A Table in the Desert by Gina Stearns

Have you ever felt dried out like desiccated leather or an arid desert? This has been me for over the last nine months –pregnant with exhaustion and no sign of relief on the horizon. Nothing of life has been born of this labor only a desperate need for rest, lots of rest. I long for the beach, with its blue refreshing depths where I could dive down and pirouette in a froth of energizing abandon and watery escapades. I ache to lay upon the sand and soak in the warm sun where the ocean breezes remind me that I am still alive.

Instead, my summer as a wife, mother, teacher, and friend has been drained by stress, loss, and constant travel. For a homebody who loves more to ponder and plan, it has been absolute torture. Though I had been able to do some preparatory school work in grammar and vocabulary, that too seemed to suck away at my apparent vacation. Because I did not have a recuperative summer, my school year is starting on a nearly empty tank. And I am not an “empty tank” teacher, because I am already hard on myself and battle perfectionism.

So now I have the bur

den of starting at a deficit. To add poison to a dying soul, I have been also asked to take another class. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching Greek drama and the Hero Cycle, but that would make four and at times five preps including Literary Magazine which is the darling of my day. But even that class also added to my burden, growing from eight to twelve students. What makes life even more challenging is that my laptop had been on the fritz. In fact, just a week ago it completely died leaving me even more behind and thus, cancelling out the effort of the previous weeks. All I had tried to avoid, has now met me face to face as chaos and endless exploits of catch-up.

To add to my already hefty load, I was asked to lead a small group in our ladies Bible study at church which I truly feel compelled to do though it makes no sense to add that to further weigh me down. I take that role very seriously as well. I confess, I did base my decision on last season, which required only small sections of Scripture upon which to meditate. However, this year’s study requires four to five chapters to be read with summative statements for each week. Of course. So here I stand with critical life- important tasks functioning with little life in me. A desert. A wilderness. And the only traces of water are those that emanate from eyes that look despairingly over all.

I barely mouth a throaty whisper? Where are you God?

Thus began my search. Not exactly a search for Him, but more of a message from Him. So I sought God in the only place He could definitely be found. I open my Bible to search for something, a breath, a spark, a hope for my months ahead. It was there that God had placed a virtual oasis bursting with what seemed to be lush palms of nourishment and pools of refreshment. At first glance it did not seem so, but it was better than the beach. The beach has its downfall in that I must go to it, and sometimes getting to enjoy it depends on my ability or the condition of weather and tide. But the Lord is always there, ready to heal, to sustain, to guide. It was the Lord himself leading me to Psalm 78, specifically verse 19. “Can God make a table in the desert?” The backstory to that inquiry was that the Israelites, who were tired of being in the wilderness, asked God if he could supply a much-needed meal. They had lost faith in the Lord amid the very wilderness where they had observed many miracles. Those miracles were like diamonds foiled against black velvet barrenness. Yet they asked in disbelief, “How could God prepare a table of sustenance in the Negev?” They gave up hope and faith in a God who provided all they had needed in that wasteland. And so had I! That question echoed in my head. How can I prepare food for the soul as a mom, teacher, and leader? Like Moses, how could I get water from a rock, food where there is not even a sprout of greenery from which to make a meal of wise instruction. But that is what God was promising in the midst of the doubtful words of those disbelieving Jews. And that was what he was promising for me and from me. Can God make a table in the desert, even if that desert is me? The answer to that question is a resounding yes.

So, as I rise each day and “prepare my table” of daily literature lessons, parental advice, truth for my church ladies; I recline before the “table maker” Himself ready for my serving of Biblical wisdom. I do so with full reliance on Him… on the miracles of his faithfulness, strength, creativity and wisdom. I would love to report that my school year has been progressing with few impediments; that Woman’s Bible Study has proceeded without a hitch; that our family is problem-free, but that would be a lie. Instead I can say that the Lord has had his hand on me and I can see his fingerprints in my day with either a creative idea from nowhere, a word of wisdom shared to a student, or an answer to prayer in the heart of my child. He hasn’t removed the storms, but He has made himself known every time as He accompanies me through them and has calmed the tempest of my anxious heart.

What I have since discovered is that the ocean of rest I was yearning for is really Jesus Christ Himself and the sweet winds on my face is His Word. I am recognizing that true worship is not equivalent to singing songs and having it my prayers answered my way, but that worship is the deepest form of sacrifice. And sacrifice is utterly dependent on God. Not without some struggle and the digging in of heels, I am learning to gracefully surrender to my desert walk because God can make deserts into Eden, and hasn’t He been doing that with my whole life?

Friend, you are welcome at my table. Some days I may only have a few fish and loaves, but my God is the miracle worker when it comes to bounty. I am not sure how the Lord will do it, but I am certain He will provide a life-giving, sumptuous meal of grace and mercy from which to nourish your soul and mine, not because it is truly my table, but because it is actually His. Bon Appetit!

Lessons on Leaving a Legacy: A Tribute to Erin Sipe by Gina Stearns

Erin and Kevin                                                         ~For Kara and Anna

As I have stated previously, I mainly blog to leave for my own children a legacy of my walk with the Savior. When I die, the only inheritance of any value that I can bequeath them is a remnant of my heart for the Lord Jesus Christ wrapped in my own words of struggles and victories, especially with words that always point to Him.

BUT TODAY IS DIFFERENT. 

Today I am writing about and for another dear mother, blogger, English teacher, ex-homeschooler, and sister-in-Christ— my dear friend, Erin Sipe. Erin came to Hickory Christian Academy this year originally to find a good place for her daughter Anna to attend but also ended up taking a position of English Teacher right next to my room. It was asked of me if I would function as Erin’s mentor, which really makes me snicker because anyone who knows Erin knows she is an extraordinary master teacher and could easily instruct classes for teachers like me.  She was born for many reasons but one, without a doubt, is teaching.  Though I did help her with things done the HCA way, I think deep down she knows that she has actually been MY mentor these last seven months that I have come to know and love her.  For I have learned so much from her–rich lessons on teaching, communicating, serving, joy in the midst of trials, but most of all living well by loving well and finishing well.  There is no doubt that Erin loves her Savior, Her husband, Kevin, Her sweet daughters, Kara and Anna. But her story is deeper and wider.

You see, Erin is dying.

We all are, but Erin is and has been fighting her life battle with an indomitable cancer, and these days she is deep in the trenches and making imminent preparations to see her Savior, but the immediate concern is preparing for her death and how that will affect her husband, children, brother, and parents.  Erin has been in her own battle twice with Breast cancer, but it seems now that very cancer has metastasized in her brain. She is being realistic about everything, but she reminds me so much of Christ himself — both a lion fighting strongly against this disease that has never defined her and also as a lamb surrendered to the sovereignty of God and what He has for her.  It seems like a paradox, but such is the stuff of those who are being made in Christ’s image.  

I am composing this tribute because Erin requested that family and friends would write a note especially to her girls to share anecdotes of their memories and experiences of their momma.  These last few months of knowing Erin and her story has reminded me of a Samurai warrior who bravely goes into battle knowing it is how one fights and dies that is the measure of honor. In the movie “The Last Samurai”, the respected leader of the Samurai known as Katsumoto is left to fight alone with a few men for the Japanese Emperor and entrusted to keep the Japanese traditions against those who are moving toward a more westernized Japan. The problem is that the Emperor has been misguided and his own counselors are backing a war against those few Samurai.  It is a battle with American-taught Japanese fighters who get their skills from a defunct Civil War hero and drunk, Nathan Algren.  But Algren is caught by the Samurai. He and Katsumoto actually become friends, months before this battle ensues.  Finally finding peace and purity in the home of Katsumoto’s daughter-in-law, Algren becomes sober, further adopted by the village, and ultimately learns the Samurai ways.  Once the war starts, Algren fights alongside the few remaining Samurai with Katsumoto in the lead.  It is a total massacre of all of them including the honorable Katsumoto, only Algren remains among “the remains”.  Finally Algren reverently carries Katsumoto’s sword to the young, inexperienced emperor who finally realizes how his counselors, influenced by American businessmen, have misled him. As Algren hobbles along with the dead Katsumoto’s sword in hand, he gently bows and deferentially hands it over to the Emperor who asks Algren with tears “You were with him? At the end? … How did he die?”  Algren looks at him with great pride in the memory of his dear friend and leader and says, “I will tell you………. how he lived!”

