Public Schools.

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I am a product of the public school system. I had a great experience growing up. I played varsity tennis. I was in national honor society. I was even the student body president. And I was a radical Christian. Honestly in hindsight, I’m not sure how I had so many friends. I would boldly profess my faith. I led people to Christ in the hallway. I made some pretty radical decisions my senior year of high school and when I was asked “why,” I gave the only answer I had… “God told me to.” 

Even though I had a great experience myself, I didn’t really fall in love with public schools until I was signing my kids up for preschool. The decision at the time was not all that thoughtful. As a young mom I didn’t realize that in order to get into most preschools you have to sign your kids up for preschool at least 6 months ahead of time. We had decided to hold Piper back and start kindergarten when she was 6, but I knew that she was ready for at least 3 days a week. My options were limited, so without too much thought, I signed Piper up for our local ECFE preschool. Without realizing it, I had signed Piper up for a side-by-side class. It is an integrated class where special needs students and mainstream students are in the same class, working side-by-side (hence the name). Piper had no idea. There was a mainstream teacher and a special ed teacher in each class, both were equally Piper’s teachers. It didn’t matter to her that the girl next to her had a “friend” (para) with her half of the afternoon or that the boy in front of her had special accommodations. Her classmates were her friends. Plain and simple. Each student was provided with what they needed to succeed. 

The more I learned about the program, the more my passion grew. I loved that kids with unique needs were provided the services they needed. I loved that kids who couldn’t afford to go to preschool could get scholarships so that they could attend. I loved that they would send home food to families who were in need. I loved that my kids rubbed shoulders with kids who are different than them. I loved that I got to meet parents that lived in my community. I loved that each family had a different story, yet shared the common passion to raise their kids well. I began to see public schools as the center of the community. And not only that, but as a microcosm of the community at large. What we see in the schools closely mirrors what is going on outside of those sturdy walls. 

I must pause to address the elephant in the room. Most of what I share about on my blog does not stir up controversy. This post could. I recognize that if you are a Christian, this passion of mine could rub you the wrong way. I get it. Both of my sisters home school their children. I have a ton of friends who have decided to send their kids to private schools or charter schools. I also know that many people reading this have had really painful experiences in public schools. As I share my passions, I am not judging your decisions nor am I minimizing your experience. Take what is good. Leave behind the rest. 

I mention that because the older I get, the fewer Christians I know share my passion for public schools. School is a lot more complicated than it was when we all went to school. I get it. It is our job to keep our kids safe. Elementary schools have to conduct drills in case someone comes into their school firing a weapon. My nephew bought a bulletproof backpack for school this year. It is designed to serve as both a backpack and a shield – what!?!?!?! Kids are caught with drugs in middle school. Kids are bullied daily because they are different. Kids are questioning their sexuality before they enter puberty. I…GET…IT. Public school feels scary.

But here’s the rub, Jesus calls us to scary places. Places that make us a bit nervous, make us squirm a little, places that make us uncomfortable. Most of Jesus’ ministry was spent in these places. It started at his birth, he was born in a stable surrounded by animals (Luke 2). He touched people with Leprosy (Matthew 8). He cast out evil spirits (Mark 9). He clears the temple (Mark 11). He ate with the pharisee’s (Luke 14). He did not come for the healthy, he came for the sick (Mark 2:17)

And not only that, he instructed us to do the same

Mark 16:15 tell us “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” 

Matthew 28:19-20 says “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

He gives us no room for exceptions. He tells us to go to all of creation, to all the nations. To the scary, uncomfortable places – even the public schools. 

So what if instead of looking at public schools as dark, scary places, that are void of faith, what if we looked at them as a mission field? And what if we taught our kids to look at it the same way? 

As adults it’s easy to assume things about students based on their behaviors. I realize that at a certain point kids do need to become accountable for their actions. But we also need to remember that they are kids; they are the products of their environments. In a lot of cases, they truly don’t know how to behave any other way. School is their safe place. It is the place where they are loved, cared for, and fed. Roaming the hallways are literally “the least of these.” It would be easy to try to steer your kids away from them. But as followers of Jesus, we are called to something different. We don’t get to walk away, we get to dig in.

