Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Your Best Work

Today I evaluate whether or not students attempted "their best work." It's part of their participation grade. Did they do their best? Did they work with excellence? How does one evaluate this, anyway?

As I think carefully about each student, I realize that my rubric differs from some teachers. It's not just that students arrived on time and prepared. It's not just that they produced papers that fulfilled the assignment. That's a given. This is average, expected, and baseline.

I'm looking for something else.

I'm looking for curiosity, complexity, a challenge, character, community, and courage.

I ask:

Did you approach each lesson with curiosity and wonder?

Did you push your thinking to higher levels of complexity?

Did you challenge yourself with each assignment to improve and try new techniques?

Did you display good character during this course?

Did you build community or thwart it?

Did you show courage in approaching hard topics and writing with an authentic written voice?

I apply this to my own sense of excellence today--for myself and my own children.

Might I move into this day with curiosity, complexity, a challenge to myself, character, community building, and courage?

I think this could make each day my best work.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Licking Kind

I love reading what I was doing on this same day several years ago. It's a benefit of daily blogging (for those of you still wondering why anyone would blog!). On this same day in 2010, I learned something great that I had forgotten.

Here it is, and you can read it below, too.

Sometimes the flair you experience isn't your own.  Sometimes, the flair for the day is the flair you helped make happen for somebody else.

In the words of my wise hairdresser:  Sometimes you are in the spotlight, and sometimes you are the spotlight.  It's better to be a spotlight.  When I'm a spotlight, I'm shining light on another person, making a flair moment happen for them.

This is harder than it sounds.  First of all, I tend towards narcissism.  I tend to be overly self-involved, self-concerned, self-reflective.  When this happens, when I'm the center of my own universe, I can always tell.  I turn into a completely different person.  Every conversation is about me.  I interrupt to tell you about my experience, and I reflect on your words only insofar as they relate to something I'm thinking about.  I hate this person.

Today, during my haircut, I talked about how to make flair happen for others.  I wondered what it would look like to take my eyes off of myself and my day in order to deliberately create an extraordinary moment for someone else.   I knew the truth of this practice:  we are often most fulfilled when we are serving others.  It's wired into our DNA to find ourselves when we give ourselves away.

But how?

In any given day, I can be a spotlight by asking this question:

Is there anything I can do to help make this day extraordinary for you?   It's a long question, I realize.

So the flair for the day is this question I resolved to ask.  I started with my cat.  I leaned down and asked her, "Is there anything I can do to help make this day extraordinary for you?"

She brought me the yellow rope (see "A Rope and a Smile).  Easy.  I ran around the living room with this rope for a few minutes.  That wasn't so bad.   It even felt good.  

Later, after preschool, I asked my daughter:  "Is there anything I can do to help make this day extraordinary for you?"  I thought she'd mention Disney World.  I thought she'd bring out the list of wishes from every toy store she's ever visited.  I knew, I just knew that Polly Pocket would be involved.  I scrunched up my face and closed my eyes, ready for the worst.

"Yes!" she shrieked.

She leaned forward to shout in my ear as I drove.  "I want more of those envelopes.  The licking kind."  

"Why the licking kind?"  

"Well, we can send a letter, I can lick the envelope and send it, and they'll know I licked it."

Amazing, this concept.    

I looked at her eager eyes and clasped hands.  She was bouncing in her car seat.  "I can do that," I said.  Easy.  I just made another creature happy.  It cost me nearly nothing.   

What marriages would thrive, what friendships preserved, what wars averted if more people set out to make somebody else have an extraordinary day?

Living with flair means being a spotlight and making a great show for somebody else.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Lesson from a Young Fern

My friend calls me over to where we are gardening, and she points out something extraordinary. Through last season's ground leaves, new ferns grow.

I take a picture of this particular growth strategy. It's amazing; this unfurling of the fern leaf--the scroll that slowly, slowly, unrolls--happens in order to protect the fronds. The structure itself is called a fiddlehead (I learned something new!).

Fern Fiddlehead

Besides protecting the delicate leaves, the unrolling strategy (as opposed to shooting straight up or expanding from a bud), also gives the young frond the ability to successfully emerge from the soil and leaf covering.

