The Unplanter

The Unplanter

By Lydia Evelyn Thomas

(Copyright: Lydia Thomas 2016)

Once upon a time, there was woman who loved to plant seeds. Early each spring, she would rush to the market to carefully select the seeds she wanted to plant in the little garden behind her house. She especially loved looking at the pictures on the seed packets and imagining what her garden could be. Every year, after she had purchased them, she would hurry home to plant the different seeds in her garden, singing and skipping the entire way.

Like any good seed-planter, every year, she cleared the little plot of rocks and weeds and broke up the soil before painstakingly marking the rows where the seeds would go. Then she dropped the seeds into the dirt, one by one, and lovingly covered them with dirt.

In the days that followed, every year, she added fertilizer and water to the soil to make sure the seeds were getting the food and drink they needed. If it got too cold, she would cover the ground with blankets so the cold air couldn’t get to the seeds. And she always kept an eye out for weeds that might be trying to steal food and water from the seeds, or rocks that might be trying to keep the seeds from growing, or anything that might hurt the seeds.

She waited and waited, every year, for a week, at least, to see if anything would happen, and nothing ever did. She worried: were the seeds getting enough to eat and drink? Were the seeds getting too much to eat and drink? Were the seeds staying warm enough? Were they too warm? Was something hurting the seeds that she couldn’t see?

And so, every year, a few days after planting them, she dug up the seeds and returned them to the market.

“These seeds didn’t grow into anything,” she would say, spreading them out on the counter. “I’d like my money back, please.”

The man who sold her the seeds would frown, and every year, he told her this: “There is an old gardening term called staying.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that things have to stay planted in order to grow.”

The woman didn’t believe him, and so she continued planting seeds and digging them up for many years.

One year, early in the spring, the woman came to the market, excited as she always was to choose seeds that would make a beautiful garden.

“I’d like to see your seeds, please.”

The man who sold her seeds shook his head. “I’m not going to sell you any seeds this year.”

“Why not?”

The man shrugged. “It’s wasteful. You plant them, only to dig them up again. They can’t be used ever again after that.”

“I won’t dig them up this year, I promise. Please let me buy some seeds.

The man shook his head. He didn’t believe her. “We sell some plants in pots that have already been grown, if you’d like to buy some of those, but I cannot sell you any more seeds.”

The woman bought some pots in plants at his suggestion, but this year, unlike all the other years, she was not happy walking home from the market. She didn’t want plants that had already been grown. She very badly wanted to grow something of her own, from a seed.

Still, she set the plants on her front porch, and made sure to take care of them, every bit as well as she had taken care of seeds when she’d had them. One day, as she watered the plants, a man strolled by.

“Beautiful plants,” he said. “Did you grow them yourself?”

The woman sighed. “No. I bought them already grown. The market won’t sell me seeds anymore.”

“Why not?”

“When seeds don’t grow, I dig them up.”

“How long do you wait before digging them up?”

The woman put her hands on her hips. “I’ve waited as long as a week before.”

“Only a week? That’s not long enough!” The man smiled. “Seeds have to stay planted in order to grow.”

“That’s what the man at the market told me,” the woman said, “but what if something is wrong with the seeds? How will I know if I can’t see them?”

“Do you give the seeds food and water?” the man asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you keep weeds and rocks away from the seeds?”

“Yes.”

“Do you protect the seeds when it might get too cold or too hot for them?”

“Yes!” the woman exclaimed. “I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

“Everything except for letting the seeds stay planted,” the man said. “That’s the most important part.”

“But”- the woman protested.

“Seeds grow,” the man said. “It’s what they do. They just have to stay planted. I wish you could see it.”

“I wish I could see it, too,” the woman said, “but where will I get seeds? The market won’t sell them to me anymore.”

“I might have just the thing.” The man pulled a seed packet out of his pocket and held it out to the woman.

The woman looked down at it and frowned. “It doesn’t show what it will

be.”

“It doesn’t,” the man said, “but it’s the only seed I have.”

“There’s only one seed?” the woman asked, eyes wide.

The man smiled. “Only one, but legend has it that when it’s grown, it gives more seeds.” The woman just stared at him. “Plant it. You’ll see.”

