For the Journey: A Matter of Timing

I recently quit my primary job.  (For the record, I wouldn’t recommend doing that before you have another job.  I wouldn’t have recommended it before I did it and certainly wouldn’t now.  But, when you’re angry and frustrated all the time and don’t even feel like yourself anymore, something has to give.)  For about the first two weeks, I did really well.  Other than trying to process the wave of emotions that comes with losing something you once genuinely loved and frankly being pretty hurt about it, I was excited to not be working three jobs and putting in an insane number of hours.  I felt like I could breathe again.  I was eager to get to focus more on writing Sunday School literature.  (I’m so much closer on children’s literature and crazy excited about it.)  I was telling myself I was not the fresh-out-of-college 21-year-old kid I had been the last time I was looking for a job and that it would not be the nightmare it was then.  And, for me at least, that’s doing really well.

But, two weeks turned into a month and then a month and a couple of weeks, and I soon realized I wasn’t doing quite so well anymore.  I applied for a few jobs without hearing anything, went to a couple of interviews that didn’t result in a job, didn’t apply for a couple of jobs I thought I could really enjoy because they would require working on Sundays, etc., etc.  Now, I’ve decided while I may not be that 21-year-old kid anymore, job hunting and interviews are still a nightmare.

So, lately, I’ve been trying to channel all my stubbornness into not letting myself get depressed, having faith that there’s going to be a job I can enjoy (and hopefully soon), and continuing to enjoy writing and working at the store, two of my favorite things, in the meantime.  So, that’s kind of where my head’s been of late.

Last week, I was proofing and putting finishing touches on the lessons I wrote from John for the upcoming quarter so I could start printing this week.  When I came to the lesson I wrote about the raising of Lazarus, I couldn’t help thinking that I’m pretty sure I write more for me than for anyone else.  I started to share then but decided that would require being more open and honest than I cared to be.  Then, this week, my brother used the story of Lazarus Wednesday night at church, and then it came up in conversation at the store again today, so I can’t seem to get away from it.

I’m sure you know the story.  Mary and Martha are both so sure Jesus is late, so sure that nothing can be done at this point.  I mean, their brother’s dead–four-days dead in fact.  But, Jesus’ actions are completely intentional.  He purposefully stays two days more where He is when He receives word Lazarus is sick.  He knows before He goes that Lazarus is dead and tells His disciples as much.  Yet, He still goes because God’s plan was never for Jesus to heal Lazarus.  He had something much better in mind.  His plan was for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead, displaying His resurrection power.

Waiting on God’s timing is often just plain hard.  Mary and Martha are completely devastated by the time Jesus arrives.  However, that changes very quickly when they realize firsthand that God’s timing is perfect.  In life, there will be times when we are sick and tired of waiting, whether that’s waiting on a job, or waiting for answers, or closure, or any number of things.  There will be times when it seems like surely God must be running behind.  But, He never is.  And when the timing is right, we will know that firsthand, and the wait will have been more than worth it.

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For the Journey: Knowing God

As far as new literature for adults goes, this quarter I’m writing lessons from the Gospel of John, and earlier this week, I worked on a lesson from John 17, which is a pretty incredible chapter of Scripture.  Jesus’ death is fast-approaching, and knowing all that’s about to transpire, Jesus prays for Himself but also for His disciples and for believers all the way up to us today.

At the beginning of His prayer, He mentions that God has given Him power over all flesh to give eternal life, and in the very next verse, He says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).  He defines eternal life as knowing the Father and the Son.  He doesn’t talk about Heaven or streets of gold or rejoicing around the throne or reunions with loved ones who’ve gone on or any of the things we, as Christians, often think of when we think of eternal life.  Rather, He says this is eternal life:  knowing the true God and Jesus whom He sent.

This verse, this definition, jumped out at me, and I haven’t been able to get it off my mind since.  Without knowing and believing in the true God and in the work of His Son, there’s no hope of eternal life.  Then, at death or the end of time, those given the gift of eternal life will get to know God in a way we never even came close to knowing Him in this life.  We’ll get to see and be with our Savior forever.