I examine the strength of the leaf stalk (the petiole). It shelters the developing frond in a warm embrace, slowly unrolling the beautiful scroll.

I imagine God's own growth strategy for what's developing in us. It's a slow and protected unrolling. When we think something should burst out, shoot far, or expand quickly, remember the strong hug that keeps the scroll rolled up so we survive the journey.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Best Way to Make Stained-Glass Cookies (Jolly Rancher Cookies) as Tested by Our Kitchen

Instead of cupcakes this year, my daughter asks for Jolly Rancher Cookies for her birthday class treat.

Stained Glass Cookies 

We tried several different ways to make these delicious and beautiful cookies, and we'd like to report our technique. Every other way we tried resulted in a big mess, but finally, we figured out what to do.

First, cut out your sugar cookie dough into a shape, and then cut out a smaller shape within that shape. On a piece of greased parchment paper, put down your cookie cut outs and fill them with crushed Jolly Rancher candies on a baking stone.  (No grease or parchment = sticky mess. No crushed candies = strange melting patterns.)

We used two crushed candies for each cookie. We used solid colors but also varied patterns.

We baked them for exactly 7 minutes at 400 degrees. We let them cool for 10 minutes. (Without cooling, you'll have a sticky, dripping mess). Then, peel the parchment paper from the cookies. Enjoy! They are so fun--soft and crunchy and full of flavor.

To my unexpected repertoire of class treats (hamburger cupcakes, green apple cupcakes, ice-cream cone cupcakes, Boo platters, etc), I'm adding stained-glass cookies. I think they are just beautiful!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

As You Are

I tend to fictionalization myself into a character who prays as she should, who behaves as she should, and who conforms her desires and thoughts as she should

After all these years of Christian living, I realize I still create a false self at times because I have a picture in my mind of the woman I want to be. So I live there in my mind--with that untruth--instead of with the real, raw me.

Years ago, my counselor told me that one of the reasons folks don't feel close to God is because God can't connect with a false self. He wants the real, honest us, not the character we invent. 

My greatest times of prayer and connection with God and others were always when I stepped into the light and showed myself for who I really am. 

God accepts me and loves me unconditionally anyway, so why not be my true self? That's the recipe for great community, too. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

I Might Even Wear My Jean Jacket

Tonight, I'll attend my 6th (maybe 7th, I've lost count), S.L.A.M Fair at the elementary school down the street. This Science, Literature, Art, and Music (SLAM) event brings us all so much joy.

This is my fancy Friday night: elementary school experiments and performances, pizza, and ice-cream. I've actually texted friends to make sure they'll be there, and they respond with a resounding, "Yes, we wouldn't miss it!" You would think this was Vegas or an expensive concert. You would think this was a glamorous night out on the town.

It feels that way. I might even wear my jean jacket and lip gloss.

I love seeing families all together, celebrating children. I love the simple pleasures of eating my slice of pizza on a paper plate and roaming the exhibits with all the other neighbors. I love how the principal (the one who calls herself the Lead Learner and knows every single child's name, all 500 of them) takes photos the whole evening.

I look back at my daughter's SLAM fair contributions in past years. My favorite ones were the homemade butter experiments or when she distilled fragrance from flowers. The high school chemistry teacher asked her for her notes, and she beamed the whole evening.

I go back to the basics of living in a neighborhood, loving children, and celebrating learning. It's a beautiful life here in Central Pennsylvania.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Today I find novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing. He eventually summarizes all of his wisdom in eight little words:

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

You might ask, "Well, what should it sound like, then?"

It should sound like your voice. It should sound like an actual person talking. When this happens, we won't be able to resist you. We'll feel such rapport that we'll gobble up the words.

But how?

It's about rhythm. It's about the rise and fall. The voice comes out when you vary sentence lengths and openings. The voice comes out in dashes and semicolons and parentheses and commas. It comes in word choice.

