Last

“It will never last.”

Those were the thoughts of many people when my husband, Van, and I got married.

1-15-1977
1-15-1977

Most people didn’t say it to our faces, but we heard. I know it’s why my parents finished paying for my senior year of college and the extra year I needed to get my teaching credential. That way, if we didn’t last, I’d have a career to fall back on.

Van’s family took bets that we wouldn’t make it to our first anniversary. Then they doubled the bet that we’d throw in the towel before our second anniversary.

Here we are, thirty-six years later, still married (and we’ve never seen a penny of that bet money). Van and Debbie

I never had a doubt we would last. Van didn’t either.

We placed our trust in the one thing that does last: God.

We committed to each other. We were already committed to God.

Our relationship with Christ is one that lasts for eternity; He never gives up on us. His love lasts, no matter what mistakes we make.

Van and I committed to that same love; a love that never gives up on the other. A love that lasts through disagreements, heartache, joy, and just the day-to-day grind of life.

And really, I don’t want any money because we lasted beyond what others thought we would be able to do.

I have a prize money can’t buy: a lasting relationship with a Godly man.

Trail of Tears

Yesterday, my oldest daughter, Kimberly Joy would have been thirty-six years old. Her birthday started a “trail of tears” that will last several weeks. Without warning, I may feel my throat tighten and tears run slowly down my face. It can happen almost anywhere and happens for no apparent reason. Sometimes, I’ll know exactly what triggers the tears, but other times, the tears may begin without rhyme or reason.

But there is always a reason. And it’s always the same: From August 20 to September 20 there is a time line of events that, though many years apart, all fall in that small window of time on the calendar:

August 20, 1977– Kimberly Joy entered the world, right on her due date, probably the first and only time she was ever on time for anything!

September 2, 2009– Kimberly, had surgery to amputate the last three toes on her left foot. Due to complications caused by her juvenile diabetes, she had had over twenty surgeries and lost her big toe in 2007 and her baby toe in 2008.

September 9, 1986– Kimberly was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, or diabetes mellitus. She took insulin shots at least twice a day for the rest of her life.

September 13, 2009– Kimberly passed away. Although the doctor waited to amputate her three toes until he was sure the infection, that was in the bone as well as the tissue of her toes, was completely gone, the infection returned with a vengeance. On Tuesday, September 8, her first follow-up appointment showed everything was fine and going according to plan. Two days later, the doctor found infection. Kimberly was put on IV antibiotics, but because she’d fought many infections with strong antibiotics for several years, they weren’t effective.

September 20, 2009– We had Kimberly’s memorial service.

The tears come, sometimes rolling silently and slowly down my cheeks; sometimes in heaving sobs.

They are not tears of anger or because I wonder why God would let these things happen. I trust Him completely, and I know all His works are good. And I see good, even from the death of my daughter when she was thirty-two. I know Kim struggled with her health, was frequently in pain, and worried about decisions she had made in recent years that hurt her husband and daughter. She chose to walk away from God and her family in 2005 and tried many different ways to regain what she willingly gave up. Her attempts were all futile because she didn’t pursue God, but earthly pleasures.

She damaged relationships with me, her dad, her sister, her aunt, and many friends as she tried living for herself. She gained only misery.

I was thankful when she finally returned to God. But by then, the consequences still had to be paid: a husband who no longer trusted her; a daughter who was stubborn, manipulative, and threw tantrums that could last for hours. All that pain, suffering, and worry are gone for Kimberly now.

The tears are from my heart because I miss this child God gave to me. They come with joy that we had so much fun together. In those ten years of surgeries and recovery, I was able to take time from work to be with Kim every day she was in the hospital. Although I used all the sick leave I had accrued, I wouldn’t trade one day of it for the days I spent praying with, reading to, comforting, and caring for my daughter. Those times were a gift, and we built a relationship that included fun–like hospital picnics–and sharing faith many parents never have with their adult children.

I miss the funny, naive, loud, messy, complete-opposite-of-me-girl God gave me. I miss her voice, her phone calls, her bringing friends home for me to meet–even when she was thirty-two. I miss her laughter, her spontaneity, her ability to have fun no matter what she was doing. I miss even the annoying things she so often did because she was lazy and messy and selfish. I miss her hugs and that even when she was an adult, I could still hold her on my lap and comfort her.

