Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What This World is Coming To


So I've recuperated sufficiently from yesterday's first-day-of-school-after-Christmas-break subbing assignment in one of the elementary school libraries and am now ready to chronicle the events of the day.

It could have been worse.  Much worse. 

It could have been like my next-to-the-last-day-of-school-before-Christmas-break, at another elementary school, which ended in rather a disaster. 
(If you are interested in the details, you can check out the incident report I wrote up, detailing the interchange between Mortimer and me--yes, the name has been changed--in case his chant of "child abuse!" as he left school lasted all the way home and reached the ears of a parent, in which case I might be called upon to explain why I had felt compelled to forcefully remove him from the library during the last hour of the day.)

No, I did not end up crying. I've been subbing way too long for that.  But most of the rest of the class was teary-eyed because the six boys in the front row (including Mortimer) apparently felt their lively extemporaneous entertainment activities would be of greater benefit to the class than the picture book I was supposed to be reading them. 

I had been warned. The class was on report.  "I've told them they have to earn the right to watch our Christmas movie tomorrow," their teacher had told me.  "They have to spell out a word by good deeds in order to get it."

She grimaced. "At first I gave them the word 'Christmas,' but they had barely gotten past the 'r' when I realized they'd never make it to the end, so I changed the word to 'movie.' They are now up to the 'v.'" Then she added, "And, yes, they will lose letters for bad behavior. You can remind them of that." So the 20-or-so other students lined up in the chairs before me were in anguish over the impending lost privilege, and I'm pretty sure the teacher was going to be too.

But I digress. 

About yesterday: Another elementary school. Another library. I arrived, turned on the lights and checked the day plan. 

It looked to be an easy day. I only had to read stories to two primary classes in the morning and meet with two grade 6/7 classes after lunch to discuss the books they'd read over the holidays.  The rest of the time I could spend putting books away, tidying up the counters, and shelf reading.  Just the kind of library assignment I loved.  So I read my two storybooks to preschoolers and grade 1's, and puttered around.

Then the recess bell rang. Kids began streaming and screaming out into the front playground, as they were supposed to. But, within seconds, ten or twelve kids had screeched to a halt just inside the library doors and stood looking at me in surprise. I explained that their librarian was away. They hesitated and then asked if they could come in during recess and work in the library.  "We're library monitors and sometimes we come in and do things during recess, and at lunch time, too. Can we do that today?"

I said yes and they swarmed through the doors, on each other's heels, eager to get to work. They asked what they could do and I asked them if they shelved books. They said they did. I was a little surprised.

"What grade are you in?" I asked.

"Some of us are in grade 3 and some are in grade 4."

Some of them had already reached the cart holding stacks of books needing to be put back and were eagerly looking over the prospects.  It was an Easy Reading collection and they pounced on the picture books and had them re-shelved in no time. I listened to their excited chatter as they worked together, helping each other find the sections they needed and arguing a bit here and there about what specific order the books they held should go in, but obviously totally happily absorbed in their task.

And at lunchtime they were back, most of the original ten or twelve and a few new ones.  "Why don't you go out and play?" I asked.  "It's a nice sunny day out there."

"We can't go out," one of the girls told me. "There was a bear sighting and we can't play outside." 

I knew this explanation was only half true. I could hear kids laughing and playing outside. The front playground was full of kids who would be well protected by adult supervisors. But they probably were restricted from playing behind the school buildings and these kids obviously felt that meant they should be working in the library.

I'd organized the non-fiction section by this time and I pointed to the stacks of books I'd laid out on the counter ready for them. I was a little worried about setting them loose with books shelved by numbers rather than letters, but they seemed undaunted so I shrugged my shoulders and let them go at it. When I next looked at the counter it had been swept clean, and everyone was scurrying around with stacks of books in their arms.

I continued to putter around the circulation desk, listening to snatches of their conversations in the background. One grade 4 boy who had missed the recess session sat on the floor in front of a bottom non-fiction shelf ranting: "Hey!  Someone's been messing with my shelf! This is MY shelf and someone's been doing things on it."

