Hymns and Hydrangeas

Tuesday evening I had the privilege of doing a Bible Telling session with a group of women. I chose for us to work with the story of Bartimaeus (partly because it’s very short), and by the end of the session, the women were telling each other the story. This was supposed to be just a quick example of a Bible Telling followed by a time of my sharing about Greenhouse Movement, but when I asked everyone to share what jumped out at them from hearing the story, they had so many insights the session stretched much longer!

Darlene Krueger hosted the event, and I want to tell you about Hymns and Hydrangeas, the business she and her friend Pam Wyma have started to support missionaries. I am one of their missionaries (which I think is so amazing!). They design and make beautiful fabrics with the words of hymns on them and then make tea towels (which would be suitable for wall hangings!), pillows, and baby blankets from the fabrics. Please check out their wonderful work and consider buying something! Your purchase supports their missionaries.

Go to the “About” page on the Hymns and Hydrangeas site to read about Darlene, Pam, and the three missionaries they support. Go to the “order” page to make a purchase. They also have a Facebook page.

One last thing: I am now sending out a monthly email update. If you would like to receive that, just fill out the form below. Thanks so much!

 

 

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Necessary reminder

3 in tree.jpg

A totally unrelated pic for this post, but here are            “3 in a tree”

A few weeks ago a man told me he never gives to poor people asking for money. He did that once, many years ago, bought lunch for a man begging on the street. “I felt good for a few minutes after,” he told me, “felt like I’d done my good deed for the day, but then I realized I’d simply made that man successful at asking for money. I hadn’t given him a reason to do anything else. Now I only give to people who are already pursuing their goals, who are already successful.”

He’s not alone in this practice. Marketing operates on this principle: success breeds success. When you need support for an organization, you don’t start with your needs; you start with the stories of change, growth, transformation. Then you talk about need, only then.
Sometimes I wonder if those begging on street corners understand this. Many, when you stop and talk with them, tell you they were successful in their past. Last week one man—sitting out on a day when the high was in single digits—told me he’d been a stock broker, he’d scored incredibly well on the test stock brokers have to take, he’d lost it all paying for his mother’s cancer treatment bills.
Was he trying to convince me? Trying to tell me the cash I’d pushed into his mittened hands wasn’t wasted, was being spent on someone “worth it”? Or was he trying to convince himself?
Maybe a bit of both?
Here’s what struck me, as I drove away from him still sitting on the corner: I wasn’t so much giving to him as paying him, paying him for a very important service he was providing me. As a plumber repairs my pipes and a lawyer prepares my will, this man reminds me of several important things. His very presence on the side of the road speaks truth to me. Take away my background, the economic stability of my childhood home and neighborhood, the education I was encouraged and enabled to pursue, the mind I’ve been given to study and do work that pays well enough, my health… Put me in different circumstances, and I, too, could be sitting on the side of the road or, as I tried to convince him, in a shelter till the weather broke. His presence reminds me of my frailty, of the frailty of humanity collectively—we are all like grass, easily withered, easily chopped low, easily blown away.
He, sitting out in all weathers, enduring the disregard of so many, is doing much harder work than I, and it is work that, in one way or another, must be done. Without reminders of our innate weakness, we assume we have actually earned and deserved the good we enjoy. And then we lose gratitude, humility, love…
His presence leads me to prayer, to connection with those near and far away, with those in need in my city, those in need in my world. His presence on the corner reminds me of Aleppo, of Sudan, of North Korea, of prisoners and persecuted Christians, of those lonely or in sorrow, of my friend who just lost her father. His presence reminds me we are all in need. We are all connected. John Donne’s words come to mind: No man is an island,/Entire of itself,/Every man is a piece of the continent,/a part of the main. … Any man’s death diminishes me,/Because I am involved in mankind,/And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;/It tolls for thee.
The cash I pressed into his hand now seems a very small price to pay for all that.
*Several of the links above are to articles related to homelessness and cold weather: one deals with reasons some homeless people sleep in the cold rather than go to shelters; another suggests ways you can help (and has hotline numbers in major cities to call if you see someone sleeping outside in dangerously cold weather).
*Other links are to Scriptures that deal with our weakness–and our reliance on Christ!

 

Gifts that give back, 2016

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Lettering by Em click on the link to visit my daughter Em’s Etsy store

Next Tuesday is “Giving Tuesday,” did you know? The link takes you to a Youtube video that explains why Giving Tuesday was created to follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I thought today–before Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the day before THANKSgiving–would be a great day to post my annual “gifts that give back” post. More and more we have the opportunity to give gifts that give twice: to the recipient AND to a ministry that practices Biblical generosity. If you have already completed all your Christmas shopping, then this post isn’t for you, but if you’re just starting to think about it (I’m in this camp!), then I hope to give you some good ideas in this post.

And if you have other ideas, please leave a comment and tell me about them! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back. Feel free to share this list with others.

GENERAL GIVING

You can use Amazon.com’s Smile program and choose a charity to receive a portion of your purchase price. (Mine is locked in at Compassion International currently, but there are thousands on Amazon’s list.) The link above gives more info, and this program is not just for the holiday season but operates all year.

FOR THE TEENS/PRETEENS IN YOUR LIFE–OH, AND FOR EVERYONE ELSE, TOO!

Check out www.mudlove.com and Bel Kai.

