Wednesday, April 19, 2017

see what he sees

I was having a conversation with my mother in law Saturday about a picture of herself that she did not like. 

We all have them. Pictures that look great except for that lady in the middle or on the end or sandwiched between those other 2 cute girls. 

As women we are often crazy self critical. We don't like our hair. Or our face without make up. Or our boobs aren't lifted enough. Or we need to loose a little weight. Or......

when he sees me - what does he see? can I see me like he sees me? @bigpittstop #newpost
I remember a valuable lesson I learned on our honeymoon. We were sitting in our room getting ready to leave for dinner. I had on minimal makeup. I had left my hair wet and tried to make beach waves. I had on a sleeveless dress in March and my cheeks were sun kissed pink. I was annoyed and ready for dinner and did not want him to keep snapping pictures of me. 

But, when we got home and I was going through pictures of our trip I saw it. Those pictures from that night. I'm sure I have too many layers of self criticism layered over them like an extra effect in photo shop. But I saw some of it. 

when he sees me - what does he see? can I see me like he sees me? @bigpittstop #newpost

That girl in the photo. She was vulnerable. Her heart was springing with young love. Her dreams were coming true. I hope he sees a warrior, a fighter. A woman who had learned hard lessons about trust and obedience and all that made his beautiful wife. 

It's the same way I bet my father in law feels about the picture he had on his phone. She hates it because it represents a hard time in her life. But I'm guessing to him, the picture of her sitting on the end of an exam table at MD Andersen means a lot to him. He sees a fighter. Someone who was deep in the battle for her life, yet still had a big smile on her face. The mother of his children and everything about her is imprinted on their lives. He sees someone who by her faith and the way she lives it out spreads hope far and wide. 

But, we rarely see any of those things because we are looking at our outfits or posture or body shape. Let's give ourselves the same grace goggles, we offer others, when we look at pictures of ourself. What do other people see when they look at us?

Bravery. Honesty. Grace. Hospitality. Kind, giving, caring spirit. Mother. Lover. Hero. Friend. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

whats in my basket: Easter lesson for teens

On Tuesday afternoons, I spend time with some really cool teenagers at the Mary and Martha Center.  This weekly outing has become one thing i look forward to most every week.  Its a place I've started to build community and I love teaching and digging open God's Word with a group of teens.

This week, with it being Holy Week, I was really hoping to try something new.  We have spent much of the year looking at our Passion and Purpose in life, but I felt like we needed to take a break and look at something specific.  I've dug for 2 days online looking for ideas and lesson plans.  I wanted to do a "stations of reflection" type thing but not make it so serious. We are not guaranteed a specific amount of time together, so I have to have a lesson that can be pretty flexible. 

The students I work with come from a variety of backgrounds, so I always feel its safe to never assume what stories they know, how deep they have dug in to a passage or verses, or that they have even read the passage I'm teaching that day before. So, as I prepare, I usually try to keep it basic and make sure we have one good truth we are aiming for to walk away with.  After all these kids have already been in school all day and are really there to serve the younger kids.  But I get 20 and sometimes 35 minutes to just share a truth and what God's been teaching me. 

Since I really couldn't find what I wanted online, I decided to just make up something myself. (Go figure!)

What's in the basket? An Easter Lesson for Teens #easter #newpost @bigpittstop

I bought a basket a bunch of items at the Dollar Store.  So, we are not talking something super expensive here.  What's more important is that you capture items that represent the stories of Holy Week and you can use the activity to walk through the items together.

