Tuesday, August 15, 2017

13 years...


You taught me to be strong
when others see me as weak.
You told me I could do anything
if I set my heart on it.
You showed me how to stand
when those around me crumble.
You encouraged me to follow my dreams
even though it may be hard.
You pushed me to do my best
even if it's not acknowledged.
You led me down the narrow road
though it is never popular.
You listened to me
when no one else would.
You comforted me
when no one else could.
You were my teacher,
my confidant,
my example,
my encourager,
my leader.
Because of you,
I know how to keep going.

For my brother.
Love,
Mandy Jean Kilbourn




Friday, August 4, 2017

amazing love...

"Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking..."
~John 1:1

Jesus was with the Father at the beginning of time. As the Voice translation puts it, "His speech shaped the entire cosmos." (v. 3) He is so powerful that it merely took His breath to give us life.
Yet, He chose to leave the throneroom of Heaven, to step away from His seat at the right hand of God. He chose to put aside His glory and to humble Himself, to take on flesh and live alongside us, because He saw us.

He saw us in all our human imperfection. As David said, "For He knows what we are made of; He knows our frame is frail, and He remembers we came from dust." And I think that just like when He looked out over Jerusalem, Jesus was overwhelmed with love for us. And in His love, He wanted more for us. In John 15:11, Jesus said, "I want you to know the delight I experience, to find ultimate satisfaction..."

I've written before about how amazing it is that the Creator of the Universe cares for us, but I have to admit that I don't think about it very often. I don't let myself focus on the wonder of what it means to be loved so spectacularly and so completely, a love made even more amazing by the fact that it is unearned and undeserved. It is a Love that wrapped His arms around us when we were at our lowest and worst, then whispered in our ears, "Look here, I have made you a part of Me, written you on the palms of My hands." (Isaiah 49:16)

I get so wrapped up in what other people think of who I am and what I do. I stress and strive to please people, to make sure that I don't let anybody down. I worry about what they think of me and how they see me. But God says, "Have you forgotten Me, the One who made you and the whole world, who stretched out the skies and made sure the earth's foundations? Yet you constantly worry about others--" (Isaiah 51: 13) It's definitely easier said than done, but we need to stop focusing on how the world sees us. Besides, if we're truly living as God has commanded us we've already been told that the world will see us as alien.

We need to switch our focus and put it on the Commander of Heavenly Armies, the God who created the universe and yet knows the number of hairs on our heads and who collects every tear we cry. We need to look to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the One who stepped away from the glory of Heaven and traded His throne for a crown of thorns, simply because He wants us to experience the delight of being with the Father. All that matters is how God sees us, and when He looks at us He sees us made pure by the blood of His Son. He sees us carved into the palms of His hands.

There's a song that says, "Amazing love...how can it be that You my King would die for me?"

And our job? We are to share that amazing love with others. We are to point to our brokenness, our human weakness, and tell people, "...and the amazing thing is that God loves me in spite of all of that. I am made whole and loved because of Him. He took all my failures and mistakes and sins and put them on His own back when He chose to walk the painful path of the cross. He took the punishment that should have been mine and He gave me His light instead."

"Arise, shine, for your light has broken through!
The Eternal One's brilliance has dawned upon you.
See truly; look carefully--darkness blankets the earth;
people all over are cloaked in darkness.
But God will rise and shine on you;
the Eternal's bright glory will shine on you, a light for all to see.
Nations north and south, peoples east and west, will be drawn to your light,
will find purpose and direction by your light.
In the radiance of your rising,
you will enlighten the leaders of nations."
~Isaiah 60:1-3


Saturday, July 29, 2017

who do you say I am?

"JESUS: Who do people say the Son of Man is?
DISCIPLES: Some say John the Baptist. And some say Elijah. And some say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.
JESUS: And you? Who do you say I am?
PETER: You are the Anointed One. You are the Son of the Living God."
~Matthew 16:13-16

There are all sorts of ideas about who Jesus is. Some people just call Him a good teacher (see this post for my thoughts on that). Some, including Muslims, say He was a prophet sent by God to show us how to live. In some churches today, He's basically said to be some sort of genie who grants wishes (except they call them "answered prayers"). Even the demons recognized Him as the Son of God.

It doesn't matter who everyone else says that Jesus is. Being able to repeat what others say doesn't mean anything about your relationship with Him, and that's what He wants. What He cares about, what He's asking, is, "What about you? Who do you say that I am?"

I don't know about you, but that's not a question I've given a whole lot of deep thought. Sometimes we have a tendency to just take what other people say and run with it, not really thinking for ourselves. Sadly, that's really common when it comes to religion. What Jesus wants, though, has very little to do with religion. Instead, He wants a true relationship with each one of us. In Philippians 3:10, Paul says, "I want to know Him inside and out." That's what each one of should be saying.