“I guess it never hurts to try,” the woman said, taking the seed packet.

“Just remember,” the man said. “It will only grow if it stays planted.”

The very next morning, the woman went back to her garden. As she always did, she pulled up the weeds, picked out the rocks, and broke up the ground. Then she thought about where to plant the one seed. Should she plant it on the edge? Near a corner? In the middle? In the middle, she decided, and dug a small hole. Pulling the seed packet out of her sweater, she took a deep breath, and crouched to the ground. She shook the little seed out into the hole. It was so small and dark, she could barely see it. Slowly, she covered it with dirt, before standing and brushing off her knees.

The next day, the woman went to her garden again.  As she had done with the other seeds, she gave them food and water, working it into the soil with her trowel around where she knew the seed was planted. That night, when the air became colder, she covered the garden with blankets.

And, day after day, she watched for something to show her the seed was growing. A week went by, and then a month, and still she could see nothing above the dirt. She grew restless, and began running her hands through the dirt near where the seed was planted. Remembering the man’s words when he had given her the seed – “It will grow if it stays planted” – she stood up, brushed off her knees, and went inside.

Months went by, and still the woman cared for the garden, waiting. One day, after the dead autumn leaves had fallen and blown away, as the woman spread mulch over the soil for the winter months, she saw a small green chute where she had planted the seed so long ago.

“Well, that will never last the winter,” she said, hands on her hips.

She thought about digging it up, but again, she remembered, “It will grow if it stays planted.

“I don’t see how,” she muttered, but she spread mulch around the chute, and left it where it was.

The air became so cold and the ground froze so that the woman could no longer work in her garden. In fact, snow began to fall and fall until it was too high for her to even leave her house. She was certain the chute would die in the cold, and it made her sad.

At last, the air grew warmer, the snow melted, and the ground thawed, the woman went out to visit her garden.

The green chute was gone!

In its place was the tiniest of saplings, barely a foot tall.

The woman clapped her hands and bounced up and down. She was growing a tree! A tree!

“I’m glad I listened to that man and didn’t dig up the seed.”

She was so delighted that she went to the market to buy more seeds now that she had learned the secret to growing them, but the man who sold seeds laughed at her.

“You’re the woman who digs up seeds,” he said.

“I’m not anymore,” the woman said. “Last year, a man gave me a seed.”

“Who would give you a seed?” the man who sold seeds asked.

“I don’t know,” the woman said. “He was just passing by, but he told me to keep it planted, and I did. Now it’s going to be a tree.”

Again, the man who sold seeds laughed. “I don’t believe you.”

“Come and see,” the woman said and led him home to her garden. She pointed to the tiny sapling at the center.

The man who sold seeds squinted at it. “That looks like nothing more than an overgrown weed.”

“It’s a tree,” the woman insisted. “I know it’s a tree.”

“You don’t have the patience for a tree,” the man who sold seeds said, turning and walking away.

“I do now,” the woman said. “Please, sell me some seeds. I’ll show you.”

“I will never sell you seeds again.”

The woman was very sad, because she loved to plant seeds, and now that she’d seen how they could grow, she wanted to see it again and again. How could she, though, if she couldn’t buy seeds?

Suddenly, she brightened. The man who  had given her the seed had said something about it making more seeds. A legend, he had said, so maybe it wasn’t true at all, but the idea gave the woman hope.

Throughout the spring and summer, the woman tended her garden as usual, watching the sapling for signs of seeds.  Then the air began to cool, and she prepared her garden for the winter. There were no seeds, but perhaps, like everything else, it just took time for them to come.

Years passed, and every year, the woman cared for her garden, and every year, the tree grew taller and wider around, until it far surpassed the woman’s height and width. It was majestic, with many branches, and green needles that never lost their color nor fell to the ground, no matter how cold the air became. Year after year, there were no seeds, and the woman began to think the legend surrounding the tree was just a story. Still, she was quite proud of her tree.

One year, small brown cones sprouted on the branches in the spring and fell to the ground in the crisp autumn air. The woman went through her garden plucking them up into a bucket, thinking they would decorate her house nicely, when she found a cone that had split open during its fall.