"No one owns shelves in libraries Nicholas," I told him. "All the shelves belong to everyone."

"Yes I do own it. I got it in September and I get to keep it the whole year.  No one gets to mess with my shelf."

His classmates agreed. "Oh yes, that is his shelf. We all have shelves. We get to keep them for the year and then the next year we get other ones." 

Meanwhile, Nicholas has become distracted. He's reading one of the books he was supposed to be shelving. I make a comment about that and he glances up with a guilty look and starts to put the book away.  I feel like hugging him, but I'm not supposed to touch students and I didn't want to have to write up another incident report.

Other snatches:
"Look at this! This book is a 300 one. It goes over here!"

"Check this one out.  It's 532.  I've got this one memorized already!" (I assume he's referring to the Dewey Decimal subject area and I want to hug him too.)

"Sarah, do you want to do a shelf with me?" 
Sarah says, "I'm already doing a shelf with Lisa but I guess I can do another one with you too."

Questions they ask me:
"Can Sophie and me go to the bathroom?" (This is during recess, and I love so much that they ask that I don't point out she should have said "Sophie and I.")

"Do you have some of that green tape we can use to put our names on shelves?"

And when the books are all put away, "Is there anything else we can do for you?"

That was my morning. After lunch it was time for my two sessions with the older kids.  I figured it shouldn't be too hard to spend the half hour sessions discussing what they'd read over the holidays. 

And I was right. In fact, they barely had time to check out new books because the discussions went on so long.

I first asked how many of them had read books over the holidays.  Probably 20 out of 26 hands went up.

Then I asked how many had discovered new authors during that time. Probably 17 out of 26. 

And after that I couldn't keep up with all the hands. Lots of kids--at least as many boys as girls--waited patiently to talk about the new authors they'd discovered, and other books they'd read over the past two weeks.

One boy said he'd discovered a new author of graphic novels but he couldn't remember his name. I suggested he might want to graduate to books with a bit more words in them than graphic novels have, and then he told me that he'd already read the whole Harry Potter series.

One girl highly recommended her classmates read the Twilight novels instead of watching the TV series. "They're way better than the films," she said. And we discussed the observation that books are usually better than the movies.

I recommended some books, and when I mentioned the Narnia series, the class went crazy. Most of them had already read it and the room buzzed with mini-conversations about Aslan and the Boy and His Horse.  (The only other word I mentioned that got them buzzing louder was the word, 'Fortnight.' I must remember to avoid using that word in class. It always becomes an immediate conversational distraction.) 

I asked another girl what her favorite book was and she said, "I can't remember. I read waaaay too many books over Christmas!"

"You can never read too many books," her friend reminded her.

I was amazed.  Most of the class had read, not one or even two books over Christmas, but many.  Boys and girls alike. I was in danger of having to write up a multitude of incident reports in this school. 

I complimented them. "I'm so proud of you for reading over the holidays instead of spending all your time on electronics and video games!" And then we had a little discussion about that topic.  "It's very important that you own your electronics. It's not good when they own you," I said.  And heads nodded seriously and sagely all over the room.

So what is this world coming to?  There is much to worry about in the coming year. Obstinate kids who chant "child abuse" when you take hold of their wrist to lead them out the door are worrisome.  Misuse of electronics, inside and outside the classroom, is worrisome.

But then there are the other things--the other kids--the future engineers, teachers, mechanics, politicians and nurses. There are the kids who get a kick out of books. Who love shelving them, reading them, talking about them, who would rather puzzle out the Dewey Decimal system than run around outside. 

"I played outside a lot over the break too," said one grade 7 boy.  "I didn't get to go skiing, but I spent a lot of time in the park with my friends, throwing a ball around."

Oh, be still my beating heart!

I am so excited about what this world is coming to. I am so privileged to spend time with kids. I have come to love them more every one of the 28 years I've been teaching.  I hope I can get another year or two in before I'm too old to hobble through those educational institution doors any more.

The future of this world is in good hands.  Yes, I mean the Hands with a capital "H."  But I also feel confident that the future will be good in the hands of those little ones He continues to watch over and teach.  It will be a good New Year.

