Tuesday, December 23, 2014
I have had an itch to paint something for several weeks now. That itch - a creative urge - has building and building until it literally caused me squirm! I told Renee today that if I didn't get to paint, I may either explode or implode! She looked at me with a confused expression, and I had to explain to her that creating is a soul need for me.
One of my wonderful students presented me with a gift card to a craft store, which enabled me to replenish my depleted paint supply and brushes. It was just the push I needed! I gathered my tools, a board, and a couple of photos to work from, and hunkered down to work at my kitchen table.
When I am painting, I generally chalk in my outlines first. I decided to work on a painting of the little goat, Snickers, that we lost a few weeks ago. I had two precious pictures of her that I combined to show her standing on wobbly little legs. Once I was happy with the outline, I began painting.
The first hour seemed to move along well. Renee was wrapping presents while I was painting and that was peaceful enough, but suddenly, everyone else arrived on the scene and all of the noise and action threatened to rob my creative spirit. Renee suggested that I try listening to music on my headphones, and once she helped me get set up to do that, I was painting happily again.
I am very pleased with my end product! It captures Snickers personality well! Carter explained to me that if he saw someone else painting that, he would say, "Wow! That's really good!" But since he has been watching me paint his whole life, it doesn't impress him. I suppose I should take that as a compliment!
After finishing the painting of Snickers, I finished another painting of our goat, Willy, that I started almost a year ago. I am really pleased with this one as well. The difficult part for me is deciding whether or not to sell the original paintings. Part of my "plan" for having my own studio includes selling my artwork, and I have never had trouble with that before, but these feel so personal!
Jerry has cut another board for me and I am planning a painting of my rooster, Curious, next. Three paintings in one day? Well, at least my itch has been scratched!
Saturday, December 6, 2014
This week I helped and held a little creature as she took her first and last breath of life. Snickers lived for one week and eight hours, and in that time she managed to touch and bless many people with her sweetness and determination. I feel quite certain I have learned many lessons during her short little life, but for now I will just grateful that she lived it.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
My passion is encouragement and teaching others how to tell their stories. Such power is tapped when someone reads a piece of literature and learns something about themselves, or develops their philosophies of life further from reading, analyzing, and understanding the story. Students won't necessarily do that on their own, especially lower level students who are struggling with the basic comprehension of what they are reading, so I find that class discussion and journal writings are one viable way to inspire that kind of authentic learning.
Recently, as we were beginning to read "Flowers for Algernon" in my regular level 8th grade English class, I had the students respond to the journal prompt, "Which is more important - relationships with people or accomplishments?" After this initial journal prompt, we spent several days reading aloud and discussing the journal entries of Charlie Gordon, the main character in the story. Charlie, who was mentally disabled, is chosen for an experimental surgery to increase his IQ. Charlie expressed, through his own journal entries, the strong desire to be like others and to be liked by others. Despite his disability, Charlie decided that the best route to meaningful relationship was to become smarter.
As my students read and discussed Charlie's journey, they experienced first-hand the sad discovery that Charlie himself made. While Charlie's intelligence increased, his relationships changed and eventually decreased. Charlie was happier before he underwent the surgery and, though he accomplished academic achievements that surpassed even the scientists who had transformed him, he lost all ability to relate to others. In the the end, he found himself completely alone.
In the midst of the class discussion one day, one of my student's eyes widened and she gasped! "Oh, that's why you had us write about that prompt the other day!" She had made a connection on her own between the writing assignment and the story, and it took her completely by surprise! The prompt had primed my student for opening her mind to a new discovery about what she believed. My fervent desire is that she will now view literature in a different light when she is reading on her own. Hopefully, her educational journey has forever shifted from doing what she is told, waiting for someone to fill her with a bit of knowledge, and skimming through texts to simply fill in the blanks, to a genuine desire to learn. Oh, what a joy it will be if a switch has flipped deep within her that has turned on a passion and created an itch for more discovery.
And isn't this true of each one of us? We go through life, skimming the surface of all that it has to offer. We wade through the shallow waters along the shore of a deep and coursing river of culture and faith and relationship. We feel like we are experiencing life because our ankles are wet and we occasionally feel the ripples of the water lapping at our shins, but we are reluctant to jump in and submerge our souls in the teeming, tumultuous waters of the adventure of life. Every once in while, someone asks us a question, someone pushes us to participate in a discussion that forces us to come to a conclusion. Someone invites us to wade out beyond the comfort levels of our own meager measure of the real meaning of life. While we are there, struggling to maintain our footing, suddenly the current sweeps us off our figurative feet and we are whisked into deeper level of understanding! That "aha" moment carries us to a new place, a new understanding, a new adventure, and our life will never again be the same!
This is life! How wonderful to be the one who is whisked away! But it is infinitely more amazing to be the one who invites an observer into the adventure. To watch another who was idling, apathetic and unaware, come alive, awakening to the true journey, only urges the encourager to encourage all the more. This is teaching!
Friday, October 3, 2014
It has been a hard week. Truthfully, it has been a hard year. Even more truthfully, I can't really remember when life wasn't hard - at least a little. But as hard as things have been, I have to say, "I have everything I need!"
I could mean this from a worldly and material perspective. There isn't anything that I really need at this point that I don't have, but we have been in the position - and not so long ago - where we had to rely on help from others to meet some of our needs. It can be frightening and ever so humbling to have to depend upon the good will of other people, but it teaches so much. Without a time of being needy myself, I am not sure that I would be so generous. Had I not experienced a bit of desparation, I wonder if I would be as compassionate. Because I have personally suffered and benefited from the encouragement of godly people, I am quick to encourage others who are discouraged.
