Archive for June, 2010
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful….Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8)
A few weeks ago, I – and the other members of our Uganda Village of Hope mission team - was given the challenge to read through this chapter, meditate on it, study it, mull it over, let its words sink in and penetrate our hearts and minds. Despite the fact that the past two weeks have been frantically busy and I haven’t made the time to just sit and ponder like I should, these verses have run through my mind in a nearly endless loop, over and over and over again in a chorusing refrain: I am the Vine, you are the branches. Remain in Me. Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Remain…remain…remain.
And that redundancy got me thinking: what does it all mean? What does it mean to “remain”? According to my trusty online thesaurus, here are some of the words Jesus could have used if He’d had a copy of Roget’s handy:
- be left
- hang out
- sit tight
- stick around
That list of words gives me a better understanding of the point Jesus was trying to drive home to His listeners. Remaining in Him is not giving him 5 minutes at the beginning and end of my day. It’s not a hurried prayer over mealtimes. It’s not even listening to Christian radio or CD’s in my car as I’m driving around town.
No, this idea of “remaining” is a little more than that. Take a closer look at that list above. To remain means to “hang out”, “stick around”, tarry, wait, continue, dwell, abide, persist…endure. That’s taking the long view. It’s not a quick fix or a simple 3-step process. Rather, this act of “remaining” takes time…and sacrifice…and a radically different perspective from what we see in the world around us.
While everyone else is hurrying, scurrying from one activity to another, “to remain” means to sit still.
While everyone else is shouting “me first!” and “It’s my way or the highway!”, “to remain” means to let go.
While everyone else is emotionally bound up by stress and worry, “to remain” means to rest.
While everyone else is clambering and pushing to be number one, “to remain” means to stay put.
While everyone else needs to go faster and do more, “to remain” means to be patient and wait.
And as I “remain”, I take the twig that is my life, my heart – my dreams, my goals my ambitions – and I graft them in to the healthy, strong vine that is securely rooted, never shaken, never cut down, never split apart. Slowly, as my roots grow and deepen into the Vine, I will find that it is the very source of my life blood. The strength of the Vine will now become my strength. The food from the Vine will now become my food. The flowers and fruit that bloom on the Vine will now begin to bud and bloom on my offshoot as well.
And someday, if I “remain” and continue to flourish and grow and be nourished by the Vine, I may actually find that it is impossible to tell where my branch ends and the Vine begins. The scar of grafting will heal. The nips and cuts of pruning will be covered over. All that will be left is what was there to begin with: the Vine.
It’s a good place to be. I think I’ll hang out, stick around, sit still, wait, linger, tarry, continue, and cling here for awhile. Or maybe I’ll just “remain.”
June 18, 2010 – a day that (in our house, at least) will live in infamy – Toy Story 3 was finally and deliberately released by producers and directors from the Empire of Pixar Studios…
So here it is.Â Andy’s growing up and heading off to college, and his toys – though they have vowed to “be there for him whenever he needs them” – are feeling the change, too.
My children have anticipated this day for a year.Â They have eagerly talked about it, made plans to see it, and stopped all activity to pay full attention whenever they saw a preview or trailer.
I, on the other hand, have feared for this day.Â Well, not actually *THIS* day, as I enjoy the Toy Story movies, too.Â But the day it represents to every parent.Â The day when we finally push our baby birds out of the nest and watch them fly.Â The day that comes far too soon.Â The day we can never avoid…or slow down time to hold off.
I was deeply touched by one particular scene in the movie.Â As the day finally arrives for Andy to head off to college, he and his mother enter his bedroom – which now is completely barren except for the furniture and the familiar blue-sky and off-white stars painted on his wall.Â The two of them stand in the room for a moment, quiet, each alone with their own thoughts: Andy with the bittersweet reality of leaving home and the familiar behind coupled with the overwhelming excitement of all that lies ahead; his mother with the memories of her little boy and the realization that the one who stands next to her is no longer that little boy but rather a grown man – handsome, strong, and fully capable.Â Unable to help herself, she sheds a tear (or two) and tries her best to stifle the cry in her throat.Â Andy tries to reassure her that it’s okay – it’s part of life, he’s ready for this, it’s not good-bye forever – and as she holds him close to her one more time she says, “I know.Â It’s just that I wish I could be with you all the time.”
