How to Be Great

What does it look like for you to be at the top of your game?

Maybe you’ve won a championship, or an award, or you hold the top position, or you make the most money. Or maybe you just truly enjoy what you do.

We all like to be the best. Still, I think the bigger question we have to ask ourselves is how we live out being our best selves. Do we become proud, power-hungry, demeaning others beneath our status? Or do we remain humble and serve everyone, not assigning status at all?

We’ve all seen examples of both attitudes at play. Frankly, I don’t ever want to be The Best if it makes me into a worse version of myself. I don’t respect and refuse to become someone who condescends.

When the disciples argued over who among them was the best, Jesus put a child in the center of their circle. A child, who has no status (at least in Jesus’ time, before the Glorification of the Child), who hasn’t done anything to deserve anything. The child just is, and that child is welcomed and loved just for being.

Even at the top of our game—because Jesus is not at all against us using the gifts He’s given us—our job is to serve and welcome and support those who can’t do so for themselves. Which requires humility, not pride.

Obviously the disciples didn’t get it, because a few verses later we see them sending away parents seeking Jesus’ blessing for their kids. So again, Jesus stresses His priorities: the Kingdom of God belongs to children and to everyone who will receive it as a child.

Not earn it, because we can’t. Key word: Receive. God gives grace, grace, and more grace.

Whatever game we play, whatever position in that game, however hard we’ve worked to make it to that place, we must remain humble. To recognize God’s gifts for what they are: gifts. To serve others freely and generously with those gifts. To receive with open hands the grace God desires to pour out on us so that we can share it with the world.

Dig Deeper

Connect
In your opinion, what makes someone “great”?

Study
Read aloud Mark 9:33-37, 42.
How does the little child serve as an illustration to Jesus’ lesson (vv35-37)? Who or what else could illustrate Jesus’ point?
How would someone cause a little one to stumble (v42)? Why is that so bad?
From this passage, summarize what Jesus wants His followers to know about power and service.
Read aloud Mark 10:13-16.
What do you think motivated parents to bring their children to Jesus (v13)?
Why would the disciples rebuke parents who desired Jesus’ blessing for their children?
Put Jesus’ response in your own words (vv14-15). What did Jesus want His followers to learn about life in the kingdom?
What does it look like to “receive the kingdom of God like a little child” (v15)?

Live
We all want to be at the top of our game, great at what we do. How is that like/unlike what Jesus teaches His disciples in this passage?
Share an example of someone who excels at being first and last, servant of all.
What’s your favorite type of service? Which kinds of service do you practice most?
What would it look like today to welcome “a little child” in Jesus’ name?
How do Jesus’ followers today get caught up in competition with one another? What could it look like to serve each other instead?
How do God’s people continue to get mixed up regarding God’s priorities? With humility, share examples.
How might someone hinder a child’s approach to Jesus?
How can we encourage children—everyone, including ourselves!—to come to Jesus?
What does it look like for Jesus to bless children (and adults) today? How have you experienced His blessing?
How can you cultivate childlikeness in your life?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray for the children in your church and community and then pray for childlike receptivity to God’s kingdom among adults.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:33-37 & Mark 10:13-16 individually and with your family.
What makes someone “great”?
What do you think Jesus likes about you?
Thank God for Jesus’ blessing on your life.

Reading: January 2020

Do you use Goodreads? Once upon a time, I made notes about books I’d read in a small notebook designated for that purpose. Goodreads is so much better, with images of the books, summaries, and access to others’ short reviews.

They also do a fun page at the end of the year that summarizes my reading for the year: how many pages I read in how many books, shortest and longest, the ones I liked most and least, and how their ratings measured up on Goodreads. See my results here.

My specific goal for this year is to read at least four books each month, for an overall total of 55 books. Yes, I know, that math doesn’t work, but I know that some months I will read less and others more, so I do expect to be able to exceed the four books per month.

Except I didn’t make it this month. I am currently reading my fourth book, Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley. That review will appear in next month’s reading post.

The Starless SeaThe Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love this book, a magical (“m-word”) ode to stories, to story lovers and story tellers. She even weaves in the storytelling involved in video games, a field with which I have little experience. I rarely reread, but the stories within stories and the connections between them that eventually become apparent deserve another go.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My husband and son decided to celebrate BIG birthdays by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. While they were away, I decided to take a virtual quest with Bill Bryson up the Appalachian Trail. I’m not a backpacker and this book confirmed my inclination to stay off tall mountain trails, but I enjoyed reading about his trek. I was surprised at how much I learned…not a simple memoir, he weaves history and natural science into almost every chapter.

