The Hardest Job for a Teacher…

vulnerability

One of my favorite parts of teaching – yet ironically the hardest – is helping to sculpt the hearts and minds of my kids.  As a Christian English teacher, I’m not only to infuse my students’ minds with literature and grammar and vocabulary, I am to entrust to them great mysteries of a Savior who loves them and wants their full surrender.This past week gave me one such opportunity, and next week is handing me another one.

Literature stories so often lend themselves to great biblical conversations.  My middle school babies (okay, they’ll hate that word, but if you’re a teacher, you know it’s true…they’re your babies forever) and I had a solid conversation about lying and standing up for truth despite the consequences because of one character’s ever-so-small comment that lying is sometimes the only option you have.  I love to watch their wheels spin as they contemplate God’s truth and how it translates into their lives for today, not just how it fit 2,000 years ago.  That day with them will remain one of my favorite memories; I know it will.  Those kinds of conversation always do.

I said it was my favorite, but I also said it’s the hardest thing in the world to tackle.  Teachers will amen on this next statement: it is SO scary to stop and think that the hours upon hours spent with our kids can be seen as our hands and words and activities and morals – spoken or not – chipping away at poor habits and building the character or chipping away at the securities and destroying the character of each child in our room.  Let me expound…When I see a child cheat, I can either lecture about cheating or discuss integrity.  When I see a child procrastinate time and time again, I can lecture about procrastinating or discuss honoring the time God gives us and using each moment for His glory.  When I see laziness emerge in a child whose homework is never done and whose papers are never turned in on time, I can lecture or I can turn it into a character-building conversation and help to shape that child’s heart, mind, and habits.  Goodness.  The pressure builds when I think of that kind of responsibility.

I’ve spent the better part of 2 hours today searching for a video or a story or a visual lesson to help me with the upcoming conversation this week (not my middle school babies this time).  I found a video, but more importantly than my kids seeing that video – though I’ll probably still show it, God reminded me that vulnerability with them is what is going to help most.  I truly believe the bottom line issue is a result of the narcissistic culture they live in: if it doesn’t benefit me or interest me or make me feel like I want to feel, it’s not worth my time or attention.  As I started thinking back on my life, there were plenty of times I tried to get God to agree with that kind of attitude…He never did.  (Insert duh emoji here.)  It’s not about what benefits me.  It’s about what brings glory to Him.  So what am I going to tell this crew?  My story.  They need to know that sometimes it’s about learning to surrender your plan.  Your desires.  Your time.  Your way.  Because ultimately, it’s not about us.  It’s about Him.  If they will even take away the smallest fragment of that lesson, I will be satisfied.  Lesson plans will go out the window that day because analyzing poetry isn’t nearly as important as learning to analyze your own heart.

May our days as teachers be more focused on our babies’ hearts and minds than the curriculum before us.

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I Didn’t Know My Heart Could Grow So Big…

watering-loveMoving to North Carolina has been a big change for me.  After living in Orlando for almost 9 years and working with the same kiddos who have such a large piece of my heart, it worried me that I might get here and not make connections with my new kiddos like I had with my old ones.  This teacher knew she could make room in her heart for several new kids each year, but to think of rearranging parts of her heart for entire classes of new kids at a new school…just wasn’t sure.  It felt like such a big gamble.

We are almost at the end of first quarter, and I’ve realized something: I didn’t know my heart could grow so big.  You guys, these kids might think I’m the weirdest teacher on the planet – making them sing, showing them crazy videos, requiring them to act like dogs to learn a grammar concept – but they’re about to start seeing my sappy side.  They’ve got my heart already.  I promise you the older I get, the more emotional I get…what is up with that? 🙂

Look how cool God is:

  • I told one class the other day they are my spirit animal class because they ooze sarcasm, and if you know me, I think that’s my love language. 😉
  • It’s been a couple of years since I’ve had middle school, and I had forgotten just how much fun they are.
  • The students I pinned from the start as having the thickest walls up, I ran full speed ahead to chip them away piece by piece, and I’m seeing some heart through those cracks already.

God knew what He was doing though I was very unsure.  I know, I know…that shouldn’t shock me, but somehow, it did this time.  I still miss my “old” kids terribly.  They will always have my heart.  But y’all…these new kids of mine…they’ve planted themselves in my heart already.  It’s about time they knew that.  They can think I’m crazy if they want, but I want them to know the only kind of crazy I am is crazy about them.

The quote that comes to mind when I think of this adjustment stage is simply: “Wherever you are, be all there.”  At first, it was hard for me to get my heart here because I just wanted my babies back.  However, once my heart began to settle here, knowing this is precisely where God has called me, I was all in…and that’s right where I’m going to stay until God moves me elsewhere.

