Manna: Learning to Accept “What Is”

June 27, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

Have you ever wondered about manna?  You know the flour-like substance that the Israelites were given to sustain them while they walked in the desert for forty years?  I’m kind of afraid I would have been a little like them after awhile.  “Is this all there is?”

I know that sounds whiny and not grateful, but the truth is, I know me.  See, I’m the kind of person that likes things my way.  I have a hard time accepting what is currently happening–especially if what is currently happening happens to be boring, or frustrating, or hard.

Call me crazy.  I don’t think I’m alone.

So I can understand the Israelites when they got upset about the manna.

But here is something I didn’t know until recently.  The word manna can mean two things, depending on the punctuation used.  With a question mark, it’s a question.  As in “manna?”  As a statement it means basically the same thing except not as a question.  Confusing.  I know, but stay with me here and you’ll see where I’m going with this.

As a question manna means, “What is it?”  Think about this, you’re hungry.  You and your family has been walking around in the desert.  You’re tired, and you’re beginning to think this whole thing was a mistake.  When one morning you wake up, and miracle of miracles, there is something covering the ground.  What is the first question you would ask of each other?

That’s right:  “What is it?”

That’s the question the Israelites asked when they found the “manna’ on the ground.  “Manna” means “What is it?” as a question.

But here’s the thing.  Manna can also be a statement.  As a statement, “manna” means “what is.”

How profound.

Every day God gives us “what is.”  He gives us “manna.”

Here’s the more profound part.  At first the Israelites were thrilled with the manna–what is.  They rejoiced for the Lord their God had saved them from hunger and death.

However, that joy and praise did not last.  Eventually, as “what is” turned from one day to twenty and then to fifty and then to three hundred and then to six hundred, the people got tired of “what is.”  They got tired of the provision God was sending to them, and they began to whine and grumble.

Now maybe you can’t relate to this, but I can.

I pray and ask God for His provision and He sends it.  I am grateful… at first, but soon, like the Israelites, I forget about the provision that God sent me and start complaining that I don’t have something else.

With the Israelites, they grumbled that they had no food, and God fed them with “manna.”  As the manna continued, they tired of it and complained they had no meat.  So God sent meat.  Then they complained about water, and God sent them water flowing from a rock.

Were they satisfied?

Are we?

Of course not.  The whining and complaining continued for forty years!

Even St. Paul said the story of the Israelites is meant not as a model for us but as a warning of what not to do!

“What is” in your life that you are taking for granted or out-right grumbling about?  Might it be time to return to gratefulness?

“What is” is what God sent–for this time in your life.  Do you accept that or fight against it?

It’s the question I’m most wrestling with right now in my own life.

*~*

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Upside Down: Support or Control

June 23, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

The other day during VBS, the first half of the play that I didn’t show you was about Jesus washing the disciples feet.  Now I have had cause to consider this passage many times over the years, but something about it really struck me that day.  Maybe it was because I had never SEEN it played out in real time with the words accompanying it.  Maybe it was because we played it out five times in 2 hours.  Maybe it was because I had written the script, knew the lines, and then watched as it played out.

I don’t know exactly what it was, but something was different for me that time.

I’m going to try to explain to you the glimpse of something truly profound that I understood for the very first time as I watched.  I probably won’t say it as well or as deeply as I feel it, but here goes anyway.

In the washing of the feet, there were three parts that we included in the play.  The first was Jesus getting up from the meal and preparing Himself to wash the disciples’ feet.  Now I had learned several years ago the interesting fact that Jesus in fact washed Judas’s feet.  In Scripture, Judas did not leave until after this pivotal moment.  So our Jesus started with one disciple and moved down the line, including Judas.

While He washed, “John” and “Peter” had a conversation about what Jesus was doing and why.  Jesus, of course, explained He was washing their feet and that He was doing it to show them how we are to be to and for each other.  When He came to Peter (second part), Peter protested that Jesus wasn’t going to wash his feet.  “No way, Jesus.  That’s a servant’s job, and You’re not my servant.”  Off hand, I can’t think of exactly how close this wording it to the Scriptures, but it went something like that.  Then Jesus tells Peter that he must wash him if he is to be included in what Jesus is doing.

To which Peter replies, “Then Jesus, not only my feet but my head and my hands as well.”  Jesus laughs at this and says if one has had a bath, then they only need their feet washed from the grime of the world, and that this is about holiness not dirt.

