A Teacher’s Summer Syllabus

By Jane Highley

Summer has finally arrived, and like many teachers, I am already basking in the freedom of a slower-paced life. For the next 10 weeks, I don’t need to fret about the daily school-day hustle: packing lunches, making and revising lesson plans, attending meetings, collecting feedback, and grading assessments. However, I hardly just sit blithely and do nothing, even though this prolonged break is undoubtedly meant to revive and restore teachers for the work we do from September to June. In fact, this summer, I have mapped out an elaborate plan to maximize my time so that I can feel fully recharged for a new school year.

I call this plan my “Summer Syllabus,” which sounds as off-putting and paradoxical as “summer school.” But knowing what I know about myself, I am motivated by goals, lists, and rewards – both internal and external ones. I’ve devised my Summer Syllabus based on central question: What do I want my life to look like at the end of this long break? In other words, how do I want to feel at the beginning of the new school year? Planning with the end-goal is nothing new, especially for teachers. But all this future-planning and list-making has unexpectedly made me incredibly fearful, apprehensive, and anxious.

What if I don’t feel motivated to do anything, and therefore, accomplish nothing by the end of August?
What if I get nothing done?
What if I fail?

Even as I am writing this blog post, I feel overwhelmed. My forward-thinking ambitions are evenly matched by a steady sense of dread because I am scared to have nothing to show for at the end of this long summer break. I am scared to fail.

But then again, of whom am I afraid? Who am I serving? Whose approval am I craving? Why am I afraid? Yet again, I recognize how small my faith is. Clearly, I have not consulted God with my plans because I am too proud to admit that I need Him, that I need help. Conveniently, I forgot that I am lazy, selfish, and arrogant, which is all the more reason to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and wisdom. My Father knows how I operate, how I rationalize, how I am driven; He knows that I will experience failure and disappointment. But his infinite and intimate knowledge of me is my greatest comfort. Jesus’s reminder to his disciples also applies to me this season: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Comfortable or Flourishing

By Todd Hill

When Ethan was in preschool, he was told to draw a picture of his family. He did a surprisingly good job. It also was a profound representation of his observation, as a 3-year-old, of what life in our home was like. He showed Young-Mee busily working in the kitchen, and me . . . napping on the sofa. Ouch!

I have always been a fan of making myself comfortable. Whether it is planning our next vacation, enjoying a second helping of my favorite comfort food, or lashing out at my kids simply because their antics are requiring more of my energy than I prefer to give . . . I like to be comfortable.

I recently googled the word comfort, and this was how it was defined: Physical ease and freedom from pain. That sounds about right.

Over the years I have processed how often comfort drives the decisions I make for my family. How often am I tempted to make decisions simply based on the extent to which the outcome will make my family or me uncomfortable?

Young-Mee and I face a daily barrage of questions from our children: “May we do this on social media? Can we hang out with these friends? Do we have to attend that function? Why is Dad always napping on the couch?”

Each of these questions has a certain comfort value in our economy as parents and in our children’s economy. I am daily tempted to make my decisions simply based on what makes us comfortable.

James chapter 1 tells us to count it all joy when we meet up with things that make us feel really uncomfortable (my translation) because the end result is that we become perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. In other words, without experiencing trials and uncomfortable things, our hearts tend to miss out on growth that leads to our flourishing!

Is it possible that because we have so bought into our western culture’s fundamental value of “comfort at all cost” that we have begun to make family decisions that actually keep me and my children from flourishing?

In the youth ministry we have discussed Smith Wigglesworth’s powerful quote: “Great faith is the product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.”

I think that most often, fights, tests, and trials are all very uncomfortable. Let’s not sacrifice our family’s experience of great faith, great testimonies, and great triumphs on the altar of our comfort! The beautiful story that God is writing in our family’s life will result in deep joy and ultimate flourishing only when we allow ourselves to walk a road that includes really hard and uncomfortable things.

Everyday Eternal – Takeaways from the Women’s Retreat

By Becca Muilenburg

Full. If asked for one word to describe a typical week in our family, “full” is the one I would choose. With children, jobs, school, and all the other little errands and appointments which seem to multiply overnight, my husband and I are always searching for snippets of time when we can enjoy unhurried and uninterrupted time in Scripture and in prayer. The women’s retreat was a perfect chance to step away from this full schedule, if only for a couple days.

On my way to the retreat, I anticipated a time of rest and relaxation, connecting with friends and meeting new ones, and being encouraged with Biblical truths. Throughout the retreat, I was reminded of what is always true of me as an adopted child of God, redeemed through the precious blood of Christ. Two elements in particular have lingered with me since returning—my daily living is shaped by eternal realities and my truest identity is that I belong to Christ.