I don’t know where you are today…perhaps in a new location or just a new situation, but wherever God has you, be there…be ALL there.  I promise you that your heart can grow more than you think it can.  God positioned you where you are for a specific reason during this specific time in your life.  Let Him reveal to you why this is your “such a time as this.”  Look up and focus your eyes on Him.  Look ahead and see what He’s calling you to do right now.  Don’t keep looking back; you’re not going that way.  All you’ll get from constantly gazing backwards is a neck ache and a skewed perspective of your “now.”  “For such a time as this” you have been called exactly where you are so be all there.

Now if you’ll excuse me…I need to have a little chat with my kiddos…they need to be told that I’m crazy about them. 🙂

Family is Forever

Family is Forever

Tonight was truly one of the hardest nights of my life.  I’ve been fighting back tears all day, but tonight the fight required even more ammo.

I’ll start this way: I KNOW…I don’t THINK…I KNOW without a doubt that the Lord called me to move from Florida to North Carolina.  There is an ironic peace that passes all human understanding that I have even in the midst of fighting back tears.  Obedience surpasses all, and I know I’m being obedient.  I also don’t want this to come across as a personal hit against my new and precious North Carolina friends.  I love you all already and am grateful for you.  However, my heart hurts big time.  Like ugly cry kinda hurting.

It started this morning when I got quite the lengthy text from a student who took a looooooong time to reach.  This student had a shell…a really thick one!  Once I pierced it though, he was ready to let me in full speed ahead.

You see, the thing is…you don’t know the impact you’ve had until you leave.  I don’t say that pridefully at all, just factually.  I’ve seen that fact proven quite evidently through this move.  Students and parents alike contacted me and said things that I never knew they thought.  That student was one of them.  I knew he liked me okay, but I truly had no idea how he really felt.  Today his text proved yet again what an impact the Lord allowed me to have on his life…and it killed my heart to hear 1) how much he missed me and 2) how much he knew I was following the Lord and was telling me he was happy that I was being obedient to Him even if it meant being away from him.  Mature perspective?  Gracious!

I read this morning from Oswald Chambers’ that it’s okay for us to have our “Elijahs” but that we also have to be ready to let them go when the Lord is ready to teach us to survive on our own.  Dang it!  How fitting!  I know I can’t walk alongside my kids until their old, but I sure would have if the Lord would’ve let me.  I know myself how hard it was to walk away from an “Elijah” in my own life, but it was such a time of growth for me, too.  Will my kids learn that lesson on their own?  Of course.  But is it easy for the “Elijah” to walk away from their “Elisha”?  Absolutely not.  But hold on one second…I don’t consider myself the “Elijah” here…my kids were my “Elijah” in so many ways.  They taught me SO much.  They impacted me SO much.  They led me down paths I never knew I could or would walk.  That is why this is so hard for me.  We were family.  We ARE family.  It hurts when you have to pull pieces of your heart away.

For every new family I met tonight at Open House, I remembered one of my own in Florida.  So many similarities with some students, yet they’re so different.  Some of the families asked about my previous students, and it was all I could do to hold back tears while I tried to form words to talk about them.  I think a few noticed and politely changed the subject.  I knew the moment I hit my car, I’d be done…and I was.  I couldn’t stop the tears.  There’s transparency for ya!  I’m not a public crier, but I’m shocked I held it together so long today.  I miss my kids.  That’s just the bottom line.  I’m still getting texts as I sit here, and my heart just keeps asking, “Why did I have to leave them this year?”  Only God truly knows, and I’m trusting Him.  I know it may not sound like it, but I truly am.  Pain isn’t always indicative of a wrong choice or a bad move or situation.

Childbirth is painful, but oh the joy of life!

Braces can hurt like the dickens, but the outcome is worth it!

Surgery – of any kind! – is not pleasant at the moment, but lives are saved through it, problems are corrected because of it.

Death on a cross is the worst pain – unfathomable even, yet it gave us, not just life, but eternal life.

Pain doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong.  Sometimes pain is just part of the road you’re asked to walk.  So tonight, I deal with the pain of grief.  Wishing I could be with my kids.  Wishing I could hug their necks as I have every other year at Meet Your Teacher.  It’s not that I won’t love my new kids because I will.  It’s not that I won’t form bonds with them because I will.  But nobody can take the place of the kids that first got the title of MY KIDS.  I love them dearly.  No number of miles can ever change that.  My heart will never be whole apart from them living in it forever.  I  love you and miss you all!  We are family.  And family is forever.

The Saw Has One Purpose…

antique-carpenter-crosscut-wood-saw-cutting-tool-wooden-handle-old-western-cabin-carpentry-workshop-vintage-ranch-29944792

Trusting.  Doing.  Two seemingly contradictory ideas.

Ah!  But what if we discovered they are perfectly complementary ideas?  With a bit of help from Hannah Whitall Smith’s book The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life, I think we’ll discover that they go perfectly hand-in-hand.

