Thursday, September 17, 2015

When the Teacher Becomes the Student

Four weeks in, teaching 4-year-olds has already accomplished what four years of undergrad and two years of graduate school could not: I now have the ability to take a nap after 3 pm and still fall asleep at bedtime. Oh, and my evenings are a success if I can manage to keep myself awake until 8:00. It's a brave new world.

The identity of life's biggest mystery has now become clear to me. How can four-year-olds have ALL the energy and still somehow manage to steal all of mine, too?

As we have settled into a routine, life feels like it has hit the repeat button.

Do some fun school activities.

Have the same conversation with the same child for the 637,425th time.

Play during free time.

Have the same conversation with the same child for the 637,426th time.

Remind the children that friends don't poke other friends.

Have the same conversation with the same child for the 637,427th time.

Do some fun school activities.

Have the same conversation with the same child for the 637,428th time.

Eat snack.

Have the same conversation with the same child for the 637,429th time…

I know that adjusting to a structured school setting can be challenging, but I look forward to the day when the message "We all have to do the activity Miss Marken tells us to" sinks in as clearly for some of them as it has sunk in for me (maybe 637,430 times will be the charm?)

Last week I found myself repeating that idea yet again as I was introducing shapes in math class, and longing for the day when a little more maturity finds its way into my classroom and this particular battle is more of a memory than a reality.

To get their bodies as well as their brains involved in learning about shapes, I cut out a large orange triangle and placed it on the floor. I then instructed half of my class to march around it while I played a song, with the promise to the other half that they would switch places halfway through.

To my absolute amazement, the kids sitting on the floor sat quietly and waited for their turn, and the kids marching in circles around the triangle actually marched in circles around the triangle. I, for the first time since school started, found myself not having to remind anyone what they were supposed to be doing. Maybe this teaching stuff isn't too hard after all! The freedom of that 3:19 was exhilarating. And overwhelming. I had no idea what to do with myself.

So I started singing along to the song. Our weekly focus was on everyone being special and unique, so to help reinforce that notion I had selected one of my favorite kids' songs. I thought my singing might help the children focus on the words of the song and hear some of its message.

Little did I realize the profound effect that moment would have on me.

I got to the bridge of the song and heard these words leave my mouth:
…but God wasn't finished
He had more to do.
He planned something wonderful—
that's when He made you. He made you!
He thought it all over,
He got it just right.
You make Him happy—
you are His delight.
When you look in the mirror,
you'll see His touch…
because God made you special
and He loves you very much!
As I sang those words, I looked at the seven precious souls in my classroom. Each one an intentional creation of God. Each one made perfectly, exactly how their loving Creator intended them to be. Each one placed where He intended them to be right now. Each one entrusted to me to help them navigate through this stage in life.

This year I know I will have to issue more reminders that friends really don't poke other friends. Or burp in their faces. Or push each other out of the way to get a certain spot in line. This year I know that conversation 637,430 will happen, as will conversation 637,431. And once that conversation slows down another will rise to take its place.

This year I know God will entrust to me seven children to love, guide, and be an example to. Each one made in God's image. Each one a delight to God.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Sunday Blessing

This morning at church I sat behind a family with three small children. The youngest boy appeared to be around two, and he sat contentedly in his father's lap for the entire service, looking through a cloth book that contained activities such as buttoning, tying, and zipping. He unlaced the cloth shoe and then tried to tie the string to a string on a different page. He worked patiently for several minutes until he was satisfied that his knot would stay. He then looked proudly up at his father and excitedly whispered, "I did it!" His dad looked down and gave him a small, encouraging smile. The little boy beamed as if he had been handed the world, and then he turned his attention back to the book.

As I watched this exchange, I realized that that little boy was giving me a picture of how I should live each day. While I may not always clearly understand the things that are going on around me or why I should respond to them in the way He has asked me to, I can sit contentedly in my Heavenly Father's arms, focused on the work He has given me to do. When I need approval, I should look to Him alone, and His smile is the highest affirmation I can receive.

I was blessed to witness this one simple exchange between father and son. It amazes me how our actions may be a blessing to others in ways that we may never see or realize.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Rejecting Tolerance

*I wrote this in my journal at the beginning of February and had completely forgotten about it. I ran across it tonight and became challenged by the thoughts it contains, and so I thought I would share it.

Although I know should not do this for the sake of my blood pressure and out of respect for the analytical skills I am supposed to be honing in graduate school, and not destroying, I often will scan user comments on news articles after I read them, especially articles that deal with controversial subjects. An article discussing the issue of marriage will invariably have a few users who chime in with the “ultimate answer” to Christians who support traditional marriage. These comments usually say something like, “God is love, and that means love in whatever way it manifests itself. He accepts everyone equally, and Christians who hate homosexuals do not reflect who God really is.”

