Can You Read My Mind?

May 10, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

They say grooms don’t care about wedding ceremonies, passing responsibility for colors, flowers, food, and songs to the bride. Not so for my groom. Although he voiced no opinion on colors, except to lay down the law against a pink tux (darn it), he did participate fully in the music choices.

We easily settled on Friends are Friends Forever as à propos for our attendants’ entry. Although losing touch seems inevitable, we knew we would always consider these people friends. Romantically seeing rescue in each other from all emotional struggles, we agreed on Bridge over Troubled Water for one of the introductory songs.

I was excited about my latest discovery. “How about Amy Grant’s Doubly Good for your entrance?”

His brow creased and a speculative gleam entered his eye. “I don’t know.”

“Do you know the lyrics? ‘ If you find a love that’s tender, if you find someone who’s true, then thank the Lord; he’s been doubly good to you.’” Hugging him, I was a bride in alt. “It’s perfect.”

He agreed, but not with great enthusiasm. He was too modest, but I knew how wonderful God had been to me by bringing us together. I wanted the audience to think about how blessed I was in this handsome, godly man.

Anniversary night, five years later, we snuggled down on the couch with our two-year-old son to reminisce over our wedding video. Watching my dad touch my face, tears shimmered across my eyes as I remembered that shaky, excited feeling.

Piano chords chimed over the lawn. Sober, yet calm, Wes entered to stand under the moss-draped live oak while Amy Grant crooned the first line. I sighed, “He truly was doubly good in sending you to me.”

Wes flicked my hair. “Hmm. I thought you meant for me to think about how He’d been doubly good to me by sending you.”

Horror washed over me. With a shriek, I paused the video. “What?” My gaze flashed back and forth between the puzzled, downturned lips on his live face to the serious stare on his filmed self. “You thought I was telling you how lucky you were?” My voice rose to a squeak.

“I am lucky…blessed.” He stroked my shoulder then ruffled our son’s hair.

A gesture that would normally comfort only scraped my raw nerves. “How arrogant did you think I was?”

Honest to a fault, he shrugged. “Maybe I was a little put off at first, but the lyrics were still true.”

Amazing that he could think so when he thought he was marrying a conceited, self-righteous prig who wanted him to dwell on how blessed he was to get her. My heart mourned over the frozen image. At a time when I wanted him to be feeling adored and respected, he was feeling forced gratitude.

I punched the play button. “Watch it now, knowing that it was supposed to be about you.” My stomach churned, but I tried to calm down and enjoy his annual teasing about my forgetting part of our vows.

How many times do we think we understand or have made ourselves understood? How many miscommunications go undiscovered? We could drive ourselves crazy with the ponderings.

How many times do we misunderstand God? But He has promised His Spirit will help us with that:

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God… no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God… we have received … not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us… ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” II Corinthians 2:10-12, 16 (NIV).

Comment prompt: Any miscommunications you’d like to share?

Joyful Noise

April 25, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

I hate exercise. People keep promising me a surge of pheromones after a workout. However, after I’ve made my quivering, jelly muscles scream for half an hour, the only part of me that feels better is my conscience. One thing makes the chore bearable—music.

This week, as I broke my eighteen-month exercise hiatus, I tuned my iPod to Soaring Favorites. Jackhammering my elbows and heel toeing my feet in a speed walk, ears plugged, I belted out Unchained Melody. A few barks, perhaps even whines, from the backyards I passed filtered in beneath the high notes, but I buried my awareness of them in the joyful power of the song. Just like the music enabled me to stuff my panting breath and stiff joints into my subconscious.

Other emotions wake to the call of music. A Facebook friend recently mentioned Taps played at a funeral. I was transported to my father’s graveside with the bugle’s clarion cry echoing in my heart. Tears of nostalgia and pride brim. Daddy’s love hugs me from beyond.

A tune will make me cry for someone else’s grief, as well. Add a melody to words, and they become a haunting tie to common sorrows. Songs have shared the pain of death, abuse, loneliness, and heartache—arousing empathy as nothing else can do.

Lyrics express so much, but a lingering note or a pounding beat sinks the words into our souls, making them resonate. Not only can I love with The Righteous Brothers and mourn with Stephen Curtis Chapman, but I can slash tires with Carrie Underwood and feel groovy with Simon and Garfunkel.

