Category Archives: Teaching

Guitarist Nathan Mills & Star Wars – A Force Awakens

Nathan & Guitar - by Ian - December 2015Photo Credit: Ian Edwards

Nathan Mills is a classical guitarist…and beyond that, he crafts music. To hear and watch him play guitar is to experience music at both an intellectual and heart level. He feels the beauty of the music and somehow interprets it to the listener…as a painter does on a canvas.

Nathan got his first guitar for his 13th birthday. As he mastered acoustic and electric guitar, he and his best buddies in high school had a garage rock band. They didn’t “make it big” as a band in their dreamed of adult music world, but they are all still in music (a story for another day).

At 17, as a Senior in high school, Nathan began classical guitar lessons, with a guitar borrowed from a friend. He studied with Marcelo de la Puebla. We lived in Casablanca, Morocco, at that time, and Marcelo flew in from Spain to teach guitar. It was an amazing opportunity for Nathan and he took full advantage of it.

When Nathan returned to the US for university studies, he continued in classical guitar  with Professor John Patykula at Virginia Commonwealth University. With only one prior year of classical guitar study, Nathan felt somewhat intimidated by his late start, but he pushed through, worked hard, and honed his craft.

Since graduating from VCU, he finished his Master’s in guitar performance at East Carolina University. Nathan, with more passion than ever before, continues to play, teach, write and arrange music.

This past weekend, the latest installment of Star Wars opened to wild anticipation. Star Wars – the Force Awakens. With that premier also comes the premier of Nathan Mills’ newest website – www.beyondtheguitar.com. His love for musical expression is evident in his work. His desire for others to stretch, explore and develop their own expression of music is motivating.

It’s never too late to begin, and it’s never too early to revisit crafting your music. For sure, a creative force is awakened in Nathan Mills, and he can help you master the music you love.

I know…I’m his mom – a person who NEVER appreciated classical or instrumental music until I heard someone play it as the composer must have meant it to be played…or maybe because that musician took the music into his own heart and played it right into the heart of the listener.  That someone?

Give a listen:

Beyond the Guitar – Nathan Mills

BLog - Nathan at guitarPhoto Credit: Duy Nguyen

5 Friday Faves – a Country Store, Mixing Thanksgiving and Christmas, an Argument for Trouble, Teaching Empathy in the Classroom, Teaching our Children to be Entrepreneurial

Blog - Friday Faves

Happy Friday! Posting from Atlanta, visiting Dad and family.

1) A Country Store – In an era of “buying local”, it’s easy to forgive a huge franchise when it feels like a country store. Cracker Barrel is like coming home. It’s my dad’s favorite restaurant (breakfast all day, and a huge menu full of “home-cooked” favorites). Walking into Cracker Barrel, you enter the country store section ahead of the restaurant. It is a retail paradise, especially if you’re from the South. Or maybe for everyone. It was lovely  seeing it recently through the eyes of a Moroccan-Scottish friend visiting. So much fun, this place, whether you buy anything or not!

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2) Mixing Thanksgiving and Christmas – Beautiful Fall leaves and pumpkins are still with us in Virginia, although the season is waning. Even with our American Thanksgiving still days away, Christmas is also upon us – with decorations, music, and the wooing to the stores for gift-buying. I don’t mind the mix at all. There’s enough to delight in both holidays.

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3) An Argument for Trouble – Mark Modesti’s Argument for Trouble – YouTube video (TED Institute) – take the time to watch. Even the Bible tells us we will always have trouble, so wisdom is to learn how to thrive in it…and make it work for us and others.

4) Teaching Empathy in the Classroom – Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell’s article on Empathy in Action: How Teachers Prepare Future Citizens. I love when educators are committed to working with parents in helping our children to grow into responsible, thoughtful adults. Growing up happens all too quickly – redeem the time.

5) Teaching Our Children to Be Entrepreneural – Charmian Solter’s 8 Entrepreneurial Skills You Should Teach Your Kids (in an info graphic). Like 4), these are things we might as parents want to consider to help our children face the future that awaits them.

That’s the quick and short of my favorite finds this week – what are yours? Would love to hear about them. Enjoy your weekend!

