Now I can show it off proudly to anyone who enquires about him. So precious!

But there is one small problem. My grandson is somewhat hidden in the background. In the foreground are all the apps and icons that are so important to me...all the little buttons that I need to use every day. 

They are, after all, indispensable...one push of the globe gives me instant access to the worldwide web; an opened envelope with a number beside it is a signal that I have urgent mail; the icon of a file folder reminds me of all the important people in my life; the tiny green ear piece is the key to my phone; and of course the blue square with the letter F in the center is my link to the essential Facebook.

Then did I mention the camera icon, my Instagram app, the monthly calendar, my Pinterest link, the MapQuest button, or my highly addictive Scrabble app, just to name a few?
And the result of all this? When I want to see my precious grandson, I have to drag all those important apps out of the way, just so I can focus on what really matters.

What if God has become the wallpaper in my life?

What if I have placed God, my most precious possession, in the background, behind all those other important things that demand my time and attention? And if I am struggling with that, how can I help those tweens I teach every Sunday who are wrestling with it too?

I have learned the simple truth that on those mornings when I manage to lay my phone down, and put God first, my whole day seems brighter. And those tweens? Is there a way to help them experience that too? As a teacher, mentor, and spiritual guide, if I can be honest with them about my own daily struggles with the world, then maybe I can help them drag some of their distractions out of the way, so that they can see what truly matters too.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Rottweiler

Irritation crept in as I pressed the handle down for hot water and heard a gurgle that told me the pot was empty. I was already disgruntled because I had to get up too early, and this did nothing to improve my mood. Can I help you? a bright and cheery voice said behind me. I turned to see the hotel breakfast attendant- a young man, all smiles, wearing his red Best Western apron with pride. There's no hot water for tea, I grumbled.
Oh, I'm so sorry about that. But here's another pot of hot water we use for oatmeal...can I pour some for you?
No thanks, I retorted quickly, you need boiling water for tea, and it won't be hot enough. I'll just wait. Still smiling, the young breakfast attendant poured some of the hot water into a dish and tested it with his fingers. Yep, he laughed, as he quickly withdrew them, it's hot!
But I am stubborn. No thanks, I said again. I'll just wait, and turned away. Less than twenty seconds later, the young man reappeared at my side holding a fresh cup of steaming water and a teabag. Here you go, he said cheerfully. Can I get you anything else?
For the next thirty minutes, I watched and listened as this young man greeted each and every hotel guest who came for breakfast, from the youngest to the oldest, conversing easily in Spanish and English. I watched him welcome, chat, laugh, run, fetch, lift, carry, clean, and serve, all the time wearing a big smile on his face. I was not the only guest to compliment him on his excellent service.
The young man's name is John. He is a senior in college studying Hotel Hospitality. And his philosophy when he comes to work each morning is 'to make everyone happy.' John succeeded.
I have no idea if John is a Christian. I have no idea if he knows just how Christ-like he is. But I cannot help compare him to a Christian man I once knew who stood like a guard dog at the entrance to our sanctuary, on the look-out for any 'undesirables.' I can still picture the scene as if it were yesterday, that Sunday morning when my son's friend decided to try out this 'religion thing' for the first time. And how the rottweiler growled as the teenager entered the church, and let out his most ferocious bark, Take that hat off! I distinctly remember how my son's friend turned crimson as he pulled his hat from his disheveled hair, in front of the entire choir, congregated in the entrance to the sanctuary, robed in their finest. Of course he never came back. Why would he?
And as I prepare to welcome children and families to our church this Sunday, I'm going to try my best to emulate John...because it's people like him who ensure that the Best Western hotel is full...while sadly, our churches are not.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Turtle

Xander at the library
"You can make a turtle now," announced the lady at the library. She had just led a lively 'toddler time' for at least twenty energetic young children. We had listened to two stories, sung three songs, jumped around with teddy bears, and had fun with a turtle finger rhyme. Now it was time for crafts.
My two and a half year old grandson eagerly grabbed two glue sticks and a pair of scissors while I searched for the other essentials- but the only supplies were a paper plate and two sheets of green and brown paper. I looked around hopefully for pre-cut shapes of a turtle's head, or tail, or feet- but there were none. So as Xander cheerfully coated the paper plate with masses of glue, I set about trying to create what might resemble a turtle.
I carefully cut out two blobs for the head and tail, and four spikey feet, all the while talking to my grandson...this is the turtle's head, here's his tail, and so on. I don't think he was listening...he was far too preoccupied with his second glue stick.
Together, we somehow managed to stick the head, tail, and feet at somewhat appropriate points around the rim of the plate. Good! But just as it was beginning to resemble something like a living creature, Xander remembered the scissors, and decided to try his cutting skills on my creation. With one swift snip, the turtle's head was gone. Oh no! I cried. With the next snip, the tail was shredded, followed rapidly by four severed feet. Then Xander started snipping around the edge of the paper plate, and looked up at me to gauge my reaction. I laughed at my preconceived idea lying in shreds on the carpet while another grandma next to me commented, It's his project, not yours.