You're really making music, and somewhere in there, you come out. We can't wait to meet you.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

4 Things to Pray for Your Life

When I read Colossians 1:9-14 today, I remember exactly how to pray for myself and others. I pray what Paul prayed:  

"We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

I remember the 4 things that make up this kind of life. It's one that:

1. Bears fruit in every good work
2. Grows in the knowledge of God
3. Is being strengthened (for endurance and patience!)
4. and Gives joyful thanks

What a wonderful life! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This Will Not Last (and This is Wonderful)

Two years ago, it was glorious. The Weeping Cherry bloomed in full. That bloom is what I've waited for all year.

It's here now! This moment! Today!

Sadly, the blooms explode on the very day the forecast calls for wind and rain. In fact, the rain falls even now. We're going to lose these blooms.

But guess what? This is OK. Cherry blossoms grow in beauty in proportion to how fleeting they are. The Japanese concept of the transient and the fleeting make cherry blossoms have special importance and beauty. They remind us to treasure the small moment that will not last. Cherry blossoms insist on this; they make this appreciation happen.

(I did want to picnic under them--like the Japanese do--but this year, the rain will keep us inside.)

And while I am delighting in this single day of blossoms, I also know this after four years of springtime blogging: the loss of blooms brings green foliage that houses the Robin's nest and the Secret Fort.

Every bit is wonderful, and I treasure these small moments that will not last.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hovering Over the Mess

I read a great prayer today in which the author talks about inviting the Holy Spirit to hover over the mess and chaos of the day and to begin exerting the creative, organizing, miraculous power of God.

In Genesis 1, I read how the earth was "formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." And then, and then! creative power begins.

If I visualize the Spirit of God hovering over this whole messy day and infusing it with order, beauty, meaning, and purpose, I'm suddenly filled with great consolation. Where the Spirit of God is, formless, empty, and dark things change. New things erupt in otherwise desolate, chaotic places.

Just thinking of it gets me excited today.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

We Lived Easter Every Day

I'm enjoying my role as Keeper of Traditions in the family. At Easter, we have traditions that our family loves. Our favorite tradition is the crying out, "He is risen!" (and then we all cry back, "He is risen indeed!")

We love Easter; the ham, the special dinner rolls, the hidden Easter baskets with Easter Bunny clues, the dyed eggs, the egg salad, the new church dresses, and the Easter Egg hunts all work together to make this weekend so special. Saturday night, we open our Resurrection Eggs and share Jesus' journey with Bible verses.

What makes it even more special is that it doesn't end Monday morning. We live out the resurrection every single day. We remind ourselves of the gospel every morning. Easter is every day. As Keeper of Traditions, that's something I want to pass on as a mother to my children: We lived Easter every day. 

We lived as those so deeply loved by a magnificent savior who conquered death.
We lived as those full of wonder of a genius creator who provided access to himself through Jesus. 
We lived as those in awe of eternal life that begins in us now because of Jesus. 
We lived as those set free from the power of sin and death.
We lived as those crucified with Christ and living by faith. 
We lived as those filled with the Holy Spirit, doing impossible things. 
We lived Easter every day. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Golden Egg

This morning our neighbors invite us to join them on an Easter Egg hunt in the forest. As I make my way past thorns, briars, fallen logs, and piles of leaves (this is the forest!), I find myself so full of delight.

Then, I realize I'm in charge of hiding the Golden Egg. I can hardly speak from the sneaky joy of it.

When I was in third grade, back in the 80's, I once found the Golden Egg during a military base wide Easter Egg Hunt in Ft. Lewis, Washington. I remember exactly what it felt like to spy that bright golden egg. It had been hidden in the ivy, and when I found it, I held it up over my head and couldn't speak. I was silenced by the excitement--the unbelievable happiness--of it.

The prize was a Cabbage Patch doll. A real Cabbage Patch doll that nobody else had and that everyone wanted. It you grew up in the 80's, you know exactly what the Cabbage Patch doll meant to me. Even all these years later, I can't believe it actually happened to me.

This time around, I'm hiding the Golden Egg for my own daughter who happens to be the exact same age as I was back then. This time around, I'm the one hiding, not searching. This time around, I'm the one giving, not getting. I'm making the moments for another generation, just like someone made them for me. The delight is just as powerful and just as exciting.

Growing older means that I get to hide the Golden Egg and watch the joy of others finding it. And what a joy it was! Early into motherhood, I felt the loss of my youth, but now, I feel what I gain with age.