I could also mean this from a spiritual perspective. Paul said, in Philippians 4:12-13, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." I have everything I need because all I really need is Him. Just a few short verses later, Paul said, "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19). How He will supply them is up to Him and I am certain that is part of the plan.
If I think I have a physical need, but God knows that what I really need is to learn to trust, He will meet that physical need in such a way that meets the Spiritual need even more. We may think we need something material right now, but if God knows we need to learn to depend on Him more, He may have us wait on the physical need to help us learn to depend. Sometimes He will met a need through other godly people simply so that we will learn a lesson about love and encouragement.
Life is hard! It is full of trouble - and why are we surprised about this? Jesus said, ""I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) I believe Him! I know He has overcome the world because I have that peace that He describes. I can have a hard week - a hard month - a hard year - and more, because I have learned the secret to being content and at peace! I have everything I need.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
A different neighbor called today. Different neighbor - similar question. "Do you have turkeys?" If you read my post from last week, you know that our turkeys were lost and a neighbor found them in her yard. The funny part is that she, like the neighbor that called today, assumed that they must be ours! As it turned out, these turkeys were not ours but we rescued them anyway and put them in one of our coops to keep them safe. Later in the day we met a new neighbor while he was out canvassing the neighborhood looking for his missing turkeys. We enjoyed talking with him as we helped him walk his turkeys home. It was the second "turkey trot" in Kents Store this week.
I love that our neighbors think of us first whenever there are lost animals in the area. We have the reputation for collecting animals and also for rescuing those that are lost. Though we have only been raising farm animals for seven years, we seem to be known as the local experts. We are far from experts, but we have gained quite a bit of experience and we are always willing to try to help.
As much as I enjoy our status of the rescuers of lost animals, I would much rather be known as someone who helps lost people. Whether we are helping them find their way to God or just guiding them through a tough time, providing shelter during a physical storm or an emotional one, I want my home and my family to be a place of refuge for others.
When people remember me, I won't mind if they remember our funny farm on the corner for all its animals and the tire swing in the back yard, but I hope they will also remember that we were available in their time of need. While we are, at Cornercopia, collectors of animals, we are also collectors of people. We enjoy relationship and we love to welcome others as part of our family.
I didn't mind that early morning call today. We are used to the phone calls that invite us out on a rescue mission. It is what we do and it is what we love. I guess you could say that, at Cornercopia, rescue is our mission.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
You would have seen a very funny sight this evening if you were traveling near our house in Kents Store. A parade of sorts was marching up our road in the rain, and I am certain it drew some rather curious glances. It all began with the disappearance of our young turkeys and guineas. After two days with no sign of the fowl, we had all but counted them gone for good, but in the grand tradition of our funny farm, the story was not quite over.
Just before dinner, our neighbor stopped by to ask if we were missing any birds. It just so happened that our turkeys and guineas, no longer enamored with the security of our yard, had wandered several farms away. Observing that these animals were not wildlife, she rightly assumed that they belonged to us! Anxious to bring our lost flock home, Jerry and the boys jumped in the truck and drove down to the neighbors house.
After considering several ways of capturing the birds that would require a lot of chasing, our neighbor suggested that they simply walk the poultry back to our farm. They slowly corralled the turkeys and guineas by walking behind and beside them. Not feeling threatened, the birds were easily guided all the way home where they were happy to retreat into the safety of their coop. Had the guys tried to chase them, the likelihood of retaining all of the birds is slim.
As Jerry described these hilarious events to me this evening, I couldn't help but think of my brothers and sisters in Christ who have wandered from the flock. The security of living safely within the guidelines of God's law has worn off and suddenly, other fields look better than their own. We often want to run after them in order to capture them and bring them back home, but our techniques sometimes do little more than push them further away.
My neighbors suggestion holds merit with more than wandering animals, it works with the people we love as well. People are much more likely to allow themselves to be guided by someone they trust than with someone hurling insults and pointing fingers. Simply surrounding our wayward loved ones with love, comfort, and wise direction will most often bring them safely back to the nest.
James 5:19-20 says, "My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover a multitude of sins."
I am happy to say that my wandering flock is safe and sound in their house on this rainy night. They will enjoy the shelter of their coop for awhile before they get the chance to taste freedom again. Hopefully by that time they will understand that our farm has all they need for a happy, healthy life.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30:21
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Sometimes I see my day as a long video with each scene blending into the next, while other days are more like a series of snapshots. Today was a day of snapshots; vivid images set against a beautiful backdrop of family and friends, commitment and love.
The day began with an email from my friend, Melissa. She was expressing how my son, Trevor, was a blessing to her yesterday. Her affirmation and gratitude for his helpfulness was the encouragement I needed to begin my day.
The second image of my day is one of me standing next to my husband in worship service this morning. I tilted my head to listen as he sang praises to God. It gives me such pleasure to hear his voice, but knowing that he loves and worships Him together with me causes me to thank God even more. This morning it brought back memories of me as a little girl standing next to my Grandaddy in church while he sang hymns.
Another click of the lens reveals two precious children, Hailey and Dylan, professing their faith and rising out of the waters of baptism. Though I already consider them as a part of my family, watching them become a part of my spiritual family is incredible.
This afternoon, on top of a hill on a beautiful farm, we watched as a couple that we love made vows of commitment to one another. A beautiful picture was etched in my mind as Briton held the end of a unity cord while Jess braided the ends together. They were purposeful about their task and all eyes seemed to be upon them - until I noticed their children. The older two understood what was happening, at least on some level, but the little ones were completely oblivious. It hit hit me suddenly that this was a beautiful picture of marriage and family building. As parents, we must be purposeful and diligent in creating a loving, stable, committed relationship between the two of us. While sometimes our children will witness us doing the work, for the most part, the work itself should be done in such a way that the children can sit at our feet carefree and confident that they are growing up in a family that is full of love.
