Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Blessing

You'll have to click on the picture to see your New Year's blessing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

One Word

For most of the year I have been reading Compassion International's blog. I enjoy reading the stories of what day-to-day life is like for sponsored children around the world. In addition to Compassion stories, the members of the web team occasionally post stories from their own lives. Incidentally, last week one of the guys wrote about the concept of having a one word theme for an entire year. It's a variation of my verse a year New Year's tradition, and I think it might be a nice way to spice up life a little. Since I read Chris' post last week, I've been thinking and praying about my own word for 2009. Surrender, humility, and self-control made it through the semi-final round. I assume God will make it clear which word is for me at some point in the near future, but one thing is certain. While all hold the potential for some hard lessons, each offers the opportunity for exponential growth. I hope I'm ready for the challenge.

Read this document written by Dan Britton, the proliferator of the one word concept, to get more info.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Time to Renew

At 8 am this morning I am loading a bus headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for 3DYC. I am going with the youth group to this  three district youth conference. I first attended 3DYC as a sophomore in high school. It is an amazing experience, and I am excited to go back after not being able to attend last year. There will be thousands of teens, 5 sessions with a great speaker, and a phenomenal worship band, as well as sports and talent competitions. I'm looking forward to getting away from regular life and investing into the lives of young people. Our theme for this year is "Renew."

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Year's tradition

It's around this time of year that I think of Gina. I haven't seen her in years and we rarely e-mail anymore, but she left a lasting mark on my life. I was blessed to have Gina as my mentor during my freshman and sophomore years of college. I wish we could have continued our mentoring relationship past my sophomore year, but the two years I had with her were enough to make a lasting impact on my life. There are so many lessons Gina taught me, but there are two that really stand out. First she taught me that God's timing is a) different than our own and b) perfect. The second stand out lesson was more of a habit.

One day close to Christmas vacation, Gina explained one of her New Year's traditions. Each December she prayerfully chose a verse or passage of Scripture to be her theme for the upcoming year. Then she would pray that verse each and every day for the year, asking God to teach, mold, and challenge her through that verse. (This was in addition to regular Bible study and devotions.) I had never heard of anyone focusing on praying and living out one verse for an entire year, but I thought I was up to the challenge.

That first year, 2001, I chose Hebrews 12:1-3 as my verses.  

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." 
That year was a hard year, but these verses were a true blessing. There were days I hourly recited the part about throwing off all that hinders and the sin that entangles. I needed the reminder to fix my eyes on Jesus.

The second year Ephesians 4:1-3 guided my growing relationship with Christ.
"As a prisoner for the Lord then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."
I remember 2002 being a difficult, but eventually rewarding year. The daily reminder to live a life worthy of the calling I have received was a challenge I embraced (most days anyway).

In 2003 I spent my days repeating 1 Peter 1:13-16.
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."
As you can imagine this was a year of learning obedience and holiness. The words "Be holy because I am holy" resonated within my being, causing me to evaluate much of my life. These are hard lessons, but good lessons. I'm contemplating revisiting this theme or something very similar again for this year.

The following year (2004) I felt I had been given a set of verses from Colossians 3:15-17.
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
I had heard an excellent sermon on these verses in the fall. They stayed on my mind for several months, so spending a year unpacking all they meant seemed like a natural thing to do. It was a year of learning to check my attitude and source of motivation. It was definitely a year of reprogramming my heart to be thankful.

At this point I decided the Old Testament had been neglected. I found a passage in Jeremiah that immediately pulled at my heart. My verses for 2005 were Jeremiah 17:7 and 8.
"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."
Immediately I wanted to be one of those trees planted by the water that does not fear or worry during the worst seasons of life. When hard times came that year, I reminded myself that my confidence was in God, so I didn't have a reason to worry or fear. I imagined myself stretching out my roots to the stream and having green leaves. And I still desire to be a tree that does not fail to bear fruit.

After that I went back to 1 Peter (because I love both of the books written by that man), so in 2006 it was 1 Peter 4:7-10.
"The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms."
Loving others deeply was something I had always wanted to do, but was afraid to do. It was during this year that I learned that I'm not responsible for how people respond to my love. I don't desire to scare them off or make them think I want something in return or give men the wrong impression, but I can't let those things become excuses for not showing love to people.

The past two years I have not been as diligent about meditating on my verses consistently, but I did choose verses to guide the year--or so I thought.
I am currently drawing a big huge blank for 2007. I will have to check my journal when I get back to my house. How embarrassing that I can't remember my verse from last year! ***Checked the journals and found NOTHING. Maybe I didn't pick verses for that year. Weird.***

And this year I have tried to live by Philippians 2:3-5.
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."
After being disgusted by the amount of selfishness in my life, I chose these verses as a daily reminder that my attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. I wish I could say that I have mastered the skills from this lesson, but that would be lying. I feel that I am beginning to consider others on a more regular basis, but there is still a lot of room to grow in that department.

I'll share my plan for 2009 in a few days. In the meantime I encourage you to consider choosing a theme verse for 2009. Anybody willing to try this year long exercise? If you are, leave a message in the comments. I'd love to know what verses you choose to be your theme for this coming year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reflections on Christmas

Christmas is so magical. There's no other way to describe it--every aspect of the Christmas story is magical. Take the shepherds for example. There they're out in the field. It's night time, so they were probably sitting around a fire reminiscing about life back at home. They may have even been sleeping at the time. Out of nowhere their ordinary day is interrupted by the supernatural. An angel appears (with a bright light and harp music, if the movies can be trusted) and eventually a whole army of angels is singing "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." I imagine the sound level was similar to blasting the end of the Hallelujah Chorus on your car stereo at full volume. 