Every year faithful Methodists around the world dutifully recite the challenging words of
John Wesley's Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal...

Wow! Do I really repeat those words every year? Do I really mean them? Because if I do, then I must surrender my life to the snipping...because after all, it's His project, not mine.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Blue Toes

As I perch on the stool with my feet wrapped in soft towels, and feel the warmth from the hot rocks underneath, I decide to be bold and go with blue nail polish. And as I step out of the spa sporting my new blue toes, I am reminded of a post called 'Beautiful Feet', that I wrote while visiting England two years ago...

I stood, riveted to the spa window and could not believe what I saw. Three people sat, dangling their feet in a fish tank, whilst hundreds of tiny fish nibbled hungrily at the dead cells between their toes. An eye catching sign on the wall above boldly declared:

Fish are good for the soles. 
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of fish pedicures- a beauty treatment that I, for one, will not be taking advantage of.
Besides not being thrilled at the thought of fish eating my feet, I have found a far more effective way of keeping them beautiful. Whenever my feet take me into my classroom or my community; whenever I can encourage a child, or show them they are loved; whenever I can lead by example, or inspire little ones to open up a Bible....whenever I can bring the Good News of the gospel to children, I have found the perfect pedicure. Friends, if you are serving in children's ministry, then you have beautiful feet too.
And it is good for our souls.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring Good News. Isaiah 52:7

Monday, July 29, 2013

Little Free Library

I am out walking in a pretty Portland suburb when something unusual catches my eye. In someone's front yard a small wooden box is attached to a tree. It looks like a cute little house, with windows in front and a sign that reads 'Little Free Library.' 
Intrigued, I step over to investigate and discover that this is, indeed, a little free library...two shelves of books, for both adults and children, completely free to take. So I sit on the little bench for a while and browse, and pick out an engrossing novel, which I have already completed. What a wonderful concept! 
I visit the website and discover that Little Free Libraries can be found all over the world, each seeking to fulfill a two-fold mission: to promote literature and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as they share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations. 
And as I make my way back home, with my wonderful free find tucked under my arm, I cannot help but think about the ultimate Little Free Library..66 powerful books rolled into one, beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation, and what a privilege we have to encourage children to 'borrow' from this library...the ultimate source of creativity and wisdom that reaches through all generations.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Only Explanation

Samuel David Steven Nellist. This brand new baby boy who entered the world late on Saturday evening is one for whom I have prayed before I even knew he was to be born. A precious second grandchild for us, and a beautiful first son for Steven and Natalie.
But Sam's birth was a difficult one for his mom. She endured three days in the hospital, two nights of agonized waiting, numerous medical procedures, and several hours of intense labor before her son was finally delivered by emergency cesarean section.
But now, as she holds her precious newborn in her arms, and marvels at the tiny miracle he is, and as his eyes meet hers, and her heart bursts with inexpressible joy, and love, and pride, I can just hear her whisper, it was all worth it. Because Natalie's greatest pain produced her greatest joy.
And only this fact, only this, could possibly explain why Jesus would endure the agony of the cross. Because his greatest pain produced his greatest joy. And every time we bring a child to know him, can't you just hear him whisper, it was all worth it?