Often the music overrides the language. Several years ago, my kids—ages eight and five—and I serenaded ourselves as we drove down the road. We rolled along singing “He is exalted, the King is exalted on high.” We were obviously all on the same emotional track as we smiled and swayed. I paused a moment, and Matt’s childish, clear voice rang out, “He is exhausted, the King is exhausted on high.” I wonder why his young mind thought fatigue was a condition worthy of praise and celebration.

Honor does belong to musicians who share their gift with us, allowing us to express feelings we could never articulate through words alone, allowing us to experience emotion more fully than mere verbs and nouns permit.

The same joyous circle expands our worship—our songs both convey and foster our devotion. They have the power to bring us into God’s presence—or at least make us aware that He’s already here.

“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: ‘He is good; his love endures forever.’ Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God” (II Chronicles 5:13-14 NIV).

Comment prompt: Share a time music has enriched your experience.

Mea Culpa

February 26, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

“Miss, I think I’m going to cry.” These words from a proud, young athlete drop into the silence around my desk. He’s here to practice one of the human race’s favorite strategies—guilt manipulation.

It’s the day after grades have been turned in, but I can make a few last minute changes in extenuating circumstances. Our students have deduced the true deadline to the last second. This procrastinating teenager has a sixty-eight and has come to beg for two points.

He has made his case, and I have turned him down. Lest you think I am heartless, let me point out that he has a zero for cheating on a test and a fifty for incomplete work even when he knew his grade teetered on the borderline of passing. His pitiful claim hangs in the quiet, disturbed only by my clacking computer keys. The awkward silence stretches over several minutes.

I waiver.

I like him and I don’t want him to be miserable. I bolster my melting heart. This is a relatively painless way to learn an important lesson. Not to mention that a part of me cries, “Unfair!” at the exploitation of my sympathies.

Stopping my work, I break the tension. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“I don’t know what to say either, Miss.” Still, he lingers, hoping against hope I’ll crumble. The uncomfortable moment lengthens until he finally drops his shoulders and drags himself away.

Torn, I feel his pain, but I’m also proud that I stood firm. Many a time I’ve ranted against fictional characters in books and movies who let themselves be manipulated into pandering to someone’s whims. My righteous indignation has spread to live victims, too—friends maneuvered by spouses, parents beguiled by children, administrators hoodwinked by students.

Yet again, however, God uses his still, small voice to draw me up. One of this week’s SAT vocabulary words is hypocrite. Did I not just knead my daughter’s conscience to get my way over her lack of special Easter clothes? I just couldn’t let it go. Even after excusing her for forgetting, I had to get in a couple of digs. Just like the oh-so-irritating mother-in-laws on television.

Guilt and fear of punishment work as motives, but they are not the motives God desires for us. Nor are they the motives we should thrust onto others. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18 NIV).

Comment prompt: Share stories where you’ve realized your own manipulation of others so we can all ask forgiveness together.

Mercy Me

February 3, 2021 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

“Do the work or pay the consequences.” So reads one of my favorite parent e-mails. I wrote to let a father know that his child had blatantly refused to do an assignment. As per usual, I asked that he encourage his child to take advantage of the late work policy since this was a major project. This supportive dad let me know that he had no patience with a child who had the “gall” to tell me to my face that he had no intention of writing his paper. (Believe me, an atypical reaction.)

When I received this response, I practically shouted “Hallelujah!” at my desk. I hustled next door to report to my fellow teachers. We all said amen with great enthusiasm.

My daughter Meredith must write her own assignment—about a community issue. She came to me for advice. With this incident in the forefront of my mind, we discussed the prevalent tendency to make exceptions for and accept excuses from students. We bemoaned the state of education and our society where these overly merciful policies seem to be destroying our culture’s sense of responsibility.

Another incident from earlier in the year popped into my memory. Policy dictates that failed tests may be retaken, usually for a maximum of seventy, but that is left to teacher discretion. I had caught a girl cheating on her test—red-handed with crib notes.

Automatic zero, no retake.

However, the next morning during my prayer time, I became convicted that I needed to offer this student mercy. I pulled her aside and told her exactly that. Very appreciative, she promised to study and come to tutorials to take the makeup test.

