Friday, March 30, 2007

The Conclusion of the Matter

The focus of our Bible study at church this quarter has been Ecclesiastes. This week, we come to the end, the conclusion. In fact, the penultimate verse in the book says as much: “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity.” Those were Solomon’s parting words to his generation. Fear God and keep His commands.

One of the discussion leaders of my study group asked us to consider what our parting words would be. “Is your message to the next generation, ‘Fulfill your duty to keep God's commandments, (v13) because there is going to be a judgment’(v14)? Or do you have another conclusion to the 'whole matter' of humanity's apparent hopelessness?” He went on to ask us to ponder this question throughout the week and be prepared to share our answer with the class when we next

Well, I’ve been thinking. What is the message I want to pass on to those who know me? I’m thinking I shouldn’t be waiting until my time is up to share my conclusions about life with those I rub shoulders with every day. I’m thinking I should be taking every opportunity to share the truth about God, as I know it, with everyone I know. That’s the reason I teach in a Christian school: so I can use my time not only to prepare others for this world, but also, and more importantly, for the world to come.

But what is the message, my specific message to those around me? And what is yours? What do your children know from you about life and God? What has been your message? Do our actions match the words we speak? And do they point others to Jesus? If we say we are Christians, if we take the name of Christ, isn’t it incumbent on us to speak like, act like, be like Christ?

Truth is, we don’t know when our last day will be, we don’t know when (or if) we will have another chance to share and show what we know about God with those we work with, live with, have influence on, and love. We don’t know when (or if) we will have another day to figure it out for ourselves, either.

The point of the matter, then—and the conclusion as well—is that all we have is now. And now is the time to get our relationship with Christ straight. Now is the time to pass the Word on to others. It may be all the time we have.

Photos: The first daffodil opens, today's sunrise, purple crocuses poke up through the dead leaves.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring is Coming!

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.
Anne Bradstreet (1612?-1672
) US poet.

Monday, there was nothing showing around the flagpole at school except dead leaves and flower stalks. Then, suddenly, yesterday morning there were crocuses! And then only after the sun came up.

What a welcome sight after what seems like forever since we last saw anything bright outside! And what a bright spot in a challenging day that saw our little school without three teachers and two other staff members. The rest of us were stretched to the max, but being able to go outside for recess, and seeing these little bright spots made such a difference.

Next up: daffodils =)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Where Jesus Walked

Have you ever looked at your life and thought that it was exceedingly common and boring? I know I have often enough, especially when I’m sitting home with nothing to do except everything I don’t want to do (like laundry and grading). If I’m honest, though, my life has hardly been boring. I’ve known many wonderful and interesting people, I have books and music and 100 plus anything-but-boring young people in my life, I have things to do, places to go, and so much more to learn. No, my life is hardly boring. Perhaps the thing that has been the most exciting in my life is all the traveling I’ve been able to do, often with young people. I've been clear around the world, in fact, and have seen many of the wonders of that world.

I've walked across Tienaman Square in Beijing, Red Square in Moscow (twice!), and climbed the Eiffel Tower in Paris (three times!). I've seen the church door in Witten­berg where Luther nailed his 95 theses, and the prison in Rome where Paul and Silas sang. I've been in the homes of Mozart in Vienna, and Shakespeare in Stratford-on-the-Avon, of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court and Queen Isabelle in Madrid.

I've been in a coal mine in Germany, and a gold mine in South Africa. I've seen Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii; I've seen the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and the Yangtze River in China. I've ridden in a Gondola in Venice and on a camel in Cairo. I've seen the great pyramids and the Sphinx in Egypt and the Forbidden City in China. I've skied on the Matterhorn, scuba dived off Maui, and swum in the Sea of Galilee. I've crossed the River Jordan, climbed the Great Wall of China, and waded in the Dead Sea.