I am not saying that you put your kids in danger or surround them with bad influences. But I am asking that we put our assumptions aside and dig in. Maybe you start by showing up for your kids lunch and meet her friends. Learn how to say kids names no matter how hard they are to pronounce. Introduce yourself to parents who don’t speak english. Send an extra snack with your kid to school to share with a friend in need. Adopt a family for Christmas. Ask the principal how you can help. Vote for Levy’s and Referendums. Invite the kids over that your kid talks about all day. 

Lead by example, befriend a variety of different people. Pray with your kids for their friends who don’t know Jesus. Invite your kid’s friends to church. I love “bring a friend” night at church. Elementary kids are always so open and eager to invite their friends to church. Create a safe place for kids to hang out. Teach them about the power of the Holy Spirit, that he can make us bold. Remind them each morning that they are entering their mission field. 

Bryan and I were asked to practice what we preach last spring. Piper was invited to a friend’s house that we had never met. She lived in a trailer park. That wasn’t the struggle. I was struggling with the fact that Piper’s friends mom didn’t speak English. All our communication was through the girls. We went back and forth about what we should do. We suggested that Piper invited the girl over to our house, she really wanted to go to this friend’s house. We had no reason to say no. We knew there would be a few adults home. So we arranged the play date. Thanks to google translator, we got the details worked out and they had a great time. We all won. I learned to use google translator (kind of). Piper got to experience a different way of life, and we were again reminded that most people share more commonalities than differences.

I’ve heard so many people talk about how awful it is that we have taken religion out of the schools. People get up in arms about how The Ten Commandments can no longer be displayed or how kids no longer recite the Pledge of Allegiance. People get angry at how the teachers talk about evolution without mentioning creation. 

But here is the thing, a poster of the Ten Commandments is not going to lead someone to the Lord. But you know what might? Living a life that is full of contagious grace and joy. A life that is so different that people begin to ask you what brings you so much hope. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance isn’t going to draw someone to church. But you know what might? Inviting a friend to youth group for the first time. Talking about creation in science class may spike some curiosity. I don’t know that it will convince someone of the inerrancy of the scriptures. But you know what might? Inviting a friend to church on a Wednesday night or giving them a Bible may.

Friends I am with you. Public schools can be scary places. Our kids are exposed to things at younger and younger ages. As parents, we want to protect our kids. But can I be bold? Do you think maybe as Christians we have played a part in taking Jesus out of the schools? I know there is not one simple explanation. But I’m convinced that one of the reasons our schools are getting darker and darker is those of us that carry the light have given up. We have brought our light elsewhere, in some cases a room that’s already lit.

So let’s not fight to display The Ten Commandments or rally to say The pledge of allegiance. Let’s shine our light. Let’s follow Jesus’ lead, let’s go to the scary places. 

Let’s bring a little bit of Jesus back into the public schools. 

Lisa

 

I’ve always wanted to start a revolution…

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I have always wanted to start a movement, a revolution. At a PTO meeting last year, I tried. I wanted all the parents at our kid’s school to stop letting their kids play the video game Fortnight. The people in the meeting were complaining about how they felt out of control of their kid’s video game use. This problem felt very simple to me, with a very simple solution. I raised my hand. 

“Why don’t we as parents all commit to not allowing our kids to play Fortnight?” 

All I got in return was blank stares. 

At this point I may not be able to start a movement to rid the world of video games. But I do believe there is something each of us could do, and if we did it, we could change the world.

We could love our neighbors. 

And when I say love your neighbor, I am referring to your physical neighbor. The person living next to you, behind you or in front of you. I believe if we all just started with loving our physical neighbors, we could change the world-one neighborhood at a time.

Growing up we knew a few of our neighbors, but not too many. By the time Bryan and I moved into our home, we were fully committed to Christian community. Prior to owning our home, we had been living with a family and experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of fully knowing others – yet still loving them. It wasn’t until we moved into our first house that our passion for community centered around a physical space – our neighborhood. 