It isn't enough to just acknowledge who others say Jesus is. I can tell all the stories--about Him being found in the temple as a boy, about His temptation in the desert, about His biblical miracles--but what I really need to tell others (and to show others) is who Jesus is to me.


He is my Comforter. He is the One who comes and simply wraps His arms around me while I grieve, the One who wipes away my tears and keeps track of each one.

He is my Teacher. He is the One who lived in such a way that I have an example of how to react in every situation--when I'm tempted, when I'm facing unimaginable hardship, when people are trying to trip me up. That doesn't mean that I always react the way I've been taught...but I'm working on it.

He is my Counselor. He is the One who listens as I pour my heart out; the good, the bad, and the ugly. He listens to my prayers even when my words get all jumbled and confused and don't make any sense. And then He's the One who calmly points out where I'm off track.

He is my Savior. He is the One who looked at all the ways I have and will mess up in my life, who saw that I could never be enough on my own. He saw that I wouldn't be able to cross the chasm separating me from God, so He chose to go to the cross in my place in order to bridge the gap for me.

He is my Strength. When life hits me too hard and knocks me flat on my face, when it leaves me out of breath and too weak to even push myself up to my knees, He is the One who lifts me out of the dirt. He is the One who tells me, "Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Put My yoke upon your shoulders--it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves. Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your easy souls will find rest. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." ~Matthew 11:28-30

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

if I could just...

Just. Such a little word with such a big impact in my life.

If I could just get more done during the day...
If my kids would just do what I ask...
If I could just get my kids at school to understand that math doesn't have to be terrible...

Those are the minor "just" statements, though they aren't really minor things. The bigger ones, the ones that keep my awake at night and keep my mind jumping from one thought to another during the day, cause a lot more anxiety for me.

If I had just been able to make it through my PhD...
If I could just get my writing to take off...
If I could just make a go of this farm...
If I could just be good enough...
If I could just figure out the road I'm on...

This morning, I did day 24 of my 40-day devotional, whispers of rest, by Bonnie Gray. My 40-day journey through this book actually started about 2 months ago, so it should be over by now. Rest has been a bit elusive for me lately, though, so my 40 days have stretched out quite a bit. I don't like when that happens--I'm big on schedules and knowing the timeline for things, and if something is supposed to be 40 days, by golly, that's what it should take. God's timing isn't the same as ours, though, and I'm starting to realize that He is working through the delays.

The last line I wrote this morning as I was reflecting on today's devotional was, "I just need to follow Him, to trust Him."

That just seems like such a simple thing. In truth, I guess it is simple. The issue is, simple isn't always the same as easy. And for me, trusting and following are not easy things. I've always felt like I have to prove myself, to show that I can do things on my own. I work to show that I'm enough, that I can handle any situation life throws my way.

The problem is, I'm not enough. No matter what I do or how hard I try or what I accomplish, I'll never be enough. I can never be good enough to earn God's favor, no matter my standing in this world.

Satan has this tricky way of knowing our weaknesses and using those weaknesses to try to manipulate us. For me, that means an almost constant barrage of reminders of my failures, of all the ways that I need to be just a little bit better. He whispers in my ear, telling me all the ways that I've let people down. He points out my faults and flaws and revels in making me see those things above all else. Sometimes, the whispers get so persistent that they drown out all the other voices. To be honest, sometimes they worm their way into my thoughts deep enough that I start questioning everything I know to be true.

I know God's promises. I know He doesn't abandon His children. I know that He has me in the palm of His hand and there's nothing and no one that can pull me away from Him. Sometimes, though, I get overwhelmed by the thought that I'm not enough, that if I could just be better, I could earn God's love for me. And in those moments, I start feeling like God has disappeared. I feel like I'm miles away from God and His plan for my life, like I'm wandering around lost in the dark.

If I could take a step back and see myself from God's perspective, I can imagine what I would see: a petulant girl with her eyes squeezed shut and her hands over her ears, tripping over tiny obstacles and running into walls that wouldn't be an issue if she would just open her eyes.

"When the earth and everyone living upon it spin into chaos,
I am the One who stabilizes and supports it."
~Psalm 75:3

"...but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One,
Jesus, has in store for me--
and nothing will stand in my way
because He has grabbed me and won't let go."
~Philippians 3:12

God doesn't condemn us, no matter what we deserve. When He looks at me, he doesn't see my failures and flaws. Instead, He sees His child. He sees me as His masterpiece, as the one He created for a specific purpose. When I feel alone, He's right there:
"But look at this: You are still holding my right hand;
You have been all along."
~Psalm 73:23

"In the roar of Your waterfalls,
ancient depths surge, calling out to the deep.
All Your waves break over me; am I drowning?
Yet in the light of day, the Eternal shows me His love.
When night settles and all is dark,
He keeps me company--
His soothing song, a prayerful melody to the True God of my life."
~Psalm 43:7 & 8