I'll list the items below, but the real lesson was very simple.
  • stuff an Easter basket or other container (plastic tub, bucket, wicker basket, etc would work) with all your items.
  • place bucket in middle of table and ask each student to take and item or 2, depending on the number of students you are working with.
  • Go around the room and see if the students can come up with what their item might represent.  If they can't, just have them pass until you can come back to them later.  
  • Its important to review all the stories you are covering beforehand.  This will not only give you background knowledge to teach the lesson, but allow you flexibility. Instead of just going around the circle, you might call out items in order and let them guess, then tell the stories of Holy Week in order.
  • Conversation topics:
    • items and story that goes along with them
    • What are things we see at Easter that remind us of Jesus?
    • How can we take the items we have seen today and use them as reminders in our every day lives?
    • How can we take the items we have seen today and use them to start conversations with others about Jesus?
    • What one item that you have seen today will you keep thinking about this next week?
One tool I found really helpful was a listing of the chronological events of Holy Week and scripture references that go with each one.  I think John 18 is a really great, condensed version of many of the stories that happened in the middle of the week.  When I went over this, we talked in specifics about the events of Palm Sunday and Jesus riding into Jerusalem.  We talked about the actions and reactions of the people and how Jesus must have felt that day on the back of the donkey.  (I was trying to set them up for the opposite behavior of the people at the end of the week.) Our next conversation topic was the Last Supper. We talked about the setting - a borrowed friend's house, reclining on the floor eating, not up on stools at a white cloth table like we usually see.  We talked about Jesus washing the disciples feet and what the conversation was like among the disciples. Our group seemed to think the air was pretty thick and people probably talked in hushed tones.  Many were confused by the things Jesus was saying and Judas specifically probably introduced a paranoid tone to the room. 

Earlier this semester, they spent several weeks demonstrating servant leadership by washing the feet of the children who come to the center on Thursday afternoons.  So, our conversation turned towards Jesus' washing of the disciples feet and really what He was teaching them in that moment.  Because I knew many of my students were not as familiar with the events in the middle of the week surrounding the trials and mockery, we read through John 18 together.  Again, this is a very condensed version of this part of the story, but it hits the highlights in a way we could cover together in our short time.  Then, we talked about Good Friday.  Oh, how I would have loved to go more into details about the events of the day.  But, instead our conversation turned to the significance of the cross and that really was the most important thing for us to discuss together.  With out the cross, none of it really matters!

We finished our conversation with an empty golden egg. While one of them really wanted there to be candy inside, they understood where we were going.  The empty tomb is what sets the story of Jesus apart from any other story.  The empty tomb is a promise fulfilled.  It was God's promise to save His people from their sin; eternal separation and damnation.  But, Jesus didn't stay in the grave. Just as the conversation goes at the beginning of Luke, chapter 24. The words of Jesus himself, "Why are you looking in the place of the dead for someone who is alive? Jesus isn’t here! He has been raised from death."

I knew yesterday afternoon just how important this conversation could be when I couldn't find a cross at the store to buy.  I hit 2 dollar stores in my town and neither had anything to do with a cross in their Easter section. Heck, neither had a cross anywhere in their store. That is why we must have this conversation. 

I bet though, you are still wondering, what was in my basket!

Items in my basket:
1. palm branches - Palm Sunday and Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
2. red wine vinegar and a honey bun (that's the only "roll" type thing I could find) - Last Supper
3. wash rag - Jesus washed the feet of the disciples
4. seed packet - Jesus praying in the Garden
5. rope - this is where they arrested Jesus and Judas turned Him over
6. screen cleaner kit - the first round of trials found him to have a clean slate
7. sunglasses - Jesus kept his cool, he spent many of the trials just standing in silence and only spoke words of truth and Scripture when called upon
8. Knee support - symbolizing Jesus dragging the cross and falling along the way
9. chicken - Peter denied Jesus 3 times, just as He said he would before the rooster crowed
10. dice - the centurions played games and cast lots for Jesus possessions, making a mockery of Him
11. cross - the point of it all
12. travel pack of toiletries (body wash, lotion, body spray) - Jesus friends came and took care of His body and put Him in a borrowed tomb
12. rock - the tomb, a rock, was put in front of the tomb to seal it and a centurion was assigned to guard it (just in case He might try to get out!)
13. empty golden egg - our story is not over.  He is Risen!