Note: The image in this post is not of one of my students. I don't post images of my students or identify them on the web. But it's a good example of the topic of this post, and this little bookworm warms my heart too.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Suicide Not Required


Now, I have to warn you, my English professor said, when you discover that there is no ultimate Authority--no Author who supposedly 'gives meaning' to your existence--you may, at first, find yourself fighting a deep depression.

She went on,

Some students in their early years of university have even been tempted to end their lives when the false worldview they've been brought up to embrace has been deconstructed.

She explained that she needed to give us this disclaimer so we wouldn't be caught off guard.  She didn't want any suicides in her class.
She was full of encouragement:

Realize that you will move on, and your more rational self will adjust to the new reality--your own personal reality.  You will survive and thrive with the realization that no one has the right to define reality for you.  What you decide is true for you is all there is of Truth.

Let's put aside, for now, all the obvious questions this statement should have raised in the minds of the young adults sitting in the class around me.  Questions like:

If it's 'my truth' why are you telling me what it should be?  Why are you speaking with authority to me, telling me there is no such thing as Authority?

And the most obvious question, Why should I even listen to you?

The question in my mind, as I listened to her lecture, was an ancient one, recorded in Psalm 11:3:

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?

I often find myself wondering these days how the world can go on as it does, even in our modern, highly advanced Western culture with all it's technological trappings and "advanced" ideas. Everything our earthly worldview--our perception of reality--should be based upon has crumbled beneath our feet.  The foundation has been slowly eroded away by the subtle innuendos of secular humanism that tell us that everything is accidental, and therefore without lasting meaning or purpose.

In that Literary Criticism class, my university professor taught us that the old idea of a God who created everything and therefore has a right to define Truth for all of His creation is simply a social construct, foisted upon us by our overbearing patriarchal ancestors in an attempt to control us for their own evil, misogynistic purposes. Because there is no ultimate Author, no human author--no creator of anything--has authority.  He does not matter.  You have the right to extract your own personal meaning from all of art and literature.

We had some further discussions, this professor and I.  She eventually acknowledged that if her theory is correct, then even language has no meaning.  Language is a communicator of rational thought, and all rational thought is based on the necessary assumption that there is an absolute Truth. You cannot make an absolutely true statement that there is no such thing as absolute truth.  But in the end my professor showed no interest in being persuaded to give up her nihilism.  My heart ached for her.

But was she right?  Is there no foundation for anything?  Is life meaningless?

This morning I am encouraged to read in Isaiah 33, verses 5 and 6, that

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.  He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.

We have a sure foundation, even in these times of ours.

The verse goes on to say, The fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

May we all discover that key and so enjoy the rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.

Suicide is not necessary!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

On Peace and Pleasure


You will make known to me the path of life.
In Your presence is fullness of joy.
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.  
Psalm 16:11 (NAS)

Last Sunday I came home from a week-long trip to Florida and the Bahamas.  I thank God for the good things He has created for our pleasure:

white, sandy beaches, seagulls flying, dolphins playing in the waves, good food on the cruise ship, interesting people to meet. 

So many good gifts He delights to give us. 
And so sweet that He delights in our enjoyment!

He loves to watch us enjoying things. 
He begs us to throw ourselves onto His mercy and goodness,
to abandon ourselves to joy! 
He is so good. 

But the best blessings on this trip, besides the reality of His loving presence with me as I enjoyed the sand and sea, were my two girls.  I had so much fun being with them.  I am so proud of them--the way they think and act and speak.

It wasn't all pure delight. There were some eye-rolling moments. We don't always share the same idea of what constitutes pleasure.  Adri would not let me feed the seagulls so I could get their picture flying over us.  And I nixed her suggestion that we get matching tattoos to commemorate our trip. But we love each other, and it was pure fun for me to be with both my girls. 

I loved watching them enjoy the sand and sea and food and new friends, and in that way I was enjoying what God loves to watch.  He delights in our abandonment to healthy pleasures. 