"There is a sure way for us to know that we belong to the truth.
Even though our inner thoughts may condemn us
with storms of guilt and constant reminders of our failures,
 we can know in our hearts that in His presence
God Himself is greater than any accusation.
He knows all things.
My loved ones, if our hearts cannot condemn us, 
then we can stand with confidence before God."
~1 John 3:19-21

I won't ever be enough, no matter what I do. There is no "If I could just..." statement that will ever make me enough. The amazing thing, though, is that God is more than enough. His mercy and grace cover all my flaws and failures, and when I think I'm alone in the darkness He says,
"After all, it is I, the Eternal One your God,
who has hold of your right hand, who whispers in your ear,
'Don't be afraid. I will help you.'"
~Isaiah 41:13

When I think I've been abandoned,
God is close enough to whisper.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

how do we bear fruit?

We talk all the time about bearing fruit. The Fruit of the Spirit is well known (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control), and we spend a lot of time talking about how followers of Christ are to be known by their fruit.

I think, though, that we forget what it takes to bear fruit. In John 15:2, Jesus was talking about His Father and said, "He leaves those bearing fruit and carefully prunes them so they will bear more fruit."

Prune. It's such a small word, but it holds so much significance. At first it might bring to mind a picture of somebody snipping back one or two leaves here and there, maybe taking an ugly leaf or a dead branch. But here's the thing: when you prune something back for producing fruit, you typically take a lot off. Since Jesus used the picture of a vineyard, we might as well look at that, too.

When someone is trying to get a good crop of grapes, they cut back all the pretty stuff. The vines with all the beautiful leaves and tendrils get cut back, leaving nothing but the main branch--typically the ugly stem that comes up from the root.

In our lives, we don't mind when the ugly stuff gets cut out--the stuff we don't like and would prefer to get rid of. I don't mind when God cuts out negativity. I would love for Him to cut out the busy-ness. The problem is, those things are like the ugly leaves. They may make the foliage look prettier when they're cut off, but they don't really help with producing more fruit. Those things are just superficial.

Instead, it's the deep cuts that make a difference. The pruning that matters is the one that hurts--the one that cuts back the parts of your life that you like, the beautiful parts that you don't necessarily want to get rid of. Sometimes, what gets cut back is a dream you're holding on to. Or maybe a relationship gets cut off. I've had some major prunings in my life: plans have been cut off, relationships with great friends have ended, and I've lost people. My most dramatic pruning came after my brother was killed.

I wouldn't have chosen any of those prunings, and to be honest I wouldn't wish most of them on anyone else. It hurts to be pruned, to have big things cut out of your life, especially when those are things that mean a lot to you. Don't get me wrong here; I'm not saying that all the bad things that happen in our lives are things God has caused. Sometimes, branches in the vineyard are broken by storms and it is only then that the Master of the vineyard comes along and cleans up the brokenness.

But here's the thing: Jesus told us, "I am the vine, and you are the branches." (John 15: 5) When we get pruned back, it leaves us with Jesus as all we have to cling to.

It isn't a fun thing, believe me. It is sometimes a heart-wrenching, soul-crushing experience. But in the midst of it, when we're at our lowest, we can call out with the psalmist,

On the day I needed You, I called,
and You responded
and infused my soul with strength.
[...]
Whenever I walk into trouble,
You are there to bring me out. 
You hold out Your hand to protect me
against the wrath of my enemies,
and hold me safely in Your right hand.
The Eternal will finish what He started in me.
Your faithful love, O Eternal One, lasts forever;
do not give up on what Your hands have made.
~Psalm 138:3, 7-8

 There's a promise in there that I tend to forget about: "The Eternal will finish what He started in me." God has started a work in each of our lives, and He won't abandon His work. We just have to remember that sometimes that work includes healing from the prunings so that we can produce fruit.

Monday, May 29, 2017

when I almost forget...

We had a wonderful time Friday, with our family over for bbq chicken and just a general get-together. That's one of the things I've most been looking forward to with our move to this new place. In the past, we've either been too far away or in too small a place to have everybody over, so it's a blessing to be able to invite our family out and actually have room for everybody.

All weekend, though, something was off. I couldn't quite put my finger on it; I was spending time with my family, watching my kids play with baby cousins and baby ducks. We were laughing and chatting and making plans to build a big deck on the front of the house. We have been relaxing in the beauty of the Ozarks--wandering by the creek, looking at the hills, and seeing the lightning bugs.

It wasn't until last night that I realized what it was--I was missing my brother.



It crossed my mind for a fleeting moment Friday, while I was getting food ready for everybody. I was walking through the house when I thought, "I wish you could be here this afternoon, brother." But then I got lost in the day, and didn't think it again.