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Worship Wednesday – The Story of God in the Acts of the Apostles – God with Us – MercyMe

Blog - Acts of the Apostles - film - YouTubePhoto Credit: YouTube.com

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. – Acts 4:13

I wasn’t born into the Christian faith. As much as it was possible to be alien from God, this was my experience as a child. When a neighbor invited us to her church, we went, essentially immigrants from a foreign land. The kindness of these strangers and the teaching from God’s Word were food and drink to this tired and hungry child’s heart. Even in the few years of my life, I knew the futility of trying to be good and the failure of relying on people for love (except for my Mom). I was a fairly messed-up 8y/o…and then I met Jesus.

That’s why the account of the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible is so riveting. These were not people who just believed in some religious leader or holy book. These were people who intimately knew Jesus. They had spent long days with him…they knew his habits; they saw him at his most tired; they witnessed how his living reflected the truth of his teaching. They were astonished at the miracles he performed and changed themselves by the love he lavished on both the poor and the proud. No wonder they were so bold in their witness, even to the point of death. “They had been with Jesus”.

A Greek physician named Luke penned the letter that we call Acts of the Apostles. In the first line of the letter he mentions another book he wrote, that being the Gospel of Luke. In the Gospel, he delivers a detailed story of the life and teaching of Jesus.

Between these two books, Acts and the Gospel of Luke, you can have a good start at understanding – who Jesus was/is and how the church began. Through the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ followers.

All of Scripture is a revelation of God. He speaks of Who He is through all the stories – from the books of Genesis to Revelation.

David Teague wrote a profound piece on The Biblical Metanarrative. Written especially for post-moderns, Teague takes the reader, step-by-step through the unity of the story across the Bible – the story of God. I read his article a couple of times, first as a witness to the truth of what he’s saying and again as one who might be skeptical or ignorant of Scripture. I really encourage you to read this article, whatever your current thinking is on God. It’s an easy read, and you will find it profitable.

We are reading through the Book of Acts this month at Movement Church. I love reading out loud the case for Christ made by three followers of Christ in particular – Stephen, Peter, and Paul. Their boldness comes out of relationship not scholarship. They give a shoulders-squared, hearts-resolved first-hand account of Jesus – as Emmanuel, God with us.

He is with us still…

Worship with me.

Who are we, That You would be mindful of us
What do You see, That’s worth looking our way
We are free, In ways that we never should be
Sweet release, From the grip of these chains
Like hinges straining from the weight
My heart no longer can keep from singing

All that is within me cries, For You alone be glorified
Emmanuel, God with us
My heart sings a brand new song
The debt is paid these chains are gone
Emmanuel, God with us

Lord You know, Our hearts don’t deserve Your glory
Still You show, A love we cannot afford
Like hinges straining from the weight
My heart no longer can keep from singing

Such a tiny offering compared to Calvary
Nevertheless we lay it at Your feet.*

The Biblical Metanarrative – The Story of God in a Postmodern World

YouTube Video – The Acts of the Apostles (Visual Bible) – Script of film is all Scripture (NIV).

*Behind the Song God With Us – with Kevin Davis

Story Behind the Song God With Us (GodTube Video)

The Speeches in Acts

5 Friday Faves – a Favorite Beverage, a Pic of a Little Girl, a List of Critical Habits, a Pinterest Page of VIdeo Clips, and Job Search/Recruitment Group

Blog - Friday Faves

How does a week fly by so fast?! Here are my 5 Friday Faves. It’s been a tough work week here. That’s for another day. It has, of course, had an impact on my Friday Faves. Be encouraged, get moving, enjoy a laugh, and remember God loves you and is in the work of bringing good out of every situation…

  1. Favorite Beverage – Coffee. Hello! The coffee we drink in our house is an inexpensive and completely satisfying brand  – Eight O’Clock Colombian Peaks. Available in most grocery stores around here but we order from Amazon.com so we never run out. If I can’t have Moroccan coffee in Morocco (below, right), then it’s Eight O’clock.

