An Oasis in the Desert

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
 it shall blossom abundantly
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

 Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
 the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;

–Isaiah 35:1-7 emphasis added

Tonight was perfect. The reason? I had the chance to attend an Andrew Peterson concert. AP is my favorite singer/songwriter, and he is also the proprietor of the Rabbit Room, an online community of like-minded people who love art, storytelling, music, and the Lord. The concert was like an oasis in the desert; it was just what I needed when I felt like I was dying of thirst.

Needless to say, my blog has been a pretty dry place lately. I haven’t been posting mostly because I’ve been so busy at work. Here at the end of the year I know I won’t be getting less busy, so I’m sneaking some writing time in tonight.

It’s not just the blog that’s been feeling like a desert. Work is getting more difficult every day. I am fighting battles with my students on just about every level–behavior, learning, everything. I have seen some improvement the last few days with our poetry unit, but with more visitors coming on Monday to observe, grades due in a week, and RtI graphs due on Friday I am feeling overwhelmed and cranky.

Well, I was feeling overwhelmed. Right now I just feel grateful and refreshed for the night of music I’ve enjoyed. I sat there in the sanctuary listening to the songs that have been the soundtrack of my journey for the last few years, and I realized that with every inhale I was drinking in the music like ice cold water. I felt physically calmer and less anxious by the end of the concert. AP played songs that deal with sanctification, the crucifixion, and the resurrection–all timely themes in my relationship with the Lord.

There’s not much to add to this blog post, except to say that I have been blessed by AP’s ministry tonight. I am ready to face the next two weeks before Spring Break.

**P.S., I also got to MEET AP and get his autograph (Cue massive “geek out” session).

The Beauty of Christmas

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This is the season where everything is meaningful. Christmas’ every trapping and trimming seems full of incredible gospel truth. That moon in the sky? Perhaps Mary and Joseph walked under such a moon. The last leaves rattling on the trees? All of nature is trembling in expectation. Gifts? Jesus is the gift. Trees? He was nailed to one. Carols? Angels rejoiced that night in Bethlehem with songs we can only dream of.

There are moments when I feel silly for being so caught up in a season–moments when I catch myself tearing up at commercials or at pictures on Christmas cards. Those are the moments when I start to reprimand myself for being overly emotional or too caught up in the things of this world. But when I scold myself, I hear another, smaller voice reminding me that Jesus loves the little children. He loves the ones who run to him with abandon and rejoice in all the beauty and wonder he has to offer.

Isn’t that truly what Christmas is about? Becoming a child to celebrate a child. If at any point I am to assign deeper meaning to things–isn’t this the season to do it? If I look at the garlands and ribbons and bows and see Christ and his birth and all it means, am I not setting my mind on the things that are eternal? The truth is, when I see my Christmas tree, I am really seeing Christ’s eternally beautiful birth and his eternally significant death. When I hear the carols, I am really hearing God’s everlasting promise to love his people and rescue them. What could be more perfect?

Merry Christmas!

Bug on a Windshield

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I’m not a bug person. In fact, I’m whatever you would call the direct opposite of a bug person. But this little guy was on my windshield as I left work and I couldn’t help but feel for him.

As I sped up on the way home he adjusted his stance and spread his legs so that he could maintain his balance in the wind. I’ve never identified more with a bug. Sometimes I feel like I am holding on for dear life while everything rushes by me at a million miles per hour.

The winds in my life are full of wonderful and frustrating things: work, family, the swiftly approaching holidays, doubts, fears, happiness, students, friends, bills, ambitions, dreams.

I am learning that whenever I feel like a bug in the wind I should ask myself what GOD says about the winds in my life.

He uses the winds to teach us.

Jonah 1:4–But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.

He sends us winds to revive us.

Ezekiel 37:9–Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”

He uses them to show us His power.

Jeremiah 10:13–When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

He sends a wind to save us.

John 3:7-8– 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

These are the things I need to remember when I am feeling overwhelmed.

Loyalty

Percy Jackson and I have the same fatal flaw. 

You mean you haven’t read the Percy Jackson books? Get with the program, people. Percy Jackson happens to be the demigod protagonist of his very own YAL series. And we’re both loyal to a fault.