And sometimes, that's what hurts the most.

Sometimes, I almost forget that my brother isn't in the middle of the laughter.

I almost forget that Memorial Day has a different meaning for my family.

I almost forget how my nieces and kids would have their uncle wrapped around their fingers.

I almost forget my brother.

That may sound dumb to say, but it's the truth that's so hard for me to admit. Sometimes, in the joy and laughter and just everyday life, my brother slips from my mind.

And then, when that realization comes rushing back, it hits so hard that it takes my breath away. It puts a lump in my throat that's hard to push down and threatens to bring tears to my eyes. The thoughts and emotions are so conflicting that it's hard to put them into words (for some reason, it's always hard for me--a word-weaver--to find the right words when it comes to talking about Michael).

So today, since I can't find the words myself, I'll give you Michael's words:


I Stand

I fail in this fight which embroils me;
I lack the strength to press on.
My spirit is crushed,
My mind full of doubts,
My body rebels,
Yet I stand.

Strength, welling not from within me,
Helps to resist this onslaught.
God lifts me up
From ashes and dust.
He is my Strength
So I stand.

Through the hail of fiery arrows,
Satan's temptations raining down,
God is my Armor,
God is my Shield,
God is my Foundation
And I Stand!

I can't win this battle alone,
But God doesn't require that.
He fights my battles;
He defeats my foes;
He asks just one thing,
That I stand!

"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand!" ~Ephesians 6:13


~J. Michael Goins
2 LT, US Army
KIA 15 August 2004
Najaf, Iraq

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

whispers of rest

So, somehow it seems fitting that I got lost in the busy-ness of the day yesterday and missed posting about Bonnie Gray's new book, Whispers of Rest, on launch day. That definitely wasn't my intention; I was going to be on top of things and make sure I did just what needed to be done exactly when I needed to do it.

Because, you see, that's how I want to present myself to the world.

I want everybody to see that I have it all together, that I accomplish what I set out to do. I want to be seen as capable, dependable, and reliable. I want people to see the well-developed persona that I've put together, that one that can handle anything and everything that gets thrown my way.

As much as I want people to see me that way, I also try to show God that same mask.

I posted a while back about Bonnie's first book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace. If you haven't read it, it comes highly recommended. I read it quickly, devouring every page. I wrote in the margins, underlined passages that seemed like they were written specifically to--about--me. I'm pretty sure I finished it a couple days after I got it. My intention was to do the same with this one.

My intentions, though, had to be put on the back burner. As seems so often to be the case, my plans are giving way to what God has in mind for me. Whispers of Rest is a 40-day journey, and it would seem that God's intention is for me to take the time to take this journey.

It's as if He's telling me, "You need to make the time to rest in Me."

So this morning, I took my book and my coffee outside.

I sat in the quiet of the morning at the picnic table my Grandma gave us, and I read through Day 4 of Bonnie's book.


Right now, in the stillness between when school ended for the year and when all the farm work truly gets started, I took a few minutes to breathe.

Really, that's what Bonnie's book does--it encourages you to take the time to pause, breathe, and rest in God, the One who calls us to come to Him just as we are.


That's what I was reminded of this morning as I read Bonnie's words.

God doesn't want me to come to Him masked in my "Sunday best." He wants me to come as me--because He loves me fully. He wants me to bring all of me--the good, the bad, and the ugly--because He knows me. He doesn't want my persona. He doesn't want me to pretend to have it all together; instead, He wants me to bring Him my weariness, my brokenness, my incompleteness.

"Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Put My yoke upon your shoulders--it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves. Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."
~Matthew 11:28 & 29 (The Voice)


Friday, May 5, 2017

when the waters swell...

We just bought a farm (which will lead to a lot of posts in the future, I'm sure...), and there's a little creek that runs through it. Actually, it's a couple of creeks that come together. Normally it's shallow, with water trickling over the rocks and moving gently down the creekbed. At one point, it ducks underground and flows there for a while before it comes back out of the rock right at the gate to our driveway.

Lately, though, our beautiful little corner of the world has been pretty soggy. We got close to a foot of rain in just a few days. Water has been everywhere—the rivers have swollen out of their beds, filling fields and sweeping over bridges. We had water running through our yard, pouring down the hill, and overflowing our ponds. There were waterfalls falling where water hadn't even been flowing, rolling over rocks and around trees.







We cross 5 different low water bridges before we reach our driveway, most of which aren't really bridges at all. Instead, they are simply shallow places where you drive across he stone-slab creekbed. With all the rain lately, though, those bridges haven't been peaceful places. The water has poured through, rising above the banks, pushing logs and brush and debris. It has flipped vehicles, stranded people on high ground, and moved giant rocks. When water starts rolling, it doesn't care where it is “supposed” to stay or what it is “supposed” to do. I've been reminded time and again of the awesome power water has, both in good and bad ways.

