The Buck Stops–Where? Why I Feel Hopeful Today, #5

Image result for buck stops here

Right after posting “Hope #4” last week, I heard about the Texas church shooting. Crushing. Sure felt like the darkness won that day, and it’s still a struggle. If I hadn’t just written that post about sin and darkness not lasting forever, it would have been even harder to feel hopeful this past week.

So while I do believe that light conquers darkness in an ultimate, eternal sort of way, surely–surely!–somebody has to pay for all this evil! Just like at school, it can feel so GOOD when a kid who has been super naughty finally gets his “comeuppance” (no one says that anymore, but what a great word) and a consequence for his actions has been administered effectively. The buck stops at the principal’s door, and dangerous or disrespectful behavior gets addressed and can actually change for the better, at least some of the time.

When someone is willing to shoot up a concert venue or the children inside a house of worship, or drive down a bicycle path full of cyclists and pedestrians, WHERE IS THE PRINCIPAL? These murderers usually die before they get their  comeuppance, and sometimes that even seems like their goal–take as many as they can on their suicide mission. It feels like they get away with murder, literally, and got everything they wanted in the process.

How we want to rage with the Psalmist! We cry out with David, Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice (Psalm 7:6).

Romans 12:9 tells us that justice–even revenge–is God’s to take. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Ecclesiastes 12:14 assures me that nothing that happens goes by unnoticed by God: For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

What of the leaders who have caused so much angst in our society? God has a word for them, too, from Matthew 18:6. Jesus says, If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 

I guess we can take from all this that we CAN let God worry about giving people their comeuppance. So what should we worry about? Jesus makes that pretty clear, too, but it might be too radical for most of us to handle:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:43-48, emphases on all these quotes are from http://www.Biblegateway.com).

 

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Darkness–Like Halloween–Doesn’t Last Forever: Why I am Hopeful Today #4

Image result for sunrise

It’s the week of Halloween as I write this. Not my favorite holiday. I don’t know exactly why, except it probably has something to do with my introverted personality–I don’t particularly enjoy making a spectacle of myself.

I also think back nearly thirty years ago to a South African mom at the international school in Japan where I taught for a few years. She came to me extremely concerned one day. What was this Halloween? Why would we celebrate darkness and the Devil?

I remember being taken aback. Why did I celebrate Halloween? I tried to explain that it was just a fun excuse to dress up and get candy, and no one really meant anything by it, but every year since then, when the television is full of horror movie commercials and dark shows about vampires, werewolves, etc., I have the same antsy feeling I had that day as I tried to explain the American holiday in a Japanese setting to a South African mom. As a mom myself, I enjoyed making costumes for my kids and taking them trick-or-treating, but I’m always glad when Halloween is over.

Lately, the evil in the world–pedestrians being mowed down on purpose by trucks on sidewalks around the world, out-of-control gun violence on Chicago streets, university campuses, and concert venues, plus all the #MeToo evidence of sexual misconduct, not to mention the state of the truth in our political world (do I have to go on?)–all this blatant evil looks like it’s “winning,” (to borrow a phrase).

Is it? Is the evil in the world winning? Just the evidence of evil in my own community can weigh me down, let alone thinking about all the evil on display in my own country and around the world! But is that the final answer? Is that God’s final answer?

Next week, we’ll see specifically what the Bible has to say about political leaders and who they answer to, but for today, for this week of Halloween, I just want to remind myself and all of us that the darkness isn’t permanent. God has another plan for that, and he has already declared victory. Stay tuned for specifics on that, too!

It is enough for me today to remember this:

The people living in darkness have seen a great light: on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Matthew 4:16).

and this assurance from John 1:15:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

That gives me hope for today, and a promise for tomorrow.

The picture above is courtesy of commons.wikipedia.org.

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“Be still!” Why I Feel Hopeful Today #3

Image result for child of god images

It made an impression on me nearly 30 years ago when my friend, Linda, happily informed me that my new home in Seattle didn’t have poisonous snakes or dangerous spiders. Seattle rarely had tornadoes or lightning or anything else that people think of that might hurt you. There didn’t even seem to be a bad part of town that we should completely avoid, a contrast to our former college home in Chicago. Also, unlike Chicago, she had never even seen a cockroach here! Win!

Of course, we might get earthquakes occasionally, and the threat of a volcanic eruption is always somewhere in the way far back of your mind, but drizzle is the most immediate threat, and it won’t kill you.