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2) Pic of a Little Girl – A friend of mine taught English in China last year. One of the classroom teaching strategies was for each child to have a name more common in Anglophone countries. This probably was a help both to the teacher and to the students. This darling little girl had my name: Blog - Faves - Chinese girl with my English class name Hailey Williams teacher (2)Photo Credit: Hailey Williams

Can’t leave this Friday Fave without putting up one more “little girl” picture. This little Moroccan girl singing her heart out in Bouskoura Forest, outside of Casablanca:

Little Girl Singing

3. Critical Habits of Mentally Strong People – Travis Bradberry published a super helpful article on mental toughness. He lists 15 critical habits of mentally strong people. Take a minute to go to this article for some quick, clear counsel on building up your mental muscle. – not just for work, also for anything where mental toughness (not hardness) would help.Blog - Friday Faves - Habits of Mentally Strong People - slideshare.netPhoto Credit: Slideshare.net

4) A Pinterest Page of Video Clips – This board belongs to Heather VanStaalduinen.  She has pinned several fun videos to use in the classroom to teach various concepts and character traits. Pixar and Disney animation are well represented along with other videos you will recognize. My classical guitarist son is adding teaching groups of middle school students to his repertoire. These might come in handy.

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Photo Credit: TeachTrainLove.com – also a great resource for videos.

5) Job Search/Recruitment Group – I had the opportunity, via Skype, this week to meet Michael Thompson, founder and managing director of the Turas Group. He was working remotely with a group looking to take a leap into new careers. Very smart, personable, and handling each participant with respect and individual care. If I was looking for a job right now, Turas Group would be the go-to agency for me. More about Michael Thompson and this group next week.Blog - Friday Faves - Turas Group

Have a great re-charging weekend. I love my work such that Friday isn’t the goal for me. This week, I find myself among those who rejoice that it’s finally here. Will leave you with this verse from God’s Word:

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” –                   2 Corinthians 4:8-9

If you had a hard week – use this weekend to take a deep breath, regain perspective, and see all the good that surrounds us. I’ll be right there with you, in this.

 

Global Leadership Summit – 7 Take-Aways from Day One of #GLS15

Blog - Global Leadership Summit - thecrossingchurchnj.orgPhoto Credit: thecrossingchurchnj.org

Today I participated in the Global Leadership Summit at a satellite site near Richmond, Virginia. It was my first time, but I hope not to miss another. It is best described on the website- “a world-class experience designed to help you get better and embrace your grander vision—the reason God called you to lead. Broadcast LIVE in HD from Willow’s campus near Chicago to over 375 Premier Host Sites in North America and later around the world, you are invited to join an expected 260,000 leaders in 2015.”

7 great leaders spoke today, and 6 others will speak tomorrow. The experience was so meaningful and beneficial to me where I am currently in life, but I would recommend it to anyone whatever your situations.

Following are the briefest of 7 take-aways that are still buzzing around in my head. So much to process. Here’s a start.

Bill Hybels (founder/senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church; chairman of the Willow Creek Association which launched the Global Leadership Summit in 1995):

“Leadership is [simply] moving people from here to there.”

“Armed with enough humility we can learn from anyone.” 

Hybels reflected on Richard Davis’ book The Intangibles of Leadership – and developed his own list of 5 intangibles for leaders:Blog - Global Leadership Summit - 5 Intangibles of LeadershipPhoto Credit: jobsforlife.org

He challenged us to discover the “white-hot why” of our lives – the why of what we do – what really matters for us. For Hybels, it’s “transforming lives”. He is a living example of being faithful to that “why”.

Jim Collins (best-selling author of Good to Great):

Jim Collins talked about what he learned as the recent Chair (2012-2013) for the Study of Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He reported that: creating a culture out of which great leaders are developed must include

  1. Serving a cause we can be passionate about and for which we would be willing to suffer;
  2. Growing through difficulty; and
  3. Succeeding by helping those around us.

“We succeed at our very best only when we help others succeed. We respond to our own difficulties by reaching out and saying ‘Let me help you.’ To communicate to others: ‘You are never alone.'”

“The greatest leaders find a way to make a contribution, a distinctive impact, on people, on real-live flesh and blood people.”