And so I am writing to tell you about my friend Erin, not how she will die…but how she lives.  I write because my loving friend asked, I write because I do not want to forget either, and most of all when an English teacher gives you a writing assignment, you do it to the best of your ability, especially if that teacher is Erin Sipe. 

So Kara and Anna this is for you, from a kindred spirit and new friend of your mother. And although I have known her for only seven months, it has been one of the richest privileges of my life. You will have many more memories, and may I suggest you also write about them.  Write your own legacy where you momma is the sweet thread of faith, hope, and love in your own lives.  Here starts my own sweet recollections especially for you but also for the benefit of faithful readers who will be equally inspired and challenged:

As part of my “job” as a mentor it has been a privilege and honor to observe your mother teach.  You know how that is because you were blessed to savor many homeschooling days cuddled up on the couch having her read you novels, or explaining historical events, or making sure you expertly document your sources for a writing assignment.  I know because I homeschooled my own children for many years.  Currently as a mom who recently went back to the classroom as well, I have had the extreme honor of observing your mom teach a lesson for an autobiography unit. Here the students were learning how to collect information and write about their lives, and how to leave a legacy for Christ, complete with family trees, pictures and unique narratives of their own.  Of course it was well-planned and executed in the Erin Sipe way.

But for me it was a hallowed moment as I listened to her tell about the legacy of her own parents and especially grandparents — of treasured quilts and stories of romance amidst war-time struggles, and how those trials made her grandparents relationship even stronger.  She talked about how your grandmother had hidden jewelry in the oddest places including a flour canister. I got a chuckle out of that!  She shared without a skip in her voice which of your grandmother’s rings will be left to each of you when she passes. Of course you know that.  What was amazing was how she reported all that without a hitch, knowing she is furiously leaving her own legacy, but not knowing how long she has left to complete such a task.  I watched her, neither of us aware at that point how badly the cancer had spread, and thinking hopefully that she wouldn’t have to worry about that too soon.  I was so genuinely blessed to experience her heart for you and for family that had gone on before her.  Your mom is endowed with a strong passion and intentionality when it comes to loving family, and I was blessed to have a front row seat to not only witness her teaching skills, but share in all the sweet narratives that were exclusive to her and her legacy. That was the lesson for her students, to look for the simple stories that they can treasure for years to come.  I pray this little snapshot, along with many others, will be ones you will hold forever in your hearts.

Your mom is lovely, a real southern lady.  She is a mix of the traditional with trendy, but always over-riding that is a breezy simplicity, and it works for her.  Her outfits are comfortable but with hints of a modern flair. I loved how her blue eyes seems to pierce into your soul and the curl of her lips with delight as she is sharing about something exciting.  Amongst other things, we also share big hair. I have to confess that once we became Facebook friends, I was able to look back in time and glimpse photos of your mom’s beautiful honey brown curls. The photos were from a time when the current radiation hadn’t stripped her of its bounteous glory. The Bible tells us that a woman’s glory is in her hair, but since your mom has lost hers, she glows with a more resplendent “God-glory” in her smile.

ERin sipe blue.jpg

Nevertheless, I am always amazed at her generous grace when complimenting me on my hair whether straightened or curly. Not once is there ever a hint of jealousy when compared to the “less than” she bravely sports on her head.  She could not possess joy for another without gratitude in her own heart and I often saw that evidence in her day to day efforts through her classes and electives, especially drama. My own kids had her for drama and were always amazed at her energy, commitment, and perseverance.  I was equally challenged by that as I was tackling my own bout with Mono.  Once I found out I had contracted that, I had to back off from my visits with her for fear of compromising any of her health. That was hard to do, but necessary.

In addition, I love the way your mom speaks.  Her words are sort of rolled around her tongue as she articulates with accuracy, clarity and a southern flair which I have come to find quite endearing.  Yet her grammar is always spot on even if she peppers her speech with “yes, ma’am”, “word”, or a “bless your heart”. I have even adopted her expression “bum-fuzzled” myself because that is too good not to use.  Despite, the local color, I am always impressed by her eloquent and smooth communication without a hiccup in its delivery.  As an older woman, who has now become slower in remembering terms, I am in awe of how she is able to do that without hesitation and despite all that brain radiation.

Your mom has been a good listener from day one, and occasionally I have asked her opinion on teaching or a student’s situation.  She is always self-assured and wise.  As busy as she is she never rushes out on me and welcomes me with warm southern hospitality. She spends whatever time she has helping me… you know — mentoring me!  My goal is always to bless her, but I come away far more encouraged. Although I am a much older woman than your mom, she is by far the wiser.

Furthermore, Erin Sipe has a generous giving heart, and it spills over all around her like a lighthouse beams across dark waters.  At Christmas, in the midst of a huge holiday rush and with break so close to Christmas, she found the time to buy me a thoughtful gift: A warm snuggly blanket, maybe to remind me of my homeschooling days, along with some nice teas.  I was really without resources to get her anything and wasn’t sure what would be good enough for her.  I brought in a thank you note for her kindness to me, and hoped to do something special for her later. I am praying that this blogpost will be a treasured gift from my own heart. For the record, no one else is allowed to use Mrs. Sipe’s blanket, but every once in a while I find my Naomi wrapped in her English teacher’s warm love.

Another example of her tender heart shone again after I posted a re-release of a blogpost about my daughter, Sarah, who had died sixteen years ago.  The title to Sarah’s story was “Daisy in the Desert, Rose from the Grave.” Days later, she gave me a simple mason jar filled with daisies and a rose to commemorate her life. She gave encouraging words about my blog, and that I should keep writing. It meant so much to me.  It was almost if she could peer into my own heart and know my own doubts and struggles.  It was so sweet and I am still taken aback by the fact that in the midst of your mom’s own battle, she continues to finds ways to love me.  I have now pressed one of those daisies as a memory of her gift, love, and life. Like Katsmoto’s sword, it will forever remind me of her fight, courage, and lavish love for me.

Erin 5k with Naomi and me

Then there was that huge discrepancy in planning, and no one was scheduled to teach Journalism.  I had asked if I was to do it, since it was determined at the end of last year that it was likely that I would teach it. But it never showed up on my computer schedule as part of my class load.  Your mom’s generous nature took over and she decided to teach it since she had used the same curriculum in the past.  I had just finished teaching Literary Magazine and was trying to find time for the final layout and printing.  But we went forward with the idea that if she needed, I would take over which I have now done.  Yet there again, Erin Sipe is always thinking of others before herself.  I had hesitated to let her do it at the time, but I never wanted her to think her offer wasn’t appreciated. It was to me.

Then there was the morning your mom entered my room days after the worst of her diagnosis with brain metastasis.  She braves a smile on her face and in her hands were a personalized coffee mug and the very curriculum she used for that legacy unit that I had recently observed and asked about.  She informed me that it was now mine to keep.  A part of me wanted to hand it back and tell her to keep it —she would be using it again, but I was incapable of nothing more than a sincere, “Thank you.”  After she left, I started to weep.  How is she so strong?

