Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Reason for No Fear

Easter is the most important day on the Christian calendar. I guess I've always had things a little confused, because if you asked me what the most important day on the calendar is, I'd always, without hesitation, say CHRISTMAS. And honestly, I've always felt just a little bit guilty about that.

I guess it's because I really like happy endings. Actually, I like amazing endings, and not just happy endings. I like stories that have glorious conclusions, where all the characters are metaphorically (or sometimes even literally) staring off into the sunset, feeling fulfilled. The strife is ending and a new adventure, a seemingly perfect adventure, is beginning.

My favorite Star Wars film is "The Return of the Jedi" because it is a glorious conclusion to the story (for the time being, I am in denial and refuse to acknowledge that more Star Wars films are being made, and when they are made, they probably won't count anyway). My favorite LOTR movie/book is "The Return of the King" because it is a glorious ending, where Frodo sails home into the Gray Havens, and Samwise goes back to his home in the shire with his family. I like glorious conclusions.

So I'm not sure why Easter doesn't seem as amazing as Christmas, since Easter is the glorious conclusion--Jesus states "it is finished," dies, and then defeats death forever. Maybe it's because I'm looking forward into Revelation where Jesus will come again and "the last enemy to be destroyed is death." But I don't think that's it either. I don't really see Christmas, Easter, the Rapture (or whatever you want to call it) as separate stories, as I would different books or movies in popular series. The Bible is made up of a lot of stories, but it is one book--one amazing book about the Holy God, a sinful people, His work to bring them back to Him, and His glorious, eternal reign.

Christmas is my favorite time of year for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it's when God came down to be with us. But that wasn't the beginning, just as Easter wasn't the end. The truth is, there is no beginning and no end to this story.

But today in church we were looking at a passage of Scripture, Matthew 28:1-10. The sermon was good, but sometimes--well, a lot of times--the Holy Spirit has something to say to me that takes a little detour from what the preacher is saying. Today was one of those times.

Because last Christmas, I was really intrigued by what the angels had to say to those they visited. Every time they visited someone, they always said, "Fear not." "Don't be afraid." And when I was younger, I thought they were just saying that because, hey, angels are probably pretty scary. If you read a Biblical description of an angel, they don't look like naked babies or beautiful ladies with feathery wings. They look, well, pretty freaky, with seventeen bazgillion eyes and lots of wings and flaming swords and such. Sometimes they're described as looking like men, but even then, their appearance is probably enough to cause fear. So I think that part of the reasons why the angels started their discourse with "don't be afraid" was probably because they were frightening.

But last Christmas, as I was reading, I discovered that every time the angels said "Fear not" to someone in the Christmas story, they always gave a reason why there should be no fear. To Mary, Gabriel said, "Do not be afraid, Mary; FOR you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."

To Joseph, the angel said, "Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, FOR the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."

To the shepherds, the angel said, "Do not be afraid, FOR behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; FOR today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior who is Christ the Lord."

And then today while reading the Scripture from Matthew 28, I noticed something. The women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, went to the tomb where Jesus had been placed after his death. But instead of finding Jesus, the women found an angel sitting on the stone that had been rolled away. The guards had fainted. The women and the angel were alone. And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, FOR I know you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen just as He said."

The angel also told the women to go and tell the disciples what they had witnessed. Scripture states that they left the tomb with both fear and joy. And I imagine that they were just shaking all over, so excited, so amazed, so in awe of the greatest news that they had ever heard or would ever hear, so overcome that they couldn't have kept it to themselves, even if they had wanted to.

And I imagine the shepherds were also shaking all over, trembling with both fear and joy, as they rushed from their pastures and ran to go find the Savior of which the angels had spoken. It was the greatest news they had ever heard or would ever hear. And they were glorifying and praising God, unable to keep it to themselves, even if they had wanted to. I somehow doubt it really was that much of a silent night.

Because with all the reasons the angels gave to have no fear, all of those reasons were really ever pointing back to one thing: Jesus had come. There was a Savior. The Savior was God Himself, come to redeem sinful man back to Himself. Because the story of Easter, the story of Christmas, the story of EVERYTHING is that God is Holy, man is sinful, and the only thing that ever could save us from God's judgment and wrath is God's mercy and love.

We should be afraid. We are all sinners, all rebels. We've rejected God and lived to please ourselves. By breaking part of the Law, we've broken all of it, and there should be no hope for us. But the angels gave us the answer. "FEAR NOT!" We don't have to be afraid. Jesus came so we wouldn't have to be afraid.

And that frees us up to live, really live for God's glory. Satan is crafty with those half-truths, and I think a lot of people miss the reason why God redeems us, and I fear by missing part of the story, they miss all of it. God redeems us because He loves us. So many people want to end that sentence with a period, but there really should be a comma. God redeems us because He loves us, and so that we can live lives that proclaim His glory.

When we live lives that proclaim His glory, we are who He created us to be. We are benefited, oh yes, we are definitely benefited. But more importantly, most importantly, the God who is worthy of all glory is greatly glorified.

The story doesn't end because He's the One writing it. The work of Redemption is finished, but the One who Redeemed is alive! Jesus, God in flesh, came down, died, and rose again.

Jesus. He is why we don't have to be afraid.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Don't Call Them Babies

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone refers to my preschool class as "The Baby Room," "The Baby Class," or simply just "The Babies."

I teach the youngest group of children in my preschool, the one-year-old class. Since we are quickly approaching the end of the school year, the majority of my students are already two. A few of them only missed the age cutoff by a few weeks, which means the two-year-old classes contain some children who are only a few weeks older than some of my kids. But even if all of my children were still one-year-olds, they would not be babies.