Amos 5:24 says, “Here's what I want:Let justice thunder down like a waterfall; let righteousness flow like a mightly river that never runs dry.”

The thunder of a waterfall can drown out everything else around--
What would it be like for the thunder of justice to be so loud that you could hear nothing else?

And when a river is flowing, it covers everything in its path and can't be stopped--
What would it be like to see God's righteousness roll over everything, not stopping for anything in its path?

There's something else that's interesting about water; it doesn't have to be in the form of a flood in order to change things. A small, slow trickle can bore its way through a boulder or cut a new path. Right now, we might not have the thunder of justice or the river of righteousness drowning out all the noise of this world. Each one of us, though, can be the little stream, slowly cutting a path.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

why I'll never be a "distinguished" teacher

Arkansas right now is judging evaluating teachers through a system called "TESS." They say it stands for "Teacher Excellence and Support System," but I'm not so sure I believe them. This system (that's supposed to be there to support teachers) is split into 4 domains:
  • Planning & Preparation
  • Classroom Environment
  • Instruction
  • Professional Responsibilities
D1 & D4 then are split into 6 subcategories, and D2 & D3 each have 5. On each little subcategory, teachers are rated as Unsatisfactory, Basic, Proficient, or Distinguished. So to recap: 22 things to be rated on, with scores from 1-4.

I perused the Arkansas Department of Education website for a few minutes to get some data for this and found a slew of powerpoint presentations. 22 of them, actually, with an average of 30 slides per topic.

All designed to explain to me exactly how to be seen as a "Distinguished" teacher.

All those categories are really good goals. Of course I want to know my content inside & out. I want my classroom to be a safe, comfortable place for my kids. I want to find ways to get math across to every single kid in my room so they all come out of my class with a solid foundation so they can face the problems this world throws at them.

In fact, here are some of my goals as a teacher:
  • Make my kids see that math isn't always terrible.
  • Show them that someone cares.
  • Teach them to stick to it and keep working when problems in life get hard instead of just coming up with excuses to quit.
In TESS, though, here's what I'm judged on: I submit a lesson plan along with answers to about a dozen questions. Then, one person comes into my room for one 45-minute class period. At the end, I answer some more questions about how I think the class went.

I'm with each class of kids for 45-minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 36 weeks. That amounts to 8,100 minutes each school year of time scheduled for each class. 135 hours. So somebody watches me for 45/8100--> 0.6% of the time I have scheduled with my kids. So basically, half a percent of the time I spend with my kids.

Nevertheless, this 45 minutes is used to judge my teaching...and planning...and relationship with my kids...and knowledge of my subject...and my professionalism.

So I've come to a conclusion: I'm never going to be rated as "Distinguished." So here's a list of some of the possible reasons why not.
  1. I have expectations for my kids, and they include way more than scoring proficient on a test.
  2. I don't think you have to be able to use big words to prove that you understand something. In fact, I think the quote attributed to Einstein is fitting: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
  3. Sometimes in class, we talk about things that have nothing to do with math.
  4. I don't feel like I have to write papers about teaching, give lectures about teaching, or write page upon page of lesson plans to prove that I'm a teacher.
  5. I will never be able to get 100% of my kids involved and interested in math 100% of the time. It just won't happen.
  6. Gimmicks just aren't my style. I'm not going to put on a show every day.
  7. Sometimes, I lecture. Once a week at least in each class, actually. It's always going to happen.
  8. My classroom isn't pretty. It has tables, chairs, and a whiteboard. I don't spend time and energy on decorations.
  9. I talk to my kids, but I don't know every detail of their lives.
  10. I quite simply don't have the time. I teach 7 different class periods to kids, I'm a cheer coach, and I'm a wife and mom. There aren't enough hours in the day to do everything that has to be done, let alone all the extra stuff.
  11. I don't think every kid has the ability to "master" every concept from Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II.
  12. Building on the last point, I don't think every kid needs to learn every concept from those courses.
  13. I think that sometimes, failing is the best thing that can happen to a kid. Like Wat Disney said, "Sometimes a kick in the teeth is the best thing for you."
So, I probably won't ever be distinguished. But you know what? That's okay. I can't ever be everything to everyone. So instead, I'll focus on my kids instead of on test scores and ratings. And I think that will work out just fine.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

why write if it's hard?

Life is just plain crazy sometimes (right now, for sure), and I haven't gotten the chance to put more than a couple of sentences together in what seems like ages. Believe me when I say that it's adding to the insanity for me--Nathan has said many times that writing is my therapy, the thing that keeps me sane.

