A martyr’s pose, a burden, and a call to serve

My church has various community groups that meet on Sunday nights in homes for food, instruction, and, of course, community. Five classes are offered in the course of a year, each set in an eight-week rotation. The children have their meal and instruction at the church building and their teachers rotate each 8 weeks.

Yeah, it’s complicated but it works.

I am currently three weeks into my eight week children’s teaching responsibility. I have lamented loud and often over my dislike of teaching children, criticized teachers whose groups run late and whose participants are thus late in picking up their kids, and just generally whined and cried all the while striking a rather dramatic martyr’s pose.

Just keepin’ it real.

Something my husband said to me recently drew me up short and made me realize for all my disdain, I had been given both a privilege and an opportunity—one I had actually volunteered for, mind you—even if it wasn’t the sort of privilege and opportunity I most enjoyed. I’ve always maintained that I will rock the babies during my turn in the nursery and, yes, teach the children (for eight weeks a year, mind you) because someone once rocked my babies and taught my children, affording me the opportunity of a few moments’ peace and an uninterrupted among grown ups, yes and amen. In other words, I always thought I was serving the moms and I do.

I also serve the children. Sure, they interrupt me when I’m talking and they can’t remember one week’s lesson from the next and they surely would prefer a funner and funnier teacher (I would!). Hello, I don’t even do crafts.

But I do have a burden: Biblical literacy. Thus what motivates me to teach women on Sunday mornings in Sunday school and on Tuesdays in Bible study also motivates me to teach children on Sunday evenings. So every lesson I emphasize the following points:

  • Everyone has a Bible in front of them. We work together to find the correct passage and we read it together. We rejoice in the incredible, amazing privilege we have to read and hear God’s Word for ourselves!
  • We pray before our lesson because we acknowledge that God is the author of His Word and we need His Spirit to help us understand. We want to know more about Jesus, about the gospel, about God, about ourselves, and about the Bible. These things are spiritually understood and we need the guidance of the Spirit so we prayerfully and humbly ask.

These are simple truths but they are truths that I didn’t fully grasp until I was an adult and once I did, my spiritual life was radically changed. My passion is for others to see the beauty of God in Christ as revealed in His living Word. May the Lord do so and more in the lives of the children who must suffer my teaching on Sunday evenings!

I know that we all want to serve in ways we most enjoy. Sometimes we get to; sometimes, however, the need lies in the sort of service that tries our patience and exposes our arrogance. I am ashamed of those times in my life. Let me save you the same heartache and remind you: it is our privilege to serve others as Christ served His disciples, on His knees washing their feet.

I daresay your church is like mine and is in need of willing volunteers, particularly in children’s ministry. If you belong to the Lord Jesus then you have a message to share and a story to tell and, whether you are a man or a woman, whether you feel gifted or called, the next generation needs to hear them. My story is not your story, thankfully, but all our stories fit together in the grand, glorious Story of grace and redemption found only in Jesus Christ. May you find a need and fill it, serving others as you have been served!

In perpetuity

They—the experts, the prognosticators, the watchdogs—warn that what one sends out to the internet remains there forever. Status updates, emails, blog posts, all exist in perpetuity in the world wide web.

This fact fills me with dread and not only because I’ve written things which I hope will be quickly forgotten—indeed I have. There are posts I’ve published that are just bad, others that are just plain embarrassing, and still others that I ought never have written in the first place.

I’m pretending none of you are now searching my archives for any such crimes against the written word.

That is, none of you among the ten or so remaining among my loyal readership.

Yes, those early posts, and no doubt some of the latter, are certainly cause for dread. However, I worry mostly about my children in the distant future dusting off the ancient archives of what we once knew as the internet, pulling up my confessions and conundrums, and reading them. Not that they don’t read them now, they do. But what difference will years, decades even, make?

I think particularly of my younger two children whose dedicated word count here on the blog is decidedly less than that of their older two brothers. Will they understand their mom got tired, the blogging got hard, the words grew elusive, and the comparative silence here in this space wasn’t evidence of a lack of feeling but more likely the complete opposite?