The problem often arises when we think that in order to be more Christ-like, we must DO something.  We can try.  I’ve tried.  And failed might I add.  Yet in our own strength, what do we end up doing, but falling, failing, getting back up, trying again, falling, failing…and on and on it goes.  “Why can’t I change!?” we scream!  Because we were never meant to shape and mold ourselves.  Never.  God never called us the potters; He called us the clay.

As Smith points out, we may hear a carpenter say that his saw has cut a log in two.  However, was it truly the saw that accomplished the task?  Or was it the power of the carpenter using the saw that made the log split from one piece into two?  It is the same with us.  We are the saw, our bodies are the instruments, but without the power of our Master Carpenter, that saw does nothing.  We need to be placed in His hand relying on His power if we want to see change.

So how does He do it?  And what are we to do?  Well, it’ll go a little like this:  we do nothing but surrender ourselves to Him while having faith that He will accomplish what He has promised He will do.  “God, here I am.  I desperately need You to mold me.  I can’t seem to break ____ habit.  I want to be like You.  Please change me.”

His part: “He disciplines and trains by inward exercises and outward providences.”  The inward exercises we don’t have much to do with – they’re at the heart level, but the outward providences…oh to have the right perspective!  If we struggle with anger, He is going to divinely fill our calendars with situations that may press our anger a bit until we’ve learned to control it, but never fear!  He will inwardly give us His power and strength to restrain.

So what if we looked at every outward providence as a gift from Him?  What if we saw the circumstances of our days as molding tools from our Master Carpenter who is also our Loving Father?  Listen to Smith’s words: “He makes everything in our lives and circumstances subservient to the ONE great purpose of causing us to grow in grace, and of conforming us…to the image of Christ.”  Everything aims at that ONE purpose: molding us to be like Him.

“But!” you say, “some days, it feels like nothing is happening!”  You may be right.  A potter at times needs to let the clay rest a bit.  There may be days that He lets you be, so to speak.  Don’t fret during those times; He hasn’t forgotten you!  He knows that you’ve been stretched and pulled enough for the time being.  Once He deems you recovered and strong again, back on the Potter’s wheel you go.

Can it hurt to try?  Why don’t we determine to begin asking Him each day to mold us to be more like Him?  Why don’t we choose to tell Him that we’re placing ourselves in His more than capable hands and allow Him to mold however He sees fit?  What if we made a pact to quit trying to make our plans for our lives fit and let Him mold and lead and guide us where He planned long ago for us to walk (Ephesians 2:10).  What if we could say with Paul, “I worked hard…yet it was not I, but the grace of God working in me”?  What do you have to lose but old destructive habits that God’s dynamos power will destroy for good?

Surrender.  That’s what it’ll take.  Not doing.  Just trusting.  You in?  I am.

 

 

When Students Teach You More Than You Teach Them

gift

Birthdays are for the birds.  And I’m not talking about age.  I’m talking about celebrating.  Don’t be so shocked!  I’ve never liked attention.  It’s an introvert thing.

After yesterday (my birthday), I sat back and tried to unpack why this year was different.  In the past, I would’ve died had a single one of my students – or anyone – mentioned my birthday…like face turned red with a mixture of embarrassment/agitation.  Friday at school and yesterday, I let them say what they wanted (drew the line at singing haha).  In the past, I literally deleted well wishes off of social media.  Yesterday, I let it go.  Hmmm…my brain had to work on this a while before it hit me: they did it again.  Those little stinkers 🙂  My students taught me again.

I just don’t think you can be a teacher without being taught by your students.  They’ve worn me down…in a good way.  They’ve taught me to be open and vulnerable more than this introvert ever thought was possible.  They’ve taught me to love and – even more difficult for me – to be loved by others.  They’ve taught me to give – but, again, more difficult for me – to receive.

You know, years back, I bucked God on such lessons.  My stubbornness reared its ugly head too often.  I refused to learn.  I refused to be loved.  I refused to receive gifts or even loving words if they were directly about me.  God used the most unlikely group of people to teach me, to mold me, to shape me, to change me…my students.

Why is that important for you to know?  Because God may be using the least likely person, group of people, or situation to teach you something right now.  Buck it, and He’ll just keep putting you places to teach you the lesson until you let Him mold you.  Trust me.  Been there done that.

For me, it’s easy to get wrapped up in loving others.  It’s easy for me to serve.  It’s easy for me to give and give and give some more.  But that’s not what God was trying to teach me.  He was teaching me to receive love.  To be served.  To accept gifts and words of affirmation.  Hardest. Lesson. In. The. World.  I’m grateful He used who He did to teach me.  I’m not saying the lesson is complete, but I am saying…they did it again, those little stinkers that I love so much…they taught me when my job is to teach them! 😉

Top 10 Things My Students Have Taught Me About Their Generation

Chalkboard HeartTeacher.  It’s one of my titles.  It’s one I never truly thought I’d add to the list.  I mean, yea, I taught homework to my stuffed animals…and I made them wear name tags…and I asked for a whiteboard one Christmas so I could be a “real” teacher…NERD ALERT!  In all honesty, though, I didn’t anticipate becoming a teacher, yet it has become one of my most treasured jobs.  I mean that.