Then our Jesus got up saying that now they were clean but not all… as he looked at Judas.  Judas understood what Jesus was saying to him, and he jumped up and ran out.  Then Jesus tells the disciples as he’s putting his purple sash back on that they don’t understand what He’s doing for them now but very soon they will understand.  He tells them that they are to do what He has done.

For some reason at that moment I got it.

I have always pictured God’s relationship with us this way:

That is, with God on the top and all of us underneath.

Think, for example, of a company’s CEO.  The CEO makes the strategy, forms the plan, and sends out orders.  Those underneath carry out those orders.  That’s the way I always saw God–as above me and I’d better do what He said or else.

My understanding has been shifting over the last few years, but I’m not sure it’s ever gone quite this far.

When I was watching that play, all of a sudden, I saw not the triangle above but this triangle:

 


In this triangle, Jesus is at the BOTTOM, not at that top.  I suddenly saw that Jesus is telling us that He is willing to serve us, to hold us up, to support us.  And that’s what He wants us to do for each other.  That to truly be His follower, we give up our striving to be “on top” and humbly accept the servant’s role just like He did.

Think of your family.  Are Dad and Mom at the top, demanding and being the CEO in control and in charge?  Or are they at the bottom–willing to serve, to support, to hold up each other and the children?

I know.  Weird thought, huh?  It completely changes my views of my role as mom and wife.

However, strangely that bottom person isn’t a bottom-dweller.  It is not easy to be the support for someone else.  It’s not easy to let others lean on you.  It’s not easy to be Jesus, washing others’ feet, taking them by the hand, leading them to holiness not because you demand it but because you model for them how to do that.

The bottom support position requires immense strength, patience, perseverance, and grace.  It requires us to sit on the floor and wash the spiritual grime from each other.  That’s not a pleasant job.  It’s humbling.  It’s hard. However, I truly and honestly believe that that is exactly what Jesus was calling us to do here.  “Do as I have done for you.”

He has forgiven you.  Who have you not forgiven?

He has loved you even though you are not perfect.  Who have you refused to give love to?

He has been compassionate with you.  Who have you withdrawn your compassion from?

He has given you grace even when you didn’t deserve it.  Who have you refused to extend grace to because they didn’t earn it or don’t deserve it?

Think about it.  This is not some theological discussion.  This is where the rubber meets the road in Christianity.  Do you call yourself a Christian and yet refuse to act as Jesus did–not just for the disciples but for you?

As I ask myself these questions, I see places in my life that I’m acting way too much like the first triangle and not nearly enough like the second.

But before you start wallowing in shame at the places and times you’ve gotten this really wrong, understand this:  God doesn’t expect you to do any of this on your own.  You can’t.  And He knows that.  All He’s asking is that you open yourself to be willing to start the process and to let Him work in you to complete it.  Where you say “this is too hard,” understand that you are right, it is.  Then ask, beg, and pray for to Him to help you. He will.

I know that because He promised that He would be there to wipe the grime off our lives if we, like Peter, are willing to let Him.  Are you willing to let Him?


Being a Cheerleader

June 20, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

I’m reading a very interesting book called “The Joy of Encouragement.”  In the book the author David Jeremiah talks about being a parent and the things that parents are expected to be to their kids–provider, shelterer, nurturer, disciplinarian.  But he says that one of the most important roles a parent plays in the life of a child is that of cheerleader.

Being a parent of three very different children, I can tell you that this is easier said than done.  On the one hand, you have the problem of going to the extreme.  If you are constantly praising your child, the effects of additional praise can be muted.  So going full “Hey! Hey! You’re great!” isn’t very effective.  Further, a sole focus on praising can lead to you thinking of yourself as a friend rather than as a parent–a situation that might work when they are younger but in the teenage years will leave everyone looking for a way out.

Instead, you must find a balance of using your role to lift kids up rather than tearing them down.  Now, lots of people in our society fall into this trap–bosses, teachers, professors, even friends.  They will say mean things–either sarcastically or not–and then tell you they were only teasing or that they said it for your own good.  They lead by making you fear them, which in my opinion is the most destructive way to “motivate” other than outright physical abuse.  In fact, I classify much of this type of “motivation” as emotional abuse.

Saying to someone, “Man, you’re dumb.”  Doesn’t nothing to motivate them to learn more.  It only serves to cut their will to learn off at the knees.

The Message Bible has this passage, “The authority the Master gave me is for putting people together, not taking them apart.” (2 Corinthians 13:10)

That is the authority that parents are given–the authority to put children together, not take them apart.