It was a special treat this weekend to spend time with my whole family together. I am increasingly aware that those times are numbered for us. It wasn't all fun and we weren't all happy and loving the whole weekend, but we were all there - together, and the snapshots that I will take away will be those of us laughing together.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Tonight I uttered words that spoke the truth about the state of my soul. As soon as they left my heart they were returned to me by a voice that whispered of their fault. Suddenly, I knew that all of the wondering - all of the wandering - all was the impact of my own doubt.
The words I spoke became a confession; one that would be taken lightly by many, but not by Him. In an unassuming way, I simply stated, "I am a worrier." While that may not seem like a confession worthy of such drama, it was highlighted by the months of questions and conversations, the sleepless nights, the tortured passing of time since I last trusted fully.
As I struggled through my crisis of faith, though never doubting His love or salvation, I stepped out of the comfort of His power and strength and into the pit of my own frailty. I wrestled with my sin, pains of the past, concerns for the future, self-pity, and more, and He watched over me and waited - waited until I found peace that would overcome it all. He tended to my needs but, in His great love, let me learn from my suffering.
Using the words of others, observations of life, and guidance from His gentle hand, He prepared me for the truth. He hadn't changed. All was as it always had been. By the grace of God I had changed, but only by returning to the truth I had always known. He is sovereign. He is eternal. He is all that I need.
The revelation that came from His whisper was a tiny transformation of the characters in my own pronouncement. "I am a warrior," He corrected. After all of the uncertainty, all of the inquiry, all of the dispute, He simply reminded me of who I am in Him.
Oh that I had never forgotten. Time wasted, energy exhausted, precious opportunities lost. My anxiety solved no problems, protected nothing. Instead, it only served to rob me of my trust in Him. Countless moments, meant for waging war against the enemy of my soul, were squandered in exchange for the empty pleasure of wallowing in worry.
Worry sapped my strength - trust restores it. Worry staled my hope - faith renews it. Worry stole my joy - He redeems it! I am a warrior! I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
After an early start and a long, somewhat uneventful, ride, we made it to North Greenville University just before the end of check-in.
We were quickly shooed over to the field where we got t-shirts, a group picture, and a run through our church sign.
The M-Fuge campers went to a meeting while the Center-Fugers played some games.
Later, we unpacked the vans, ate dinner, and moved between all kinds of meetings and activities, including filling out track forms, worship, Bible Study groups, etc.
We finished out the evening with a meeting for our church group where we shared our track assignments and highs and lows of the day. Most lows included surprising track choices and camp food, while many of the highs were about meeting new people. We did a fun group activity and then headed off to air conditioned dorms for a quick night's sleep.
Friday, June 13, 2014
About a month ago, I decided to reorganize our bathroom. The medicine cabinet has three doors, and for some reason, I moved the toothpaste from one side to the middle of the cabinet. For seven years, I have been opening the door on the left to reach for the toothpaste and I don't seem to be able to break that habit. Every time I brush my teeth I open the door on the left, only to remember that it is not there. I know where the toothpaste is - I moved it!
Habits are like that. We develop particular actions and attitudes over time and they are very difficult to change. The way we react to certain things, the way we think, the choices we make, these are all habits. Over time we conform to those habits simply because we have doing them for so long.
God tells us not to conform to the patterns of the world but to renew our minds. (Romans 12:2). Easier said than done. Paul discusses the difficulty of changing our ways in Romans 7:15. "For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate." Paul understood the laws of human nature and habits. But he also knew the path to that change - renewal of the mind.
What we think determines our actions. If we can change our minds, we will change our actions. The only way to renew our minds so that we think and act in a godly way is to spend time reading and meditating on God's word and then practice what we read. The more we fill our minds with God's love and truth, and the more we actually do what it says, the more natural it will become.
It may take me a while to remember to reach to the middle for the toothpaste, but in the meantime, I am still brushing my teeth. I won't give up just because I forget at first. I just hope it doesn't take me seven years to remember!
Monday, June 9, 2014
This is Curious the rooster. Our mama hen, Road Runner, hatched him a couple of years ago and we gave him and the other chicks from that clutch to our young friend, Betz. Curious had a pretty special home, with special attention from Betz and her Dad, who even fed him by hand. Unfortunately, Curious has a bit of an aggressive streak in him, so he was brought back to the funny farm for the safety and peace of mind of his young owner.
Curious started out in a separate coop so he could get used to his surroundings. We planned to let him mix with the other chickens once he got his bearings, but Curious had his own way of doing things. He did, indeed, mix with the other chickens during the day, but even now, months later, Curious still likes to sleep alone in his own coop.
We let our chickens free range during the day, but we shut the chickens in their coops after dark to keep them safe from predators. As each evening turns to dusk, the rest of the chickens go into their coop and Curious continues around to his own bachelor pad. We simply go out at dark and close the doors. Tonight, though, we were later getting home. Assuming everyone was tucked in tight, I sent Carter out to close the coops.
After a bit, while we were watching a movie, Carter and I heard an awful noise right outside the screen door. We paused the movie and peeked out the door to see what was making the screeching we'd heard. It was Curious! Standing in between our very perplexed dogs, he was standing tall and crowing at the top of his voice. He had been locked out of his coop and he was not happy, but he knew just what to do. That rooster knew that the people who could help him were inside that door and he was going to do whatever it took to get him home!