And that’s when I’d wished I’d paid the extra 3 bucks to watch it in 3-D so I could have hidden my own tears behind those silly-looking glasses.Â I looked over at that not-so-small-anymore boy sitting next to me and was overwhelmed with the fact that in only 8 short years, we will be reenacting our own version of that scene.Â We are more than halfway to the end of Trey’s childhood and the beginning of his life “on his own.”Â Â And I pause to wonder, does he know…
… how much I love him?Â How much his Dad loves him?Â How sometimes I love him so much it makes me hurt inside?
…how blessed I feel to know that God entrusted me with HIM?Â Not just any child, but THIS one?Â How many nights my heart pleaded and my arms ached to hold a baby of my own…and what an answer to prayer he is?
…how amazed I am by his spirit, his endless capacity to love and forgive, and his thirst to know God more deeply?Â How in awe I am of his willingness to reach out to others, how he never knows a stranger, how he is able to put others at ease in his presence so effortlessly?
…how talented and gifted he truly is?Â How he never needs to doubt himself or what he can do?Â How big God’s plans are for his life and how I see him doing something truly meaningful and making an impact in this world someday?
…how much joy he brings to my heart just by the light of his life, his smile, and his charming personality?Â How sometimes I just soak him in, trying to capture and remember each moment, frozen in time, to carry in my heart forever?
…how proud I am of him?Â How it makes my heart swell to hear the words of praise and affirmation that are heaped on him by those who know him?Â How even perfect strangers have come up to me and shared with me what a delight my son is, and how truly special he must be?
No, I don’t suppose he will ever truly know those things.Â But that’s okay.Â Because for now, I have him with me.Â I can be with him all the time.Â And I can assure you, I will treasure every moment.
I love it when a plan comes together!
And no, I was never a fan of “The A-Team” in the 80′s, though I *did* play their theme song in marching and pep band in high school.Â But I digress.
I am preparing to return to Gulu, Uganda, in August for 2 weeks.Â And though I know God has called me to go, I am truly struggling with why.Â What is His purpose for me in going?Â What is His plan for me in regard to Village of Hope?Â How do I fit in to what He is doing in Africa?Â I have wrestled with these questions since my return last November…and I still don’t have the answers.Â I’ve seen firsthand how God has transformed the lives of my friends and teammates following our last trip:
my friend Shanna, who has become a dynamic force stateside for fundraising efforts to benefit Village of Hope.
my friend Jennifer and her husband Robert, who God is using to raise awareness through their video production business, and who are the new PR arm of Village of Hope.
my friend Wendy, who -though she traveled to Honduras and not Uganda – is developing a “Coupons for a Cause” program to raise money AND purchase needed supplies for orphans and widows along Honduras’ Mosquito Coast.
my friend Chris, who has already been back to Uganda since our November trip and will be returning with us in August, in order to help organize and establish the medical clinic on the land and train the professionals who will be running it.
The list could go on and on.
And while I’m thrilled for my friends, and excited about what God is doing, and challenged by how God is using them to further His purpose, I admit I’m a little jealous.Â Not for notoriety or accolades.Â Not for people to pat me on the back or tell me what an inspiration or encouragement I am.Â No, I’m jealous because I want to matter.Â I want to make a difference.Â I want God to use ME, too.
In November, I had no idea what to expect.Â I went with a completely open mind, ready to experience all that Africa had to offer.Â I was going to soak it all in: the sights, the smells, the sounds, and really LIVE it.Â It was an adventure, and I was along for the ride.
But this time, my attitude is a little different.Â I already have an idea of what to expect.Â I’ve experienced the “vibrant” city of Gulu.Â I’ve seen the land – or at least what it looked like seven months ago.Â I’ve sat under the stars gazing up at the vast African sky, slept in a mud hut, and survived using a squatty potty.Â I’ve eaten goat meat, VERY lean chickens fresh from the kill, and tried posho.Â Despite the cultural inconveniences, it’s a huge sacrifice for my family to make for me to return.Â I’m giving up two weeks of my summer with my children, right before school starts.Â I’m asking my husband to be a single, working parent.Â I’m placing a financial burden on our budget during one of the leanest months of the year for us.Â I’m absolutely convinced this is the right thing to do…but I’ve wondered WHY?Â Over the past seven months I have begged God to reveal His plan to me.Â To show me how I fit in.Â To give me a place to serve while I am there.
I thought it might be in leading worship, but the children showed me true worship far beyond anything I could offer them.
I thought it might be in establishing relationships with them and nurturing them, but they were in school much of the time we were there.
I thought it might be with the school on the land, helping to organize and plan the curriculum, train the teachers, and gather materials needed…but that required an entire summer – 3 months – away from my husband and children.
