Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Not sure I like being the oldest...

I am the youngest in my family. Well, actually, there were only two of us - but I am still the youngest. Being the youngest comes with certain, shall we say, privileges. We get to be the baby. We get to learn from our siblings mistakes. We get by on cuteness for at least the first 5 years of our life. We seem to get a "pass" on more of our behaviors - the older kids have just worn the parents down. We are usually the life of the party and entertainers at heart. I have to admit, I love being the youngest. Maybe that's why today's random thought is a bit tough for me to swallow.

Today I was talking to God about a situation I am dealing with. It's a tough one and I'd love to fall into my "youngest child" status and wait for it to go away, charm my way out of it, or simply be rescued...something! Instead, I hear in my heart - "It's time for you to be the oldest." What? I don't want to! I don't want to put on my big girl panties and face this giant of a situation. I didn't do anything wrong! And again I hear, "It's time for you to be the oldest."

Okay, I know what this means, but that doesn't mean I like it. It means I have to be the first to go forward and mend fences that are torn. It means I have to swallow my pride and do what I know it right even though I just want to run and hide. It means I have to act like the oldest...because I am.

It occurred to me this morning that those around me that I think are acting like "fools" are really my younger brothers and sisters in Christ....they are His kids too. I just happen to be older, and that means I should have probably learned a little more. I "know better".

I'd love to use the excuse that it's not my fault they act that way, but I feel that gentle nudge that reminds me it wasn't His fault that I acted that way - and yet He still sacrificed Himself for me. He still forgave me for all that I had done...for all that I was doing...for all I would probably do again. He forgave. My big brother, Jesus, forgave...and now it's my turn. It's my turn to forgive those who hurt me. It's my turn to reach out and guide by example. I'm not two anymore...I'm the oldest.

I know this isn't easy. I've had times when I reached out an olive branch only to have it sharpened into an arrow and flung back at me. That doesn't change the fact that I was supposed to do what is right...I'm the oldest.

This journey to Advent is taking me on some unfamiliar roads, I must admit. Some are kind of bumpy...doesn't look like a lot of people have traveled this way, but I know they have. I can look around me and see them. They are the ones who leave a legacy that changes the world. They are my older brothers and sisters in Christ. And now it's my turn....I'm the oldest.

Wonder what I'll discover next on this road to Advent?

Ephesians 5:2

New International Version (NIV)
2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Romans 8:14-20

New International Version (NIV)

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

1 Corinthians 14:20

20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.

Okay - this next one kind of gives me a kick in the pants!

Hebrews 5:11-15

The Message (MSG)
11-14I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you've picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one—baby's milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God's ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Peace on Earth is hard to find

Since I'm endeavoring to do a blog each day of Advent, you'd think that each day would be one step closer to peace, joy, and lots of warm'd think.

Today was one of "those" days; you know the kind - mama said there'd be days like this... You do your best to help those around you, hold on to your peace and joy, and let's be honest - just make it through the day. Then along comes confrontation. I hate confrontation. It's just so...confrontational! I will go out of my way to keep peace in situations and my motto is, if I rub you the wrong way then I'll do whatever it takes to turn the cat around. Sometimes though, it seems like nothing works.

I sign on to facebook and it seems like half of the people are looking for an argument - on religion, politics, or just about anything will do. You go to work and on the way people are cutting you off in traffic, or riding your bumper. You get to work and....well, I don't need to go on. We've all been there.

Okay, so where's that whole "peace on Earth, goodwill toward men" thing that's such a big part of the Christmas season? The Message version puts it this way: "At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises: 
   Glory to God in the heavenly heights, 
   Peace to all men and women on earth who please him."
Wait a minute....what's with that last part? Peace to all men and women on earth who please him...? Who please him? What does that mean?

The NIV version says it this way: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, 
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
So how do I get to be one of those favored ones? 

I discovered a website with a lot of verses about finding God's favor - 
And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the LORD, and also with men. (1 Samuel 2:26)

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:52)

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
   bind them around your neck,
   write them on the tablet of your heart. 
4 Then you will win favor and a good name
   in the sight of God and man.
Proverbs 3:3-4

Oh, and we can't forget the connection of Favor to Wisdom found in Proverbs 8:34-36 
“Now then, my children, listen to me;
   blessed are those who keep my ways. 
33 Listen to my instruction and be wise;
   do not disregard it. 
34 Blessed are those who listen to me,
   watching daily at my doors,
   waiting at my doorway. 
35 For those who find me find life
   and receive favor from the LORD. 
36 But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
   all who hate me love death.”