Ed Catmull (Co-Founder of Pixar Animation Studios; President of Walt Disney Animation Studios; Author of Creativity, Inc.):

Catmull wanted to be an animator from the time he was a child but couldn’t see a path to follow that dream. He ended up studying physics in college.Blog - GLobal Leadership Summit - Ed Catmull by brainpickings.orgPhoto Credit: brainpickings.org

“Science and art are not incongruous. Art isn’t about drawing; it’s about learning to see. Which business or professions do you not want to have enhanced ability to see?”

He talked further about 3 processes in film-making, all relating to accountability:

  1. Teams working together (using a Brain Trust – a group of colleagues all acting as peers, with vested interest, giving feedback;
  2. When failures happen in production – embracing [failure] but at the same time dealing with it with both total candor and kindness; and
  3. Operating within constraints (a budget) – actually pushes creativity higher and delivers better outcomes.

“Stories influence the world. We want to use story-telling for good.”

Adam Grant (Professor, Wharton School of Business; Author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success)

Grant talked about the three kinds of persons you find in the workplace…well, anywhere really:  1) Givers, 2) Takers, and 3) Matchers. After defining each of these and how they interact with each other in the workplace (buy the book), he prescribed ways to build a work culture. A work culture of generosity – the work culture that especially develops the givers, which brings the others along as well.

His three challenges were:

  1. Keep the wrong people off the bus. Get rid of the takers.
  2. Redefine giving. [He talked about the 5-minute favor and the 100 hours of volunteering across a year – these micro-lessons of generosity.]
  3.  Encourage help-seekers. – Developing the givers will nurture a culture of “How can I be the rising tide that lifts all boats?” – a Reciprocity Ring.

Dr. Brené Brown (Research Professor, University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work; Author of Rising Strong):

“Our brain is neuro-biologically hard-wired in the instant of a [hard time; difficult conversation] to make up a story as to what happened. If we can give our brain a story when something hard happens, we are rewarded by our brain (dopamine). Our brain rewards us whether the story is accurate or not. Our worthiness as people lives inside these stories. When we pretend or deny the story, it owns us. When we own the story, we get to write the ending.”

Brene BrownPhoto Credit: TheGuardian.com

Transformational leaders: 1. Do discomfort.  2.They have absolute emotional awareness about their own life, and about the people around them.

“We can’t ignore emotion. We are emotional people who sometimes think. Emotion dictates behavior. If you speak to the way they think or their behaviors, without speaking to their emotions, they will not change. Speak to their emotions. Curiosity and lines of inquiry are the greatest tools of leaders. ‘Help me understand’. “

Sallie Krawcheck (Chair of Ellevate Network; Former President, Bank of America’s Global Wealth & Investment Management):

“The retirement savings crisis is a women’s crisis – we retire with 2/3 the retirement income as men and live 6-8 years longer than men. I love men. I’m married to a man. But you guys are going to die, and we as women will be living with this crisis.”

“My “‘white-hot why’ is advancing women, elevating women. “

“I work every day as though my children are watching me.”

Albert Tate (Founder/Senior Pastor of Fellowship Monrovia, Southern California):

Pastor Tate preached (and I mean preached) on the miracle of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1-13), using the five loaves of bread and two fish brought to Him from a boy in the crowd.

Tate renounced the leadership lie of “leaving it all on the field”.

“One of the most key things we can do as leaders as to bring what we have, give it to Jesus, and then get out of the way.”

Leaders, you don’t have to go home on empty. You don’t have to leave it all on the field. Christ left it all on the Cross. Bring what you have. Whatever you have, give it back to Him. Then get out of the way, and watch in awe and wonder at what He does.”

These are just 7 take-aways of the 20 pages of notes I took during today’s Summit. Such great teaching – inspiring, empowering, mystifying, really.

Download the Global Leadership Summit app. Read what you can (in these authors’ books and via all the online resources – articles, blogs, video). Take down the dates for the Global Leadership Summit of 2016 and plan to register early.

Being the leader we hope to be is within our reach.

Post-Script: Michael Jr. was on and off stage to make us laugh and to look at life from just a bit of a different angle. Love him!