MudLOVE, based in Winona Lake, Indiana (home of my wonderful in-laws and my alma mater, Grace College), sells made-on-site clay bracelets, necklaces, mugs, and more. The most popular version is stamped with a word or phrase, and you can even custom order a word or phrase that has particular meaning to you. Twenty percent of each purchase goes to provide clean water in Africa, and $5 spent provides an African with clean drinking water for a year. My girls (ages 12, 16, 17, and 19) ALL love them. (Honestly, I do, too!)

Bel Kai, which sells beautiful handmade jewelry, is another company that gives-back, and when the creator of MudLOVE married the creator BelKai, their shop Belove was created. Great story (check it out at the Bel Kai link above) and just as great products!

BIG-TICKET BEAUTY

Hand and Cloth sells gorgeous, one-of-a-kind blankets made from used saris by women rescued from the slave trade in Bangladesh. I’ve featured this ministry before on my blog (https://journeytojen.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/blankets-handmade-by-women-women-handmade-by-god/).  These are perfect buys for the person who appreciates beautiful, handmade artisan items (hmm—maybe that describes you yourself!). They start at $98 dollars and go up to around $200. Check out the blankets at the website—which itself is beautiful—and read their story while you are there. “Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God.” Wonderful work! (They also have stockings–each one unique! So cool!)

Renew Project and Loom are both incredible ministries. Renew is based in Chicago’s western suburbs and trains and employs refugee women who have been re-settled in the area to make beautiful items from recycled textiles. Bags, baby items, tablecloths, etc., and their work is incredible (these women are artisans!). Best of all, each purchase helps a refugee woman thrive in her new home. At Loom, which is much like Renew but based on the north side of Chicago, “women from Iraq, Bhutan, Congo and Afghanistan gather together weekly to produce beautiful handmade products designed in collaboration with local Chicago designers. Women have the opportunity to create, market and sell their products as an additional source of income for their families. Training focused on financial literacy and necessary skills associated with savings and earnings is offered to each of the women. As a result of this social enterprise, women who have fled war and violence from all over the world have the opportunity to work together in Chicago, learn new skills, produce beautiful handmade products, earn an income, and be a part of a community of creative and enterprising women.”

SIX FOR WOMEN AT RISK

If you want something other than blankets made by women rescued from the slave trade, visit WAR International. The acronym WAR, standing for Women at Risk, was started in 2006. You can find jewelry, accessories, home décor, and children’s items made by women in 13 countries, including the United States.

Narimon employs women rescued out of the sex industry in Bangkok, Thailand. the woman make beautiful jewelry, handbags, and some clothing at The Well, where the women not only work but are ministered to. Narimon is the products division of Servantworks. Seriously, their work is beautiful.

Jo’el Worldwear‘s website says this: “We support artisans and fashion designers affected by wars / conflicts, human trafficking / slavery, refugee status and other economically challenging situations. We honour those who teach, inspire and help develop these professionals to success.”

Sseko (what a cool name) Designs was started by Liz Bohannon. Read this great article about her and her business at Relevant Magazine–and shop here, too! Their tie sandals are awesome, but they’ve now branched out to bags, clothing items, scarves, etc.

Noonday Collection and Trades of Hope both offer beautiful fair trade items (primarily jewelry, scarves, bags, etc.) made by women artisans in developing countries. Great businesses, great products, great stories. I have friends involved in both of these businesses, and they are passionate about their work and what it is providing for other women around the globe. I encourage you to check out their websites.

LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Need to shop for kids, men, women—want to spend a little for this one, more for that one? Go to www.tenthousandvillages.com. Gorgeous jewelry, decorative items, and woven/knitted items for women; toys and games for children; even things like chess sets, bookends, and bicycle-chain frames for men. Their website is very easy to navigate and has some very helpful tools. If you click on the “gift ideas” tab at the top of the page, you can shop for holiday items, for men, women, or children, or by type of item.  You can spend a little (items as low as $4) or a lot. They also have shops (there is one in Glen Ellyn, IL) across the U.S. You can find a shop locater on the website.

Feed My Starving Children (a ministry that provides food packs for ministries around the world) has a pretty extensive marketplace as well. Some great offerings here, from a fantastic ministry that supports so many.

FOR THE COFFEE LOVERS

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company has “Drink Coffee. Do Good” as its motto. It started with farmers in Rwanda (the founder saw the effects of the genocide and had to do SOMETHING) and now works with farmers in Haiti and Thailand as well. They sell 100% Arabica, fairly traded, fresh roasted coffee. They sell ground, whole bean, and decaf, teas, and coffee accessories.

I Have a Bean “was created for a purpose–to positively impact the lives of post-prison men and women, their families, and the communities in which we live.” This business employs post-prison men and women. If you’re in the Wheaton area, drop in their store on Fridays for free coffee and a chat with their awesome staff!

If you’re in Chicago’s western suburbs, drop in at River City Roasters in Wheaton (if you’re not, you can visit them virtually) and pick up a few bags of their direct-trade blends, which River City Roasters roasts themselves. Sometimes they also have their Venture blend, which supports Venture Corp (www.entertheventure.com), a small nonprofit started by some young friends of ours. Each bag purchased helps support two wonderful ministries in Africa. (I am privileged to have met both Mary and Ronnie, the leaders of the two ministries Venture supports.) Speaking of Venture, you can visit its website and support its ministries through buying beautiful Ugandan necklaces. Just click on the “enter the venture” link above.