Year of the MonkeyYear of the Monkey by Patti Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this as a giveaway from Alfred A. Knopf by entering a contest on Goodreads.

I have never read a book like this- memoir, poetic prose, tribute to lives well lived, dream… To be honest, I knew the name “Patti Smith,” knew that she was a musician, but I had to google to find out more about her. In fact, I had to google a lot of names and books and places to keep up with the narrative. Smith is clearly a super-smart cookie and creatively open to listening to the directions and whims of the universe. I admire that.

View all my reviews

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. 

Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

A Daily Prayer

Faith comes easily to me. For as long as I can remember, I have believed down to my toes that God loves me, Jesus died for me, and the Spirit guides me.

And yet. As an emotionally-driven individual, my attitudes and actions may tell a different story. Too often, I don’t act like I believe a loving God cares about my life and the world I inhabit.

Life is good, and hard. Life is beautiful, and brutal. As Glennon Doyle puts it, Life is brutiful. Faith—trusting that we’re not alone or left to our own sometimes pitiful resources—helps.

But it’s easier declared than lived on the daily.

Of course I try. Yet as I think of seasons in life where we have faced significant challenges—illnesses and injuries, job stress which increased financial stress, losses of one sort or another—I know I prayed, and still what I felt smacked more of grief than hope. (Interestingly, I also recall several people telling me during one of those difficult seasons that I glowed with hope; God is good).

During desperate times, faith can be hard-scrabble, tooth-and-nail dug deep.

When one son vomited for weeks on end, repeat every few months for years, missing school and eluding (for a long while) diagnosis. When another son suffered a severe concussion that not only affected his abilities but changed his personality, again for too long. When help seems unavailable and despair unavoidable, then what?

That’s when I turn to one of my favorite biblical prayers:

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

God knows I believe, but I need to grow in asking Him to help me believe all the time, in life’s common nonsense and torrential storms alike. Pray with me?

Dig deeper…

Connect
Share about a recent power-full experience.

Study
Read Mark 9:14-29.
Describe the scene Jesus returns to (vv14-20).
What do you think the disciples and teachers might have argued about (vv14-16)? How might their argument have affected the disciples’ ability to help the child?
How does the crowd respond to seeing Jesus (v15)? How does the spirit respond (v20)?
Who do you think Jesus intends to include in His rebuke of the “unbelieving generation” (v19)?
Put the father’s interaction with Jesus in your own words (vv17-24).
Read Mark 3:14-15 and Mark 6:7, 12-13. Since the disciples have received from Jesus power to cast out spirits and have done so previously, what else might be going on (vv28-29)?

Live
What can we learn from this story about belief, prayer and power?
How do you hang on to faith in desperate circumstances?
How can others’ faith or doubt affect your own belief?
If you can, share about a time when you experienced Jesus’ power.
What might change in your life if you daily/regularly prayed the father’s prayer?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to increase your belief.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:14-29 individually and with your family.
When you think of someone “powerful,” who comes to mind?
How does Jesus help the boy and his father?
Ask God to help you believe.

 

 

 

Hurry, Boys…

Hurry, Boy, she’s waiting there for you… –Toto, Africa

Click here for a hilarious quick read about how Toto’s ode to Africa became such an unlikely and enduring hit.

 

My Guy, my eldest son, and my brother-in-law are winging their way across the world on an incredible adventure: they are on their way to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

They left at zero-dark-thirty this morning after no more than a few hours’ sleep, the man-child having left his packing to late the night before departure. The packing list consulted and triple-checked, we think they each have everything they will need and, if not, they’ll have to share.

In the midst of last night’s commotion, BIL asked me how I felt about their endeavor. Honestly, I’m stoked for them. Guy has wanted to make this trek for 20 years, having met their tour leader that long ago. Of the Seven Summits (the tallest peak on each of the seven continents), Kili requires the least technical skill, making it the easiest and  only (or gateway) climb for many. This trip functions as my guys’ birthday party, celebrating in spectacular fashion 50 and 21 trips around the sun.

My travelers are avid outdoors-men and they have, each in their own way, trained for this experience: trail running, hiking, cranking the treadmill to maximum incline while wearing an oxygen-limiting/altitude-simulating mask. They’re as ready as they’ll ever be for the challenge that awaits them.

