Friday, October 28, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Herding Cats

On Sunday morning, a group of kids from our daycare is going to do special music in church. I'm not sure how many are coming. I'm not sure exactly who will be there. I do know it will be fun.

I've taken my guitar and my set of preschool handbells up to Allison Little Lambs a few times in the last couple of weeks and three times this week.

I'm thinking maybe we should have practiced much, much more for this little musical endeavor.

I've never had the same group of kids playing the handbells. Not once. Sometimes I've had eight kids playing them. Sometimes I've had six. Some kids have played them one time, others have played them multiple times.
The practice sessions are peppered with comments like: 
     "George*, don't touch the inside of the bell."
     "Fiona, try not to clang the bells together, honey."
     "Stop ringing, everybody! Wait for the music to start."
     "Sorry, Clyde, you can't play the red ones this time." (Clyde proceeds to pout and won't play the green ones I've put in front of him)    

It's not difficult to play these bells, but it does take a bit of concentration. The kids have to watch the cards I hold in front of them and play their bell when they see their number.

For four and five year olds, it can be a little tricky. I tried to make it easier by coloring the top of the oval, but there are light green and dark green bells, and light blue and dark blue bells. Mistakes are made. It happens.

While the music plays, some kids play their hearts out when they see their number/color. Others set their bells down and watch the kids around them. Some hold their bells expectantly, but they don't play when their card comes up. Others ring randomly when they get tired of waiting.

The two and three year old class has been practicing singing Jesus Loves Me and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for quite a while now. They sound great. I've been practicing with them the last couple of weeks with the guitar. Some of them sing along, but others stare in fascination at the wonderful instrument I'm holding and forget to sing.  

We decided to try adding sign language to the chorus, but I'm afraid we started that too late. Some of them try, but others just smile sweetly when I raise my eyebrows and try to cue them to start the motions (very difficult when you're playing the guitar).

We didn't practice walking up to the front of church, picking up the bells, where they put them afterward. It could be mass chaos that day. 

You know what? I'm not worried. I've enjoyed singing with these kids. I've sung the words to Amazing Grace (our bell song) and tried to explain what that means in words they can understand. I hope they've caught at least a little bit of that awesome gift of God. I hope they smile and play and sing with as much enthusiasm as they have at Allison Little Lambs. I hope the congregation is blessed as they watch their smiling faces and realize how much these kids are learning about God and His grace.

As I've led music and helped at the daycare, I've been reminded more than once of a friend back in Chandler, Minnesota who compared leading our kids choir to "herding cats" and "trying to nail jello to a tree." It is crazy at times, but it's so worth it. God loves these kids and so do I.

Great things can happen when we relax and enjoy a little chaos once in a while. (You can see how it goes on Sunday if you click here - live at 9 a.m. central or on demand later)

"Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing." (Psalm 100:1-2 KJV)

Do you get uptight when you don't think things are going to go perfectly? How can focusing on God help you to relax and do your best, not worrying about every little detail? 

*(The names were changed in this post so I don't embarrass any of my little musicians.)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's (Not) Focus on Deceptive Words

I was reading in Jeremiah 7 this morning, and a couple of verses struck me:

"Do not trust in deceptive words and say, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!'" (verse 4)

"But look, you are trusting in deceptive words, that are worthless." (verse 8)

In this context, Jeremiah was supposed to proclaim a message to the people of Judah, warning them about how far they were straying from the LORD. The triple "temple of the LORD" reference above alludes to their vain and repetitious babbling. God talked to them again and again, but they refused to listen.

These verses in Jeremiah got me thinking about my own deceptive words. I very seldom lie to other people, but I'm afraid the words rattling around in my own head are often deceptive words.

I hear lots of vain and repetitious babbling going on up there:

"I'm so stupid, I'm so stupid, I'm so stupid." I know it's not true, but mistakes and failures often trigger thoughts like those.

"I never get anything done, I never get anything done, I never get anything done." Those deceptive words can keep me stuck and I really don't get things done when I believe them.

"Nobody likes me, nobody likes me, nobody likes me." This is the biggest lie of all. I know people like me, love me even, but insecurities can jump in and try to mess up my thoughts.

The only thing we can do is replace those deceptive words with the truth instead:

"I am blessed with a good brain and I can use it."
"I can't get everything done, but God will help me accomplish many things."
"God loves me with an everlasting love."