The woman knelt down to look closer at the split cone and gasped. Seeds of all shapes and sizes were spilling out of it! Seeds! The woman pulled a cone out of her bucket and pried it open. There were seeds inside of it, too!

“Those seeds aren’t good enough to use yet.”

The woman turned to see who was speaking to her. It was the man who had given her the seed.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The tree isn’t fully mature yet,” the man said, “so any seeds it produces aren’t ready to be planted. If you put those in the ground, they’ll just rot.”

The woman’s lip quivered. “How long will it be until they’re ready?”

The man gazed at the seeds, picking some of them and holding them in his hands. “I’d say, about … five years.”

“Five years?” the woman whispered, eyes wide.

The man nodded.

The woman pointed to the seeds. “So these aren’t good for anything?”

The man smiled. “Actually, they’re quite delicious roasted with butter and spices.”

“You want me to eat them?” the woman asked.

“You don’t have to,” the man said. “It’s just a thought.”

After that, the man went on his way, and the woman continued preparing her garden for winter.

Once inside, she roasted the seeds as the man had suggested. He was right: they were tasty prepared this way. As she ate them, the woman thought that five years wasn’t so long with such good food on her table and such a beautiful tree in her garden.

Even so, the next spring, the woman had a heavy heart as she went to clear the weeds and rocks and break up the soil in her garden. Where it had always been something she loved doing, now it was hard. She took many breaks, and thought often of leaving the work altogether. The only thing that kept her working was knowing that she needed to keep the ground ready for when the seeds were ready.

It wasn’t much, but it held the woman  until, at last, the spring of the fifth year came. With a thrill, she hurried out to her garden. This fall, the seeds in the cones would be ready, and next spring, she would plant them. Throughout the summer, she watched the cones eagerly. Finally, autumn came, and the cones began to fall, slowly at first, then all at once. Out the woman went to her garden with her bucket to gather them. She soon found that one bucket was not enough for all of the cones, and gathered bucket after bucket until not one cone was left on her garden floor.

As the snow fell that year, the woman went to work opening the cones, emptying the seeds onto her table, and sorting them into packets. She sorted and packaged so many seeds she thought she might need a bigger garden. She wondered what all of the seeds would grow up to be – would they all be trees? She would have to wait and see.

When she finished, leaving just a handful of seeds to roast, the woman stored the seeds in a warm, dry cupboard until spring. Then, as she swept up the remaining seeds from the table to put them in the roasting pan, one in particular caught her attention. It was small and dark, just like the one the man had given her to plant so many years ago.

Excited, the woman ran to get one more seed packet, thinking how lovely her garden would eventually be with two such trees. She paused: maybe someone else needed this seed, like she had all those years ago. And so, the woman decided not to plant it, but to set it aside and get it to someone who needed it, instead.

It seemed like no time at all passed until the woman was looking over her garden the following summer.  Now, instead of just the tree, flowers, plants, and small bushes populated the garden. There were blooms and bulbs and fruits and vegetables of all kinds forming almost everywhere. There were still some areas where there were no signs of anything growing, but the woman knew there would be someday.

“It’s a beautiful garden.”

The woman didn’t need to turn to know it was the man who had given her the seed.

She smiled as he came to stand at her side. “It took long enough for it to come together.”

“The strongest, most beautiful things need that time,” the man said.

The woman pulled a seed packet out of her pocket.

“What’s this?”

The woman pointed at the tree. “A seed. Thought you might come across someone who needs it.”

The man smiled. “Actually, I think you’ll come across someone who needs it.”

“When?”

The man winked. “Soon.”

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Legend has it that the expression has its roots in tenement style living, where people would hear their upstairs neighbors kick off one shoe and – you guessed it – wait for the other shoe to drop (Wiktionary).

And I’ve decided – I’ve decided it’s the very worst kind of waiting. After all, you know it’s coming – that other shoe dropping. You already know the thud you’re going to hear and the slight wince you’ll make at the sound. You just don’t know when it’s going to happen, because maybe your upstairs neighbor kicks off both shoes right away, or maybe he likes to mess with you, or maybe he just got distracted. The point is – it’s going to happen.