I'm a word person, but I'm not a big talker. That changes if you know me really well (or if it's really late at night...there's something about that time that makes my defenses come down), but for the most part I would rather do my talking on paper. My mind is a chaotic, jumbled place, with totally unrelated thoughts bumping into the thoughts I actually want to have and getting all mixed in together. You see, I think sometimes my mouth moves too fast for my brain and the words come out before I have a chance to really think about them, and then they come out all jumbled. When I write, though, I guess there's more processing time between my head and my hand. Somehow, the words have the chance to get straightened out along the way, and the chaos that is always in my mind doesn't get to interfere quite as much with the words that come out through my hands.

So I write.
not me writing, but those are my notebooks...so it counts.

I don't write because it's easy. In fact, sometimes writing feels like the hardest thing in the world to do. Sometimes I agonize over the right word to say just the right thing, because words have the ability to take on a life of their own when you least expect it. Sometime I go back and rewrite everything I've just done, or rip out pages full of ink from a notebook because I wasn't getting it quite right. Sometimes this writing thing feels like the hardest thing for me to do. But I write.

I write because it changes my outlook when I can see everything down on paper. I can organize my thoughts and figure them out; pin down exactly what it is I'm thinking. I can straighten out my hopes and fears (because sometimes the line between them is incredibly thin). When I write, my mind calms and the chaos is held at bay for a little while.

I write because I can pour myself out on paper--the good, the bad, and the ugly--and lay my soul bare without seeing exactly how people react. You see, I over analyze absolutely everything around me. Every tiny flinch or grimace or twitch seems like a reaction that I need to understand...but the problem is, I don't. So if my words are on paper--if my heart is laid out on paper--I don't have to try to decipher the reactions. Though sometimes, not knowing the reaction is almost as bad as trying to read every tiny facial expression when I'm talking to someone.

I write because life just makes more sense to me that way. The words and the sentence structure go together to give my thoughts a rhythm, and that rhythm has beauty and substance. Sometimes it's harmonious and sometimes it's discordant, but at least that way I can tell if it fits. That way, I can tell if I fit.

I write because when I write, nothing else really seems to matter. For that short time, I don't feel like there are a hundred different things that I need to get done or a hundred different directions that I'm being pulled. While I write, I get lost in an entirely different world.

I write novels because I believed C.S. Lewis when he said, "Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." I don't think fiction is an escape so much as it's a deeper look at reality. In stories we can see ourselves for who we are and who we want to be, all at the same time. We are reminded of what truly matters in life, but it's done in a way that lets us think we've come to those realizations on our own instead of being preached at.

I write because I am part of every story, every character, every quest. I'm the hero and the villain, the damsel and the knight and the dragon. I'm the one standing to do battle and the one cowering in the dark to hide from the monsters.

I write because it is who I am. Whether my writing is read by millions or by no one, I write because writing in woven into the core of my being, the gift I've been given by the One who made me. How can I not?

Monday, February 20, 2017

can followers of Christ be depressed?

"Fragmented, my self knows no peace.
I cannot remember what it's like to be happy.
'Failed,' I say to myself.
'My hope fails in the face of what the Eternal One has done.'
Grievous thoughts of affliction and wandering plagued my mind--
great bitterness and gall.
Grieving, my soul thinks back;
these thoughts cripple, and I sink down.
Gaining hope, I remember and wait for this thought:
How enduring is God's loyal love;
the Eternal has inexhaustible compassion.
Here they are, every morning new!
Your faithfulness, God, is is broad as the day.
Have courage, for the Eternal is all that I will need.
My soul boasts, 'Hope in God; just wait.'
It is good.
The Eternal One is good to those who expect Him,
to those who seek Him wholeheartedly.
It is good to wait quietly for the Eternal to make things right again."
~Lamentations 3:17-26

So often, the Christian life is preached as being one that makes people "healthy, wealthy, and wise." We hear the prosperity gospel being preached from an overwhelming number of pulpits. We're told--sometimes subtly and other times very blatantly--that God's whole goal is to make us happy.

So...how do we come to terms with a book like Lamentations? It's a book of despair and grief which seems to stand in stark opposition to a God of love and grace.

Sadness and depression aren't often talked about in Christian circles, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. The prophet says in verse 17, "Fragmented, my self knows no peace. I cannot remember what it's like to be happy." Faith doesn't promise that life will be without sorrow. In fact, it promises exactly the opposite. Being a follower of Christ doesn't mean that you will be shielded from all the pain of this world. Sometimes, life hurts, and our thoughts and fears and heartbreak grounds us into the dirt.