With all the struggles this generation seems to face, I love my middle and high schoolers with everything in me.  My heart belongs to them.  Sappy truth.  I cringe when people say things about this generation that aren’t true, but they don’t know quite what to do with them, and I get that.  I become overly protective of my kids when I hear that others want to write them off because they simply don’t understand them.

My students have taught me much.  Every year, I walk away learning more from them than they’ll ever realize.  They didn’t set out to teach their teacher just like I didn’t set out to teach, yet we both have taught each other far more than either party knows.

If you find yourself in a position where you work with teens and have NO clue how to connect with them, I have some pointers I’d like to share with you.  If you find yourself believing that teens care about nothing more than social media, pop culture, the latest fads, and video games, I’d like to help you to see there’s FAR more to them than that.  Allow me to give you just 10 facts/pleas/thoughts on this group of people that continue to baffle adults…I think you’ll find the insight helpful.  The list is a bit lengthy, but bear with me.  I LOVE, LOVE this group, and I want you to see things from their perspective for just a few minutes.  So, from my teacher’s heart, here are 10 things I think this generation wants you to know about them:

  1. They crave relationship.  If teens don’t know you care about them, they aren’t apt to listen to you.  I’ve watched it 1000 times – an adult attempts to teach or correct a student, yet the student wants nothing to do with them.  Why?  Not because they aren’t interested in learning.  Not even because they despise being corrected.  Simply because the adult hasn’t made an effort to connect with them on a personal level.  I’m not telling you to be their best friend, but I am telling you that finding out what they do in their spare time, discovering their favorite food, knowing what kind of home they spend their time in every night, it makes a difference.  They’ll open up more if they know you care about more than their grade, their behavior, their attitude.  I’ve watched many an eye twinkle when I’ve simply taken the time to ask, “So what do you like to do outside of school?”  Try it.  You only have a teen’s heart to gain.
  2. They demand vulnerability.  This generation isn’t about to take fluff from us.  They get enough of that on social media.  They want to know that what you say is who you are.  They want to know that how you behave in front of them is who you are everywhere else.  I’m not asking you to divulge your deepest, darkest secrets.  What I am asking is that you allow real emotions to be seen by them.  What I am telling you that they respect is truth.  They want to know you’re human.  If you never share personal anecdotes with them, they see you as cardboard, and connecting with cardboard just doesn’t work.  Don’t write them off before you’ve tried this.  I’m not a crier, but my students have seen me cry as I’ve told them how much I care for them.  I’m an introvert, but I’ve learned to open my heart to them because I’ve seen the world of difference it makes when they know you care and when they discover you are human, too.
  3. They want to be challenged.  Sure, they complain that “this is too hard!”  But they enjoy a challenge!  Look at some of the games they play.  Do you know what they like about them?  The challenge!  They want to level up…yes, even if it’s a violence-filled game and killing is how you level up, they like the challenge.  The most ironic comment I ever heard from my middle school students’ mouths when I moved to teaching high school was “Miss Fleming, I miss you!  I miss writing those hard papers you had us write every week!  I miss the grammar!  I miss trying to figure it all out with you!”  After picking myself up off the floor, I thought, They enjoy a challenge!  I do make them do hard work, but I make sure to give them tools to “level up” so to speak.  Don’t think these kids want to sit around doing nothing because they don’t.  Challenge them.  Give them the tools to level up.  Then be amazed at the work they’ll produce for you.
  4. Appeal to what appeals to their generation. I know this may shock you, but I’m not a rapper. 🙂 However, many in this generation love rap.  Guess what you’ll find me using in my classroom?  Raps.  Raps to learn spelling.  Raps to teach apologetics.  Raps to teach how to write a thesis.  On and on the list goes.  I mean once upon a time, I pulled out School House Rocks, and that still works for some groups, but when you appeal to what they enjoy already, it’s amazing what they learn.  One small fact about raps that I love: they get stuck in your head foreverrrrrr!  Great learning tool!
  5. Make learning fun when possible, but ALWAYS make it applicable. The number one question from every student: Why do we have to learn this???  What did most of my teachers respond?  Because I said so!  Hmmm.  You see, that adds nothing but frustration to a student.  Something I’ve learned in my 13 years of teaching is that the question “Why” isn’t a bad one.  If you give a reasonable answer – a REAL answer – to students, their respect and attention level goes up quickly.  Watch: Q – Why do I have to know how to spell when I have auto correct?  A – Because auto correct won’t help you fill out an application some day.  Student – Oh, good point.  Q – Why do we have to memorize the books of the Bible in order?  A – Because it’s important that you know where they are in the Bible.  You may not always have access to a Bible on your phone when you need a verse quickly.  Student – Oh true.  Q – Why do I have to be in dress code?  A – Because one day a boss is going to tell you what you can and cannot wear.  The list will be much longer than the one we have now.  He’ll have the ability to fire you for not following his rules.  Student – True.  My sister has a pretty tough boss now.  Go ahead and answer their “Whys.”  You’ll be shocked when they don’t buck the rules as much after the explanation.  (Notice I didn’t say they’ll never buck the rules again – they’re kids.  Sheesh – adults buck rules too!)