Blog - Global Leadership Summit - Michael Jr

Photo Credit: MichaelJrComedy

Global Leadership Summit – Willow Creek Association

Global Leadership Summit App

Jesus and Holy Week – Tuesday, Day 3 – A Long Day Teaching & Countering Religious Opposition

Blog - Holy Week - The Olivet Discourse

When He [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”Matthew 21:23

On this long day, Jesus would demonstrate in one situation after another that he spoke and acted with the authority of God Himself. The barren fig tree cursed by Jesus the day before had indeed withered and died. The disciples saw it themselves that morning as they walked again from Bethany to Jerusalem. Jesus spoke to them of faith, which they would need all the more in the days ahead.

Again in Jerusalem, in the Temple and on the busy streets during Passover, Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders. They were determined to trap him in some sort of blasphemous teaching or interpretation of the law. It would not happen, yet they were set on his destruction one way or another.

In an attempt to test Jesus’ understanding of the law, a legal advisor to the Pharisees asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment in the law. The Pharisees emphasized strict adherence to the laws of the Torah, all 613! I don’t think they were prepared for Jesus’ response:

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is One Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” –   Mark 12:29-31

Two commands: 1) Love God with your whole being; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. Some might say that a third is presumed in that you must love yourself in a right and wholesome way in order to truly love others. Jesus’ love for the Father and his love for all people were in perfect unity. Loving God, with all we are, gives us perspective and capacity to love those around us, whomever they are, as we have experienced love ourselves, from the God we love.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish leaders grew more angry at Jesus and were vexed as to how to destroy his popularity and influence with the masses of Jews loyal to him. All their trickery that day failed. Jesus was not intimidated by them, and in fact, spoke some of his strongest words against them while teaching that day. His 8 “woe to you” pronouncements against the Pharisees are listed at bottom of this page. When I read them, the song from the original Godspell film comes to mind as the Jesus character stands against the religious “machine” of his day – those “hypocrites”, those “blind guides” of the people. Blog - Holy Week Pharisees

Finally, leaving Jerusalem that day, Jesus stopped on the Mount of Olives (Olivet) to speak about the future. He talked at length, to his disciples and all those who followed, about the end times, cautioning them about false teachers and the evil that would rise up in those last days. What it must have been to listen to Jesus, the Messiah, filled with a mixture of faith in him and fear of what could lie ahead for them, and the generations to come.

When Jesus and his disciples returned for the evening to Bethany, Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, stole away and met with Jesus’ enemies. [Matthew 26:14-16] He would betray Jesus to them in the dark of night, away from the crowds who would have objected to this…in just two more days…for 30 pieces of silver…Judas would seemingly take history into his own hands, but the clock was already ticking, and Jesus would finish what he came to earth to do.

Holy Week – Day 3: Tuesday in Jerusalem, Mount of Olives

Reasoning Why Jesus Cursed the Fig Tree

Jesus and the Pharisees

*8 Woes Upon the Pharisees

Great Texts of the Bible – The Two Commandments – commentary by James Hastings

613 Laws of the Torah

YouTube video Alas for You from the original film Godspell

Jesus’ Olivet Discourse about Two Future Events

Photo Credits – slidesharecdn.com & www.faithbibleministries.com

8 “Woe’s” Spoken by Jesus Against the Pharisees (Matthew 23:13-30)

1- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of Heaven against men.

2- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you devour widows’ houses, and pray at length as a pretense.

3- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

4- Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.”

5- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.

6- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.

7- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

8- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.”*

10 Reasons Folks Show Up for Stuff – Something to Think About

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A good friend told me this weekend that I think too much. She may be right, and it set me to thinking….what else? I was reading this article by Ed Stetzer about trends in Christianity and the collapse of nominalism (i.e., being culturally Christian, or Christian “in name only”). This is not just an issue for Christianity but for many ideologies and organizations in today’s world. How we invest our time, money, influence, and social capital, in general, is very telling of who we are and what we value.