Yesterday at church I heard a sermon that dealt with the rich young ruler, and how Jesus immediately pinpointed that what was lacking in that man’s life was the inability to understand the depth of his sin and his need for a Savior. It was far easier for him to believe in his wealth and position than to admit those things could not save him and turn to the One who could. This morning as I went to do my devotions, I realized how deeply the Gospel as Jesus presented it to the young ruler rejects tolerance.

“Tolerance” is a huge buzz word right now and has been for awhile. It hit me today that the rise to prevalence that it has enjoyed in America may be one of Satan’s more brilliant moves. The idea of it sounds so…American. You accept everyone as they are, and everyone lives how they want to. No one steps on anyone’s toes. This is how true freedom manifests itself in society.

I think this concept sounds innocent enough and carries a small grain of truth that makes it sound acceptable that it has proven to be the biggest thorn in the church’s side. This wolf in sheep’s clothing has blindsided us. The saddest part about it is the concept of love has been weakened to the point that it is now equated with tolerance. 

Tolerance, however, only extends as far as the Tolerant Line. If you have opinions that do not line up with that, then you lose your right to freedom of speech to express such offensive feelings. If you do open your mouth and say something that does not fall on correct side of the Line, then you are expected to at the very least apologize, and hopefully take sensitivity classes or write a check that will prove that you actually are tolerant of those you offended when you held a view contrary to their way of life. Even with those measures, you can expect to be branded for life as someone who is stupid or ignorant or, even worse, intolerant.

What started off as such an innocent sounding word has done more to hurt the church in the past decade than anything else. Tolerance has become America’s god, and its priests are political activists who remain on the prowl to subdue any sign of resistance. The concept of what love truly is has been lost. Explaining God’s love, then, becomes that much harder. The phrase “God is love” has become one of the most misunderstood truths in America today.

God is not tolerant, in any way, shape, or form. A quick glance through the history of Israel in the Old Testament will prove that, as will reading any of Jesus’s words to the Pharisees or New Testament stories like Ananias and Sapphira. God’s holiness leaves no room for tolerance. These examples, however, also serve to illustrate just how beautiful God’s mercy is. No one is righteous—anyone who has ever told a single lie and taken anything at all that did not belong to them (a paperclip from the office, for example) is a lying thief. The depravity we all live in is so deep, and God does not tolerate it at all. His mercy, however, is open to everyone. Without judgment He will extend the mercy of Christ’s sacrifice to anyone who recognizes the depth of his or her sin and turns to Him for life. The law of God still applies, and tolerance offends God’s holiness. A metaphor I heard in church yesterday was that the law is like a needle that must pierce the human heart (“for without the law I never knew what sin was”) to create a hole that the thread of God’s mercy can then enter to bind the heart to Him. Tolerance only stands in the way of God’s salvation, because if the depth of sin is accepted, then the need for Christ is hidden.  In ignoring, or, at worst, embracing, tolerance, the Church has allowed an idea that blocks the Gospel to become so prevalent in society that we now have to overcome it before we can share the message that brings Life, and that abundantly.

As long as Tolerance is the driving force behind societal policy, the Church can never be. The two should not, and cannot, exist side-by-side. For God’s love to truly be understood and communicated, we must recognize that sin exists and is wrong, admit that we Christians, too, are sinners and that we hold ourselves accountable to the same line of judgment as we hold everyone else, and then point to the Truth that comes not from ourselves, but from a higher authority. Only then will the depth of God’s grace truly be revealed.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Father's Day

My poor dad's birthday is always right around/on Father's Day, so the two events always manage to get merged into one. This year was no exception.

Last Christmas my dad gave us all shirts that say "Hey, wanna know something?" This was a question he used to always pose to us when we were little, and we would eagerly demand "what?" He would respond "I love you!" As we grew older, the question itself came to mean he loved us.

On Father's Day we wore our shirts to church, and our gifts all centered around them too. He got a mug with the picture below on it, and a collage picture frame filled with pictures of us jumping. Or, for the most part, us attempting to jump. Trying to get a picture of four people in the air using a camera on a self-timer is harder than it sounds!

While the four Marken girls showing up to church in t-shirts is not a typical occurrence, I do hope that our actions honored Dad, and showed him how much we love him. We have been blessed to have had such a Godly man raise us in his own gentle way.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I live a fast-paced life in a faster-paced world. I am a multi-tasker even when the need to multi-task does not exist. I surround myself with noise to keep my ears occupied while my eyes and hands are busy with other things.

Then the power goes out. A storm rages. The wind tosses tree branches around as if they are bubbles. My computer sits useless; my chance to work through my to-do list is snatched away.

So I sit back, relax, and enjoy the sound of the rain pounding against the windows. A momentary pause to my day. 

Twenty minutes later the sun's presence can again be felt. Yet evidence of the storm lingers. Silence replaces power-induced noises. It stretches through the afternoon and into the evening. What began as a pause lengthened into a disruption of the entire day. No Internet, no photo editing capabilities, no iTunes.

A quiet workout. A shower in the dark. A supper of graham crackers and peanut butter. A phone conversation with a good friend. Time spent playing the guitar. A chapter in Nehemiah and one in Proverbs.