I learned and grew as a woman of God through lessons He taught me through Kim. I learned to accept and even enjoy people who are different than me (and drive me crazy in many ways). I learned to be compassionate and merciful to others who are hurting instead of impatient that they don’t “move on.”

I learned to take each day He gives as a gift and live in His Kingdom HERE ON EARTH, instead of wishing for heaven. I still hope for heaven and look forward to the day I too will be in heaven with Jesus, but my attitude about living here and now has changed. As my daughter, Erin, pointed out, “People will miss you, Mom. Quit talking about wanting heaven so much.” God gave me today to live for Him. “This is the day The Lord has made; let me rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118: 24)

And my tears come with joy when I read His Word or sing a worship song about those in heaven. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, Kim is in heaven, celebrating with our Savior, casting her crown at His feet, completely whole in mind, body, and spirit.

My Kimberly is with God, worshipping and glorifying Him. I celebrate her life, both the years I shared with her here on earth, and the one she is living now in her true home.

I love you Kim. Happy birthday.

God’s Great Dance Floor

I’ve been teaching, either as a volunteer or as a professional, for thirty-four years. I’ve taught pre-kindergarten, second-fifth grade, seventh grade, and college courses. I am constantly either embarrassed or angry at the ways teachers are portrayed in TV shows. Don’t even get me started on how conservative TV and radio hosts portray the evil intent of public school teachers.

I consider myself to be an ambassador of Christ when I am in my classroom. I am trying to be God’s salt and light in an environment of political correctness, and I do everything I know how to do to share the Truth openly without breaking the rules. I walk a fine line, and when I need to, I err on the side of God instead of what the text book says.

Tonight, my church celebrated teachers. Thanked us. Prayed for us. Acknowledged that we work to help children. Prayed that we would know God cared about what we do and how we do it. Our pastor called all school employees up to the front, asked students to put their hands out, and pray for us.

And we did the same for the students.

We sang songs acknowledging our dependence on God and how much He loves us.

I left the service energized, filled with hope, ready to shine for Jesus.

One of the songs we sang was Chris Tomlin’s “God’s Great Dance Floor.” I want this to be my theme song for the 2013-2014 school year:

“Now I surrender
Take me
This is all I can bring

I’m coming back to the start
I got this freedom
In here we feel Your heart
Your heartbeat for us
Take me
This is all I can bring

[Chorus:]
You’ll never stop loving us
No matter how far we run
You’ll never give up on us
All of heaven shouts: let the future begin

I feel alive, I come alive
I am alive on God’s great dance floor”

My classroom is God’s Great Dance Floor. I can dance there because I’m free. I am alive and have everything I need–the power of the Holy Spirit–if I surrender and give all I have to bring. He accepts it. He will never give up on me.

Heaven is shouting, “Let the future begin.” My future. The future of every student I see.

Thank you, all of you, who were at that service. Who prayed for me and for the students I will work with this year.

Thank you to Aaron McRay, the first pastor I’ve ever had who prayed for teachers and encouraged the congregation to pray with him.

If you work in a school, I urge you to think of your area of influence as God’s Great Dance Floor. Bring Him all you have. Come alive. Let your future begin. Your future of serving God on the dance floor of your classroom.

You won’t be dancing alone.

Renewing My Membership

Today my sweet husband and I chose to go to our church’s first new-membership class since our new pastor started fifteen months ago.

We’ve been members of our church for seventeen years.

Last month we attended a workshop called Leader Palooza, designed to help train anyone who worked with others in a leadership-type role: Sunday School teachers, Small Group leaders, ministry coordinators, anyone who worked with people from two to one hundred. One of the things they asked was that we consider going to the membership class so we could review, or learn, the statement of faith, mission, and values of our church.

Our church was founded in 1979 and the first pastor was there until fifteen months ago when he officially retired, and the second pastor started.

I have to admit, I was a little worried how our church body would respond to a new pastor. I kept thinking of how my school, my team, the UCLA Bruins. They have never recovered following the retirement of the greatest coach of all time, John Wooden. The fans at UCLA are still lamenting the retirement of Coach Wooden thirty-eight years ago. No one since has measured up.

Fortunately, our church community is led by God and looking to glorify God, not win basketball games.

Our new pastor has been welcomed with open arms and hearts.

This is a tribute to our retired pastor, Dave Burns, who always made sure the church was God’s, not his. He paved the way for us to care about God’s Kingdom here instead of the individual doing God’s work.