Carter and I tried to shoo him back towards his coop, a little afraid that he might attack us, but he was not about to venture into the dark. Instead he stood taller and allowed Carter to pick him right up. With no fuss at all, Carter was able to carry him back to his coop and put him safely to bed.
Curious is the independent type. He knows how to take care of himself and he is rather proud, but he also knows when he needs help. He is not afraid to ask for it and he sure is grateful when he receives it! As a matter of fact, we were so delighted that Curious asked for our help and that he accepted that help, it actually made us love him more - go figure!
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Monday, June 2, 2014
One of the things I love most about teaching is that there is an end and a new beginning with every school year. Right now, I am at the end. I have said goodbye to my students. My room is neat and organized. The grades are all turned in and the papers are all passed back. It is done. But I am already thinking about the new beginning.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
I love that God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us an end and a new beginning to each day. I love the rest that He gives me and the energy He gives me to start over again the next morning. Tonight, I am glad it is the end of the day. I am tired and I love to sleep! But I am already thinking of the new day tomorrow will bring.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Jerry and I like to sleep with the windows open. We don't have air conditioning in our part of the house, and the breeze keeps us cool at night. We have become used to the temperatures, but we also like being able to hear the animals at night. Last night, one of the goats, whose pasture is very close to our corner of the house, started making a horrible sound. Knowing it was a distress call, Jerry shined a light out of the window and thought he saw one of the goats with its horns caught in the fence. He got up, reluctantly, and went out to help her. Once he reached the fence, he could see that no one was trapped, but several of the goats were vomiting profusely.
A sick goat is a very alarming thing. Goats do not generally throw up and they have difficulty recovering from dehydration. Suddenly, we remembered that I had thrown our shrub clippings into the goat pasture earlier that afternoon. Frantically, I checked the internet and, as I feared, I found that Azaleas are highly poisonous to goats. They could have actually died from the toxins I had fed them! I knew I should have checked before I threw them in, but I hadn't, and my goats were paying for my mistake.
Thank goodness, there was a remedy online, listed by a veterinarian, and we were able to administer it right away. After several trips outside through the night, treating the goats and checking on them, the morning sun brought tired, but healthy animals. My carelessness had poisoned them, but our urgency and attentiveness, along with prayer had saved them. I hadn't meant to hurt the goats, but the plain truth was - it was my fault.
How many times have I poisoned my relationships in the same way? A careless word or action, neglect or apathy, blame or bitterness. Intentional or not, poison kills. If I am in the wrong, I must correct it! Much like our urgency with the goats, God wants us to be urgent about restoring relationships and righting our wrongs with people. He is so adamant about this issue that he tells us to put down our offerings with Him and go to the person we have offended first. Once we are reconciled, then we can present our gifts to Him. (Matthew 5:23-24)
I am not perfect (no surprise to those who know me well!) I make mistakes. Sometimes my mistakes hurt those I love. Thank God for his loving mercy. I can only pray that those I unintentially wound will be merciful as well.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
I think the animals got the best of us today. It all started last night with our neighborhood dog, Jessie, barking and keeping us awake. After a bit, we decided she must have been reminding us that we forgot to shut the chickens in. Jerry got up and went outside to close them safely up for the night. She did stop barking after that.
This morning, Jerry was awakened by the sound of the goats. When he pulled the curtain back, he discovered that the goats had gotten out and were munching on my, soon to bloom, Black Eyed Susans. Someone had forgotten to latch the gate last night.
This afternoon, I was checking out my vegetable garden, only to discover that the little chicks had found their way under the fence. They had scratched up a lettuce, destroyed a sweet banana pepper plant, and kicked the mulch off of several other plants! Ugh! I was ready to get rid of them all!
A friend reminded me tonight that we can have those kinds of days with people too. Even the ones we love can escape our boundaries and invade off limits areas of our lives. They can dig up things they shouldn't and uncover parts of us that we simply don't want uncovered. Truly, it sometimes seems that life would be much simpler without them!
But God did not intend for us to be alone. He gave us each other for relationship. It takes a lot of work to love people in my life that are difficult, but then again, I must remember that I am probably just as difficult to love at times! I think I will keep the people - and the animals!
Sunday, May 25, 2014
At the end of each school year, the Art Department at our high school holds an Art Show to exhibit the talent and hard work of our students. Each artist also has the option of putting a price on their artwork with the intention of selling it. This year, I was amazed at the fact that many of our patrons were children. Several parents brought their kids and allowed them to choose a piece of artwork they would like to purchase.
One boy, Scott, whom I taught while I was long term sub in in second grade a few years ago, combed the show and settled on the one piece he would like to have. It was a sculpture, a plaster casting of a hand nailed through the palm, face up, to a plain pine board. The artist had used bright red paint, in stark contrast to the pure white of the plaster, to depict blood oozing out from the wound caused by the nail. It was simple and grotesque, but I could tell, from the pleased look on Scott's face, that to him it represented something beautiful. He mother did not question his purchase, and I smiled - because I understood.
I saw the artist, a boy I taught in Art 1 last year, the next week and I told him that a 10 year old boy had bought his artwork. He was incredulous. "He must be sick!" He exclaimed, not understanding what Scott saw in the piece.
"I believe, to him, it had religious significance." I explained.
The light bulb went on, and he shook his head. "I didn't mean it like that though."
What a picture! The world doesn't see things like God sees them. To the world, a God who sacrifices his son in such a vulgar, common way is grotesque and foolish. To God, and those who love Him, it is the most beautiful thing we can imagine! It is all in the point of view.
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.
