I am blessed to be the wife to an amazing husband and a mother to two wonderful children. I am thankful to be serving at a dynamic school that continues to fuel the teacher in me. I am grateful to have the time and God-given talent to be a writer. I am blessed to be a part of God's family who continues to fill me up spiritually...
For all of this, I am blessed more than I deserve... Every Moment Of Every Day.
We, the people of 2020, are making decisions right now that will affect the future-you(th). You might think we are supposed to have all of the answers. But we don’t.
Should we ask you to forgo authentic experiences, or not? Who should be the one to bear these burdens? How do we weigh that against the here-and-now? How can we ask you to take over the responsibilities of this world, without showing you that risk is a part of that? How can we make the right decisions for you when we struggle doing the same for ourselves?
How do we respond to all of this now, so the future-you(th) will know what it looks like to respond in the face of challenge…and indecision? With conviction…and with love?
I can belt out a song, toss my head around, throw my arms up and dance, and never worry about what I look like or sound like… when it’s in my car, in my shower, or in a large crowd at a concert. However, when I am singing in church for some reason, there are moments where I tend to be self conscious. When I feel this way, it’s as if I have this imaginary marque running through my mind telling me, “People around you will laugh at your singing. They will think you are a fake if you raise your arms and move in worship. They will smell your coffee breath.”
Haha! The things we worry about!…Or maybe it’s just me.
Remember those elementary school music programs? Those music programs where you stood on stage in your best outfit with all of your classmates? Standing on stage as your family and the entire school watched in anticipation?
And what I remember is this: I was that one, the one that “mouthed the words” or at the very least, whispered the words. I was that one, the one who hung my head down in embarrassment. I was that one, the one who stood frozen like a statue. I have done that at times in church too- Worried about how I look and how I sound.
Have you ever found yourself doing that, too?
A music program now seems unimportant to me compared to the singing I do in moments of prayer and worship. A music program has an audience of many who wish to enjoy and appreciate the music and their loved ones who are singing on stage.
When we sing in prayer and worship, however, we are singing for an audience of one. We are showing our honor and thanksgiving to the Lord… Not the music. Not for our performance. Even so, sometimes I put myself right back as a child on that stage in the music program.
When I find myself “mouthing the words” or pushing down my words into a whisper while in worship, I have to remind myself that Satan is just telling me lies. Telling me lies that my voice is not worthy enough for the Lord. Telling me lies that I am not worthy enough to express my joy and praise to the Lord. Telling me lies that I look like a fool by moving for the Lord. Telling me lies that my worship matters more to others than it matters to the Lord.
This is pride happening here- when I listen to those lies. I am worried about my performance rather than the praise I give to the Lord. I am worried more about what others think of me instead of what the Lord thinks. I am worried about what I look like… Or what I smell like! As crazy as that sounds.
But it is not a crazy sound to the Lord. He does not hear our off pitch or shaky voices. He does not see us as looking silly… Or smell our morning coffee or onion breath from the omelet we had from breakfast! He is just glad to see that we are honoring and praising Him. That is a truth we must put on the marque in our minds. The difference between singing on stage in a music program or being a fan at a concert is when we we sing in prayer and praise to our Lord, our singing and motions become worship. When we worship the Lord through song, we are praying to Him… praising and honoring Him.
It is easy to say that, but more difficult to do that… especially in the moment. We are human, and we get stage fright that’s for sure.
So what do we do when we find ourselves listening to the lies? We ask the Holy Spirit for help in that moment. We tell Satan, in that moment, that we have the same power that raised Jesus- inside of us. We put our focus on the Lord in that moment. We do not condemn ourselves for the type of praise we are giving the Lord, as long as we are giving Him praise and thanksgiving.
We are all on different journeys in our faith. I came to realize that condemning myself for mouthing or whispering the words or for standing like a statue is a lie too.
I am on my own journey, and this is what I have learned about myself in song: I can belt out a sound now and sway to the music, but if a song is not grabbing me, if I have a cold, or if a new song is introduced at church, I may feel even more self conscious. So I tell myself, “It’s okay to mouth the words. It’s okay to stand like a statue,” And I do not condemn myself for it.
When I mouth the words, I am reminded that I can still praise and honor the Lord in that moment. I am reminded that I have the power to ask the Lord to breathe life and song into my heart. I am reminded that I can ask the Lord to give me the confidence to sing out loud. I am reminded that the Lord gives me grace, even in my hesitation. I can be reminded that it isn’t about me. It’s about the Lord. I can be reminded that it’s okay to mouth or whisper the words and honor and praise the Lord in that.
What does that look like for me?
It looks like eyes wide open.
It looks like articulating every word,
Even in silence
Or in a whisper.