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Quiet Deck

Our Quiet Deck
It is a beautiful summer's morning. I sit on what we call 'our quiet deck', surrounded by trees and sunshine, birdsong and chipmunks. And I marvel at the skill of the hands that built this little hideaway and the ingenuity of the design that wrapped the deck around the tree. This whole house, in fact, bears the marks of a master carpenter, one who must have worked day and night to make this home what it is. And it makes me smile to think about that previous owner and how, although he was making these home improvements for himself and his family to enjoy, he was also preparing this home for us.
And somewhere, in a place no one has ever seen, a master carpenter works to prepare a home for us. This home will surpass all our earthly dreams and all ingenious architectural designs. It's a home where we will have nothing to maintain, nothing to mend and no mortgage to pay. And this is why we teach, and this is why we preach...so that every room in that house might be full.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Author's Signature

I stood, waiting, with over 200 others, as Khaled Hosseini made his way into the studio. I had never attended an author talk or book signing before. It was moving to hear this famous novelist read from his latest book and fascinating to listen as he described the writing process. Khaled talked about how, as he picked up his pen, his characters sometimes veered off in a direction not quite intended for them. But even though that happened, Khaled, as the author, always knew how the story would end. And word by word, page by page, chapter by chapter, everything fitted together and the story- his creation, was written.
When it was time for the book signing, I stood in turn and the author smiled as I stepped up to greet him. He turned to the title page, the very beginning of the story, and with a quick flourish, penned his name.
If God is the author of our story, I imagine that he pens his name at the very beginning of our lives, and quietly watches as our pages turn. And even though we may sometimes veer off in a direction not quite intended for us, God, the author and creator, always knows the ending...
and the best part is, that it is a happy one.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Hebrews 12:2

Thursday, June 27, 2013


It was 8 a.m. I sat at the table alone, looking out over the pond in front of me. I took out my breakfast bagel and before I had even sliced it, a bird flew down from a nearby tree and perched on the chair right next to mine. He cocked his head to one side and looked at me expectantly with his beady eye. This bold little fellow was less than two feet away, totally unafraid. I obviously had something he wanted. I laughed, broke off a small piece of my bagel and threw it on the ground. My feathered friend grabbed it eagerly and took off. Seconds later, he landed on the chair again and the scene was repeated. After he left, I grabbed my phone, ready to take a photo the next time he came. I waited and waited, patiently hoping he would return, but he never did. I guess that little bird just wasn't hungry any more.
And it made me think...how hungry am I for God, the true bread of life? God sits. Patiently. Waiting. Hoping. For me. All I need to do is approach that throne boldly, expecting to receive. 
And I will be given as much, (or as little), as I want.

Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated
as much as they wanted. John 6:11

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Prayer

Over 4,000 miles away there stands a huge wall, the stones of which are all that remains of what was once an impressive temple. About two thirds of the way along the wall, to the right, and about six feet up, is a little piece of paper, folded and tucked in a tiny crevice between the stones. This little note is surrounded by thousands of other pieces of paper, some wedged tightly, some fluttering in the wind, some so ancient that the paper is yellowed, and the words illegible. But the little piece of paper that is folded and tucked about two thirds of the way along, to the right, and about six feet up, is special. Because it is my prayer...words of blessing and hope for my children, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren, and the children who will come after them.
What a privilege to have been able to stand at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, to hear so many prayers whispered and sung, by men, and women, and children; to see so many fingers reach out to touch those holy stones; to witness so many hands tuck precious prayers into tiny crevices.
We cannot overestimate the importance of prayer, nor underestimate its effect.
How are you praying for your own children, or those you minister to? Walk through your ministry space, or your home. Pray in the doorways, for those who will enter in and go out. Touch the little chairs and pray for the children who will sit there. Pray for their futures, for their parents, for their fears, hopes, and dreams, for their relationship with God. Pray in your rooms, that God's Holy Spirit will so fill that space that all who enter will breathe that life-giving spirit in.
Pray, pray, pray, without ceasing. Because whether your prayer is whispered, or sung, or written and tucked between stones, all are heard, all are special, and all are precious to God.

Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Boat Builder, or Blogger?