Besides being worried about myself that I just drew that comparison, I have recently been worried about the path my career should take. I am growing more certain that I want to move back home to be closer to my family. Whether that move will happen sooner or later remains to be seen. The thing that worries me the most about even considering a career change is leaving behind people who have given me an opportunity or taught me a lesson. I don’t want to abandon them or make them think I am ungrateful. I want them to know that I love and appreciate them. I want them to know that I care and I’m not just gallivanting around doing my own thing 24/7.

Basically, I value loyalty. It’s the reason I don’t change hairdressers.

It’s also somewhat of a dying art. You don’t hear about loyalty that much anymore. But this morning as I was discussing some things with a wise friend of mine, she said, “You shouldn’t have any loyalties to anything other than what God wants you to do.” And I have been thinking about that all day long.

As Christians, I believe that all of our earthly loyalties should spring from our one heavenly loyalty. But where do my loyalties really lie? Because the Bible makes it pretty clear–you can either be on the side of the King of Heaven, or you can be allies with the prince of the power of the air. There’s not really an in-between. I have been so focused on my earthly ties that I let my conviction to follow God’s will alone slide. My wise friend was right; I need to align myself with what God has in store for me–whether that is waiting where I am or starting fresh in a new place. He is the one who should show me where to put down roots and where to pack my bags.

Or, as Steven Curtis Chapman so wonderfully puts it:

Like a child holding on to a promise,
I will cling to His word and believe
As I press on to take hold of that
For which Christ Jesus took hold of me

So I will hold on to the hand of my Savior
And I will hold on with all my might.
I will hold loosely to things that are fleeting
And hold on to Jesus, I will hold on to Jesus for life” 

As I was listening to this song on the way home from work today, the last line of the chorus struck me. I’m not only holding on to Jesus for a lifetime, but I am also holding on to him “for dear life,” as it were. He is my lifeline, and he is the only one to whom I should be loyal. From that relationship I will be able to determine which earthly relationships merit my loyalty and my unswerving support. All of my fleeting loyalties–my job, my finances, my fears, those things should be laid at His feet, not kept in my thoughts. 

“There’s No Thief Like Fear”

Pensive, doubting, fearful heart,
Hear what Christ the Savior says
Every word should joy impart,
Change thy mourning into praise.
Yes, he speaks, and speaks to thee,
May he help thee to believe,
Then thou presently wilt see,
Thou hast little cause to grieve.

Fear. It’s relatively easy for someone to tell you not to be afraid of trying new foods. It’s easy for someone to tell you not to be afraid of your pre-algebra test, or not to worry about that thunderstorm rolling in. It’s much more difficult to learn that fear is about so much more than the physical things we face. Fear isn’t about what’s scary or unpleasant on the surface of our lives. Fear is an issue of the heart—of my heart, at least, and probably of yours too, if you’d do a little digging.

We don’t hear a lot about this kind of fear. We don’t hear about the little tiny voices in your heart that tell you not to try something simply because you can’t do it. We don’t view our personality flaws and social anxieties as things that are rooted in ugly fears. We do hear about fear that keeps us from the mission field, or fear that keeps us from evangelizing at the grocery store. We do hear about the fear that keeps us from repenting of our sins. These are huge fears! Important fears! But I am becoming more and more convinced that these are not the deadliest fears. The deadliest fears are the ones you entertain without knowing it; the deadliest fears are the ones the pastors don’t preach about. An unknown enemy is the worst kind.

I am convinced that we don’t hear about the fears that keep us from living our lives as God has created us to live. Because, often, I’ve learned, those fears are the ugliest monsters hiding in the deepest crevices of our hearts. Those are the fears that never announce themselves, but lie in wait to cripple your joy and to steal the great things God is doing in your life. They seem so small that it’s not even worth addressing them, but at the heart of the issue only one thing remains: fear.

Jason Gray has several songs that address this type of fear. He sings, “Fear is easy; love is hard.” And over the last few months I have seen this lyric proven true in my own life. Fear is easy. It’s so easy that we fall victim to it without realizing that we are in its clutches. Why have I never finished any ambitious writing project that I have started? Why haven’t I found a solid group of Christian friends or a church family yet? Why haven’t I been able to be disciplined about exercise and diet?