Metaphorically-speaking, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop for a month-and-a-half now, maybe even closer to two months. I expect to hear it any time now. It makes me anxious, and I don’t know why, because I know exactly what to expect and I’ve already made up my mind how I’m going to handle it. It’s the tension, I suppose.

And that tension is why it’s a popular saying. Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I’ve been in this school a long time. Different circumstances, but the same overarching theme: the pull between what is right now and what is going to be. And what I’ve learned is that you have to put that other shoe dropping – however inevitable – is that you press through the tension of not knowing when by engaging with what is. That’s not to say you have to deny what’s going to happen, or that you shouldn’t make a plan for what’s going to happen. The point is – you can’t  make it happen.

And when the shoe drops, you’re ready.

And you’re relieved, because the tension is broken.

Until then, though, you have to ride it out. Adapt. Re-adapt.

#WarfareWeek: The Weapons of Our Warfare

Hello, lovelies! I hope you’re enjoying Warfare Week as much as I am! It was great to talk about what God is working out in my heart with advocacy and I loved connecting with Emerald about her testimony about the fight to love yourself.

Today, I’m excited to welcome Kandi J. Wyatt, author of the incredible middle grade fantasy series, Dragon’s Courage, and medieval retelling of Hagar’s story, The One Who Sees Me. Right now, she is also sharing the Holy Week story from a unique perspective on her blog, which I’ve been really enjoying. To say the very least, Kandi is an incredibly gifted author, and I’m grateful to have her join me this week to talk about the ultimate spiritual warrior and some weapons for battle.

Please join me in giving Kandi a warm welcome!

***

When I think of a warfare, I think of a warrior—standing in the gap, willing to lay down his life for another, obeying orders to the end, holding out against all odds. Therefore, when I was asked to write about spiritual warfare, I immediately thought of a warrior—a prayer warrior. Phrases such as “Get down on your knees and fight like a man” came to mind as did the song, “She’s a prayer warrior down on her knees, wrestling with angels and principalities.”

My image of a warrior being in prayer formed early in life. I remember learning verses in Awana clubs. “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) “Casting all your cares upon Him for He careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) These verses were emphasized through both Mom and Grandma. They taught me that Jesus was a friend that I could talk to at any and all moments. He was a living part of our home.

As I grew older, I was introduced to Frank Perretti’s books This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. These novels added to my image of prayer as warfare. They give a unique glimpse into the angelic realm and portray angels as ready to wage war but waiting on our prayers to give them the victory! At the same time, my late teen years, I had three ladies who were my prayer warriors. They were either old enough to be my great-grandmother or in bed with cancer or both. They had not given up on life, however. They fought tooth and nail in prayer—prayer for me, prayer for our church, prayer for their families. I was about twenty-years-old when they died. I physically felt the gap from the loss of their prayers and said I would take up the banner and pray.

Being young and naive. I didn’t realize the war that took place when one is down on his or her knees. I have not been able to pray as earnestly as those three prayed for me, but I did find ways to pray. I’ve struggled and even now need to take my own advice and pick up the mantle to pray again.

In the hustle and bustle of our lives, I discovered it helped to pray when I had a specific list and a specific time. Living in a rural area, I found myself in the seat of a car on a regular basis. I drove past the homes of people I knew. I began to pray for them. My list began as I left the driveway, praying for my own kids. Then I moved on to pray for my extended family, from there, a person from church whose road I passed, then my son’s friend. Sometimes, I didn’t pass a specific person’s home, but a friend of theirs. To facilitate this type of prayer, turn off music until your prayer time is over, then you can add in some worship songs to finish praying. Know what to pray for. I prayed for salvation of loved ones, that they would be drawn close to God, that they would be kept pure for God and the one they would one day marry, for their marriages, for wisdom raising children, and if there was something specific going on that day or week. This type of prayer can also happen on a walk if you live in town and have a semi-regular walking schedule.