What makes our despair different, though, is that we aren't left alone in our sorrow. When we're down in the dirt, our spirits crushed and our hearts in pieces, we aren't abandoned. Like Paul said,
"We are cracked and chipped from our afflictions on all sides,
but we are not crushed by them.
We are bewildered at times,
 but we do not give in to despair.
We are persecuted,
but we have not been abandoned.
We have been knocked down,
but we are not destroyed."
~2 Corinthians 4:8&9

Being a follower of Christ doesn't mean that you won't ever get knocked down into the dirt. King David was called a man after God's own heat, but if you flip through the Psalms you'll see where time and again David poured out his pain to God:
"My God, my God, why have You turned Your back on me?
Your ears are deaf to my groans.
O my God, I cry all day and You are silent;
my tears in the night bring no relief."
~Psalm 22:1&2

And like David, may we be able to say,
"Still, You are holy."
(v. 3a)


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

you carried me

No matter which side of the issue you're on, you should read Melissa Ohden's book, You Carried Me. I just finished this book, and it's definitely worth your time. I received the book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review, so the words here are entirely my own opinion.

Melissa Ohden always knew she was adopted, but she found out as a young teen that there was more to her story than she knew--she was the survivor of a botched saline abortion. I can't even begin to imagine what that would be like. Her story starts at a point where a lot of stories have ended, a baby not meant to survive. Where her story goes from there, though, is hard to imagine.

So hard, in fact, that she's been accused of making up her story. Melissa's book--her life, the good and the bad, poured out on paper--is a story of hurt, betrayal, loss, and confusion. At the same time, though, it is a story of of healing, forgiveness, mercy, and grace. The writing isn't necessarily the strongest, which usually is something that really gets to me (typically I can't finish a book if I don't like the writing style), but in this case the story carried the writing when it got a bit weak.

I don't want to give away too much of her story, because it's not mine to tell and has much less impact from me. However, I will tell you that her story made me think about something I haven't considered.

When we talk about abortion, we talk about the victims: the innocent babies who are lost. There are other victims, though, ones we often ignore--the mothers. Sure, recently we've heard lots of women talking about how great it was that they had an abortion and how their lives are so much better, but that's not usually the case. Most of the time, a broken-hearted woman is left alone after the procedure.

Yes, we should stand up for the innocent victims of abortion, but we shouldn't forget that those babies aren't always the only victims.

For more on Melissa, you can visit her website: http://melissaohden.com/

Friday, January 20, 2017

the state of education

Imagine sitting down to do something knowing that you are expected to fail. Not because it's something that you aren't good at, but simply because it has been designed to be too hard for you to pass. Now imagine doing that a second time...and a third...and each time the task is purposefully made harder.

How disheartening would it be to see, over and over and over again, that some nameless and faceless entity (who, by the way, holds enormous sway over your future) sees failing as the best you can do?

And then, after you've struggled through this 3 different times, you have to do it again... "only this time," they tell you, "it's for real." Well, kind of for real...the results don't really count for or against you, but they are supposed to be used to predict your future performance. Oh, and those in charge of you are going to be judged on how well you do, but no pressure or anything...

Oh yeah--and you're a kid.

I'm sure some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. There are probably others, though, who have read this in disbelief. Surely nothing would ever be designed that way for kids. Sadly, our entire educational system is revolving around just such a system: ACT Aspire.

The ACT has been around a long time, and we've spent a lot of time and energy making sure high school kids are prepared for that test. It, in many cases, determines the college someone goes to and how much scholarship money they will get. It makes sense to want kids to do well on something like the ACT. It even makes sense to let them practice.

What doesn't make sense, though, is making teaching revolve around testing.

In most professions, the professionals are given freedom to work. After all, they are doing what they were trained to do. Of course there's management--and there are people who have trained for that, too. In education, though, that doesn't happen.

Teachers are told which "curriculum" to teach and when to teach it. Right now the go-to idea is Common Core (yes, Arkansas has their own standards, but they are just the same standards with a different name). The only true math content expert who worked on the math standards refused to sign off on the finished project, and that says a lot.

As teachers we aren't supposed to veer away from the curriculum, and we are supposed to make sure we cover every standard. But that should be okay, right? After all, Common Core was designed to be "more focused and coherent in order to improve mathematics achievement in this country. To deliver on this promise, the mathematics standards are designed to address the problem of a curriculum that is 'a mile wide and an inch deep.'" (from www.corestandards.org/Math/)

That sounds good...until you look at the standards. Here is a breakdown of just one course:
Algebra I
5 "Conceptual Categories"
10 "Domains" within those
23 "Clusters" within the domains

That in itself doesn't sound too bad--after all, there are 36 weeks in a school year so that gives plenty of time to cover 23 clusters, right?

Wait, though. In those 23 clusters, there are 103 different standards...and that's not counting all the times that there are "notes" for the teacher talking about all the other things that are part of the standard.

At the end of the list of standards, you have a glossary. Yes, some of the terms are relatively basic. I agree that kids in Algebra I should know what a variable is. Others, though, are ones like "Extraneous solutions" (yes, that's in there). They aren't numbered--maybe they thought that would be intimidating--but all together there is a collection of 50 terms.