In my world, I have three children and all have different “cheerleading” requirements.

The oldest is a classic oldest child–self-starter, perfectionistic, nose-to-the-grindstone, and rigid.  She likes rules.  She likes to know where the boundaries are.  Coloring outside the lines–no matter what area of life you’re talking about–is strictly forbidden.  She’s starting to drive now, and if the speed limit is 35, she will not go over 34.  Period.

I have learned with her, unless it is literally a physical issue that she will get hurt if she does it, to let her chart her own course–otherwise I will get run over.  If you ever saw the gyroscope episode of Candid Camera years ago, you know what I mean.  She is going one direction (hers) and nothing and no one is going to turn her.

With this daughter, encouragement looks very much like being a radar operator.  You must pay very close attention to when she needs help and know how to offer help in a way that will help but won’t look too much like you are helping.  She likes praise, but won’t jump up in your face to tell you what she did to get it.  In short, with this one, you’ve got to pay close attention or you simply won’t even notice her ups or downs.

My second daughter is the polar opposite of this.  She laps up praise like a dog with water on a hot day.  She works for praise, knocks herself out for praise, and the very worst thing you can do with her is to criticize something she has worked really hard on.  That will take the legs out from under her faster than anything.  But this one will ask for help, and ask, and ask, and ask.  She is also a perfectionist, and she knows she can’t do it on her own.  At finals time, I get to spend a lot of time “learning” with her.  Science for HOURS!  Social Studies… more hours!  And I don’t have to ask if she needs help.  She will be right there, “Mom, quiz me.”  Praise goes a long way with this one, and she’s anything but quiet about it.

Finally my son who has had issues with dyslexia…  early on, he thrived on praise.  When he got into first grade and the dyslexia started to be an issue, praise really didn’t seem to help that much (though maybe it helped more than I give it credit for).  With this child, praise needs to often be in the form of “something.”  A small toy.  A day at Chuck-E-Cheese.  Going swimming.  He likes tangible praise.  Oh, verbal praise works, but if he gets something, he’s on the moon happy.  So with him I’ve had to do a lot of charts working toward a reward.  Also, he’s my one that loves to “tell people” when something great happens.  The other two are too, but they will wait to get their report cards in at the six weeks.  My son wants praise for each spelling test (which honestly I understand based on how much time he’s put into it).

So, there you go, three kids, three different styles of cheerleading required.  If you have a child in your life, it’s important to find the style of cheerleading that works for them and use it.  Don’t lead with fear.  Lead with faith and with building them up.  It works so much better!


Being in God’s Hands

June 15, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

Every year at Vacation Bible School time I get a crash course in what it’s like to live in God’s Hands.  Not that I don’t live that way the rest of the year, but there are just certain realities that become very stark during VBS.

Reality #1:  I am NOT in control.  That’s a tough one for me.  It’s really hard to let go and realize that God’s got it… whether I see how it will work or not.

Reality #2:  I can’t control everyone else.  They are in God’s Hands as well.  I can breathe and help and be there, but no matter how much I might want to, I can’t do their lines for them.  THEY have to.  I can’t “act” for them.  They have to.  And I have to have enough faith to let them.

REALITY #3:  God’s way works.  Every.  Single. Time.  Now sometimes in the midst of life it’s hard to see just HOW He’s getting things to work out, but they always do.  You can rest in that assurance.

Like I said, it never fails the lessons I learn about God during VBS.  Last night as I lay in bed, the sets and lights and music and actors and lines spinning through my head, I kept telling myself, “God’s got this.  God’s got this.  It’s HIS play.  He’ll do it.  Let it go.  Trust Him.”  But the doubts and fears and worries kept swirling.  What if… When that happens, we need to… Oh, how are we ever going to…

I’m not sure how much of that was Satan whipping up the wind and waves around me and how much was me looking at them.  But each time, I kept telling myself, “God’s in control.  God can handle it. Let it go.  Trust Him.”  Finally after what seemed like an eternity of this back and forth, faith vs. fear battle, I said, “You know, sometimes it’s scary how much my faith resembles doubt!”  I kind of then laughed about it because here’s the truth… faith is not easy when you’re doing something Satan wants to stop you from doing.  And let me tell you, that mustard seed worth sure doesn’t feel like much.

But it is.  Oh, it is!

In fact, I’d like to show you what that little, mustard seed of faith that I clung to last night looked like today.  This is what being in God’s Hands looks like because this wasn’t me.  This was HIM!