  6. Be firm but kind. Students truly don’t mind rules when they understand them.  They also crave order and routine.  Now, I don’t mean you can’t ever toss a surprise their way – by all means do!  They like that as well; it keeps them on their toes.  But don’t waffle and waver on your rules.  If they’re good enough rules to have, they’re good enough to enforce.  Rules kept firmly create security for students.  Many times when I’ve asked why a student behaves one way in my room and another way in a different teacher’s room, their response is simple: “Because I know you won’t let me get away with that.  You mean what you say.”  Firmly, yet kindly, mean what you say.  Create only rules that are necessary.  Keep them simple.  Enforce them firmly.  Be kind.
  7. Celebrate their successes.  I am not a verbal praise person naturally.  I just stink at it.  It isn’t my love language, and I struggle to verbalize praise because it’s not.  However, can I tell you how many times, I’ve heard the pleas of my verbal-praise-absorbers, “Aren’t you so proud of me?”  Too many times to count!  It’s always a tiny stab in my heart that they beat me to it.  I should be giving them the praise before they have time to ask for it, shouldn’t I?  Yes, I should.  Especially your boys – they need it constantly.  They asked if they could erase the board?  Praise them for being considerate.  They got 2 points higher on this test than the last one?  Praise them for getting better.  They pick up the trash wad they tried to toss into the trashcan from the “3 point line”?  Praise them for not leaving it on the floor.  Really!  Praise works wonders.
  8. Give them feedback.  It’s amazing how often I fail to realize that what I write on their papers matters so much to them!  From a smiley face to a “Great Job!” – they always, always comment on the fact that I wrote something.  If I don’t?  Oh I hear about that too!  “Miss Fleming, you didn’t even write anything more than my grade!”  “Next time I will, I promise!”  And I do.  I have recently started to make a point to give both positive and constructive feedback on all written work.  Sure, it takes more time, but the positive goes SO FAR with them!  There’s ALWAYS something positive to point out to them!  I laugh when I get notes on their tests and quizzes and classwork.  They expect me to respond…yes, even to Mr. Hamburger that says “I deserve an A because I drew this for you.”  Communicate with them.  They’re listening!
  9. Don’t give up on them!  I don’t care how many times you’ve had to correct him.  It doesn’t matter how many times she’s failed a test in your class.  So what if they’ve NEVER turned in a project and you’ve taught them for 3 years.  Don’t. Give. Up.  Be persistent in telling them that they can do this.  Continue telling them that they can come for extra help.  Remind them that you KNOW they can do this if they’ll put their full effort into it.  You’ll be surprised when they show up at your door for that help, turn in that first project, pass that quiz, and no longer need correction.  It happens.  Remind them often that you believe in them.  Remember, many of them have other people telling them that they don’t believe they’ll ever amount to anything.  Don’t add to that tally list because they’re certainly counting!
  10. The kid with the hardest shell CAN be and WANTS to be reached.  Truly, they can!  From time to time, I’ve had to go into “head war” with students.  What’s that you ask?  It’s where we butt heads for a period of time until they realize that what I say goes and I’m not budging.  However, remember #1 while you’re waging war.  While you’re in war, you’re in close combat.  Go ahead and begin forging a relationship.  Listen to them.  Truly listen.  But stand firm on your rules – with kindness.  Eventually, war ceases.  They’ll come around.  Some take longer than others.  But let me tell you this: EVERY kid who has joined me in combat, EVERY kid – no exaggerating – has come clear to the other side – they’ve opened up to me once their shell cracked.  Keep at it.  War is hard.  War is exhausting.  War is worth it when you’ve seen victory after victory.  What are they really fighting for?  They want to see if they’re worth it to you.  If you give up easily, they know that non-verbally, you’re saying they aren’t worth the fight.  Don’t give up on them.  They need someone in their corner.  You can be that someone.

My list could be longer, but I’ll spare you the time.  I think these top 10 are most important.  This generation IS different.  They ARE tough to reach at times.  They ARE NOT impossible.  They DO care.  Please know that!

I love them all.  They exhaust me sometimes, but I love them.  I want them to know that.  I tell them often.  You can too.

Fear Freezes Us, but Faith Frees Us!

Psalm374

You know God is seeking to work on a particular area of your life when everything seems to point to the same theme or topic.  I’m there.  Facing fears and preparing for God to show up in the midst of my facing fears has been a running theme for quite some time now.  In the midst of my normal time with Him each day, some very powerful truths have surfaced.  I think you may find them helpful as well.  Let’s head to Luke 3 and 4.

