Why You Should Ponder One Thing

In the early years of our marriage, our two sons were born, so my first career was and will always be mothering.  I also worked part time doing computer-related things and volunteering at church, living out “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,” a bit frenetically.

When my second son started preschool, I decided it was time to put my university degree to use.  For his first semester, I tried to write.  Two of my poems and one chapter in a book called, What Shall I Read Next, were published and I earned a total of something like $300.  It was too quiet, too lonely, and I didn’t have much to write about yet.

Around Christmas, my husband, Brad, and I went to see the movie, City Slickers, in a theater, rare for us.  At one point, the Billy Crystal character asks the cowboy, Curly, “What’s the secret to life?”

Curly answers, with a gnarly finger in the air, “One thing.”

Billy asks what that is and Curly says, “You’ve got to figure that out.”

This started me thinking about what my “one thing” might be.  Over the next few days, I pondered all the settings where I had taught:  Christian camp, Bible study, aerobics class, Sunday school lessons.  On January 2 of that year, I sat up in bed and asked Brad, “What would you think if I went back to school to be a teacher?”  He suggested I start right away.  Two weeks later I attended my first class at the University of Texas.  When we told my mother-in-law, she said, “You’d better finish as fast as you can, or Brad will be transferred and you’ll have to re-take courses.”  I went full time that summer and the next fall, and did my student teaching in the spring, just in time for us to be transferred to England.

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Our sons’s school in England had a policy against hiring parents as teachers, but they let me substitute.  After I did a long-term substitution for a seventh grade Earth Science teacher, they hired me as a sixth grade Biology teacher, and I continued to teach for over twenty years, in American schools in England, The Netherlands, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

During the decades when teaching was my “one thing,” God multiplied my efforts.  He gave me energy, creativity and joy; along with love for the subjects I taught and for my students.  But now I seem to have come full circle, and I am in a season where I am asking God for wisdom and experimenting to see if writing might be my “one thing.”

Mothering, teaching or writing are ways I have filled my days, but there is a much deeper “one thing.”  The Israeli King David poetically wrote, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” No matter what career I pursue, I want companionship with God, and ever increasing understanding of who he is to be my soul’s “one thing.”

Application:   Dear friend, one passage in the Christian Bible that I find helpful as I think about calling and purpose is this, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”  Weary friend, I long for you to feel confident, capable and joyful in the work, volunteering, or family service that you do. Even more, I long for living in daily relationship with God to be your soul’s “one thing.”

Reflection:

If you are in a season when you have the privilege of choosing how you occupy your days, ask yourself, What do you already do well?  Which roles interest and excite you?  What needs exist that you yearn to fulfill?  What gifts do others recognize in you?  What is your soul’s “one thing”?

Recommended Reading:

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2018: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

Simply Opening Your Gift is Not Enough

Brad and I graduated university on Wednesday; got married on Sunday; honeymooned; and then moved from New York to California, where Brad started working as a petroleum engineer.  I worked as a temporary secretary.

We found a church we loved, and before long I volunteered to serve as the sixth-grade boys’ Sunday school teacher.  I had experience teaching first grade Sunday school at my home church, teaching girls at summer camp, and leading Bible study for my peers at university.  I had never struggled to get people to sit still or pay attention.  And everyone had always called me, Sharon.

And then came my first Sunday teaching sixth grade boys.  Despite my careful preparations and enthusiasm, chaos reigned.  At the end of the hour, I was exhausted, and convinced that I needed new methods.  I asked God for wisdom.  Then I realized although I was required to follow the assigned curriculum, such a wiggly, chatty group needed action and interaction.  So I designed games, scripted plays, and invested in candy the boys could earn by demonstrating their learning.  (I no longer use or recommend the third method.)

I began the second Sunday school class by introducing myself as Mrs. Kerr.  I had been called that name only a few times, and I typically responded by looking around to see who Mrs. Kerr might be, expecting her to be older and wiser than I.

As I taught my sixth-grade boys interactively, they became cooperative, glad-hearted, although still wiggly, students of God’s Word.  And I began to become Mrs. Kerr, a teacher who learned her methods by trial and error, reflection and revision, observation and experimentation.  To this day, Mrs. Kerr is my teaching name.