LOOKING FOR HANDCRAFTED CROCHETED ITEMS–AND MORE?

My husband just told me about this one, and I checked it out and love their website. What a great story! A group of high school guys learned to crochet simply because they wanted unique ski hats on the local slopes. Others dubbed them the Krochet Kids. Long story short (if you want to know the whole thing, visit the website), they taught these skills to women in northern Africa and then Peru, and they sell these handmade items at www.krochetkids.org. Each item carries with it the signature of the woman who crocheted it, and you can visit the website to learn her story. They’ve also branched out and now offer several ethically-made clothing and accessory items as well.

AND, FINALLY, FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING

Buy them a goat—bet they don’t have that. Seriously, go to World Vision or Compassion or Open Doors USA or International Justice Mission or Kids Alive (the links take you directly to their online gift catalogs). The first two have items like school supplies, ducks, and clean-water wells–and goats! Open Doors has items that are specific to the needs of the persecuted church worldwide, and IJM allows you to pay for trauma counseling or legal representation for those suffering injustice. You can honor someone with your gift, and that person will receive a card telling about your gift and what it will accomplish. If you want to keep the idea of giving in front of you this season, request that a print gift catalog from either World Vision or Compassion be sent to you. It’s a fantastic tool to use with kids during this season when they are constantly faced with advertisements that fool them into thinking that their “wants” are actually “needs.”

ANY OTHER IDEAS???

If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back. Feel free to share this list with others.

Thanks for reading! I sure enjoyed pulling the list together.

An unexpected neighbor

I was in full mom mode, in route from an evening parents’ meeting at the elementary/middle school to pick Em up from art class across the city.

I stopped at a red light in North Lawndale, Douglas Park dark and deep on my right, and noticed a girl standing on the corner. The lights from across the street barely lit her face.

But it was enough to make her tears shine. It was enough I could see her mouth, open with sobs, her hands, clenched in fists, pressed tight against her cheeks.

I rolled down the window. “You ok?”

I startled her; then the words came rushing out.

“I missed my bus, and another one hasn’t come. I need to get home, but I don’t know how.”

I pulled around the corner onto the deserted dark street leading into the park and called her to come to the window.

The red line. She needed to get to the red line, and she needed a bus to get to the red line. She’d missed the right bus, ran after, but didn’t make it. And she’d stood there, alone on this corner, till fear kicked in and she started crying.

Anything beyond the green and brown lines, and I’m a bit clueless about the Chicago L system. In that moment I couldn’t even remember which direction the red line runs.

But I knew this girl couldn’t stand on this corner any longer.

“Will you get in?” I asked her.

She hesitated, then figured the gray-haired woman playing soft music in her car was a better option, and got in.

I turned the car around and headed east, into the city. Em’s art class is on the north side; surely there would be a way I could get this child to the red line on the way.

We talked. I tried to drop as many reassuring bits of information as I could. Mom of four (turns out she’s the oldest of four), the ages of my kids (she’s fourteen, a freshman in high school; siblings are 12, 10, and 5), mother of twins (she’s a twin, too, though her brother died soon after birth, right on her mother’s chest. “His lungs weren’t developed enough.”) My name, her name.

She wasn’t breathing so hard any more, but I had to check. “Did anything bad happen to you? Anything besides missing the bus?”

She said no. My shoulders relaxed.

“You need a Kleenex?” I asked her.

“Yes. Is it okay if I blow my nose? Sorry, I got a little cold, so it might be noisy.”

I laughed and told her that was just fine.

She asked if I was a teacher—I have no idea why: do I still give off that vibe?

“Used to be,” I said. “Now I’m a writer.”

She wanted to know if I was famous.

I laughed again. Far from it, I said.

“You write books, though?”

“Well, I have one written, but it’s not published. I write magazine and news articles for a school.”

We talked about her school then, how her mom and grandma and she picked it because it’s college prep, because it helps its students get scholarship money, because she wants to go to college.

I pulled over to check the red line map, making sure I was under a street light, telling her what I was doing.

I called Dave just to confirm what I thought would be the closest stop to Em’s art school.

We talked more as I drove. Her face lit up when I asked about sports. Basketball is a favorite, track, too.

We talked about her siblings, what they’re like. Younger sister by a year is actually taller, but she doesn’t want to play basketball; she wants to be a cheerleader, even with her long legs. Their aunt said she should play basketball like her sister, that if she became a cheerleader, she’d knock out the whole first row of fans when she kicked. We talked about her grandma, a police officer, about her own long commute to school from the south side to the west side, about where she lived before moving to Chicago.

I saw the L track ahead and pointed it out to her. “I’m going to turn left just before it,” I told her. “The side street’s not so busy and I can let you out. And I’m gonna’ give you my business card so you can call or text me when you get home and let me know you made it safe. Will you do that for me?”

She said she would. I told her again where to cross the street, where to go up the steps to the platform. She got out and was gone.

Later that night I got a text from her grandma.

Her grandgirl had made it home safe.

She’d made it home safe.

And her grandma was very, very thankful.

On Roosevelt Road at 7 p.m.

Driving from one mom “job” to another,

Unaware of the Father’s hand orchestrating/planning/moving,

I’d been exactly where I was supposed to be

To see a neighbor.