Case in point: our number three son graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago. Can you believe it? I can not. Our contrary child, determined to march to any beat but that of his brothers, graduated and I am so proud. Yet there was no post commemorating the depth of my emotion, no lament over the quick of passage of time, no tribute to grace of the Lord sustaining us thus far; not because I had nothing to say but more that I had no words to say it.

All the beautiful expressions of nostalgia and bittersweet happiness that I’ve described before in relation to numbers one and two sons and their particular milestones; it is the same and more so as we celebrate the accomplishments and future of this son. He remains his own man, full of surprise and the occasional contradiction, and we are grateful to God for him, far more than any mere blog post can express.

So whether or not these words and this blog continue on among relics of internet past, I pray all my guys will know how very much they were loved and how very grateful their parents were for every day and every minute. What love and what joy we have known, in perpetuity.

Two steps behind

I feel as if I stay two steps behind my life. I never can quite catch up and this perplexes me. Years ago I wrote a post lamenting a similar state wherein I compared my life to spinning plates on poles–which plate will fall? That I would feel overwhelmed in that stage of life makes sense to me. None of the children could drive, for instance, and thus I spent much of my time getting in and out of the suburban and shuffling kids to school and home from school, to practice and home from practice, to games and, well, you get the picture. My life and my calendar were crazy, no two ways about it.

Now, however, I am a stay at home mom of nearly grown children. In fact, as I confessed last week, I can only claim the stay at home mom title for two more years. Then I suppose I will be…what, exactly? A housewife? Regardless the fact remains that much, okay most, of my time is as free as it’s ever been. Yet I feel caught in the tension of a constant trade off. If I clean house, that means I do not prepare for Bible study that day. If I run all the necessary and troublesome errands, the laundry suffers. Some days I feel like I have to choose who or what I will be that day: Bible student? Friend? Homemaker? The days seem too short to do and be it all.

I’m frustrated. And I do realize that this kind of freedom to choose how I spend my time is an indicator of wealth and affluence. I daresay only a small percentage of women around the world enjoy such freedom of choice. In other words, I’m privileged and I’m spoiled. Thus I’m not only frustrated I’m also embarrassed by my whining.

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. I could surely benefit from a well constructed organizational system, a plan to keep me on track and on task. The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time and all that. I don’t discount the wisdom of timetables and schedules, and I freely confess my lack of eagerness to pursue that kind of help may be somewhat lazy on my part.

I’ve been thinking over my pastor’s recent sermons on prayer. He asserted that one reason why many of us struggle with prayer is not that we need to pray more but that we need to learn to pray rightly. To pray rightly is to pray with an eye to the kingdom, to frame our petitions with the advance of the gospel. Ask your heavenly Father for whatever you wish, He surely invites such petition, but ask for His kingdom to come and His will to be done. Pray for healing of your loved ones but pray that they might be healed so that they might serve the Lord in strength. Pray for the new job or the promotion but ask for it so that with greater influence and a greater income you might be able to give more to the work of the kingdom.

When we pray like this we can trust God when He doesn’t give us the things we think we want or need. We can know that either we don’t need it to serve Him and His kingdom or, worse, it would be harmful to us. Praying in this way teaches us to pray after His priorities and according to what He finds delight in. We will ask for greater love for Him for His word and for each other and for the lost and for the spread of the gospel and for all peoples to know Him. We learn that our greatest need and greatest desire become intertwined: the glory of God in Christ.

I want this transformation not only in my  commune with God through prayer but in the craziness of my daily, busy life. Just as I am to pray with an eye to the kingdom, I want to also approach the tasks of my life with a kingdom perspective. I want to understand that efficiency and fruitfulness and productivity in God’s economy may not always look like a completed to do list but will always seek His glory and the good of others. When I am overwhelmed and frustrated, may I remember what’s really important: love of Christ and love for others. Even the seemingly boring and mundane aspects of being a stay at home mom become a holy offering when I see them framed in the gospel.