As well as being a fantastic pastor, my husband is also a fantastic boat builder...
To date, he has built a wooden sailing boat, a canoe, and is currently working on his third design. I, on the other hand, write my blog. While I am putting pen to paper, he is working with wood. Sometimes, my husband asks if I would like to help build his boat. Then I ask if he would like to write my blog. Then we smile. Although I sometimes help him, I cannot build his boats. And athough he often encourages me, he cannot write my blog.
Each of us has a special gift that we are called to use for the Kingdom of God. We cannot covet what others have. We may sometimes help, admire, or encourage...but we cannot copy another's gift. We just need to discover our own. You have been given a wonderful gift, a unique talent. When each of us discovers what that unique gift is, and use it to God's glory, it becomes a perfect picture of the Body of Christ at work in the world.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Click on me to see
my newborn wispy feathers 
I had a surprise visitor this morning. A baby robin, bravely trying out her new wings, landed on my window sill...so close that I could see her wispy little newborn feathers and every dot on her chest. She balanced precariously on the edge of her narrow platform and turned her head anxiously from side to side. She was clearly in a predicament. Where was her mamma? The newborn had a difficult decision to make. Should she try to find her? Should she attempt to fly down to the garden below? Should she try to return to the nest?
The little robin did none of those things. She chose instead to wait, while I watched closely from behind the glass.
Several anxious minutes passed. The baby looked up and down, to the left and to the right. Finally, she opened her beak and gave her loudest baby cheep. And mamma came! Five minutes later, they were enjoying a tasty worm for breakfast. The little robin's patience had been rewarded, and I have a feeling that her mamma had been watching all along.
Waiting is hard. Trying to make difficult decisions, whether in our ministry or our personal lives, is hard. But sometimes, the best decision we can make is to wait on God. Because in the waiting, God is watching. And God will come.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sky Lanterns

At around 9.30 pm last Saturday evening, I was one of a crowd who gathered to release Sky Lanterns into the dark blue skies over Reed City, Michigan. More than a hundred of us, from babies to grandparents, craned our necks, amidst oohs and aahs, as these beautiful paper balloons filled with light and air, and lifted off to float high above the trees and out of sight. 
Sky lanterns make a magical display wherever they are released... but ours were special- because each one of these lanterns carried a prayer...prayers written from the heart, prayers that made their way to the heavens. And as they ascended, each prayer lantern followed the other, weaving and bobbing in a line, just as if they knew exactly where they were headed, carrying their petitions with purpose and grace. On one was written, 'family', penned carefully by a kindergartner. Another carried a picture of a pet fish that had died the year before, drawn by a little girl too young to write, but never too young to pray, and  never too little to understand that as our prayers go up, love itself comes down....

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Painting Pictures...

It was 10am last Sunday mornng when my teaching colleague and I were shyly handed a note. Bordered with flowers and penned in neat handwriting, it was a thank you letter, written by one of our 5th grade students. The note read:
Thank you for being my Sunday school teachers....I enjoy reading AMAZING stories in the bible. I love to hear those stories because it paints a picture in my mind and I can picture what it was like.
I think I know just what that little girl means...because when I read those amazing stories, the same thing happens to me. God paints those same pictures in my mind...a heavenly artist who is constantly at work, not just in my life, but on the huge canvas of the world.
And although I cannot paint, in God's hands, I am an artist too... each one of us who teaches or mentors can be a brushstroke in the hand of God, bringing color and light into the everyday scenes of a child's life.
I don't teach so that I can receive thank you notes...but when I do, it confirms what I know all along...that on Sunday mornings, there's no place I would rather be than in God's hand...helping to paint a beautiful canvas.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Piggy in the Middle

When I was at school, I hated playing Piggy in the Middle. I can remember making myself dizzy, spinning around in between my two friends, trying to intercept the ball. When we were young, none of my siblings ever wanted to take the middle seat in the back of our car. We were supposed to take it in turns to sit there...but my brother never would. He always stole the premier seat by the window. When we fly on an airplane, my husband rarely chooses the seat in the middle. He prefers to sit in the aisle, where there is more room for his long legs. Nobody likes being in the middle...we don't care to touch the person next to us or have our space invaded. The middle seat is the seat of inconvenience. But maybe it depends on who is sitting on either side of you.
The Psalmist knew a secret when he wrote, you hem me in. He knew the power of being able to imagine God sitting on either side of him and what a comfort, not an inconvenience that could be. And what a difference we could make in the lives of our children if we could teach them to remember that in any and every situation, God is hemming them in, on their right and their left, ahead of them and behind.
Because if God is sitting on either side of you, then that surely has to be the very best seat in the house.
Click here for a fun game to demonstrate how God hems us in.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Our tweens geocaching at
Reeds lake 
Every year hundreds of people enjoy spending time on the boardwalk that traverses Reeds Lake. Some stroll along, admiring the view. Others power walk their way to the end and back. Kids run. Some athletes zoom along on wheels. But whether they stroll, or run, or bike... under their feet lies a secret. It hides, undiscovered, tucked away quietly, waiting to be found. But the only way to find it is to slow down on that boardwalk, and truly search.
This little piece of treasure is one of over 500 geocaches that are hidden in Grand Rapids, and one of over two million that are lying in secret around the world. Geocaching is a fascinating and fun phenomenon- the ultimate treasure hunt that anyone can participate in- for free.
I wonder how many secrets are hidden in my Bible? I wonder as I turn the pages... what treasures lie undiscovered beneath my fingers? Sometimes I stroll through my Bible. Sometimes I run. At times I might even zoom. But it is only when I slow down and truly take the time to search that I find that hidden treasure. The Bible is a mystery. Power lies within its pages. But this ancient book is the ultimate geocache... our invitation to a global treasure hunt that is free to all, and that anyone can participate in.
Seek, and you will find. Matthew 7:7