I am not in the least bit jealous, as I have no desire to push my body to the limit to climb straight up a tall mountain. Not my flavor of jam, not at all. I am, however, thrilled for them for so many reasons. For the shared memory-making. The physical effort and (hopefully) accomplishment, fulfilling a goal they’ve anticipated and worked toward. The myriad experiences of a new culture, sights and sounds, smells and tastes. The people they will meet, those native to Africa and fellow travelers. I anticipate they will come home changed, filled to overflowing with new joys and experiences.

I would love to share the time they will have on safari post-summit, but that will wait for another trip. Meanwhile, I will pray for their safety as I run an endurance race on the home front, making sure the dogs get exercised and fed, and the younger son gets to school on time with homework in hand. Tougher than it sounds, some days, but we’ve trained for this, too.

What adventures would you like to undertake? Personally, I’m hoping for a walking tour somewhere in the world in the next few years.

Feature image credit: Cindy Outlaw, group leader, taken Monday, January 6, 2020

Hot & Bothered

How do you feel when you are engaged in a surprising and passionate conversation?

Recently, I had an epic, hours-long, meandering and caffeinated conversation with some young women I absolutely adore. For a time, the chatter turned passionate…not at all bad, just intense. In reflection, I felt heard, loving and loved, supported, and I think they did too; walking through the chilly winter evening to my car, I realized I also felt a little bit sweaty.

Mark 9 records that Jesus had a miraculous, mountaintop conversation with two historic figures: Moses and Elijah. Interestingly, Jesus physically changed just before their arrival. Not just transformed, which could mean changing His clothes or mood or facial expression, but “transfigured,” shining bright like a diamond; “transfigured” implies spiritual transformation; something way beyond normal human experience is going on.

We can only imagine the content of their conversation since no one recorded it. Why Moses and Elijah? Both biblical action heroes, Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, through the wilderness for 40 years, and right up to the edge of the Promised Land, while Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and called God’s heart-wandering people back to worship the One True God.

What would they say to Jesus, soon to take up His cross and die? Surely they couldn’t give the Son of God advice, which leads me to wonder if they were there for two reasons: to encourage Jesus with emotional strength for the grueling journey ahead; and for the sake of Peter, James, and John quivering nearby.

Talk about hot and bothered, the disciples were terrified! Only Peter musters up the courage (stupidity?) to speak, and he offers up their brute strength to build three shelters for their honored guests. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to build one, a meeting house of sorts for this divinely-appointed exchange? Does he expect they’ll all be moving to the mountaintop for the foreseeable future, in which case, the disciples might also need shelter?

Peter’s suggestion demonstrates his terror, for sure, but also his joint desires to serve and to tame the untameable. He’s desperately trying to make sense of a scene so startling he could never have imagined it in his wildest dreams.

To add to the intensity, God speaks, saying much the same thing He said at Jesus’ baptism, except this time addressing our small, tremulous crowd: Listen to my beloved Son, Jesus. The heroes of old vanish as suddenly as they appeared, and first thing Jesus tells His buddies to keep mum about what they just witnessed. James and John might have been stunned silent, but bumbling Peter might have had just a wee bit of trouble keeping his trap shut with the rest of the gang.

These poor guys witnessed a mind-blowing event, and they can’t even begin to grasp what Jesus means by “rising from the dead.” He can’t die, their glowing Friend to whom God sends friends from long-ago; despite having just now seen people who haven’t been alive for forever, they can’t wrap their brains around life after death.

It’s too much, way too much. Thank God He doesn’t disqualify us for not understanding His ways!

When was the last time Jesus blew your mind, surprised or terrified you, left you hot and bothered? Have you been watching, listening? Have you tried to tame the untameable? What journey are you on with Him now, and what might He say to you along the way?

Dig deeper…

Connect
If you could have a conversation with any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

Study
Read aloud Mark 9:2-13.
Describe the scene in vv2-8. Who is present and what happens?
Merriam-Webster defines “transfigured” as “to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance to; transform.” Discuss in this context.
What do you remember from Scripture about Moses and Elijah? Why is their presence with Jesus significant?
Besides fear, what motivates Peter’s response to the situation (vv5-6)?
Compare Mark 1:11 with Mark 9:7.
God’s voice commands the disciples to listen to Jesus (v7). What does Jesus tell them (v9) and why?
Read Malachi 4:1-6. Explain the conversation in Mark 9:11-13.
What impact do you imagine this event had on Peter, James and John?

Live
How has Jesus recently surprised or awed you?
Why do people want to “tame” Jesus? How do they try to tame Him?
What helps you retain a sense of God’s glory and keeps you from getting too lackadaisical?
How have you recently been listening to God? What have you heard?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for revealing His glory in Jesus Christ.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:2-8 individually and with your family.
When have you recently been surprised?
How does Jesus surprise His disciples? What does that tell us about Him?
Thank God that Jesus is more surprising than anyone we know.