Right away when we moved in, we met our neighbors Angie and Jeff. They heard we had moved in and quickly came over to introduce themselves. They are a Christian family and are passionate about helping people. Angie invited me over for coffee. As we had coffee that morning, Angie told me about how once she started having kids she realized she couldn’t do as much outside of the home as she used to. So she started to pray that God would bring people to her, to their home. God certainly answered their prayers. I just sat there in awe as she shared stories about the neighborhood and the relationships she had built. 

I was in. 

At first, I just tagged along with Angie and met our neighbors. I joined her at neighborhood play dates. I curiously watched as she would invite the neighbors over, no matter who they were or where they came from. Surprisingly, most of the time, they came. At any given time there would be 2-3 neighbors in and out of their home. 

The passion for my neighborhood continued to grow. There was a small group of us who really started doing life together. We were raising our kids together. We had dinner together almost weekly. We loved each other no matter what. Other people around the neighborhood joined in. Our small pocket of the world began to change. There was a sense of safety and security. We showed up for each other whether it was by bringing a meal or just providing a listening ear.

We were meeting each other’s deepest needs: to be loved and to belong. When people’s needs are met, they are set up to make much better choices, choices that benefit not only them but the world around them. And as much as we like to believe our decisions don’t affect other people, they do. Our decisions have a ripple effect.

Our world is a mess. People are diagnosed with cancer every day. Anxiety manifests itself at younger and younger ages each year. Depression is common place among teenagers. Suicide no longer shocks people. Isolation is the norm. Loneliness is an epidemic. I can almost   guarantee you someone on your block is struggling with one of those things. 

So what if instead of ignoring them each morning as you get into your car, you said hello? And then over time, you asked their name. And then soon, you invite them into your home and into your life. They begin to feel loved. They are no longer isolated, they experience a sense of belonging. You become a safe place. You feed them. Out of a place of safety, they start making different decisions, healthy decisions. We will never know for sure, but what if a simple hello in the morning changed the trajectory of someone’s life and the lives they intersect with?

Can you even imagine the ripple effect that would happen if we all committed to living like that? 

If you know me, you know I am very extroverted and outgoing. Strangers are just friends I have not yet met. I know not everyone shares my personality. I know meeting your neighbors can feel intimidating. I have found people find it easier to spend thousands of dollars to go overseas on a mission trip than to reach out to the person who lives right next to them. Why? Because trips have a start and an end date. They often come with a specific purpose. And honestly, if it’s a bust, you don’t have to see them again. Loving your neighbor is a lifelong commitment. They are going to hear you fight or yell at your kids. They are going to see you in your PJs as you run down the street to catch your dog. They are going to see your kids at their worst and their best. I often say that neighbors are like family. You don’t get to pick them, you may not always like them, but you should learn to love them because they aren’t going anywhere. 

You may live in a house, an apartment, or dorm. Whatever the case may be, try a couple of the following tips, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.  

  1. First of all, when I engage with new people, I always try to keep a few truths on the forefront of my mind. We are created for community. Our deepest needs are to be loved and to belong. Everyone has those same needs and desires. Most people want those things so badly, but are too scared to take the first step. It’s hard to take the first step. Do.It.
  2. Pray. Ask God to show you where to start. Loving our neighbors is in line with God’s heart. I promise, if you ask him to show you where to start, he will show you.
  3. Start with small deposits. Start by befriending a neighbor on social media. Send them a message of why you sent the request, if you don’t it might weird them out. Say hi each day as you leave the house. Introduce yourself. Ask their names and then remember it. Plow their driveway. Mow their lawn. When significant things have happened to our neighbors, we’ve shown up – by writing them a note, checking in with them or even showing up in sad moments like funerals or joyous ones like baby showers. Those small deposits of time opened up doors to much deeper, rich friendships with them. 
  4. Host a gathering. A lot of people may not feel comfortable with dinner at first. Invite a handful of neighbors over. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Host a happy hour. Invite people over for dessert. Some people will not be interested, but most people will welcome the opportunity to at least meet their neighbors. 