Why I cannot seem to stay on top of my life and my responsibilities therein may remain a perennial mystery to me. But I want to approach each day, whether I do and be all I think I should, with a heart for the kingdom and for the glory of Christ.

Rest for the weary

I am weary. It is, partly, the usual Monday morning weariness that follows a full weekend. It is also a cumulative weariness resulting from not only a full weekend but a full couple of weeks.

I am weary too from a migraine I’ve had off and on since Thursday, the longest and worst sort of headache I’ve had in quite some time. It is a bad thing to have the pain of a headache wake you in the middle of the night but such has been my experience three times over the last few days. I have meds that work and usually alleviate the pain but they also usually leave me tired and a little woozy. Weary.

In my weary and woozy state, finding proper preparation of a lesson on Jesus as a priest from the order of Melchizedek to be a little beyond me, I paused my Sunday school series on Hebrews and instead revisited a devotion on weariness. As we discussed Jesus’ offer for the heavy laden and the weary and the broken and the overwhelmed to come to Him and find rest, I made the point that we come to Christ by grace and we follow Him by grace. Trying harder in our own strength only fuels our weariness because we are inadequate and insufficient in ourselves. We need Him.

I was thinking of that truth this morning in my weariness. As I said, I had a full and fabulous weekend in the company of a group of godly women. It was my privilege to serve them in a teaching capacity at their retreat and I loved every minute of it.

But today I worry. I fret. I think of all I said that was dumb or stupid or unclear. I’ve come up with a hundred points and illustrations I could have made that would have been way better than whatever it was I said. Did they think me worthy of their investment of time and money? Were they disappointed I really am just a humble Bible teacher and not a suave, skilled orator? I’m driving myself crazy. I’m wearing myself out. No wonder I’m exhausted!

“Good grief, Lisa!” I finally told myself, rather sternly too. “It is not about you!”

Ah, the weariness of self-preoccupation. The fatigue of self-sufficiency. The exhaustion of self-conscious over-analysis. I love the honest truth of Isaiah 40:30, “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted.” Even those in top physical condition will be weary because human strength will inevitably fail. Newsflash: I am not enough. Looking to myself doesn’t make me feel better, only worse! Nothing saps my energy like self-reliance. I am falling exhausted in all my attempts at self-justification.

My offering before the sweet women at the retreat this weekend is over and done. It is now for me to trust the Lord and to rest in Him, to bring before Him my insecurity and my desperation. As I turn to Him in repentance, I know the sweet rest of grace, the only true rest for the weary, found in Jesus alone.

The Lord God Saves His People

I actually wrote this post a couple of months ago. I post it now, well, for a couple of reasons. Some days it feels as if the world has gone crazy and everywhere I turn the news is either sad or bad. I find the book of Judges to be, strangely enough, a comfort.  Though times were certainly sad and bad–and crazy!–the Lord did not and would not abandon His people. Then and now true hope is only found in the mercy of the Lord.

And I don’t speak only of the global news cycle. For my church, it is our privilege to bear one another’s burdens through difficult and devastating circumstances. The book of Judges reminds us the Lord will be faithful; we trust His continued mercy and grace. 

I am currently teaching the book of Judges in the Bible study I lead on Tuesdays. What a fascinating—and sad—book! A few weeks ago we discussed chapters four and five and the two women featured there: Deborah and Jael.

And who can’t be fascinated by Jael? The evil commander Sisera is fleeing the battle and happens by her tent. She beckons him inside and he, knowing her husband to be a sympathizer, accepts her offer of refuge. She, however, has other loyalties, and drives a tent peg through his forehead, thus killing him while he sleeps. Talk about a strong woman of valor!

We discussed why some might find Jael a troubling savior. She lied, for one, and committed murder in cold blood, for two. What do we make of that? I asserted that we must recall the point of this narrative and of the book of Judges as a whole: that the Lord God saves His people. Thus Deborah’s song can exalt Jael as most blessed among women because she was the instrument of the Lord’s deliverance.

We must also trust the Lord when we encounter these seemingly ethical and moral quandaries, Jael not being the only example. As careful Bible students, we must distinguish between what the Bible is reporting and what it is commanding. Not all passages are meant to be prescriptive.