Father Heart

This past spring, when we felt certain the Lord was moving us into Chicago, one of our first steps was to explore school options for our kids. The search for the younger three didn’t last too long. We visited two schools; one of them felt like a good fit to both them and us; and that decision was confirmed when we attended their back-to-school night this past week. Yes, they will face the difficulties of making new friends and learning new systems, but we know already they will be in a nurturing environment, one in which they already feel comfortable.

This, however, has not been the scenario for our oldest child, Emily. Our first choice fell through. Then she found a magnet school she really wanted to attend. She made it past the first round of selections, but not the second. That was heartbreaking and sudden and late. We scrambled and discovered a charter school option. It wasn’t close; it didn’t have some of the classes she wanted, but we thought it would do. So she started classes there, but we found, after a week of trying to make it work, it simply was too far away.

So late Thursday night, Dave and I discussed, again, her schooling choices. We weighed pros and cons and talked through different scenarios, and then, with exhaustion sucking us into sleep, we prayed a plea of confused desperation.

The next morning I woke before the alarm. As I lay there, quiet, I received an insight into my daughter. I got a glimpse into why the less obvious, more complicated schooling choice might be the very best thing for her.

I looked over at Dave and saw he was also awake. I shared with him the insight I’d received. He nodded and told me what he’d woken up thinking about. The two insights meshed; they fit together; they formed something that was enough of an answer for us to move forward with peace.

But even greater than the answer was this: the Spirit’s whispered insights were not just a reminder of God’s great wisdom, they were even more a reminder of God’s Father heart for our girl, for our family.

In that moment of shared insights I got a glimpse of God’s great, beating heart for my girl, who is, even more and always, HIS girl. He knows her, inside and out, through and through, better than I know her, better than her dad knows her, better than she knows herself.

And He loves her.

He loves her oh so well, so tenderly, so knowledgably.

And that understanding is the best answer of all.

 

Post script: When I opened up the Daily Office on my phone later on Friday morning—just after what I described above—I discovered the day’s hymn was “Day by Day,” one I remembered from my childhood. It was like a loving letter written just for us, but I suspect, in God’s incredible way of loving all his people, together yet so uniquely, it’s for many of us, so I’m sharing the words below.

 

“Day by Day” by Karolina Sandell-Berg

Day by day, and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,

Gives unto each day what He deems best,

Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,

With a special mercy for each hour;

All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,

He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.

The protection of His child and treasure

Is a charge that on Himself he laid;

“As your days, your strength shall be in measure,”

This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,

So to trust Thy promised, O Lord,

That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,

Offered me within Thy holy Word.

Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,

E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,

One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,

Till I reach the promised land.

Today I Awake

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The Garfield Conservatory is just down the street from our house–so beautiful! And free! This is the entrance to the fern room. (shot by Emily Underwood)

In the Daily Office app I use on my phone (The Daily Office from Mission St. Clare), yesterday’s hymn was “Today I Awake” by John Bell. (I’ve shared another of John Bell’s hymns, “Take O Take Me As I Am,” in a past post [click on the title above to see the post, which has the words as well as a link to a recording of the hymn].) Bell’s treatment of the Trinity is beautiful, and it reminded me of the book Delighting in the Trinity (this link leads to a blog post recommending that book–so good!)

I re-read this hymn all day long yesterday, and last night I found a Youtube recording of it so I could also hear the tune. Click on the title below to listen to the recording. Hope you enjoy as well.

Today I Awake” by John Bell

Today I awake and God is before me.

At night, as I dreamt, God summoned the

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Fish @ the Conservatory  (by Em)

day;

For God never sleeps but patterns the morning

with slithers of gold or glory in grey.

Today I arise and Christ is beside me.

He walked through the dark to scatter new light.

Yes, Christ is alive, and beckons his people

to hope and to heal, resist and invite.

Today I affirm the Spirit within me

at worship and work, in struggle and rest.

The Spirit inspires all life which is changing

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Another Conservatory pic (by Em)

from fearing to faith, from broken to blest.

Today I enjoy the Trinity round me,

above and beneath, before and behind;

the Maker, the Son, the Spirit together

They called me to life and call me

their friend.

Misplaced trust: the pitfalls of homeselling

family pic

A good family picture, which, for us, is an amazing feat! This was just after Judy’s graduation ceremony. She’s a college freshman now!

When our realtor, a long-time friend, came into our home for our “putting the house on the market” interview, she was complimentary overall, but she also helped us come up with a to-do list for our open house in a couple weeks’ time.

So we did the first “weeding” of the extra stuff we’ve accumulated, and we sold some of it in a yard sale and carted what was left over to the local thrift store, and then realized, as we looked around with critical eyes, there was still much to do

We often have people stay in our house, and I clean in different ways depending on how well I know them. When my sister or in-laws come, I clean mostly so they’ll be comfortable. I don’t go overboard. But when, two summers ago, we told our church pastors they could house some incoming conference attendees at our place while we were out of town, I cleaned like a madwoman. I’d never met these people; their entire impression of us would be based on our house.

I did the same as we prepared our house to go on the market. The dirt at the base of the windows, between the glass and the screen, has never bothered me, but what if it disgusted some potential homebuyer? Two days before the open house, we got a request for a showing. I was still de-cluttering, still cleaning, but we agreed to the showing.