I HATE how Satan has distorted those pleasures.  We gave him permission to do that.  Our great fruit-tasting experiment destroyed our ability to enjoy.  It bound us, instead, to fear and pain and despair.  But I praise God for solving that problem through Jesus' death and resurrection! 

I LOVE being able to connect with my Creator, through Jesus, and so to have those Eden-pleasures restored to me, even in this dark, sin-cursed world. 

On the plane ride home Adri became faint and needed some care.  The cabin crew were sweet and helpful, and the emergency room nurse and his fiance--Good Samaritan passengers on the flight--were as well.  But it was eye opening to watch them minister to her.  The young woman engaged to the nurse shared the anti-anxiety medication she carries with her on airplanes.  And when I told the flight attendant that prayer was my anti-anxiety medication he said,  "That works for some people," but he carries medication for himself too.

I remember my struggle with anxiety as a young woman,
being overwhelmed with a panic I could not control,
finding it impossible to resist being afraid of invisible evils that seemed to surround me. 

But over the years God has led me so deeply into relationship with Him that I no longer need medication. 
He has shown me that there is nothing to fear. 
He has proven, over and over, that my trust in His loving care of me is justified. 
He has anchored my joy in eternity.

The struggle against fear is more intense in today's world. The threats are now global, and our amazing technology makes sticking our heads in the sand impossible. 

But the cure for that fear is the same. 
Just as real and powerful as ever. 

I pray that those sweet people we met on the plane will find the deep peace that comes from knowing God--the peace that rests deeper, and lasts longer, than the peace medication provides.

He is so good!
I love being able to rest in that reality. 
I love being able to enjoy the good gifts He surrounds me with here on earth,
I love anticipating the pleasures that will be in His right hand, forevermore!

Thank You, Lord, for making known to us the path of life.
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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

APPOINTMENTS WITH GOD


I discovered a slightly different translation of Amos 3:3 a few weeks ago and it has revolutionized my thinking about my times with the Lord.

The NAS (New American Standard) translation says: 
"Do two [people] walk together unless they have made an appointment?"

Wow.  I'd never thought of my quiet times with God as being meetings, or appointments.
 
Previously decided upon.
Pre-arranged.
What a concept!

Since my discovery of that translation of the verse, I've made a deliberate decision to see those times we spend together as appointments, and my perception of them has changed in ways that have blessed me.

1.  It's given my quiet time focus.  Appointments are deliberate.  They're arranged for an agreed upon time, in a specific location, with at least some idea of an agenda.  There is a reason for the meeting.  And in the meeting people interact deliberately.  They don't just sit together playing on their iPhones.  They don't take each other's presence for granted.

2.  It's also made me a little embarrassed.  I have taken His presence for granted in the past.  Though I don't bring my phone (well, not usually), my mind and heart are not always fully present.  Sometimes I'm not even thinking about the fact that GOD IS THERE.

I know.  How could I?  It's horrifying when you think about it.  I mean. . .the God OF THE UNIVERSE is IN THE ROOM!

Seeing these times as deliberate meetings has made me sit up a little straighter and even scoot the pillows away from the spot beside me on the couch so there's room for Him to sit.  (I'm embarrassed about that too, but there you have it.  It's because I'm beginning to really believe that HE IS THERE.)

3.  It's improved my manners. In the past I've often just shown up in His presence whenever I felt like it.  I've plopped down on the couch, expecting He will be there waiting for me. 

And, of course, He is.  Since God does not live in a time zone, He doesn't have a schedule to keep.  And because He's not limited by space, when I come into the room for a meeting He's already there.

Waiting patiently.
Without hurry, since He has no watch to look at.
Without judgment.  He knows I'm scatterbrained and rude and impetuous. 
He loves me anyway.

He waits while I jump up in the middle of our conversation to pour myself a cup of coffee, or to answer my phone.  (Yes, it's not so far away I can't hear it ring.)  Or because I've remembered something I need to add to my "To Do" list.

And when I'm finished talking (Oh, the shame!), I sometimes get up and leave without even saying good-bye.  Or I might glance over my shoulder as I rush out the door and say, "Are you coming?"

