Out of Control

Hello again. I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me. Just about five months, to be exact.  The last time I posted, I was bemoaning the impossible length of the last weeks of a pregnancy. Well, just days after that post, my pregnancy journey ended and the great adventure of being a mother began. These past four months have been nothing short of amazing. They have also been exhausting, exciting, terrifying, and thrilling, sometimes all in the same moment. Time has flown by, and I cannot believe my tiny little baby is now a chubby, cheerful 4-month-old whose life goal is to sit up alone. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time that he wasn’t a part of our lives. Every day is full of new discoveries, new challenges, and new ways to fall in love with a short, fat, bald guy.

 

Being a parent, especially a new parent, is a major learning experience. Learning how to care for your child, learning what each cry or expression means, learning how to function normally on 2 hours of sleep. For me, it has been more than that though. While I have learned a great deal about my son, I may have learned even more about myself. God has been using my daily (and nightly) experiences as a mother to teach me about my own shortcomings and strengths.

 

While I’m learning and growing in many areas (patience, planning, time management, multitasking), the central issue that God is working on with me is control. While I can’t say that I am always in control of things, I certainly like to feel that I am. I am a planner, a list maker, a spreadsheet-thought-organizer. I like to sort, label, and rearrange. When I found out that I was pregnant, I started planning. Planning the nursery, planning how I would feed my son, what kinds of diapers he would wear, how I would get him to sleep through the night, how I would discipline him once he got older. I researched online, read every book I could get my hands on, spent hours sipping tea with my mommy friends picking their brains. I was ready to have control of the parenting situation.

 

And then I started noticing that I had no control. Actually, I noticed that from the moment my husband and I decided that it was time to start our family. I had absolutely no control over if or when I would get pregnant (even though I had two specific dates in mind that I wanted to have my baby – haha!) I remember those few days testing to see if I was pregnant and feeling panic as I waited for the lines to show up – panic if I was pregnant, and panic if I wasn’t. Then I found out I was indeed pregnant, and I went to the doctor to confirm. I really like my doc, but I didn’t like what she said. I was 5 weeks pregnant at the time, and she wanted me to come back at 10 weeks to “see if it’s actually a viable pregnancy.”

 

That planted the seed in my mind that I could lose my baby at any time. I knew so many women who had suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects, and my worrying mind started running wild. I asked my sweet husband to reassure me multiple times a day that there was no logical reason to worry. I filled my head with statistics to prove that there was very little chance of anything going wrong with my baby. But it didn’t shake the fear. Every symptom that I had or didn’t have sent me off to the internet to have my doom sealed. I was banned (by my wise husband) from searching those things anymore. And still the anxiety circled me. I knew it was unlikely that something would go wrong, but things do go wrong, and what was there to assure me that I wasn’t one of the 2% of this or 10% of that?

 

Finally I did some positive web-searching and looked for affirming words for pregnancy. What I found was something even better, something I should have been looking for from the beginning. I found a blog (Grace for Moms) that listed 10 Bible verses specifically addressing fear and worry. I clung to those verses, pulled out my fancy colored markers, and wrote those verses out. I taped them to mirrors, my closet door, and the head of my bed. I said them over and over as I brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, and fell asleep at night. And miracle of miracles, my fears didn’t have control over me anymore. Did they sometimes pop up? I’m embarrassed to say, yes they did, especially the really idiotic ones (such as, will a body part that clearly showed up on the first ultrasound somehow be missing on the second one? Not too proud of that thought process – I’ll blame the hormones!)

 

As predicted by my husband and statistics, nothing did go wrong with my pregnancy, and I delivered my beautiful, healthy, all-body-parts-accounted-for little boy on one of the two days I had been crossing my fingers for (though I realized that I had absolutely nothing to do with that). But again, in that process, God was teaching me that I have no control. During my pregnancy, I had spent hours studying and practicing the techniques needed to enable a drug-free birth. For me the idea of the natural-ness of a drug-free birth, combined with the safety net of delivering at the hospital seemed ideal. I would labor at home as long as possible, and then go to the hospital only when I felt that I was getting near the actual birth bit of this process. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and a good ability to use my mind to control pain, and so I thought it would be a piece of cake. Okay, I thought that I could make it, anyway.