Other places, as the news often reminds us, are not so lucky. Why should one place be hit with constant tornadoes or hurricanes or fires or rattlesnakes or (fill in the blank for your personal nightmare senario), when other places seem safe by comparison?

For that matter, why does one person get cancer and another is healthy as a horse? Why does one person seem to get everything they want and another struggles just to get by?

Life isn’t fair. It just isn’t, no matter how we try to attribute blame or rage at God, or ask, ‘Why me?’ Sometimes, there’s just no figuring out why some people seem to have it so easy.

I have to admit that I’ve had it pretty good. A couple run-ins with cancer, but always the “good kind,” doctors have said–completely treatable with little risk of spreading or recurrence. I feel pretty lucky. I am blessed in so many ways, and I know it, and I’m grateful.

Still, as we’ve been talking about in this blog series on HOPE, sometimes the overwhelming sin and despair and loneliness and cruelty and foolishness of the world around me can cause those little anxious pangs to run through my chest and make me wonder how things will ever really be okay for friends going through truly hard times, and for our country and world.

As Jesus spoke with authority to the wind and the waves, “Be still!”, amazing and restoring hope to the disciples, so he also speaks with authority into our troubled world. If the storm around us stays frustratingly in place, he can speak the comfort and calmness into our inner being, creating a peace that “passes understanding.”

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

His disciple, John, trusted in this peace of Christ completely. John quoted Jesus saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). John is repeatedly referred to as the “Beloved disciple.” He knew Jesus loved him. He knew it.

Recently, I had some unfortunate news that isn’t life-threatening or even that painful–mainly frustrating, because it means a lot more work and expense coming up that I wasn’t planning on. My initial reaction, though, has been to wonder what God is up to! I feel peace about it, that this is a necessary step leading to something good. You can “Call Me Pollyanna,” as in my first post title in this series, but I think something deeper is going on.

I’ve been on this particular road for a long time, weathering a few storms of disappointment along the way–and God has been faithful. He’s let me see little bits of what he might be up to, and it gives me confidence that he is in charge of this latest change as well. I know he loves me, and that this will all turn out for good, if I allow God to be God, and not try to micro-manage things too much.

Do you know yourself to be a beloved child of God? You are! He is claiming you:

Beloved, now we are all children of God! (1 John 3:8).

Will you claim him? If you have never let yourself truly believe that you are a beloved child of God, trusting in him to still the storm around you–or the storm within you–won’t you try it today? What do you have to lose?

 

 

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Even in Scaryville: Why I Feel Hopeful Today #2

Image result for pray change policy

Really? Really?

I can’t think of anything scarier than being surrounded by fast-moving flames, with no clear path to safety. Or how about being trapped into a small space, knowing that a house or office building has collapsed all around you and the rescuers (that must be out there somewhere) have no idea if you are alive or even there at all. Oh, and your leg is broken and you can’t move an inch in any direction, and there’s barely any room to breathe. Or maybe a crazy person is shooting into a crowd of innocent people?

The Bible is full of scary situations, too. Imagine a ferocious storm is threatening your ship, then you’re thrown overboard by superstitious sailors, and then you’re swallowed by a big fish, like Jonah. Joseph was thrown into a deep pit in the middle of nowhere by treacherous brothers. That would be right up there in Scaryville, too.

Why on earth do I entertain these terrible thoughts, even for a moment? My imagination went there, uninvited, while watching the news over the past few weeks. I let myself dwell there for awhile when I saw posts on social media that belittled prayer. Even Christians who I know posted things like the image at the top of the page. Of course, their point is well-taken: don’t “just” pray, DO something! Change a policy, send some money! Don’t just stand there, or kneel there, or sit there with your eyes closed and hands folded! What on earth can that accomplish?

The thing is, if you are deep in that pit, or surrounded by heat and flames, or trapped in a tiny, rubble-filled space with a broken leg, new policies and money and even an outpouring of blankets and water bottles and food won’t do you a lick of good.

Prayer, on the other hand? Let’s see. Jonah, in the belly of a big fish, deep down in the sea, cried out to the Lord. The Bible says:

From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry . . . . The engulfing waters threatened me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God (Jonah 2:1-2).

A man trapped with his wife in the terrible California fires recently claimed that God led him to the pool that kept him safe, although his wife died in his arms.

I’ve heard rescuers say that they found someone trapped in rubble because they got “a feeling.” Stories like these could be repeated in legion. Who knows?