 

Featured image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Not 20 for 2020

I don’t make resolutions. Which may sound odd when you read the list below except, to me, they’re not resolutions. They’re more like goals or intentions, things I’m already working on that I want to work on more diligently. For example, I already walk the dogs and drink water, but these goals give me a measure.

I won’t do these things perfectly, I know. For starters, I intended to come up with 20 and instead only hit 17; if I aimed for perfection, I’d add things to the list disingenuously. I included some to stretch me and others as easy checks which will encourage me to keep going, yet even those might not go as I anticipate. It seemed so simple to wake up on New Year’s Day in clean sheets…until the cat got angry at the New Year’s Eve houseful of revelers and peed on our clean comforter. I woke up on top of a clean sheet and under an old blanket. C’est la vie! Just keep going, stay flexible, and smile.

  1. Wake up on New Year’s Day in clean sheets.
  2. See Hamilton (tickets purchased for January 9!)
  3. Drink 4 Hydroflasks of water/day.
  4. Greet my family every single time with a smile and full attention.
  5. Eat dinner at the table.
  6. Go to bed early and bring a book.
  7. Exercise with the dogs on average 20 miles/week.
  8. Blog 2x/week.
  9. Declutter one area for 20 minutes once a week.
  10. Practice Sabbath weekly.
  11. Read/engage with a different version of the Bible.
  12. Read 4 books/month.
  13. One social occasion and/or family fun day per month
  14. Finish my current writing project and do three more.
  15. Use the gift cards.
  16. Make 5th weekends special: March 27-29, May 29-31, Aug 28-30, Nov 27-29.
  17. Say Yes and/or No when appropriate and not out of obligation or guilt.

What will you work on this year? Let’s encourage each other!

Two Words

What’s your most spectacular New Year’s resolution fail?

To get healthy, eat clean, lose ## pounds? To stop swearing, or drinking? To fall in love, or find a new job you love?

I gave up on resolutions years ago. Why set myself up for failure…again and again, year after year? If I’m going to set goals, I can do that any ol’ time, and not just at the turn of a new year (although, admittedly, there is something about January 1, or the start of a new school year, that I find motivating). Not surprisingly, 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions break them, and most resolutions get trampled in the rain-soggy February mud.

Five years ago, I joined the ranks of the One Word movement, where people choose a word to inspire their actions and decisions over a year. My first foray, 2015, was my most successful, interestingly not because I chose a word but because I chose a phrase: Put yourself in the way of beauty.

Beauty was my word, but the phrase required dynamic action. It motivated me to get out of the car to play in the cold, wet snow with my kids. So I shivered, but I also hiked up a hill (exercise!), took a picture of vivid red berries contrasted against the white snow, threw a few snowballs, and saw some train tracks that inspired moments of wonder.

You can read more about my one word experience over the last few years here, where I share why one word just wouldn’t be enough for 2019.

Honestly, at the dawn of 2019, I didn’t realize how unhappy I was. I had, little by little, painstakingly over years, folded into myself until I no longer resembled my best self, who I am or want to be. My origami life wasn’t a unicorn or a crane; it held no magical reflection of the beauty within me. I had unwittingly entered myself as “paper” in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and, in this version, rock and scissors beat paper every time.

Last New Year’s Eve, I didn’t know if or how or when I would make the changes necessary to love myself back into three-dimensional wholeness. Thank God for His guidance and strength, and the renewed health I’m enjoying now.

Having braved up also freed up time to invest in a project with my favorite creative collaborator, Nancy. Together we created a set of devotional cards: To Do Cards//take two. Each card has a two-word invitation from Jesus, found in Mark’s gospel, beautifully hand lettered by Nancy. On the reverse, you’ll find the corresponding Scripture from Mark and a prayer written by me.

If you’ve been around my blog this month, you’ve seen them. Nancy and I used and promoted them as an Advent calendar. There are 25 cards in this set, and they worked nicely as a way to daily check in with Jesus in a season that can get more than a little hectic, even among the twinkly lights and festive gatherings.

The set definitely has a life beyond Advent, however, and they are still available for free download. We recommend you print them double-sided on card stock for best results.

I’m looking forward to steeping 2020 in these two-word invitations from Jesus. And, as it turns out, I have a two-word response that will be my prayer throughout this year: Transform Me.two words