It’s not an excuse. It’s a fact. I am a fearful person. I am scared of what my family might think or say of me. I am scared of rejection. I am scared of uncomfortable social situations. I am scared of what others think of me. I am scared to try new things in case I don’t like them or they make me feel bad.

All of that is rooted in fear. And all of that is wrong thinking on several levels.

First, my life is not about who I am in my own strength. My identity is rooted (or should be, though it often isn’t) in who Christ says I am. That should eradicate any fears about social situations or others’ opinions. Worrying about what others think is a sure-fire symptom of another ugly sin: pride.

Second, many of those fears are rooted in this unspoken agreement I have with Satan. And before you start thinking I’m insane, hear me out. I have, for my entire life, had this deal with Satan where he’ll say things like, “You can’t do that. You’re not smart enough. Other people will laugh. You should quit now.”

And my response, according to this deal, is “Yeah, you’re probably right. I’ll just go have a snack and not face this issue.”

Y’all. Why? Why do I do that? My God has defeated Satan, and here I sit just accepting the fears he plants in my heart like they’re 100% true. My answer to that old bat should be, “You know what, Satan, I’m probably not strong enough to do this, but I know someone who is.

Nine times out of ten I just go along with him. How about you? Do you just nod your head along with the devil while your heart cries out for life lived more abundantly? Because I do. The dreams and ambitions God has given me can’t be reached if I’m bound up in fear. They can only be reached if I push back with everything in me against the devils in my heart. And you know what? Even all of my might won’t defeat them. So when I feel those fears creeping up in me, I need to cry out to God to speak truth into my heart, to banish the fears that I haven’t even seen yet.

Even as I write this, I feel in me a growing desire to have God banish my fears. At the same time, I also have a growing dread that he will.

Wait, what? Let’s look at that again.

Even as I write this, I feel in me a growing desire to have God banish my fears. At the same time, I also have a growing dread that he will.

I said it earlier. Fear is easy. If I earnestly pray that God will show me what in my life is rooted in fear, then I am accountable for what I do with that knowledge. What happens if I pray that God would give me a chance to rely on him for bravery and strength? That means I have to trust him. That means I have to be brave and strong in his power. What if that’s hard? What if that means hard work? What if that means not being safe and secure in my prison of fear?

Well, that’s where we get to another big issue: obedience.

I’m praying that God will continue to show me the strongholds of fear in my own life. I know they’re there. They’re more subversive and destructive than I ever could have imagined. If I’m being honest, my fears have wreaked havoc on my life for the last few months, and they’re still at it. I don’t have any of this figured out yet, but I know that God is in control. He sees what I am going through, and he is ready and willing to provide me a way of escape. God is more than able to conquer my fear. Oh, Lord, help me believe this!

Jonah Days

I love the old fashioned sayings nestled between the covers of my Anne of Green Gables books. My favorite, though, comes after Anne’s worst teaching day–complete with mice, disrespectful students, and firecrackers in the schoolhouse stove. Anne, overwrought and humiliated, says to Marilla, “Oh, this has been a Jonah day.”

I may not be the Anne-girl, but today was certainly a Jonah day–even down to the mouse. Today was the kind of day when I cried on the way home, walked into the apartment, and sank into a bubble bath. 

But now that I’m on the downhill side of this Jonah Day, I think about the expression and wonder. Jonah wasn’t an innocent bystander in his own tale, you know. He was a man on the run–he didn’t want to go to Ninevah.

Cut to the bit about the whale. 

I don’t know how healthy it is for me to wonder if this day could have been avoided, or to overanalyze the mistakes I certainly made. We could, as teachers, fill pages with “What Ifs.”

What if I hadn’t lost my temper? 

What if my classroom management plan had been different?

What if this isn’t the right job for me?

To be honest, some weeks I feel like I’m living life from the whale’s belly, swallowed up and sinking fast. 

But God didn’t leave Jonah in the ocean, so I choose to end my Jonah day clinging to the belief that he won’t abandon me to the great fish of middle school. 

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”