Tanya Norton
Driving home from work Friday, the song I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me came on the radio. I love that song. Just the thought of what heaven will be like and what my reaction to being in the presence of God will be sends shivers up my spine. I think about many dear family members and friends who have already entered into God's presence and how they are now rejoicing with their Father. However, on Friday I had a slightly different perspective on the song.

We have been studying the book of Luke at church for the last couple of months. It has been wonderful looking at the well-known stories in a new light. A major theme of Luke is the Kingdom of God. He makes it clear that God's kingdom is not only coming in the future, but is already here with us. Since these thoughts have been rolling around in my mind for a while, they surfaced when I heard the song.

It is wonderful to imagine what we will do when we are face-to-face with God himself, but what about now. God's presence is always here. His kingdom is all around us. Do we act that way? We are constantly in the presence of God, but do we fall at his feet, sing hallelujah or stand quietly in awe? I must admit that most of the time I don't. I focus on the things that are part of the earthly kingdom. I see my problems, my failures, my wants, and my desires. I choose not to see God all around me. I choose not to see how he is working outside of time and space to accomplish his works in me. I choose not to bow at his feet.

I am going to make an effort to focus more on the kingdom in my life and less on my life. I am going to remind myself of the awesome God that has surrounded me with his presence. "I can only imagine" what my days will be like if I am choosing to focus on God rather than myself. How about you?
Tanya Norton
I had to laugh at Bethany the other day when I was on the phone with her. As she walked into her campus apartment, I heard her say, "Where is my Baby Jesus? They stole him again!" Apparently she has some friends who keep taking the Baby Jesus from her nativity set because he is not supposed to be there yet. It is a game they played with their parents and are keeping up the tradition with Bethany while away at college. A cute game, but the phrase "stealing Baby Jesus" just kind of stuck in my head. And then I went shopping.

Yes, I was was Christmas shopping two weeks before Christmas and again a week before Christmas along with everyone else in town. I hate shopping to begin with, and especially at Christmas time. To make matters even worse, I was shopping with a VERY limited budget this year. The things I really wanted to get the girls were well out of my price range. So, as I shopped a continued to develop a bad attitude. Keeping a running total in my head, trying to think of things they would want that were cheap, and trying to do it all in a way to make it look like they are getting more than they really are began to take a toll on me. Add all this to the stress of planning the last week of school before Christmas break and I was very much NOT in the Christmas mood.

And then Bethany called and her friends had stolen Baby Jesus again. And God began to prick my soul. Have I allowed all of this commercialism, the stress of teaching, and the struggles of daily living steal my Baby Jesus? Have I allowed myself to lose the wonderment of the miracle of God himself coming down to earth for the sole purpose of dying just because he loves me? Have I allowed years of tradition to water down the glory of the story first told by the shepherds? Would I recognize the Messiah if I had been there 2000 years ago, or would I have been like the Jewish people, knowing the truth but not seeing it when it was staring me in the face?

Lord, forgive me for my unbelieving heart and for allowing the stress and routine of life to "steal my Baby Jesus". As we start this final week before the celebration of God's miraculous incarnation, let us all look again with open eyes to the birth of our Savior and the necessity of his coming. May you all keep Baby Jesus in the spotlight this Christmas season and truly know the joy of his love!
Tanya Norton
Faith: the proof of what we do not see (Heb. 11:1). As a self-proclaimed "realist", I have a hard time with the things I cannot see. Mike and I have joked for years that I do not see the glass as either half-full or half-empty, but that there really is no glass at all. I have been struggling for a couple of weeks now with seeing the unseen. Two weeks ago, Mike asked me about the possibility of him quitting his part-time job so he could focus more on ministry and the church-plant we have started. After a very poor initial reaction on my part, I asked him to give me a week to pray about it. Two weeks later, I was still undecided.

After being in the ministry with Mike for almost 20 years, my first reaction should have been-"Of course, Dear! God has called you to the ministry, has opened the doors for this church-plant, and has always taken care of us in the past." But instead, my thoughts centered around losing the part of our income that his job provides. Now, mind you, it is not a lot of money, but it is about a quarter of our total income. In today's economy, it seems rather foolish to give up a job. My other reservation about him quitting was my fear of having to explain this seeming foolishness to family and friends, many of whom will not understand.