Here’s what bothers me, though:  if eternal life is knowing the true God, why are so many who claim to be Christians not hungry to know more about Him right now?  Why are so many Christians sporadic in their church attendance and simply not delving into God’s Word to know more of Him in the here and now?  If we don’t want to devote time to knowing God and having a close personal relationship with Him now, how can we expect an eternity of knowing Him in all His fullness?

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For the Journey: Snap Out of It

I recently revisited 1 Kings 19 for a lesson for teens I was writing.  It’s the passage where God speaks to Elijah in a still small voice after his asking God to take his life.  It’s actually one of my favorite passages.  I don’t know what the fact that one of my favorite passages is about a man, namely Elijah the prophet, wanting to die because he feels like he can’t go on says about me–other than I love that God so inspired the writers of Scripture to include some moments where we’re able to see our heroes in the faith being so incredibly human, because being incredibly human is something I can certainly relate to.  (I also have a lot of favorite passages.)

In this passage, Elijah, struggling with the fact that so soon after such a mountain-top experience as his face-off with the prophets of Baal he finds himself on the run for his life again, sits down under a tree and asks God to take his life.  After the Lord leads him to a cave on Mount Horeb, the Lord asks Elijah twice, the second time being in the still small voice after the great wind, the earthquake, and the fire, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9, 13), and twice Elijah responds with, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts:  for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10, 14).  After the second time, the Lord replies by instructing Elijah to go and anoint two kings and to anoint Elisha to be prophet after him.  He then adds, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).  In other words, Elijah, snap out of it.  You’re not all alone, and there’s still work to be done.

Sometimes, like Elijah, we get discouraged.  Sometimes, we feel all alone and like we can’t go on.  Sometimes, things haven’t turned out like we imagined they would.  After all, Elijah certainly wasn’t expecting to be on the run again.  Sometimes, we’ve faced failure and disappointment, so moving forward comes with all kinds of fears.  In those times, like Elijah, we usually have our little pity party.  (Hopefully, though, we don’t carry it as far as asking God to just kill us and get it over with.)  But, like it did for Elijah, there comes a point when we just have to snap out of it, when we have to decide to move forward and keep working.  And, thankfully, whether He does so in that still small voice, through a verse of Scripture, or through a Christian brother or sister with just the right words, God has a way of letting us know it’s time to snap out of it and move on still today.

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My favorite time of year

I had decided to abandon my two-year tradition of a Christmas blog post because, like the rest of the world, I’m crazy busy and because what is usually my absolute favorite time of the year hasn’t been quite so wonderful this year.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s had its moments, some very good moments in fact, but it’s also had some very low moments.  That said, I started Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” for fun today, may or may not have worn Christmas socks, and I’m getting really excited (and perhaps a little nervous) about Christmas program Sunday this weekend, which translates to—I’ve decided to stop fretting and start enjoying my favorite time of the year.

New this year … I made popcorn garland for the first time, which was fun.  To be clear, it was for a Charlie Brown tree, not for Mom’s monster 8-foot tree (it wasn’t that fun).  When I came in from work the next day, the whole upstairs smelled delightfully of popcorn.

Someone should have had a video camera while my sister and I were trying to get the monster 8-foot tree out of the pump house this year.  We keep the tree on this shelf that’s above my head, which I realize doesn’t take a whole lot.  Anyway, I climb over into this hole to get my end of the box and make the mistake of saying, “I’m always afraid I’m going to see a snake right after I get in here.”  To which, my sister replies, “Ugh, I had never even thought of that.  Thank you.”  I thought she was going to abandon me, and she wasn’t even the one in the hole.  Then, she tells me, “Reach up there and un-tape that handle so we can get it.”  Oh yeah, sure…  With some jumping and climbing, I managed to un-tape said handle, and we proceeded to get the tree down.  I was not entirely prepared for the moment it slid off the shelf and almost took off my right arm (not literally), and climbing out of the hole I had gotten myself into with an 8-foot tree required a little more grace than I possess.  But, we survived, and by the end of the day, the tree looked lovely, if I do say so myself.