 

The short version of my very long labor and delivery is that after over 48 hours of contractions, I was still untold hours away from being ready to deliver. My doctor suggested, and I agreed, that I should get the epidural anesthesia and a bit of something called Pitocin to help my labor move along a little faster. If I hadn’t received the drugs, I don’t know if I would have had the energy to push the baby out when the time came. It was not the “natural” birth I had hoped for, but I could no longer control the pain. Nor could I control the progress of my labor or the timing of my son’s birth. Almost exactly 24 hours after we arrived at the hospital, I first saw and held my little boy, and the world around me ceased to exist for a moment. I could try, I could use all kinds of descriptive language, but I still could never explain to you what that moment was like. If you’ve had a child, I think you can probably imagine it pretty well.

 

The next day they sent us home, and God decided that it was time to teach me even more about how little I really could (or needed to) control. Before my son was born, I had pretty clear ideas of how I was going to train him to eat and play and sleep with a careful routine that would minimize any negative impact on my own schedule and productivity. I wasn’t going to be a schedule freak, but I was going to be very regimented, and my baby was going to be very textbook. Yes, yes, I hear all of you who already have children snickering behind your hands at me. Okay, now I hear you laughing out loud the more you think about the ridiculousness of it all.

 

Sure, I can try to keep a general pattern of activities throughout the day, I can encourage him to nap when he seems tired, I can give him cues about when it’s time to go to sleep or time to play, but I cannot control my child at this point, because I cannot control his needs, and at this point in his life, everything is driven by needs, not by behavioral training.  Not to start any arguments about parenting styles, but based on my experience so far, parents who are able to “control” their babies at this age are either being fooled by a baby who naturally does what the parents are wanting (i.e. sleeping through the night), or they have controlled their child’s behavior at the expense of some facet of the child’s emotional well-being. When my son “decides” that he is hungry earlier than I was expecting, then I feed him. When he wakes up in the middle of the night because he is hungry, because he had a scary dream, or because his tummy is bothering him, I do my best to meet his need. I learned very quickly that we are both happier when I focus more on bonding with my son, learning how he communicates and meeting his needs, rather than trying to make him meet mine.

 

Not that there aren’t times that I get a little frustrated that nothing is getting accomplished because my whole day was spent feeding or soothing a little boy, or that I don’t feel exhausted when I’ve been up three times in the middle of the night feeding or burping or changing him. Not having control is inconvenient. In some circles, being a parent without total control (even of an infant) is not popular. But I’m less stressed when I embrace the fact that I don’t have control.

 

Not having control is also scary at times. Every parent struggles with fears about the health and safety of their children. I suppose it is even worse for first time moms. One example of this for me has been the fear of SIDS. If you have had a baby in the last couple decades, you know that there is an entire litany of rules for reducing the risk of your baby dying suddenly and inexplicably in their sleep. The rules may change a bit over the years, but every mom pays close attention and does her best to avoid the myriad dangers that apparently lurk during sleep. We must not have crib bumpers or blankets or stuffed animals in the crib. We should have our baby close to us and have a fan running to move the air around. The baby should always, always sleep flat on their back (if you let them sleep on their tummy or side, you are just asking for trouble, apparently). With all these warnings, which do indeed have merit, the new mother brings home a baby and, if she’s anything like me, becomes a basket case the first time she sets her precious newborn in his bassinet or crib for the first night.

 

It’s not so bad during the day when you walk by and check on them constantly, but at night, when you should supposedly be asleep, you worry that if you sleep for even a moment, your baby will stop breathing and you’ll wake up in the morning to your worst nightmare. But the fact is, you can’t really control something like SIDS. Now sure, you can follow the precautions that make it much less likely that something would happen to your child in his sleep, but there is a reason that SIDS exists as a cause of death for infants  – it is sudden and not explained by any other cause. You can’t prevent what can’t be diagnosed or determined.

 

While I still find myself peeking over the edge of the cradle and look for that rise and fall of his little chest when I happen to wake up at night, I’ve come to realize that there are some things I can’t protect my son from, and so no amount of staying awake at night or never leaving his side can ensure his health and safety. In fact, I know that at some points in his life, bad things are going to happen to him, things I cannot prevent. I wish I could, but life doesn’t allow me to completely control what does or does not happen to my child. The best I can do is use common sense to prevent the “bad stuff” that I can, and trust God for the rest.