Stetzer points out that more and more people who may have previously considered themselves nominal in their beliefs are more straightforward in where they stand on faith. This is evident in the decline in church involvement among “nominal” Christians. This got me thinking about how we make decisions and what affects our choices in terms of “showing up for stuff”.

When we roll out of bed on a weekend morning (or any day, really), what motivates our choices? On a workday, you might be tempted to say, “Well, I have no choice.” Truth is, we choose all the time…sometimes, wisely, sometimes, not so much. What reasons most compel us?

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  1. Entertainment/Freebies/Perks – Adventure and travel are included in here, as well. So much to do….so little time. And the free stuff? We all know that “what’s in it for me?” voice in our heads. Nothing innately wrong with any of this, unless it becomes the driving force of our choices.
  2. Food/Fitness/Rest – Church potluck dinners are the best – like eating Sunday dinner at our grandmother’s (if she’s a great cook, that is). No food? Hmmmm…not as interesting. Same goes for sporting or other physical activities, for many of us. We thrive on stuff going on all the time. Rest can also be a draw, especially when we get to take a break from usual responsibilities (having access to a great children’s program, for instance).
  3. Good Cause/Purpose/Fulfilment/Right Thing to Do – We all show up sometimes for a good cause or because it’s the right thing to do (whether it’s working on a disaster relief team or going to see your folks at Christmas). For Christians, obedience to God’s Word comes in here.
  4. Learning, Training, Equipping – There are times, we don’t necessarily choose this (as in a job situation when we need a new skill whether it interests us or not). In a church setting, this is a draw if it’s meaningful for our particular life situation. This is also a choice out of our love for God and wanting to be equipped for His purposes.
  5. Inspired/To Be Inspired/To Be Inspiring – I love to worship God in the company of others who love to worship God. The sense of His presence and His pleasure during sincere, unified corporate worship is one of the dearest experiences of my life. Then there are the stories of God’s activity in people’s lives. This is definitely a reason that I choose to show up when the church gathers.
  6. Belonging – We all want to belong. Belonging is deeper and grander than community (although some may argue that they are one and the same). Belonging is knowing you have a place, that people receive you in with whatever quirkiness or imperfections you have. Belonging is being valued for the person you are without any frills and not needing to try to fit in. I choose belonging whenever I get the opportunity.
  7. Community – Community is a gathering of people who share similar loves or competencies or goals. Community is something we all need, as well, and we’re willing sometimes to do what we have to do to “fit in”. Community does not necessarily mean belonging in the deepest sense of that experience, but it’s a start in that direction.
  8. Desperation/Need – Sometimes we show up somewhere (church or wherever else) because we need what we hope to find there. Church should definitely be a gathering of people who are willing to be arms around the needy and kind hearts/clear heads for the sake of those in dire straits. We have all been there.
  9. Should Go/Show or Mandatory/Obligatory – Here’s a reason to show up that none of us want to acknowledge, and yet, it could be true. Can it be that there are days that the only reason we show for church is that icky feeling of “well, I guess I should go, since there’s nothing else really happening.”? Or, think of situations outside of church. Have you ever had a work retreat with “forced fun” built in? None of us really want to HAVE to choose an affiliation or activity out of guilt, shame, or obligation.
  10. Checklist/Approval/”Get Out of Hell Free” Card – and last is the grand experience of “checking it off my list”. Eat healthy – check. Pay the bills – check. Go to the gym – check. Call your grandmother – check. Some sort of religious activity? Check. Oh…there is no “Get Out of Hell Free” card, but you already knew that. Enough said here.

You hear it all the time about how short life is…if you have even read this far, you may very well forget the message by the time you next check your current social media. What I wish I could communicate better is that our lives matter – our choices matter – and where and how we show up matters.

[Joshua speaking] “If it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods… We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.” – Joshua 24:15-16, 18b

Blog Pics - Tim Howard Soccer

Belonging vs. Fitting In

Amy Lee Crawford writes on belonging & the disillusionment of community

4 Trends in Christianity that Could Scare You, According to Ed Stetzer

 

The Season of Small Ones – Mothering, God, & Gandalf

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“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:4-9

All the years of mothering have stretching bits, but the season of small ones was my most challenging. I was struck all over again just this weekend at the exquisite work of parenting. At our house church gathering, there were all these little guys weaving in and out around the tree-like adults in their way. Little ones belonging to three moms, pregnant with their next precious babies. A houseful of life and love and breath-taking responsibility.