So, in order to have peace, I need God's order to have God's favor, I need to grow in wisdom. So, how do I get wisdom? This is getting complicated!

Job 12:12 says, "Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old." Well, at least I'm working on this one.

 Proverbs 1: 7 - "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
 but fools
 despise wisdom and instruction." (In the words of Mr. T - I pity the fool!)
Proverbs 19:20 - "Listen to advice and accept discipline and at the end you will be counted among the wise." 
Wow....this whole peace on Earth thing sounds hard! I've got to listen to advice, accept discipline, fear the Lord, get old, submit my ways to God, trust in God with all my heart, write love and faithfulness on my heart....the list goes on. All this for a little peace? I'm sitting here staring at the computer screen searching for something clever to say, but once again - "I got nothin'." 
One thing I do know - peace is something I want in my life. Not just the peace on the outside when everything is going good. I want that peace that passes understanding talked about in Philippians 4:7 - "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." If it's peace that transcends understanding, it's a pretty good guess that means things on the outside could get a little crazy...Oh - so that's what today was all about! I get to find peace in Christ Jesus despite the chaos of the day!
So, I guess that's why peace on Earth is so hard to find. If it were easy, everyone would do it, but that would require relying on Christ Jesus - some people just aren't wise enough for that....and the journey to Advent continues, warm fuzzies or not.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A story worth repeating...

This is a repeat of a post from December 2008....but perhaps on our journey through Advent, it is a story worth repeating.

The following "random thought" actually came about a year ago while teaching in Kid's Church just before Christmas. I don't think I've ever heard this fact, I had never thought of it before the words began to come out of my mouth that Sunday morning.

It was a typical Children's Church service a week or two before Christmas. I had a wonderful group of kids, most of whom I had known since they were born. These children knew the Christmas story quite well, so making it real and new was quite a challenge. I had told the story and tried to paint a picture so that the children could experience the story anew. It was then that I asked the question - "Why was Jesus born in a stable?" Of course, the response was "Because there was no room in the inn." Then I asked a question even I hadn't considered before. "Why wasn't there room at the inn? Did God forget to make reservations?" Of course, we all laughed at such a ridiculous question. Obviously the birth of Jesus being in a stable was no accident....but why would God allow His Son to be born in a stable?

It's not like God didn't know when Jesus would be born. Yes, the city was crowded, but couldn't God have made room for this family in an inn somewhere? After all, He's God! He knew when the angel told Mary she'd have a son that they would be making this trip 9 months later! He could have made arrangements! I understand that there are many different views as to what this stable might have been, but it doesn't change the fact that a stable isn't a place for a baby to be born! That's where animals are born....animals like sheep and goats and cows. The kind of animal you'd use for a sacrifice.

You know, every time I think about that, it causes a lump to rise in my throat. Jesus, the King of Kings was born in a place where sacrifices are born. He was laid in a manger - the place where the animals would go for food....The Bread of Life, Jesus - born as a sacrifice.

This Christmas, as you take time to read the original Christmas story, may your heart be filled with the knowledge of God's love for you. Merry Christmas.

John 1:29 "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

Not exactly what I was hoping for...

Welcome to our ADVENTure in Advent...a journey to Christmas.

When I was little, I could hardly wait for that special item to come in the mail. Some of you may remember the excitement, the thrill, the perfect anticipation that came in something called the Sears Christmas Catalog. Oh, there may have been others, but none compared to Sears.

I'd quickly flip past the dresses and underwear, past the shoes and appliances, straight to the toys...then I'd carefully get out my notebook and pencil and begin choosing my list to present to Santa. Did you know he used the Sears catalog? Oh, I'm sure he did because I remember listing each item, including the page number so that he would have no trouble knowing just which presents to place underneath my tree.

At our house, Santa came on Christmas Eve because our small little town in South Alabama was one of his first stops. We'd watch the Santa Radar out of Mobile and we KNEW when he was getting close. Sometimes we'd be at my father's gas station when Santa arrived - once we almost frightened him away and we had to rush back out of the house so he could finish putting our toys underneath that silver Christmas tree - you know, the one that rotated and had the different color light wheel that made it change colors.

