Friday, April 26, 2013

Elijah Moments

God is deflating the air out of my spiritual balloon.

I have learned that in the last four months, these beginning moments of 2013. All the time I thought I had my plans and opinions, He was demonstrating the spread of His great intentions into the lives and environments in a nondescript region. There is no place on this earth His Kingdom cannot reach; a community that looks like it is dead to growth and faith always has a remnant of people that believe.

And I have met them...and I have met the purposes of God for the children, families, and community that appeared to have missed their moment.

St. Clair County Michigan has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the state. Statistics say that the community has high poverty rates and this may be one of the contributing factors to substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and any number of societal ills that make it a difficult place to live and thrive.  But as I have had the privilege to learn many times in my life, that is a ripe opportunity for God to show Himself strong on behalf of those that believe in Him.

And I have met these people.  I am not the only one.  I am not the only one that believes God can heal  children, families, communities, cities, nations, this world.  And in the mindset of Elijah in 1Kings 19, I honestly thought I was all alone.

I've met these ones hidden in plain sight, infiltrating the hard places.  They live in the neighborhoods. They work and live and thrive in the places where the statisticians must have overlooked.  God has blessed them and then placed Kingdom ministry in their hearts.  These ones are opening hearts, lives, doors, homes to reach the brokenhearted, the abandoned, the abused, the neglected, the orphans, the widows.

And I have cried more than once at the awesome power of God, working right under the nose of the enemy of our souls - under the nose of the one whom has tried to bring the doomsday predictions to life in this region where I have been placed to make a difference.  I am awestruck and wonder struck. I have realized not only the error of my ways - believing that a city is not worth saving (like Jonah believed about Nineveh) - but the beautiful ways of redemption at work.

The Elijah Moments I have had in the last few months has taught me much about how the plans of God are never interrupted by circumstances.  He is not in the business of depending wholly on one person to save a city; He is the Great All in All and the Great I Am.  He works through relationship with others that take Him at His Word and dare to believe that they have purpose within that relationship.  Their purpose is fully wrapped up inside His.  So God forbid we think that we are ever the "only ones".

I stand corrected...and I stand amazed...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Change of Habit

Seven years ago, I developed a great habit of running away.

It was a wonderful feeling to be escaping in my car toward time with God and writing just as Spring time was erupting over the gray horizon of Winter with it's cold and apparent inconsiderate snow and ice and wind.  I would pack for a few days and go one of two places that I lived the whole preceding year for.  Some years I would go to both places, feeling doubly blessed.

The first escape was to the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing held bi-annually on the school's beautiful campus in Grand Rapids.  For three days, I would be surrounded by writers and artists and readers...loving the atmosphere and feeling entirely happy being with so many word-lovers and bookworms.  The first time I went in 2004 I thought I was in Heaven on earth - the very best place I could be.

The second mode of escapism was to the Revolution Christian Ministries' Annual Retreat, re-named every year to signify the spiritual season that the time of worship and praise of God, teaching, and fellowship away from the distractions, craziness, and monotony of life represented.  I longed for that environment all year long.

Those events have been my good and nurturing habits that feed the writer and worshipper of God that I strive to be, that truly I have always been.

But this much has changed...and these habits have followed suit.  My new life as a married woman has been a new blessing and joy.  The life I had before definitely led to this moment - those times of attending a Book Festival and a Church Retreat led to this.

But, I didn't bargain for how some things change that you really don't want to.

The Festival is next escape this year.

The Retreat is for members of the Church I called home until this year, when I had to find a new Church to attend with my husband.  So, no escape there either.

My post today is not a complaint; it is more an acknowledgment that I need a new place to escape to and this time with the man God blessed me to love.  Life does bring changes and with those changes, new habits.  One thing I am realizing about marriage, which is something I have truly longed for, is the development of new traditions and good habits that make each union unique.  So basically, as my life is changing I am wondering how God will establish us together, find new places for us to escape to, because unlike what some believe, retreat is actually a good thing in some instances.

Leaving distraction and tiredness and trying environments with equally trying people are the winds of change that give your wings the motivation to soar to a place closer to the throne of God.  And that is what this time of year needs to be for us now.  My prayer is that God will give us the place of rest we can physically escape to.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Teachers That Helped Make Me

This morning for my devotional reading in the "Names of God: Exploring God's Character" book, the theme was God as Teacher.  He is called a "Teacher" several times in the Old and New Testament.  Sometimes when we read the Bible, we read it as a distant observer, but this morning as I contemplated what the word "teacher" means, I thought about the teachers I have had throughout my life.  I thought about these teachers that have made the greatest impact on me, why they mattered, why I remember them even years later, and how their positions in my life can compare to God's role in my life today.