Lately when I do that I've noticed He's not moving.
Sometimes He beckons to me.

"Come back, my precious daughter.
The meeting's not over.
I have something else to say.
Will you sit down and listen for a minute?"

That minute is always enlightening.

4.  So I'm learning to listen.  Not always.  It's a hard habit to break, that jumping and running when I'm through talking.  But we're working on it, and this new perception I have of our times together is helping. It's making my walk with the Lord more deliberate, and I'm being blessed by that.

I checked on Bible Hub and found that translators differ in their interpretation of Amos 3:3.  As is often the case with verses of Scripture, each translation reveals a different, and equally stunning truth.  God's Word is like a multi-faceted jewel.  Click here to discover how many different slants God puts on His Truth in Amos 3:3.


And have a deliberately God-blessed day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Moment Outside Space and Time


"He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world."  
Ephesians 1:14

When Dennis had his stroke, in the first ten minutes before the ambulance came, I had the strangest experience.  It seemed as if time were suspended, as if Dennis and I were alone together in the universe, with no awareness of any other place outside that spot on the bedroom floor where he had fallen, no awareness that anything existed outside our own present experience.  

I had no thoughts of the past or the future.  I was not yet grieving or even afraid.  I was suspended in shock, and obviously anxious, but not for what might be coming, only for what was happening right then.  My mind and heart were rooted in that present moment, in that present place.  

I believe in those few moments Dennis and I were existing, together, not in time, but in eternity.  We were existing in the state in which we had been chosen by God, before "time" and "space" were created--before "the foundation of the world."

The amazing Truth is that our identity, our calling, our reason for being is rooted in eternity.  That's when God chose us, when He determined that we would be born, that we would die, at a particular time, and in a specific place in history. 

In the same way, our destiny is rooted in eternity.  Jesus said, 

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."  (John 14:1-3)

Jesus' statement is full of references to both place and time, but He is referring to a "place" and "time" that will be outside the realm of both.  He has prepared a place in eternity for us.  In that "place" we will exist in an eternal "moment" that will be full of a kind of bliss we can't even imagine down here.  

He's promised us that. In that "place" and at that "time,"  

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

In those few moments as I sat beside Dennis on the floor, holding him, waiting through what seemed like an eternity before the ambulance came, it was as if the veil were removed.  

All the barriers were down--all the barriers that we construct over a lifetime to protect us from the harshness of the broken world we are all born into--the barriers that separate us from each other--the barriers that separate us from our Creator and from heaven.

They were all gone.  

In that moment, Dennis and I existed, together, in the "place" and at the "time" when we had been chosen by God.  It was a moment of eternity, and, though it was an unbelievably anxious time, there was a sense of awe about it.  

Dennis stayed in that moment.  
I will be there one day as well.  

Joy will come to stay in that morning moment.  

A great hope!




Wednesday, December 14, 2016

On A Dark, Winter's Night

So, I'm going to break this writer's block stage I've been going through for over a year now--this dark winter's night of the soul.  I'll do it by posting, with determined consternation, my devotional thoughts--here, where God and everybody can see them.  At least I'll try this.  We'll see if it breaks the dam.

Today I've been reading Romans 8 in The Message.  This passage speaks to a problem I often have with boredom and listlessness, both precursors to despondency and depression, helplessness and stagnation.  (ie: writer's block)  The solution to this problem is both obvious and easy.  Why do I keep forgetting?

Romans 8 says,

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life.  Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them--living and breathing God!

Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.  Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God.  Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God.  That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.  And God isn't pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him.  Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about.  But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells--even though you still experience all the limitations of sin--you yourself experience life on God's terms.

The emphasis in the above is mine.  It's all about "where you put your eyes."  

Stagnant: Looking inward.  

Fresh and alive: Looking outward and upward.  

Looking at Jesus.  
Seeing Him in the beautiful world around me. 
Seeing Him in the beautiful people around me.
Seeing Him in his Word.  

That's all it takes to break the despondency cycle.  
Deep breath.  Refreshed.
Thank you, Jesus.