Freezing Frogs and Sunday Hope

In oversize puddles and wetlands, my sister and I stalked amphibians to see if we could spot with our own eyes what was chirping the oversize chorus. Nope. Each time we got close to water’s edge, one frog stopped singing and another started just a few feet further away, playing hide and seek with us while singing an impressive chorus. We imagined their creature-from-the-black-lagoon plotting, “I think I can take the shorty, but the ginger target looks tastier.”  Wonder and giggles make good stress relievers.

Don’t we all need a place to go, to run or walk out our thoughts in our mixed-up, “manic Monday” world? To pace out our problems on our worst days, “Yeah, it’s finally Friday, but–dang it–I didn’t solve that yet. And I didn’t even come close to meeting my goals for the week.” Stress, stress, stress might tempt us to spend even more time at our computers. Nope. Add arrows to your Bullet Journal to move the task to next week. Not all change depends on you or your own efforts. Head outside!

“Don’t believe things can change? Just look at Palm Sunday — to Good Friday — to Resurrection Sunday. Always believe, always keep hoping — things can change.”

–Ann Voskamp

IMG_20170314_143618495When I’m frustrated, I walk the 3 1/2-mile Deer Grove East prairie path, several times a week. Sometimes with my brother and his bite-sized dog Samson. Always windy, rarely crowded, a great place to watch clouds and view the whole horizon. (Translation: no hills … or any feature, really … to distract from the sky and my steps.)

It seems I walk much faster on a warm March day (inspired by the name of the month?), but it’s in contrast with whistling headwinds that slow me down in blustery February.

Friday I walked with my sister Tami. We hashed over our family’s issues along the way, and lost–and found–her glove, but no solutions. And we stalked frogs as tiny as a fingertip. Visiting from Minnesota, she kept commenting on the uninterrupted green-grass vista and buds on the trees. Not spring in Minnesota yet.

Walking on a Friday brings me hope even when there’s no real reason. Nothing’s actually gotten better … yet. But I stop my striving and put the week to rest. I walk my way into weekend mode. I look forward to Sunday.

Monday I walked again,  alone this time, hurrying to complete my lap before a hailstorm rolled in. Almost back to the car, I nearly missed it — and it changed everything. How? “Pop,”a tree burst into full white bloom. Spring hope, there before me.

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Lovely tree along my walk route that burst into flower between Friday and Monday.

In the midst of the still winter-bare woods, a tree dressed fully in spring splendor.  Over the weekend, life found a way. While I was resting, watching movies, cheering at 12 PHS volleyball games, talking with two friends in marriage crunches. While I was worshiping and waving palm branches at church, God was re-creating his world. And hopefully, recreating me.

That Friday my sister and I talked through my ministry “do-over” options, brainstorming a possible shift from the church world back into non-profit leadership. My dining table was piled with 50+index cards listing my transferable skills in sharpie-blue. It’s uplifting as spring to have a sister you trust and who loves you look at your bold bucket of skills and say, “Yes! You’d be great at this            !”

Even without my sister to cheer me on, Monday felt better, with Sunday’s lingering hope. Monday brought morning sun and lemon daffodils popping open in the backyard, but quickly turned to holy hailstones crashing down from the heavens. During the storm, I boldly sent out my revamped, skill-focused resumes. Talked with a potential church employer about a fresh ministry area. Wrote a new article assigned to me by a magazine editor. Sunday hope carried over into my manic Monday.

I finally googled those crazy, chirping amphibians my sister and I had chased. “Chorus frogs”, they are called: locally, Western chorus frogs, and where I used to live, Northeast spring peepers.

The amazing thing I learned is these tiny hoppers can survive being frozen alive. These daring frogs come out of hibernation early, and when the temperature drops again, no problem. When the first ice crystals form, their livers quickly rush sugary anti-freeze throughout their bodies to protect their organs.

It all looks impossible on Friday, doesn’t it? With the chanting crowds, the darkened sky, and and Jesus’ being nailed to a cross?

It looks impossibly bad, yet we call it “good,” for God’s actions that Friday change everything. God means us to live in close relationship with Jesus and with others. Forgiven and forgiving. Redeemed and freed from “the sin that so easily entangles.” Jesus’ Friday death on that cross and his Sunday resurrection change everything. Jesus saves us. Unfreezes us. Brings hope and Spring to our wintery souls.

Turns out that none of what we need most depends on us, on any day of the week. It all dhqdefault.jpgepends on Jesus, on a cross, on an empty tomb. That’s Sunday hope on a Friday.

 

Sources:

Thanks for inspiration to Jon Acuff’s helpfully entertaining book Do-Over.

Aatish Bhatia, “What’s making this strange chirping noise?” https://www.wired.com/2014/04/spring-peeper/ (accessed 4/11/17).

Ann Voskamp, “When you’re kinda struggling through holy week–and don’t feel holy at all” http://archive.mlgn2ca.com/u=fb5ead1fd337d4ac2581b075b6244ad1&id=360d7273&e=1d0e0720 (accessed 4/11/17).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Seuss and the Places You’ll Go!

Years back, Ken invented a mythical place we did NOT want to end up living in any of our moves to a new pastoral call: Dismal Seepage, Nebraska (DSN for short). In fifteen years of ministry, we’ve interviewed at a few churches that were located too nearby to DSN. We boldly ran the other direction. Maybe to Tarshish. Once I cried through the worship service at a potential church as I realized the Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 1.45.14 PMonly thing our kids would like about that church would be taking turns ringing the big church bell on Sunday mornings.

The great philosopher Dr. Seuss was enthusiastic about moving, “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself  any direction you choose.”

Philadelphia. We moved here from Chicago 20 months ago. Moved away from my close-knit, Midwest family to a place where I had no connections whatsoever. Moved east instead of west, which had been our long-term, intended direction.