It looks like mouth stretched,
And moving at its utmost ability
Even when I am void of sound.
It looks like smiling in between
It looks like love,
And praise to the Lord.
When our journey of faith and worship through song lands at a place where we feel the urge to belt out a song, toss our heads around, throw our arms up and dance, even around other people (even with coffee breath;), we will feel the presence of the Lord in a much deeper way. When we can get to that place, all of us… together…that is the kind of gift of joy and celebration that we will share and receive. It’s the kind of gift we all can give back to the Lord.
And the Lord will gladly accept our gift of joy and celebration, too…
I sat in a circle on the floor with my class, as I held up a little plastic trophy-
And I announced:
“A medal for finishing a 5K-
The end of chemo treatments-
A cup of coffee over a warm conversation-
A moment to be held in high regard.
All are trophies friends of mine might place on our shelf if they were sitting here with us.”
I made this proclamation, as I set the little plastic trophy in the center of the circle as a symbolic gesture on behalf of my friends.
“What trophy will you place on our shelf today?” I asked.
I pointed to the little plastic trophy that I had placed on our imaginary shelf in the middle of the circle. I invited each of my fourth-grade “friends” to:
Placeit on our shelf-
And Inviteafriend in the circle to do the same.
Many proclamations were made that day. Medals and trophies from musical performances and athletic events, belts and badges from martial arts and scouts; And several declarations of special memories with family, applause for a job well-done, and faith in Jesus Christ.
It was at that moment in our conversation that I knew my class understood the true power of trophies. And it was at that moment I resolved to set free the notion: “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy”
Because everyone does.
Because everyone already has a trophy.
We just have to help them find out what it is.
“And the beauty of having a shared trophy on an imaginary shelf,” I told my class, “there are no names or inscriptions on it. We share in the glory of our trophy. And so we can change what it represents to us… Every moment of every day.
We just have to:
“What trophy do you want to place on the shelf today?”
A lowly stick found on the ground, a hockey stick, a yardstick, a popsicle stick, a walking stick… Choose a stick that speaks to you.
“How would you compare yourself to that stick?”
My class shared their thoughts about this concept in many amazing ways.
“My life is better than a stick because a stick is boring and just sits there.”
“I am like this popsicle stick because when the popsicle finally melts away you can actually get to know me. The popsicle part hides and protects me until I really get to know you and feel comfortable letting you know who I really am.”
“A stick can be in the form of a boomerang. Every decision that I make leads back to where I was before. I consider what choices I make based on the experiences I had.”
“Not all sticks are the same. Just like people are not all the same.”
“I’m different than a stick. God gave me life and a stick has no choice in their life.”
“There are different uses for a stick it has many adventures. You never know where it will end up. It could end up in a nest, a picture frame, or maybe even saw dust. I wonder what my adventures will be?”
“A stick may not even be just a stick after all; it may have roots and grow into a tree. It gets smarter. It grows taller. It gets better just like us over time.”
“A stick may be pulled away from a tree. Just like someone may be pulled away from the family. It can represent pain.”
“My life is like small sticks and big sticks. Small sticks are like small moments in my life that are only here for a short time. Big sticks are like big moments in my life that last longer.”
Now that school is out for the summer, I have had a little time to reflect on the very question I had asked my class.
I will be turning 50 this month, and through my life experiences, I am a stick that has been whittled and carved by God. I may have some gashes and imperfections, but I’m God’s own handicraft.
And that, to me, is pretty extraordinary.
You, my friend, are a stick being carved into an extraordinary person too…
“What does your tomorrow taste like?” That is the question I posed to my class on the day before the last day of school. Several students naturally replied with such words as: “FREEDOM!” and “SUMMER!”
I explained…”Your tomorrow can be your next day or it can be your future. Take a pause in your life at this moment and reflect on your tomorrow.”
In response, our conversation took a turn toward career goals: “My tomorrow tastes like SCHOOL SUPPLIES, because I want to be a teacher.” and “It tastes like VICTORY to me, because my goal is to work for my country in the armed forces.”
As the conversation progressed, my class continued to express their “tomorrows” in other unique ways, such as: “My tomorrow tastes like the EARTH, because I want to protect the earth from pollution.” and “It tastes like SOUR PATCH CANDY. It’s sour because tomorrow is the last day of school, and we will be leaving our friends, but it is also sweet because it’s summer time!”
More responses were thrown out into the circle. All of them were inspiring and thought-provoking. My students gave such great insight beyond what I ever could have imagined.
I began to think about my own response. I guess my tomorrows could be summed up tasting like “SALTY TEARS” because they will be filled with tears of joy and tears of sorrow; Life makes it certain of that.
What does your tomorrow taste like?