It seems that the harder the enemy hits her, the harder she fights by loving more and by loving well. That is exactly her next move — to use her cancer for good in “a new movement intended to spread intentional love to those who are experiencing cancer” called L♥ve We11.  Even as she continues in the deepest darkest part of the battle, her light shines forth to spotlight the need to care for other cancer patients in the Hickory area with encouragement, care packages, or even food for those who are the doctors and medical support to cancer patients. Though you girls are well aware of it, I would love my readers to see that her story is deeper and wider because her love is deeper and wider.   It is best understood by reading in her own words at https://erinwsipe.com/2019/03/20/lets-love-well-whos-in/ , which explains the intent of it, but love is definitely the source and the expression of it.

Lastly Anna, another way that Lovewe11 can be adopted by me and a way I can best love your momma is to also be available to you when she cannot be there.  I will never forget the day you came in to my room to proofread your vocabulary sentences.  You had said that your mom usually did them before you handed them in to your own English teacher, but that you could not do that because she was gone that day for her chemotherapy.  Of course, I was happy and even felt honored that you would choose me to help you.  I am always here for you at whatever capacity you need my help.  Please come by any time; you are always welcome.

As I close, there are so many more memories that I could add, but they would only be example after example of Erin Sipe’s love for all of us: family, students, colleagues, church friends, neighbors and even strangers – all observed and experienced in a short seven months.  Certainly Kara and Anna themselves could write a book on her generosity and love. In fact, that is the strongest theme of this blogpost and most importantly of her life—her desire to want to love well.

I am not sure how or why, but except by the grace of God, I have been somehow thrown into your mom’s story in ways I could never had anticipated at the beginning of this school year. Even now I am compelled to help steward in this small way a fraction of your mother’s story.  Ironically, I feel so ill-equipped to do so, but I hope that my words honor and paint an accurate picture of your mom.

Albert Schweitzer is quoted as saying that “The only thing of importance, when we depart, will be the traces of love we have left behind.”  That is how my friend Erin lives. And THAT is her legacy lesson!

The Gospel in “Beauty and the Beast” by Gina Stearns

Beast cropped twiceRecently Micah and Naomi performed in our school production of  “Beauty and the Beast”.  Micah gave a brilliant portrayal as the Beast and later as the Prince, whilst Naomi gave an exceptional rendering of Sabelline in song and dance as part of the vivid village chorus.  As a mom, it was a delightful opportunity to witness my own children stretch themselves with acting, singing, and offering a gift of their hearts in the form of entertainment to an eager audience.

It was even a greater blessing to see my brave son navigate a part that painfully echoes his own experience at school.  Micah is a bit geeky and socially awkward and has often had to endure being isolated at his school. And yet, when I saw the kindness and love of “Belle” toward his character and how he was transformed from a monster into a loving prince, I sobbed.  I saw His future. Someday some young lady will love him despite his quirky ways and maybe even because of them, and this will alter the way that he and others see himself. I long for that day. However, this transformation will not happen without love, compassion, and sacrifice.   His Christ-like ability to forbear and demonstrate kindness despite the jabs he continually receives from other students is hard to watch or hear about, but it is a blessing to know that he shows kindness to those who may misunderstand or ignore him.

In addition, as I watched what was transpiring on the stage, I could not but help think of the hidden Gospel message in “Beauty and the Beast”.  Some of you may think I am reading into this and maybe I am.  I will admit that while my little analytical mind can get me into trouble, I do know that the Gospel truth tends to infiltrate many of the stories and narratives we read, especially fairy tales.  It is not a new theme where we see the Good News of a love so great that it completely changes a character. In fact, it is one deeply imbedded in the heart of a God willing to give his own Son for the sin of this world.

We, in a sense, are all Beasts puffed up with self-centeredness, ugly and cursed with sin.  Deep down we know something is not right, and we crave a metamorphosis but know that it cannot come from within.  We have all tried that for ages.  But we also know, like the Beast, that the world affords no real change or quick fix.  For Beast, whose time was short, it was the love of Belle who saw the value in him.  This was the impetus for change.  Belle also relates to his being alone and his odd ways for she too is not like the world or the people around her.  Hebrews 4:15 proves this in the following verse.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet he did not sin.” I am glad that Christ himself came down from his heavenly home to relate to us in our humanity so he could also identify with us in pain, loss, and exhaustion — just like Belle relates to Beast.

Finally Belle shows her love for Beast, and it is this love which softens him and rids him of his anger.  The transformation takes place in his heart before we see him in the outward expression as the handsome Prince.  Actually Beast dies first and then goes through a type of resurrection.  This happens to us when we grasp the love of Christ through salvation. We die to our old self and arise as a new creation, a picture of Christ’s own death, burial, and resurrection.  2 Corinthians 5:17 states “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Consequently after the Enchantress does her work of restoration, Beast is now a handsome Prince to match the kind, surrendered heart he had at the point of his death. But note that it is the love that changes him. Yes, it is Christ’s love that also changes us.  1 John 4:19 declares this best, “We love because he first loved us” as demonstrated when Jesus died on the Cross for our own sins. We too can experience this transformation with a sincere faith and trust in the complete work done for our cursed evil.  We too, go from death to life, from enemy to friend, from Beast to Royal adoption.   Though this makeover of the Beast to the Prince occurs fairly quickly on stage, this is both an instant and also a lifetime process of change for Christians.  I know that seems like a contradiction, but for God, things can happen in the present and also finalized as His perfected fruit in future Glory.  It is “instant” in that God sees immediately Christ’s righteousness before Him once we repent and receive Christ. But then it takes a lifetime to see it play out in our hearts and then eventually and completely in our behavior.

In fact, I have observed Micah’s transformed heart extended to those in the Drama Cast.  It was spoken of his kindness, support, and humility as a senior upon whom a number of the other drama members relied. This play and his relationship with the other students was a type of Litmus test of that salvation change in him. Please understand, I am not saying he is perfect, for I know he can get frustrated or down in his loneliness, but he tries not to return evil for evil or insult for insult, but gives a blessing instead (1 Peter 3:9).  I trust God that his current ache will someday be eliminated, and he will be with someone who will jointly appreciate his devotion to his God. And that will also be because of the Savior.

Prince lighter

For Micah and all of us who believe, it will be worth all that we have gone through because Christ’s Love has the power to change us from Beasts into Princes or Princesses and we can live eternally in that love in a promised land called Heaven where the idea of “happily ever after” originated, and where we will be so much more than “guests”.

The Ultimate Gift by Gina Stearns

Happy Birthday JesusChristmas comes with many thoughts of a future celebration, but also many memories of Christmases long ago. These glimpses both, future and past, warm my heart and allow me to see Christ in the season.

One of those best recollections was my first Christmas as a new believer.  I was going through a divorce that I did not seek, while trying hard to be mom and dad to my three girls: Rachel, Sarah, and Hannah.  They were the reason to try and continue maintaining Christmas traditions and to muster enough to make theirs a modest but enjoyable holiday.  However money was scant, time was slim, and energy was non-existent. Our injured family had been trying to heal from great heartache and loss within the arms of a  warm, loving church that didn’t hinge on tradition but truth, and the importance of showing Christ’s love to its people.  In addition to being both parents, I also wore two other hats at work.  I was not only the administrator, but also the head teacher of a small Montessori school in western New York, and I was barely holding it together with this double job too.

One Sunday in late November, it was announced that our church had decided to have a huge Christmas party on a Friday in mid-December and hold it in the sanctuary itself. This was revolutionary in my mind. Sanctuaries were holy ground…but a Christmas party for Jesus’ Birthday seemed acceptable and even most appropriate.  The elders had suggested  that everyone was to present a gift specifically for Jesus. As another week went by and the announcement for the Christmas party was once again made, greater clarification was provided for the types of gifts that could be given.  It was obvious that the present was whatever you could give whether it was service, an expression, or something specific  for anyone in need,  but all as an demonstration of love to Christ.