Bruce Larson used to say, “When God wants to teach us a lesson, He takes us on a trip.”

This has sometimes felt like long trip for me. Did I mention living in the Northeast is vastly different from the Midwest or Northwest where we’ve resided? People passing on the street look right past me and NOBODY talks to strangers, even to friendly, smiling, middle-aged women. Our middleschooler likes the NE the most of all our family members, “It’s awesome here, Mom. Everyone is rude all the time. You don’t even have to try to be polite and friendly!” So there’s a plus I hadn’t considered.

But at least it’s not DSN, right? Not by any objective standards. A year ago it all depended on which day you asked me what I’d call it. I enjoyed walking the parks and rolling with the hills; I was wowed to see the explosion of cherry blossoms, like a Whoville wonderland! The Barnes museum with its impressionist art collection is my kinda place. I bump into founding fathers’ history everywhere I turn. And nearby are DC, Boston, and NYC where we’ve had fun, family, weekend adventures.

Plus our family plugged into a neighborhood church, a church where I eventually ended up on staff, serving youth and their families. It’s been a privilege.The church family has adopted us in love and opened their hearts to us.

The Spirit encourages us to look at life as an open door, an invitation to walk through to God’s adventure. In All the Places to Go, John Ortberg writes, “An open door is an opportunity provided by God, to act with God and for God” (14).

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 1.47.52 PMOne of my problems for the first 9 months was that I hadn’t made enough opportunity to act my way into anything. No job yet, not many friends . . . at least I finished my DMin degree.

Ortberg’s words resonated with me in my ups and mostly downs of that first year, “When I go through open doors, I will often discover that my faith is really weaker than I thought it was before I went through” (46).

Ortberg goes on, “ Anytime you step through an open door, your story and Jesus’ story begin to get mixed up together, and you become part of the work of God in this world. The only way to fix a broken story is to embed it in a larger story that begins and ends well”(77).

The resurrection reminds us the story does, indeed, end well.

I bumped into a series of facebook messages between me and my friend Ann from Indy, a young mother of two who was diagnosed with serious, advanced breast cancer. She has been a five-year survivor. She wrote me,

“I have hoped and prayed during these 8 months that this journey would be for God’s glory – no matter the outcome. It may sound strange (well it did to my mother-in-law but I bet you will understand) . . . one of my prayers has also been that I would not miss the blessing in all this. The lesson. The wisdom. The change. Whatever it is and whatever it is to be called – I did not and do not want to miss it! I am still asking God to help me discern what I am to learn and how I am to grow. Others have brought me courage and hope and I am so touched that I could do that for you – such an honor.” Ann VM, 6/27/13

How do I keep my eyes wide open to the blessing even in unexpected life change, that it may be for God’s glory? I don’t want to miss a thing.

I just bumped into this draft written last May.  Cool to see the difference a year makes and how God answers prayer in unexpected ways, often through His people!

 

Shouting in church

I run into the packed, Easter-morning church, dressed in a tunic with a shawl wrapped around my head, interrupting the senior pastor. I scare everyone with my shouts, “He is risen!” He is risen! I can hardly believe it but I have seen him myself…. Oh, but let me start at the beginning. My name is Mary and I come from the town of Magdala. Early this morning I was so sad—surely you know by now about our master Jesus who was put to death by the Romans? I was walking to his tomb when suddenly the earth shook and there was a flash of blinding light.” I go on to retell Matthew 28 in vivid, sensory terms and end with, “And so I ran, RAN, to tell everyone the Good News! He is risen!”

P1040268Then I turn to the children, “That is why on this day of days we greet other Christians by saying, ‘He is risen!’ And they respond with ‘He is risen indeed!’” The kids and I lead the church in this greeting, call and response style. I love doing it and I love that I have this passage memorized after 15 years of joyful repetition. It’s the highpoint of my year in children’s ministry. I love Easter. It makes me excited, joyful, teary all at once. I can’t wait to disrupt everything each year, just as Mary did, just as Jesus did that Sunday when he rose up from the dead.

How do you go deeper into explaining to a child the joy of the resurrection and the hope it brings to us today? How?

Later in Sunday school, I tied in a lesson on sharing our faith, too, with the excitement of that first Easter. This week, since I was teaching older kids (4th to 6th grade) I was talking about hope. We had already learned 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” So we talked about it again, “What is the hope we have? How do we share it?”

As we talked, we tried to fold origami doves. Operative word: “tried.” Just because the worship lesson website claims it is a medium-difficulty task and the kids claim to be origami experts, does NOT mean it is so. Photo on 4-9-15 at 2.13 PMDespite my careful trial runs with other kids, none of us could master folding that dove that night, so my attempt to give them a hands-on experience and form a symbol to share with others was a complete bust. How can I as a teacher do better at passing on the hope of the resurrection?

We read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which most had never heard before: We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”

I asked, ”Why is this encouraging?” After a few stammers about heaven and blank stares, I added, “God raised Jesus first on that Easter morning. God can be trusted to raise those who love and follow Jesus, raise us up to heaven on that Judgment Day, to be with the Lord forever. God can be trusted and that gives us hope when we believe and are saved.”

So I asked them, “What does it take to be saved? To know for certain we will be raised with Jesus?” They answered and we looked up Romans 10:9 to read in unison, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The hope of the resurrection, the hope and joy of Easter, beautifully laid out for us.

By this time, we were so exhausted from thinking so hard, what I call “idea-normous thinking,” we had to run around in the gym for 15 minutes and play sharks and minnows.

None of the crumpled, foldy, half-bird, half-boat, rejected doves-turned-into-paper-airplanes made it out of the classroom. But I hope the echoing joy of Mary’s shouting the good news did, “He is risen!”

He is risen indeed.