Being a detailed person, I love me some Luke!  Dr. Luke includes details that other disciples leave out…we’d expect that from a doctor, wouldn’t we? 🙂  In chapter 3, verses 4-6, Luke recalls Isaiah’s words:

“…Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Before we get to the “see the salvation of God,” there’s some prep work to be done.  When kings or any important visitors were coming into town, the law stated that roads had to be repaired in order to make the smoothest ride in for the visitors.  That is precisely the idea that is being stated here.  John the Baptist was smoothing some figurative roads for Jesus.  However, I see that we, too, must have some things filled in, smoothed out, and squashed prior to Jesus really being able to show up in our fear-filled followings.  Walk with me…

The word for “prepare” simply means to “make ready.”  However, it’s not just a physical action.  It also has the idea of mentally being prepared.  Oftentimes before God can work in a particular area, we HAVE to get rid of lies we’ve believed and replace them with God’s truth.  Only then will we be ready to accept the blessings God wants to give us as we walk forward in a particular area of life.

The word for “path” really hit me hard.  Remember we’re dealing with areas of fear…the word for path means “a rut or well-worn track.”  Why might that be so powerful?  Simply because, I don’t know about you, but I find myself fearing most when a present situation stirs up old fears in an area I feel has failed before.  Hear me: We have to mentally prep ourselves to get rid of the lies of Satan that our present will turn out like our past!  If we do not make those paths straight and set our minds straight in the truths of God’s Word, we’ll be stuck in the same rut time and time again believing that failure is always inevitable!  Such. a. lie!

In verse 4, the phrase “every valley shall be filled” is in the passive voice.  It’s a beautiful thing; it really is.  Passive means we, the subjects, aren’t doing the filling.  This is where Jehovah Rapha, the mender of broken hearts and minds (and anything else broken in us) jumps to do His job.  He takes the gaps and holes in our lives and starts to cram them full of His truths.  Now – just a caution – this is also where Satan likes to jump in.  In Luke 4:1-13, Satan tempts Jesus when Jesus has a “hole” – hunger.  He had been fasting, and Satan thought that he could take advantage of such a hole in order to get him to sin or at least cave to fear or unbelief.  Both are quite paralyzing, so if he can’t get us to sin, fear and unbelief are just fine with him!  There’s beauty in this part of the story, too, though.  Verse 13 says, “…he departed from him for a season.”  The Greek holds multiple options for the word season.  The 2 in contrast here are kairos as opposed to chronos.  Listen closely: kairos is a set amount of time while chronos is an UNdetermined amount of time.  Satan’s temptations, our times of fear, they are kairos, not chronos.  There’s an end to them; they don’t go on chronically for eternity, though, Satan wants us to believe they will.  That’s where valleys become filled by Jehovah Rapha.  Instead of Satan filling us with lies, Jehovah Rapha sees the holes in our lives and fills them as we allow Him to invade.  The other beautiful thing about this phrase is that the word “filled” is more often translated as “fulfilled.”  Our God fulfills His promises to us as He fills our holes and valleys with His truths in order to prepare us for what He has planned for us.  Gosh, I love Him!

“The crooked shall be made straight” is also in the passive voice.  We cannot take what is crooked (skolios in the Greek – where we get our word for scoliosis) and make it straight, but God can.  Elohim, Creator, can take what has been distorted and bring truth to it to pop in back in place, so to speak.  He’s incredible at making firm paths for our feet to walk on in the midst of a land that seems to have no place to walk.  He brings truth where we have believed lies.  He enjoys making the crooked and perverse in our lives straight and filled with His truth.

What is rough and rocky in our lives, He also makes smooth and level.  It is then we reach verse 6 and see His salvation, the miraculous.

It’s not that we should view this as a long and arduous process, remember it’s kairos, not chronos.  We should view this as beautiful.  Our Creator, Elohim, our Mender, Jehovah Rapha, our Shepherd, Jehovah Roi, creates a path for Truth to reign in our lives while that same Truth fills all the voids and holes in our hearts and minds and still yet the same Truth guides us precisely to the place He wants us so that we may see and fulfill His will for us.

Mental, and sometimes physical, preparation is so very necessary if we want to see the miraculous work of our Savior.  The preparation isn’t something that can be rushed.  Our Father works on His timetable, which is best for us, too.

Last month, I had someone pray for me “help her not to run ahead of you, Father,” and I almost took offense to it…not sure why, but I stand on this side, now, looking at how much I’d like to run ahead in some areas, and see the necessity to let Him first prepare me for what is to come.  It’s a beautiful thing to walk right beside or even slightly behind our Shepherd, who absolutely knows the way we are headed.  What trust, safety, and peace comes from simply following Him where He is leading us at the exact pace He chooses.