I woke up the next morning thinking about those moms and others like them – holding the future in their arms.  What a gift children are – a heritage of the Lord (Psalm 127:3) – and what an important charge we’ve been given in training them up (Proverbs 22:6).  As moms, every day is on-the-job training for us, too, as we sort out how to guide  our children in setting their feet on course with God. We disciples making wee disciples.

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When we brought our first-born home from the hospital, we basked in the miracle of her. Then a few days into mothering , I sat with her in my lap, crying my eyes out. Some of it, most probably, related to post-partum hormones, but mostly I was undone by the weight of responsibility of caring for her…and trying to do it “right”. My husband was sitting across the room, taking in all this mystery of a beautiful baby girl and a wife weeping. I asked him, “What if something happens to her?!” He leaned in, with newborn tenderness, and reasoned with me, “If we only had her for a week, it’s a week of more joy than we’ve ever known before. We have to trust her with God.” From that moment on, we have been daily doing that transaction with the Lord – praying for our children and laying them back in His arms. They are, after all, His.

God calls us to remember for a reason. In the remembering, He gives us the clarity to see that He is always with us and especially in this season of small ones. I want to write more on this, but for now, young moms, take courage. In all the craziness of your day, with all that pulls at your time and attention, God sees you. He stands in the battle for you. Be strong in the Lord. We fight for our children in an alien culture that we call home, and we are not alone. God is with us today, and He will be with them in their future. Remember that, and teach them that.

I picture us moms, in a small way, like Gandalf in the LOTR Fellowship of the Ring scene. He stands valiantly between his small band of “children” and the terrible Balrog. His words resonate with my heart to protect and prepare my children – not just for their sake but for their future – for the Kingdom purposes God has for them. At the end of that scene, when it appeared Gandalf lost his life in that battle, his charges, sad but safe, turned and pushed on with their mission.  They had learned well from their teacher. Moms, “you are braver than you think…for the Lord your God is with you wherever you [and your children] go.”

Lisa-Jo Baker’s Book Surprised by Motherhood

Youtube video of LOTR Fellowship of the Ring – Gandalf Faces the Balrog

 

 

Back to School – Teachers on My Mind

 Blog - Back to School

Back to School! Must be September…with all that comes with it. I have always loved the smell of newly sharpened pencils and notebooks just opened. Put me in a room full of books and I can occupy myself for hours. “Back to school” can mean delight for some and dread for others. I actually never cared for school – growing up or sending my children off to school. I liked being home, as a child, and I loved having our children home. Yet, there comes a day that vacation is over, and the work of children begins again in earnest…at school.

2014 June Christie's 3rd grade class 024

The Tuesday after Labor Day marks the beginning of the public school year here in Virginia, and my mind is busy with images of kids of all ages in the latest coolest outfit with all the appropriate age-specific accessories (backpack, lunchbox, cell phone, etc.). More than even the kids, I think of the parents who entrust their loves to teachers and staff, some of whom they may not even know really…except for maybe the rushed Open House introductions.

More even than the parents, it’s those teachers, I want to focus on. How do they prepare for the onslaught of the first day of school? To receive 20-25 little strangers into their classroom. How do they begin to build order and community among these little strangers? These , coming from different home cultures, some not native English speakers. How do they sort out who needs what to help them learn best? It’s all a great mystery to me.

2011 November Christie's Class 022

Then there are those first day tears…or first day fears that are harder to recognize. These teachers just seem to know, and they work to settle these young ones and to stoke confidence in their hearts.

I have always admired the giftings of teachers – adults able to enter the world of their students and render opportunities to learn and inspire in just such a way these young ones can grasp. Not just to master content but to learn how to be good citizens in their particular community (be it 3rd grade or 10th). It’s a shame when teachers stay so long – or too long tired – in the classroom such that they lose their passion for teaching (or is it for learning?). They still have impact, and hopefully for good. Hopefully. I don’t know any teachers like that right now, and today could be a fresh start.