And so I have drifted.Â As I’ve met our new team and seen the excitement on these fresh new faces, those old feelings of insecurity and uncertainty well up.Â Why am I going?Â Everyone else seems to KNOW why…they have a purpose, a plan, an idea of what God wants to do, of how God wants to use them.Â And I don’t.
Or at least, I didn’t…until our team meeting yesterday.Â At that meeting, we received a bit of training on leading ESL classes, which is one of the things we will be doing on the land.Â As I listened, those teacher-wheels on my brain started turning…and turning…and soon I had a full-blown locomotive train of thought chugging its way through those mental synapses.Â For the first time, I began to feel excitement coursing through me.Â I could hardly sit still as the ideas and strategies began flowing.Â When the meeting was over, I approached one of our team leaders and practically begged her to let me have a hand in planning the ESL classes.Â Next thing I knew, I was handed several thick folders containing our curriculum and told to review and read over them for our next meeting in two weeks and start coming up with strategies and ideas for how we will organize the lessons.
So that’s it!!Â That’s why I’m going!!Â I get to go to Africa to TEACH!!Â To teach these precious children English…and the love of God.Â To use my skills as an educator to reach beyond cultural differences and provide them with skills that will give them opportunities they never dreamed of having.Â To touch them with words of hope and life…to give them God’s word to hide in their hearts as they are learning English…to show them by words and actions that in Christ we are all one and the same.
As I said earlier, I love it when a plan comes together.Â Especially when it’s God’s plan…and He lets me be a small part of it.
Yesterday was the last day of school.Â It’s hard to believe it’s been 9 months since Trey and Crisana met their teachers for the first time.Â Or 9 months since we took those brand-new crayons or unopened boxes of notebook paper into their new classrooms.Â Or 9 months since the first day of school, where all three of us entered different classrooms.Â But the calendar tells me this is true.
As I look back over the past year, I can see how much my children have learned.Â Â But I can see something else, too: how much I have learned.Â How much Matt and I have learned as parents.Â How much we have learned as a family.Â And here are just a few of the nuggets I’ve gleaned since August:
Parenting is Hard
Yes, it’s hard work.Â There are lunches to be made and rooms to be cleaned and homework to be finished and checked, and activities to be scheduled.Â We strive to ensure that our children are well-adjusted socially, challenged academically, nurtured spiritually, developed physically, and stimulated mentally.Â We organize and orchestrate and schedule and provide and work so that our children can be the very best possible chance of success in life.
But sometimes, despite our best efforts, our children fail.Â And that’s hard.Â It’s hard to watch them stumble.Â It’s hard to wipe away their tears of frustration, discouragement, and sorrow.Â It’s hard to know the words to say to offer comfort and direction.Â It’s even harder to have them withdraw from you – even for a season – as they attempt to work out their complex emotional and mental battles on their own.
Parenting is Work
School takes a break.Â Workers get days off.Â Employees have vacation days.
Parents get none of that.
Oh sure, we may have a “date night” or an evening where the kids are farmed out to Grandma or various friends.Â But the responsibility of parenting never goes away.Â And when we try to shirk our responsibilities as parents, the repercussions are serious.
Being a parent means I am active.Â Actively involved in my children’s lives.Â Actively listening when they talk to me.Â Actively engaged when they are sharing their ideas, thoughts, emotions, and dreams.Â Actively interested in the things that interest them.Â Actively living and experiencing life with them.Â Actively molding their personalities, developing their character, and instilling the qualities God would desire in them.
It means not sitting on the sidelines and being a spectator in the sport of their development.
Parenting brings the greatest reward
It’s been a tough year.Â There have been some difficult moments, to be sure.Â Some days my knees got sore from spending so much time in prayer – for me, for my kids, for our family.
But over the past week I’ve been reminded again and again how much my children are loved and appreciated, simply because of who they are.Â As Trey has fought a virus that has kept him out of several fun end-of-year activities, his friends have asked about him…commiserated with him…and genuinely missed having him as part of the activities.Â Crisana has a long list of invitations and play dates to arrange for the summer, with friends old and new who want to spend time with her.Â And as a parent, I couldn’t be prouder.Â My children may not be the smartest, or the greatest athlete, or the best musician, or the most talented artist in their school or even their class.Â But my children are developing as leaders among their peers.Â They are respected and loved by their classmates, their teachers, and other adults.Â They are developing character and integrity, and demonstrate hearts of compassion and service toward others.
Those are the things no certificate can ever capture.