I hide the Golden Eggs, and that's better than finding them.

Friday, April 18, 2014

With Every Burial, a Resurrection

Today, I recall Annie Dillard's quote that I wrote about this time last year. She profoundly asks this about Jesus: "Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?" I wondered last year what my life might be like if I understood this more fully.

What would happen if I did? What would happen if I lived my life in daily resurrection power? The kind of power that brings dead things to life, parts seas, brings down manna from heaven, heals the blind, walks on water, multiplies meager resources, changes one thing into another, finds treasure in the mouth of a fish, silences the demons, commands nature, cleanses, restores, redeems, renews, protects, provides. . .

Oh, if I did! Seeing my life's problems in the light of resurrection power fills me with a sublime joy. I'm filled with wonder before a Holy God. I'm skirting around the hem of glory, daring to touch a bit of the magic that upholds the universe.

We invoke a power we cannot comprehend

Easter of 2011, I asked God what has to die in me. I knew powerfully that with every burial, resurrection power comes. I knew that year that something incredible awaits, but it's a passage through death and thorns.

The thorns around the vernal pond showed me this.

Finally, in Easter 2010, I learned that most of all, Easter is about love and grace.

Today is a burial, but a resurrection comes.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

In the Shriveled, Dry Nothing of It

Do you remember the Glorious Homemade Trellis my husband made for me for Mother's Day last year? I love this trellis!

I loved that we picked out peachy-pink colored climbing rose bushes that I just know will one day cover the whole side of the house. We pruned, and three months later, we had beautiful climbing roses (but no blooms yet).

Then, crisp autumn winds and a seventh month winter shriveled the bushes down to nothing. They seriously seemed beyond hope.

Today, I check and find the very first sign of spring growth. How does this even happen in the face of shriveled, dry nothing?

I'm so excited! Keep growing, little rose bush! Grow strong and mighty up the trellis!

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Winning Favor

Today I remember that I'm not fighting to win God's favor.

I already have it in full.

I'm approved of, well-liked, and blessed because I've received the righteousness of Christ. God's attitude towards me is one of glorious favor.

In Psalm 90:17, the writer asks, "May the favor of the Lord rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us." I read also in Psalm 84 that "The Lord is a sun and a shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless." God bestows his favor and lets it rest on us because in Romans 3:22 we learn that a "righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ." We're blameless and pure, worthy of favor and blessing because of this gift--not by anything we do or don't do.

We don't win it, work for it, beg, or bargain. We have it, and today we believe and receive it.

I wonder how a day goes when we experience the reality of God's favor in our lives. I'm excited to see what happens!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Be the Spoon

I read an illustration by Margaret Silf this morning about a beautiful potluck dinner she attended once. Imagine one particularly beautiful and delicious rice salad in a lovely crystal bowl that sits untouched by guests. While guests devour every other food item, nobody goes near the most delicious rice salad. At the end of the evening, it sits there, untouched and uneaten. So sad. Such a waste.


Nobody could find a spoon to serve it. 

Silf uses this story to talk about the glorious life in Christ we might experience if we only had the right tool to enjoy the feast that's waiting for us. Christianity feels this way to so many people; they can't get into the Promised Land because they're missing a way to access it. They hover about it all, but they don't know how to enjoy it. They need spoons.

Silf challenges us all to be the spoon to help make the things of God accessible to others.

Here. Let me serve this up to you. Enjoy this feast!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ride the Wind

Outside my classroom, it snows pollen. I watch as furry puffs of seeds, buds, and dreaded pollen mingle and dance in the April wind.

It's warm and blustery. As I watch, I realize that this wind disseminates all the seeds. It enables what couldn't otherwise happen. The design of it all makes me wonder. Wind is lovely! Wind stirs up the seeds and sends them where they might take root. 

What Great Design. To have the warmer air come and generate wind just as the seeds need it!

I also love watching the chaos of it. Sometimes, before our great plans take root, they must ride and swirl about till sent to the right landscape. It's wild and unclear. It's a dangerous freedom. 

We let go and ride the wind.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Measured in Cookies

When you only make sugar cookies twice a year (Christmas and Easter), you can measure your growth by them.