Since my Mom usually tells me, “I need a Christmas play” somewhere around September, I start thinking about Christmas before Hallmark Channel starts playing their movies, which has gotta be some kind of accomplishment, right?  Anyway, this year, I may have taken a little bit of pleasure in making Mom nervous by repeatedly telling her, “I got nothing.”  (It was true.)  But, I still think she had the skit by mid-October.  (Can you tell we’re plan-ahead people?)  As it turned out, most of the action in the play I wrote for Mom to use takes place during a Christmas dinner.  Most of the action in the play I wrote to use at my home church takes place in a store.  The goal for next year:  Set any and all Christmas plays I write on a blank stage.  (Like that’ll happen.)  I don’t know how Mom’s doing with hers.  I would assume at this point she’s gotten everything together.  I’m still working on store props.  I do have shopping baskets now, though, which was more exciting than it should have been, but that’s another story.

For as long as I can remember, I have absolutely loved Christmas programs.  When I was little, before I knew enough to be nervous, acting in them was great.  As I grew up, writing them brought me more joy, though I still enjoyed the acting part, even if I did get super nervous.  I’ll never forget the year I played this slightly-crazy, quirky cleaning lady.  I got onstage the night of the play and could not for the life of me get the trash bag to come open.  We added a few lines and laughs to that skit.

One of my favorites was actually the last Christmas program my sister and I did together.  It was a comedy called “Itch Cream,” of all things, and we had a lot of fun with it.  My character was overly stressed by a multitude of responsibilities.  The writer must have known me pretty well, if you catch my drift…  I didn’t have much trouble getting into character.  If we had to grow up and be adults and all that jazz, I’m glad we got to add those Christmas memories to the books first.

This year, directing has been a new and exciting challenge.  The kids have made my heart smile by asking, “Can we run through it again?” at rehearsals.  Naturally, they’ve also made me nervous about memorizing lines, but I’m really proud of them and blessed to get to work with such a great group.

I’ve shared some really special Christmas memories and could easily share more—going with the kids from church to shop for Angel Tree gifts, strewing paper all over the living room floor in the process of making Christmas cards, holiday baking, get-togethers, years of Dad’s Christmas sermons, etc.  But, those memories wouldn’t be possible or nearly so special without the best part of Christmas, which is being able to revisit a story I’ve literally heard all of my life and still have it touch my heart, still have it inspire me, still have it fill me with joy.  The best part is trying to fathom the unfathomable love it must have taken for Jesus to leave Heaven to make a way for our redemption, even knowing exactly what that would entail.  The best part is in the angel’s words, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

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For the Journey:  A New Adventure

Since I started writing For the Journey Sunday School literature, one of my most frequently asked questions has been, “Do you do children’s lit?”  I always pretty much dismissed that question.  Not enough time.  Too many jobs.  Too busy.  And, being honest, the thought of children’s lit seemed rather daunting to me.  I’m not opposed to hard work, but I just wasn’t sure I was up to it—crafts, illustrations, activities…yikes!  Gradually, the Lord began to work on my heart and convince me that I really needed the reason I didn’t offer children’s literature to be because I tried it and realized I simply couldn’t do it, not because I never made time to even try, and more importantly not because I didn’t believe God could help me do it.  So, I found myself sitting at the newspaper on a Tuesday several weeks back trying to do my part of getting the paper ready, and all I could think about was ideas for children’s Sunday School lessons.  I went home that night to write my first, excluding some practice attempts in the past that really never need to see the light of day.

Now, For the Journey For Kids is far from ready, so far from ready in fact that there’s still no timeline on that.  It’s definitely been an adventure so far, though, and I’m learning a lot.  As I’ve been working to prepare it, there’s no telling how many times I’ve caught myself thinking, “A lot’s going to depend on the teacher.”  I thought I had learned that in writing for adults and then also writing some for teens, but as I’ve worked on children’s literature, that fact has become even more evident.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my boss at the store about what I was up to, and she, too, mentioned that a lot will depend on the teacher.  Later she brought me the book Faith, Hope and Hilarity by Dick Van Dyke, which she thought I might enjoy reading.  I started it today and came across the following quote:

“Teaching Sunday School is one of the most important jobs there is, because it’s training for life itself—yet we almost always turn it over to part-time volunteers.  We ask these good people to inspire our children, and to answer questions in class that would make a doctor of divinity tear at his beard.  But, often the only help many teachers get is a handful of lesson leaflets about Bible stories.”