Remember, Algebra I is typically a class kids take in 8th or 9th grade.

Then we have an Appendix. It lists 25 properties that the kids are supposed to know at the end of Algebra I.

That's for a single math course. Algebra II has its own set, with 15 Domains, 31 Clusters, and a whole slew of standards (I was too disheartened to spend the time counting them).

I could keep going, but I think you probably get the picture.

As a teacher, I'm told that I have to be a professional. In fact, I have to get 60 hours of Professional Development each year. I'm not, however, trusted to make professional decisions about the education of my students. I'm supposed to tailor my instruction to fit each individual student in my class, making sure that I expect just the right amount from each student and that I keep all of them engaged throughout the lesson and that I ensure that they are all emotionally secure in my classroom.

I'm supposed to make sure to acknowledge all of my students' differences without calling attention to the fact that they are different (because, you know, the kids shouldn't actually see that they all have different abilities). I'm supposed to support their weaknesses, but not make any student feel inferior to any other. While I'm pulling all my struggling students up by their bootstraps (because, of course, we can't expect kids to have self-discipline), I'm supposed to push my gifted students to extend their thinking (without making them feel superior to any other).

And then, after teaching every student in the way that best supports each individual, I stick a standardized test in front of them. Not just once, either--we know have 3 "interim" tests that the kids have to take before they take the "real" test at the end of the year.

I have to be honest--I tell my kids to do their best to answer the questions, but not to stress. I tell them that I know the scores won't look good. I tell them that a test designed by a nameless, faceless entity that knows nothing about them can't tell them what they know and don't know. I tell them that they are so much more than a test score...

...but if education keeps going the direction it's headed, pretty soon those test scores will be the sole determinant of my value as a teacher.

Our teachers deserve to be treated like the professionals they are, people who have dedicated themselves to the kids they care for on a daily basis, the kids they lose sleep over at night, the kids who break their hearts sometimes.

More than that, though, our kids deserve more. Our kids don't need a "one size fits all" education. They should be shown their strengths, but they should also be shown their weaknesses. Without that, how can you grow? They should have something to work towards, a future that they shape with hard work and dedication. They should be shown that reward is not without risk and cost, and that your worth is not determined arbitrarily. They need to know that you don't make something of yourself just by showing up.

As much as anything else, they need to be given the chance to develop a love of learning instead of a fear of testing. Right now, the words of Einstein are very true: "It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

where is the Lion?

"How long must I cry, O Eternal One, and get no answer from you?
Even when I yell to You, 'Violence is all around!'
You do nothing to save those in distress.
Why do You force me to see these atrocities?
Why do You make me watch such wickedness?
Disaster and violence, conflict and controversy, are raging all around me.
Your law is powerless to stop this; injustice prevails.
The depraved surround the innocent, and justice is perverted.

ETERNAL ONE: 'Look at the nations and watch what happens!
You will be shocked and amazed. For in your days, I am doing a work,
a work you will never believe even if someone tells you plainly!
Look! I am provoking and raising up the bitter and thieving Babylonian warriors from Chaldea;
they are moving out across the earth
and seizing others' homes and property in their path.'"
~Habakkuk 1:1-6

ISIS is an evil, swarming across the land and destroying everything and everyone in their path. They wipe out women and children with incredible cruelty, all in the name of the "religion of peace." The atrocities those people see on a daily basis are unbelievable--things I am blessed to be able to say I can't even imagine.

It's easy to look at all that this world is facing and wonder why God could let such horrible things happen. Or at least, in the midst of all the horror, why would God let the innocent suffer?
image from CNN.com

There aren't easy answers to those questions, but even in the chaos and despair God is working. Besides the death and destruction that ISIS is leaving behind them, they are also leaving something they never planned: hope.

In their wake, they are leaving thousands upon thousands who are turning away from Islam and instead turning to what they are calling the "religion of freedom." The are turning to the One who promises to hold them while their tears fall, to the One who wraps His arms around them and promises to face all the evils of this world with them, to the One who is doing an awesome work even in the middle of the evil.
for more, click here

God hasn't stopped working. He hasn't turned His back on all those who are powerless to fight back against the "bitter and thieving warriors." He is there with them in their suffering, wiping the tears from their faces.

Sometimes we are like Israel when they were looking for the Messiah. We are looking for the Lion of Judah to come in, roaring, ready to devour our enemies. Like Revelation 5:5 says, "Stop weeping. Look there--the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. He has conquered..."

We want the Conqueror, the King, the Mighty Warrior of Zephaniah 3 who will swoop in and establish His kingdom and let everyone see that He is in control. And like John, we look to see the Lion.

"I looked, and between the throne and the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders stood a Lamb who appeared to have been slaughtered." Revelation 5:6b

We look for the Lion, but we find the Lamb.