Click here for a fun Bible Geocaching activity for tweens.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spring's Stage

The morning is still- a scent of promise in the air. Under a canopy of blue skies birds chorus, and flit, and fly. They dip and dive, high on the wing, carrying twigs and feathers and leaves. Do they know it is spring? The stage is set...the scenery is prepared. The backdrops are ready. The props are in place. The robin holds the baton. Ta da! Let the play begin! Spring...the season of new life, where dramas of nest building and bulb blooming and tree budding begin to unfold on Earth's stage. And the director of this drama watches and smiles, because there is always something new to be seen.
Are you busy, like the birds? What new thing are you working on? Are you spring cleaning? Painting? Replacing windows? Tidying the yard? Getting highlights? Buying a new outfit? Losing weight?
Spring is hard work. But we are not the only ones who are busy. Behind the scenes, God is at work in us and for us, yearning to make all things new. Every morning we meet, every day we walk through, every moment we encounter, God is at work, renewing, replenishing, spring cleaning on the inside- making us new. For us, the season of spring comes not just once a year, but every single day.

Click here for an object lesson for children on how God Loves Making Us New.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Real Enemy...

My brother's cups of tea tasted great, but he had one annoying habit. He used to fill that cup until it was absolutely overflowing. I couldn't carry it from counter to table because hot tea would spill from the edges and onto the floor. It was as if he had no concept of when to stop pouring. He must have learned that from God.
I think about God, standing in heaven's kitchen, holding a gigantic pitcher, from which pours a never ending supply of love, and forgiveness, and joy, and hope, to all those who are willing to bring their cups to the table. And therein lies the problem. In order for us to be filled with God's best, we must bring an empty cup. But mine is already full...of fear, or anxiety, or confusion, or busyness. And aren't they the real enemies at the table? When I am filled with those things, it leaves me no room for anything else.
And this is what I learn...we cannot teach our children how to come to the table emptied of the world's worries, and ready to be filled with God's greatness, if we do not know how to do that ourselves. But if we can learn that secret, then what a feast we will share! We will sit at a table where our enemies are conquered, and where the host is One who has no concept of when to stop pouring.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies
You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Psalm 23: 5

Monday, April 15, 2013

Are Smartphones Really Smart?

For the longest time I resisted the temptation to own a smartphone. Despite the recommendations of my children, my colleagues, the television, and the billboards I passed every day, I was happy with my chunky little flip phone. I didn't understand the word 'app' or know the difference between a smartphone and an iPhone. But now that I carry a smartphone in my pocket, I don't know how I ever lived without one. Suddenly, the world is at my fingertips. I no longer have to wait until I get home to check my email. I don't need to carry a camera around my neck, a map book in my car, or a stack of coupons that I clipped from the newspaper. My smartphone does it all. That little gadget is my constant companion... I carry it wherever I go...and I am not the only one- the world is carrying smartphones too.
But as clever as the GPS on my smartphone is, it cannot guide me to heaven. As fast as I can get my questions answered by searching Google, it cannot give me the answers I crave by searching God. And so I have to find a way to carry God in my pocket too, to keep God as accessible as my smartphone, and to rely on God as much as I rely on that little gadget. And as technology advances, we have to find a way to encourage our children to do the same. Imagine how much difference it would make in the world if we pulled a Bible out of our pockets as often as we pull out our phones...or turned to God in prayer rather than turned to Google. Smartphones are only smart if we can sometimes turn them off, and turn to God instead.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Power of a Pine Cone