2 Corinthians 5:16
Lesson # 7 - Love Begets Love
A number of years ago, I plucked some pieces off of a plant from my parents' garden. The plant was a variety of Perennial Geranium, and it has come to be a favorite of mine. The nature of this plant is that it produces new growth that is easily separated under the canopy of its foliage. The harvested piece has only to be set into fresh soil and it develops its own root system easily. This Hardy Geranium is drought resistant, deer resistant, flourishes in sun or shade, produces a beautiful spring bloom, stays green through the winter months, and even smells nice! It is the perfect plant for any gardener who loves to share!
A couple of Springs ago, I shared some small pieces of this same plant with my Inlaws. They took the small plants home and tucked them in beside the shrubs lining their front steps. The very next year, the area was so full, they shared pieces with friends and neighbors. I am certain, by now, that those few pieces my parents shared with me years ago, have born hundreds of plants and filled many gardens.
This sweet little plant created by our God is a beautiful picture of the love He shares through us. He loves us as His children. When we are rooted in Him, we experience His fullness and we, through His love, become full. When we love others with God's love, we produce fruit. That is, they began to experience His love and become rooted in Him as well. Love begets love. When they share the love they have received, the number of those rooted in God multiplies exponentially!
The wonderful thing about living and loving God's way is that we become drought resistant (John 4:14), enemy resistant (James 4:7), we will flourish in sun or shade, produce a beautiful spring blooms, and stay green through the winter months (Psalm 1:3), and even smell nice (Ephesians 5:2). God's love is the perfect virtue for any believer who loves to share! (Colossians 3:14)
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
I did an incredibly brave (or incredibly stupid) thing this week. I asked my students (tired teenagers) to critique my class and themselves. For the most part, they were kind but honest about the class. That was my request. I truly wanted to know which assignments were meaningful to them and which were not. I felt that it was important to hear how my students felt they had improved as writers and what they thought could have helped them more. They gave some interesting feedback, and if I get to teach the class again, I feel that much of it will be helpful. There were a few critiques though that took me by surprise.
Perhaps the most unexpected critique was from one of the top students in my class. I recognized her advanced level early on, and I gave her opportunity to step out and work more independently. She seemed pleased and really did some great writing. I was consistently positive with her, but as I found out, that didn't seem to be enough. In her assessment, she expressed how my red marks of correction (grammar, spelling, sentence structure) were offensive. She felt that she should not have been corrected at all. On the other hand, she did not mind criticizing my assignments and teaching style.
A few other students took the opportunity to be sarcastic and biting. Their remarks about my inadequacy as a teacher and their superiority as a student were difficult to read. Even though these critiques were from the same students that did not turn in work completed or on time, their words made an uncomfortable impact.
Interestingly enough, criticism did not just come from my students these past few weeks. Though there has probably been more positive than negative, it just seems that it is my time to be humbled. Not necessarily a bad thing mind you, but still tough to swallow. I have found myself spending lots of time with God, asking him to clean my soul and soften my heart.
It is never easy to hear criticism, particularly when it comes in an ugly way, but I have learned to try to see beyond the messenger. Someone once shared with me the words of a wise woman. She said that when someone criticizes you, you should first examine the message for any truth. If there is any truth, you should make the necessary corrections. If not, then you should discard what was said.
Several years ago, I read the book, "The Five Love languages" by Gary Chapman. It was not difficult for me to figure out that my love language is "Words of Affirmation." When people speak positive words to me, I feel loved. On the contrary, when I am criticized, or spoken to negatively, it causes me pain. Obviously, I am not going to go through life hearing only compliments and, especially as an artist and an author, I am bound to receive criticism. Chapman's book helped me to learn how to process that information.
Sometimes, I am a lot like my first student. I only want to hear the praise and never the correction. This sounds like it would be really nice, but if I never receive correction, I will never change or grow. Staying stagnate, to me, sounds worse than the temporary discomfort of hearing that I could do better.
Listen to advice and accept correction, and in the end you will be wise.
I hope that I can always be open to constructive criticism, and I hope that I can be graceful enough to those who choose to deliver it in a non-constructive way. I love to learn, I desire to grow, I long for wisdom! Even when it comes from teenagers.
Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
I just wrote this letter to two girls from my church who are graduating from High School in a few days. Though it speaks personally and directly to their circumstances, I believe we can all use these words from time to time. It seemed especially fitting tonight since we just experienced a 3.2 earthquake about an hour ago. Let us remember that our God is unshakable!
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,
What an exciting time in your life! You are positioned in a very unique place. Never again will you have the array of choices and opportunities before you that you have right now. You have completed your childhood and you have already stepped out onto the path of becoming a young woman. Now, that path, which has previously seemed very narrow, had widened before you. Life is suddenly full of options - and change.
Change can be hard, but it can also be good. In the very near future, you may go to college, or you may seek out a job. Your friends will be moving away and you might even be moving yourself. The activities you participate in, the responsibilities you hold, the decisions you make, all of these things are going to change. You could fear these changes and let them hold you back, but they will come anyway. The better choice would be to embrace the changes and to move forward with confidence.
When things are changing in your life, they can often make your life feel shaky, like the earthquake we experienced a few years ago. But you can know, because God is sovereign, that though you may feel shaken to your very foundation, you will be okay!
Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for The Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.
God also says in Matthew 7 that building your life on His truth is like building your house on a rock. In those verses He reminds you that storms will come and earthquakes will shake the house. Change is inevitable, and your journey will not always be easy, but with God in your heart, He will keep you safe.
After you graduate in the next few days, life is bound to change. Your friends will change, your goals will change, where you live may change, someday, even your name may change, but you need to know that God will never change!