I've seen Da Vinci's Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, Michaelangelo's David and his Sistine Chapel ceiling. I've seen Rembrandt's Nightwatch, Picasso's Guernica and Monet’s Water Lilies—before they came to Boston. I've stood in Anne Frank's room in the Secret Annex and in the barracks of Dachau's concentration camp. I've seen where Hitler was born, and where Napoleon died. I've gone through Checkpoint Charlie in the Berlin Wall, and the Catacombs under Rome. I've explored Petra and Jerash in Jordan, the Roman Coliseum in Italy and the Loire Valley in France.

I've walked the streets of London and Paris, Madrid and Peking; Hong Kong and Singapore, Florence and Edinborough; Rome and Vienna, Milan and Alexandria; Cairo and Amsterdam, Berlin and Bangkok, Moscow and Nhizni Novgorod. I’ve wandered the jungles and the barrios of Mexico and helped to build a church in Peru.

I've been amazed and amused, inspired and enthralled. I've been lucky. And I've been blessed.

But of all the places I've been to, of all the things I've seen and done around the world, nothing reached my heart and soul the way one day in Jerusalem did several summers ago. I learned something important that day, that seems especially relevant this week in light of several news stories about Jesus life on earth. As you might imagine, Jerusalem is crammed full of places connected with Christ—His birth, his ministry, His death. Touring all those sites, I was sometimes awed, but more times appalled at the commercialism of the places. Vendors and hawkers of relics were constantly besieging my friends and me, hoping to swindle us out of the money they're certain all Americans have.

I got discouraged after awhile, because none of those places really gave me a sense of Jesus in the same way I've sensed, say Emily Dickinson in her home in Amherst, MA. Then, just before noon, we found ourselves at the Garden of Joseph of Aramathea. Our tour guide took us through, pointing out various things until he brought us to a clearing in front of a cave-like opening. “This,” he said pointing to the opening, “is the Garden Tomb where Jesus lay for three days.” He didn't have to tell us the story, so he told us, instead, why he was nearly 100% certain that this was the spot. By the time he was done, we were convinced as well. But before he let us go inside and look at the place where Jesus had lain, he said he wanted to share one more thing with us—something he hadn't told any other group.

He told us that he imagined we had probably been to a lot of places in the last few days where Jesus had walked and talked. Places like the hillside where Jesus had delivered the Sermon on the Mount and where he had multiplied the loaves and fishes. We had. Places like the field where the angels sang to the shepherds and the Mount of Olives where Jesus had prayed before He was taken away. And we had.

He said we were probably like a lot of other Christians coming there to find something of Jesus. And, in varying amounts we all were. He said he had done that too, and that he had been frustrated because he hadn't found what he was expecting. It wasn't until he had stood in front of that Garden Tomb a few times that he realized a most wonderful thing—a thing which made all the difference in the world to him. And he hoped it would to us, too.

“Do you remember what the angel told the disciples when they came early to the tomb?” he asked. “He is not here. He is risen and is walking among us again—even now.”

That man was so right! We don't have to go 1/2 way around the world to find some piece of Jesus. We don't have to stand in the grotto marking His birthplace to feel His presence in our lives. He is not there in the hill of Judea. He is not there in Bethlehem. He is not there in Jerusalem. Not anymore. He is wherever we are, He goes wherever we go. He was at our birthplace, and will be at our resting place. He is here in this place, too. He is with us, beside us right now—offering to lead us, guide us, and love us so completely. How can we turn Him down?

I’ve been lucky. I've walked where Jesus walked in Jerusalem. But more importantly, He has walked—and is walking—where you and I walk. Right here. Right now.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I Can Only Imagine

Today in my Core Group worship, I shared a video of a beautiful Christian song, I Can Only Imagine. Former 1st and 2nd grade teacher Eldora Kaiser sent me the link a few weeks ago and I knew as soon as I saw it that I would share it with the five young people who meet with me most Thursday mornings for worship.