2 Corinthians 1:21 promises “. . . He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Can God be any closer than that? It means we are never alone, never beyond reach, never without hope. Because, if life gets scary, I’m relieved to have a God who hears me and can move rescuers in the right direction to find me because they “get a feeling,” who can be with me in my pit. And, if my time has come, God is right there to comfort me and guide me home.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Of course, let’s all send money, donate time and boats and energy and water and blankets and food and whatever else is right and good!

But, please, don’t forget to pray.

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Call Me Pollyanna: Top Ten Reasons to Feel Hopeful Today

Image result for fema sign image

Tiny, but actual pangs of anxiety have been coursing through my chest lately as I read headlines from Washington and North Korea, and as I try to imagine what others are going through where earthquakes, hurricanes, shootings, and fires have recently struck. It’s not a good feeling. I’m wondering, friends–How are you doing?

In my house, we’ve been mildly joking that as soon as FEMA completely runs out of resources, the “Big One” will hit the Pacific NW, and we’ll be completely on our own. Somehow, it feels too possible to actually find it funny enough to laugh out loud. (My husband went to Costco recently for a big case of water, just in case, so I don’t think he’s laughing too hard either!)

Hope on the ground feels a tiny bit thin at times, to be honest.

So, in this era of threats and tweets, natural disasters, fake and real news and constantly having to discern between the two, I’ve come up with a list of my “Top Ten Reasons Why I Feel Hopeful (and Why You Can, too).” I need this list, and maybe you do, too?

I was going to create a nice, concise set of bullet points, but my tiny little anxiety pangs have actually subsided this week after spending time working on this, so I’ve decided that I need to spend more time with these–not just read them fast in a quick list. If that’s what you need too, I’ll be focusing on one bullet point each blog post, and then I’ll recap them all in a short list at the end.

Number 1:

  1. The sun still rises and sets (pretty spectacularly from my living room window lately, I might add). My God is Lord of all, including nature.

    For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:18). He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).

God still has a plan for each day, a plan leading to something bigger and better that only he can fully understand. If I trust God, I need to trust that all the disasters (natural and man-made), are ultimately subject to (not saying caused by) God’s bigger plan.

Most importantly, God’s Word tells us that he loves us. He loves me and you and all those folks in dire straits and even our political leaders on the right and the left. He even loves all those football players taking a knee. He made each of us, you see, to be part of his ultimate plan (John 3:16, for a reminder).

So, when Jesus says in Matthew that not a “least stroke of the pen” will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished, and he also says that “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” are the greatest commandments in the Law, maybe I have my answer as to why the sun rose and set again today: I get another chance to try to love God wholly and to love my neighbor as myself.

Have I done that? Have I tried to love God and others as myself in every conversation, in every social media post? In every action, no matter how subtle? Have I neglected to take action or words that would show love to God and others?

Thank you, Lord, for giving me–and all of us–another sunrise and sunset today, for giving us another chance! That’s a reason to hope, because, as it turns out, our hope isn’t “thin on the ground,” but with the Lord!

See next week’s post for Reason to be Hopeful #2~

 

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Book Club Materials Now LINKED to the Website!

Just a quick follow-up to the blog post from Sunday about the new book club! Thanks to the awesome, FAST, accurate help from the WordPress people, I have now got a link to the materials on the SOPHIE’S QUEST BOOK CLUB PAGE on this website. Just look at the header buttons in that green strip, and find the book club.

Click on that, and then scroll to the bottom. The link to all the materials is just above the Contact Form. If you have any questions about any of it, feel free to use that form to contact me and I’ll try to answer your question or put you in touch with the very nice woman who created the four-week plan.

Feel free to pass on the word to people in your church, school, or neighborhood. The book club strikes me as a fun, unique way to share the gospel and to become a better neighbor by trying to understand our diverse world a little bit better.

Even if we believe different things, God made each person and loves each one enough to die for them! We can show that we love others too, when we try to understand them. I like it when people try to understand me, and you probably feel the same way.

Thanks for sharing about the book club in whatever way feels right to you!

I hope you’re having a great day!

Sonja

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Book Club Blessings–A Free Gift for You

Courtesy of Cateresa Boston

Have you ever participated in a book club? My oldest daughter and I joined a group that met all through middle school. We met new people, read new books, and heard thoughts and opinions on a wide variety of topics that were often decidedly different than those we heard from our regular circle of friends. While we often didn’t agree with each other and liked different kinds of books, we respected each other and enjoyed our time together a lot.