As you can tell, Christmas was a big deal. I don't ever remember NOT getting just what I'd hoped for. Mama must have worked herself silly trying to locate the things on our list but somehow she always managed to find the most important things. I never quite managed to inherit that amazing talent from her...I wish I had. Somehow, the Christmases since then have fallen, well, a little flat.
Somehow, since I've grown up, I've never quite found what I hoped for underneath my tree. Oh, I've had some wonderful presents, but the peace...the joy...the wonder...they just seemed to have disappeared.

Today, I got to thinking about those shepherds - you know, the ones who were watching their flocks by night. I bet they were hoping for something. They may have been sitting around, talking about how difficult life could be. Maybe they were just talking about the weather and the price of wool. Maybe they were just so tired they just sat and watched. I wonder if inside they had that longing for more..more peace, joy, and wonder.

For years, they had probably heard the stories of the long awaited Messiah who would one day day. They'd heard those stories since they were boys...but that had been long ago. Still, they hoped that one day He'd come. Surely when He arrived, He'd be a conquering king and would finally free them from bondage. He'd probably be big and strong and very kingly indeed. I bet each of them KNEW how they thought the King would come. But they were caught by surprise.

Luke 2 - "Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Not what they were expecting, I am sure....but they didn't let that stop them. They said, "Let's go!"

I want to be more like those shepherds. As Christmas approaches, each of us has in our mind's eye what it's supposed to look like. We have the "perfect Christmas" all mapped out, thanks to our Sear's catalog (do they even make those anymore?) and our internet searches, and our tv shows and movies that show us just how it's supposed to be done. But what if it's not what we were expecting? What if, instead of some shiny impressive King, it comes humbly in a cold manger filled with daily life mooing for attention? What if it's even something that at first makes us, as the King James version puts it,  "sore afraid?" (I've always wondered about that, by the way. How afraid must you be to be sore?)

What if we discover like the Grinch, that Christmas "came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages boxes, or bags!

And he puzzled and puzzed, till his puzzler was sore." (There's that sore thing again!)"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more."

If Christmas isn't what I was expecting, will I still do as the shepherds (and even the Grinch) did and go rushing in to discover more? Will I stand there in wonder and be so afraid I am sore? Will I even notice if it doesn't come the way I'd hoped it would come or will I miss the wonder completely?

And the ADVENTure continues...I have to wonder what all I will discover on this journey to Christmas, but I'm pretty sure of one won't be exactly what I was hoping for. Nope, it will be a whole lot more.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I got nothin...

It's been a wonderful week off from school and I just KNEW that I'd spend at least a part of it updating the blog...but all I can say is, "I got nothin'."

The holidays are always a mixed bag for me. I love having time off and I love what the season means, but to be honest, they are always bittersweet. I miss my mom and dad and wish I could get a do-over for all those holidays in the past. Wish I could tell them how much I love them just one more time....but I've got nothin'.

I love taking time to give thanks and to decorate for the upcoming season, but my wallet always yells at me that there just isn't any surplus to shop the sales or find gifts for those I want to bless. Then, of course, I get to add to that guilt that if I'd only planned better I'd be able to join in on the frenzy of gift buying or better yet be able to join those who have already finished their shopping and all the gifts are wrapped and under the tree....but I've got nothin'.

I love to listen to Christmas music and join in loudly and off-key, but inside there's always something missing. You see, in myself, I got nothin'....

Then I read a Facebook post from my friend Ross last night talking about Advent and got the idea of writing a blog for each day of Advent, even though I know very little about the Advent season to begin with. Let's be honest...I know almost NOTHIN'! Hey, that's never stopped me before. Still, I had no idea where to begin, that is, until I saw a post from another friend, Maurine. 

Maurine posted this from her heart: "Advent 1. Today, I have hope that those who mourn will be lifted up, that those who suffer will be soothed and those who are lost will feel God's guiding hand upon them." 

Even though I am one who is usually filled with laughter, for some reason during "this most joyful of seasons, I fit more into the category of "those who mourn" and "those who feel lost". For this reason more than any other, I will be attempting to write a blog each day of this Advent refocus and discover once again the joy of the season.

I know I have a LOT to years past I tried to do some sort of Advent calendar for my children and it always ended up as just more stress. I could never keep the "treats" going all the way to Christmas eve...I honestly didn't really have any idea what Advent was all about. Time will tell if this year will be another "Advent failure", but I am going to give it a try.