She never showed up.

Indignation rumbled through my soul. Talk about nerve.

So, yesterday I mulled over these issues as I brushed my teeth. I planned arguments and logic to share with Meredith. Righteous frustration welled up in me again. A sense of entitlement is running rampant, not only in my high school’s students, but in our nation. Someone (me?) must develop the courage to stand firm. Let them suffer the consequences. Without consistent penalties, they’ll never learn to be dependable; they’ll never develop a work ethic.

As I continued my mental rant, I notice something in my eye in the mirror. Was that a splinter (mote)? Surely it wasn’t a plank (beam)? Do you recall Jesus’ story of the person trying to get a mote out of someone’s eye when he had a beam in his? (Matthew 7:3-5)

Don’t I know better than to commit the sins I commit? Yet I not only desire, but have come to expect, God’s mercy. God has given me and every sinner chance after chance after chance. And some of us tend to develop that sense of entitlement. We expect more chances—and He gives them. Does he feel the same frustration with me that I’ve been harping about? Praise God, that if He does, He sets it aside and keeps forgiving me! Thank God that his mercies are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23a NIV) and that He gave us the story of Hosea to demonstrate his continuing compassion.

Comment Prompt: Share stories where you’ve shown mercy or how you appreciate God’s mercy.

Halls of Jericho

December 7, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

Warning: Joking during the sermon may have unexpected repercussions.

Recently, as our preacher, Russell, circled the audience, speculating over the Israelites’ reaction to God’s command to march around Jericho, I whispered to Wes, “Maybe I should march around the school seven times.” Ha, ha – sarcasm duly noted.

Backstory: I have found this school year particularly stressful. My longsuffering family would testify to a rise in work load, complaint level, and tears. Under this pressure, I began to seriously consider blowing the dust off the accounting degree which I set aside many years ago to pursue education—for a kind of instant gratification of the desire to feel worthwhile. In recent months, that worth has been buried under paperwork, testing, and student apathy.

Thus, the joke, emphasis on lack of serious intent. I never intended to walk around the school.

But the idea didn’t fade; it kept popping into my thoughts. I echoed Russell’s imaginary Israelite, “Really, God? Why? What good will walking around the school do?” I will admit that a teensy, evil portion of my soul was tantalized by a vision of crumbling bricks in clouds of dust. Still, the scheme nagged until I decided it was a prompting from the Spirit.

Monday morning, when I had to don my rain boots and ward off drizzle with an umbrella to trudge through the lack of dawn’s early light, doubts mocked me. What was I trying to prove? Was the weather a test of my resolve? Was I just an over-imaginative Jesus freak?

I didn’t know, but I carried on. Praying over each portion of the building and my own future for a fifteen minute romp certainly couldn’t hurt although my frizzy hair might argue the point.

Each of the following six work days, I tramped in a loop around campus, wavering back and forth from prayer to misgiving. I met an occasional colleague on my wanderings. My quest was unclear in my own mind, so I was leery of sharing it. Most assumed I was exercising, and I allowed the mistaken credit, feeling a little deceitful at my caginess.

On the seventh day, I rose earlier than normal and started my trek in full dark. I managed six rounds of prayer and questions before school. I’d make my final march in the afternoon. I laughed at alternating dreams of suddenly cooperative students versus a profitable business career.

The sun shone as I started my final trip past the gym. Students lingered in the courtyard. One called out, “Hi, Mrs. Thornton!” Then another flagged me down for a simple question about an assignment. Nothing earth-shattering. I shared no deep insight about life’s purpose—but I connected, and the link resonated.

As I rounded a corner, my shadow stretched several yards before me. I chuckled at my own grasping for symbolism. Yet, a peace descended along with a new confidence in my purpose here. God sent an epiphany: for now, I am to teach, and, by the way, try not to complain about it so much. For the last ten minutes of my pilgrimage, I probed my subconscious for forced meaning. The conviction remained firm.

Climbing into my car to head home, I sheepishly gave a semi-shout of “Amen” and tooted the car horn to cement the deal. “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands…” (Joshua 6:2b).

Comment Prompt: What Jericho has the Lord conquered for you?

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