First, my story is shaped by the biggest story, a reality far too easy to lose sight of in the midst of daily life. The theme of the retreat was “Everyday Eternal: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation.” I am created in the image of God, fallen in Adam, but redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, and longing for the day when faith will be made sight, eternally worshipping God around his throne with all the saints. Through the teaching and fellowship at the retreat, I was quite helped by the perspective that my everyday life, full as it may be, is shaped and transformed by the eternal realities seen in the Gospel.

Second, the most important thing about me is that I belong to Christ, my only comfort in life and in death. In trials, afflictions, grief and loss, it is unshakably true that I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. However, it is also true that I am tempted to find my identity and fullness of joy in good things like job stability, health and a comfortable place to live. Rather, Scripture shows my truest identity as a Christian—that I am loved by Jesus Christ, who gave himself for me, and that it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). The retreat gave me a much-needed break from daily distractions, allowing me to meditate on who I am in Christ.

Hospitality

by Charlotte Gleason

My husband, Jamie, grew up in the type of small town depicted in countless country songs. Wildlife and open space was more plentiful than people. And although we would be the first to debunk any romanticized notions of “country living,” we can both attest to something small towns do well: hospitality.

So, naturally, when we noticed a small sedan off the road, its rear end sinking in the mud, my husband offered his assistance. A rather forlorn twenty-something man held his cell phone in his hand, and we saw a police car arriving to the scene. Jamie pulled in the end of the driveway, ran down the road to the car, and volunteered the use of his truck. The young man gratefully nodded yes.

I stood with my children at the end of the driveway as they watched their father. After Jamie successfully pulled the car from the ditch, Lewis looked at me from under an umbrella and declared, “I am going to call him ‘amazing-dad’ for the rest of the day.” I kind of felt the same way.

After we entered the house, Jamie mentioned the police officer’s surprise at his help. Honestly, in a world of lawsuits, protocols, and endless liabilities, I was surprised he didn’t have to sign a waiver before towing the car from the ditch. But Jamie and I were both reminded of the great suburban irony: our proximity only seems to create wider relational barriers.

This irony led me to reconsider the image of hospitality we typically envision – the homemade meal, the perfect table setting, and the gracious host and hostess standing by their wreathed door. Modern hospitality requires a plan, and anyone who knows me knows that I love a good plan. But the Bible defines hospitality quite differently. In fact, the Greek word for hospitality, “philoxenia,” means “love of strangers” (Strong’s Concordance). Paul exhorts the church to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13). He challenges us to seek for opportunities to serve fellow Christians and strangers. Oftentimes, hospitality requires us to be spontaneous. I imagine Martha Stewart would cringe at such an idea, but consider the life of Jesus.

Throughout the gospels, we consistently see Jesus seeking crowds, knowing he would be begged, pulled, and touched by countless hands. Jesus sought strangers as much as he counseled those he knew well – his disciples. In many circumstances, his acts of service were spontaneous, like the woman who touched his hem (Matt. 9:20), or the paralyzed man lowered through the roof (Luke 5:17). Spontaneity often needs to be a part of hospitality.

I am writing about hospitality as summer opens, and I am challenged “to seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13) in a moment as much as I seek to entertain with a plan. And my hope is that as a church we seek to bring a little more “small town” to not only our neighbors and strangers, but to the “saints” in our pews who also have very real needs.

Muddy Feet

By Debbie Shope

I was reading about the Exodus recently and was struck by the idea that the waters parting, while certainly spectacular, was only one part of the story. What totally amazed me was that the Hebrew people went through on dry ground. Never mind the walls of water on the side; they waltzed through what was recently a lot of wet earth with no mess, no fuss. God had made a path that was no fail — no sandals getting stuck in the mud, no brown ooze splattering your robe, not even a chance of slipping. If only all of our paths were this clear.

I don’t know about you, but most of the paths that I walk tend to be muddy and strewn with debris. I’m beginning to see that most of that is my own mess. Case in point: I have been studying and training for a year to be certified in a reading program. Last week was the culmination of this endeavor — the final observation where I was to demonstrate all I had learned. I was a wreck. It is not that I was not praying, but I was definitely overloaded on the preparation end. I obsessed over having all of my materials ready, reviewed my lesson plan, and scorned all who took me away from my earnest arranging of the circumstances. As God in His infinite wisdom and sense of humor would have it, the time I was supposed to have that morning disappeared with unforeseen obligations, and the moment for my ‘test’ arrived amid a flurry of unrelated activity. I will spare you the details of this extended ordeal – only to say that I eventually did pass, but it was not pretty.