Right now, I am well-acquainted with some wonderful teachers who are greeting their new class of students today, and I want to say to them, “Thank you.” Thank you for thinking of these students through the summer, although they did not as yet have names or faces…yet you were already planning for a good year for them.

Thank you for preparing your classroom to be a bright and colorful place that will delight their imaginations. Thank you for filling their space with books, and floor pillows, and games, and art, and math manipulatives, and computer programming – to touch the hearts and minds of each of your students with their unique learning strengths and weaknesses.  Thanks for not taking yourself too seriously or them too lightly.  Thanks for your understanding of which students need to be drawn out and which other ones need to be settled down. Beginnings are important, and your students have so much to learn from you about starting well.

And then finishing strong. Thanks for determining to stick with them through the year. For not giving up on the ones who seem to have just too much going against them to be successful. We never know, do we? And for those students who just seem to have everything going for them, thank you for challenging them to serve others, to think critically, and to lead in ways that go deeper than popularity.

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Thank you for applying all your “super powers” for their benefit – be they  little ones or the almost grown ones – including seeing their parents (or grandparents or other guardians) as some of your best resources. It means more work for you, but it could make all the difference…not just for that student, but for their adults as well.

So thanks, teachers…it’s a new year. And you’re ready.

2014 Phone pics July-December 302

3 Free Tools for a Productive September [September 1st is the New January 1st] – Ann Voskamp

Recipe for Pecan Pie Bars – to go with those Pumpkin Spice Lattes that Appear Magically in September Along with School

Tom & Jeannie Elliff – Faith, Family, Friends

Tom & Jeannie Elliff front of prayercard

Have you ever watched a video clip of someone’s family reunion on Facebook or some other social media, and you just wanted to tag yourself right in there? That was my experience yesterday, as a family gave us the chance to see them welcome home a beloved mom and grandmother. Well, they welcomed the dad/grandfather, too, of course, but the surprise was for the mom. To see the joy in Jeannie’s face, as she saw all those loves of her life (all her “favorites”), was precious to all of us who love her and Tom. 4 children (and their spouses) gathered from around the globe with almost all of the 25 grandchildren (two away at college). What a welcome home!

The day of great welcome and joy was a day of quiet reflection for me as their arrival back home was their leaving from here. Tom and Jeannie Elliff have been friends of ours for years, and 3 of those years we were in the same city…until yesterday.  In a way, we are an unlikely friendship because their lives are full of pastor friends (pastors of large churches), denominational leaders, seminary presidents and professors, and decades-long church relationships across the US. We are none of those. Yet, they invited us into their lives, as they do the countless strangers they meet and get to know in the minutes they would be together…waitresses, mowers, doctors, electricians, store clerks.

Tom and Jeannie Elliff are consummate encouragers*. They genuinely care about the people God has placed in their path. We know that because God has used them in a big way in our lives. They even pray for our children. How amazing is that? People who have seen God in all their life’s circumstances (no matter how hard) have a joy in them that goes right to the bone. Not only all the way in, but all the way out – refreshing those around them. I won’t recount here the stories of how Tom and Jeannie have seen God work in their lives. Hopefully you’ll hear those stories directly from them. They are always ready to give reasons for the hope that lies within them (1 Peter 3:15).

Today, I just want to thank GOD for them, as Paul did when he wrote his letter to the Philippian church: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy,  for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,  being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:3-6a).

Our walk with God has been deepened in having had the opportunity of watching the lives of these dear ones. So many Scripture passages come to mind in thinking of them and their passion for God – for Him to be known and loved and glorified.

“Therefore, I the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3, NASB).

As they return to their home in Oklahoma, we pray for what they’ve asked us to pray. If you know them, too, you are probably already praying the same. If not…would you pray right now?

Tom & Jeannie Elliff back of prayer card

Love you, Tom and Jeannie. See you down the road.

*Greek meaning of word “encourage”

A Passion for Prayer by Tom Elliff

Unbreakable – The Seven Pillars of a Kingdom Family by Tom Elliff