 

And there we come to my biggest area of fear and lack of control. Ah, that trusting God with “the rest”. Like I said earlier a couple of times, bad things are going to happen. To all of us. Some things may seem worse than others, but none of us are immune. The risks for those really disastrous things may be statistically small, but if you’re the person they happen to, the statistics mean nothing. And that is where fear continues to try to get a new grip on me: something terrible is not likely to happen to me, but I cannot guarantee that it won’t. I can’t use the Christian/spiritual cop-out of “It will be okay; God is in control,” because while God is in control, I might still suffer tragedy. The real answer is that bad things are going to happen to all of us, but because God is in control, we can survive the tragedies and struggles of life, and we have the promise that something good will come out of our suffering. I don’t know what lies ahead for me or for my son, and I cannot control much of it, but I can trust and have a relationship with the one who does know and control the future.

 

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Jesus, I Am Nesting, Nesting

Hi there. Yes, I am ashamed of missing the last two weeks of posts. I have been consumed by late pregnancy exhaustion and the irresistible need to have everything perfectly in order for this coming baby.

 

There it is, I’ve been nesting when I should have been writing. With the help of my miracle-working mother, I’ve gotten the whole house clean, organized, and presentable (yay to getting the car all the way in the garage again!). Thanks to my fantastic husband (whose first words after work most days are, “How can I help you now?”) we have all the furniture assembled, arranged, and repaired as needed. Thanks to Amazon and UPS, we have all the great baby gear and gadgets that we “need” but can’t find at our local Wal-Mart (the pinnacle of shopping in our tiny town). And thanks to my tireless washer and dryer, all those tiny clothes, blankets, bibs and cloth diapers are clean, folded, organized, and ready to go.

 

I have to admit, I’ve loved the whole process. Probably because I never got the must-scrub-whole-house-with-toothbrush type of nesting urge. That would be awful. But I have loved preparing our home and our life for this little guy.  It was so much fun to browse through pages and pages of baby stuff online and choose the things I thought would be most useful, most fun, and most representative of us and our son. I have delighted in folding and organizing each impossibly tiny onesie and matching every pair of ridiculously small socks (are their feet really that little???).  It is exciting to just sit in my rocking chair and look around the nursery, imagining it with its future occupant. It’s been a very satisfying experience.

 

When I first starting thinking about this post, it was really just going to be a fluffy little excuse for why I haven’t written in two weeks. The title was a fun play on the hymn, “Jesus I Am Resting, Resting”. (Those who know me well know I can’t resist a parody or a musical pun…it’s just how my brain works.) But as I thought about it, something clicked on in my head, and I imagined Jesus nesting, so to speak. Go there with me for a moment. When Jesus left the earth for Heaven after his resurrection, he had a few key roles to fulfill between then and his return. One of those things that he is doing is preparing a place for us.

 

Whether you think of it as a mansion, a home, or a room in God’s house, all of us who are believers know that Jesus promised a special, wonderful, individual place for each of us in the heavenly kingdom. (John 14:2-3) Just as I have been preparing a special place for my son in his new home, Jesus is preparing a special place for me in my future home. If you still think the pregnancy hormones are playing with my mind and I’m a bit loony, check out these parallels between my nesting, and Jesus’ preparations in Heaven.

 

 