As I reflected back on the morning, I realized some things. God was willing to prepare a path of “dry ground”, but I chose to forge my own path instead. I made it to the other side, but only after slipping in the mud, stumbling over my “preparations” and limping to the finish. God showed me that my getting to the other side was all His doing from beginning to end, not just today, but over the entire year. And that the whole journey was not for my accomplishment, but that I might serve Him better — that I can do more of what He has called me to do. I am His, and my path is in His hands — I can trust Him. I arrived with muddy feet and a bruised ego, but strangely humbled and more in tune with God than when I began. Which is the point really, isn’t it?

This summer in the Adult School of Discipleship, we will be looking at a number of Biblical characters with ‘muddy feet’. God, for reasons we can only imagine, chooses to accomplish His work through sometimes feeble, and always imperfect, human beings. The amazing thing, though, is that He doesn’t do this because He has to. He has unimaginable power and resources at His disposal. He chooses to carry out His plans through us because He loves us: stubborn, unwilling and ‘muddy’ as we are. He lovingly places us in circumstances where we will know Him better, love Him more, become more of who He sees when He looks at us through Jesus, and somehow, bring about His purposes in the process. What a wonderful and mysterious kind of love this is where the glory of the One who is above all things is intricately bound up with the well-being of His faint-hearted creatures. Thanks be to God!

Mother-Daugher Overnight

By Sarah Gammage

I am not a big “retreat person.” But when my daughter asked me to go spend some quality time together on the NLD mother-daughter retreat at Victory Valley Camp this year, how could I resist? (I need to snag these opportunities with her while I still have them!)

Neither one of us was disappointed. It was a wonderful weekend! In spite of a foreboding weather forecast, the Lord was so kind to hold off the rain for all of the outdoor activities. On our highlight reel was boating, singing, rock wall climbing (this was a first for both Maddie and me!), a hayride and s’more-making, all in the sweet company of new and old friends. But when I asked Maddie what her favorite part of the weekend was, I was surprised when she said, “I really enjoyed the devo (devotional) time with you, Mom.” I had to agree that this was my favorite part as well.

During the devo time, we were given an hour to go out on our own with our daughter(s) to read through Joshua 3-4, and talk about “landmark” times in our lives when we saw God’s care for us. What a cherished time to read, pray and reflect on God’s faithfulness together. It also made me smile to look out over the beautiful acres of the property and see clusters of moms with their daughters sitting on the grass, picnic tables, bridges and rocks talking and praying together. I imagined the Lord smiling too.

Thank you, Beth Anne, Elise and your team, for putting together a delightful weekend for us, and creating the space to spend undistracted time making great memories.

Spring Has Sprung

By Tim Shaw

When we moved from New England to Pennsylvania, we arrived in July, in the middle of a hot, dry summer—most plants were dead, and most lawns were brown. But the following spring, thanks to the hard work of our home’s previous owner, it was amazing to watch many perennials burst forth all over our property. Over the years, I have grown to enjoy cultivating the plants in my yard, and I like spending time outside working to have a nice lawn (not as nice as my neighbor’s, but she hires a landscaper, so…). Not only is spring a welcome respite after winter’s cold, but the season also reminds me of different aspects of God’s character.

God the Creator loves beauty. He could have created the universe in black and white, but instead he created the color spectrum. The enormous variety of biological species points to his unlimited creativity. It seems every year I am surprised by the beauty of the season when spring arrives. Recently, I returned from a business trip to Norway, and the contrast of landscapes—each beautiful in its own right—is something I will never forget. I left behind the snowy, monochromatic mountains of Norway for the vibrant, colorful spring of southeastern Pennsylvania (there was something rather Tolkein-esque about the whole thing!). The beauty of God’s creation is one of his gifts for us to enjoy.

God the Sustainer is in control. This year, things warmed up in February, and our daffodils came up early. Then, temperatures dropped below freezing in March, and those flowers died before blooming. This reminds me that nothing happens in my life outside of his guiding will. Whether I am making decisions about where to plant daylilies, which job offer to accept, or how to respond to an issue in my family, I know God is in control of life’s circumstances: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). I am thankful that I can rest in his loving care and provision.

God the Redeemer is making all things new. Even though the world is full of beauty, sin’s effects are evident everywhere. That patch of ground where I cannot get grass to grow reminds me of areas of my life where spiritual growth needs to take place. That hideous plant that keeps coming back, no matter how many times I chop it down, reminds me of the ugly words I too often speak. The deep-rooted weeds that want to overtake my petunias remind me of sin patterns I continually battle against. But, thankfully, the Lord is working to make me a new creation, and his Spirit brings life-changing power. The sure hope of new life in Christ is a beautiful promise.