They arrived before we’d even left, didn’t say a word to me, stood outside looking the house over as I piled the kids and dog in the car. Later that evening I got an email telling me their realtor had written an online review of our house. I shouldn’t have looked at it, but I did. “Buyer considered the lack of central AC a negative. House could have shown better.”

Well, the AC was their issue; it was clear on the listing we didn’t have it. But “could have shown better”—those four words haunted me. I went to sleep, late, thinking of more things I needed to clean, more areas to clear out. Suddenly our house—the place where we’ve become family with our international students, the hangout spot for so many of our neighborhood children, our home!—didn’t feel good enough for others.

I woke the next morning still fixated on what I could do to make our house “show better.” I stood in the laundry room, mindlessly folding, while my mind raced from one idea to another. Suddenly I realized I was humming, the same phrase over and over.

“On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.”

I hadn’t turned the radio on that morning, hadn’t listened to anything on my phone, hadn’t heard that hymn recently. I wasn’t actively trying to get my gaze back on Christ at all! It was a clear Holy Spirit nudge, and I saw my frantic thoughts for what they were, a sandbar eroding beneath my feet.

And I remembered the words from Psalm 146.

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
    there is no help for you there.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
    and all their plans die with them.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel[a] as their helper,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them.
    He keeps every promise forever.

 

 

Announcement and teaching

it is wellHi everyone, it’s been awhile since I posted. It’s been a little crazier than usual around here, as our family has been praying about and anticipating a move this summer. The decision was just made final this week, and we’ll be heading just about 25 miles to the east to live in the city limits of Chicago. Specifics beyond that aren’t set (well, other than that husband Dave will be teaching at a charter school downtown–that’s a huge answer to prayer!), but we’re waiting to see how God leads.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a teaching that I gave at our women’s Bible study a couple weeks ago. It was written during one of the most uncertain times of this journey of moving (though I know there are more to come!). I’ve done an audio of it as well; it’s about 25 minutes in length and you can find it just below this paragraph. This is far longer than my usual posts, and I apologize for that.

“I AM the Way”

Our teaching topic today is Jesus’ “I Am the Way” statement. I’ve been thinking about that statement for weeks now, so the collect that was prayed at the beginning of the service this past Sunday jumped out at me. I’d like to pray it over us today as we look at Jesus as the Way for us.

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Before we get into talking ABOUT the passage, let’s read it together. This is John 13:31-14:10, some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he was betrayed. (Follow the link above to read the passage on Bible Gateway.)

In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This morning we’re looking at the first noun in Jesus’ statement: “Jesus is the Way,” and exploring what that means for us, both in terms of salvation but also for our daily lives, for the step-by-step journeys we are all on. I’m “preaching” to myself this morning. That is usually the case when I teach—God always makes it very personal, but this is one that has been intensely applicable to me right now, and I’ve been praying that the journey I’m on and what I’m learning of Jesus being the Way for me in it will be of real use to you as well.

For about a year now, my husband and I have felt a pull to move to the inner city, with my husband sensing a specific draw to urban education. We’ve sought discernment about this urge, we’ve gathered people to pray with us, we’ve gotten counsel, and my husband has applied for a couple of jobs in inner-city Chicago schools. I won’t bore you with the process that has followed, but it has been very much a 3-steps-forward, 2-steps-back kind of journey, and both jobs are still possibilities even though it’s now almost May—and in the educational world, that’s getting late! Meanwhile as I’ve sensed the Lord’s leading, I’ve fought fears of “If this happens, what about school for my kids? Won’t they all have closed their enrollment? What about housing? How will we sell our house and find someplace to live in that short of time? What neighborhood?” It’s gotten to the point that I realize that if God actually opens doors and makes this happen, it truly is miraculous because I’ve got no control over it.

So, with all this swirling around in the background of my life, I began to prepare for this teaching. One of the things we do to prepare is to work our way through a set of pre-sermon questions, and one of the questions is this: “How is this passage supposed to make you feel?”

I laughed out loud when I read that question because, honestly, I identified in many ways with the disciples. I’m asking some questions that sound really similar to theirs. “Where are you leading? What is going on? Is your way for us here or there? Can you please just make the way clear?”

So, just like the disciples in the passage, I was feeling confused. I was identifying more with their feelings than with what Jesus was saying. But then I had to look at the question again, because it doesn’t ask, “How does this passage make you feel?” It hadn’t asked me how I actually felt when reading the passage but instead asked how the passage was supposed to make me feel—and that was entirely different, because the intent of this passage is hope! It’s an incredibly hopeful passage, full of eternal belonging and promises of home.

But I, just like the disciples, needed to see it differently. I needed a different perspective on Jesus being the Way. I needed a different understanding of the way.

We, here in 2016, know that verse 31 is speaking of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection; he’s speaking of our salvation. Then, in verse 33 he is referring to his ascension and in 34 to the new resurrection life his followers will live. These are huge, eternity-changing events!

And after he says all these monumental things, Peter asks, “Where are you going?”

Peter missed the salvation; he missed the new life of love, and he focused on Jesus leaving. I get that! Peter missed all the other stuff because Jesus just said something that threatened Peter’s imagined way of life. “What? You’re leaving? That can’t happen! We’ve got plans! You’re our leader!” Peter, along with probably all the other disciples, had his sights set on something other than God, something other than God’s purposes. They couldn’t see anything other than their own purposes. Peter was still expecting Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom, to restore Israel to glory, and Peter was wanting a significant part in this restoration. Now please understand I’m not putting Peter down for this. He wanted to be Jesus’ right-hand man, the one known for being completely supportive. He wanted to be the rock that Jesus had called him.