  • We both want the best for the one we love. For me, that means having his clothes cute, clean and snuggly, making sure everything is safe, and adding in all the cute touches I can. I want my son to have the best I can give him. Jesus is able to take it further, because the place he is preparing is not just really good, but it is perfect. He doesn’t have to be budget conscious, nor does he have to worry that any detail will be unappealing. When I get to my heavenly home, it will be the ultimate in beauty, comfort (both physical and spiritual), and I will not be able to find a single fault with it.
  • Another thing Jesus and I have in common is that we are preparing our special places with the future occupant in mind, tailored to his or her individuality. That’s why my son’s nursery has blues and greens and forest animals rather than purple and glitter and My Little Ponies. In the same way, my room or home in heaven will not be the same as yours. It won’t be institutional and generic, like a convent, or even like a 5-star hotel, but will be perfectly tailored to you, as Jesus knows you. I can’t say exactly what that means in Jesus’ form of interior decorating, but I know that when we each walk into our heavenly homes, we’ll instantly feel that we are truly home, and we’ll think, This is exactly right for me.
  • On the other hand, our work of preparation is also reflective of us, the nesters. I picked woodland critters as a good neutral, slightly masculine theme for my nursery because I knew I would be welcoming a boy. However, I have no idea if he will share my love of hedgehogs (if not, he will probably not love that nursery) or if he will care that I chose the dark wood over the light for his furniture because it seemed more classy to me.  I don’t know for sure how the details will play out, but I am pretty confident that every room, house, or mansion that Jesus is preparing for us will contain clear and undeniable marks of his involvement. When you sit in your heavenly living room, not only will you feel that it was made just for you, but you’ll probably say to yourself, That bit over there, nobody other than Jesus would have thought to put that in. Also, Jesus had lots of experience with woodworking, so I’m expecting some pretty fabulous furniture and trim.
  • Another element common to both of us is excitement. With every onesie or sleeper that I fold, I get a little more excited about meeting, holding, and caring for my little boy. The simplest things, like arranging the blankets in a drawer or opening the bottle of baby lotion get me teary-eyed with anticipation. Jesus is no less (probably even more) excited about our arrival in our heavenly homes. His work is far more vast than mine, but I don’t think for a second that any of it is a drudgery to him. As he builds and prepares, he thinks of us, friends, and looks forward to the day that he can show us around the place he has made just for you and me.
  • Finally, we have something in common when it comes to time. I have a due date that is 10 days away, but in reality, this little guy could come tomorrow, or he could hold on until the beginning of October. I know it’s coming soon, but no one, not even my doctor, can tell me exactly when it will be. The certainty that my child will be born cannot change the uncertainty about when it will happen. In the same way, we are certain that Jesus is coming back, and he is going to take all of his sheep to their new, forever homes. He promised it, so it is certain. And obviously, every day that goes by is one day closer to it happening. But even though we know it is certainly coming, and coming sooner every day, we don’t know when it is coming, because only God the Father knows. Even Jesus doesn’t know when he’ll be sent back for us! (Matthew 24:36) No prophet, preacher, or Bible-decoder can tell you the date and time. I like to think of Jesus experiencing the same excitement and anticipation in waiting for our arrival in heaven as I do in waiting for the arrival of my baby.

 

So there you have it, friends. I’m nesting. Jesus is nesting. And neither of us are scrubbing walls with toothbrushes, I’m sure of it.

 

I hope these thoughts make you feel precious, treasured and loved, because you are. The savior of the world delights in you enough to spend thousands of years in heaven preparing a place specifically for you to enjoy for eternity. I spent a couple months preparing a room that will be inhabited for a few years. If that’s all I did for a child I already love more than I thought it was possible to love, I can’t even imagine the kind of love Jesus has for me, for you, when I think about all he has done, in coming to earth, dying on the cross, preparing heaven for us, and eventually returning to defeat sin and Satan for good.  It doesn’t even begin to compare. He loves you, precious one. More than you can imagine.

 

 

Tuesday’s Truth – The Gift of No

Welcome back, friends! Today I’m writing you from the unbearably hot and humid state of Kansas. Every time I see The Wizard of Oz, I wonder why Dorothy doesn’t do a little happy dance when she says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It alternates between blast furnace and Roman steam bath. But I digress.

 

What I really want to talk to you about today is an important parenting principle. Before you dismiss me based on the fact that the only parenting I’ve done so far is poking my belly to keep my little guy kicking, let me tell you that I’m not going to actually give you advice on how to parent your children (although if you pick something up from this, that’s great). What’s really going on here is that I was inspired recently by a parallel between parenting and God’s ways with us.

 

Like any first-born, first time mother who is paranoid and certain that she will completely ruin her child, I’ve been furiously reading every parenting book I can get my hands on. (Note: this is not actually a good idea.) There are many rules, schedules, tips, and tricks that you are apparently supposed to follow to ensure a healthy, well-adjusted child. Some will probably prove useful, others to be a useless burden, but there is one that has really stuck out to me even before I’ve had the opportunity to try it out. It just makes sense to me. I call it “The Gift of No”.

 

The basic principle is that it is important for you to tell your child no (although not necessarily to use the word itself) on a regular basis. Your child will develop better emotional and psychological health if they do not get everything they ask for. It’s good for them to be denied once in a while. It’s okay if they don’t get every experience, toy, or opportunity. It’s healthy for them to be allowed to fail because you don’t solve all their problems for them. From my time teaching young children, I can see that this is a true principle.

