God for us?

“God is on my side…” “Don’t worry- with God on your side, you’ve got it made!” “God is for you, not against you!”

These encouragements and others along the same lines grate on me. Songs celebrate how God is ostensibly for us. I get the sense that I should feel great when I finish singing such songs- that superhero confidence should fill me. After all, who wants to fight against God?

But what brought lingering questions when I was younger now brings incredulity. So many people say that God is on their side and do unspeakable things. Certainly, saying that God is for you doesn’t mean that He actually approves of your actions.

I’m coming to a different understanding of this idea, though, and finding some veritable encouragement in the process.*

Let’s pretend for a moment that we have no qualms with the statement, “God is for you.” What would it really mean?

Does it mean that God approves of what you do no matter what because you are special? (I hope not!)

Does it mean that God will go to bat for you, hit your home run, and run the bases for you? (maybe…but don’t expect too many more sports metaphors!)

Does it mean that God is sovereign, knowing what is best for you and the rest of the world that He loves deeply, and will act out of His inherent, unchangeable goodness? (I think we’re getting closer…)

When the idea of God-for-us is blanket comfort, we risk making our own ideas into personal idols. What we imagine as ideal becomes the box for God to work within, and He is unenthused about humanly-designed boxes.

What if God-for-us became less of a get out of jail free card and more of a humbling realization that the God of the universe wants what is best for us?

I see Jesus, working on behalf of the broken people around him. The challenge and joy of being part of His body is evident: giving and receiving grace in brokenness because He makes wholeness possible. Because He is for us, I sit humbled. I have fewer plans for Him to back and open hands for Him to fill.

*This reflects my own changes in thinking over the last ten years, not an accusation or indictment of anyone else. Most likely, everyone else has been living this reality and I’m just late to the party. :)*

A Beautiful Day

I’m sitting here with a dumb smile on my face, my room filled with the steady whir of my fan. (It’s not really necessary as the weather has cooled to a chill 79*, but I’ve become accustomed to the white noise.) Today was beautiful.

Not easy, mind you, but beautiful. Grace peeked out here and there- teaching Sunday School to some littles and the grace of a translator (thanks, Jasmine!), washing dishes after the meal together, playing prayers in the form of songs, sharing the pain of transition with a unified body, seeing Jesus in Micah 6:8, and an accidentally correct turn on the way home. Coffee and merienda and life-talk with Florence rounded out the day with delight.

It’s good to belong. What grace that in this Body, you don’t have to look the same/act the same/speak the same language/know the rules/have it all figured out to belong. The song says, “There’s a welcome here,” and it is true. It’s beautiful to belong even when you don’t “fit.”

God’s Gracious “No”

You know, but you don’t. You know in your head, but not in your heart.

And God is gracious nonetheless.

So often, God has not given me what I wanted. Despite knowing in my head that He loves me, I believed that He didn’t know/didn’t care/didn’t see/didn’t understand why He really should say “yes” instead.

I could look at it from a human/teacher perspective and see why “no” would be both necessary and beneficial, but at times, I could not for the life of me see why He wouldn’t give me my own way.

To look back now on just the last 10 years- the years since I graduated from high school and went to a university I didn’t want to attend in a state too hot for my taste by myself- is to see a little bit of why God’s “no” was so kind, even if I didn’t feel it. So many details of my experiences have prepared me for the next adventure.

Moving alone to ASU means I’ve already done the away-from-your-family thing, though not like this.

Finishing my degree means having a profession to use in ministry to missionary kids.

Five years of teaching experience means less anxiety professionally, time to teach kids with various needs, learning with different administrators, and more.

Interviewing in January to join One Challenge means less time to raise support. That means that I am just more sure it is God, not me, making it happen!

There are many more details, but suffice it to say that I am so grateful that my loving Father didn’t say “yes” a moment earlier. His ways may be hard to understand at times, but His wisdom and love are unsurpassable.

To be sure, there will be more times to hear “no” in the future; likely, I will not understand. But I do believe a little more, deep in my heart, that God is gracious.

For all these things,

I give thanks.

going to bed early
cozy blankets and soft jammies
words that comfort my heart
I give thanks.

a week of sunshine
even if the rain gauges get packed up
before they get filled
I give thanks.

kiddos who work hard
even when everything is hard
and learning to use polite tones,
I give thanks.

the sweet ripple of out-loud prayer
and young and old together-liking it!-
trying new ideas
I give thanks.

Bread for the hungry
Water for the thirsty
He is satisfaction for the longing, and
I give thanks.

for the understanding
that words don’t quite
cut it
I give thanks.

Christmas Card Dilemma

There’s this lovely period in college and immediately there-after when you may get to be a pseudo-adult. By this I mean that some of those grown-up expectations apply, but others don’t.

Which ones do and which ones don’t generally depends, as far as I can tell, on your family and community. In my family and community, you are expected to show up, help clean up after dinner, pay your bills on time, etc. Sending Christmas cards and making meals during the holidays, as far as I can tell, are optional until you get married.

Then, you should plan to be a fully-functional adult and decide whether or not you will send Christmas cards, New Years letters, or whatever other message of cheer to those whose addresses you can track down. (Producing meals with your spouse is expected, regardless.)