The song had its genesis about 16 years ago when 18 year old Bart Millard was trying to deal with the death of his father after a long battle with cancer. He started thinking about heaven and what it would be like when he would reunite with his father one day , and what it would be like to meet his savior face to face. “I can only imagine,” he wrote. He found himself repeating that phrase over and over, writing it on napkins, on scraps of paper, every time he felt lonely for his father. Imagining heaven somehow gave him the strength to go on with his life.

Years later, when Millard was a member of the fledgling Christian singing group “Mercy Me,” he rediscovered the phrase in an old notebook and was reminded how that imagining got him through a difficult period of his life. He sat down, and ten minutes later he had the lyrics to a song that has comforted millions since. "The song is not about crossing our fingers and hoping that God is out there somewhere,” he says, “but it's about resting easier at night knowing that there is one true, living God who is crazy in love with us so much so that he desires us to spend eternity with him.”

I can only imagine what it will be like, when I walk by Your side...
I can only imagine, what my eyes will see, when Your Face is before me!
I can only imagine. I can only imagine.

Surrounded by Your Glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You, be still?
Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing 'Hallelujah!'? Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine! I can only imagine!

I can only imagine, when that day comes, when I find myself standing in the Son!
I can only imagine, when all I will do, is forever, forever worship You!
I can only imagine! I can only imagine!

After we watched the video, we talked about how the promise of heaven can inform our days and bring us courage in our darkest moments. Later, I sent the link to each student with the encouragement to watch it again. “Someday we won’t have to imagine," I wrote. "We’ll see Jesus face to face and experience heaven for ourselves.” A few hours later, I got a reply from one student: “I can’t wait for that day.”

You know, some days I just love this job! Today is one of them.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Night Skies

I was at my church each night this weekend for youth evan- gelistic meetings. The first night we were in the middle of a New England nor'easter. About 4 inches had fallen before I got to the church. By the time I left some three and 1/2 hours later, another 4 inches had fallen. The evening was quite beautiful in the midst of the snow fall (I already posted a picture I took when I got home).

Saturday night, it was no longer snowing, but the sky was strangely beautiful around the church. I loved how the steeple looked all lit up and how the evergreens across the street stood out against the sky.

Last night, I watched the sun set from the front steps of the church (it's setting towards where I live and often watch the sunset from my living room window. I should have taken more of this sunset as it got m ore beautiful by the second, but I was interrupted by one of the sound guys from the church, so missed out. Photos don't do it justice anyway.

Tomorrow is the first day of spring. A week ago, it would have looked and felt like it. Now, it looks like winter for the first time this entire season! That's the fun of New England. Never dull. Never predictable. Don't like the weather one day? Wait. It'll change in a day or so. I'm glad it's going to stay spring soon, though. I've had enough of cold.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:-
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed-and gazed-but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

~ William Wordsworth, 1815

Friday, March 16, 2007

Burdens and Shoulders

There's an old Jewish proverb that says "God gives burdens; also shoulders." Five words offering paradoxical truths about God; five words offering an emphatic definition of God. "God gives burdens." Taken alone, these three words could very well make a person want to run away from God rather than stay with Him. And many, looking at their own lives, might even blame God for allowing tribulation to fall upon them. They look so long at their troubles that before they realize it, they can see nothing else but an unjust, merciless God and a world no longer fit to exist in.

It's a good thing the proverb doesn't stop there. Instead, it goes on. "God gives burdens; also shoulders." The shoulders He has given us are the shoulders of our family members and friends, our colleagues, mentors (teachers and pastors)—and of God Himself. They are the shoulders we see ahead of us as we listen and learn with—and from—each other. They are the shoulders we sense behind us as we listen and learn with our families and friends. They are the shoulders we feel next to us as we listen and learn with our colleagues. And they are the shoulders we feel under us, lifting us up as we listen and learn from the still small voice which comforts us: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28

