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Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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38

Wednesday 20th August 2014

#TellHisStory: The Ministry of the Newly Sharpened Pencil

The girls’ bedrooms are dark now, and it’s hard saying whether they’ve actually fallen asleep. They are jittery with excitement.

Tomorrow’s the first day of school here.

Just now, their overstuffed backpacks are leaning against the back door, and I marvel at the fact that a 70-pound child can pack-mule a bag like that down a long country driveway.

Earlier today, we packed those bags FULL, with approximately zero room to spare. We also had searched high and low for matching gym socks. We labeled folders and glue sticks with their names. We couldn’t find last year’s paint shirts. And we all admired the way that a sturdy folder looks on Day One — before said folder mysteriously decomposes, corner by blessed corner, inside a school desk within mere weeks of the start of a new semester.

There’s such a hopefulness in all of this ritual. In the box of crayons, in the clean slate of a new notebook, in the fresh haircuts and the new outfits spread out carefully on bedroom floors.

First days. New beginnings. Swollen with hope and promise. God knows we need the hope of fresh starts — in this crazy, banged-up world.

It’s the little things I’m hanging onto out here on this farm in northwest Iowa. Little things like fresh sharpened pencils, and the cherry-cheeked pictures snapped before summer tans fade.

And how their swimsuits are still damp, in this sorrowful clump by the washing machine.

daughters DSC_0837 DSC_0838

I always love all that the new school year stands for.

But this year, perhaps more than any other year in my years of mothering, I cling to the hope that the new school year holds.

Call it, The Ministry of the Newly Sharpened Pencil. (And call me crazy, but The Ministry of The Newly Sharpened Pencil kept me sane today.)

This world is one sore, wounded place. A suburb in Missouri begs for peace. People are trapped on a mountaintop on the other side of the world. A journalist’s family mourns his horrific death. There are the quiet wounded in our own communities, the lonely, and the depressed — wearily dropping their heads into their hands, and pretty certain that no one sees.

And I’ve got a whole set of unspoken prayer requests of my own tonight. God knows … 

It’s a maddening place, this world.

But it’s also a beautiful world — where you can look at the familiar and see something fantastic. And sometimes you’ve got to make yourself see the fantastic, because if you don’t, you might miss the familiar thing that will save you.

So we try to find some fantastic kind of clarity in the familiarity of backpacks and new pencils. It might sound ridiculous.

But maybe it’s the only way we can make any sense out of days like these. Maybe it’s how we know that there is still good in the world–by actively seeking for it.

And while we would be horribly wrong to turn our back on the bad, we’d be deepening the wound if we ignored the good.

Maybe my own soul is telling me what Paul was telling the Philippians. “Rejoice in the Lord always. And I will say it again: Rejoice!” 

Paul said it not once, but twice. Rejoice.

 

rejoice in the lord always

Maybe it’s why we keep gratitude lists, and blessings journals, scribbling out reminders of all the good times, because we subconsciously know those reminders will keep us sane during the bad times.

Because, when the world looks plum crazy, we can forget that God is still here. And when we forget, we flat-out lose our joy.

How can the world get her joy back? Lord, tell us how to recover our joy?

Certainly, it’s not by ignoring the rancor of the world. But maybe it’s seeking hard for Him, even in the midst of it?

Ann Voskamp wrote it like this, in her book, One Thousand Gifts

“…the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”

It’s one thing I can do right now, to count joy in the little things, believing that He is always doing new things. I’ve got to keep seeking God where I doubt He is, and not forgetting to look where I’ve seen Him before.

And if I am actively attending to the blessings of Christ, maybe I can better live out the love of Christ. For when we find joy in the ridiculously minuscule — the sharpened end of a pencil by which my children will make some new discovery — yes, when we find joy in the small, we open up some kind of sacred space for God to grow bigger in us, right now.

We’ve got to believe it’s true.

We’ve got to believe it when we see this world suffer.

Perhaps we would only worsen the pain of this world, if we neglected to thank Him for the good of this world. If we neglected the blessing of painting little-girl fingernails the night before school. If  we neglected to marvel and laugh over how much stuff one can shove into a child-sized backpack. If we forgot to see all the promise in the looseleaf paper — and all the promise it holds.

 

So, what’s your Story?

A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.

You’re invited to tell that story right here, in community with us.

Share your narratives, your poems, your Instagrams tagged with #TellHisStory, … your beautiful hearts. You are the chroniclers, the people who help others make sense of the world with your words and your art.

Story is how we know that, no matter what happens, we can get back up again.

Visit someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Then, Tweet about your posts, and the posts you visit, with the #TellHisStory hashtag. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.

A final note: This is a safe place to tell your stories. You don’t have to be a professional writer to join us. Story is built into every single one of us. Your story matters, because it’s part of God’s story down through history, not because you punctuated everything correctly. Deal?

#TellHisStory

For more details on the #TellHisStory linkup, click here. Share the love of story by visiting someone else in the community!

 


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  • Thank you, Jennifer. My husband and I are on vacation on the Oregon coast. I am not helping Ferguson or Irag by failing to notice the fog hovering over the bay that blows away to afternoon sun. I needed your reminder.

    • The ministry of small things… the ministry of beauty, of fog, of pencils, of teeny-tiny gifts…

      Thank you Elizabeth.

  • I love the back to school picture of your girls. They are so cute and are becoming beautiful young women. I hope you don’t mind that I linked up using my post from our link-up at The Loft. The topic of ‘my greatest insecurity’ is one where there was ample opportunity to tell how Jesus walks with me in the midst of that insecurity. “God knows we need hope and promise in this banged up world.” Whew! Now that’ll preach! I might add…in this banged up, insecure world. In the midst of insecurity, or whatever plagues me at the moment, Jesus is my hope and promise. Blessings to you, friend.