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
You have grown up hearing this next verse, and you may even hear it many times today, but I want you to hear it now while we are contemplating the changes that are to come. You can be confident in the future because you can trust God with your life in the midst of all the change.
For I know the plans I have for you, says The Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.
I am excited for the things God has in store for you. I will pray and rejoice in all the changes coming in your life.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
What a difficult week! This morning, I felt tired, drained, even sad. After spending time in Sunday School and Church though, my spirit was lifted. A time of encouragement for a couple of graduating girls in our church served to encourage me as well.
After church, I decided to go to the military parade at Carter's school. The rest of my family was busy with other activities but, feeling the need to support my son, I went alone. I was so glad I did. A beautiful friend greeted me, and her hug and kind words gave me an actual sense of courage. She reminded me of the definition I once found for the word "encouragement".
This is an excerpt from my Encouragement Study:
As Christians, we are commanded in God’s Word to encourage one another. I am deeply called to encouragement, and I even feel it is my calling to encourage you to encourage others! In order to be an effective encourager, though, I think we need to understand what encouragement actually means. Webster defines the word encouragement in this way – to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope. Let’s break this down and look at each part of this definition.
Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere,
And withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.
Liveliness or enthusiasm, the soul
The desire for something which a person
Believes can be obtained
God calls us to inspire others to find strength to persevere, live with fullness and enthusiasm, and to desire and believe that He will come through! Wow - What a job we have before us! How can we, in the midst of our own discouragements, have what we need to provide this kind of encouragement to others? The only way is to rely on the one source of true power. In Ephesians 13:21, God tells us that He will equip us to do His will.
One of the ways that God equips us is through our experiences. According to 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, we are to comfort others with the same comfort we have received. Any time we share a story of how God has inspired us with courage, spirit, or hope, in turn, we inspire others as well. People need to hear that God is at work in your life. They need to see the evidence of the hope that God provides.
How will you encourage someone else this month? What stories will you share, what comfort will you give? What will you do to inspire courage, spirit, or hope?
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.
Friday, May 16, 2014
This day has been bookended in crisis. From a situation with our oldest this morning, to an ER visit with our youngest this evening, it has been a day! We are exhausted! But sometime in the middle, I experienced a peaceful moment that just made me smile.
After everyone had been delivered to their afternoon activities, and welcomed home from others, I had just a few moments before fixing dinner. I decided to use that time to pick yummy lettuce from my vegetable garden and clip fresh flowers from my flower garden. I delivered some of the lettuce to my neighbor and then made a nice big salad. It is so satisfying to serve my family something that I have grown myself. The flowers are beautiful on my kitchen table, and they smell wonderful!
I stood in my kitchen, enjoying the moment, and giving thanks to God for the bounty with which he has blessed us. Just a brief moment - that was all it took to re-energize me and prepare me for the very long evening ahead. And he knew that I would need it! That is what I love so much about my God. He cares about every detail of my day.
The situations are almost resolved. Now, if only we could get home to eat that dinner. But I guess, at this point, we might as wait for breakfast.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
We had a delightful group of homeschoolers at Cornercopia today for our first ever Farm Day. They seemed to have a lot of fun and we really enjoyed sharing our animals and our yard. The moms seemed to enjoy it just as much as the kids. A couple of them even said to me, "I love your place, this is just what I want."
I had to giggle in my surprise. It's not that I don't appreciate our little funny farm, I just never thought someone else would appreciate it like I do. Often, when people are coming to visit, I look around and try to see what they will see. It is usually then that I notice all of the things that we have yet to do. I focus on the unfinished projects, the messes, the broken things. But today - today I saw our home through different eyes.
It's easy to dream about what I do not have. It's typical to wish for more. Lately, though, I have felt God calling me to be content. It is not that He doesn't want me to dream, but it is a slippery slope when I begin to spend more time thinking about what is missing than I do expressing gratitude for the blessings in my life. We have a long way to go in the building of Cornercopia, but today, thanks to the sweet women visiting, I saw just how far we have come!
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
My mom stooped by today with some scraps for our pigs. It must have been just one of her errands for the day, because she happened to be wearing white pants. I'm sure it seemed okay to her, since she was just tossing the scraps across the fence, and the pigs were safely on the other side. However, as she lingered, talking with Jerry, one of the piglets got in the way of the big pig, Penelope, and she gave him a toss with her snout. As the little pig bounced against the fence, fresh mud splattered all over Mom's white pants!
Many of our friends and family are excited about our new pigs, and they want to be helpful by bringing by food scraps, but we can't expect to feed muddy pigs without getting a little dirty. Likewise, we can't expect to be active in loving others if we aren't willing to get a little messy. As believers, we have been washed white as snow, but when we wash the dirty feet of fellow travelers, as Jesus demonstrated, some of the dust is bound to rub off.
God does ask us to be cleansed and rid of our filthy garments of sin, but He never suggests that we shouldn't brush up against sinners in the midst of our busy lives. Instead, he sets for us an example of just the opposite, showing us how to act in love by eating with tax collectors, touching lepers, and accepting an anointing by a woman with a questionable reputation. Love - real love - is messy.
Of course, after Mom got home, she spent some time with a stain stick, cleaning the mud from her pants. Time with Father will do the same for us. No matter how much filth gets slung or how much dust rubs off, the blood of Jesus keeps us clean and restores to us our righteousness.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Monday, May 12, 2014
Well, if I wasn't really a farm girl before, I surely am now! We did something on the funny farm this week that I certainly never thought of before - we castrated pigs! Before you worry about the little piggies, let me assure you that they are just fine. They did squeal like stuck pigs, but I am pretty sure that they just didn't like being held down! As soon as we let them go, they ran around as happy as before.