Halloween is coming up. Halloween is a great opportunity to get to know your neighbors. Everyone is outside going from house to house, usually very cold and yet somewhat relaxed. Last year we had a bonfire in our front yard. We had hot chocolate and cider. We set out chairs. By the end of the night 3 households were handing out candy while sitting in our front yard. Families stopped to get hot chocolate and warm up by the fire. We got to know several new families in the neighborhood. You may not live in a home where you can have a bonfire in the front yard, but you could certainly hand out candy and introduce yourself. Like I said, it starts with small deposits. 

Those small deposits matter. They lead to deeper and more meaningful relationships, which lead to feeling loved and a sense of belonging. And when people feel those things, they make better decisions. Decisions that don’t just affect them, they affect us all. They are better and we are better. The pocket of our world begins to change and before you know it we have started a revolution. 

One neighborhood at a time.

Lisa

Thanks Kirstin Tackett and Angie & Jeff House for teaching me what it looks like to live in community. We are all the better because it. 

 

Things I am passionate about…

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In our small group last night, our leader asked “What is one thing that you are passionate about?” I love to hear about what other people are passionate about. I am intrigued by what makes people’s faces light up. I’m drawn to their words as they talk louder and faster. Their gestures get bigger and bigger as they discuss their passions. 

Most people are quick to reply what they are passionate about, but when I follow up by asking “Why are you passionate about that?” Most people don’t have a quick response. It’s just part of who they are. 

Just as God gave us a unique personality, he also gave us unique passions and gifts. 

Knowing that our passions are from God should cause us to pause and stir up a few questions. 

Why did God give you that passion? And what are you doing with it? 

I’m asking myself those questions. What topics make my face light up when I talk about them? When I’m talking, what makes me speak faster and louder? What am I doing about those passions? 

As I ask those questions, I decided that I was going to take a month or so to talk about a few things I’m passionate about. 

I am passionate about community. 

It doesn’t take a lot of convincing for people to understand the importance of community. But let me just give you a few of my favorite reasons.

1. Did you know church attendance (which we will translate to Christian community) increases your immune response, lowers your risk for heart disease and increases your lifespan? 

2. Did you know Christian community reduces the likelihood that you will experience depression? 

3. Did you know that we become like the people we spend time with? The more we hang out with people who are like Jesus, the more we become like him.

4. Did you know that we were created to live in community? Romans 12:4-5 says “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” This is just one verse of MANY that speaks to our need for community. 

Even when people know the benefits of community and are aware that we are hardwired for relationships, why do so many people feel alone and disconnected? 

We struggle to build community because we have to be intentional about it. It rarely happens to us, we have to make it happen. 

For most of us growing up and even through college, community just kind of happened to us. Our shared space and experience created natural community. The older we get and the more busy we get, those natural spaces and experiences are no longer created for us, we have to create them for ourselves. 

Bryan and I have built our lives around prioritizing community. One of the main reasons I have decided to only work part time so we have the emotional and physical capacity to build community. We know that if we were both working full time and raising two kids, getting through the day in one piece would feel like a success. One of us has to have the time and emotional margin to make plans, clean the house and prepare the food. 

I know that not everyone has the choice to have one spouse stay home. Start small. Start with what is in front of you. Who do you work with that you wouldn’t mind getting to know? Who are your kids’ friend’s parents? Who do you sit next to at Hockey practice? Who lives next door to you? It’s hard to start a conversation with a complete stranger, it is a lot easier when you have something in common to talk about. If you’re struggling to find a person to pursue -join a club. Go to church. I’m serious, even if you aren’t religious, there are usually really great people at church. Join a gym and go at the same time everyday. I have met some of my best friends at the gym. Then after you have made a few connections…

Take the first step. This is hard. It is scary to be the initiator. But after you have chatted a few times, be brave, take the first step to get to know your new friends better. Sometimes people have a hard time getting coffee and finding things to talk about at first, that’s okay. Find something fun going on during the weekend and invite a family to join you. Ask the person you always sit next to at practice if they want to go for a walk while you wait for your kids. If a coworker mentions a movie they wanted to see, set up a time to see it together.  You may not talk much at first, but shared experiences over time bring people to deeper levels of comfort and ease.