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My most recent group of cooperative, glad-hearted students

A new name is a gift, a new identity, though it may initially be a few sizes too big.  A man named John had a vision where Jesus promised the gift of a new name as a reward to people in the church at Pergamon who listened, and who overcame.

I think growing into any new name, into any new identity, takes teachability, followed by overcoming action.

Application:  Dear friend, God gives us gifts so we can give to others.  This is not always easy, but when we work and serve in our areas of giftedness, God seems to multiply our efforts.  He gives us success, creativity and joy, out of proportion to our efforts.

Reflection:  Are you using your best gifts?  If you are, how can you learn and practice to increase your effectiveness?  If you are not, how can you transition to a place and a role where you can use your best gifts?

Recommended Reading:

Spiritual Gifts Survey 

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller

How Sharing Name Meanings Built a Friendship

My friendship with Jackie wasn’t instant, but I remember the first meaningful conversation we had.  I know she does, too.  I asked her full name and the full names of her children.  She was named after Jacqueline Kennedy!  I think the name fits well, because of Jackie’s dark-haired beauty, and because of her resilience.  She has experienced so much hardship, but she is able to rise, forgive, and move forward.

In our conversation we discovered that we both have children whose middle names are Thomas.  I told Jackie the story of Thomas, one of the earliest followers of Jesus.  After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples, but Thomas wasn’t there.  “So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hands into his side, I will not believe it.’”

“A week later [Jesus’s] disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.  Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’  Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’  Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

What Jackie and I love about this story is that Jesus welcomed Thomas’s doubts.  He let Thomas touch his wounds.  Then Thomas was the first disciple to announce that Jesus is God incarnate.

I am so thankful that we can be honest about our doubts with each other and with God.  A line in a song I heard long ago says this as a prayer, “I want to thank you…for the faith to doubt and yet believe that You’re really there.” Joni Eareckson Tada

Jackie meets Wesley Thomas
I had the privilege of introducing Jackie and Luis to my son, whose middle name is Thomas, and his wife.  Both couples happened to be expecting babies at the same time.

Application:  Dear friend, doubts are not something to hide, but something to uncover to trusted friends and to God.  Weary friend, don’t carry the burden of doubts about God or about the hardships you are experiencing alone.  I would love for you to share those doubts with me, using the contact page of this blog.

Reflection:

What doubts do you need to uncover to God?  How can you nurture faith that believes even what it doesn’t fully understand?

Recommended Reading:

The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey

How Gifts of Words Maintain Friendship

We had not been living in Abu Dhabi long, when I met Geetha.  Assigned to the same Bible Study small group, we sat down at a folding table across from each other.  I glanced up at her warm brown eyes.  We were instant friends, despite many differences.  Geetha grew up in India; I grew up in the United States.  After I invited Geetha for lunch at our home, she confided to me that she gets nervous eating with utensils.  Instead she daintily picks up her food with the tips of her fingers.  She says it tastes better that way.  With Geetha as my tutor, I tried eating biryani with my fingers, but was too worried about making a mess to tell if it had any influence on taste.

So, how did we become instant friends?  I am not entirely sure.  We seem to carry ourselves similarly in the world.  People sometimes mistook one of us for the other.  We have both lived in multiple countries; we are both teachers; we both love the Word of God; we both practice Christian disciplines.  But we didn’t know any of that at first glance.  I think our friendship was a gift from God in a season when I expected to be lonely.

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Throughout our friendship, Geetha has given me words, God’s words, as gifts.

In Abu Dhabi, we made memories together:

  • We spent a Quiet Day  at another friend’s home.
  • Geetha and her husband, Dev, joined Brad and I in celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
  • Brad took Geetha on her first ever experience of dune-bashing.

Throughout our friendship, Geetha has given me words, God’s words, as gifts. The first was, “All of your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace.”  Although Geetha has daughters and I have sons, we both pray this verse for our children.