It’s a tribute to our search committee, who spent time carefully and prayerfully considering where our church wanted to go next so our church would continue to expand God’s Kingdom and not try to find a replica of the leader who had done so much to set a vision.

It’s a tribute to our new pastor, Aaron McRae, and his wisdom in building on what God had started and leading us to the next steps God has for us, without forgetting our past.

I am thankful I went to this membership class. Just as I have been week after week for the last fifteen months worshipping and learning from this young man who is just a couple of years older than my oldest daughter. I was impressed with the wisdom of Aaron McRae. He is passionate about serving God, seeking God’s will and faithfully serving Him. Everything he said, even though I already knew it, was refreshing to hear.

Inspiring.

As a long-time Christ-follower, church goer, and a member of this church, it is easy to lose the passion to do God’s work, to serve Him with a joyful, faithful, willing heart.

Reviewing our Statement of Faith reminded me of who I believe God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit–the Trinity–are and the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and hope I have because God loves us enough to give everything for a relationship with me and you. I was humbled, awed, and thankful all at once.

Hearing our mission, to gather for worship, grow in faith and service so I continue to mature as a disciple, and go to reach others for Christ in my own circle of influence and beyond, inspired me to be faithful in my earthly journey so God’s Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.

Our church values gave a vision of where we want to go, not to gain better things for us, but to live what we believe. As Aaron said, this is what makes our church unique. Not better than another evangelical, Christ-folllowers, just how we live for Him here.

Aaron ended the class with two things: One, what next? And that depends on each individual.

What is next for me? Serving in a way that glorifies God. Currently that means filling in when my Small Group needs a leader, participating in taking food every month to help our local food bank, the GAP (God Always Provides), and being salt and light right where I am in my every day life as a seventh grade teacher. It means continuing to grow in my pursuit of living as someone freed from the bondage of sin and extending God’s grace and mercy to others.

The second thing he asked was to prayerfully decide whether to commit to membership. There was nothing about what to do if you were already a member.

In a spirit of awe and joy at all I heard and witnessed over the past fifteen months, I wrote a simple sentence, “I am already a member of Hillside. I recommit to following the statement of faith, mission, and values. Then I signed my name.

How wonderful it is that we can look back at the history of Hillside with joy and recognize the work that has already been done and continuing the best of traditions and vision while also looking and moving forward to do more.

Unlike sports, we aren’t keeping score. We aren’t after a national championship. We’re fishers of men, looking to the author and finisher of our faith. We aren’t striving to hang a banner announcing our success, but praying that in all we do, God is glorified and His Kingdom is enlarged.

Next time your church offers a membership class, whether you’re new or you’ve been a member for a while, go.

Be inspired by God. Marvel at what He has already done for you. Listen for what He wants to do next. Pray about what your next step should be.

Then do it.

Small

GO
I am working on developing grace this year. Living like a child of God, saved by grace, free from the chains and burdens of sin instead of living in fear of making mistakes.
Last week was my school’s first PLC (Professional Learning Community) of the year. I made several mistakes throughout last year and dreaded every single Friday. I was determined the new school year would be different. I prayed before I went to school, “Please, Lord, help me be part of this community. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” I prayed for each person on my team.
Then I was fifteen minutes late to the meeting. The assistant principal called my classroom to ask why I wasn’t there.
Because, for some reason, I had the wrong time imprinted in my brain.
A year ago, this blunder would have had me hang my head in guilt and shame. I would have apologized when I sat down and then sent apology emails and then, maybe, bought apology flowers. And then hidden in my classroom, avoiding others, like a little kid who’s been grounded.
This year, I apologized to my team, sat down, and got to work. The end.
A small difference, but a big step forward.
The principal brought up that there were too many people not following the norms—think rules—about Friday PLCs. The leadership team was concerned and wanted some way to make us more accountable and respectful of the norms we had chosen together. After some discussion, it was decided we would get a jar and if someone broke a norm, they would put a quarter in the jar.
I keep a couple of mason jars in my classroom to use as vases when I have fresh flowers for my own room and to give random gifts to people. I got the jar, put a dollar in it, added a tag with a picture of Norm from Cheers saying he wanted a party and was accepting donations if you upset him and please contribute with a smile.
The principal loved it. She’ll introduce it at today’s PLC meeting.
I’ll be at the meeting on time, and I’ll be smiling, ready to contribute.
A small accomplishment, but a good beginning to a better year.
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