I instantly fell in love with that quote because I’m passionate about Sunday School and believe churches should choose Sunday School teachers who are both called and qualified to be Sunday School teachers, instead of sticking just anybody in those positions.  I truly believe Sunday School is often where the church either gives kids the foundation they need to have the kind of faith that will see them through the ups and downs of life, or it’s where the church, in failing to do so, loses them as soon as Mom and Dad can’t force them to attend anymore.  That’s why, in writing lessons, whether for adults, teens, or kids, I try to make them applicable to their everyday lives in the real world.  I try to emphasize the relevance of the Word.  But, even if I’ve done my job to write something that’s more than “a handful of lesson leaflets about Bible stories,” if the teacher goes into class having only looked over it for about five minutes, if at all, if she hasn’t prayed about it and put some effort in, if her job as a Sunday School teacher isn’t close to her heart and doesn’t evoke her passion, the lesson won’t accomplish nearly as much as it could.  It’s the teacher who’s responsible for bringing the lesson to life.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Okay, but I’m not a Sunday School teacher,” well, are you a mom or a dad (or do you hope to be someday)?  Because your kids could have the best Sunday School teacher in the world, but if what they learn from him or her isn’t reinforced in what they see in the way you live before them, there’s a good chance their foundation won’t be very strong.  It takes the church and the family working together as God designed them to be to produce adults who are both strong and knowledgeable in the faith and in God’s Word.  And, if you were blessed to have that combination growing up, then today’s a very good day to be grateful for that (not that there’s ever a bad day).

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For the Journey: Struggling

After getting home from work tonight, eating supper, and the usual, I knew I had to work on Sunday School literature, especially since I’ve been a horrible slacker so far this week for reasons I’d rather not go into.  I didn’t particularly want to work on literature because it requires focus and discipline, two things which are usually strengths for me but seem to be in short supply of late.  However, to avoid falling so far behind I can’t catch up, I decided I better.

A lot of times working on literature is easy for me.  I’m excited and eager to get to it, and the words flow as naturally as breathing.  Other times, like this week, it’s a struggle.  I’m distracted, or tired, or I can’t seem to get my thoughts to come together the way I want them to.  You name it.  This is also why if you look at my originals, some pages have whole paragraphs marked out, while others only have a word or two here and there.  (The pages with whole paragraphs marked out are usually much more prayed over, though, so sometimes the struggling’s not necessarily a bad thing, even if it is a little frustrating.)

Anyway, I sat down to work tonight, and at first, it was going about as well as it had all week.  But, before I decided to give up and table it for the night, my thoughts started flowing more freely, and a childhood memory even came to mind as a perfect illustration for the point I was trying to make.  As I read back over what I had written, I realized what was supposedly for others in a Sunday School class a couple of months from now was actually for me right now.  And, after a week of struggling and feeling a little burdened down with the responsibility of writing literature on top of everything else going on and other struggles and issues I’m not handling as well as I would like to be, I found myself thinking, I get to do this.  I don’t know why I get to do it.  I certainly don’t deserve to get to do it, but I get to do it.  And, when I’m struggling with it or when it’s the most natural thing in the world, it’s worth it because I truly believe God made me for it and because He’s with me in it.

Now, I shared about struggling with writing literature because it’s something I know and have experienced, but life is full of a wide variety of struggles, and we all have our own collection to deal with.  That said, I’m thankful that God has a purpose even in our struggles and that He steps in and encourages us when we need it most.

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Chasing Contentment

“What are y’all doing tonight?”  It was a simple question posed by my mother to my sister, who was visiting, and me at the supper table two weekends ago.  It had a simple answer, from me at least—working on Sunday School literature.  But, before I could give said simple answer, my sister pipes up with a, “She’s going to do the complete opposite of whatever makes her happy.”  To explain, she was still a little miffed at me from an earlier conversation in which my reasons for not doing something were less than satisfactory in her eyes.  Furthermore, she probably wouldn’t have said it at all had she had any idea how many times it would run through my head over the course of the coming days.  Although I was a little miffed at first, especially when my attempt at explaining how untrue that was sounded hollow even to me, I actually really like the fact that she’s never been afraid to be blunt with me.  (For the record, working on Sunday School literature makes me very happy.  In this particular conversation, though, we had suddenly left the realm of simply talking about what I was doing that night and collided with some much larger issues.)