The first teacher that came to mind was my fourth grade teacher, Miss Gail.  Her name was actually Gail Battaglia, and in my eyes, as tough as she was on me and the other students in my class, she was an amazing teacher.  She made my experience at Southeast Academic Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a fourth grader something that stayed with me.  Even today, if I was able to teach as a career, I would pattern my teaching style after hers.  Miss Gail was the type of teacher that desired for her students to be proud of themselves, no matter what environment they came from.

She saw the importance of challenging our young minds, even when we would rather be lazy.  One of the main reasons she made an impact on my life is that she encouraged us to read by reading good books to us.  My favorite memory of her class was her reading "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred Taylor out loud.  I would gaze out the window and listen to Cassie's story in this book, knowing that the fictional tale paid homage to the world my grandparents had grown up in down South.

The next teacher that crossed my mind was my fifth grade teacher at Robert Burns Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan.  During this season in my life, my family life was in uproar, and in fact, we lived in a foreign environment, as I had never been to Detroit.  Yet, we found ourselves living on Hubbell Street in the midst of chaos and confusion.  Despite these elements in my life, Mrs. Burns (no relation to the man whose name the school bore) gave me a place of refuge and escape in her classroom.  She loved me and saw me as a student with promise - a student very different from some others in her class that would rather play than learn.

(Last weekend, my husband, nephew, and I drove right by the house where I had lived and the same elementary school, and I thought of her - the bright light in my otherwise dismal world.  I always wondered what happened to her, always questioned if she wondered what had happened to me.  I never forgot how she saw me for who I was and gave me a place to use my voice in her classroom.)

I went to two elementary schools in my fifth grade year.  The next teacher after Mrs. Burns was Mr. Vander (although, if my recollection is correct, his full last name was Mr. VanderLee).  He worked at Hillcrest Elementary in Grand Rapids.  My family had moved back there after a series of unfortunate incidents that were really answered prayer.  So, I found myself in his class halfway through the fifth grade year, playing catch-up.  Despite the transition, he picked up where Mrs. Burns left off and paid attention to my love of writing and art.  He paid for me to attend the Young Authors Festival that takes place at Calvin College the following Spring.  He took me to this event with two other students and even then, I realized how much it meant to be chosen because of my love affair with books and art.  This was one of the greatest experiences of my life as little girl.

These teachers represented certain aspects of God in my life that I recognize now as I look back in retrospect.  Miss Gail represented how God challenges us to learn, to grow, to appreciate the lives we have been blessed with.  When she read to us, this was representative of how God has never failed to use words to teach me - His life-giving Word - so I can effectively use it as I encounter more of life.  The written word anchors us to a certain time, place, and season.  God birthed in man the ability to write so the message of life could be conveyed in a way that transcends time and space.  Some things never fail to have an impact - most especially when written down and treasured.

Mrs. Burns exemplified how God never forgets about us; He still sees us in the most dismal of circumstances and that acknowledgment gives us permission to live.  That is what she did in the short time that I crossed her path and she crossed mine.  She was an amazing teacher, not because of what she taught in the fifth grade curriculum, but because she let me know I mattered to her.  That is just what God does when we are at our wits end, and we struggle with being able to see our way out of tough times.  He lets us know that we matter more than we realize.  He reminds us that He placed us on this earth, at a certain location, in specific circumstances and situations for a reason - to give Him glory.

Mr. Vander was the voice and action of God in my life.  He not only sees us, sees our potential, but invested Christ so that we could experience life more abundantly - the fullest extent.  This is no small thing.  The Blood of Christ was the greatest price paid; when He shed that blood for us, it solidified our worth.  The  other thing that Mr. Vander showed me by caring about my talents and passions was that I was born to stand out.  I was chosen to attend a young writer's program with two other students out of the other 30 children in his class.  This is not to say that there weren't others with talent, but he felt that my attendance would benefit me and the path that I was born to follow.

God does this too.  He selects us to follow a certain destiny, even when we have a hard time believing in ourselves.  I struggle with this even today, but God still places me in positions to flow in the passions He placed within and it is at these points that I see myself as He does.  When I am placed in an environment that bears witness with who I was born to be, I shine.  When I shine, this brings even greater glory and praise to God.

When I read that God is a Teacher this morning, it meant more when I was able to see the role these influential teachers played in my life.  They had characteristics that are reminiscent of the character of God.  That is why they made the impact they did in my life.  Impact is only made when God's Presence and Character shines through the lives of individuals in the world around us.