As you are pursuing new friendships, remember the rule of two. I have a “rule of 2” when it comes to getting together with new people. If I extend an invitation 2 times without a reply, I take the hint. Be intentional, not awkward. Generally speaking, people love to be invited, they are just too scared to be the one inviting. 

We struggle to build community because we aren’t patient with the process. 

My husband always tell me that I don’t enjoy the process, I just like the end result. That has been true in my friendships. I haven’t always wanted to do the hard work of building and developing friendships, I just want to be deep and comfortable with people-now. Today. Building new friendships is just like dating. It takes time to get to a deep comfort level. It takes shared experiences, awkward silences and mindless conversations-it’s takes time. And just as a warning, you will go on a few bad dates along the way. I have been positive that my new best friend was sitting in front of me. I then got to know them a bit and realized we were actually super different. That’s okay! Not everyone is going to be your new best friend, but you will never know unless you try. 

We struggle to build community because it is scary and hard. 

Being  in community is vulnerable. To really commit yourself to others, you have to expose yourself; the good, the bad and the ugly. That is scary. All of us at one point or another have asked, “if they really knew me, would they still love me?” When I feel that way, it always helps me to step back and remember that the person across from me is asking those same questions. 

I have learned over the last several years that most people are not as great as they seem, but to counter that point, most people are not as bad as they seem either. As you get more comfortable with people, you get to see different sides of them. Things will be said that you don’t agree with. Decisions will be made that make you cringe. People will disappoint you. You will disappoint people, I promise. Push through it. Have hard conversations. Seek to understand. Forgive. Ask questions, hold people accountable. Keep at it. 

I mentioned earlier that Bryan and I  have prioritized community. One way we have done that is choosing to have one of us work part time. That choice has come with a cost. We don’t have the nicest cars, in fact they both make weird noises. We don’t have really nice things and we don’t go on fancy vacations. Community doesn’t just cost us money. It costs time, energy and resources. 

But you know what, we have really good friends. We have people in our corner. We have people that will go to bat for us. I have people in my life that fully know me, yet still truly love me. That in itself is worth any amount of money, energy or time. 

What has been holding you back from building community? Are you waiting for it to happen to you? Does it feel too scary? Are you struggling to find time? 

Identify your barrier, make a plan, take a step. It might be your first step or your tenth. Keep at it. Try and try again. When the excuses start coming your way, remember…

We were made for this. 

Lisa

 

She was fast.

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Over the last several weeks I have shared about the Holy Spirit and my quest to have a greater understanding about what it is and the role it plays in our lives. I have shared ways that have worked for me to unleash more of the Holy Spirit in my life. 

As we empty ourselves, die to our ideals and repent, we need to make sure we are filling ourselves up. I have noticed on my own journey, no matter how much I empty myself, if I’m filling up my empty space with the wrong stuff – all my work is in vain. Empty spaces tend to fill themselves up. 

As I continue to create more room for the Holy Spirit, I have been working hard to fill those empty spaces. I have found a few ways to begin to fill that space:

We must fill ourselves with God’s word. I think many people feel like if they don’t have 30-60 minutes to read the bible, they skip it all together. Some of my most meaningful times in God’s word have lasted 10 minutes. I take a chapter or two and read it. I then find a verse or a concept from the passage to think about or implement throughout the day. Our phones make reading the Bible incredibly easy and convenient. I have a plan I follow on my phone that alerts me when I don’t read. The days where I’m not able to get my reading done in the morning, I find a break in my day, open my phone and read. Meditating on one truth has been more powerful for me than just skimming over several books at a time. 

I’ve been challenged recently to put my devotionals aside and just focus on reading the Bible. Devotionals are amazing and I am sure I will read many in my lifetime. But we also need to remember, devotionals are someone’s interpretation of God’s word and are based on their personal experience.