For my last five birthdays, Geetha has carefully selected encouraging word-gifts for me.  2018’s verse:  “The LORD will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”  Although we now live on opposite sides of the world, Geetha, with the Holy Spirit’s insight, chose words, perfect for this season:

  • Living in a van means we often need guidance about where to stay, and when to go; we search for balance between time with others and time alone.
  • We are in the process of moving to California, where there is a long-term drought.
  • My physical frame could use a little strengthening.
  • When I am weary, I tend to be irritable, rather than encouraging. I long to be more like a refreshing spring.

Application:  Dear friend, some friendships begin at first glance, others take time to develop.  I think we need both kinds.  Thank God for the precious gift of friendships sustained by encouraging words.

Reflection:

How might you offer the gift of encouraging words to a friend today?

Recommended Reading:

If Paul Needed Friends, So Do We by Tony Merida

The Power of a Praying® Woman by Stormie Omartian

3 Amazing Benefits of Moving

Sometimes I think I was born to move.  I lived in six homes before my eleventh birthday.  I remember standing in front of my fifth grade class, being introduced as the new kid, and thinking, “I hope I never have to do this again.”  That wish was not granted; and I am glad.

Since we married, my husband, Brad, and I have lived in eleven different homes; and for the last six months our home has been a small RV.  I am grateful for moving because it motivates purging our possessions, revives our marriage, and births renewal.

Moving motivates purging:  we can’t take everything with us, and so we ruthlessly sell, donate, recycle and discard things we no longer need.

Moving revives our marriage:  when we move to a new place, Brad and I are each other’s only friends.  We need to search together for a grocery store, hardware store, places to exercise, restaurants and a church.  We need to work together to solve problems that arise in the transition; we need to re-create home, our place of rest.

Moving births renewal:  we arrive in each new place incognito.  A fresh start is an opportunity to start healthier habits, to try out new roles, to make new friends.

There was one time though, when I did not want to move.  We had lived in Wassenaar, The Netherlands, for a total of eight years.  I was working at a school I loved, The American School of The Hague.  I loved commuting by bicycle, and riding long distances through the dunes on weekends.  I was experiencing the treasure of long-term friendships.

But Brad got transferred to the United Arab Emirates; and we had to go.  I was distraught, and everyone knew it, especially Brad.  (Sorry, Sweetie!)  A wise friend who knew how much I love the Christian Bible suggested I find a verse to write in calligraphy each day.  I acted on his suggestion for several months, and it slowly re-focused my heart.

In a sermon a few weeks after we moved to the UAE, our pastor, Cam Arensen, suggested we “plow God’s Word into our lives.”  I love how God sometimes sends us important messages through more than one person, in more than one place.  As I mused on that phrase, I decided it meant I should read the same number of pages of the Bible every day, proceeding directly from the beginning (Genesis) to the end (Revelation).  This has become my daily habit, and I have found that when I plow God’s Word into my life something grows:  renewed understanding of who God is, renewed understanding of who I am, and an increasing supply of love and grace towards others.

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“Plow God’s Word into Your Life.”  Cam Arensen

Application:  Dear friend, whether you have moved frequently like I have, or you have lived in the same home long-term, you can organize a soul move.  Weary friend, your soul will flourish if you purge excess possessions and commitments, nurture your closest relationships, and plow God’s Word into your heart and life.

Reflection:

What areas of your life would benefit from a soul move?  What habits can you change to help that to happen?

Recommended Reading:

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin

How a Walk Will Rest Your Soul

I love to walk alone in early morning.  I started months ago, to get into shape and lose weight; but I have discovered deeper benefits:  witnessing sunrises, observing dawn’s light beautifying ordinary things, and being renewed.

I prepare the night before by collecting everything I’ll need:  clothes, shoes, water bottle.  Somehow this little pile motivates me to walk once morning arrives.  Curiosity motivates me, too.  Will the sunrise be flamboyant or muted, brightly beaming or subtly glowing, as it develops degree by degree?

On one morning walk, as I turned a corner, the sun, peeking over the horizon, stretched my shadow taller than a super model, powerful as a warrior.  I laughed aloud.

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On one morning walk, as I turned a corner, the sun, peeking over the horizon, stretched my shadow taller than a super model, powerful as a warrior.

On another walk, I noticed dew droplets like transparent jewels hanging on blades of grass, an exquisite, though temporary, treasure.  I knelt for a closer look.