And finally I made the point that in Sisera’s death we see the awful but certain truth that the Lord will defeat His enemies. His wrath is sure. This a terrible truth taught to us in both the Old and New Testaments. The Bible is clear: the wages of sin is death and all who reject the Lord and persist in rebelling against Him will suffer His punishment.

But there is good news for those who are in Christ Jesus! He bore the punishment for our sins on the cross and we who repent and believe Him are now free! Not only that but we can trust Him with justice against those who have hurt us. I said yesterday that I didn’t know how those in class with me may have suffered at the hands of another—and I didn’t—but that the Lord is faithful and He will repay.

After class I learned that one of the ladies new to our group had indeed suffered horribly and tragically. Her story is hers to tell and I won’t share the details here; it is enough to know that she has endured a tragic loss. It was a difficult lesson for her, she admitted. “Finally, ultimately, I have to trust the sovereignty of God,” she said. “And I love Him more today, I trust Him more, and I know Him better.”

I left Bible study with a sober and heavy heart, saddened by the evil that seeks to devour. I thought over my lesson with its confident assertions; were they merely pat answers, full of the easy, empty ignorance that knows nothing of true suffering? My friend’s faith humbles me. Her story pierces through our (my) comfortable, unchallenged best life now to remind us (me) that evil is real, belief is hard, questions remain, but the Lord is trustworthy and His grace is sufficient.

My friend’s testimony is that of the book of Judges: the Lord God saves His people. This is not only the truth of Judges, but of the whole Bible and of the gospel message. He will have victory over His enemies, among whom we all once were apart from the grace of God. His mercy is our only hope, our only salvation, our only security, our only lasting joy.


Where I am now

Why, hello there. I spent the last twenty minutes or so rummaging around the pages of this blog and changing my avatar and whatnot (can anyone say “PROCRASTINATION”?) and thought what’s the point of updating the minor details and neglecting the major, you know, like a real live blog post since this is in fact a blog.

Or so it was at one time if anyone can remember that long ago.

Yes, I am procrastinating. It was a full weekend coming on the heels of a somewhat busy spring break with another busy week to follow this week. So on the one hand it may well be procrastination; on the other it may be a deep breath, a pause, a chance to collect and compose oneself as one transitions from one set of obligations to another.

Or maybe it is just plain old procrastination now that I think on it.

Since I’m procrastinating,  by way of an update on where we are now, my boys are 22, 20, 18, and 16. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? May will bring us two graduations, my oldest from Auburn and my third from high school. This summer will be a whirlwind of wedding (we are finally getting a daughter this July!) and college registration and packing up kids to send them off to school and to married bliss, not to mention my husband and my twenty fifth wedding anniversary! It’s all good. So good.

I am still teaching Bible study on Tuesdays. I just updated the “Teaching” tab above in case you’re interested in following along. I’m also teaching a ladies’ Sunday school class at my church which has been a dream of mine for so long I sometimes forget it is now reality 😉 I continue to volunteer at the crisis pregnancy center on Wednesdays and remain passionate about serving the poor and desperate in our community not only with material items but with the hope of the gospel.

And, for you longtime readers familiar with my laments, the laundry also continues, always and forever, though slightly less so with fewer children at home. We (me) don’t even like to think about the implications of being a family of three this fall. I am beginning to realize my days of referring to myself as a stay at home mom are numbered.

As far as where I am this very minute, I am teaching a retreat this coming weekend and I am super excited about it. Nervous too and if I’m honest, a little overwhelmed. I cannot tell you how way out of my comfort zone I am when I teach. Really. It is only and wholly the Lord. That I would even want the gift or the privilege is mind blowing to me and shows me that not only does the Lord choose the foolish but He also is sufficient for the weak. Who but God?

Anyway, my topic is having a love for God’s Word, yes and amen. There’s so much I want to say that I can’t hardly begin to say it! Which may or may not result in the aforementioned procrastination…

Speaking of procrastination, I really must hit the books. The sun is shining so I’m thinking I may take my prep outside with a cup of coffee. Ten of years of blogging, and some things never change!