Another way my prayer life blossomed was through Moms In Touch, an organization that helped moms pray for their school age children. The format was intimidating at first—gather with other moms to pray for a full hour! Yes, you read correctly. Pray, not talk to your friend, but pray for a full hour. The more time I had with the group, I found we often had to limit ourselves to an hour. With the format it became easy to pray for that long. We began with praise to God focused around a specific verse. We would praise God for who He is based on an attribute or something He had done listed in scripture. Then we would have a time of silent confession of sin, again with a verse to guide our prayers. Next we would use a different verse for thanksgiving, thanking God for what he had done in our lives or the lives of our children that week. The meat of our prayers then focused on our kids and their schools. A verse guided our prayers. It is amazing the power of praying a verse for a person. You can pick it apart and pray many specific things for them. Finally, one person closed the prayer. The amazing thing with Moms In Touch was the way we prayed together. One person would pray a thought and someone else would pick up and echo or expound on that thought. It was a time that bound us together as moms. To this day, a lady at church still prays for my kids and I pray for hers.

Several years ago, I read the book, Radical by David Platt. It explained how the American dream has filtered through to the church and its teachings. I was challenged to pray around the world. Being a literal type of person, I found the CIA fact book and began reading an entry each day and then praying for that country. If I knew missionaries in the land, I’d add them to my list. After a year or two of using the CIA fact book, I discovered a 10-40 prayer calendar. It gave a specific people group each day of the year to pray for with some detail of their needs at the beginning of the month.

Prayer calendars are handy. Besides the 10-40 calendar, I also have one for praying for your kids and one for praying for your spouse. These two give you a verse to pray each day of the month for the specific person.

As the years have passed, I have struggled with prayer. The routine gets old, the enemy whispers lies in my ears. I need encouragement. So, writing a post on prayer has challenged me to return to praying. What tools have you used to keep up a consistent prayer life? Please share. I’d love to hear them and let you know which one I pick up next.

Prayer Warrior

***

You can connect with Kandi on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And please show her some love by sharing the tools you’ve found helpful in your prayer life.

Thanks for joining us, Kandi!

#WarfareWeek: Would you take this case?

Hello, lovelies, and welcome to the very first ever #WarfareWeek. Spiritual warfare has been a theme in my walk with Christ, and it even makes an appearance in my first book, The Field. I wanted to do something to honor this theme here on my blog.

The topic for the week is “The Fight of Your Life.” I’m kicking things off today, and later this week I’ll be joined by Author Emerald Barnes and Kandi J. Wyatt, Author. Please join us and share if it resonates with you.

Warfare Week Promo

As those of you who have been following me for a while know, my word for 2016 is champion. Most of the things I’ve posted have dealt with the noun champion: a person who has defeated or surpassed all rivals in a competition, especially in sports (Google Dictionary).  And while victory is an important part of my year, today I want to talk about the verb champion: support the cause of; defend; advocate (Google Dictionary). And the battle I want to talk about today is not so much one fought in the trenches as it is in a courtroom.

Recently, a verse in Nehemiah struck me: “When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this [Nehemiah’s commission to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls], they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites” (Nehemiah 2:10 NIV, emphasis mine). The Israelites had a reputation at that time as far as the rest of their world was concerned: they may have been God’s chosen people at one time, but now they were deserted, desolate, and not cared for, and there’s little question of whether or not they earned their place in the world. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses warned them: “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you” (Deuteronomy 11:16-17 NIV).  And even as Israel moved further and further away from God, He sent prophets again and to beckon them back, but they weren’t having it: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it…Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it'” (Isaiah 30:15 and Jeremiah 6:16 NIV). It doesn’t exactly seem like they deserved to have anyone come along and promote their welfare.

And yet. And yet, that’s exactly what Nehemiah does. When he hears that the people of Jerusalem are in “great trouble and disgrace” and the city’s walls are “broken down” (Nehemiah 1:3 NIV), it causes him distress. Seeking God with the situation opens doors for him to return to Jerusalem with the objective of rebuilding the city and restoring its people (Neh. 1:4-2:10). First, he surveys the damage (Neh. 2:11-17), and then the great task of rebuilding begins (Neh. 2:18). Not only did Nehemiah undertake rebuilding the wall and protecting it from further damage (Neh. 4, 6), he put an end to oppressive practices within the Israelite community (Neh. 5). Then he undertook the most difficult task of all: getting the Israelites back to God (Neh. 8-9), and keeping them on that track (Neh. 13). Nehemiah was an advocate, a champion of restoration for the people of Israel – people known as outcasts, desolate, and deserted – restoration not only to their rightful borders and boundaries, not only to their basic needs, but to God.