The longer I share my home with a two year old the more I am beginning to understand what Jesus meant when he said Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Xander, my little grandson, has the ability to laugh at absolutely nothing and to take pleasure in even the tiniest details of the world around him. He wakes up laughing- ready to dive into a new day filled with wonder and beauty. He is enchanted by the simplest of things: the sound of his cereal popping as the milk is poured, the sight of tiny insignificant sticks strewn all over the lawn, the sound of a sneeze, or the feel of dry oatmeal as he lifts it and watches if fall through his fingers. When we are out walking, it is Xander who spots the bird on the roof, or the cat asleep in the window. He sees every pine cone on the floor and laughs hysterically when the ones we have collected do a dance in the tray of his stroller as we bump up and down the pavement. And it is these little things, these tiny things, that fill him with so much joy and leave me wondering how I became so blind to beauty.
Pause today. Notice the beauty all around. Look into the eyes of a child and wonder at the world together... because when we can look at the world through their eyes, we must surely be seeing a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Reflections From The Garden Tomb...

Sometimes I close my eyes and I am back in The Garden Tomb, outside the city walls of Jerusalem, where 2,000 years ago, Jesus stepped from the grave and changed the world forever. I can still see blossom blowing in the wind, and rays of sunlight streaming on dancing tulips.

I can still hear the chorus of birds as they fly over a tree that somehow grew in the shape of a cross.

And most of all, I can still feel the undeniable peace and presence of the risen Christ.

And I know with absolute certainty that no stone could keep Him in that grave. No guards could keep Him in that tomb, because just like the sunrise over Lake Galilee, nothing can stop it. The darkness of the dawn is always overcome with light.

And what an utter privilege we have to pass on to our children what we know to be true...not just on Easter Sunday, but on every day of the year...
He Is Risen! Alleluia!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Triumphal Entry.

It was after 6pm. Most of the people on the bus were sleeping, dreaming of the unbelievable experiences we had shared during the past three days in beautiful Galilee. My own mind was flooded with images of plunging under the cold waters of the River Jordan as I remembered my baptism; of watching the waves on Lake Galilee and realizing that Jesus had walked on them; of quietly praying in the church at the Mount of Beatitudes; of seeing shepherds leading their sheep down green hillsides; of collecting pebbles on the shore of Lake Galilee where the resurrected Jesus cooked breakfast for his disciples. My overriding impression of Galilee was one of peace...a place where I could connect with the One who walked there.
And into these memories, these dreams, music began to play over the loudspeakers in the coach. I opened my eyes to see lights twinkling in the distance, and the impressive silhouette of a golden dome peeking above city walls. We were riding into Jerusalem, as the song played loud Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Lift Up Your Voice and Sing... and I couldn't help but think about Jesus, who rode into that same city, 2000 years before. We were leaving the peace and calm of Galilee behind, and were about to enter the hustle and bustle of this incredible city, with its many vendors, and peoples, and distractions, and noise.  No wonder Jesus wept over Jerusalem...a place where he would be betrayed and where he would breathe his last. And I wonder if Jesus cries over our cities too...and the hustle and bustle of the distracted lives we lead.
And so this is my challlenge...to myself, and all who read these words. Where is your Galilee? Where is that place where you can connect with the One who walked for you? Find it this week. Go there often. Reconnect deeply with the author of life. It will impact your ministry and truly make it a Holy Week.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Change in the Air

Change is in the air. I felt it this morning as I walked around our neighborhood. Even though snow remains, and mounds of white still linger at the end of driveways, the inevitable is true...Spring is on the way. The snow will not last. One day soon it must give way to buds, and blossoms, and warmth, and new life. And the ice that stubbornly clings to the sidewalk and makes me lose my footing will not endure. I simply need to slow down, step more carefully, keep my eyes focused on the path I walk. But I will not turn back. I keep on going.
A change is in the air for the United Methodist Church too. And if you who read are one of those serving in one of our smaller churches, of which there are many...take heart! We are resurrection people. We believe in new life, new hope, new growth, new possibilities. And the obstacles that sometimes make us lose our footing will not endure. We simply need to slow down, step more carefully, and keep our eyes focused on what Jesus calls us to do. But we will not turn back. We will keep on going, for the mission to which we are called is far too important to abandon. And the power that is at work in those who believe is far too great to be squandered. And so we read our books, we attend our Vital Church Initiative sessions, we pray...all the while relying on God, who will melt the ice, and make straight the paths under our feet. Spring is on the way.