 

But as I thought about it more, I wondered why it was true. What is it about being judiciously denied certain things that helps a child become emotionally strong and healthy? It seems to me that there are four main things that the Gift of No teaches children. First, it teaches them that they are not the central, most important thing in the world. They learn that their desires do not outweigh the needs and desires of others. This kind of humility makes for a thoughtful, caring person. Second, it teaches patience and self-discipline. When a child does not immediately get everything he or she wants, it develops the ability to deny self. This helps a child learn to either wait for a better time, or to choose not to indulge themselves. Third, it teaches contentment. Through experience, the child learns that he or she can still be happy and fulfilled even without many of the things that he or she may initially desire. Fourth, it teaches the child to prioritize. When you can’t have or do everything you desire, you learn how to choose what is most important to you.

 

Now, you may be thinking, this is interesting parenting advice, but what does it have to do with issues of spirituality and Christian life? Well, as I was thinking through they why’s and wherefore’s of the Gift of No, it suddenly dawned upon me that this isn’t a new principle at all, but something that God instituted from the beginning of Creation, and that it is not just true in raising children, it is true in God’s development of us as well. Those four character qualities that we find important in the emotional health of our children are equally, if not even more  important in our spiritual health. God wants to develop in us others-centeredness, self-discipline, contentment, and right priorities. Those four are cornerstones of a healthy spiritual life. The Bible is full of examples of God giving the Gift of No to His children. Think through them with me:

  • God told Adam and Eve, “No,” when it came to the forbidden fruit in order to develop discipline.
  • God told Moses, “No,” when it came to entering the Promised Land because Moses had not prioritized obedience over expedience.
  • God told David, “No,” when it came to building the temple not only because of David’s prior actions, but also to teach both David and Solomon discipline and others-centeredness.
  • God told John and James (and their mother), “No,” when it came to promising them positions of honor in His kingdom to remind them that they were not more important that His other followers.
  • God told Paul, “No,” when he asked for the ‘thorn in his flesh’ to be removed to teach him contentment.

 

There are many more examples throughout the Bible, and in the lives of Christians throughout history. You’ve probably heard someone say that God answers our prayers three different ways: Yes, No, and Wait. We like the Yeses. We’re okay with the Waits. But we like to try to make all of the No’s into Waits, don’t we? We need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes God is flat-out telling us, “No.” Not because He doesn’t love us. Not because He wants us to be unhappy. Not because He is being arbitrary. He tells us, “No,” precisely because He does love us, and wants us to be emotionally and spiritually healthy. When we accept that a “No” from God is just as loving and gracious as a “Yes,” then we are one step closer to being the healthy and whole person that He made each of us to be.

 

May you grow in grace!

Tuesday’s Truth – Precious in His Sight

Hello, friends! This week I’ve been thinking about children a lot. That’s probably because my little guy has been kicking and wiggling around much more over the past week, and I’m finally starting to believe that there is a tiny person growing inside me. The incredible excitement and the immense responsibility of his upcoming arrival have hit me hard lately as I research birth and child-rearing philosophies, as his little crib sits in the spare room waiting to be assembled, and as the pile of tiny clothes waiting to be organized grows. I know that the love I already feel for him can’t begin to compare with what I will feel the moment he’s in my arms. It’s hard to imagine. And as I was thinking about all of this, I realized something even more astounding. Even in all my maternal affection and devotion, I will never come close to loving my son the way that God loves him, the way that God loves all His children.

If you grew up in church (and probably even if you didn’t), you’re familiar with the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” One line reminds us that all children are “precious in His sight”. Sometimes children’s songs aren’t so great on theology, but this one is dead on. Throughout the Bible there are stories that make it clear how much God values children, as well as some pretty direct statements. Let’s look at just a few:

  • What was the first good thing that happened after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden for sinning? You guessed it, the births of the world’s first babies. (Genesis 4 )
  • God protected and blessed Ishmael, Abraham’s son with Hagar, even though he wasn’t the son God had promised to Abraham and Sarah. (Genesis 21:8-21)
  • God commanded the Israelites to instruct their children in the history of God’s relationship with His people and to teach them His laws and promises. (Deuteronomy 6:7)
  • God chose a young boy, Samuel, to become one of Israel’s greatest leaders.
  • God chose David, barely a teenager, to defeat Goliath and the Philistines, as well as to become the king of Israel.
  • The Psalms tell us that God is intimately involved in the development of each unborn child (Psalm 139:13)
  • Jeremiah is told that God knew him before he was even born. (Jeremiah 1:5) We can assume that God knows each one of us just as well.
  • Many proverbs speak to the importance of raising children.
  • God allowed Elijah to raise the widow’s son from death. (1 Kings 17:17-24)
  • God allowed Elisha to raise the Shunnamite’s son from death. (2 Kings 4:8-37)
  • Jesus healed many children and raised others from the dead. (Matthew 17:14-18 Luke 7:11-17 Mark 5:21-43)
  • Jesus welcomed and blessed the children that were brought to him, over the objections of his disciples.  (Matthew 19:13-14 Mark 10:13-14 Luke 18:15-16)
  • Jesus used the faith of a child as the benchmark for true faith. (Matthew 18:3 Matthew 18:4 Mark 10:15 Luke 18:17)

Because children are so precious to God, we should be careful about how we view and treat children.

  • We need to see children as blessings and wonders, not as inconveniences, annoyances, or accessories. Children take time and effort, and are not often convenient, but we must see them as worth the investment.
  • We must commit ourselves to training our children, not only in the practical things of life, but in faith and virtues. We must be careful and intentional in the way we teach our children at home (directly and indirectly) and in the choices we make regarding both their academic and religious education.
  • We should strive to see our children the way that God sees them, as valuable individuals with immense potential. David’s family scoffed at the idea of him being anointed as King of Israel, but as God told Samuel, we are quick to judge by what we see on the outside, not what is hidden on the inside. (1 Samuel 16:7)
  • We need to remember that every child is valuable as a person and is “precious in His sight”. Having taught many children, I can tell you that it is sometimes hard to remember that the child who constantly tests your nerves and pushes the boundaries is just as precious as the one who always obeys and seeks to please. Our human nature tempts us to value the pleasant and easy things in life more than the difficult. But if we believe that every single child is created in God’s image and is made directly by Him for a specific purpose, we must learn to value every child equally. Does that make them easier to deal with? Some days yes, some days no; but it does help us keep our perspective. The good news is that if we are dealing with our children (or students) according to God’s ways, the most difficult ones often become the ones who make the biggest positive mark on the world later in life. Keep the big picture in mind!
  • Finally, we need to remind ourselves that we are God’s children, no matter our age. (1 John 3:2) As His children, we are loved far beyond what our minds can grasp. You are a blessing, a wonder, a valuable individual with immense potential. You, my friends, are “precious in His sight”!

Keep Smiling!

A Serious Heart Condition

Welcome back. I hope that you have had a restful (or at least joyful) weekend. We’ve been fighting several dread diseases around here, so it was good to take a break, though I have missed you all.

Alright, I have a bit of a confession to make. My heart was not particularly glad for much of this past week. I could make some excuses: sick students, lack of sleep, lots to do, blah, blah, blah. Or it could be the time of the year. We’re a couple of weeks out from spring break at school, which means we are in a time of meltdowns for everyone, teachers and students alike. It’s like lap 402 at Daytona, week 37 in a pregnancy, or mile 24 of a marathon; you’re bored, tired and ready to be done, but you can’t give up now because it would make all the struggle thus far absolutely worthless. It can be hard to find joy when you’re in one of those seasons. The weariness can cast a shadow over all the great things that are in your life.

If I am honest as I look back on my week, there were several heart-gladdening things – the afternoon bike ride with my husband, the 2 nights of fabulous sleep, the evening spent enjoying the company of friends – and yet, I woke up Friday with clouds forming right over my head. I was like a walking thunderstorm. Husband not paying enough attention to me? Bang! Lightning bolt! A 6-year-old not displaying as much sense and maturity as I would like? Pow! Another bolt! Stubborn student? Crash! The storm is in full force now! One mildly critical comment? Crack! Another day destroyed.

But then, in a completely unexpected way, which I didn’t quite grasp at the moment, God taught me a really important lesson. What was the means of this great teaching moment? A playground merry-go-round and a handful of squealing little kids. Usually, I’m just an observer at recess. Especially on days when I’m not in the best of moods. But for some reason, I decided to give into the kiddos’ pleas for me to push the merry-go-round.  And then, in a real moment of spontaneity, I jumped on and joined them in the dizzy-fest. They were thrilled and giggling, and I laughed like I had not laughed in a long time. it was the silliest thing I had done in weeks. I was also incredibly joyful.