None of these things are bad, but they were what Peter wanted. Peter wasn’t asking what God wanted. He wasn’t looking to the Father, as Jesus always was. In chapter 14 we see the same tendencies in Thomas and Philip. Thomas, in verse 5, said, “We don’t know where you’re going.” He, too, has his eyes somewhere OTHER than God. And that’s when Jesus points him—all of them—back to God, telling him that the way Jesus is going is ALWAYS to the Father and then Jesus makes the I Am statement that He is the complete and only way to the Father,

And before I smack my forehead and say, “C’mon, guys, don’t you get it?” I have to realize I do the same thing. I formulate my own plans, and I get my eyes off the Father. I forget that HE is my ultimate goal, my complete belonging. I, too, form a plan that seems right to me, one in which I know my place and feel settled and secure, and when God does something or says something that upsets my plan—or suggests that’s not His plan, then I’m just like Peter. “What?”

And when I do this, it’s like I’m walking through an open field with my eyes on the ground, making my own way—forgetting my way doesn’t lead to the Father. I forget to look up at the Father and keep looking up, so I also forget that in him I am home.

This looking, this Father-gaze—this Father-fixation, you could say—is only possible through Jesus. He made a Way, the only Way possible, between us and the Father. Through his death and resurrection he wiped out all the sin and evil that was between us so we can see the Father and know his loving face and feel his arms around us. So we can know that in the Father’s love, we are home. We belong. In and through Jesus, we are brought to our true home with him and the Father. That home is our ultimate destination.

And this Destination influences the journey to it, and this is another meaning to Jesus being the Way. He is not only the destination, He is the way of the Father. Jesus perfectly lived this way of the Father. He revealed it to us in both his words and actions. In the Gospels, he said, over and over, in many different ways, that his eyes were on the Father. And that determined how he lived. He wasn’t trying to please others or himself—just the Father. And this is the kind of life, the kind of way to which Jesus is referring in John 13:34-35. He tells his disciples—he tells us—Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Earlier in this chapter he’d given them a very concrete example of this when he washed their feet and told them to do the same. Bishop Stewart spoke of this call to love in the sermon this past Sunday. He told us we are called to choose a life of costly love, sacrificial love—that is the Christian life. That is the life Jesus lived, the life that revealed the Father to us, that showed us the Father’s way. And it is also the life we are to live. We are called to service, to other-focused lives.

And here is where I get a little stuck–in a couple of different ways: first, HOW do I do that? I’m selfish by nature. How do I live a life of sacrificial love when I am unable to do that? Second, how do we know exactly which direction this life of sacrificial life should take? For example, in my particular situation right now, we have a lot of good choices, and all of them—including the choice of staying in our current situation—involve costly love and service. I don’t think there’s ONE right choice. I think God could and would use all of them, but we still are faced with a choice, and that can be overwhelming.

I see this in my head kind of like a Google map with the middle part missing. It’s as if I’m looking at the map, and two dots are flashing on it. One dot is the “You are here” dot; it’s our current location. The other dot is the “destination” dot. The map behind the “You are here” dot is filled in, in a lot of detail. We can look back on our journey and see a few of its twists and turns and kind of how it got us to the point we’re at. The other dot, the destination dot, is labeled “eternal home,” “eternal life with the Father,” and around the dot are all these wonderful descriptors like “full satisfaction in Christ,” “freedom from all selfishness,” “completeness,” “wholeness,” “belonging,” “everlasting peace and love.”

So I have the ultimate destination dot and I have the current location dot, but the map in between isn’t filled in. It’s blank, so I don’t know the path between the two dots.

Now, so far I have talked about two “ways” that Jesus is the Way. The first is that Jesus is our destination, our ultimate home with the Father, and the second is Jesus as our example, showing us the Way of the Father—full of sacrificial love.

Those are two wonderful and essential understandings of Jesus being the Way, but I need more! If I only have those two dots—the current location and the ultimate destination—and then the example of Jesus, that still leaves me with big blank space in my map. HOW do I walk your way? I ask. Which direction do I take? How do I know? Am I just supposed to choose the way that looks hardest each time? What if I don’t? What if I choose the easier way and then feel guilty? (Some of us get stuck in that trap, don’t we? You know who you are!) We say, Lord, I’m lost in the in-between place. I’m stuck!

This is where the third understanding of the Way brings hope to my heart. Jesus is the Destination; he is the way of the Father—and he is the way to the Father. He is the path beneath my feet as well as my guide and companion on the journey; He holds my hand as we walk together; he carries me in the difficult parts; he is before me and behind me and beside me. He is in me.

In this passage in John, the disciples couldn’t see this yet. Their vision was still clouded. They didn’t understand; they weren’t saying, “Lord, we get it; You’re completing our eternal salvation with your death and resurrection.” No, they were still looking for an earthly kingdom and still hoping for some recognition and honor in it—but regardless of their clouded perspective, they had this one hugely important thing right: Jesus was their life! They’d walked with him for three years, and they didn’t want that to end. They’d journeyed with him. They’d looked to him for where they were going to go and how they would be fed and where they would sleep at night. And now he was talking about leaving them. I would have asked the same question. I still do!