Teaching lessons from the Bible to teens is hard. They are not babies and don't need all the craft projects.  But, they do need the object lessons and something fun to break it all down help them remember.  Try it. Let me know what works to help you connect with students in your ministry.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

an afternoon in an african chapel

I do not believe that God is a God of coincidence. I think He loves details and plans as much as I do.
2 weeks ago today, I got to spend my afternoon with a group of women. African women. Elderly women. Honored and revered women. Women, many of whom have known and trusted Jesus for much of their life.  

The task before me was to teach them. To share a lesson with them. Thankfully I knew ahead of time. I actually knew even before I boarded the plane to visit them. When the sheet for trip assignments was passed around the room God said put your name down. I was virtually attending this meeting through Skype and said if that line was still empty when it came to the end, I would quickly respond to put my name there. And so, I did.
I tried to open my heart to what God would want me to share with these women. What could I possibly as an almost 35 year old woman living in the United States have to share and connect with a group of 60+ 70+ year old women living in the warm heart of Africa almost 10,000 miles away from me?

Well, as God usually does, he put a message on my heart. Then, orchestrated His plan to put the outline and stories in my path over the coming weeks. The morning I was packing my backs and putting the final things in the car to head to the airport, he gave me a vision of the calendar and what would play out back in the states while I was gone. March 19 was departure day. March 20 was a Monday, the first day of work that I would miss. March 21, 22, 23, and 24 came after that almost completing the week. Then, I realized that March 25 would land on that Saturday.  

For 9 years March 25 is a day I way up with a renewed energy. I breathe the morning air in a little deeper. My day strolls by a little slower than usual. It’s the day I found the big mass on the left side of my neck. It’s the day I was surrounded by incredible friends in a waiting room at a local hospital waiting for results of a scan that would determine my future. It’s the day I consumed a dinner of Oatmeal Crème Pies and Nacho Cheese Doritos. All those things that you expect to go with that day happened. The emotions, the conversations, the pit in my stomach, the phone call to my parents. But that night also had laughs, memories, and big ole’ puppy dog tears.

For me, that is a day that does define a lot of what filled the days that followed. But, it is not a day that defined the rest of my life. The 3,285 days that filled the 9 years since are the days that have defined the rest of my life. In those days, I’ve learned what surrender, trust and obedience are all about. I’ve come to read deeper the promises of the Old Testament and God’s conversation with a man named Abraham.

And, that was the story he asked me to share with that widow group on a cool African Saturday afternoon. You see, I stood between them and…basically nothing. They actually have time in their Saturday to sit on a porch and talk to their friends. To watch children from their village, who make up the next generation, play and dance in rain puddles while completing a came of hopscotch. They came to eat a good meal and hear a word from the Lord. Now, with full bellies and a cool breeze some did sneak in a little nap or 2, but they listened. And they responded.

These ladies make a noise with their mouths that can only be described as a yodel. They “perform” it in their worship, as their praise, and when they get really excited about something as a group. I cannot even tell you what I said, because I frankly don’t remember. But, even through an interpreter God’s promises to Abraham came through. His promises to bless him for his faithfulness. His promises to make his descendants great for his obedience and patience. His promise to make him a gateway to bless others. And, in doing so to make the name of God spread even further. 
God gave me a vision of the night sky and a reminder of the dirt we would walk upon. That was the illustration He wanted to use for those ladies that day.  
I see no greater joy in this life than to be a vessel God chooses to use to tell His story. Only God could know 9 years ago that on that day I would stand in a chapel and fulfill a dream He had placed on my heart. Only God could plan out the details and the timing of His story. Knowing that every turn, bend, misstep, struggle, and victory along that way would weave a story He wanted to share. 

March 25, 2008 has now been replaced with March 25, 2017. May we not soon forget the story of God’s fulfilled promises.