We hope you are blessed by the following video.  It was taken during the second half of today’s VBS play.  The actors are all teenagers (we are all in very good hands with these kids.  Don’t ever let ANYONE tell you otherwise!  They are absolutely AWESOME!).  The song is “Glorious Day” by Casting Crowns.  The performance was stage-directed by my awesome daughter who is 12 and filmed by my other daughter who is 15 (again, we’re in VERY good hands!).  This is what resting in God’s hands in the midst of the storm looks like:

[After you watch:  Please note the “storm” that happens behind Jesus at the mention of hell and Satan was not in the script.  That was totally 100% God!  Also, note that this was performed in front of 26 kindergarten students who were as in awe as I was as I’m not sure you even hear them breathe once the door to the room closes.)

Feel free to forward this to anyone you think might be blessed by it.  And remember to tell them:  God is amazing!


Response Ability

June 13, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

With VBS on the horizon, I’ve been working on the scripts.  As usual, God makes these things much easier than they are to stage.  By Day 5 of this year, we’ve got Jesus ascending into Heaven.  Yeah.  That ought to be real easy to pull off!

On that day, however, there is a line that came up as I was writing it and then just today in the Gospel read at church.

Here’s the scene… Jesus has summoned the disciples to a mountain top in Galilee, and they all arrive before Jesus.  It then says, (paraphrase) when Jesus appeared, they all worshipped but they doubted.

Okay, get the scene here.  They “worshipped.”  But they “doubted.”  In the SAME sentence.  What sense does that make?  If you’re worshipping the guy, what doubt could there be?  And if you’re puzzling over if He is Who He says He is, why would you worship Him in the first place?

When I wrote the script, which always has to fill in pieces that are not explicitly spelled out in the Gospels… like which disciple or disciples was it that was wondering if they were going to take back Israel that day?  What was the actual conversation like before Jesus showed up?  How did He show up?  Did He walk up, or did He appear?

See, when you’re writing for a 20-minute play, you can’t just say, “Jesus told them to come to the mountain.  He showed up.  They worshipped Him but doubted.  Then He said a few things and ascended.”  You’ve got to have action and dialogue to SHOW what happened.  It can be a challenge.

Mostly, it takes a lot of interpretation on the part of the playwright and some creative liberties with what you’re given to work with, always trying to stay true to what the readings say.

But as I wrote this script, I puzzled over that “doubted” line.  I mean, what exactly were they doubting?  So, I kind of fudged around the edges of that, put in something about one of them wanting to go punch out the Romans and others not so sure that’s what they were doing.

Then I went to Mass today.  This was the Gospel, about Jesus’ ascension.  And the deacon giving the sermon actually decided to take up that very line (how nicely “ironic” God can be sometimes).

Turns out the disciples weren’t “doubting” Jesus.  They were “doubting” themselves!

Wow.  Does that make a lot of sense! (And it sounds REALLY familiar!)

Here’s the thing, they were pretty off-balance after the whole death and resurrection thing.  Then Jesus keeps appearing to them, but they are pretty sure something else is coming.  So what is it?  Is Jesus going to march them into Jerusalem and take it over?  Or is He going to leave?  And if He does, then what?

No wonder they were doubting.

I remember reading something about Mother Teresa’s journals after she died.  There were parts in the journals in which she expressed doubts–about her faith and about herself in her mission to live her faith.  Many people (of no faith) took this to mean that she was weak in her faith.  But here is the magnifying glass that says far from being weak in her faith, she was actually walking in the shoeprints of the disciples themselves!

You see, doubt kind of comes with the territory.  Faith is hard.  Faith is when you can’t see, but you believe anyway.  And how hard is it to believe and to consistently believe in something you cannot see?  It’s tough. It’s even harder to consistently ACT on the belief of something you can’t see.  We’re talking walking on water hard!

Moreover, I’m here to tell you that often when you’re on this Christian path, you’re going to come up to situations that are going to make you want to run the other direction.  For example, recently another family in our hometown lost a son to tragedy much like we did.  My parents, when they heard, went over to visit this family.  That’s not easy.  Trust me, running the other direction sounds really good in the face of that because facing this brings back up all of the pain from your own loss.  But they did it.  In spite of the doubts and fears.  They did it.

We have a word in the English language “responsibility” that is used to denote when something is within your realm of taking care of.  For example, my kids are my responsibility.  I am responsible to feed them, shelter them, care for them, and raise them.  But let’s break this word down for a moment.

