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Thursday, 21 July 2016

Turtle on a Fencepost-Revised

  I first read this phrase in the devotional by Charles R. Swindoll, entitled The Finishing Touch.  He, in turn, was quoting a Presbyterian pastor by the name of Dr. Robert Lamont.  In his youth, Dr. Lamont had seen the strange sight of a turtle being suspended on a fence-post.  No doubt, this was the work of a prankster and not that of the turtle itself.  He applied this idea to himself as well: “Where I am right now is not the result of my efforts; only God can be credited for lifting me to this place for His glory.”
   This is the story of my career path.  I got my first teaching job at a brand new school even though I was late for the interview.  There were a lot of unanswered questions about this school and how I would teach four grades in one room, but I felt led to accept the job.  Less than one month in, I was asked to become the principal at the age of 23.  This was nothing that I planned, but I continued on for three years.
   I was privileged to stay home with my children for eleven years and did not know exactly how I would re-enter the teaching world.
   Then I became a Kindergarten teacher in the most unexpected way. Kindergarten would have been the last grade level that I would have chosen for myself. Yet on the Friday before the Labor Day weekend in 2008, I received a phone call from the principal of a local school asking me to consider taking a 40% position in Junior Kindergarten, starting in a few days.  Honestly, I did not understand why he would call and offer this position to me other than desperation and my resume being on file.  I had no experience in teaching students this young, and I styled myself as an upper elementary teacher.  He asked me to think and pray about it and return his call with an answer in a few hours.
   I have always had a strong sense of vocation, being called to do particular things at particular times in my life.  During my prayer time, this is what came to my mind once again.  This phone call was none other than a call to surrender my plans to God’s plans.  I trusted that He would equip me since I did not consider myself at all prepared for this great adventure with four year olds.
   When there was an internal opening for vice principal of school management at my school, I didn't intend to apply until a colleague encouraged me to do so.
   In June I embarked on a journey to earn my Masters of Education from a small Christian college in Iowa, mostly through online courses.  When I arrived on the campus earlier this week and saw its buildings and considered its history, I again felt like a turtle on a fence-post.  People I've never met sacrificed, prayed and had the vision to begin this school, and I am blessed to reap the benefits.
   But even more than my career path, I feel like a turtle when I think about my humble beginnings as a simple farm girl.  God has enabled me to study at some of the best schools in Canada, teach in small and large Christian schools in Ontario, have articles published, become married to a wonderful man, become a mother to three gifted children, and so much more.
   I am a turtle on a fence-post.

Friday, 8 July 2016

What's in a Gesture?

Gestures are culturally understood ways of communicating without words.  Some occupations rely heavily upon gestures such as airport ground crews and police officers directing traffic at a disabled stop light.  In any situation we need to know what a gesture means in order to interpret what the person using it intends or is signalling to others.  For example, an index finger movement that says "Come here" in North America is insulting to a person from South Korean because in that nation the same gesture is used to summon dogs.
   One gesture infants learn early is to grasp and object tightly and not let it go.  We might even consider it a God-given reflex for their safety and survival.  As we grow older we may continue to grasp things physically and metaphorically.  Holding onto things and refusing to release them, then, becomes a way of expressing control and possessiveness.
   In the Scriptures we encounter a patriarch whose very name refers to the act of grasping.  Jacob, the younger twin, was born literally grasping the heel of his elder brother.  That image has become synonymous with "deceiver," as Jacob illustrated by trickery and wanting the best for himself.  When Jacob had become an adult, he preyed upon his brother's birth right at a vulnerable moment when Esau was famished and would give anything for a bowl of stew.  Later, abetted by his mother, he grasped the blessing of the first born that also rightfully belonged to his brother.
   In Jacob's narrative, he is not the only one seeking his own advantage.  His father-in-law Laban grasps fourteen years of Jacob's labor in exchange for his younger beautiful daughter.  Both of his wives grasp at various schemes in order to bear children in order to compete for Jacob's affection. His favored wife Rachel holds onto her father's idols even when she has rejected this man's authority over her life.
   During his life, we catch glimpses of Jacob being weaned from his tendency to grasp.  When he flees from a vengeful brother he recognizes the presence of God and worships him.  On the eve of a reunion with that same brother, Jacob is terrified of how he will be repaid.  He begins to realize his schemes can undo him; at daybreak God gives him the new name Israel meaning "He wrestles with God."
   By the time Jacob-Israel reaches 130 years of age he has experienced many things, including the 20+ years of grief over losing his favored son Joseph and then the surprising news that Joseph is still alive and ruling Egypt.  We see a very different man in a moving scene in Genesis 48.  His vision is dim with age, but he says with gratitude to the son he had mourned, "I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too."  There's no hint of Jacob coming to this moment of beatitude by his own striving or scheming.  He knows the truth expressed later in James 1:17a--"every good and perfect gift is from [God] above"--and he receives it with the gesture of open hands.
   It took a lifetime for Jacob to change from being a grasper to a receiver.  What kind of gesture characterizes your life today?