I use the "we" term pretty liberally when talking about farm work. I do help with most things, but when it comes to stuff like this, I am just the videographer and gate holder. I will spare you the video of this process though. Jerry researched and learned all about the technique for "cutting pigs". He felt very confident that he could do the job, but God blessed him with a gift that day. Our neighbor comes from a pig farm and her son was visiting on the very day we planned to do the cutting. He showed up just in time to help!
Jerry was so pleased to have the help of someone with experience. I'm sure he would have done just fine, but it definitely would have taken us a lot longer to do what they were able to accomplish in just a few minutes. It was also comforting to have someone who had done this thing before and could say, "That went well!"
When our neighbor's son offered his experience, we could have refused his help. We could have said, "No, we want to do it ourselves." We could have been stubborn and said, "We don't need your help." We could have been proud, and said, "We know what we are doing." We could have said, "We don't want to bother you with our messy job." We could have turned away his gracious offer, but why? God gives us experience so that we can help each other - a blessing to the one helping and a blessing to the one being helped!
Whenever we find ourselves in a new or uncomfortable situation, we should look for people who have been there. We should be grateful for their experience and accept their help. As we learn from them, we are building relationships and developing our own experience so that we can in turn help others!
Friday, May 9, 2014
Lesson # 6 - Blessings Multiply
Many years ago, when I dreamed about gardening but didn't have a clue how to begin, my friend's mom, Libby, shared some plants with me. At first, she just gave me a few plants in a pot, but she invited me to come back over once I had some beds prepared. The next time I visited, Libby walked around her beautiful flower gardens and introduced me to her many plants. As, we strolled through the yard, she named each one, as if they were old friends. Every once in a while, Libby would mark a plant with a piece of ribbon or a slip of paper. "You can take a piece of that," she would say, or " take a couple of those."
After our walk, Libby left me to my task of digging. "Just don't leave any holes," was her only request. I spent the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the beauty that she and God had created in her gardens, and gathering a little piece of it to create my own. I went home with a van full of plants that would become to me, as they were to Libby, my old friends.
I have moved several times since my last visit to Libby's garden. My friends, those treasured plants, have traveled with me, spending years at a time in pots. I was delighted, once we came to Cornercopia, to let my plants spread their roots at last. Over the last seven years, I have cultivated and divided my perennials, many of them those same old friends. It gives me great joy to do for others what Libby did for me more than a decade ago - bless them with a gift from my garden.
I have shared many of my plants through the years. As they grow and spread, it keeps the plants healthy to thin them out or separate pieces. A couple of years ago, I shared a piece of a favorite plant, a Bachelor Button called "Centaura Montana", with my mom. Curiously, after sharing with her, all of my plants died off. Last year, she was able to divide hers and now I have one of my beloved plants back again.
Blessing others usually has a way if working out like that. Whenever we share with others, we will often be blessed in return. Libby blessed me by sharing her love for gardening and the knowledge she gained through her experience. Though I have not had the opportunity to give back to her directly, I hope that she has been blessed many times over. In the meantime, stop by for a visit, I would love to walk around with you and introduce you to some of my old friends. Who knows, maybe you will even leave with a few of your own!
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Lesson # 5 - Overplanting
Last year, I had two new raised beds with a cattle panel in between. I was excited about using this space well, so I planted as much as I could fit. I placed six cucumber plants and six pole bean plants on each side of the cattle panel. The plants were small when I put them in and there seemed to be plenty of room, so I added bush bean plants along the edges and a couple of tomato plants on the ends.
The cucumber plants took off immediately and produced like crazy! The bush beans were also quick producers, and we got a nice bean harvest from them. The tomato plants grew tall, but never produced much fruit. By the time the pole beans climbed the panels, all of the nutrients had been sapped from the soil by the other plants. We only picked a handful of beans from the stalks, and they shriveled up and died early.
It was a good lesson. Just because there seems to be room in the dirt when the plants are small, a gardener must remember that the plants will grow and take up quite a bit more space. Even more important to consider than the space above the soil, is the space below ground. Plants use nutrients from the dirt, and especially in raised beds, there is only enough to support so many plants.
I garden very much like I live. Every once in a while, there seems to be extra space in my life. As things come along that seem small and good, I happily plant them wherever I find space. The problem begins when those small, good things grow and take up more and more room in my already overcrowded life! Each thing also draws from my energy, brainpower, and creativity. Before long, I am overwhelmed, exhausted, and confused. My life just can't hold but so many good things.
This year, we determined to spread out our plants as we build more beds. Even if I over plant, I hope to notice before it is too late so I can strategically thin out my garden. I am working on doing the same thing in my life right now. I am involved in too many good things - some of them will have to be thinned
So that I can continue to produce good fruit.
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.
Saturday, May 3, 2014
Lesson #4 - Don't Leave the Gate Open
Life on the Funny Farm is full of exciting things and big disappointments. Our exciting thing today was the arrival of the pigs! They are finally here!
I am not sure how this is going to work out. Their pen is right next to my garden and I have a feeling that the smell is not going to be pleasant!
My big disappointment came this afternoon when I came home to find that I had not secured my garden gate. One of my chickens found her way through the opening, and alas, my Baby Leaf Spinach is no more! I was really looking forward to harvesting some of that spinach in another week, but I guess my little red hen beat me to it.
I may have learned my lesson about setting boundaries, but boundaries are of no use if the gate is left open. Unfortunately, now that the boundary has been set, the off limits area seems even more attractive. It only takes one small crack for my chickens to slip in and create a disaster!