Are you trying to run ahead of Him?  Or perhaps fear is keeping you too far behind Him…are you willing to catch up so He can take you where He wants you to go?  He will never fail us.  He always walks with us.  And, in the end, we will find that just as He promised, “He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

UNbecoming Precedes BEcoming

god-shaped-hole

Not once as I teacher have I had a year go by when a student hasn’t taught me something.  Yes, teaching goes the other way, too, but I’m always amazed at how much I learn from my students, no matter what age they are.

We’ve been in school only one week, and I’ve already learned from them.  One of my students posted a quote that struck me as such truth.  The gist of it was this: Maybe the journey is about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.

Now, I’m sure no theologian penned that phrase, but what I hear is “God-shaped hole” or in Augustine’s words a “God-shaped vacuum.”  Ecclesiastes anyone?  The author of Ecclesiastes tried everything under the sun to make his life “happy” and “most enjoyable,” but he found everything lacking except God.  Why?  Because we were created with holes that only God can fill.  We were created BY Him, FOR Him, to bring glory TO Him (Colossians 1:16, Ephesians 2:10).

What gets in the way of that plan?  The world and all its pleasures…or so they seem for the moment.

Romans 12:2 says “Do not CONFORM to the world…”  The Greek word is interesting there.  It is a combination of 2 words that literally mean “to conform oneself to the pattern of another with your actions, speech, habits, thoughts, and manner of life.”

The process of BEcoming like the world starts at a very young age and most often takes place subconsciously.  We swallow what the world feeds us without realizing its scheme to capture us in its stranglehold.  In fact, part of the Greek word for CONFORM is “schema.”  What English word might that remind you of…?  Yep, scheme.  The world and its master, Satan, certainly has a well-thought out scheme to capture us. And as it has been said: Though we may do things halfway, Satan never does.  We need to be on guard.  His schemes are working way too well for some of us.

It is when we begin to realize this truth about ourselves – that we are trapped in the patterns of the world – that we find a very real need to UNbecome everything we are not in order to BEcome what our Father created us to BE.  We are made to stand out in the world – to be a light in the ever-increasing darkness, not to blend in with it.

What do you need to UNbecome right now?  What needs to be stripped off or yanked out of your life that looks more like the world’s habits, speech, and ways than God’s?  I know I have more than a few things to UNbecome.  May we introspectively seek and ask our Father what needs the stamp of UN in our lives.

Livin’ on a Prayer While Livin’ in the Desert

desertpath

I had something completely different in mind to write about today, but when I came across this old journal entry, something said, “How about this instead?”  So from the annals of my mind and heart…enjoy. 🙂

I was reading Isaiah 43:18-19 for probably the hundredth time this morning, and I’m really not exaggerating.  As I read it again, I decided to check it out in the original language, which I haven’t done before.  Here is what the verse says: “Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”  It was the very last sentence that caught my attention.  Now, you’ll have to follow this train of thought, but it will be worth it in the end…so here we go. 

The word “make,” in verse 19, actually means to “lay violent hands upon.”  The word “wilderness” means an “uninhabited land” or “uncharted territory.”  At face value, that may mean nothing much to you, but when you stop and think about what God is saying, it is a phenomenal, life-changing or faith-changing statement.  If you feel like you are walking through uncharted territory in your life right now…you haven’t ever been where you are before…and you’re really not sure what to do in this unknown “land,” then listen to what God is saying.  INDEED (that’s key – it’s a definite thing, a promise!), God will rip apart (there’s that violent laying on of hands) your uncharted territory in order that He might create a path for you to walk on.  So, you don’t know what to do in a particular situation?  That’s okay!  God promises that He will force a path into existence for you to walk upon in your unfamiliar land.  And then we can beg with the Psalmist, “Enlarge my path beneath me, so my feet do not slip.” (Psalm 18:36)

Now for the second half of that verse…the word “river” can refer to a normal, everyday river, but it can also mean “an underground stream.”  “Desert”…well that means what you think, “waste, wilderness, desolate place.”  But put those two ideas together: God is saying that in the place where it seems the LEAST likely that anything promising will come to you, that is where He’s going to create this underground, or sometimes hidden, trickle of His handiwork.  He WILL allow good to come from what seems like an impossible or tiring situation.  After all, He is the Giver of all good gifts, as James says.

So, the question: is there some desert that you’ve been asked to dwell in right now?  Or, perhaps it’s not so much a desert, it’s just an area in your life that you haven’t had much practice with, and yet the Lord is pulling you out of your comfort zone.  Are you willing to accept His PROMISE that He will INDEED create a path for you to walk on?  It’s a two-fold thing: faith and obedience.  You have to believe He’s going to do it and help you through it.  AND, when you know He’s asking you to do something…you have to OBEY.  It’s not always easy; I’d tell you I’m in that uncharted territory group right now, BUT obedience is rewarded.