Isn't that a beautiful promise? I am grateful every day that my God has provided so wondrously for all of my needs. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about the enormous responsibility that comes with working with kids. Sometimes that responsibility seems like a burden that is overwhelming, almost paralyzing. And I’ve been thinking how impossible it would be to do this without a good team, without some powerful shoulders working side-by-side with me. That knowledge has made it easier to sleep at night, has made the thought of this school year bearable for me…

Paul tells us in Galations 6:2 that we are to bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ—the law of love—of caring for your brother, your sister. But while you are being there—being a shoulder—for someone else, let God be there—be a shoulder—for you, and let Him work with you. The Psalmist tells us to give Him all our cares (Ps. 55:22). And Peter says to "Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

So, God gives burdens. But also shoulders. You see, without the last half of the proverb—without the power of God working in our lives—we can do nothing. Our burdens would so weigh us down that we would not be able to move. But with those shoulders, both human and heavenly, there is power. Power to be and to do. Power to change and be changed. Yes, God gives us burdens. But also shoulders. Thank God for those shoulders!

Photo--Tonight's snowfall. Where was this snow at Christmas?!!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Cheer! What Cheer!

A few weeks ago I wrote about the little bits of beauty that surround me here in my near-the- big-city neighborhood. One of the things I mentioned was the cardinal who sings me into my car each morning. As soon as I posted that, he seems to have disappeared...until today. When I arrived home and stepped out of my car, I heard his familiar, melodious "What cheer! What cheer!" Quickly, I grabbed my camera and searched him out for a picture. Certainly, he brought me cheer after an 11-hour day at school.

My mornings have become more beautiful this week, too, as the sun is just rising as I'm driving to work. Today, I started out with just the moon standing out against the sky. By the time I got to school, the sky was like an artist's pallet, different in every direction I looked. It was glorious.

The sunset tonight was stunning as well. I am indeed fortunate to have a west-looking window in my condo. Each evening I am home, I sit and watch that sun sink behind the starkness of the branches. Watching it centers me. Resets my focus for the rest of the night. Once it's gone, I can go about the business of life in my cozy condo.

This nightly ritual reminds me of a week I spent one spring break on Maui (about 20 years ago this very week). Each night, small clusters of people, my friend and I among them, made their way to an isolated spot on the beach (for us, it was just across the street from our hotel) to sit silently and watch the sun slide into the ocean. It was a glorious sight. Once the sun was gone, everyone just as quietly melted away, back to whatever the rest of the night held for them.

A few weeks ago when I was at the writing retreat on the Cape one of the women in the group who lives there on the Cape wrote about a similar wordless ritual she and her husband have each night watching the sun set into the ocean. There's some kind of healing that happens when you take time to sit quietly and think. For the woman and her husband, it brought them closer together. For me, it drains all the dross from the day.

Imagine that. God-given daily therapy!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Longing for Provence

I've spent a lot of time thinking about Provence. Two weeks ago I bought the DVD adaptation of Peter Mayles' book A Year in Provence. I watched the first disc last weekend and the second one last night. I also bought the DVD of A Good Year, a movie adaptation of Mayles' novel of the same name. I watched that last week and the special features today.

In between all these teasers, I've been searching the internet for opportunities to go back to Provence. In 2004 I spent 10 days there for the first time. I had read Mayles' book prior to going, so was prepared for the beauty and charm, but not for the way it would continue to haunt me. I really need to go again!

I can't decide if I want to stay in Aix-en-Provence again or up in the Louberon mountains (setting for Mayles' book). Perhaps it's a good idea to try something new...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Reachable, yet Untouchable: a God of Paradox and Synonym

From birth, I was taught that I could approach God anytime, anywhere. This was a comfort to me although it wasn’t until I began traveling that I truly discovered the realness of this God as described in Psalm 139: "You hem me in, behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. . . . Where can I go from your Spirit? . . . Your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast" (Psalm 139: 5, 7, 9, 10; NIV).

