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If We Only Knew…

 

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It takes a little while to discover that life is always full of surprises. When we are growing up, it can be so easy to see our days as boringly repetitious. It’s as if we are waiting on life to happen and often missing that we are already using up precious minutes longing for the next season ahead. We associate “surprises” as unexpected delightful things that brighten the routine of our daily life.

 

In childhood we have such a great lot of time. The clock appears to tick slowly.

 

Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow, introduces us to an insightful perspective on time that I doubt we can conceptualize when we are young. Listen to these words on the subject:

 

“Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory.”

 

We can be full of can’t wait till…” moments. We can’t wait till we get our first bicycle, get our own room, are able to walk or ride to a friend’s house in the neighborhood unaccompanied. We can’t wait till we are tall enough to ride that great coaster at the amusement park that measures how tall we are to give us a “thumbs up” to ride. The list goes on and on. We fail to recognize or value we have already started creating a scrapbook of memories.

 

It doesn’t stop in adolescence. We can’t wait till we get our driver’s license, get our first car, or go to our first dance. We dream of life on our own and want to be free to make all our own choices. We are so busy wishing for tomorrow that we sometimes are shocked when high school graduation comes along. We look ahead to what seems like a long journey of things to discover, experience, acquire, and accomplish. Of course, there may be some jitters, moments of uncertainty here and there, but we rarely admit it to anyone. Not even to ourselves. Isn’t this what we have been eager to enjoy?

 

Our feelings become contradictory. We want to be on our own, but perhaps for the first time we take a backward glance at home and the life we have known. It’s a momentary glance very often because the road ahead still beckons us onward. It still doesn’t occur to us the road will take many turns ahead. There will be more intersections than we can imagine. We may get a hint here or there that the road will have an end when some distant aunt or uncle dies. When a grandparent dies, it will occupy just a few more moments of thought. That thought will be short-lived because they are “old” after all. The idea that it will happen to us is not on our radar screen.

 

Early adulthood will bring with it the awareness that we need to sort out this new season we have so much desired. Choices are not as straightforward as we had thought. Our days fill up with advanced education, getting a job, and finding a person to share the journey with us. We return to that old habit of “can’t wait til…”

 

We can’t wait till we find the “dream job”, move to that place we always wanted to live, have enough money to buy our own place. And it doesn’t stop there, little by little almost without our awareness life keeps happening. We meet that “perfect someone” and can’t wait till we get married and start a family of our own. Getting older is not something we give much thought to after looking forward to it throughout our childhood. When a certain pivotal age comes along, we may pause and wonder how we arrived there so soon. After all, isn’t that the age my parents are?

 

In Jayber Crow, we hear the main character reflecting on the discovery we only find as we see the end of the road appearing in the distance,

 

“And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.”

 

Those memories are a patchwork of sorts with some of the pieces in bright, bold colors and others in duller shades. Perhaps they become more precious to us because we alone know the intricacies of our story.

 

After all, as Jayber reflects:

 

“Telling a story is like reaching within a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told…there is also more than needs to be told, and more than anybody wants to hear.”

 

 It is unlikely we would have believed those farther ahead of us if they had articulated this to us. We were, after all, different than they. Our life was and would be different, wouldn’t it?

 

And yet as we approach the end, our vision is enhanced by a wider angle lens. We know more, but now we see there is less time ahead and we would slow the ticking if we could. We start to take stock of what we did with all the time (now memories) and assess what sort of steward we were.

 

Jayber understood that as he looked back and ahead:

 

“And so there would always be more to remember that could no longer be seen. This is one of the things I can tell you that I have learned: our life here is in some way marginal in our own doings, and our doings are marginal to the greater forces that are always at work. Our history is always returning to a little patch of weeds and saplings with an old chimney sticking up by itself.”

 

If only we knew back then, but maybe we were not supposed to know. Maybe we are supposed to discover that all life has meaning, that time is precious, and end is always closer than we think.

 

Vermont
Fall in Stowe, Vermont

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, Writing, & Arithmetic

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By mid-September students everywhere have returned to classrooms and if it were marketed simply as “reading, writing, and arithmetic”, most would scoff. They would wonder where the STEM programs were and what computer programs were being utilized. It tends to be easy in our modern era to deride anything that is more than a few years old as antiquated and by implication, “less than”. I get that! I spent 15 years of my life teaching in a public educational setting in the 1980’s and early 1990’s and was blessed to have one of Apple’s first computers in my special education classroom. That is nearly 30 years ago and behind the times in many ways by 2017 standards.