What will your choice be?  Just wander through that uncharted territory as if He has offered you no help?  OR, will you believe what He has promised, accept His offer of help AND obey – do – WHATEVER He is asking from you…no matter how far out of your comfort zone it may be…”Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.

And just because I can’t completely neglect the verse I originally intended to discuss…check this out: Daniel 9 is nothing but a recording of Daniel’s pleas for God’s help.  Life had gotten insanely crazy and desert-dry, so he cried out to the LORD on behalf of his people.  The most amazing part to me is found in verse 23: “At the BEGINNING of your pleas for mercy, a word went out…for you are greatly loved.”  Words from Gabriel.  Check it out with the original Hebrew meanings: “At the opening up of your earnest request, a promise, provision, word, advice, action…shot forth.”

So when you feel like you’re livin’ in the desert, why not try livin’ on a prayer.  Though you may not see the answer immediately, you can know it’s been sent out.  The LORD has already made a way; He’s just waiting for the right time to open your eyes so you can see it.  (And just remember, it is often grace that God does not allow our eyes to see all that He is doing immediately.  Be grateful when He hides things FOR us (not FROM us) in order to prepare us first from what is to come.

2000 Degrees – Still Not Hot Enough!

Refining GoldOne of my favorite pictures in Scripture has always been that of refining metals.  Often it is said that we are “thrown into the fire” in order to come out purified.  As life has played out, as much as I love the picture, I don’t so much love the process.  Did you know that in order to melt pure gold, the temperature has to get up to almost 2000 degrees Fahrenheit?  No wonder the process can be so painful!  However, lukewarm, dull, half and half “Christians” will never do in our Savior’s eyes.  He’ll do whatever it takes to heat us back up, melt us down, scrape off the impurities, reshape us, and shine us up so that we can be the purest followers He has – ones in which He sees Himself so clearly.  Matthew Henry says it quite beautifully:

When God brings his own people into the furnace,

He sits by them as the refiner by his gold,

to see that they are not continued there any longer than if fitting and needful.

Don’t you love that?  Our Refiner will never leave us in the refining process too long.  That reminder brings me great comfort.

But I have to let my mind wander a bit: what causes us to need refining?  I mean, I know sin, but specifically, what in my life begins to add impurities that need to be removed?  In other words, what’s at the root of this need?

I’ve been reading in Ezekiel lately.  He is among the prophets who prophesied of Jerusalem’s punishment and destruction during the time of Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah’s reigns…not a good time in history!  The Israelites really struggled to want to be like everyone else around them.  It got them into a lot of trouble!  Rather than remaining separated from Egypt and Babylon, they ran to them and began to copy their ways.  They committed murder, idolatry, adultery.  They ignored and mistreated orphans, widows, and sojourners.  They were disobedient to their parents.  All no-no’s in God’s eyes.  The biggest issue that I see, however, is what is mentioned in Ezekiel 22:12: “You have forgotten Me.”   Talk about needing some time in the furnace with the Refiner!

What’s more hard-hitting to me is that I believe that’s true of me, too (and probably you if you’re honest).  In the areas where we’ve 1) tried to blend in with the world, and 2) forgotten God – or even purposely left Him out – we allow impurities to come pouring in like rain comes through a hole in the roof.  Enter the Refiner’s fire.

I discovered something interesting not long ago about the Hebrew word for rebellion.  Its root word is marah, which means “to be (or make) bitter.” (Strong’s)  Whoa.  We begin to leave God out of areas of our lives and attempt to rebel by blending in rather than standing out because of a root of bitterness.  And, in turn, guess what happens?  We become more bitter and therefore more rebellious.  Bad, bad cycle!  Don’t know if it’s true?  Watch.

~ “The world has more “fun” than me.”  Bitter?  Yep – bitter that we don’t have what everyone else has.  Though we fail to see that we have so. much. more.

~ “I have the “right” to say what I want without being judged.”  Bitter?  Definitely – bitter that we have to give up the “right” to control.  Though we fail to admit that God’s ways are best, and He always has plans to prosper, not harm us.

~ “The TV show isn’t that bad.  I mean it’s our culture now.”  Bitter?  Sadly – bitter that we’re called to a higher standard so that we look different than the world we are here to minister to.  Though again we fail to admit that loving God with all our minds means a lot more than a checklist kind of faith where we read our Bibles and attend church.  It means our minds need to be completely transformed to focus on things He wants us to focus on (see Romans 12:2), which can’t happen if we’re filling our minds with all the wrong things.

Bitterness is so nasty and so dangerous.  Hebrews 12 warns us that roots of bitterness spread and quickly effect those around us.  Not okay.  We need refining!

So – I’ve made my list (a little longer than I’d like it to be) of areas I need to be refined in…how about you?  If you’re honest, where do you detect bitterness and rebellion?  Where have you forgotten God?

We certainly can’t bloom in grace until we’ve uprooted bitterness.  Let’s allow the Master Gardner to help us!