So this is my life in a nutshell: teaching and volunteering and transitioning my mommy role. It’s weird. It’s good. It’s bittersweet. It’s full. I’m learning a lot about myself and what I thought I wanted and who I really am. My testimony continues to be: the Lord is indeed faithful.



The happy and the sad

Prior to my family and I seeing the movie “Inside Out,” my husband remarked to our guys that their mama–me–might be moved to tears because the film features a young girl moving with her family several states away.

“Me, cry?” I scoffed at the thought. It’s an animated movie, for crying out loud, no pun intended.

Yeah. So. Okay, I cried.

In the movie, eleven-year-old Riley moves from Minnesota to California and it is an emotional upheaval, which is, as you know, the premise of the movie.

In real life, thirteen-year-old me moved from Alabama to Texas and, like Riley, I found the transition difficult.

Also like Riley I experienced the horror and embarrassment of crying at school.

It was in Mr. Whitlow’s eighth grade history class. Mr. Whitlow was giving a test that day and having joined the class mid-year I was not only ignorant of most of the test material but also overwrought and overwhelmed and I cried.

Interestingly the only student in the class to pay me any mind, to even notice my tears much less offer any sort of comfort, was a boy of brashness and bravado, the kind of guy who seemed destined to be a drop out statistic. “Hey, it will be okay,” he told me. “Don’t cry. You’ll be fine.”

I’m ashamed to admit it but we probably never spoke again. You know as well as I do how the middle school social structure works. Though I have long forgotten his name, his kindness to me I will remember.

However ignorant my classmates may have wanted to appear, Mr. Whitlow noticed my tears and called me outside. He too assured me that I would be fine. Is it the test? Do you miss your friends? Are you okay? Yes, yes, and I didn’t know. He told me I didn’t have to take the test after all. He told me to come by and talk to him anytime. I didn’t but I knew I could.

Call me a martyr but I did take the exam and out of sheer grace Mr. Whitlow gave me a twenty-point bonus so I could have a B. Mr. Whitlow, I do not know where you are now but your kindness to me I will also remember.

Transition is hard. Moving away from friends and all that is familiar is heartbreaking and sad. But, as “Inside Out” attempts to portray, sadness gives weight and perspective to joy. The movie character Joy tries to preserve the happy core memories, not realizing that the sad ones are equally as critical. And this is Biblical, is it not? Paul discovers grace through his thorn in the flesh. Not only that but he reminds us that it is the light and momentary struggles that achieve an eternal weight of glory.

We see this most starkly in the death of Jesus. What greater heartbreak than the cross? But what greater joy than the Resurrection three days later? Sadness may endure for a night, the Psalmist writes, but joy comes in the morning. This is the tension of life as we know it: sadness and joy, heartbreak and hope, struggle and glory.

Though thirteen-year old me surely doubted, I did survive. Forty-seven year old me can see the Lord’s hand at work then and since, weaving a story, yes, a story of both loss and gain, but ultimately a story of grace and redemption. The sad times become as precious to me as the happy because there I see and know the provision and providence of my good and gracious God.

A lament

I live in the United States of America. Not only that but I live in the city limits. Houses a mere 100 yards or so from ours have unlimited access to the Internet. We, however, do not. This may be the ultimate in first world problems about which to lament over but I have to tell you the lament, warranted or not, is real.

We do have Internet but it is linked to data usage of which we have only a certain allotment each month. Certainly not enough to stream anything. Between the four of us we blow through our data well before the month is over, leaving us with Internet access, thank goodness, but at dial up speed. Yeah. For real.

So no Netflix for us. No streaming podcasts. These privileges eat up copious amounts of data very quickly. We have learned to disconnect Wi-Fi before closing out all devices. We update our apps at church. Any blog posts I write, I write first in Word and then connect to the Internet to copy and paste into WordPress and publish as quickly as possible. We cram as much Internet usage as we can into the bonus data time period before 8am. We love Chick-Fil-A and other places of business that offer free Wi-Fi.