 

My education did not start that way as a child. I had the rare privilege of spending grades one and two in rural Ohio in a one-room school where eight grade levels managed to be taught by one teacher with fairly amazing results. (For many homeschool mothers today that would not be surprising.) I confess that I learned a great deal by overhearing the lessons of students in older grades.

 

The school I attended was the same one my father had attended years before me, but the curriculum had changed by the time I entered first grade at age five. My father’s class used the famed McGuffey readers and other texts authored by McGuffey as well as Ray’s arithmetic books, texts that educated and trained thousands of students in the late images (1)nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I cherish a few copies of those very books that I have on my bookshelves that belonged to my dad and his sisters.

 

Few except homeschoolers would consider using these texts today since they went beyond basic academic subject matter. Stories in reading texts were meant not only to teach reading, but also a set of moral principles and values, love of country, and respect for parents.

 

When I review the contents of these books on my shelves, I see words and concepts that might cause some contemporary students to stumble not only due to vocabulary words that are no longer common but also due to the level of thinking and maturity evidenced.

 

That old fashioned generation without smartphones, high tech computers and scientific calculators managed to build the economic engine of the United States. They did so by 22f0da4aec880a351ca034c698c89bfe49b2ed58grounding it on moral, biblical, ethical values and principles as a sure foundation along with academic standards we all now benefit from and take for granted or even shun.

 

Perhaps we have gone too far, however, in this modernization and started to see something was lost in the process. Homeschooling seems to be one response to an educational system that set aside the very values we all once cherished. Many ridiculed this movement when it started but despite the critics, students who are homeschooled are standing tall in their accomplishments equaling and often exceeding the academic performance of their public school peers. The subjects taught them are quite inclusive and include things like rhetoric and dialectic skills as well as numerous languages, math, sciences, history, geography, music,  and arts. Many are taught in various co-op formats where students have spirited interaction around subject matter taught by highly educated mothers (and sometimes dads).

 

As I reflect on the return to studies by millions of children around the world, I am especially grateful for mothers (and sometimes dads) who are investing time, skills, and numerous resources to homeschool their children. These parents are unsung heroes who sacrifice a great deal in an effort to hold a high standard of academic performance as well as skills such as thinking, evaluating, organizing, time management and more. In the mix they base everything on moral principles that respect God, country, family values, and authority. They are not wimpy followers who are socially inept, but leaders who have been challenged to consider consequences and take responsibility for not only learning material, but also their own behavior and choices.

 

How do I know this? Our daughter and daughter-in-law have homeschooled all six of our grandchildren in Maryland and Tennessee. Our oldest granddaughter earned a scholarship and graduated with honors from an excellent university with a BSN this spring. Our oldest grandson earned a trustee scholarship to a highly ranked private college in a pre-medical program and is studying abroad in Chile this semester as a college junior. Another grandson is hard at work in his freshman year of college looking at how he can use his creativity and marketing to help make the world a better place. The remaining three grandchildren are able to hold their own in discussing nearly any subject that comes up as seventh, ninth, and eleventh graders. The oldest of these takes AP courses and writes a column in an online student newspaper.

 

These six have played on basketball, soccer, and swim teams. The one who played high school basketball was on a top nationally ranked team. Among them we have singers, thespians, pianists, a drummer, a violinist, and a cellist. None of them are socially inept or backward. All have held various jobs and completed internships with more to come.

 

Today I salute my daughter and daughter-in-law for equipping the next generation with the academic skills and moral fiber to make a difference in the world and for eternity. I am so proud of both of you.

 

Perhaps the admonition in Proverbs 4:7 ESV says it best:

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”

 

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The Discipline of Waiting

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Of all things that we humans do poorly, waiting (for or on almost anything) is where we are most likely to score a poor grade. It’s strange that we struggle with it when we have so many opportunities to experience it. We experience it in big and small ways more times than we can count. If practice makes us better at anything, I wonder why we don’t improve more in this area?

 

Some of our “waiting practice” goes with whatever season of life we find ourselves in. As children we are waiting for a new bike, waiting for Christmas, waiting to go camping, waiting for the treat I was promised, and waiting to grow up to be able to do all the things I see older kids getting to do. A bit later those same children are waiting to graduate from school, waiting to buy their first car, or waiting on that right person to share the rest of life with.

 

Adulthood brings other waiting related to the season. There are things like waiting on a promotion or a raise, waiting for a child to be born, waiting for a service member to return home, waiting for a diagnosis, waiting on approval for a mortgage, and more.