Response means what you choose to do when something has occurred.  Ability means the extent you are able to do something.  So responsibility is the extent to which you are able to respond when something occurs.

But here’s the thing.  In our culture, you are expected to fulfill your responsibilities.  Period.  Whether you feel up to it.  Whether you know how.  Whether you have a plan to or not.  You are expected to.  Sometimes that requirement is a very heavy burden especially if we don’t know how we’re going to do it because it’s just too big for us to do.

The disciples had responsibilities.  Lots of them.  Jesus told them to go out to all the world and tell the Good News.  That’s about as big of a responsibility as you could get.  And it was precisely because they did not feel ABLE in themselves to RESPOND to this situation that they began to doubt.

Here we come to the crux of this story.  God does not require you to meet your responsibilities on your own strength.  He does not set the bar and judge you if you can or cannot jump over it.  In this very story, Jesus tells us the answer to those times when we do not feel able to respond.  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;” (ACTS 1:8)

THAT’S the answer!  To our doubt.  To our fear.  To our weak-kneed worry. To those times when our faith is weak and the responsibility seems to much for us to face.

Jesus does not require you to discharge your responsibilities on your own.  Pray and receive the Holy Spirit.  And He will bring you peace and courage so you are able to respond with grace and joy and faith that will astound not only those around you but you as well!  Just ask the disciples!


Laminin

June 10, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

This needs no words from me other than “Watch it–you will be amazed!”

Have a blessed day!


Relax

June 7, 2011

By:  Staci Stallings

This is going to be one of the most counter-intuitive pieces you’ve ever read.  So get ready…

First, I want you to do a little experiment with me.  Ready?

Good.

Take a breath.

No seriously.  Take a breath.

Good.

Now, take a longer one.  Deeper.  Slow down.

Feel your body unwind.  Let your body unwind.

Breathe again.  Slower, longer, deeper.  Close your eyes as you breathe.

Let your shoulders relax.  Let your neck relax.

Breathe.

Good.  Very good.

Now…

Did you know that the best way to perform at your peak is to relax?

Yeah.  I didn’t either.

As you know, my son is going to vision therapy classes, and wow, has that opened up a whole new set of insights.  One of those insights is how valuable it is to learn how to relax.

Now you may laugh at that.  “Learn to relax.”  How crazy is that?  But it’s true.  In our hyper-active world, we have more stimuli coming at us and going through us than ever in civilization.  We wake up to an alarm clock, pour ourselves coffee, turn on the TV.  By the time we get in our cars, we have the radio going and a cell phone plastered to our ear.  We don’t even wait to start work until we get to work anymore!  We are pushing, demanding, and over-stepping our limits on a daily if not hourly basis.

We skip lunch and maybe even breakfast.  We race to meetings, work at a rabid pace, go home to six different activities, and even when we fall in bed at night, we don’t know how to relax!  We lie in bed, our heads running through lists and schedules.  How are we ever going to get everything done tomorrow?

If any of this sounds familiar, keep reading because you need this lesson.

Ironically, I found the key to this at my son’s Vision Therapy office.  It started with him trying to see something across the room.  The lady told my son, “Don’t squint.  Relax your eyes.  If you squint it makes it that much harder to see.”  I don’t know about you, but I’ve been squinting my whole life… and not just with my eyes.

If I was going to try to hit a baseball, my whole body would tense up.  Shooting a basketball, same thing.  I had to work at controlling and thinking about every muscles, every movement to try to get them all right.

For a second, I want you to think about TRYING to do something you are either afraid to do or do not think you can do.

Do you feel that in your chest or maybe in your shoulders?  That tightening?  Your body is “squinting.”

But here’s the thing, just like our eyes, the rest of us works best when it is in a relaxed state.

At the VT office, I happened to pick up a magazine with an article about Doc Patton, a two-time U.S. Olympian.  Here’s what his first advice says, “Sprinting is all about trying to keep your muscles relaxed while pushing them to the max.”

I would argue that it is a parallel to everything in life.  If you can find a way to relax as you are doing whatever it is, you will do it better, easier, and faster.  It will feel effortless.

A great example is in the Catholic faith, we ask St. Anthony for help in finding things.  Seems silly maybe, but it really works.  One reason it works is by transferring the burden of finding whatever it is, we allow ourselves to relax, and very often find the object quickly.

So today, consider relaxing as you go about your day.  Breathe.  Close your eyes.  Relax.  Take a 15-second relax break before you start your next task.  You will be amazed what that simple moment can do!


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