As that Friday morning arrived, I couldn’t think of anything creative, significant, or valuable to give.  Nothing.  It was a crazy day. My kids had only so many clothes and by the end of the week, all nice outfits were already worn, so we looked pretty mottled that day. To avoid being late for school,  I hurried the girls out the front door with their baggie breakfasts of Cherrios, backpacks, and my own briefcase. But not before, quicky throwing a few cans of beans in a plastic shopping bag to bring to the Christmas dinner party after school.   Our rusty gray Datsun, which we had dubbed “The Silver Bullet”, also sported an interior ceiling fabric which sagged in many places. Because I lived over twenty minutes away from the Montessori school at which I worked, I decided to stay and use what would have been extra travel time, to clean school shelves and organized library books.  The girls could help me or play quietly while I tinkered.  Our church was only a few minutes from my job. So after that, I wearily and tentatively drove to there with girls in tow to celebrate Christ’s birth like I had never before.

But I had one big problem.  I did not feel worthy of celebrating especially when I entered the auditorium and saw festive adults dressed up in lovely glittering Christmas garb. I then scanned my girls and my own attire.  We looked drab and run down, more haggard than holiday.  Fridays are a hard day for a teacher to look spunky and spry.  I just wore a blouse and khakis while my girls had on threadbare corduroy slacks and faded turtlenecks.  I felt horribly dejected and filled with self pity.  To compound my self-loathing, I felt ashamed of my “Gift for Jesus”and hid the plastic grocery sack with three cans of dark red kidney beans, the last of our reserve, in the cloakroom outside of the auditorium.

Inside the sanctuary, people were milling around a huge sheet cake adorned with red pointsettias and green holly. The words “Happy Birthday Jesus” were written in red icing with great flourish and precision.  My girls were thrilled with an idea of a birthday cake for Him and seemed genuinely thrilled to be at the festivities.  A delicious meal was served and after the dishes were cleared, we enjoyed the cake with coffee or punch. Some fanciful Christmas cookies were finally served to punctuate our supper.  I was still pretty preoccupied with my gift for Jesus, and that patheric gift of canned beans was weighing heavily on my conscience.  I wasn’t sure how or when to present them or if I even wanted to.  Perhaps I could skip my gift, melt into obscurity, and no one would notice.

All of a sudden, one of our elders was speaking in the front of the sanctuary and announced that the “gifts for Jesus” would be presented.   I turned around to listen.  The first gift was the ballet dance of a darling little girl who was outfitted in a fluffy pink tutu and danced in silky ballet shoes to an instrumental version of, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  Everyone clapped and then the next gift was explained; it was from a teen boy who promised to rake leaves and shovel snow during the winter months for an elderly woman at church free of charge.   What great ideas, I thought.  This increase on fixation on my insignificant gift, when I was startled by an elder calling my name.  “Gina Clark!”

Oh no I thought, he wants me to bring my gift up in front of everyone.  Beans!  Just three cans of beans. What could Jesus do with that?  I was so ashamed, but it was now or never.  I sheepishly and incoherently tried to explain that my gift wasn’t with me pointing in the direction of the cloakroom.  I wasn’t a few footsteps towards the exit to retrieve the bag, when I heard him calling me to clarify.

“No, he went on to explain.  It was a gift for me.  Me?  I was so confused.  “Come up and get it.”  I slowly and reluctantly went up still belaboring two things:  One — there must be some mistake, and that I still had to figure how to get my beans to the elders without them knowing it was from me; Two ­—  what people thought of my shabby khakis, crinkled blouse, and disheveled hair.  I wasn’t really registering the whole gift for me as I walked up to the podium. All of a sudden he produced a Christmas gift card for $150 for use at our hometown Kmart.  I was shocked, embarrassed, and wanted to get right back to my seat, yet managed a smile and a genuine thank you.  But that wasn’t all!  Next he pulled out a large broad brown box.  “This is for your girls.”  I spotted Rachel, Sarah, and Hannah sitting at the dinner table with red punch and cookie crumbs on their mouths.  I am not sure if they realized the significance of the moment.  I wasn’t sure I had!

I took the big box from him and he helped me dismanted its contents starting with the tissue paper.  “One of our ladies has made each of your girls a doll.”  He pulled out one of the trio and held it up for them to see.  The girls were full of wonder and smiles as these dolls were beautifully made with frilly dresses and lacey hats.   My eyes started to fill with tears, especially as I saw the joy in the elder’s face and in the audience of my church family.  I was still in awe of everyone’s generosity, and thanked them again and again in between swallowing my own tears.

As I took the dolls back to the table to show the girls, they started to take them from the box to admire them.  Hannah, the youngest, hugged hers close to her chest gently rocking it.  I was totally astonished at the love these folks had shown me and my girls. I was continuing to grow in my understand of the Family of God. The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur, but when all the gifts had been given,  we then concluded with some carol-singing.

As I had listened to words that I had sung as a child, I remembered that I had never quite grasped the import of their lyrics.  I had  figured it was the Old English that obscurred my understanding.  But now that I was born again, the veil was torn from my eyes and sweet lyrics made complete sense: “ God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day, To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.” Or another familiar hymn had rejoiced in more truth about the babe born in a stable and who had died on a tree, “Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”  The music had always been ethereal and filled with the resplendence of God, His glory, and His heavenly realm, but now there was significance and an impact that I finally understood His sacrifice for me personally.  Tears came again to my eyes as I realized what I was saved from, and what I was saved for.  And I somehow knew that day, that God would always take care of us.

As the dinner party had wound down, I had remembered my cans of beans.  I finally admitted to one of our elder’s wives that my gift for Jesus was some food for the poor.  She smiled, graciously thanked me, and told me that I could leave it in the kitchen.  As I left my cans of beans on the counter,  I realized that I had given all I had, that someone had given abundantly to our family from their own resources, and most of all that Christ had given all he had.

 

The night came to a close as the girls and I piled into “The silver bullet”. I drove through a snowy night, windshielf wipers slapping to familiar yet “new” Christmas carols gently wafting from the car radio.  Somehow that delapidated car with rusty doors and a wretched roof seemed aglow with something divinely bright and almost tangible inside its metal transport.

 

With great joy and gratitude, my voice rose with emotional emphasis,  “Girls never forget tonight,  Jesus IS real, and he cares for us.  He used our church family to bless us with money for our own Christmas and someone worked hard to make dolls for you to love.” Their cherubic faces looked at their dolls and I thought of the gifts that I could buy my little family.  But all that, though precious, wasn’t the most significant, and I uttered with a continued wondrous weight in my voice and glimmer in my eyes.

 

“No,  these things are nice, but they alone aren’t what Christmas is all about.  Jesus himself loved us through our Christian family and their gifts.   Always remember this night because it shall always be a reminder that Jesus himself is the gift!

 

Oasis of Truth: Like a Weaned Child; Psalm 131 by Gina Stearns

Weaned

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

I love a good word picture to help me understand and keep Scripture in my heart, and Psalm 131 provides an excellent one to which this momma can completely relate. First as we inspect this short psalm replete with abundant truth, we see David acknowledging that his heart is not proud and his eyes not haughty.  He is not concerned with things beyond his ken and control. He has instead focused on someone else besides himself.  His attention is on God, resting and trusting in His sovereignty. This yields true peace to such an extent that he is able to calm and quiet his soul.  It is interesting to note that for him to rest in contentment, the focus moves away from his needs, pursuits, concerns, or lack. He has put his hope in the Lord, both now and until eternity, because God is a good god and is greater than all of David’s problems.  God is the source of the psalmist’s peace. As I dig deep into this psalm, I can relate to it from two perspectives:

Perspective One is as a mother.  I know what it is like to have a child who is not yet weaned.  I particularly remember my newborns and how needy, demanding, and voracious they were.  I have myself nursed six babies, some with smoothly bald heads, softly downy heads, and  wildly hairy heads. Those first few weeks and even months as a mom were the most challenging of my life.  I remember feeling that all I was to these wee ones was a milk machine, a diaper maid, and a pacifier. Nothing more.  It was all about what I could give, and as exhausting as those days were,  it gravely established that I was actual “life” to my child. It was a crucial time when I unknowingly proved to each one that I was trustworthy, loving, and always available.  I had carved energy, time, and resources from what seemed the impossible. Without this season of endless nights and sleepless feedings and everything in between, my relationship with my children would simply be nominal, insignificant, and without real proof of my true love.

