What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

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And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:23 ESV

I lead a weekly ESL conversation class on Zoom. Typically, four of us meet for an hour.  The two women are Mexican and our one gentleman lives in Argentina.  They are strong intermediate-level speakers.  We have come to know each other and enjoy this mid-week hour as friends.  And I know they appreciate being able to practice their English.

As a language coach, I propose the weekly topic. Yesterday’s question or theme is the title of this blog.  ‘What do you want people to remember about you and how you lived your life?’ I wasn’t sure if my three friends felt put-off or startled when I sent them via What’s App the question to consider. They approached the subject with enthusiasm and we ended up learning a lot about each other’s cultures and approaches to death.

What’s interesting about this topic is that one of my sons is currently reading a leadership book for Christian men about creating a vision for oneself as well as for one’s family. He mentioned one of the suggestions was to do this very thing, to start with the end in mind. Just how DO you hope people will assess your life once you have died?

Happily, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel as Christians. The Bible provides many possibilities that are pleasing to God. The verse at the beginning of this post is one that continues to linger in my daily thoughts.

The way the apostle John condenses and communicates Jesus’ commands struck me about 2 weeks ago as a wonderful life purpose.  What pleases God is for us to rely on Jesus and love people as our Lord did while on earth.

Actually, the first part, ‘trusting Jesus’, is the main command. I am to depend on him for power to love people well.  Active love, how I treat people, is costly because it involves investing resources such as time, energy and money.  Added to that is my attitude, how I bring patient, studied attentiveness to someone in order to understand their needs and the manner in which they feel respected and valued.  I can’t do any of that in my own strength. That is why relying on Jesus is paramount.

I wish I had paid attention to John’s exhortation when I endured ongoing bitter attacks from a student at my last school. I tried to respond with love and patience, but out of my own reservoir. It got to me.  Many days I headed to school absolutely dreading French class with this gal. Her animosity and her dad’s displeasure with me lasted a year and a half before she graduated from the middle school. 

Five years later, I feel clear now on just who is my power source to obey. And in fact, I got to put my money where my pen is.  Yesterday, I realized that my mother-in-law who lives so far from us needs some TLC. At 93, she has been hit with one medical situation after another.  She said to me yesterday over the phone, ‘Maria, why is all this happening to me now?’  Thank you, Father, that your Spirit got my attention.  I booked a flight this morning for next week.

Wrapping up, what is it that I want on my tombstone?  ‘She relied on Jesus and loved her friends and family well.’  No, that doesn’t include ‘neighbors’ like my former student.  But I think that if I can mature in believing and depending on Jesus to love those who make up my family and my circle of friends, the spillover effect will extend to others the Lord places in my life.  That is my hope and my prayer.  

My yoke or his yoke?

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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 NIV

I visited the bathroom too near early morning so that I couldn’t fall back asleep.  Instead, I lay awake thinking.

Over the past 10 days, I’ve been obsessing a bit on an old matter I thought I had already dealt with. It started like this.  The day after Christmas I met with a local Hispanic pastor whose church wants to offer ESL (English as a second language) classes as a ministry.  I’m very excited about this project since I know I can make a difference in some local women’s lives.  The Lord has given me years of experience teaching French and now English on line since I’ve been retired. I use the best method available, one that is based on research about how people acquire language. I don’t use the traditional tools of grammar pronunciation drills, but employ the intuitive approach of teaching with comprehensible input.  I describe it simply as ‘Mommy Talk’.  Nothing intellectual there.

It wasn’t the idea of starting up this ministry that kept me awake.  No.  But what happened, given this new endeavor, is that I resurrected the issue of creating content for my YouTube channel ‘English without Fear’. 

I initially began creating simple videos for English language learners in 2018, with the idea of turning it into a business after leaving the classroom.  Later, I realized I didn’t want to make this a money venture, but continued producing content as a way to ‘bless’ the language-learning community. Unfortunately, I started to feel ‘obligated’ to keep producing a weekly video. 

Throughout 2020 and 2021, I wavered back and forth about letting it go, because it felt burdensome, like a self-imposed ‘should’. Through counseling and much prayer, I closed the door on that project, producing my last video in early October of this past fall.