Do you see how all my concerns were about me. My trust for my financial safety was centered on what we could provide, not what God can do. I was more afraid of what others may think than what God thinks. I have been reading through the Bible since January. As I was thinking about what God would want, He kept bringing to mind all the people in Genesis, Exodus, Luke and Acts who were asked by Him to do the seemingly foolish things-leave family and home for an unknown land, sacrifice your only son, tell Pharoah to free your people, journey through a desert, leave your careers to follow me, take the Gospel to the Gentiles. I think you get the point that I was trying to ignore...God's plan often seems foolish if seen through human eyes.

To make a long story a little shorter, I listened to God's prodding and gave Mike my blessing to quit his job. He put in his 2-week notice yesterday. Am I still struggling some with my fears? Truthfully, yes. But I know that God has always provided for us in the past, sometimes in miraculous ways, and I know firsthand the results of refusing to do God's bidding and the heartache that results. And so begins yet another balloon ride of faith in our lives....someday I will have to share the meaning behind that analogy, but for now I think I will just enjoy the ride.
Tanya Norton
As I lay in bed last night, listening to the dogs go nuts over the fireworks and gun shots, I thought about the meaning of the day. New Year's Eve was always special to me as a kid because it was the one night we were allowed to stay up all night. When Mike and I were dating and first married, it took on the romantic aspect. After 19 years of marriage and 2 kids with birthdays the first week of January, I think I have officially turned into an old fuddy-duddy ( a phrase that Bethany thinks is the funniest ever!). I just don't get excited over the new year anymore.

Today, the first day of 2010 is no different than yesterday, the last day of 2009. It is only 24 hours later. I know that many see the new year as a time to reflect on the past, put the problems of the last year behind them, and make plans and goals for the coming year. There is nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact they are all necessary to our spiritual and emotional health. However, it seems to me that we should be doing all of this more frequently than once a year. The last year brought with it both some very difficult and trying times for us and some times of great blessing. Rather than wait for the end of the year to put the difficult times behind us and move on, we should do that as soon as the difficulties improve. We should thank God for the blessings during the blessings (or as soon as we realize that they were blessings for those hidden blessings), not wait until the end of the calendar year. As for plans and goals, we should always be evaluating and revising them as needed. Each new day brings the opportunity for change, if not in our circumstances, in our attitudes about them. We do not have to wait for the calendar year to end to make positive changes in our lives. ( I told you I was a fuddy-duddy about the new year. :) )

All that being said, I am looking forward to this coming year with hopeful anticipation. God is doing some great things with our church plant, Redeemed Point. We have been averaging 30-35 people attending, both in person and online, each Tuesday evening. Despite some technical difficulties, the message has been proclaimed and God's name has been praised! It amazes me how God blesses his work even when we are working on a budget of $0. If nothing else comes from the work, God has used it to reaffirm his call on Mike and renew Mike's sense of purpose. I have watched a slow but sure transformation from a broken man who doubted everything about himself and his life to a man whom God is healing and who sees his purpose again.

As we continue into this year, my prayer for us all is that we take each day to thank God for his blessings, put the rotten things in the garbage bin of our lives, and make sure that we are setting God-sized, God-inspired goals and plans.
Tanya Norton
Do you ever get those ideas that just stick in your brain and refuse to go away? I just finished reading Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson. It is definitely a book to challenge your way of thinking. In the next to last chapter, he challenges his readers to make a list of their life-goals. He uses Proverbs 29:18 to help make his point that we need to set God-sized, God-inspired goals for all areas of our lives. I have been mulling this over in my mind for several days now. Do I have life-goals or am I just taking it as it comes. Am I living or surviving?

I have never been a big fan of making a list of goals just so you can cross them off as you complete them. That has always seemed rather self-absorbed to me. However, I have been thinking of what my goals would be if I did list them out...not to cross them off, but to have them there to keep me focused. I spend so much time making sure Mike and the girls are reaching their goals (or what I see as the goals they need to have), my students are making their learning goals, and taking care of others, that I think I have lost sight of me. I forget to set goals for myself other than those that are required in my job. What are my long-term goals?