This year, my daughters stay by my side. They roll out the dough. They cut the cookies themselves. They mix the frosting, color it, and put it in little artist paint trays. They want to paint the cookies in elaborate designs.

They stay till the end. I hardly speak; no one needs direction, correction, or help.

The kitchen isn't a disaster of sprinkles and flour. Nobody bursts into tears. Nobody leaves after exactly 3 minutes of baking. Mom isn't even tired. She might go fold laundry with all her leftover energy.

We're growing up in this family. (I'm just thankful they still want to make cookies with me.)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

2 Statements by Children: Tired of Being Amazed and Tired of Excess

If you ask a child about what it means to be amazed lately, you're bound to learn all about the cultural value of being amazed.

Everything's about amazing them with technology, incredible stories, and non-stop feeds full of jaw-dropping photos and videos. It has to be amazing to rise to the top, to keep their attention, and to keep them interested consumers.

I hear a child say, "I'm tired of being amazed all the time by all this. I want to go back to being amazed by truly amazing things. Like God and how the Word became flesh. That's amazing."

I wonder if there's an enemy Grand Distraction Plan in place to keep us so amazed we cease being amazed.

Likewise, if you ask a child about The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you're bound to discuss happiness, thankfulness, and simplicity. I hear a child say, "I'd rather have the joy of that small thing than become a person with so many things she can't even be thankful anymore. There's too much around."

I wonder if there's an enemy Grand Excess Plan in place to keep us so full we cease being thankful.

The children among us are feeling it. I'm beginning to listen to them more and more.

Friday, April 11, 2014

How You Know It's a Good Thing

I'm teaching students how to review something. It seems simple, right? It seems obvious, natural, and everyday to evaluate something. Films, restaurants, art, clothing, technology. . .

It's harder than we thought.

Determining whether or not an activity, a product, an experience, or a work of art is "good" or "bad" taps deeply inside of philosophy, psychology, religion, and sociology.

We don't even know where to begin because even our evaluation criteria needs evaluation criteria.

Students, for example, might evaluate something by the pleasure it gives, but who says that's a good standard? Or what about usefulness or efficiency? Who says these matter more than complexity or honesty? We ask certain questions like:

Is it noble?
Is it excellent?
It is complex?
Does it contribute to human thriving?
Does it harm?
It is rare?
It is authentic?
Does it inspire love?

Even these words need definition. What is noble? What is "thriving?" Teaching in the humanities feels like I'm netting the air. Students feel this way, too. What or whom are we to love? What are we to value? Who says? What is this product / film / food / experience doing to me, and is that OK?

It's a good time to reconsider the good, the beautiful, and the right. It's a good time to talk to my family about the good, the beautiful, and the right. Does this thing bring me closer to God? Does this thing help me become a better citizen? Does this thing help me love better? Does this thing help me worship?

How will we know if it's a good thing if we forget our criteria?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Hue You Gain

The Weeping Cherry sends forth bright red buds, and the House Finches descend.

Did you know that the male finch, with the bright red coloring, gains this hue by eating those red buds? The pigment from what he eats comes out in his feathers. Isn't that so wonderful?

I take this photo through the screen (so it's not clear), but I wanted you to see the connection between the bud coloring and the color of the feathers. I learn that if he ate more orange or yellow, I'd be seeing a different looking bird.

I marvel at the interconnectedness of the Weeping Cherry and the beauty of the bird. One feeds the other; one finds expression in the other.

What we feast upon--physically and spiritually-- finds expression in us somehow. It's colors us, excreting out. I remember this afresh today. I want to gain a vibrant, glorious, divine hue.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

It Wasn't Pretty

I officially had the worst intestinal virus ever. I literally cried out to God on my knees to have mercy on me! For 5 days, I felt hopeless and miserable. I couldn't find joy no matter how hard I tried. I didn't feel spiritual, wise, good, or loved.

Bible verses didn't help. Prayer didn't help. I told my husband I was one big hypocrite, and that I thought I was so strong and spiritual. I wasn't! When we went back to the doctor, I actually told him that the spirit-filled life wasn't working against my pain!

But it was. I learned frailty. I learned that emotions are not truth and were never the truth. I learned that God carried me whether I could perceive Him or not. 