And here is what that ride on a merry-go-round taught me: If you are going to have a glad heart, you simply cannot take yourself too seriously. I realized that those moments when I was the most cranky or downright angry were the moments when I was so sure of my own importance, wrongly believing that I was the most important person in my world, that it was only me who could be counted on to make my students who they need to be, that I was too good to be worthy of any suggestions for improvement. The times over the whole week when I was happiest were when I was focused on others, when I completely abandoned any thought of my own image or importance.

So what about you? Have you been taking yourself too seriously lately? How has it affected the joy level of your spirit? Let me challenge you this week to make a point of taking yourself less seriously. If you want extra credit, here is your assignment: Do something this week that is completely silly and lacking in dignity. If you need some help, I would suggest you find your nearest and dearest 5- or 6-year-old; I am sure they can give you a few good pointers!

May your heart be glad (and just a little silly)

Spread a Little Hope, Part 2: Orphans and Widows

Greetings, Reader! We are going to talk today about a specific area in which you can spread hope to the world around you. If you haven’t read my first post on the subject, go check it out. It’s okay, I’ll wait for you… Alright, got it? Good, now we can move on.

So, I’ve been reading the Bible a lot lately. Even if you don’t, stick with me, because I think you will agree with what it has to say here. The specific book I’ve been focused on is the book of James, which is historically accepted as being written by the brother of Jesus. I mention that to point out that he would have been very familiar with the teachings of Jesus, who is recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike as having quite a bit to say regarding the right way to treat other people (He was pretty big on caring for “the least” among us). Here’s what James has to say: “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles.” Other translators have used the words “undefiled” and “unblemished” instead of “lasting”. Let’s focus in on what the author is saying here. He’s assuming that there are kinds of religion, and a multitude of ways that people express their religion. James makes the unequivocal statement that none of those things matter if they don’t put a high priority on caring for the disadvantaged and socially oppressed. I think we can all agree that a lot of religion has historically been defiled and blemished by its adherents. Crusades, ethnic cleansing, suicide bombers, forced conversions…the list could go on and on.

Why do religious people get caught up in defiling their religion? Because they have lost the focus of what “pure and lasting religion” is really about. It is not about power, it is not about mandating any form of belief or behavior, it is not about earning a better place in heaven. It’s about love. Jesus, that famous brother of James, put it pretty clearly: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Not a lot of wiggle room there. And I can’t think of a single religion or a belief system that would disagree, except for perhaps Utilitarianism, which is not real popular… Caring for those who cannot care for themselves is a universal moral imperative. We innately know that it is the right thing. And yet, we often do a pretty abysmal job of following this imperative.

Not that we don’t want to do it. Organizations and movements which at the very least claim to help the “orphan and widow” abound. Many of us are content to let them do the actual work, while we send them some money. Isn’t it nice that we can help out these “poor folks” without ever having to interact with them? (Note the sarcasm.) Our governments are also have a finger in the pie. With this being an election year, we are going to continue hearing a lot of very strong opinions as to how much the government can and should be doing to help the “least of these” in our society. There are some valid reasons to be having that debate, but that’s really not what I’m concerned with. Because the imperative we’re talking about today didn’t say anything about pure and undefiled government (as if!) being characterized by caring for the financially and socially downcast. It was about religion, and religion is about people. James (and Jesus) mean us. I see you there, looking at the person next to you. Cut it out. I mean you. You need to be caring for the orphan and the widow. Sure, it’s not what you were planning on when you got up this morning, but it’s where we’re headed now.

Still with me? Good. Let’s make this practical. So you don’t have an orphanage right down the street from you?No streetchildren wandering in front of the bus stop on your way to work today? Sorry, you’re not off the hook just like that. The fact is, there are orphans and widows in your town, and there are lots of ways to find them. Community services centers, churches, synagogues, mosques, and a whole variety of non-profits in your community can all direct you to those in need.