That is until I uploaded another one last week, the final week of 2021.  I justified going back to this activity by linking it with the forthcoming ESL classes. ‘My videos might be useful to my future ESL students!’, I reasoned.

But it’s been too much for me.  Not in terms of time or energy, but in emotional space.  Like a magnet, I have felt the irresistible pull to think about it, to plan the next episode. But my thoughts have gone back to being irrational. ‘My YouTube followers expect new content!’  

When I am honest with myself, creating these videos still feels like a task, a ‘half to’.  Not only do I not like feeling obsessed, I don’t like thinking about anything more than Jesus.  When other matters crowd out my meditations on the Lord, I feel drained.

So, this morning I journaled to Jesus: ‘I’m exhausted still struggling and debating ‘do I’ or ‘do I not’ make more videos? I feel my mental energy being sucked away from you, Lord. What do you want me to know?’

I then continued with Bible reading.  A few minutes later, I remembered something I had recently read in Oswald Chambers. He had advised waiting and not ‘doing’ whenever you felt doubt about a proposed course of action. That thought felt like a strong suggestion from Jesus.  So, I took it seriously and committed to wait, at least another week, before thinking about this question again.

Then came another thought.  Trevin Wax had quoted John Stott in a piece, “Go wherever your gifts will be most exploited for the Kingdom of God.”  That certainly affirmed my involvement teaching ESL to local Hispanic women in a church setting.

Finally, advice from my friend Mabel made its encore appearance in my conscious thoughts.  She had shared a two-fold very useful way for deciding where next to invest one’s energy. Ask yourself:

  • What do you love doing?
  • What can you do that no one else is doing?

That’s easy.  I DO enjoy helping people acquire language the natural and best way.  And no one else that I know of in Huntsville is teaching ESL this way to Hispanic gals.

But plenty of people around the world make video content in simple and slow English.  I think Jesus wants to keep me walking with him, bound closely by his lighter, tailor-made, energy-providing yoke, rather than the one I tend to craft for myself.

When your ‘nothing, except for’ is enough!

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2 Kings 4: 1-2

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.

I love this account.  We don’t know anything else about this widow except she is VERY needy and she has neighbors with empty jars. She takes her problem to Elisha, fully expecting his help.  He comes through with a God-given recipe:

Step 1: Elisha tells her to go and round up from all her neighbors as many empty jars as they have.

Step 2: Next she is to go into her house, shut the door and follow the prophet’s direct but simple instruction to the T.  She takes her one little jar of olive oil and ladles the oil into each of the empties until there are no more empties.

Step 3: Finally, she is to sell her jars of oil and pay off the creditors, thus safeguarding her sons whom SHE needs for her future well-being.

Did Elisha’s remedy work?  YES!  Is that all?  No – our Father is the ‘much more’ Provider.

Not only does God ,who is rich in loving kindness, guide Elisha to the solution for her financial and family emergency, He also provides a nest egg for the future.  There are MORE than enough jars of oil left over after her husband’s debts are paid.  She will be able to sell the jars of oil to buy what her family needs in the future.

Reading again of this miraculous account, I saw direct application for my teaching ESL (English as a second language) venture. I’ve been recording simple, illustrated stories for my YouTube channel English without Fear.  But the viewership and number of subscribers is still small.  Yet, SO many people all over the world struggle to learn to speak English well. What mitigates against these learners’ success is the false, but ubiquitous idea that grammar and vocabulary instruction will produce competent English language communicators.  NOT TRUE!

Common sense AND research show that the most effective way to learn a language is through listening with understanding. ‘Mommy Talk’ is what I call it.  I know this approach works.  I used it for the last 19 years of my 27 years teaching French.  I’m having success with it now in one-on-one English tutoring and I’m acquiring Spanish myself through listening to lots of Spanish on podcasts and in videos.

In the past couple of months, I have fought back discouragement due to my still-limited impact on English language teachers and students.  But this story reminded me again to ‘keep asking neighbors for empty containers’ and filling them with the oil that God has given me.  He is the one who will multiply my impact, in His time.

So YOU, my neighbor, if you know of someone struggling to learn English as a second language or a teacher who helps learners acquire ESL, would you forward on the link to my YouTube channel (above) or my website?

As the prophet Zechariah exhorted in 4:10 of his writings:  “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin!”

 

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