It's difficult, but we can learn to turn deceptive words around and focus on the truth instead.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

Are there any deceptive words rolling around in your head? How can focusing on God help you to turn them around and focus instead on the truth?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on What We're Moving Toward

Gary and I attended an event in Omaha on Thursday about Mental Health and the Church. It was put on by Fresh Hope (we facilitate a small group in Allison). It was a good day of hearing talks from Amy Simpson, Joe Padilla, and Pastor Brad Hoefs.

I enjoyed the day so much, but I was surprised to find myself getting kind of emotional toward the end of the event. Tears filled my eyes and I had to brush them away. I tried to figure out what was going on that was making me cry, but I was kind of stumped. 

I think it had to do with medicine at first. I started wondering if I should try going off my medicine (even though Fresh Hope strongly advocates for working with your doctors and staying on the medicines they prescribe), and then that kind of turned into negative feelings about the future. 

How silly to sit in the middle of an event focused on hope for those with a mental health challenge and start to lose that same hope. 

The Bible mentions hope over 120 times - that's a lot of hope!

Finally, my thoughts started to come back around when I heard Pastor Brad say something like this: "Focus on what you're moving toward, not what you're moving away from."

As you know, I love that word "focus." I realized what was going wrong in my thinking. I was focusing on the depression, the uncertainties of my mental health, the challenges of each day and what could go wrong.

Instead, I had to get my focus back where it belonged. I had to think about moving toward hope and a thriving life because Christ lives in me. 
We're more likely to hit the target if we're actually looking toward it instead of  behind us.

Maybe you're dealing with similar challenges as you read this. Can I urge you to focus on what you're moving toward instead of what you're moving away from?

Focus on little acts of kindness you can show toward your spouse that will bring you closer instead of focusing on how he (or she) has offended you or your own mistakes in communicating and relating.

Focus on small changes that will move you closer to a healthier, slimmer body instead of focusing on your tendency to overeat or what you look like in the mirror.

Focus on how much God loves you instead of focusing on how many times you've failed Him. (Another great quote from Thursday's event: "You're safe and you're enough.")

Focus on what you're moving toward instead of what you're moving away from. As for me, I'm going to keep moving toward hope.

" thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal...." (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)

Are you focused too much on what you're moving away from? How can focusing on God help you to move steadily ahead toward your goal?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on How Things Used to Be

I'm in Michigan as I write this week. I had a great day today at Breathe Christian Writers Conference and I'm looking forward to more great info and conversation with fellow writers tomorrow.

I grew up in Michigan, but we live in Iowa now. Breathe gives me a chance to get back to my old stomping grounds. In my mind, everything looks just like it did when I lived there, but whenever I get back here and drive past old familiar places, I'm reminded that time does not stand still. My old elementary school, East Elementary, was torn down several years ago. Jackson Park Pool was also torn down, and the Wyoming Public Library where I worked looks nothing like it did back in my high school days.

Gary and I stayed in Holland on Wednesday night and did some bike riding on Thursday morning. We rode to the State Park and walked out on the pier, rode up to Tunnel Park, then rode a little farther to Camp Geneva. I went to church camp there many times as I was growing up. I thought it was great when I attended, but it looks even better now. They have nice new modern cabins, but I was pleased to see some of the old cabins where I stayed tucked way in the back. 
The old cabins are not visible in this pic, but they still exist!
 After our bike ride, we thought we deserved a treat, so we stopped at Captain Sundae out by the lake.

We were surprised to see that a mini golf course and other improvements had been made to one of our favorite ice cream shops. (Seriously, if you haven't had one of their Tommy Turtle sundaes, you must try one!) 

Seeing all of these changes got me thinking about the changes we go through. Hopefully, we do not stay exactly the same as the years go by. We learn and we grow from the experiences we have, the people we meet, and the choices we make.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and reintroduce myself to people who knew me when I was younger. I was so shy in high school. I had a few close friends and I was scared to talk to almost everyone else. I started to open up in college, but I was still awkward and afraid to be myself. Our years on the farm, then at Northwestern College and Western Seminary for Gary, five years at Chandler Reformed Church in Minnesota, and now seven years in Allison, Iowa...each year seems to bring a little more growth, making me a new and improved version of myself. It's exciting to see where God is leading me and how He's changing me, but I can look back with regret if I'm not careful. 

I need to let go of that. I was the best person I could be at every stage of my life. I will continue to grow and change as the years go by. How sad it would be if I were exactly the same now as I was in high school. I'm going to forget about my past deficiencies and keep moving forward, embracing the changes God makes in me.

I'm also going to pray that they keep the Tommy Turtles delicious for many years to come.

"Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal...." (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)

Can you see how you've changed over the years? How can focusing on God help you to let go of disappointments about your past and embrace future changes that make you more like Christ?