I hope my students’ reflections have fueled you to think deeply and reflect on your tomorrow. They inspire and amaze me with their deep thinking…
In the summer months, my mother-in-law goes into the woods behind our house and picks red raspberries. When my daughter was young she would accompany her. They would go in the morning before it was too hot, donning floppy hats and wearing long sleeves and jeans to keep the ticks away.
Just before lunch they would come out of the woods with containers full of tiny plump red raspberries. They made a lot of raspberry pies back in those days!
So it’s another June now, and of course I am working on school stuff. I look out my window and catch a glimpse of my mother-in-law venturing out into the woods. Even at 80 years old, she is still out there gathering raspberries. While I like raspberries, I just don’t make it my priority to take the time to pick them.
I walk out to get the mail and meet my mother-in-law just as she is coming out of the woods. She has a few scratches on her arms and her hair is disheveled (you don’t care about ticks when you’re 80 years old). “You have some raspberry bushes all around that big tree on the edge of your yard,” She says as she points to the giant tree that is standing like a sentinel. I pause…”Oh?” I reply, not sure if she is asking permission if she can pick them or not. “The birds will get to them as they get ripe,” She warns, offering that their fate is left up to me. “I’ll have to check them out,” I add, mentally putting that on the bottom of my list of things to do. “They will turn black before long,” She warns again. “Ok. I’ll check today,” I pledge.
After running errands in town, and… instead of checking on those neglected raspberries, I go back to working on more school stuff when I get home. A day goes by, and I run into my mother-in-law again. Although she doesn’t ask me if I have checked on those raspberries, I feel convicted by my own too-busy-to-check mentality.
But… Alas, I put those convictions aside when I get home. As a mother and a teacher, there is a never ending list of things to do! Taking a break from pinning a few home and school items on Pinterest (that I will later forget I pinned), I pause, and I seem to hear,”Come out to the tree!” Am I imagining it, or are those raspberries calling out to me?
Surrendering to my thoughts, with a small container clutched in my hand, I tromp to the raspberry bushes that hug my big maple tree on the edge of our yard. Not all of the raspberries are ripe yet, but I pluck off those that have turned red, disregard a few casualties that fall to the ground, and leave the hard red ones behind. I trudge back toward the house, hearing those I left behind screech, “Don’t forget about us!”
I bring the raspberries inside, fill the container with water, put the lid on, shake it around a bit, strain out the water, stick the raspberries back in the container, and stuff the container of raspberries into the freezer. “Ok. I feel better. I picked those raspberries,” I offer up proudly as if I have heroically earned the girl scout badge for raspberry savior. Between typing up my daily classroom schedule, doing research on a book I am writing, cleaning out closets, and making pancakes for my son (plain, no raspberries), I keep thinking about those raspberries. Not the ones in the freezer, but the ones I left behind.
I don’t know if you know this, but raspberries can beckon a person. And those raspberries were beckoning me. I take another container and walk out to the big tree where the newly ripened raspberries are waiting for me to rescue them. I cup my hand around each raspberry and pluck them off carefully so as not to crush their soft bodies.
It is dangerous territory, let me tell you. The thorns don’t care if they dig into your skin reminding you of their abundant presence. The poison ivy shields the raspberries, quite adamant of keeping their prisoners at all costs. Even the raspberries themselves are reluctant to go with me, hiding under leaves in disguise. I, as the brave raspberry hero that I am, now seize the opportunity to save those lost souls that have fallen to the ground.
I carry my raspberries back to the house. I shower them off under the faucet in a colander, blot them dry with paper towel, hammock them in the paper towel, and let them tumble down into the dry container. This time it is a bigger container, so I clear out space for my raspberries in the freezer for safe keeping.
I ignore the cries that come from the first caravan of raspberries that I had rescued the day before, warning the new crew, “Welcome to Forgotten Freezer, Chumps!”
I don’t know what it is, but I can’t stop hearing the calls from those raspberries left out by that big tree. Everyday this week I have to check on my raspberries. And everyday I save the ones that nature is willing to release. Gathering my raspberries has become my daily self-deployment.
It’s soul filling.
And what I think about is this… Those raspberries are akin to people that come into my life. They can be friends. They can be strangers. It doesn’t matter. They are calling out to me everyday. Or still too, can this be the Holy Spirit beckoning me to stop and pay attention to those who are crying out? Whether their cry-out is simply a jam they are in or a major battle they are fighting- My life isn’t too busy.
It isn’t too busy for picking raspberries, and it shouldn’t be too busy to listen to what the Holy Spirit is beckoning me to do…
I am an extrovert and have no problem talking to complete strangers. Lately, it has been my self-challenge to randomly ask strangers thought provoking questions. When I am passing by and passing bills or exchanging glances and exchanging currency throughout my day I might ask such questions as: “What is your passion?” and “What brings you joy?” Usually it comes with the typical response of either: “Family, Friends, or Pets.” So I have to dig deep into the pockets of their thinking and prompt them even more. When I do that, it’s transactional- this conversation that I have with them.