I am trying to be conscious of this very thing in my life as well. Once boundaries are set, I must be careful to guard them closely. One breach of a boundary could leave me feeling invaded or worse. Whether it is my expectation of respect from my students, or uninterrupted quiet time between my God and myself, I need to be clear about my boundaries with others, and I need to be consistent. When I protect sacred places and times in my life, I am sure to harvest the blessings in due time!
Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.
Friday, May 2, 2014
This is a picture of a reflection in my pond. So peaceful!
Today was not that peaceful! I have been on my feet at school all day. I started with my Art class at 8:45 and, with the exception of time in the library with my Creative Writing class, I spent most of the rest of it in the gym, helping to hang our annual Art Show. I left school at 5:30, made a quick trip to Walmart (it actually was quick this time) and headed home. After a little time outside and a while on my feet in the kitchen, I finally sat down around 9:00 this evening!
My legs were throbbing, I had a cramp in my foot that just would not go away, and I was just plain worn out! I tried a heating pad on my foot, took some Ibuprofin, and just tried to relax, but it didn't seem to be working. Then I remembered - we have a hot tub! A hand-me-down from a friend, but it works. It seems crazy that I would have forgotten that I have a warm, churning tub of relaxation available to me at any time.
After a few moments in the hot tub, I was able to go in and lay down. I am still worn out, but my muscle are throbbing a little less. More than I can say for my head and my heart.
There are some days that I feel like I have the weight of the world on my heart. This has been one of those days. There are some things going on in my life that feel so incredibly heavy. On top of those things, I have four tween to teenagers, and the stuff never quits! Good kids, but kids nevertheless! I have tried thinking about other things. I have tried worrying (one might think this is my favorite pastime). I have tried figuring it all out. These things never seem to work. Then I remember - I have the peace that passes all understanding - I have God!
I really hate to hear people say that God never gives us more than we can handle. The Bible does say that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear without offering us a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13), but he often places us in the midst of difficulties and trials that we cannot handle without His intervention. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” How could I have forgotten that I have a tower of strength and power available to me at any time?
I may not have had a peaceful day, but just a few moments of resting and trusting in him, and my heart and mind feel just like that photo above - a reflection of peace.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Even though I knew she wouldn't like it, I crept into her coop to get a closer look. She clucked at me with her low warning sounds. Roadrunner trusts us to care for and feed her, but she will protect those babies even from us.
I guess this is why the image of a mother hen comes to mind when we mothers feel protective of our kids. Even when dealing with someone we normally trust, it only takes a hint of danger to our brood (physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually) to get our feathers ruffled. If I had stepped any closer to Roadrunner and her chicks, or dared reach out my hand, she wouldn't have hesitated to peck me with her sharp beak. And I can't say that I would blame her. My motherly instincts can sometimes cause me to attack in defense as well.
It is a godly trait to protect my children, but I must be careful that I don't take that too far! Just today, I lashed out in defense and already regret some of my words. Even though I feel justified in my efforts to protect my young, that is never an excuse to be careless with my words.
After a few moments, Roadrunner did let her chicks out to forage, but she never took her eye off of me! We moms know that we have to let them out from under our wing at some time or another, but we will always be the mother hen!
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Right after Jerry and I turned in to bed tonight, my oldest son, Carter, came to our door. "Could you guys come help me? There is a baby rabbit in my room and I am having trouble catching it."
I need to pause here in the story to let you know that we do have baby bunnies right now, but they are not inside. They are not big enough to hop and have not even opened their eyes yet. So, while many of you might be thinking that this could be a normal announcement at the Custer house, this is a first!
We have caught many things in our funny farmhouse. Mice are pretty normal around here. We have found a couple of little snakes in the basement. One time I was walking through the hall downstairs, and there was a great big toad just sitting there looking at me. I yelled for the kids and they said, "Oh yeah, we found him in our window well and we were playing with him. We just forgot to put him back!"
I guess the most plausible explanation for the little rabbit we found is that the cats probably brought him in to play with him. He must have gotten away from them and was hiding out in the basement. Either that, or there is a mother rabbit hiding out down there as well! This is regular life here on the funny farm! Never a dull moment - not even at bedtime.
Just so you know, we caught the bunny and placed him safely outside, away from the house. Hopefully, he avoids the cats and finds his mother. It was the best I could when catching a wild rabbit in my house at 10:30 on a Sunday evening.
Saturday, April 26, 2014
Jerry and I spent the day traveling from thing to thing. From ball games to parking lot pig conversations to parties, we hit it all today. And along the way, we enjoyed lots of family, friends, and even some new folks. It was a delightful way to spend a Saturday!
At our last stop of the evening, as I sat on the back deck under the stars talking with the other guests, I was served "tea and ice cream sundaes" by the cutest waitresses ever, one of whom was wearing pink fairy wings. The tea was light and airy, and the sundaes were visually delicious, especially with the pink play dough cherry on top! It was a fun game and my friend and I were happy to play along, but when our servers came around again with an actual, edible dessert, we dove right in. My conversational companion accepted the treat from the tray and remarked, "Oh please, especially since it is real!"
One of my favorite things is to offer encouragement to people who are feeling discouraged. I have even sometimes offered it, like my winged waitress, in the form of some delectable treat (though I'd like to think mine were more edible.). But I am careful to offer more than just what is pretty and nice to look upon. If my encouragement is only meant for show, and not based on truth, then it will not really be encouraging at all.
It is good and right for little girls to play dress up and tea party, but when we grow up, we must do more than that! We need to make sure that the "Cup of Encouragement" that we offer is brimming full with the richness of truth and the warmth of Love that can only come from God. As we serve up that kind of encouragement, those that we are serving will say, "Oh yes, especially since it is real!"