Most people probably wouldn’t take that case – the case of the guilty. Sanballat and Tobiah certainly wouldn’t have. So why did Nehemiah? Nehemiah remarks, “The gracious hand of my God was on me” (Neh. 2:8), and I can’t help but thinking that restoration was always God’s plan for the Israelites. After all, Jeremiah says, “The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah as well. All their captors hold them fast, refusing to let them go. Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is his name. He will vigorously defend their cause so that he may bring rest to their land” (Jer. 50:33-34 NIV). God was just looking for a champion for His people, and Nehemiah – Nehemiah was willing.  

This week is Holy Week, and in the Church, we are celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are celebrating that moment when Jesus looked at our guilt in rejecting God and said, “You know what? I’m going to give you the best possible life anyway. Life with My Father.” Jesus died to promote the welfare of a race that rejects God, a race in ruins; He rose again to advocate, plead for, and champion people who can do nothing for themselves, who walk away from Him again and again and again. First John 2:9 says, “If anybody sins, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ the Righteous One” (NIV). We have a Champion – Someone who wants to make it right for us, and everyone around us.

And again, most probably wouldn’t take that case – the case of righting a wrong that wasn’t theirs to begin with. Often, we readily advocate and champion restoration for those we perceive deserving of it, but we often neglect restoration for those who have made their beds and are now lying in them. We would give them a life sentence and leave them right where they are, bearing the consequences of their sins into eternity.

I wonder if we understand how contrary to God’s Word this attitude is. And while Jesus is the Ultimate Champion, I wonder if we understand that God is looking for more of His people to rise up and advocate restoration of the guilty to Him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NIV)

In Him, there is no wrong that cannot be made right. There is no sentence that cannot be mitigated – no, lifted.

I believe that for you, and I believe that for me.

Let’s start taking more cases, like Nehemiah and Jesus. Let’s start seeking God about the cases that need our attention, and how we can best go about fighting for them. Let’s get real about the damage, and then let’s get busy rebuilding. Let’s take a stand against oppressive practices. Let’s point people to God. And let’s start seeing Him right those wrongs and lift those life sentences.

In honor of my #KidsMin bestie…

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Everybody, meet Beth. I met Beth about twelve years ago when my family was preparing to move to Texas. Her family had to Texas from Georgia. (She still talks about going back to Georgia. Crazy kid.) Having been involved in the same church and many of the same ministries for several years, we became fast friends, and today, although we don’t get to talk or hang out often, I’d say she’s one of my closest friends.

Of the many things we’ve done together, one of my favorites is children’s ministry. We’ve been fellow Sunday school teachers, Bible club leaders, and VBS leaders/volunteers. Beth has great vision for everything she takes on – just out-of-this-world and imaginative – something the kiddos love, not to mention the artistic teams she supervises. (Seriously, I wish I had pictures to show of the VBS themes she’s executed and how she decorates her classrooms. If you’re ever running low on ideas, I highly recommend checking her out on Pinterest. She is awesome.) She’s does an amazing job leading the kids in music, taking the time to help them understand and be excited about what they’re singing. Although she’s a few years younger than me, she is always inspiring me to think bigger.

And so, when God laid it on my heart to undertake writing a curriculum from the book of Proverbs after teaching some littles a lesson on Solomon a little over two years ago, Beth was actually the first person I talked to about it. And when Small, But Wise was ready yesterday morning, she was the first person I sent the link to. Of course, I sent her the link to the corresponding Pinterest board, too, because we’re both Pinterest junkies. I really wanted to share it with someone who has been in the trenches with me before anyone else, and so I did.

Along with Beth, I’ve been thinking about children’s ministry life, so I thought I’d share some things that have made the trenches a little bit easier, more robust, and adaptable.