Another pretty amazing part of the story is Mary being pregnant in the first place. I think being visited by the angel of the Lord would be pretty darn amazing, but don't you think there was probably another encounter when she actually became pregnant? I imagine she was praying one day soon after the angel left, or even the same day the angel visited, and had a divine encounter with the Holy Spirit. I see her kneeling on the floor praying more intensely than she ever has before. Then the Holy Spirit sweeps in and swirls around her, lifting her off of the floor. She's then standing and and extending her arms, ready for whatever God has for her. (I think I may be borrowing a little from this video... around the 19 second mark).

Then there is the location in which Jesus was born. God could have arrange for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem a thousand different ways, but he chose to orchestrate the whole thing through a census. I'm sure there were people who were really irritated by the census. There were probably even people who thought it was pointless. But God used it to bring about the coming of the Messiah.

In all these details of the first Christmas, God chose to do things in a way that only he could receive glory. Had Joseph and Mary been from Bethlehem, it would have seemed that they were trying to fulfill the prophecies that had been recorded by their own designs. If Mary had been intimate with Joseph prior to Jesus' arrival, God could have been taken out of the equation. Leaving us to say that Jesus was a mere man. If the shepherds just felt prompted to go into town that night, they could have taken credit for knowing where the Christ child was. Or people could claim that they stumbled upon the Christ child, as if that happens by accident. God was behind every detail of the birth of Christ. Every decision that was made, every happening that occurred was under the direction of our Almighty God. And that, my friends, is what makes Christmas so magical.

May you experience the magic of Christmas this year as you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Counting My Blessings: Seeing Former Students

I chose to live in the school district where I teach. Many of my coworkers thought I was crazy, but I haven't regretted my decision. One reason I enjoy living in the community where I teach is because I get the opportunity to see my former students. This weekend while I was at the Food Drive, I was able to catch up with a handful of former students. It was great to hear how life is going now that they have gone to the high school. I love talking to kids who have moved on from the middle school. I spend nine and half months pouring into their lives. And then nothing. It's nice to get an update every once in a while.

However, the best part of catching up this weekend wasn't talking to former students.  It was seeing two kids who were never actually my students. Both boys sought me out to give me updates on their lives. They know me through their friends and interactions in the hallways. It's a testimony to God's amazingness that kids who don't even have me as a teacher recognize me as someone who truly cares. 

My heart could just burst thinking about the awesome ways in which God works.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Being Exactly Where God Wants Me

This weeked I was reminded that I doing the job God has for me. My first source of encouragement came from one of the girls in the youth group. We both happened to be volunteers at the Holiday Food Drive my school district organizes. As we were chatting, we came upon the subject of me being a middle school teacher. I explained that I felt much the same way when I was hired, but that I really enjoy it now. She told me she thought middle school teachers have the best opportunity to make an impact on students because they are at such an impressionable stage. I felt validated in my efforts to impact the hearts, minds, and characters of middle school students.

The second source of encouragement came through my good friend the internet. I was reading the newest round of secrets on Post Secret, when I came across this one. It gives me hope that my students will recognize that I love them and that they are worth every ounce of effort I pour into them.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


A few months ago, Seth asked me to talk to the student ministries volunteers about having a burden for teens. Basically I reminded the volunteers that being effective in youth (or any) ministry requires two qualifications: being called by God to serve in that capacity and fostering a burden or passion for those people. Regardless of whether you call it a burden or a passion, it's going to lead you to action. In the case of student ministry such a burden would logically move you to find a way to connect with students.

I loved being able to share with the other volunteers about having a burden for youth because I was able to share from my heart. God has used the burden for young people he's placed on my heart to move me into action. I have found ways to connect with both the teens at church and the students who fill the seats in my classroom. I feel pretty confident that I am indeed fostering a burden for the teenagers in my life.

But recently I've been overwhelmed by this growing burden. I have quite a number of troubled young people in my life right now. They are dealing with issues like depression, incarcerated parents, divorce, harassment, self-injury, low self-esteem, unhealthy relationships, and abuse. I'm glad God has put these kids in my life because I want to be someone who adds hope to their lives. I desperately want to share the Good News with them, but that's not been easy these last few weeks. There have been days where the burden to make a difference in the life of a young person has been suffocating. I have felt crippled by the enormity of the burden to make a difference in the lives of these young people.

Jesus promised a burden that was light, but I feel like this burden is getting heavier and heavier. I get attached so easily to young people--especially the ones who need a little extra TLC. I recognize their needs, and I strive to walk alongside them as they navigate this journey. I desire to be a source of hope and a proponent for change. I attempt to provide the encouragement they aren't getting from the other adults in their lives. But lately I feel like I come up short, like I don't have enough to give. Like maybe there's just too much for me to handle.

Maybe the burden feels heavy because I'm trying to carry it instead of letting Jesus take it.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” 
Matthew 11:28-30

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Counting My Blessings: Small Group

It may be a thing of the past, but I loved being in my small group. I loved praying with others and reading the Scriptures together. I loved listening and debating and attempting to answer questions that have no real answer. It was such a blessing to meet weekly with people who cared about me, kept me accountable, and challenged me to grow.

I miss that.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Link Love

I am Second Have you discovered your life purpose?  
This one is especially moving, but there's also this guy you might already know.
Will it make a difference? Signing your name can't hurt.
My new love. I just want to pinch his cute little cheeks. Shhhh. Don't tell Dax.
Addiction in the making. Seriously, you'll be impressed.
Beauty of Math. I am a reading teacher, but this is still cool.