    • Hi Leah,

      I’m glad you linked up, and am looking forward to reading your words.

      The photo is actually last year’s school photo. I wrote this post last night, the night before First Day of School, so I had to use last year’s picture. 🙂

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  • I keep telling myself daily that the best thing I can do (besides pray) is to recognize beauty and truth because it’s the way I can fight the war against ugliness and lies, these are the evil things oppressing people everywhere. I’m glad God can minister through anything – pencils and all.

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  • Every morning, when the headlines news comes on the television, I think, “What in the world is going on, the world has been turned upside down.” But remaining steadfast in the joy of the everyday ordinary and not letting the mutiny of evil being wrenched detain us, that is what pushes the darkness back, not because we are ignoring it but because we will not allow it to overtake us.

    • Yes, Shelly, YES. “not because we are ignoring it but because we will not allow it to overtake us.”

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  • Janet

    I love this post – partly because I remember those first-day-of-school jitters well, both as a mother and as a teacher. Partly, I love it because I always thought pencils were far more than graphite and wood. I always thought of the promise of writing, the joy of sharing thoughts and ideas, the concrete-ness of words and pictures on paper. All inside the pencil – just waiting to be released. Now you’ve given me the hope. And in that hope is an honoring of all that is good, all that is right, all that we are thankful for – especially in the middle of this battleground, upside-down world. Today I will focus on having a thankful heart.

    • So glad these words encouraged you, Janet.

  • June

    “But maybe it’s seeking hard for Him, even in the midst of it?” this is it exactly, Jennifer. For some reason your beautifully written post, and mention of the sharpened pencils reminded me of fleas today. And how Betsie Ten Boom could be so thankful for them. God cares about and uses every detail in our lives. Praise Him! Have a blessed week!

    • Be blessed, June. Thanks for stopping by today.

  • You have blessed my weary heart with your words. Thank you…

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    Oooh oooh! May I join in? My blessing is The Ministry Of New Crayons 🙂 Just LOVE buying new crayons for the littles I will be teaching each year, imagining the beauty of creativity that will come…
    Just love your heart Jennifer <3

  • Sybil Brun

    Love the sweet comfort in this post! Wishing you & yours blessings as the kids head back to school : )

  • I love all the fresh starts we get. This year was my baby’s last “first day” of school, well, as far as her own schooling anyway. Next year hopefully she’ll have a first day of teaching school! Your girls are so lovely. I see you in them.

  • I love the newness of the start of school year too. Makes me wonder about the new friends and memories that will be made. We all need fresh starts and clean slates, and that is what the new school year makes me think of. Hope your girls have a wonderful year!

  • Kelly Greer

    Picking up my pencil. Love you Jennifer Dukes Lee!

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  • I loved this and LOVE your writing, always. You amaze me. Thank you for continuing to build up this incredible community. You inspire me. ~Jenna

  • Oh friend. We’ve GOT to find the fantastic in the familiar or we’ll all go mad.

    And I need some new pencils today. xo

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  • marthaorlando

    “Perhaps we would only worsen the pain of this world, if we neglected to thank Him for the good of this world. If we neglected the blessing of painting little-girl fingernails the night before school. If we neglected to marvel and laugh over how much stuff one can shove into a child-sized backpack. If we forgot to see all the promise in the looseleaf paper — and all the promise it holds.”

    So much promise, when we delight in the simple things of life. God is there, in the profound and the mundane, and I feel, with all my heart, He has yet to give up on us, His children. We do so need to acknowledge the good, the finger-paintings, and the child-sized backpacks. We need to rejoice in the ordinary, the everyday. We need to fight fear with prayer. We need to trust in Him always.
    That being said, as a former teacher, Jennifer, please be ever mindful of what teachers are telling your children. It’s gone from bad to worse in most venues when teaching to the test is all that matters, and creativity and individuality take a back seat. May God bless and keep your girls in this school year.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Dearest Jennifer,
    I am sharpening my pencils (plural!) near Ferguson, Missouri, where I live. I so agree with you–that it’s time to sharpen pencils, not swords, and time to soften words, not resolves. . . .resolves to make the world a better place and to never give up. In my neck of the woods (and maybe all over this tilting globe), it’s time to look people eye-to-eye (eyes set in different-hued faces)–to look for the commonly shared emotions and experiences of uncommon people–uniquely beautiful people all made by a beautiful God. I’m thinking that I want my pencils to have erasers, to remind me that God erases sin that we confess, and to remind me to erase any vestiges of prejudice that might remain in my heart. I’ve said it here before (actually on a guest blog you graciously invited from me) that “word-shapers are world-shapers.” I want to use my pencils to shape a better world now and for generations to follow–pencils shaping words like love, forgiveness, and reconcilation. Acutally, on second thought, Jennifer, I think that I will write those words in indelible ink.
    Bless you for caring. Bless you for still seeing beauty. Bless you for raising your girls to see it, and for reminding us that fresh school years signal fresh starts!
    Love
    Lynn
    PS Pls. send my love and best wishes for the 2014-15 school year to Lydia and Anna!

  • pastordt

    I’m holding onto hope with you, Jennifer. Right with you. Thank you for this.

  • Nancy Ruegg

    Oh, yes. Gratitude begets joy; joy begets hope. Thank you, Jennifer, for sowing seeds of all three into our spirits today. God is more often in the whisper than he is in the wind! I need to remember that.

  • Laurie Collett

    They grow up so fast! May we rejoice in all His blessings! Thanks for the beautiful post & for hosting & God bless!

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