Hebrews 4:12 tells us “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” 

As you can see, God’s word is not a bunch of historical stories, it is alive and active. God wants to speak to YOU, TODAY, through words written thousands of years ago.

We must fill ourselves with prayer & worship. Prayer doesn’t require specific words, a specific time or a specific place. Pray as you run, pray in the car, pray while you go to the bathroom. Go before God as you are. Talk to him like he is a friend. If you don’t know what to say, go to the Psalms. Find a Psalm focused on praising God and read it to him. Put an empty chair next to you and pretend God is sitting there next to you. Just tell him about your day. When you are feeling discouraged or disconnected, put worship music on. I do this several times throughout my day and it is amazing how worship music can dramatically change the atmosphere around me. 

We must fill our life with life-giving community. You become like the people you spend time with. If you hang out with people who exercise, you are much more likely to exercise yourself. If you spend time with people who are following Jesus, you are much more likely to follow Jesus. A couple things to keep in mind as you seek community. 1. You have to be intentional. Friendships organically happen when we are in high school and college. The shared time and space force relationships. The older we get and the more busy we get, the harder it is to make friendships. Bryan and I are very social. People often ask how we do so much and have so many friends. It is not an accident. We have chosen for me to work part time so we have time for friendships and community. It takes one of us to have the emotional and time margin to make the plans, keep the house clean and prepare to have people over. And when we find people we enjoy, we invite them over. I have found most people appreciate an invite. 2. It takes time. Making friends is like dating. You meet someone, go to coffee; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You have to try again, again, and again, and then something finally clicks and you find your people. You will have a couple awkward moments along the way, that’s okay, I promise it’s worth the investment.

Life-giving community has accelerated and strengthened my faith like nothing else. In part because there is nothing like being around someone who is walking out in the fullness of who God created them to be. They aren’t bound to worldly expectations. They have a confident humility. They exude grace and peace. People (myself included) flock to them. We want to have what they have. 

How do they get that way?

They are filled with the Holy Spirit.

I say this because He has made it clear to us what our lives will look like when the Holy Spirit is unleashed in our lives. 

Galatians 5:22-23 tell us “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….”

He has given us a Litmus test. A litmus test is a way to prove or measure something. I believe what Jesus is saying to us in Galatians 5 is (paraphrase mine) “Do you want to know if you are filled with the Holy Spirit? Ask yourself, are you loving? Are you joyful? Are you peaceful?….if not, come to me, let’s examine your heart.” 

I encourage you to memorize Galatians 5:22. Write it on post-its and put them all over the house, your car or your office. Throughout the day, take a pause. Look at Galatians 5 and ask, “what am I lacking here?” Ask God to show you. Examine your heart. Is there something in your life not fully surrendered, something stifling your joy? Is there a sin in your life keeping you from peace? 

Then do your part, surrender-even if it’s the 20th time you have done it today. Repent. Stand up and take a little walk, forge a new path. Fill your mind and heart with God’s word. As you empty yourself, fill yourself up with truth and worship. And as you do, you will become less and he will become more.

I want to end this series about the Holy Spirit with a story about my dog, Aspen. For whatever reason we got Aspen in November, right after Thanksgiving. It was cold and she spent the first few months sleeping and laying around. Towards the end of February it was nice enough so we decided to take Aspen to the dog park. We took her off her leash. At first, she looked at us not really sure what to do. We had never allowed her off her leash before. She looked again and before we knew it-she took off. She was SO fast! The four of us just stood there with our eyes and mouth wide open. We had no idea our lazy, sleepy dog could run so fast. 

She was unleashed.

I think that is an incredible analogy of what sin does in our lives. Sin is the leash keeping us back from being the fullness of who God created us to be. We often find ourselves sleeping when we have been designed to run. The more we work out the knots of sin, the more the Holy Spirit will rush through our veins bringing the fullness of the life intended for us.

And do you know what will happen when you become unleashed from sin? 

People around you will step back in awe and wonder how you learned to run so fast. 

Which in turn will give you opportunity to link arms with someone and say, “What do you know about the Holy Spirit?”

Lisa