 

There are all those mundane daily kinds of waiting too. There is the “waiting in line” at grocery stores, gas pumps, theaters, doctor’s offices, traffic lights, and toll plazas.

 

Waiting exposes the truth we cannot avoid: We are not in control.

 

Waiting tests what we know or believe about ourselves, the situation I am in, and certainly what I know or believe about the Lord and His faithfulness, mercy, and goodness. What I know and believe will have a direct influence on my level of hope.

 

In Learning to Know Esther Meek reminds us of what hope can be:

 

“…well-placed hope does not disappoint us. It is not a certainty, but it is perhaps delicious for its anticipation. We rejoice in the prospect of knowing.”

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As believers we wait in expectation for God’s coming. To the degree we know the truth Scripture teaches us, we watch for Him as a result of the fulfillment of the first promise of His coming to earth. Without a certainty of when He will arrive, we have the confidence that He will. The first knowing helps us to have confidence in the promise of His return. Wisdom teaches us what Esther Meek points out: “Certainty is an illusion.”

 

 The discipline of waiting does help us to know ourselves and the Lord better if we are willing to recognize that, but it also helps the Lord to know us better. Perhaps we fear that as well.

 

For all the times in Scripture that we see someone long to know, see, or hear from the Lord, when He shows up as an angel, in a burning bush, or as a warrior what happens first is very often fear or terror. Quoting Esther Meek again, The gaze of God is both what we fear and what we can’t do without…Our knowing is warped, especially when it comes to knowing God, because of human rebellion against God. There is something inside us that doesn’t want to know him, even as another part of us does. Our blindness thus requires the terror of his meeting us.”

 

 In the timeless work of C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy very much wants Mr. Beaver to assure her this lion he speaks of (Aslan) is safe. Most of us recall Mr. Beaver’s answer: “Safe! Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good! He is the king, I tell you.”

 

 The discipline of waiting turns us toward seeking to know the Lord and His response to where we are and how we are.

 

What we miss is that He is the one who is pursuing us!

 

He pursues us in the midst of our waiting and for whatever we may feel about that, His pursuit of us is what will lead to calm in the midst of waiting. Lucy discovered that and chose not to run.

 

“Seated on the back of a loving lion, as Lucy found, is the best of all possible places to be.” Esther Meek

 

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Lessons from the Vineyard II

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As I began to walk through the lush vineyard, it was evident that it was the beginning of harvest time. Row upon row of grape vines stood planted in equal distances from one another. The hidden roots had produced sturdy vines branching out in two directions guided by wires above them so that the branch of one vine intersected with the branch of another.

 

The vintner had pruned all the branches lower on the vine to allow the nourishment for the grapes to be at the top of the branches. He eliminated anything that would hinder the health and productivity of the vines. Grape clusters hung heavy on the vines in varying shades of purple, blue, and green. Mesh screen on both sides of each row of vines secured and protected the grapes from becoming dislodged from the vines and falling to the ground. The arrangement of the well pruned vines near the soil, the stakes, wires, and mesh also allowed the sun to shine on the grapes uncovered from the branches themselves.

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At the end of the rows beautiful red roses bloomed on the bushes planted there as guardians of the vines. They are perfectly suited for their assignment since both roses and grape vines are susceptible to some of the same diseases. Various types of mildew and fungus can attack the vines, but the rose bushes help the vintner to catch evidences of the diseases in early stages so they can be treated and the grapes will not be harmed or lost.

 

Even though some varieties were not fully ripened, others were already being picked. The cool September breeze and the warm sunshine would need to complete their work for the other varieties to be ready. The vintner would watch carefully for the exact time each varietal would produce the sugar content and taste he desired.

 

But long before this season of promised harvest, the hard work of preparing the soil was done to assure the exact needed nutrients were worked into the ground. Then the stakes were installed that would support the young vines as they grew and later held up their burgeoning branches of fruit.

 

The vintner knew well the value of protecting the vines. This year’s harvest would come from vines that had grown and been tended for more than a few years. Any vintner knows that growing a vineyard will be a long investment. It is not unusual to be eight years until the first bottles of wine will be sold if only the juice of a new vineyard is used.

 

As I walked through the vineyard, my mind turned to John 15 where Jesus tells His disciples that He is the vine and we are the branches. As I considered the many steps needed to produce a good harvest of grapes, I sensed Him pointing to His patience with me (and each of us) in order for us to be all He has envisioned, to produce the harvest He has envisioned.

 

For years He has worked the soil of my heart to provide what is needed to even consider a harvest. He has allowed hurtful things and painful disappointments to happen because He knows they will strengthen what He has planted to ensure the harvest. He has cut away what will interfere with His plan.