I understand that my kids aren't able to do the things the older classes are able to do. I definitely get that they have limitations, but I also don't underestimate them. They aren't babies.

The problem is, a lot of people don't really understand the difference between infants and toddlers. One-year-olds are in an ambiguous stage of life, as it's hard to tell when the baby stage ends and the toddler stage begins. The easiest way to tell? Does the child walk (toddle)? Voila! Most likely, the child is a toddler. Sometimes you do have toddlers that aren't quite toddling yet, and sometimes you get babies that can toddle, but who aren't yet on the same developmental level as a toddler. Kids learn to walk at different ages. Some are early walkers, and some, like me, wait until they're nearly a year and a half before being brave enough to try the toddling thing. But the toddler age starts at one, not two, as some people seem to think.

And there are other things that toddlers do that distinguish them from babies. Toddlers eat more solid foods. Aside from choking hazards, toddlers can eat just about anything a grown up can eat. They have most of their baby teeth. They aren't living just on milk and baby food.

Older one-year-olds (sometimes younger ones, too, especially if they have older ones to emulate) are just beginning to grasp the idea that there are other people who matter in the universe (besides self). They enjoy playing alongside and even WITH other children. They start to develop compassion and kindness, as well as a sense of independence and (in a lot of cases) stubbornness. They aren't babies anymore. Their personalities are starting to form.

They are also learning like CRAZY. They are learning new vocabulary and grammar moment by moment. They are putting the code of language together by using two or more words in a sentence to communicate. They are building on previous knowledge and actually beginning to use basic logic. They're labeling everything in their world, including each other  :-). The main reason one-year-olds are my favorites is because they are SO fascinated by everything. The whole world is new and wondrous to them, and they are old enough start exploring. I like seeing everything through their eyes. I like experiencing the excitement they sense at encountering our amazing world.

There aren't babies at preschool because, while babies can definitely learn, babies don't belong in a preschool learning environment. We have lessons. We have crafts. We have music. We have structure. And while I strive to make everything on their level, I also have pretty clear expectations for my students. They aren't babies. They know how I expect them to behave at school, and they know there are consequences if they fail to meet (or raise, which does happen a lot) my expectations. Babies can't do that. But, then, my class isn't for babies.

Now, I can completely understand if someone is trying to help their older child understand why he or she needs to be more gentle or gracious with younger children. Children can understand "baby" better than "toddler" or "younger child." By all means, if you need to call my kids "babies" to help an older child understand that my kids are younger, go for it. I also understand that people have pet names for their kids, or that they have trouble realizing their baby is growing up. I don't have problems with that. Call your own kid "baby" all you want, as long as you're letting him or her move forward developmentally. In fact, sometimes I call older kids, "babe," but not in any way where I'm demeaning them or their abilities.

But don't let me catch you calling my preschool class "The Babies." They are a smart, confident group of kiddos with distinct (and adorable) personalities. I have a lot of love AND respect for the students in my preschool class, and I'm just as blessed as can be for the privilege of being their teacher.

So please, don't call them babies!

Monday, March 18, 2013


I don't like being cold. I used to be hot-natured, back when I was a kid, back before I lost weight. I used to think that being cold was better than being hot, because I could always put on more layers. But then one day I felt the cold, and it bit down into me, soaked through my skin, seeped down into my bones. It wanted to freeze me, to take all my heat until I was as cold as it was, to make me like it was. A sweater couldn't banish it. All I could do is huddle up underneath my blankets and hide from it, until the ferocious beast of cold gave up. For a while.

I'm sitting here at the last edge of winter. The sky is pale and white, as if snow decided to cover the blue instead of the green. The trees are still, but not completely. They are ever so gently swaying.

It's an expectant sort of day.

It seems as if all creation is holding its breath, as if to say, "Spring is coming. Life is coming. Renewal is coming. Wait. Wait. Wait. Be ready. Wait. The time to grow, the time to move is coming. Wait."

And I'm sitting here with a blanket, but not completely covered. I'm letting the cold wash over me, allowing it to chill me, but not to freeze me. I want to burst forth into spring, but it's not quite time. Wait. Wait. Winter is still here, but it's fading. It chills, but it can't freeze. It knows its time is nearly over. It knows it can't keep its hold on life.

But for now, I welcome the chill, if only until the end of the season. I let it remind me of times when I was nearly frozen.

But I couldn't let it freeze me. Not when there us so much warmth, so much life.

Jesus died when he was thirty-three. When this entry is posted, I will also be thirty-three. When Jesus was thirty-three, he completed all his earthly work and ministry. Me? I'm vacuuming carpets and watching whiny kids for slightly more than minimum wage, while Kermit the Frog sings "Rainbow Connection" on the TV in the movie center at the drop in center. And I remember being a kid and singing along with Kermit, wondering "what's so amazing that keeps us stargazing, and what do we think we might see?" And I was once a dreamer. And here I am, thirty-three years old and still waiting for those dreams to come true.

And when the icy winter wind blows, it seems to say, "Your dreams won't come true. You will never get away from mediocrity." I want to huddle under the blankets and hide from the cold reality of a cold, cold world that has no use for dreamers. It has little use for those who hope.

But the winter wind can only blow in its season. And the wind is about to change. And if I'm hiding under my blankets, I might miss it. The bare trees aren't hiding. The pale sky isn't hiding. They are watching.

I'm setting aside the desire to shy away from winter's last efforts to freeze.

It is an expectant sort of day.

The spring is coming.
It's almost time to move.
It's almost time to grow.
Be ready.
Be watchful.
Be expectant.