Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
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
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
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.
The second year Ephesians 4:1-3 guided my growing relationship with Christ.
In 2003 I spent my days repeating 1 Peter 1:13-16.
The following year (2004) I felt I had been given a set of verses from Colossians 3:15-17.
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.
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 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.
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
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
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
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.
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,
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
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
Beauty of Math. I am a reading teacher, but this is still cool.