Faith--when all the emotions and all the sensations of the human body spoil the feeling of it--remains untouched and real inside the core of my will. 

Faith never depended on me anyway, none of it. The real me is that frail one, doubled over, angry and hopeless, in desperate need, crying out in the darkness. That's me. 

"It was good for me to be afflicted, so I could learn your decrees." Psalm 119:71 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Morphine Taught Me This

I went to the ER to rehydrate and manage the pain of the intestinal virus!

I felt so silly and weak about the whole thing, but I had a fever of 103.7 and was more thirsty than I'd ever been in my life. I was folded over in pain the entire night.

Even as they were trying to rehydrate me, I felt like it was foolish to be there.

Then, like golden nectar of the gods, the doctor gave me morphine and sent me home happy, hydrated, and primed to sleep all day. All tests came back fine; it's just the good old tummy virus.

That morphine felt so good. I didn't want to be strong anymore.

Then, when church friends brought meals for dinners this week, I realized declining such offers of care are foolish and silly.

We don't have to be strong. Morphine taught me this today.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

At Least 20 Good Things (Even When Ill)

I'm disappointed with how quickly I sink down into the pits when I'm sick with a fever and upset stomach. The whole day seems terrible. Near evening, I remember I can choose gratitude in between trips to the bathroom. I'm thankful for:

A husband who takes care of me 
Children coming in to visit
A bed
Clean water
A bath tub
Warm blankets
Weeping Cherry tree outside
Gummy bears
Ice cubes
Cats sleeping by me

It does feel better to thank God for all of these things.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Of All the Dinners I Have Ever Made, This One Wins

My awesome dad recently made this delicious dish from a recipe in Southern Living (click for recipe). It's amazing. I mean it. Try it. They will love it. It's called Lemon Rosemary Garlic Chicken and Potatoes. It's made in one dish!

The preparation even makes the house smell good. Fresh rosemary! Fresh lemon!

And the end result? Just look. I just threw everything together, and this happened.

Lemon Rosemary Garlic Chicken and Potatoes 
Our friend, Lauren, reported that it's her favorite of all the dinners I've ever made.

I hope you try it. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Just Look at This!

Just as before, and just as they will continue to, the daffodils begin blooming.

Daffodils always come into focus after a long, dark winter. That's how it is.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It Begins on a Single Day

Today I remind my students that today might be the day they meet a lifelong friend. 

As they meet up in new writing groups, I ask them to imagine that these new people might just become very important to them one day.

It's a great way to think about this new day. I keep my eyes and mind open to new people. I remember that one day, I met my best friend and husband. One day, I learned the names of my wonderful neighbors. One day, I called a woman to teach my children piano, and she became our dearest family friend.

It begins. On a single day, it begins. Maybe it's today! 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

By Faith, Enjoy the Torment (A Rather Upsetting Verb in Scripture)

It's amazing to consider the overwhelming truth of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In this passage, you'll find another unusual and upsetting verb: torment.

Torment means severe mental or physical suffering.

Paul, at the height of his joy in all of the "surpassingly great revelations" about Jesus, simultaneously experiences torment that God allowed. Paul says this torment was "given" to him--like a gift.

He pleaded (a deeply emotional appeal) for God to save him from this torment, and God did not. Why?

Paul gives at least four reasons why this torment becomes a gift. First, you can read the passage:

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 

Can you imagine really, really believing this? Can you imagine truly delighting in weaknesses, insults, hardship, persecution, and difficulties? Delighting? Really? Delight means to take great pleasure in. 

But how? This sounds crazy and impossible. Here's what I see in the passage:

The tormenting thing perfects God's power in his life.

The tormenting thing allows God's power to rest on Paul in a special way (as in when we learn in 1 Peter 4:14 that those tormented by insults "are blessed, for the Spirit of Glory and of God rests on [them].")

The tormenting thing allows for a special strength unknown before because of weakness.

Finally, I learn that a certain gladness and delight--even joy--comes from the torment of persecution, insult, ridicule, or exclusion. Jesus says we are blessed when this happens because of Christ.

I'm going to take this by faith today. I'm going to walk in it and rejoice because of it.