I have seen rabbits and roadrunners, lizards and lakes, humming birds and new horizons.

Walking early enhances my mood:  sunrise paints hope across the clouds; physical effort builds strength; quietness brings peace; and joy rises from deep within, enough to overflow into the whole day!

King David, in the prayer he wrote at the end of his life, describes God as “like the light of morning at sunrise.”  The exquisite beauty of morning’s glow helped David, helps me, to sense the beauty of its creator.

Several other heroes of the Christian Bible, Enoch, Noah and Abraham, are honored by the description, he “walked with God”.  I am wondering, what does this phrase mean?  How can I live it out on my morning walks?  Bob Sorge wrote, “God created man for the enjoyment of a walking relationship that involved companionship, dialogue, intimacy, joint decision-making, mutual delight…”  Yes!  I want to walk with God like that.

Application:  Dear friend, doesn’t a walk, or a drive, or time sitting on a balcony at sunrise or sunset alone with God sound like an accessible regular retreat?  Weary friend, I encourage you to take steps towards more frequent soul rest.

Reflection:

How can you add times of solitude, exercise and times observing nature into your routine?  How can these times alone become times when you are aware of God’s presence and companionship?

Recommended Reading:

Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper

The Ultimate Cleaning Guide

I like things neat and orderly.  Piles and dirt unsettle me.  I clean to find peace.  But for the last six months my husband and I have been living in a van, where every cabinet and drawer is full.  Books are stored in a cardboard box behind the passenger seat, under the dirty laundry bag.  My sister, Maryann, has her own cleaning business, so I called to ask her advice for keeping a small place ship shape.

Her advice: “Don’t have too much junk.  We all have so much more than we realize.  Ask yourself, what’s in your van that you don’t want; and get rid of those things.  Clean one cabinet at a time, rather than the whole space, and then it’s not that bad.”

One of Maryann’s specialties is preparing homes for sale after their owners have passed away.  She said, “It is interesting what people save.  Many people save stacks of plastic containers.  Others save toys, long after their children are grown.  One person saved stamps, mistakenly thinking her collection was valuable.  Another collected hats.”  Maryann said, “Emptying a house is a lot of work, even if the person was neat.”

Maryann often finds stashed cash.  Once she found five thousand dollars behind a stereo system.  Other times she has found important documents that had been misplaced:  a truck title, passports, birth certificates.

Maryann sells what can be sold; donates what can be donated; recycles what can be recycled; and only after all those options are exhausted does she throw things away.  When she puts things on the curb for the trash collectors, she is glad when passersby pick them up, so they can be used.  Maryann recommends culling your possessions regularly.  She says, “If things are orderly, you can be at peace.”

Caelyn, Aunt Maryann COW (2)
Maryann recommends culling your possessions regularly.  She says, “If things are orderly, you can be at peace.”

In ancient times, a king named Josiah ordered a massive cleaning project.  God’s temple had fallen into ruin.  While laborers were cleaning away rubble, they found a misplaced treasure, the Book of the God’s Law, written over six hundred years earlier.  When his secretary read the law to him, King Josiah realized how thoroughly his people had abandoned God and his wisdom.  In anguish and sincere regret, Josiah tore his robes and wept.  A prophetess reassured the king that, although the long-term neglect of God was going to lead to disaster, consequences would be delayed because God had observed Josiah’s responsive heart.  King Josiah and all the people, “from the least to the greatest,” went to the temple and Josiah read all the words in the precious book they had found.  Together they covenanted to follow the LORD and to keep his commands with all their hearts and souls.

Application:  Dear friend, a messy home can make you weary; a messy heart can make you wearier.  Each requires regular, thorough cleaning.  Another king, named David, wrote a prayer asking for God’s help cleaning his heart.  I have sometimes prayed his words, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”  The good news is that cleaning a messy heart all at once is not too much work for God.

Reflection:

How could little by little cleaning make your home more peaceful?  How could asking God’s help with heart-cleaning help you find soul rest?

Recommended Reading:

The Explicit Gospel (Paperback Edition) by Matt Chandler and Jared C. Wilson