A chance to connect with my Creator. Without distractions.

As the shadows lengthen and the candlelight flickers, I spend time with the One who loves me most. The silence engulfs me like a gentle, drawn-out embrace. A chance to unburden my heart. I pour out my concerns, my fears for some I love who are headed down paths of pain and sorrow.

My Father hears. My Lover comforts. His grace in my life becomes more pronounced, more incredible, as I see His grace in the lives of others. An understanding washes over me. The pain I feel over the presence of sin in this world is only the faintest shadow of the pain He feels. The pain He felt the day He died to give me the chance to live in freedom in such a world.

The darkness engulfs the house. Small flames dance and flicker on their wicks, fighting to hold off the coming night. They reflect the daily battle of a follower of Christ. The silence deepens into peace. Fireflies begin to glow. As the night settles into its darkest, my confidence in Light's final victory grows. Victory that will replace the pain with eternal joy.

My to-do list sits untouched by my computer. The Father's Day gift will have to wait. Preparation for grading next week's work will have to wait. Life interrupted today's best-laid plans. A quick storm took my twenty-first century comforts with it. It left in its wake the chance for me to be reminded of the promise in His presence.

A promise found in silence.

Friday, June 7, 2013


I have often thought it strange that graduation ceremonies are called "commencements" when the majority of the time is spent celebrating where the graduates have come from and the conclusion of that stage of their lives. There's always the obligatory answer to "what are you going to do now?" that must be uttered multiple times that day, but the diploma is the crowning moment of a stage of schooling and we bury it in a ceremony we call a beginning. Strange. But, I suppose as a historian, I am more concerned with appreciating the past than I am with focusing on the future, so perhaps my perspective of graduations is what is strange, and not the word "commencement".

My sister's high school graduation ceremony was beautiful, and very different from my own. I did what I do best at my sisters' graduations: take pictures. These were a little less of a fiasco than Kyra's were, mostly because you cannot underestimate nine years of technological improvements in cameras, but also because I've also learned a little more about photography since then. By time Kory's graduation rolls around, I'll be able to get really nice pictures for her!

While it is strange to think of Kaitlyn going off to college (in Massachusetts, no less), it has been neat to see the accomplished woman of God she is becoming. The "quiet" Marken girl (although those of us who really knew her knew this label was never quite accurate) has a boldness and confidence about her that really shines when she gets on stage. She can also tap dance like nobody's business, and make you cry in a heartbeat through one of her short stories.

The Class of 2013

Homeschool Graduation flashback: The Class of 2006.
Amazing how long ago this was, even though it doesn't feel like it!

Each graduate played a slideshow during the ceremony, which added a sweet touch to the day. I made Kaitlyn's, and got a little more ambitious in what I wanted to do than iMovie would allow. Rather than letting the limitations of consumer software stop me, I showed my computer who was boss and merely moved over to Final Cut Pro. If I want to put three pictures on the screen at the same time, I will, thank you very much. I had so much fun working in Final Cut again! (I still LOVE editing movies. If anyone ever needs any video edited, please think of me…)

I was instructed on how to begin it, so I cannot take credit for that brilliance (and it really is a brilliant opening. Good idea, whichever sister thought of it!) If you'd care to enjoy all of the hard work that Kaitlyn still owes me a lot of fudge for, I can make that happen. Just click the play button below, and you're in business! (For best results, be sure you have your audio turned up before you hit play. Trust me, you don't want to miss the audio at the beginning.)

Monday, June 3, 2013


Yay for summers, when sisters graduate from high school (wait, WHAT? When did my little sis get THAT old?), internships only require a few days of work a week, and little buddies need playing with while their parents are out celebrating an anniversary. Being "Rissa" for a whole day was so nice!

I can guarantee you that whoever you were with on Friday were not as cute as who I was with. Or maybe they were equally as cute. No way they were cuter!

Cannot believe he was born while I was in college. Surely I am not that old, am I?

This is the Star Wars wizard right here. I promised him that I would finally get around to watching those movies this summer. I fear that if I don't, I will never be able to understand a word he is saying ever again. This should come as some comfort to those of you who have wondered how I could have been a media major having never seen Star Wars. This is a wrong in my life that will finally be righted. (Also, I would like to note that he was not mad here. He was merely trying to figure out why I was taking a picture of him and not the goat. I don't think he could understand it.)

Those buddies who were little when I left for college are no longer so little. So, I babysit the younger ones, and I socialize with the older ones. It's a good system. After all, I go over there to play. We really need people who are responsible around!

And when I say "babysit" the three little ones, this is what I mean. My secret has now been exposed. (After this, we played Pretty, Pretty Princess, but I was so intent on strategizing how to become the princess that I failed to get any good future blackmail pictures of the boys. Also, I think the best definition of maturity is "the ability to exercise restraint to NOT always take the crown when you land on 'choose any piece' in Pretty Pretty Princess, because you know it is the only piece that you can and will lose before you get to go again." This is such a hard real-life concept to grasp.)