I think I will take Mark Batterson's challenge and make a list of my life-goals. It might take me a little while and a lot of thought and prayer, but I think I will be better for it in the end. Can my first goal be to make a list of my goals???
Tanya Norton
I knew it had been a long time since I have posted anything, but I just now realized it has been over 2 months. I guess I'm not too good at this blogging thing. Probably the same reason I never managed to keep a diary for more than a couple of weeks. Life has been pretty hectic the last couple of months. School started, we moved out of our rental and back in with my parents, Bethany left home for college and Rachel started 7th grade. Mike is now working about 30-35 hrs. per week at Sam's Club. It seems that we are seldom home at the same time anymore, and when we are, I am working on school stuff or we are both exhausted. Getting older stinks!

Speaking of getting older, we took Bethany down to college just before Labor Day weekend. I clearly remember sitting in the high school gym for her freshman orientation thinking, "I am not old enough to have a child in high school." (Technically, I wasn't because she was a grade ahead of where she should have been.) That seems like it was just yesterday, but here we were at college freshman orientation thinking the same thing. Yes, I cried like a baby when we left her in the gym at CBU and drove off campus, but not for the reason you might expect. I have a perfect peace about her being at college 500 miles from home. My tears were not tears of sadness or fear, but tears of joy and wonder at the awesome work God has done, is doing and will continue to do in her. As we sat in the gym and prayed over our children, the image that was forefront in my mind was of standing in front of God and our church family, dedicating our infant to God. We have always had the attitude that our girls are not ours, but on loan from God. To see the woman that God has created from that tiny infant fills my heart with pride and joy and my eyes with tears. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I turned to Mike and said, "At least we got to have her for 17 years instead of the 3 that Hannah was given with Samuel." I know that she is right where God has placed her, and that she is doing His work.

As for Rachel, well, I keep reminding myself that we survived the early teens once...we can do it again. :) Just kidding, Sweetheart! (kind of) In reality, I am enjoying watching Rachel start to become a young lady. She is maturing so fast and has such an empathetic heart! I know that God has great plans for her, and I can't wait to see them come to pass!

This post was way past due! Maybe I will write again before another 2 months passes us by. Until then, remember to love your children for the stage they are in and enjoy every moment of every day with them. Those moments and days pass too quickly!
Tanya Norton
Okay, so the subtitle of this blog refers to balancing all the areas of my life.  I don't think I'm doing such a good job of that right now.  I have spent a good part of the summer cleaning out and organizing my new classroom.  Since the last teacher left in the middle of the year (leaving lots of stuff behind) and the room has been used as storage for the past year, this has been a pretty big job.  It still is not decorated and I am quickly running out of time...class starts in just a couple of weeks.  In addition to the room, I am still getting acquainted with new curriculum, new school staff, and new school procedures.  The pressure is definitely mounting!  Fears of failure, based on some of my weaknesses from the last time I taught full-time are also beginning to creep in.

Next week, I am teaching the preschool class of Vacation Bible School for the children in our local Migrant Workers' Camp.  I will have children ranging from just walking through kindergarten age.  Many of the little ones only speak Spanish.  We have VBS under a big tent in an open field, so many of the published activities just will not work.  It is a matter of picking and choosing, adjusting for multiple ages, and making up some of my own stuff.  Needless to say, this has been a big job.  I am having a lot of trouble motivating myself to get the work done.  I love teaching children and this ministry is wonderful, but I am finding myself dreading it rather than looking forward to it.  I know I can't go on Monday to teach these dear ones with this attitude.  If I had known that I would get a teaching job this year, I would not have volunteered because it is a lot of work just before school starts.  My lack of excitement is making me feel even worse, because I know it is a poor attitude when going to do God's work.

Some people get energized when they are feeling under the gun.  Unfortunately, I am just the opposite.  I tend to shut down when my stress level goes over the top.  So, instead of working on the VBS stuff that is sitting on my kitchen table, I am blogging about it. :-) If any of you have any really good tips on dealing with stress in a positive way, please send them my way.  And if you would pray for my attitude about VBS this week, I would greatly appreciate it.  Thanks!