On the other hand, I do remember the sweetness of the weaned child in all of them as well.   Somewhere between one and two years, my toddlers would simply come to me just to nestle in my lap.  That was it! Their desire to be near me wasn’t about what I could give them or answering the question of “why” for the seventy-seventh time that day.  But it was simply the joy of just being in my presence –the peaceful calm of no tension, but just a tender relationship at its snuggly best.

Perspective Two is as a child.  My father could be a harsh, demanding man, and I felt that his expectations for me were Herculean and impossible to fulfill.  Though I still adored him, I was weighed down with the burden that to him, I could never measure up.   It made me feel as if I was not good enough.  But I do treasure a precious memory that is starting to eclipse the other sadder ones.

It was Christmas in western New York in 1968.  One of the coldest in my memory.  We lived in an old house built in the late 1800’s.  I confess that I am always amazed at the furnace systems from those days. In my cellar, it was a monstrous octopus with metal conduit arms that spread throughout the underworld of my house, deceiving one into thinking that from such an intricate design, great amounts of heat would emanate.  But in reality it converged through a small metal grate located in the dining room in our house.  That was it!  All that for just a 2 foot x 2 foot square of heat.  My sisters and I would always carefully stand over the furnace but it was almost always too hot.  It reminded me what it might be like to live on the moon that was recently being orbited that season. Near the grate, we were overheated like sitting on the sunny side of the moon, but away from the grate was like walking on the dark side of the moon, it was bitingly cold.

This one evening, I had just finished with my bath.  I donned my silver quilt robe and slippers. My dad was sitting in his big chair in the living room across from our Christmas tree.  In the early 60’s, Christmas trees sported multi-colored lights the size of walnuts which spread an assortment of amber, sapphire, ruby and emerald glow over a fat Douglas fir.  Back then tinsel was made of aluminum and not just cellophane and it hung heavy like real icicles.  I crawled up on my dad’s lap all warm and comfy, and we just peacefully starred at the tree.  I didn’t need anything from my dad, and for that moment he didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t a straight “A” student.  We just enjoyed each other’s presence.

Now years later I am a grown women and there are still times when I instead act like a  baby yet to be weaned. I hate to admit it.  I yell and scream out to God with my demands, and I know you probably do too: maybe it is because of a financial crisis, a wayward child, health problems or a relationship that has broken down.  I call these “wailing times”.  But I have learned that God is the only place that I can go. I seek Him because he is my heavenly Father, because he is my Life, and that he is trustworthy, loving, and always available.

And yet I know there are times when I can simply go to God, not pridefully expecting an immediate answer, solution, or provision.  Because my heavenly father has always taken care of me before, I can calm myself and simply rest in his spiritual arms enjoying his warm presence. Despite the fact that I wonder about problems too great for me, I know he has in his control. My concerns and anxiety do not matter because I have hope in Him; Somehow Daddy‘s got this. I have learned that you gotta “lean to be weaned”.  So I lean into him, and I am calm like a weaned child at peace.  And once again “like a weaned child I am content.”

 

Photo Credit: www.rd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/14_daughter_Heartwarming-True-Stories-About-Mother-Daughter-Love_367423430_Martin-Novak_FT.jpg

Fuel for Thought by Gina Stearns

Diesel_and_gas             “I can do it, Mom. Dad showed me how to fill up the gas tank just last week!” Naomi asserted her conviction and independence as a new driver with a fresh permit.  Her friend, Lily, was coming home with us for an overnighter, and I knew it was equally important for Naomi to demonstrate her capability as a driver to her friend as well.

“Okay…” I relented with doubt as she pulled into The Raceway on Route 70. The first pump was marked, “OUT OF ORDER”, and the one behind that did not take credit cards, so that automatically led Naomi to the third pump in line.  As she proceeded to take care of our fuel needs, I became distracted  in conversation with Lily, which included many topics including driving-related comments since she too would soon be getting her own permit.  Finally we were ready to get back into the flow of traffic on 70 and home where I could relax and not be the supervisor to a teenage driver.

Naomi drives cropped

As Naomi started down the road the car seemed to hesistate and let off a few “chug-chugs” to add to its mix of rebellious responses to her acceleration. I immediately thought, Could she have put diesel in our tank?  But I quickly dismissed it because usually the diesel pump handles do not fit into an unleaded tank. Nah, maybe there was another kind of issue with our RAV which had few problems up until now. 

But I was soon to be disproven. Naomi stopped at a red light and when next she put her foot on the gas, the car was sputtering more than a few coughs.  I panicked and told her to look for the nearest opportunity to get off the road or we would likely be struck in traffic.  She did a great job maneuvering across the lane and finally we landed into the nearest parking lot with the RAV’s final gasp, safe and sound.  That was until we looked up and saw a colorful sign that read  “The Treasure Club”.  We were mortified that we were parked in front of an actual strip joint.  Lily wasn’t even aware that such things existed in our home town, and I was embarrassed that I had two teen girls in my care exposed to such an establishment. My first thought was to get out of there as soon as possible, but I needed confirmation of my suspicions.

“Naomi, did you put diesel in this car?”  I asked my voice filled with anger, disbelief, and regret.

“I don’t know… isn’t the gas all the same?”  She inquired now agitated at the possible error that eclipsed an earlier confidence and reminder of a happier driving escapade with her dad.

“No….our cars use unleaded — not Diesel!” I retorted.

Tears started to fill Naomi’s eyes and I began the least anticipated act yet, calling my husband Mitch to explain our predicament.  He was furious, and crackled back that he would be there as soon as he could.  His job was twenty minutes from our spot of ill repute, and it seemed like an eternity until we saw him pull up.  While waiting a man, who I later learned was the manager of the club, came out of the building.  He didn’t seemed to notice me or the girls and started to take a picture of our liscence plate thinking the car was abandoned helter skelter across two parking spots.  Suddenly I got out of the car to make him aware of our presence and assure him that my husband would be there soon. I explained to him what I thought might have happened.

“Do you have a receipt? That would let you know for sure the type of gas she used, “ he informed us. Right! I thought and began rifling through my purse and securing the very paper that would dash all hopes. Sure enough it stated 6.78 gallons of ….DIESEL!  Naomi groaned as I pointed it out.

“My wife did the same thing not too long ago to my car.  Make sure you do not run it or the diesel will go through the engine quicker and do more damage,” the man droned. “Also if you ladies need to use the bathroom, you are welcome inside.”

As soon as he left, Naomi blurted in consternation what we all felt but did not express, “There is no way I am going in THERE to use the bathroom!”

Meanwhile as we waited storm clouds expanded black and billowy threatening the western skies that slowly curled closer to us.  The air grew muggier, and since we did not want to run the engine, we sat in the now unwelcome sauna.  No water, no air conditioning, no air.  Thundered rolled like my hungry stomach which would be without food for a while.  Soon the skies released their sticky salutations of sorrow to mimick the tone of our afternoon.

Finally we saw Mitch pull up like the calvary to save the day but not without first spewing forth his frustration.  “Why did you let her fill the car with Diesel?” he glared at me.