Picture Bible(s). Consider purchasing a picture Bible. It’s good to have something for your visual learners. My personal favorite is The Children’s Bible from Golden Press, but I also recently picked up God’s Love for You, a Bible storybook by Rich and Renee Stearns (the World Vision people). If a picture Bible isn’t an option, look for visual aides on Pinterest or Google Images and show them to your students on your smart device.

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Bible Coloring and Activity Books. Yes, there are TONS of craft and activity ideas out there, but believe me, for those times when life comes up and you don’t have time or energy for activity and craft prep, a coloring or activity sheet is a perfectly acceptable fallback. I like Zondervan’s The Beginner’s Bible SUPER DUPER MIGHTY JUMBO Coloring and Activity books because you can run off copies royalty-free for classroom use.

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Have the basics on hand. Children’s ministry crafting staples include: construction paper, poster board, yarn, beads, scissors, glue, crayons, markers, and colored pencils.

Start collecting children’s ministry crafting fodder. You know, cartons, paper and styrofoam products, newspaper, and cardboard tubes. The sky is the limit with crafts when you have supplies on hand.

The dollar store is your best resource for craft materials. The goal with crafts is to help students develop fine motor skills while expressing creativity, so the materials don’t have to expensive or high-quality.

Get on Pinterest. After today, y’all are going to think Pinterest is paying me to talk about them so much, but there are millions of ideas on there for every kind of craft, activity, and project imaginable. Many pins link to additional website and blog resources, like most of the pins on the Small, But Wise board link back to the curriculum.

And for the love of all that is good and holy, find yourself a ministry buddy. Find someone to share thoughts and ideas with. It doesn’t have to be someone at your church, though that can be helpful. Beth and I haven’t been in church together for about two years now (and it was on and off even before that), but I still feel comfortable approaching her when I need someone to chat with.

You may not know me from Adam, but I am always here as well. To prevent spam, I shut comments down on posts after two weeks, but you can always visit my “about” page or email me at lydia.evelyn.thomas@gmail.com. I am thrilled to chat and answer any questions you might have, children’s ministry-related or not.

Be blessed, and happy Thursday!

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(And since it’s Throwback Thursday, here’s this oldie-and-terribly-unflattering-but-goodie)

Dear Church

Dear Church,

I can’t give you money.

Since we’re at that time of year where it feels like everyone is asking, I just want to be up front about it: I can’t give you money. And the reason is, I have no money to give.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve received gifts from me at one point or another, so you don’t need me to tell you I would if I could; you already know I give when I can, to whomever I can.

Right now, I can’t.

But, as I hope we all know, there are other things besides money that can be given, and these I give happily, whether to my local church or to past churches or to the universal community that I’ve found online.

I can give you my presence. For when you don’t have anything to say and don’t need anyone to say anything. For when you just need to know someone is there. I am a great presence.

I can give you my ears. For when you need to be understood. I am a great listener.

I can give you my heart. For when you need to know someone cares about you. I am a great expresser.

I can give you my smile. I have dimples. I am a great smiler.

I can give you my talents. I am thrilled to spend time with your kids, teaching them the Bible, playing games with them, and of course, coloring and other creative projects. I am thrilled to offer Small, But Wise, a Proverbs-based curriculum that I designed to you free of charge, and am generally able to take on other similar writing projects without being paid as well. I am a great teacher, and a great writer.

I also love washing dishes, so you know…

And there are probably dozens of other things I offer in this moment – none of them money. But what I have is available to you.

You can rest assured, that when money is available to be given, I will give it. That is my track record.

Until then…

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(Just. Kidding.)

 

 

 

This Is My Ugly Foot

“Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again” (Proverbs 24:16b NIV).

There is nothing quite so disheartening as pouring yourself into a creative work and then losing it. Maybe it’s not quite as dramatic as your third hard drive failure in a year and 130,000 words; maybe somebody accidently trashed your plot notes and outline or maybe you just hit the wrong button. It doesn’t matter: all you can think is that you’re never going to get it back, at least, not the way it was.

I’ve been through it a thousand times if I’ve been through it once, and every single time, it makes me want to take myself out of the game. In the past, I have taken myself out of the game to my own detriment.