In the week following said comment, I went a little crazy.  By that I mean, I touched my autoharp for the first time in…well, a good long while.  (I’d say I played it, but that would probably be stretching the boundaries of the truth.)  I devoured a novel in less than a week, a once regular occurrence for me.  I reintroduced myself to my poor dog.  (Okay, so it wasn’t quite that bad, but you get the picture…)  I enjoyed a long walk.  I found a few minutes to work on pleasure writing projects.  And realizing how much I used to love watching movies and that I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I got to just watch a movie without being knee-deep in some project and only having it on for background noise, I laid on the couch and watched a movie from start to finish.  It was wonderful.  The experience I mean.  The movie wasn’t bad either.

As much as I enjoyed all of that and as much as I realized I want, no, I need more of that in my life (I’m already planning to finally sew again, to make more time for those pleasure writing projects, and to take a day-trip, hiking most likely.  We’ll see if that happens.), it was still a pretty terrible week, which irritated me immensely.  Here, I had made time to do all these things I had been wanting to do for forever in an effort to disprove my sister’s comment, yet I was still frustrated, very frustrated.  It hit me that it was the contentment thing again.  I’m pretty sure that’s on the bottom of my list of virtues, if it makes the list at all.

Part of my constant struggle with contentment is I’m really good at knowing what I don’t want.  I’m just terrible at knowing what I do want, which is sort of important.  Then, on the rare occasions when I know exactly what I want, I have absolutely no idea how to make it happen.  And, that’s why I’ll be content for three days, three months, I once made it a year, believe it or not, and then it’s gone.  So, it’s this constant chase, this constant struggle to feel content, to not feel like some major area of my life is perpetually out of whack and I can’t fix it.  Don’t forget to throw into the struggle a hearty amount of guilt because I know I should be content.  I know and am grateful for the fact that I have a pretty wonderful life; it’s not perfect by any means, but I certainly can’t deny I’ve been blessed way beyond what I deserve and have plenty of reasons to be content.  I’m just not, or certainly not always.

I have to remind myself regularly that contentment doesn’t just happen.  It’s something you learn.  (See Philippians 4:10-13).  In school, though I always carried too big a load, which meant school consumed too much of my life and I stayed discontent in my existence as a student, I was blessed in the fact that I didn’t usually struggle with the learning part.  I could generally pick up a new concept pretty fast.  I didn’t have trouble understanding what my teachers/professors were trying to get across.  However, that was not the case with calculus.  (The good news: most people, myself included, have no use for calculus.  No offence to any math fanatics.)  It was a very real struggle for me.  By that I mean just looking at the problems gave me a headache.  I’m discovering that learning contentment is, for me, a lot more like learning calculus than…learning how to analyze literature, for instance.

I wish I could conclude this post by sharing some major breakthrough in my experience of learning contentment…but I can’t.  I’m still struggling, still chasing it.  (And, I’m starting to hate the calculus analogy because the breakthrough never came in that department…)  That said, I truly believe, even if it starts with steps as small as taking time to revisit a hobby that once brought you joy or saying something that needed to be said and no one else was going to say for you when you would normally chomp down hard on your tongue and keep it to yourself, engaging the struggle, continuing to pursue contentment, and seeking God in the learning process is far better than trying to ignore the issue and somehow manage to be content with not being content.

 

I wrote all of what you just read earlier in the week.  I read back over it, decided I wasn’t thrilled with it, and didn’t post it.  But, for some strange reason, I didn’t trash it either.  This morning, after getting ready for church, I was reading my Bible and came across Hebrews 13:5, which reads, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have:  for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”  I’d read the verse before plenty of times, but I needed it more today than I guess I ever had.  We can be content with what we have not because we suddenly don’t want things we can’t seem to grasp or because our circumstances are never incredibly frustrating, but, rather, we can be content because of Who is always with us.  So, I’m still learning, still chasing contentment, and that may very well be a lifelong journey filled with ups and downs for me, but I am grateful and content in knowing God will be with me every step of the way.

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