What I loved most about being in a book club, though, was the time my middle-schooler and I spent in the car together on the way to and from the meetings. We’d chat about some of these decidedly different thoughts and opinions, and it really helped me get to know my daughter in a brand new way; I think it also probably helped her know where I stood on some things, and why.

A surprise book club blessing this summer has brought up a lot of these old memories. A church librarian in Ohio, who had been given a copy of Sophie’s Quest last Christmas (thanks, Mom!) teamed up with a new home-schooling volunteer at her church to create a month-long book club experience using Sophie’s Quest! They had never done a book club at church before, but they made detailed lesson plans, creative snack and craft activities, greatly expanded the discussion questions I had included in an Appendix, and created worksheets to help kids understand literary concepts like the Hero’s Journey, and to think about prayer and the biblical names of God in a new way.

They sent out an invitation. Would anyone even want to come to a book club every Thursday in the middle of the day throughout the month of July? To their surprise and delight, over 20 kids eagerly signed up and showed up! We even Skyped together one week, and I was amazed by their thoughtful questions and enthusiasm for the whole experience. It gives me goosebumps to think about it!

Best of all, the creator of this fun book club has made all of her materials–the thoughtful product of hours and hours of her time–available to me and YOU for FREE! Continue reading

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You’ve Invited God into Your Life–What About Your Day?

Image result for atm machines for prayer (Uncredited photo from Bing Images)

Does prayer make a difference? Most of us know that God isn’t exactly a wish bank: Insert your wish like an ATM card and pull out your heart’s desire. Um, no. Doesn’t exactly work that way. But what, exactly, does prayer do?

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week as I’ve been weeding and weeding and yes, more weeding. I’ve been weeding our yard, AND boxes of cards and letters. Both activities have given me time to reflect on those heart-felt prayers from years–even decades ago–that have been so faithfully answered. Time gone by has helped me see why God might have slapped big-old WAIT or DETOUR signs on some of those fervent prayers of long ago. (Maybe for people today his messages sound more like Garmin’s “Recalculating.”?)

All those cards and letters reflected the “biggies” in life–my friends and I contemplated who to marry, what we should do with our lives, children. We prayed for, and encouraged each other,, and no, those letters I can’t “weed” out. But what about today? Does God just want to be at the center of the “biggies” in our life? Does God also care about that other patch of weeds I’ve been tackling (otherwise known as our backyard)? That Facebook post I’m thinking of writing? This blog post? What about the Skype visit earlier this week with a great group of kids at a big church in Ohio that’s using Sophie’s Quest as a book club book this summer?

Speaking of Sophie, prayer is also a major theme in the third Sophie book! Sophie and her friends may not have homes as the City is bankrupt and might need to sell off the Park for condos. What can be done? Sophie hatches a plan, and it’s a bit desperate, but it might just work. One small problem, though–she forgets to invite Sky Painter in to her planning  and to ask him if this rather crazy scheme is something she should do. And that’s actually a big problem.

Do you forget to ask God in to the planning of things, big and small? Do you forget how faithful He’s been in the past and think you’ve got to do everything on your plate by yourself? I often forget that God is a rather polite God–He wants to be invited to come along! And, wow, can He make a difference when He shows up!

Wednesday morning, I was preparing for the Skype visit with the book club. No sweat, I thought! I talk to kids all the time! Then I started to think about it some more. I didn’t know these kids, or these leaders. It had all come up pretty spontaneously and we didn’t actually have a plan for the conversation–did they expect a presentation? Would they have questions? What if my own questions fell flat? What if they haven’t read much of the book yet and I can’t think of anything to say without spoiling the story? How long was the Skype visit going to be, anyway? Why, oh, why hadn’t I planned for this better?

Before I knew it, my hands were folded and my eyes were closed and I rather desperately invited God to be part of our conversation. To go before us. To be with us. To not let me say anything that He didn’t want me to say, and to help me remember to say all the things He did want me to say.

Long story short, the visit was fun! I even got a note from one of the leaders, telling me that “The Holy Spirit was so present during that meeting. I love seeing God work up close and personal, and you were such a big part of that!” Wow. Thanks, God!

No one has prayer “figured out.” It certainly doesn’t always turn out the way we expect or hope. But what I can say, is that God wants to be part of our day,for all the big and small things. When what we are doing is not “all about us,” it doesn’t have to be “all UP to us.” May God be part of your day today. Why don’t you ask?

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Mathew 7:7-8

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What can be a Window AND a Mirror? A Book, Of Course!