When I find myself back in that place, as I did Sunday, I talk about it: I say how I’m feeling and where I’m at, even if it’s not particularly optimistic. I was supposed to be releasing Small, But Wise, my Proverbs-based curriculum for Kindergarten through 5th grade students, a week from today. I am long overdue for another book release, and am closer than I ever have been to finishing Rachael’s Unfolding since I started writing it eleven-and-a-half years ago. I think it may be simultaneously the darkest and most important thing I’ve ever written, and I’ve been excited about getting it to a place where its ready for feedback. And then, without any warning, the entire formatted Small, But Wise curriculum and all of the progress I’ve made on Rachael’s Unfolding since Christmas are gone.

And even though I’m a completely rational person perfectly capable of accepting that these things happen, that I am neither the exception nor am I immune, after it happened for the third time in a year in a major way and countless times in minor ways, it felt calculated. It felt like if I got back up, I’d get smacked back down again just as quickly. Frankly, it’s just easier to stay down.

Of course, talking about it brought floods of perspective from family and friends.

Many people suggested measures for restoring the hard drive, which I appreciate, but believe me, I’m aware there are ways. Food and shelter are bigger priorities than restored files. Having just come out from under a crap load of debt, I am trying to embrace a more responsible, “if I can’t afford it, I don’t need it” lifestyle. I promise I’m not stupid about technology; I’m really just trying to make better financial decisions.

Regardless, the overwhelming response from nearly everyone was, “Don’t give up,” regardless of any other suggestions.

And I was sitting there thinking, “What if I’m supposed to give up?” After all, if writing is what I’m supposed to be doing, should it really be this hard?

That’s when I remembered a picture I saw on Pinterest and posted to Facebook last week.

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This is my ugly foot.

This isn’t about conditions being ideal.

This isn’t things going to hell in a hand basket.

This is about my level of commitment to what I’m supposed to be doing, what I love doing.

Sunday evening, a scene from The Field came to mind. Lilly has just been assaulted by D, and she’s lying flat on her back in a valley. It’s not that she can’t move, she’s just decided she’s not going to move. Anyway, Raphael comes along and asks her what she’s doing there, and she explains it to him: she’s given up everything only to have to give up more. Now, she’s got nothing left to give. She feels destroyed.

“He can’t destroy you, Lilly,” Raphael said. “He doesn’t have the power. When he strikes at you, it’s because you threaten him. He’s afraid of you.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Lilly said.

“Is it?” Raphael asked. “Where were you the other night when he came to you?”

“The enemy camp.”

“Exactly,” Raphael said. “You were in his camp, his territory … [You’re] no threat to him, lying on your blanket by yourself, which is why he’s not here right now.”

After that, Raphael helps her to her feet and gives her an assignment.

On Sunday, one of my friends wisely said, “I always know when I’m close to a breakthrough because everything goes wrong and all signs point to quitting.”

As I mentioned earlier, it would be easier to quit; after all, if you don’t try, you can’t fail. Thing is, it’s not much of a life, and it’s certainly not the kind of life I’m interested in living.

Since my computer troubles began last April, I’ve had several friends tell me they believe God is going to provide some sort of computer miracle, some sort of restoration of what I’ve lost, and while I’d love that, the miracle for me is being able to get back up again. And again. And again. As many times as it takes. Until it’s done.

And so Sunday night, I made a plan.

Instead of January 26, Small, But Wise will be available one week later, February 2. That should give me plenty of time to rewrite the Bible stories and reformat the lessons. It will be a challenge, and I don’t anticipate getting much of anything else done the next two weeks, but I think I can get it done.

Instead of writing Rachael’s Unfolding and A Year with the Baptists on the computer, I’ll plug away by hand. It will be slow going because of the issues I have with my hand and my perfectionist tendencies, but I think I can get it done. As for typing them up, which I will have to do eventually, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

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Some of my readers may doubt that there’s anything spiritual going on here at all, but I know what I’m writing, and I know why I’m writing it. I know the hearts in which it will resonate. I know the hearts it will harrow and the hearts it will rattle. I know it’s important.

That’s why I’ve gotten back up.

For my ugly foot.

Every artist has got one.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise” (Micah 7:8a NIV).