For those who wonder, Advent is the season that leads up to Christmas. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and as far as I can tell, the first Sunday of Advent is marked by Hope. As one familiar Christmas carol puts it,

"Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, 
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Today is a day of looking forward to the One who brings that hope to us all. It's not hope that this year will be different, but hope that arises within you even if things are just the same. It's putting up the tree even if you know there's no money to buy presents to go underneath. It's playing the carols and joining in with song even though life isn't giving you a "holly jolly" kind of year. It's knowing that no matter what other things the season may bring, it FIRST brought you One who will love you no matter what. 

No, this season won't be never is. No, I won't have the house filled with the smell of baked cookies - unless, of course, I light a cookie scented candle. No, I won't have one of those "Disney commercial" kind of celebrations. No, I probably won't satisfy all those around me, or even myself, with the gifts that I bring. No, as far as words of encouragement that this will be the year that is finally perfect, I got nothin'....but on this first day of Advent, I call out to the One who does. The One who seeks out those who are feeling lost and empty, the One who brings comfort to those who mourn in lonely exile in the middle of a sea of carolers and tinsel and lights, the One who brings Hope.

So I invite you to join me on this journey to Christmas. Don't worry that you don't have anything to bring...cause for this celebration, "nothin'" is all that you need.

Here are two links with devotionals for Advent - enjoy! Advent devotion and this one: Advent devotions from Lutheran hour ministries

Matthew 4:16

New International Version (NIV)
the people living in darkness
   have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
   a light has dawned.”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why I chose education...

Since I had to write this "letter of vision" for my application to enter a program that will further my education, I decided to share it with you here.

Education today is truly one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, fields which anyone can enter. To call it a career choice would be a misnomer since it is not really a choice, but a calling. In my years of teaching I have had many people come through my classroom to observe and decide if this was truly the career they wanted to pursue, and for a few, I knew right away it was not the place for them. Perhaps they did not know what they wanted to "be," or they simply were looking for what they thought would be an easy paycheck. I tell all those who come to me, if you can do anything else and be happy - make that decision now. Change your major while it is still easy to do. If, however, teaching is a part of who you are and you know that you will not find true satisfaction anywhere else, then join us in the world of education.

Dealing with the variety of personalities and issues that a teacher sees each day can be overwhelming. Trying to make wise decisions, keep the pace, and yet have compassion is a juggling act that at times finds each of us dropping a ball or two. The key is to realize we are human and learn from these "drops" so that the next time we can do a little better.

As a teacher, I believe that my job is not so much teaching my students WHAT to think as it is teaching them TO think. I challenge them daily to do a little more than they did the day before, and I challenge them to become the person they were meant to be. To paraphrase a quote I once heard, I am not there to make sure my students have comfort as much as I am there to help them develop character - that means they may be uncomfortable at times.

I know that those in my class will learn how to use commas and complex sentences, but I hope that what they REMEMBER is that they can confront any challenge and succeed IF they give it their all. Success isn't a grade on a paper, it's a process that reveals their strength and ability to grow. I am helping to prepare them for life, and in life it is rare that we get to see our success in the form of a letter grade on a piece of paper. How often do I hear, "Is this for a grade?" I respond, "Life is for a grade."

I am not perfect by any means. I stumble and fall and try to learn from my mistakes. Perhaps, even in that, I am a teacher. Each of us is called to maturity and that is a process - one which can be difficult at times, especially when those around you are going through the same process, yet at different stages. If we were able to deal with life in a bubble, it might be easier, but it certainly wouldn't be nearly as rewarding or fun. In the midst of the maturing process, it is important to find those times of laughter and joy.

Education today is a calling, a challenging one at that. Many times I have "quit" at the end of the day, certain I could not continue in this calling. Dealing with irate parents, new "laws and mandates" and of course, students can be overwhelming at times. Fortunately for me, each morning brings new hope that I can indeed face the challenges of the day, and I "un-quit" again. I try to remember that those I am working with are facing challenges as well, some even more difficult than my own.

Many people complain about the job that educators do; however, most would not even attempt to spend a week in our shoes. Our rewards do not come in the way of a large paycheck or sometimes even in words of praise. Like the soldier, we sometimes feel we are on the front lines of a battle, yet we are willing to face the fire for we know we are fighting for those in our care. We are fighting for the children and for the future.

Why would anyone in their right mind choose this profession? That is an easy question to answer...we did not choose, we answered the call.

Jude 1

 1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James,

   To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

 2 Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

Romans 8:28-30

New International Version (NIV)

 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Eph. 4:11 Standard Version (©2008)

And it is he who gifted some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, and still others to be pastors and teachers,