 

 

Longtime readers of this blog might remember that I’ve posted a few times on cultural tidbits that Ethiopian students at my school have shared with me. I’ve been blessed to hear their stories, to see their palm branch rings worn proudly on their hands after Orthodox Palm Sunday, to sense the pain of a community after bad news from their home country hit the airwaves. My students have given me a window into their world.

I went searching for a book about an Ethiopian child after one of our students confessed to the librarian and myself that she had never read a book that was a mirror for her–one where she could see herself in the story. We had just finished watching Grace Lin’s amazing Tedd talk on books being windows and mirrors for kids, and how important that it is to find books where we can see ourselves in the pages, along with using them as a window to see how others might live and feel.

After a Twitter inquiry, a librarian in the district suggested The Storyteller’s Beads, by Jane Kurtz, about an Ethiopian refugee family. It’s great, and I highly recommend it! That book led me to agreeing to review the author’s newest book, Planet Jupiter, featuring an Ethiopian child who moves in with very unorthodox distant relatives when a series of tragic and sad events forced a big change in her life.

This book won’t teach you much about Ethiopia (it hints at the Ethiopian’s Orthodox background when Edom, the child in need of a home, balks at eating pork, but doesn’t go any further in illustrating her faith or her life in Ethiopia), but it did provide me a very interesting window into the world of a child thrust into a very different family and into a very different culture. The way Edom and Jupiter–a very independent, free-spirited kind of girl–learn to relate and work together felt very authentic, filled with misconceptions and wrong assumptions, and eventually, a growing sense of respect and, well, family!

The family Edom has made her way into is a family unlike any I have ever read about, which gave me a window into a completely different lifestyle from my own. Jupiter’s family “busks” music and goods at street festivals, and the next meal is always a little uncertain. The longing Jupiter feels for an absent father, whose ultra free-spirited ways make the rest of them look down-right boring, and her desire to be like him, tugged at my heart strings and made me feel sad for her. I have to admit that I felt a certain, underlying sense of anxiety through much of the reading of the book–probably because I very much like knowing where my next meal is coming from!

If you wonder what it might be like, though, to be living a busking kind of life and to understand how hard it might be for the many immigrants and refugees in Seattle (and around the world), Planet Jupiter is a warm-hearted, unique place to start.

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Zombie Apocalypse or Breath of God: A Life Choice

Zombies move and act alive–sort of. They don’t actually possess the breath of life, which means they’re actually, deceptively dead. Are you–am I–living a zombie sort of life?

On Memorial Day, Jeff and I watched a movie about D-Day (see previous blog post about “Picking at a Societal Scab”). It concluded with a voice-over of a modern-day soldier who had lost a limb (or two) when a bomb exploded near the place he stood in Afghanistan. The young man said that as he was healing, as he was struggling to simply survive, he reflected on how the most important thing in this life wasn’t next year, or next month, or next week, or even any plans he might have for the next day, but the most important, wonderful thing was simply the next breath. If he could do that, then he might be able to have the courage and strength to take another one.

Breathing, simply breathing.

After hearing that, and for the next couple of weeks, I’ve had the hymn, “Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” running through my head. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when we sang it at church the very next Sunday, and that I’ve heard at least two or three messages on the topic in just the past couple of weeks. That’s the way God seems to work when he wants me to pay a little closer attention to something.

Dr. Sara Koenig, professor at Seattle Pacific University, spoke at a recent commencement gathering about how the present moment is about as long as it takes for you to breathe in and out–about three seconds. She asked the graduates to try to be fully present, fully engaged with the work they will be doing, and also to be fully present with the people they encounter, for as many of these precious, present moments as they can–and then to be sure and celebrate all the good ones!

As I keep singing “Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” while doing crossing guard duty, repairing piles of ripped and broken books in my school library, shelving the last books to come back at the end of the school year, I’ve been pondering what it would look like if we all asked God to be part of that next, most important, present moment. To fill that next breath with his Spirit’s peace, his love for others, his patience, his joy–even if those others we are surrounded by have different belief systems or political points of view, or even if they cut us off on the highway. What if we were to grab hold of God’s promised abundant life, moment by moment?

What kind of a difference would that make in my life? In the lives of those I encounter, both stranger and friend? Sometimes it feels easier to wander through a day more like a zombie, not letting God reach through each moment to make a loving difference to each student or co-worker or personwe pass on the street.

Yet, choosing life this moment, and then maybe the next moment, doesn’t feel so hard, does it? We can trust God with the moment after that.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Click on the link to hear the hymn!

 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-24

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