And Jesus says to me, to us, exactly what he said to them. Please look with me at John 14:16-19, 26-27. (The link will take you to John 14:16-27 in the NIV.)

 

Jesus didn’t leave the disciples as orphans. He doesn’t leave us either. We are not vainly trying to make our way to the Father, hopelessly striving in our own strength to live as Christ did. No, He gave us His Spirit. “You will see me,” he promised. “You are not alone on the way. I will come to you. Because I live, you also will live.”

So the Spirit guides us through the blank space between the current location dot and the destination dot on the map. This doesn’t mean we get to punch the “list navigation steps” button and see all the twists and turns laid out. No. Often the Spirit reveals only one step in front of us; though at other times the Spirit settles us in a sweet spot for a time. Sometimes the way is full of trouble and hardship. Sometimes we seem stuck—with the way in front covered in fog. We’re not sure where to step.

But no matter what the journey is like, we’re not doing it alone. And that makes all the difference.

As my family has been in this journey of ambiguity—which Pastor Matt calls “a darn good story,” (because he’s not the one living it! J) the Lord keeps reminding me of this truth in a lot of ways. There was the time when Father Kevin stood up after the sermon a few weeks back and said, “I sense there are some here who are in a smog of confusion”—actually, I don’t remember if he said it just like that, but being who he is, I can see him picking words like that—and my husband and I looked at each other and just nodded—and then went and sought prayer. There was the Good Friday service, when I knelt at the cross, full of uncertainty for my children in this possible move, and I heard the Lord say, “I have them. They’re mine.” And then when I shared that moment with my two daughters at the Holy Week reflection service a couple weeks later, my younger daughter’s eyes got wide and she said, “Mom, he told me the same thing when I was at the cross that night. He said, ‘Maddie, I have you.’”

In just the right moments, when my doubts are crowding in, God elbows them out of the way and says, “Look at me instead.” He did this earlier this week when I was meeting with a young mom friend and she said, “God gave me an image while I was praying and I think I’m supposed to share it with you.” And though her vision didn’t give specific direction—it was of a woman lying paralyzed at the feet of Jesus and then being raised by him into courage and strength and service—it encouraged me and renewed my hope. The Lord has done this again and again in this process.

And when I keep my eyes on the Father, when I remember that the Spirit is with and in me, then I also remember I don’t need to worry about the navigation steps. I don’t need to know them. He will reveal what needs to be revealed, when it needs to be revealed. I don’t need to be troubled or afraid. Jesus has made the way for me to be home in the Father, to belong to him. That will be fully realized in eternity, but it’s also a resurrection reality right now. I can live, now, at home in the Father, belonging to him. That is most important—that’s the BIG thing—so I can trust him for everything else, for this journey right now.

You can, too, no matter what your “current location” looks like, no matter what the step in front of you looks like, no matter if you feel paralyzed or overwhelmed or bored or lost or sad or anxious in your “current location.” In these past few months, my husband and I have prayed the prayers for dedication and guidance and quiet confidence over and over. Sometimes we pray them back-to-back, asking for our hearts to be prepared for service, asking for direction and then asking that we would be reminded that our place of belonging is in God. I’ve combined the elements of these prayers into one that I’d like to pray for all of us right now.

Father God, through Jesus we have our home and belonging with you. By the might of your Spirit, lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that through Christ, you are our God, you are our Father. As our Father, please help us to follow the way Christ revealed. Draw our hearts to you, guide our minds, fill our imaginations, and control our wills so that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you. Then use us, we pray, for your glory and the welfare of your people. And Lord, when we are uncertain of the way, give us the grace to ask you for guidance. May the Spirit save us from all false choices and lead us on your straight path. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The gift of Soli Deo Gloria

soli deo gloria

I got my necklace from Etsy and I love all the work this artist, Mandy England, creates. She’s closed for the holidays, but here’s the link to her business: http://shop.mandyengland.com/

The phrase Soli Deo Gloria, meaning Glory to God alone, is used often at Wheaton Academy, where I have worked for over nine years. In the last year, it has taken on new meaning to me, so much so that I requested a necklace with the phrase on it for my birthday.

A few weeks ago, in a meeting with my boss at WA, we were talking through upcoming articles for the Wheaton Academy website. In a pause in our conversation, we both jumped in and said, “I have a story idea!”

“You go first,” she told me. As I read to her what I’d jotted down in my journal about Soli Deo Gloria, she got excited and finally broke in. “This fits in perfectly with my idea. I want a piece up for Christmas, a gift piece.”

A gift piece. Oh, the two ideas did fit together! Christ’s birth, followed by his life, death, and resurrection, gives us the incredible, unimaginable gift of living for the glory of God!

I expanded my ideas for a piece for the Academy, but what follows are those original thoughts in my journal. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Soli Deo Gloria

This phrase, meaning “Glory to God Alone,” is generally seen as a charge, a challenge, but what we sometimes forget is that, most of all, it is a gift.

A gift from God to us.

You see, we all live for the glory of something: comfort, success, popularity, power, love. At the root of all of them is the desire to glorify self.

What we don’t understand is the pursuit of self will always end in misery.

But when we pursue the glory of God, we experience magnificent joy and immeasurable fulfillment.