We hate it.

As I said, I know quite well that this is a first world problem but can I just say how difficult it is to have had unlimited Wi-Fi only to not? It’s been a year, a long year. We had hopes that with the new year would come trucks and equipment and cable and a team of workers ready and able to make all our Internet woes disappear. Not so fast, my friend. Today my husband forwarded an email to me from his contact at the cable provider. Quite succinctly he stated he hadn’t seen our neighborhood on the list for 2016.

I know it’s dumb but I wanted to cry.

Is the Internet such an idol? Maybe so. I will say I’ve realized a few things about myself over the past year of learning to live without unlimited access. For one thing, I see how often I am bored and how tempting it is to distract myself with Pinterest or Twitter or the like. In other words, the Internet can be a great time waster. Hello, no big news flash, but I have been surprised by just how true it is in my life.

I’d like to tell you I am free of the big, bad evil trap that is the Internet, that I’ve embraced my inner Luddite, that I have no need of such trivialities such as the Internet provides, that I now read more and write more and do crafts and exercise and pursue all sorts of other non-web-based noble ventures, but none of that would be true. Every day—and this despite that nefarious email my husband received—I will still be on the lookout for the cable truck and I will hope that someday soon, maybe today even, I can once again watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

Soon, maybe? Hope, it springs eternal.

A prayer for the New Year

Thy goodness has been with me during another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead…

See the rest of the post at Out of the Ordinary.

Happy New Year, friends!

P.S. I also wrote a Christmas reflection for Out of the Ordinary a couple of weeks ago. If you’re still in the Christmas spirit, you can check it out here.

New Year’s 2016

Y’all. Tomorrow, it will be 2016. Can you believe it? Not too long ago, I was rummaging through some past posts here at the blog and I ran across a post from New Year’s 2010 in which I expressed my very great surprise at that particular turn of events. And here it is suddenly six years later. How do these things happen?

I love New Year’s. I think maybe it’s my favorite holiday and not for the reasons you might expect. We don’t get all dressed up and go to fancy parties. In fact we don’t really party at all. I don’t do resolutions and the attempt to reinvent and reorganize and remake myself isn’t what I find appealing.

No, I love New Year’s because it’s a holiday free of expectations and obligations. I have nowhere I have to be, nothing I have to cook or buy, no plans I need to make. It is usually a day spent with the family sprawled out on the sofa watching a lot of football. Just the way I like it.

I love New Year’s because it comes at the end of the deep exhale that is the week after Christmas. After the frantic pace of hurrying and scurrying through Thanksgiving and Christmas, New Year’s comes as a pause, a sweet respite, a chance to finally be still and to rest.

And when I said I don’t do resolutions, I didn’t mean I don’t take the opportunity these slower days afford to reevaluate the old and to ponder the new. The transition from December 31 to January 1 is, really, a day like any other. There is nothing inherently magical about one day over the other. But I cannot escape the weighty reminder of the old being past, the new having come, forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead.

2015 was a good year for us. So many big, wonderful life changes. A new home. A new church building. An engagement and the promise of a wedding this coming summer. So many blessings, both large and small, too numerous to count, all gifts purely of grace from the hand of a good God. And had none of these things been ours, He would still be the good God who gives good gifts. As I reflect on the old, I am grateful.

2015 has its regrets too. Much to confess and to grieve and to repent. As I turn the page to 2016 tomorrow I will know that I cannot resolve myself better. My only hope is Christ and His righteousness that is mine because of His life and death. I am nothing without His grace.

So I love New Year’s. I love the reflection it prompts and I love its slow and easy celebration. Though I will be missing my husband and two sons who are on the other side of the world sharing the hope of the gospel, tomorrow, New Year’s 2016, as crazy as that is, will be a good day. Not only that, but I have great hope that 2016 will be a good year. I pray that you and I both will see the Lord’s faithfulness in ways yet unimagined and that we will grow in the grace and knowledge of Him who loves us so. Yes and amen.