Conversations seem like an easy exchange among family and friends, but how much emotional currency are we willing to give up to total strangers and at what cost?
I find when I talk to strangers, they hand over more to me than I expect. I come to them, this stranger, as if saying, “This is a personal stick-up! Give me a bit of yourself. Let me pry open the strongbox in you.” I do it in a nonthreatening way of course, but I am rummaging in their personal heartspace for a brief moment of time.
Alas, there is no thievery going on here, rather, I am putting an item up for auction: a conversation. Sometimes this conversation turns out to be worth a great deal, sometimes it falls flat, but other times the treasure comes later that I do not see- That’s when the stranger walks away with it, shines it up a bit, and shares it with someone else.
Maybe these strangers will tell others, “Today, this stranger asked me ‘What brings you joy?’ And I said (such and such).” Then they will ask someone else in turn, “So, what brings you joy?” It reminds me of the dollar bill I used to sign my name on in middle school. I thought it would be magical, knowing my name could travel anywhere. It could go across the country, or even in a pocket across the world.
A question or a conversation will take you even further. You never know what the value of a conversation will have on a person.
These strangers that I converse with are free to put in their bid if they so choose. Surprisingly, some of them never ask me questions in return. Nonetheless, I offer them a little bit of information about me. If I want to learn a bit of information from them, I need to throw in a few soundbites about me as well. Because it’s transactional- this conversation.
When I keep the bids going up in our conversation by asking prompting questions, I get to the heart-answers. These are the responses that make people’s eyes sparkle. THIS is the exchange in our conversation. Up until this point, our conversation has low currency and little value. I love to see their eyes light up when I know I have hit on the right responses. This is when I hear the answers that come directly from inside their hearts, not just from the top of their heads.
I gain SO much from the conversations that I have randomly started with total strangers simply by asking a question. Not how-are-you type of questions. Not what-do-you-think-of-this-weather type of questions, but powerful, life-giving and heart-breathing questions; questions that I hope will carry them through the rest of their day or at least for a time. The type of question like “What brings you joy?” becomes valuable currency.
So what brings me joy?
I receive joy in knowing and seeing that I brought joy to peoples’ lives, if just for a moment, in their mundane day; something unexpected, a surprise, a gift for the day, wrapped up in a small little moment of time- my time, that I have taken out of my day to ask a total stranger, “What brings you joy?”
My hope is that I’m giving people something that has intrinsic value; something more valuable than money or material items, more than a passing glance or a smile, or a kind exchange. More than that- I hope I am giving them something greater that will bring about a thought in their mind to ponder, an idea to marinate in, or a burst of happiness that fills their heart; something that sustains them for the rest of their day, or leads to them having conversations with their family and friends.
To me, all that makes a few minutes of my time worth more than any amount of money. It’s the kind of light that shines brighter than any block of gold.
Would it be worth it to you to ask one question to a total stranger, in a moment of your day? Make an investment in a conversation with a stranger, and I bet it will grow exponentially.
Original post below from my jgunning.edublogs.org on May 26, 2018
There are no corners to the world, so it is difficult to sweep life into one pile.
A static charge draws a somber dust that hangs heavy in the air. And eventually the dust falls.
After the incident at my school district on May 25, 2018, people once again were trying to process the cause of another school shooting.
So how do we sweep our lives into one pile In a World Without Corners?
Because it’s not just one pile. It’s many piles.
Piles that we make. Piles we leave and forget about. Piles that we push around.
The people we leave out. The situations we ignore. The pleas we push aside.
It’s not just one problem. It’s not just guns. It’s not just mental health, or working parents, or single parents, or incompetent parents…or teachers…or politicians…or policies. It’s not just violent video games or movies, or bullying.
It’s not just— It’s all.
It’s all the little piles that add up to one big mess.
Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.”
What kind of world are we shaping for our kids?
We must look within ourselves, our dwellings- and beyond.
We have built this bubble around ourselves and our children so much that we have alienated our reach to others. We have dipped ourselves in a vat of Safety-Sanitizer that has lost its effectiveness and has left us more susceptible to the big problems of this world. Keeping ourselves safe, has kept others out; out of our reach.
Paul tell us this in Philippians 2:4 “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (NLT)
We must reach out of ourselves and bring in people. We must get outside of our bubble and observe and love those around us. We need to look at the little piles that are sitting in front of us and sweep them up.
We need to look up, and we need deal with the piles that are all around us.
Then maybe we can do our part to clean up this world that we live in- In a World Without Corners…