The promise of that protection kept my he
art from thumping audibly during a border interrogation in East Berlin. It kept the scream in my throat instead of letting it escape when a sword swallower came after me in Beijing. It kept me firm in Cairo when a swarm of panhandlers accosted me. It kept me calm on a moonlit night by the Sea of Galilee. It kept me safe during a careening ride through Paris. And it brought me peace riding through Johannesburg amidst pre-election rioting.

The promise of that protection keeps me going still, although my everyday life as a principal and school teacher seems boring and safe compared to the exotic excitement of my sometime summertime escapes. Still, I revel in the knowledge that even at home the God of Psalm 139 is always with me. This God is easy to believe in, easy to trust in, easy to be comfortable with. And yet Old Testament readers know there is a side of God that is not so reachable or comfortable. This side of God requires that we “fear Him” and keep our a distance from Him. If seemingly diametrically opposed to the more common view of God, it must be reckoned with nonetheless, and if possible, reconciled.

The "reachableness" of the God I find in Psalm 139 is necessary for comfort, courage, and community. I need to feel the strength and power of God in my life. I need to feel His warmth, examine His light, and experience His protection to survive the emotional elements of human nature. All this, I find in the nearness of God. But the "untouchableness" of God is also necessary for revelation, respect and reflection. I need to know the strength and power of God in my life, but I need distance to give me perspective, space to give me cognizance, and room to give me thought. All this, I find in the "farness" of God. The paradox is that God must be both near and far if I am to feel Him and know Him in all his “awful” comfort and glory. The miracle is that He can be, and is. Paradox and synonym, different but the same.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Colorful New England Houses

My niece brought a friend home to visit over Spring Break. I picked the two up from the airport on Friday afternoon. As we were driving through town to Julie's house, her friend exclaimed over how colorful the houses were. Julie and I burst into laughter at the realization that we had never noticed this fact. All the rest of the way home, we kept pointing out houses with color: pastel colors, reds, blues, all kinds of colors. It was quite the surprise to look at our NE architecture and color from a fresh perspective.

Today when I was driving south from my parents' in Maine where I had retreated for a day, I remembered what Julie's friend had said and noticed again how right she was. I grabbed my camera and took pictures in two towns, one in Maine and one in NH as I was driving along. What a beautiful place I live in!!!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Crazy Week

I've had a busy, crazy week. I thought I wouldn't, but I survived. It started with a big fund-raiser on Sunday night. It went well, but things like that are always exhausting. They played a couples game and had my parents in it. They got a standing ovation for being married so long =)

Monday, my sister left to meet her husband in Prague. My nephew and I took her to the airport and thus began my week of trying to be a mom and a principal. The two are hard to put together. Fortunately for me, David's easy to have around, so we did OK. But...we had our share of adventures, and misadventures, mostly dealing with food. We laugh about it now, at least.

Tuesday I had a long faculty meeting. Wednesday we had a long constituency meeting. Thursday, I was supposed to take David to his cello lesson, but we missed it because I couldn't get away from school in time. Julie was supposed to come home from college, but her flight got canceled so she didn't get in until today, which should have been fine except we had a flood in the building because of all the rain that melted the snow. Volunteers came with shovels and wet vacs and got us dried out and cleaned up. But it was a mess for a few hours.

We were an hour picking up Julie and her friend. We've had a nice evening together, though. It's so good to have her home! Tomorrow we will go to Maine. Martha's children will meet us up there. It's wonderful that the four grandchildren are so close to each other and their grandparents!

Meanwhile, David and Julie's other grandmother has been diagnosed with colon cancer and is having surgery on Monday, Julie's birthday. We are all very close, so this is difficult for us all. And we found out that the son of a colleague of mine was killed in Iraq this week. And a long-time member of our church also passed away during the week.

I said this was a crazy week. At the very least! But it's done now. The weekend is here and thankfully I don't have any responsibilities until Monday. I may well just stay overnight in Maine and get some TLC from my parents. I can't think of a better way to recover from a week like this...