“She said YOU taught her,” I snapped with a silent double meaning that his instruction was obviously subpar. But I wouldn’t dare say what I thought.  Seconds later, the manager came out to chat with Mitch and it seemed to calm him down, but not for long.  Our impending doom grew worse as Mitch informed us that this mistake could end up costing up to a thousand dollars. Minutes later he drove off to secure a tow-truck to escort our car to the nearest repair shop. By now Naomi was further in despair, whilst Lily and I tried to comfort her.

That diesel fiasco became a lesson that Naomi will never fast forget.  What you put in a car matters; it changes how well it works or if it can work at all.  Naomi’s story parallels the importance of the fuel a Christian uses to fill their senses, mind, or heart.

LESSON #1 : The type of entertainment, information, and man’s worldly opinions that we absorb do matter and they do have repercussions.

Sometimes we do not even see the havoc that can be wreaked by even one small exposure of error, or how  easily deception can steer a person down a horrific path.  Many times it is because there isn’t any godly choices to fill our hearts, so we just blindly take what is available like Naomi did when the other two gasoline pumps were unavailable.  Like her, sometimes it is simply because we do not know better.

With the onslaught of misinformation, lies, and deception now readily available in all its attractive forms via the internet, it is no wonder that more and more people are being led off the narrow way. In the song, “In Christ Alone” one of my favorite lines is the declaration:  “No scheme of man, no power of hell can ever pluck me from His (God’s) hand. Till he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ, I’ll stand. “ However, the schemes of man are many, and they are diabolically disguised as sugary words of false prophets emphasizing love without justice, goodness without truth, Christ without the cross.  Theirs is an appearance of righteousness that touts emotion above Truth, morality above reality, euphemism above you are a sinner.  In Matthew 24:24, Jesus warns His disciples, “False Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”

The antidote: is consistent daily reading, study, and obedience of God’s Word. I say obedience but that must come from a surrendered heart to God, but it proves the love, devotion, and investment to His Truth. Truth conquers lies.

LESSON #2:  Sin has a mind of its own and can lead you to the most unexpected and undesirable destinations.

Clearly in Naomi’s predicament, she never would have believed that she would ever have ended up in front of a place of ill repute where real sin was rampant.  She would never have intentionally chosen to park there, but because of the deadly diesel, that is where she ended up. She also would never have wanted to make such a blunder that could cost our family several hundred dollars.  But as the saying goes, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” It certainly did for us that day. We even had thunder storms that added insult to injury.

The antidote: is to know that sin is crouching at our door and not to blindly go wherever, but to seek counsel with people we know.  It is essential to pray for help, direction, and the truth needed for our situation. If Naomi would have asked me for advice instead of forging ahead, she might not have caused such a problem. 

LESSON #3: Your father cares and is willing to do what it takes to get you on the right road again.

The real hero here is Mitch.  He was not happy by Naomi’s mess up, not at all, but he was willing to drop everything to take care of us, to pay the price to get the car fixed and running on the road again.  He graciously forgave Naomi for her mistake, and even hugged her for good measure. A few days later, Mitch took her Speedway to show her the wrong and right gas pumps to use in the future.  God is a father who is willing to forgive our folly, and He can us get back on the narrow road of freedom, joy, and peace.

The antidote: is to trust Him and what he had done for us at the Cross of Christ. He has already paid the price for our foolishness and for past, present, and future sins. We can go to Him, even if we feel he would be disappointed. As the great kind shepherd, He will welcome us back into the fold and set us on the right path once again.

One thing is pretty certain, it is highly unlikely that Naomi will ever put diesel fuel in any vehicle again. Let us all learn from her mistake, and may it give us fuel for thought as we continue forward on our own spiritual journey toward Christ.

Nota Bene:  Permission was obtained by Naomi to share this story in both our hopes that it might help others to be more prepared in discerning the world in which we live. Lily is a fictitious name to protect the identity of Naomi’s friend.  After all, who wants it reported that they were at a strip club unless it is to help mom with her blog.

Photo Credit :https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=ZYc5kjNK&id=E13B76A1FF9A1B8EB6487AAE209B105ABF30107A&thid=OIP.ZYc5kjNKF3AAtKrxYACa1AHaEK&mediaurl=https%3a%2f%2fcdn2.hubspot.net%2fhub%2f182351%2ffile-2327234669%2fDiesel_and_gas&exph=348&expw=620&q=diesel+fuel+pump+at+gas+station&simid=607992463405027178&selectedIndex=8&ajaxhist=0

 

 

 

It Takes a Door by Gina Stearns

Hobbit door                                       Over the last few years in which I have taught high school English literature, it has become quite clear to me that the motif of The Door pervades a good deal of it as well as in movies and television programs. The door is often the portal to another world, but going through it requires great courage.  I am always intrigued by the sojourner’s tale, not because I am a big risk taker, but because in truth I am, without apology, a homebody.  I am a lot like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit by J.R.Tolkien whose sweet desire was to sit safe in his armchair complete with warm tea and a good book.  That’s me!

However, if you do not exit your door to adventure, sometimes it comes to you as it did to me when my husband challenged me to teach in a traditional school again. I was horrified by my own dread of the unknown and fear of my lack of ability.  But similarly despite doubts and sudden change, Bilbo followed the venturesome “Took side” of his family which enticed him to accept the quest that awaited outside his round door, and so would I. Subsequently, I ambled out my house to an interview at Hickory Christian Academy and a few weeks later entered the school doors with a heart of great expectation. Since then, I have certainly been stretched and utterly dependent on the Lord for direction and help much like Bilbo relied on Gandalf in those sticky moments of his journey. It wasn’t what I initially thought would occur, but it is like the very growth and daring development of characters once their expedition begins much like mine did.  The change is quite apparent in The Hobbit where we initially observe poor, cowering Bilbo as he begins his trek with a band of harrowing hobbits. At the end, he evolves into the confident, resourceful, and successful hero wielding his own sword, however small, and becomes known as Bilbo the Magnificent. I am still on my journey and I can assure you I have not yet arrived as a magnificent teacher, but I wield a mighty white board marker.

Another door that has so intrigued me is the door to the Police Call Box in “Doctor Who,” so much so that I decorated my own classroom door as such. I felt so at home with this décor, that it was hard to take it down at the end of the year. But it was a huge success with the students at the beginning of the year. I loved the quote that I wrote near it, “Books are like the Tardis, bigger on the inside.”  But to experience the “bigger,” one step through that door.  Each exploit upon which The Doctor and his assistant embark is not without faith, trust, and a good bit of bravery.  There is always trouble of some sort, a galactic enemy that must be defeated or some battle with self that must be overcome. The thrill doesn’t come without some form of dread. We viewers can relate to it because life is often filled with such struggles, and we are looking for someone like the Doctor who has the answers, strength, and confidence to save the day. 

Tardis

Another door in literature is the one that goes with a wardrobe, and it is the one I am considering for this year’s classroom door, The one that goes with the Chronicles Of Narnia’s, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Some doors you intentionally go through, some are accidental gates to a journey for which you were not prepared nor expecting. I have had many of those myself.  But it is the door of that wardrobe that allows Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy access into a world of battles between right and wrong, evil and good, naïveté to maturity. 