Soli Deo Gloria is a gift of God extended through the sacrifice of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, with the Spirit, we can let go of the self-glory that destroys us. We can be captivated by God’s glory, which is great and wonderful and encompasses all. When we give ourselves over to it, we find our lives take on a larger purpose. Every part of our lives and beings, even our failings, weaknesses, and sorrows, is transformed by the glory of God. All will be used for ultimate good. We gain a true perspective of all talents. We learn that in the kingdom of God, kindness, mercy, faithfulness, and thoughtfulness are highly prized.

When we grasp this, we are able to look beyond ourselves to others. We can see the interconnectedness of all our lives. We gain a vision of working with fellow Christians. We value their talents, for we see how they complement our own.

In the light of God’s glory, those old pursuits—comfort, success, popularity, power—are revealed as pale substitutes, and what the world views as “small”—loving relationships, kindness to neighbors, concern for the least, consistently ethical decisions, a choice to live on and with “enough”—these shine with the bright light of eternity.

When we live for the glory of God, we ourselves receive a glory that is out-of-this-world—literally. This is the gift we proclaim. This is the paradoxical truth that sets us free to live each moment with joy and purpose.

In the words of the late Henri Nouwen, “Our little lives become great—part of the mysterious work of God’s salvation. Once that happens, nothing is accidental, casual, or futile any more. Even the most insignificant event speaks the language of faith, hope, and above all, love.”

I simply had to share this with you! I saw this in our neighborhood last week and fortunately had a couple minutes free to pull over and take a shot! Can't you imagine some little one asking for this!

I simply had to share this with you! I saw this in our neighborhood last week and fortunately had a couple minutes free to pull over and take a shot! Can’t you imagine some little one asking for this!

 

Finding, part 1

Two weekends ago, seven of the eight of us (Kelly was at a game with a friend) went downtown for the evening with Dave’s brother who was visiting. We wandered up and down the Magnificent Mile enjoying the lights and then trekked west to the Portillo’s on Ontario. Before eating, Judy (our older international “daughter”) went to the restroom, took out her retainers (a recent expenditure—they’re not cheap!), and wrapped them in a white paper towel from the restroom (some of you already know where this is going!). She set them next to her plate while she ate.

Near the end of our meal, a Portillo’s employee kept buzzing around picking up trash. She was so quick and quiet doing this, we almost didn’t notice her! When we completely finished, we continued the cleanup (you bus your own tables at Portillo’s), and Judy suddenly realized her retainers were not next to her plate.

Quiet panic. I assumed one of us had thrown them away, so I turned to the trashcan where we’d put everything we cleared. A man in a Portillo’s uniform with a nametag reading “Sherman” was just about to empty the trash. We explained the situation to him, and he helped me look through BOTH of the side-by-side cans. In fact, he stopped me a couple times when I was about to pick up a particularly soggy something and lifted it with his own gloved hand. “I should have gotten you a pair of gloves,” he remarked.

No retainers in the first can. Judy was rigid at this point. Dave had already helped her go through every pocket in her coat and every compartment in her purse. Em had checked under and around the table.

We reached the bottom of the second can. I saw something pink shining through a white paper. I grabbed it.

Not retainers.

I looked up and met Sherman’s very, very sympathetic eyes. “Thank you,” I told him. He nodded. I turned to Dave. “I’m going to go wash my hands before we leave.”

On my way up the stairs, I prayed. “Please, God, by some miracle let those retainers be in the bathroom. I know she brought them down to the table, but if You want to just re-locate them right now and have them on the counter when I walk in, that would be truly incredible. She is never going to stop beating herself up about this! Please, God, a miracle!”

No retainers on the counter.

As I came back down the steps I saw my brother-in-law, Scott, had an arm around Judy. All the other kids were gathered around them. My heart sank. She’s crying, I thought. I made it all the way up to the group before they noticed me. I reached out a hand to Judy when Scott saw me. “He found them,” he said. “Sherman found them!”

Judy was crying, but they were tears of joy!

I turned to Dave, and he gestured to Sherman, who was several feet away, emptying a different set of trash containers, these farther from our table. “He decided to look through those, too,” Dave said. “He thought the Portillo’s lady might have taken them for trash and put them there, so he looked before he emptied the cans.”

I went over to Sherman. His grin was broad, but he was a little embarrassed. “Thank you,” I told him. “You are an answer to prayer! I was praying for a miracle!”

“Me, too,” said Scott.

Sherman raised his pointer finger up. “Wasn’t me,” he said. “That was God.”

I was crying by this point. Dave followed Sherman to thank him again. He tried to give him a gift to thank him, but Sherman refused. Dave found a manager and told him what Sherman had done. A few days later I visited Portillo’s website and filed a formal statement of gratitude.

As we left Portillo’s that night, one of my fifth-grade twins said, “Hey, that was a God sighting!”

“Yeah,” said the other twin. “I’m going to write it in my notebook at school! This week I won’t have to think and think to remember one.”

“They happen every day!” I reminded them. “We just don’t always have our ‘eyes’ open enough to see them.”

I hung back to where Judy was walking with Emily. I hugged her. “Don’t beat yourself up,” I said. “You didn’t do anything wrong, and God just gave you and all of us a miracle. Give yourself over to it and rejoice!”

She nodded, tears still in her eyes.

Thank you, Sherman! Thank You, God, for having him in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time so he could be a testimony of Your faithfulness and greatness to us.