 

I was reminded that my friend and I had come to the vineyard and winery to celebrate a harvest of sorts. We had tended a project for many months and already pruned it several times. He was showing me there was more ripening to accomplish before the harvest and perhaps some pruning also. Only then would the harvest be as He desired when He had given us the assignment.

 

If He were to be glorified by our efforts, it would be as a result of our humbling and His handiwork. His vision for the project was greater than ours.

 

He knew we were not fully equipped for the task.

 

He was reminding us once again of our utter dependence upon Him.

 

I love the way Margaret Feinberg describes the picture He was giving me in her insightful book, Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey:

 

“The vine is the source of everything for the branch – every nutrient, every life-giving drop of water, every hint of growth. The branch is completely dependent on the vine. But even in those moments when I grow wild or unbalanced, God is faithful as a vinedresser to perform all the small cuts I need to remain fruitful. So, in that place where I am abiding in Christ under the watchful eye of the Father, I can trust that the Father will be pruning those areas and desires in my life that don’t line up with where He wants me to go.”

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Lessons from the Vineyard – I

 

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It was to be a time of celebration when a dear friend invited me to share a gift she received of a two-night stay at a local vineyard and winery. The time away was scheduled weeks ago to celebrate something we had worked on together. But the story was upended several days before we were to leave when we learned the project we expected to celebrate was stalled and perhaps given a deathblow.

 

What would the time look like now?

 

Despite the plans we had made, the shift did not catch the Lord off-guard. What did He have in mind? Could He restore peace to our hearts and show us the next step? We both knew He could, but how? Our hearts were crushed from the disappointing news we received.

 

We had not had time to process the news prior to our arrival so after catching up with each other’s lives over dinner, we sat down to see how the Lord was moving in each of our hearts. We discovered we both were certain we needed to wait on the Lord to move. This was not a time to try to fix anything we had done. It was a time to lay it down before the Lord since it was clear only He could show the way forward.

 

The following morning as I sat with my Bible and journal in hand, I looked for the place I had stopped the previous day. Romans 5 was the starting point. The first five verses are some of my favorites, but as I read them they spoke directly to my heart as I paused at verses three through five:

 

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 ESV

 

Suffering comes in many forms and disguises. Sometimes it comes with a dashed expectation or dream. When we look at the significant physical suffering around us, it can be easy to devalue the way our hearts and spirits can be bent low when disappointment crushes us. But it is also suffering. The harvest of suffering a significant disappointment is often doubt. That is where the Lord knew I was and His words through Paul were the balm for the hurt as well as a reminder of the truth. My spirit rested in the grateful grace and provision for that doubt that only He could provide.

 

A short time later I received a text from a mutual friend and prayer warrior who did not know any of what had happened or where we were staying. She wanted to schedule our next coffee date. I agreed to check my calendar. The friend who was with me suggested she meet us for lunch if she were free since she only lived five minutes from where we were.

 

Once more the Lord showed provision as an appointment on her calendar had just canceled. Before we went to lunch, she came to the house where we were staying and we shared with her what was happening. After fellowshipping for a while, we spent a precious season in prayer together turning everything about the project before the Lord yet again. We did not end the time with a direction, but a sweet peace. After all, He had supplied the next step a few hours earlier when she contacted me for coffee and came to fellowship and pray with us before lunch. This evidence did not escape our attention.

 

That evening we had dinner reservations that included a few special others who helped us with some aspect of the project. We shared the news with them at dinner with lighter hearts, but no clear path ahead.

 

The waitress asked us when we sat down what we were celebrating. Our response was that we were not celebrating anything. Throughout her interaction through the meal she repeated the same question and always received the same answer. Then as she brought the check she mentioned to my friend another name in passing. It was someone my friend knew and within a few moments, we shared an overview of what we hoped the celebration was to be and how it now was not. Without hesitation she laid down the check and put an arm around my friend and me as she stood between us and began praying.

 

IMG_2717The Lord had provided yet again. He demonstrated clearly that He knew our disappointment and wanted our hearts, minds, and spirits to be encouraged.

 

The following morning before we left the vineyard we talked about how the Lord met us in more than one unexpected way.

 

It had happened only after we had laid down the burden we carried. He had picked it up and shared the yoke.

 

We came to a vineyard and winery and before I left, I walked through the vineyard and sensed there was more He wanted me to see.

 

What He reminded me of still did not give me a direct answer, but it wrapped me in His love.

 

What did He show me on the walk? Join me next time to hear about the walk.

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