There is one door that encapsulates all of these other ones, and is even more important. It is the door to salvation and Heaven. That door is Jesus Christ himself and is hinged on the work he had completed upon the cross, within his burial, and resurrection.  These are not my words but those of Christ himself who said in John 10:9, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

Jesus Door

Once we surrender our life to Christ, we leave behind old affections or habits or the familiarity of the safe. This can scare those that worry that they may have to give up their comforts, or what the world offers to satisfy our needs and desires.  Often we look at the Christian life as boring and mundane, yet even Jesus is found there.  There is difficulty in the adventure of being a Christian. Jesus never promises an easy journey but the opposite, but he doesn’t leave us alone and without hope. John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Christ is the real hero over this path we take and like Gandalf, Aslan, or The Doctor, he is who we turn to for help, for answers, for truth.  Sometimes we are resistant like Bilbo’s, and we do not want to share the Gospel, or go on a missions trip to some scary country, sometimes our souls lack gratitude in the day to day ordinary service, but at the end of our walking with our Savior we will be transformed not just in character but in every way. As it states in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52:  Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

For most of us, we love the glamour of the fairy tale or the fantasy, but never know the true joy and satisfaction in the journey of true delight, joy, and satisfaction which can only come through receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for our sins.  I know that is unbelievable but it is true.  We can experience all we were meant to in Christ, but it takes faith, trust, and a good bit of bravery. And it takes a door.

 

The Sound of Silence by Gina Stearns

Shhh                                                                  Now if I were really clever like my own English students try to be, I could leave this blogpost blank and illustrate my point about the beauty and benefits of silence. But since I myself have been left disappointed with the unfulfilling products of such schemes (like I will write an essay on how much I hate writing this essay), and since I naturally struggle with being silent myself in a world that has that same trouble, the following is inevitable.

First there is my own relationship with silence.

Actually, there is none.  I have a hard time with silence. I find that it makes me uncomfortable— that somehow I should fill it up with talk, albeit good talk, or perhaps music, or at the least some kind of activity that fills my head with comforting noise.  And if there is no one to hear me, I talk to myself.  Unabashed confession here.  Deep down, I am secretly alarmed by the fact that in life there is only so much time left to communicate, while thinking how thrilling it is when we break the silence with a well-formed thought or wise comment.

Unfortunately,  my own problem with silence is no more obvious as when someone else is occupying space near me. I am a relationship person, which to me means I generally love people and the dynamic dance that can happen around words.  But too frequently I abuse my own right to speak by rudely interrupting my conversational companion. Sometimes I am simply not listening but rather thinking of what next to add to our dialogue.  Often I feel painfully obligated to say something, anything, and perchance that other person is not the talkative type, I instinctively compensate for them with more chatter from me. This stream of words can run the gamut of mundane weather talk to self-deprecating comments that inevitably elicits a weak laugh from my reticent receptor. The fear of silence destroys all common sense for me.

In addition, when I am alone, which I do thoroughly enjoy, I often have music playing, reading, or doing something that fills my airspace.  Rarely do I let silence do its naked magic in front of me.  But I have some good news, as I have gotten older and despite the fact that my own time is decreasing, I find that silence has a very important and enchanting place in our lives.

Ironically the topic came up recently when I had my end-of- the -year review with my principal.  He had expressed many positive reports of my teaching, but his one complaint was that I didn’t leave enough time for the students to develop answers more fully.  In my defense, I explained that often I feel under such strict time constraints with all I need to accomplish in a class.  I admittedly tend to push my students onto the next thing, instead of allowing the silence to do its job in prompting thoughts to flourish and be eloquently expressed.  This doesn’t happen all the time, but I will say I do fight the clock and allowing for extra discussion is both my dream and my curse.  Even at one point in my interview, my principal was testing me with some added silence in the conversation, and he could see me struggle with trying to fill that awkward silence with my witty banter. And as I sat with my principal at a Classical school, I am was reminded with the apt words of Euripides,  “Silence is true wisdom’s best reply.”

Moreover, I have learned that stillness is the perfect delivery system for thought, and even ideas spoken can have greater impact with silence as a chaser—especially those of a parent or a teacher. You can ask anyone in my family, I am loquacious and I do it with great zeal which is not always received in kind. But I am discovering the value of being quiet.  I remember watching an interview with an actress who starred in a series on television.  She was talking about not only the importance of the delivery of her lines, but the value of the silence between them.  She was told by an acting instruction to never be afraid of the silences, for it is there that real acting is done. Hmmm. Maybe silence can work for me!

Silence is also being choked out in our noisy society.

As a society, we do not enjoy silence.  We are constantly filling our minds with social media, television, or music.  We do not see the value in the recuperative moments in God’s creation absorbing its beauty and wonder with its subtle Gospel whispers along the way. Instead, we would rather wake up to Facebook or Twitter or a quick fix of Instagram than sit peacefully waiting on the Lord.  It appears more fulfilling to speed through a day of computer noise, busyness, and babble. But I have been caught up in the din of doing.  I have struggled to make an intentional appointment with God and time in His creation myself. But how rewarding to enjoy an autumn lesson amongst leaves that remind me off my own useless works of an empty salvation.  Those leaves ultimately surrender to earth to snows that symbolize sins that are graciously covered in righteous white garb.

My favorite times have been on tranquil walks with Mitch or my kids listening to the birds, breathing in and relishing a beautiful mountainside, billowy beach, or just natural settings in my neighborhood. We miss so much and need to put down our phones, turned off the televisions, close our laptops and enjoy the community of real people in our lives even if it means that it results in some pleasant organic discussions.  I know that is not true silence, but what is generated from it, is more productive in the long run. Silence is vying for a healthy spot in our society and we need to let it do its fruitful work.

God’s use of Silence

I do love that even God is silent at times. Often when we consider God, we think of action, creative work, convictive work,  redemptive work.  He can be very loud and vibrant, bold and focused, and He too is not short on words. After all we have the Bible which contains His Word miraculously given to men so He could share His heart and mind in both Old and New Testament verbiage.  I wouldn’t be here as a Christian if it were not for his Word, but I have also appreciated his own moments of silence.  On the seventh day he rested, not because he was tired, but because he was done.  He needed no more words.  He allowed the work to silently speak for itself.  And it was good.

I also love how he was silent for four hundred years; nothing is heard from him in the Bible from Malachi to Matthew.  There was much askew in the world at that time. Isn’t there always?  A priesthood became corrupt and full of evil, paganism and immorality had risen once again to an all-time high, the faithful remnant were beginning to doubt a Messiah was going to come at all.  There were no, “thus sayeth the Lord” to record.  Not one word. How could he have been silent for so long? HOW?!!!  I could learn from this God who is always in control and wisely measures his words.

But then afterward, the silence spoke for itself and allowed heaven and earth to come together for this perfect time. Not only did God finally speak, but He came to us in the flesh as that all-awaited Messiah.  Much of Christ’s own Words were just reiterating what the law and prophets were saying for centuries, because even if there are many words, great words, or perfect words…often they are not heard, not listened to, not obeyed.  But even those words, old and new, had to be backed up by great action to give them ethos and credibility.  After all that silence came the  ministry, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of The Word itself in Jesus Christ.  Great silence yields great power! So when I get discouraged, frustrated, or fearful, I know that silence will yield great things and I will wait better and “Be still and know that he is God!” For The Lord often whispers the truth you need to hear in that still, small sound of silence. We can be confident in the truth of Psalm 62:5 “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”

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Forsaken by Gina Stearns

Forsaken

Easter is such a special time, but once over, we tend to forget its awesome miracles. This last Easter, on Good Friday, I was watching the Passion of the Christ with family, and it dawned on me just how devastating it was for Jesus to have been forsaken by his own father.  Such a widely accepted fact, we tend to sweep it under the cross. I too have always known that in a very cerebral way, but not in the realest sense of the word.  Yet as I watched Christ hanging on the cross, a bloody mess of scourging, mockery, and exhaustion, I saw him cry out in Aramaic anguish, “Eli, Eli, sabachthani –My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”  I think in the past, I never truly camped on those words as I should have. But seeing him alone and rejected by man, forsaken by God — it hit me hard.