I think I stretched the Christmas-card optional piece about as far as I could. And, since I actually enjoy the tradition of receiving non-junk mail and seeing pictures of everyone else’s cuteness, I figure I should contribute.

That leaves the photo dilemma. Shall I, as a single person, send a photo card? No hating on those that do- I decided not to. The photos I have of myself include a school photo (from this year- it’s a “perk” of the job) and photos with my family and friends. Sending a photo of me with my new nephew seems like a bad idea; I’d rather skip the questions from my non-Facebook friends about who the baby is. In between making gallons of hot chocolate for my class and purchasing gifts, my solution to this little issue was to go with a (boring) generic card + a little personal addition.

This is Ephesians 1 in a tagxedo word cloud. Why Ephesians 1? More on that to come.

For now, suffice it to say that my Christmas card dilemma is solved for the year. Now I have 11 months to figure out the next solution…wish me well!


Sweet Community: Parental Friends*

Once upon a time, I was sure that I would have joined the ranks of parents by now. My life plan involved being married by the time I was 25 and having a child or two by now. I would be spending my days changing diapers, having play dates at the park, and wiping snotty noses.

As you may know, this once upon a time is not my current reality, and while there are times when I wish it were, I believe that there is purpose in this time. I get to love on 25 little ones in my classroom each day, hang out with a great group of pre-teens and teens at youth group, and play auntie/grown up friend to my parental friends’ kids…

…which is where the sweet community comes in. In the last month, I have changed diapers, had play dates at the park, and yes, wiped a snotty nose or two. I get to kiss owies, plan surprises, exchange hugs, snuggle newborns and high-five big kids. I get to sing about Jesus, pray for a good night sleep, and teach to say, “I’m sorry.” I get to live my life knowing little eyes are watching…and I get to sleep at night. ūüôā

Someday, I hope to miss hours of sleep for a little one who shares my name. For now, even if they don’t shout “mama,” their little growing voices are precious. “Anga” works for me.

So here’s to all my parental friends who share their sweet wee ones with me in this journey. I am better for it.

*Parental Friends- friends who are parents. Although my parents are wonderful people and definitely friends, they deserve another post altogether and don’t fit into this one.

I wonder as I wander…really, on the wonder part

Not so much on the wander part.  It generally seems so pointless.

But I digress. ¬†This old Christmas carol came to my attention last week when a local high school a capella ¬†group came to sing at my school. ¬†(Why it’s ok for them to sing clearly Christmas songs about Jesus, I’m not sure. ¬†I am, however, glad that we got to hear them!) ¬†

Ai yi yi- more digression.  This is what I get for writing at 12:15am.  

Anyway. ¬†My students were sitting quietly, slightly enthralled by the music and therefore allowing me to focus on the music when I really listened to this song, maybe for the first time. ¬†There’s a lot of gospel in this song- the sinful nature of man, the¬†substitutionary¬†atonement, the “promise of ages” fulfilled by Jesus’ birth, and the supremacy of Christ- to get started.

And yet…the point of the song includes and goes beyond the accurate theology. There’s something about taking the time to wonder and maybe, to wander under the sky, that brings my busy heart to worship. ¬†Jesus the Saviour came to die for poor on’ry people like you and me. ¬†That’s worth considering.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God’s Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King

The A-B-Cs of Strep Throat

When I said that I needed more time to write here, I wasn’t exactly hoping for a few days in bed, 102.7 degrees, or strep throat.

And yet, here I am with approximately 22 hours of antibiotic treatment before my¬†contagion¬†ends…just enough time to write.

As I laid on the couch yesterday, I considered how to use my forced down-time. ¬†Using the computer required too much energy; calling a friend to catch up required use of my throat. ¬†My vocal cords only rebelled on occasion, but talking meant swallowing which meant pain. ¬†I’m a wimp.

So I laid on the couch looking for a silent, still activity…and came upon an idea I used when I would swim laps in college: A-B-C prayer.

A- adored

B- beautiful

C- Christ, etc.

I started with¬†attributes¬†of God and finished up with things I’m grateful for. ¬†I don’t think I made it past C on the second one before I was again asleep under the mountain of blankets.

You know what?  God showed up.  In my mushy-brain, shivering-with-fever state, He reminded me that I am His.  That was enough.

More to the story…

There’s almost always more to the story…

As friends and I drove to a women’s retreat on Friday evening, I made a quick comment about the forest- it looked like it had been clear-cut, and I said so. Today as we drove home, we read signs that told the story.

120 mile-per-hour winds blew through the area a few years ago, apparently damaging the trees to the point that they needed to be removed. The forest was replanted the next year, and with closer inspection (through the car window on winding roads- you do what you can!) I noticed saplings.

It reminded me of conversations about people- students and friends- who have mostly-unknown stories. The stories explain why we are what we are and refute the easily-made assumptions about each other.

Stories can’t, and aren’t, always known, though. Between miscommunications, professionalism, and a desire to keep private the stories that are not ours to share, and plain old insecurity, errant assumptions abound.

In the meantime, I sense my own opportunity to shift the angle of my assumptions. What if, instead of assuming I knew, I remembered the incomplete nature of my awareness? What if I assumed that there’s more to the story?

Maybe love would blossom and healing would be fostered. Maybe I could extend grace more automatically and judgement less often.

Maybe the greater Story would be better known.