But even more than just looking for the actual orphans and widows around us, let’s think about what James really meant by calling our attention to those two specific groups of people. In the first century, your position in society was tied to the position of the men in your family. Your father, your husband – they determined where you stood in the eyes of the community. So to be without that father or husband practically meant that you had no place in society. You were totally at the mercy of others. Often, those others didn’t feel very compelled to care for you. They had enough to do to take care of themselves, or so they thought. James said this wasn’t the case. Not only did people have the ability to care for others, they had no choice – he says we “must” care for the orphans and widows.

In our society today, there is a much wider variety of people who are what we might call financially disadvantaged or socially oppressed. Race, geography, education, religion and politics are all contributing factors. All of those factors need to be addressed. But that’s not the imperative we are talking about here. What did James say? He said we much care for the oppressed “in their troubles”. Not in the socio-historical background of their troubles. Not in the generational cycle of their troubles. He said in their troubles. Where they are right now. The care we are to give is immediate, obvious, and effective.

What does this mean for us? It means giving up our free evening and babysitting to give a single parent a night off to have fun or pursue a hobby or work on his or her degree. It means mentoring children who do not have adequate parental involvement. It means sitting and listening to a friend who has just lost her husband for hours even if you have other things that “should” be done.  It means welcoming a refugee or immigrant and making them feel like a part of the community. It means visiting the elderly lady on your block that hardly ever gets out of her house. It means loving and helping those around you without expecting to get anything in return.

Trust me, Reader, in writing this I was just as challenged as you are right now. I know I’m not anywhere near close to perfect. But I’m trying. Because when I come to my last days, I want to have been part of something pure and lasting.

Peace Be With You

It’s The Little Things…

Specifically 10 “Little Things”. The ones I spend 8 hours a day with,  5 days a week. In this current chapter of my life, I teach in an elementary school. Anyone who spends all day with any number of young people can tell you, children have a 6th sense for raising blood pressure. Can I get an “Amen” from my fellow teachers and stay-at-home moms? Only children can ask the same question 8 times, get the same answer each time, and still feel the need to ask a 9th time. They can be completely convinced that it is a reasonably good idea to put goldfish crackers in strawberry yogurt. They can make a hangnail seem like an injury on par with having your spleen removed with stone-age surgical tools. I have named knots in my back and shoulders after particularly trying precious students. And yet, they can bring joy to my spirit and a smile to my face in so many unexpected ways. Care for some examples?

  • When you’re faking your death because the classroom is so messy, and 9 kids are laughing at you, but one says, “I don’t ever want you to die; you are the nicest teacher.” I’m glad at least one of my students doesn’t want me dead.
  • When a little boy chooses a princess pony out of the Friday Treasure Box instead of choosing a Nerf football, just so he can give it to his little sister.

  • When someone is complaining about their schoolwork, and you hear a little voice say, “You should be happy to be at school. Education is great!” And they mean it!
  • When you find the one or two 8 year-olds that you can actually discuss classic movies and literature with. More than you could with your friends in college.
  • When a little someone hands you a whole bouquet of dandelions, and it is more precious to you than a thousand roses.

  • When you get letters in the mail from past students and they make the same spelling mistakes that you nagged them so much about when they were in your class, but this time you’re glad they made them. It feels familiar.
  • When you read a story by a 2nd grader that manages to combine aliens, fruit and God along with at least 3 instances of the word “awesome”.
  • When a 2nd grader suddenly can explain the properties of multiplication…even though she can’t spell “multiplication”

  • When you’re standing outside the library and you hear your whole class singing a song about the Bible, and you didn’t even suggest it to them.
  • When you read Anne of Green Gables to your class, and the little red-haired, freckle-face boy in your class can’t get enough of it.
  • When the boy who could barely read at the beginning of the year is now the last one in line – every time – because he can’t put his book down.

  • When you get to explain that there is no “Specific” Ocean, and that “cinnamons” are not words that mean the same thing. And then you start using those words because they’re just so funny.
  • When you get that one kid that everyone thinks is just too much trouble to do something really great, and you see the pride on their face.
  • When you get invited to an 8 year-old’s American Girl themed birthday party, and she really does want you to come. And then you show up, together with Samantha, whom you’ve had since you were 8. And Little Miss thinks it’s the greatest thing ever.

I could go on and on. No matter how rough a day at school has been, it’s very rare that a whole day goes by without some ray of sunshine.  And even if I can’t think of anything else that has gone right that day, there’s always the fact that they are going to home, sleep it off, and start over again the next day.

May your heart be glad!