Forsaken.  I have often thought I had felt that way:  not acceptance by a desired group of people, excluded because of my faith, even my own bouts of self-loathing for not being what I had hoped.  But the times I had seemed utterly alone are the ones when I cannot hear the small still voice of God, do not sense his presence.  “Eli, Eli Sabachthani?” Why have you left me wretched and distressed?

Ironically, I hear the lies of the enemy, a counterfeit confirmation delivered in his diabolically deceitful way that God doesn’t care about me or my circumstances. It really appears to be the truth.  But the fact is that God has assured me that I am not alone. In Hebrews 13:5, Paul reminds us of Jesus’ words, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

But Jesus WAS forsaken. Truly forsaken.  

He didn’t need the enemy whispering lies to him.  The enemy appeared to be winning at this point, so the truth was a victory scored from his viewpoint. The reality of abandonment was all-encompassing. Just imagine how after being a part of the Triune Godhead where decisions and creative actions were done together as one personality team… now there was no sense of a unity of Divinity.  In fact, Christ had to be rejected as he became sin for our sake.  Now I do not pretend to even understand what all that means, but I have been previously joined in marriage and know what it is like to be rejected and left behind.  It is a horrible existence, and for me it was if I was falling into a never-ending pit.

I wonder if Jesus felt like me. There would be no end to his suffering and pain. But Christ did know the ending, as we all have come to know, and I think that is why I have often brushed over this scene. I want the immediate victorious ending, not the horrid ache of desertion of Christ by mankind and Godhead.  But the ending is so much more valuable once it is seen through the spectacles of separation. Of course being forsaken was worth it because Jesus is resurrected from the dead and has finished his work and accomplished all that was required of him.  However not to be redundant, Jesus felt completely alone and hopeless for that window of time. It must have seemed like an eternity to him.  All of his bodily suffering could not have compared to the trauma of being separated from God.

On the other hand as believers, we are never forsaken.  Christ made sure of that. It reminds me of a student who has been rejected, but does all he can so no one else ever feels that sorrow and does what he can to help others feel wanted and accepted. I am not sure of his motivation, but I do know that when times get rough and we feel alone and abandoned, Christ assures us that those are just feelings. They are not even close to reality.

Many times feelings cannot be trusted, but truth can.  In II Corinthians 4: 8-9, it states, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” The reason for that is that Jesus IS with us, “even to the end of the age.”  He was forsaken so we would never be. His forsakenness rendered the greatest of experiences for the sinner who truly believes—salvation, a welcome part of God’s family and a sure spot in Heaven forever.  He was God’s forsaken so we could be God’s keepsake. If his being forsaken yielded the greatest gift of all, RESURRECTION POWER.  Imagine what good can come from those times of earthly rejection, we also cry out to a God who is really with us. Forsaken? Not!

Photo credit:  farm8.staticflickr.com/7010/6829761849_5984e6d27b.jpg

 

Enough by Gina Stearns

jesus

Enough: such a small word with such enormous meaning.  The term enough hits me often when I think of food, money or materials things, myself, and most importantly my God.

It is possible to ever have enough?  What is enough? My mom used to say to us girls when we got too loud or carried away, “Enough is enough!”  But in a world that suffers from great addictions to all things around us: screen time, food, money, approval, sex, drugs, alcohol; the opposite of “more is better” has greater prevalence.  It seems that all we ever see within our society or ourselves is that there is never enough.  We can see its effects all around us.  Our country has one of the greatest epidemics of obesity, drug dependence, pornography addiction ever seen in American history.  Despite those facts, we continue to hear from fast food commercials that bigger is better. Other companies’ lure us with the lie that we deserve the best.  What about the emails, advertisements and billboards that we need the latest and greatest: better clothes, nicer homes, and luxury cars. But is super-sizing truly satisfying?

As Americans, we think that we are entitled to more because of our faulty understanding of the Preamble to The Declaration of Independence guaranteeing us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.   According to an article from historynewnetwork.org, John Locke had changed the original phrase “life, liberty, and property” to the terminology we have today. But the meaning of happiness can be traced to the Greek philosophers Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. The term happiness has it derivation in the Greek word Eudaimonia and in using that phrase “Locke is invoking Greek and Roman ethics in which eudaimonia is linked to aretê, the Greek word for “virtue” or “excellence.”

Unfortunately, the term happiness seem to have been misinterpreted because of our misunderstanding that possessing more is equated with happiness, and we should pursuit it no matter what. Research shows that the original intent of the word happiness is anchored in the concept of virtue not outrageous vice.  We are not actually guaranteed more stuff, but actually pursuing what would bring true contentment, patience, goodness, and self- control perhaps with less or at least enough.  Some have found minimalism as an answer.  But we can also go overboard the other way too. How much “minimalization” is enough? Indulgence or self-flagellation is not the answer either.  Moreover, with the abundance of a prosperity gospel encouraged from the televangelists’ pulpits, it would also seem that not only the Preamble ensures our desire for more, but that God’s name has been misused in the gain for more materials.  But the Bible again also hinges the concept of prosperity on gains in virtue and spiritual growth, not necessarily monetary gain.  Our greed has caused us to be deceived in our interpretation of not only the Declaration of Independence, but especially the Bible.

In addition, even when I inspect myself, I wonder am I ever going to be enough: Good enough, smart enough, thin enough, pretty enough, organized enough, spiritual enough.    How can I possibly measure up to a world that continually expects so much and sinisterly increases the bar all the time?  When I look at others’ lives spread on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, I am definitely lacking in so many ways.  I can never measure up. And maybe within that self-defeatist answer is the good news.

For when is enough truly enough? Well the answer is very timely. Epiphany time! Nothing this world offers can ever be enough.  All the answers that the experts point to will never fulfill. Even my own selfishness like an all-consuming fire that cannot be quenched is greedy and crying out, “Not enough.”

But there is only one source of enough and the good news is that it does not come from me, you, or this deceptive world.  If one wants enough, it is found in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ.  He is enough.  He satisfies. He satiates our deepest desires and offers us enough.  Over two thousand years ago, He took on the fullness of sin: the addictions, the avarice and all the horrific iniquities that were pursued by the “not enough” in people’s souls.

The answer is not just good news, but great news. The cross was enough.  For those of you that think that God should have done more, or done it in a different way, all I can say with my mom’s Brooklyn accent, “Enough is enough,” because it was Christ’s ALL!  Even if God never answers another one of you prayers in the way you wish, if you have Christ, the cross was and is enough.

So when that brownie is crying is illusory lies to you, or the Pottery Barn catalog is making you discontent, or you hear that others are making the grade but you are a loser, just remember that if you are a believer, your identity is in Christ.  Of course you aren’t enough.  Does that shock you?  But He is.  If you haven’t heard this good news before, let me tell you that no cold cream, or new diet, or new president, or new pastor is going to satisfy you.  This is why you want something more, but cannot put your finger on it.  It is your deepest desire to be at peace not with this duplicitous world, but with a genuine and generous God.

If you haven’t the chance to put your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, I invite you today to acknowledge your sins of not enough, repent from all of the ways you turned from God. Then raise the flag of surrender of trying to be your own God, and put your faith in him and believe on his finished work of complete sacrifice on The Cross.  Ironically a sinless Jesus took the penalty of your sins and mine.  I know that He will give you the peace, satisfaction, and rest for which you have been searching. Maybe your pursuit has been for this world in all its deficient forms. Pursue Christ instead!  Let us not only celebrate the resurrection of His life but now yours when He returns.  For the first time, you can say that you are finally accepted as you are because you can finally recognize and appreciate that what Christ did for you was and is enough. No need to super-size anything — the cross is enough. Jesus Christ is enough. Guaranteed.

Photo credit:     http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-zP84p_16ci8/UIPMOjxKEkI/AAAAAAAAGaE/JwxDzhbWlBc/s1600/christ_passion_movie_cross.jpg