Friday, September 22, 2023


 I just listened to a video posted by a young woman. She posted it as an explanation of why she chose to walk away from her faith, saying she wanted people still in the church to be able to understand her choices and what led her to where she is now.

It broke my heart.

She prefaced her video by saying she's a very analytical person, so I guess I'll preface this post with that same caveat (for what it's worth).

First, a summary of what she said: This young woman talked about being a heartfelt follower of Christ, then going to a Christian college where she majored in psychology and, in her words, was taught to think critically for the first time. She said it was the first time she was told to examine her beliefs in light of what others believe, and it left her questioning. She then went on a study abroad trip to Cambodia, where she was faced with the atrocities of genocide and found herself wondering where God was in all of that. She said that it made her question her belief that God has a plan for each individual--if He allowed such horrible things to happen to those people, where was His plan for them? She went on to talk about praying for a specific job, feeling like God had specifically opened the door for her to be in that position, then quitting the first day because it just didn't feel like a good fit. That was at the same time that she chose to end a long relationship with a man she felt was who she was supposed to marry. Then she joined a small group full of people who were also questioning their beliefs, where she asked all the hard questions she didn't feel like she could ask the people at her church. She went on to meet the man she then married, who came from a Catholic background, and realized that her preconceptions of how a Christian was supposed to look and act might not be right. She said that she reconsidered her views on sexuality while dating him. She went on to find a "life coach" who helped her search for answers to all her hard questions, and gave her the label of "deconstruction" to put on what she was going through. She wrapped up her explanation by saying she had found communities online where she was able to talk to like-minded people who are helping her through such a life changing event.

My goodness, I'm not even sure where to start with all the things that jumped out at me in her words! Let me start this by saying that I don't mean this as an attack. Listening to her truly broke my heart for her and for all the other people who have been walking away from Christianity lately. It seems to be a number that is growing all the time, especially in the United States. I want to address her story because I hope we can use it to learn how we need to better serve questioning people, those who are lead into this idea of "deconstruction."

Critical Thinking
First, she said that college was the first time she was ever taught to think critically about what she believed. That is something that every Christian parent needs to address. College is definitely not the time for my kids to start thinking about what they believe and why they believe those things. If that's the case, they aren't going to be prepared for what they face. College is a time (even in a Christian college) that reshapes a lot of young adults. They are out in the world on their own for the first time, and they are trying to figure out who they are as individuals. They are having their beliefs questioned and tested at every turn; if they have never considered the answers before, they aren't going to have a foundation on which to build an answer. What if, right now, someone came up to you and asked you not only what you believe, but why you don't believe the same thing as this other person who says they are a Christian. Could you answer them? Would it shake you? What if the same thing happened for an 18-year-old who was out from under Mom and Dad's protection for the first time?

As a parent, my job is to prepare my kids for the future. A huge part of that is preparing them to be able to think critically and examine the reason behind everything. Part of that is a personality thing--I have a hard time taking easy answers and instead want to delve into why things are the way they are. But the more important part is that I don't want my kids to trust things blindly. Neither does God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:21 we're warned to test everything and then to hold on to what is good. In 1 John 4, we're warned that not everyone who claims to be telling us what God says is truthful, and that, again, we are supposed to test every claim against the truth of God's word, and only hold onto what is true. Parents, make sure your kids know what they believe--and why.

Where is God?
Then there's the matter of seeing evil and wondering where God is in that. I think it's probably the oldest question in human history: if God is good, why does He let bad things happen? Usually, it is a question that is asked out of--or in the midst of--deep pain and heartache. And usually it is met with one of two rote answers: "It's not our place to question God," or "God works in mysterious ways." Let me tell you as somebody who has heard both those answers in the middle of the worst heartache I've experienced--neither of those answers satisfies a hurting heart.

The truth is that this world is a broken place. God does have a perfect plan for each and every individual life--but we have messed that up. We have become broken, hurting people, and the saying that "hurting people hurt people" is very true. A world that has turned away from God is a world in which horrible things will happen, and we honestly can't give a nice, neat answer for all the bad things. And those things that break our hearts? They break God's, too. He doesn't ever promise that bad things won't happen--in fact, it's quite the opposite. In the midst of all the horrible things, though, He promises that He will be with us. He promises to reach down into the mire and muck and grab hold of us. He promises to walk through the fire with us (remember the fiery furnace?).

Trusting Feelings
So much of this young woman's story is tied up in feeling like she knew God's plan for her life, then watching as everything changed. Oh, how I can identify with that! I've been a planner my whole life, and when I've faced big decisions I've tried to make sure those decisions were in line with God's plan for my life. Through the years, though, those plans have been flipped on their head time and time and time again. Even looking back at those blog posts where I talked about how many times I've thought I knew exactly where God wanted me and what He wanted me to do, what stands out is that even today I'm in a completely different place--and life--than I wrote about in any of them. It seems like the only thing that has stayed the same is the fact that my plans haven't worked like I imagined. I've been down so many paths that I was convinced would lead to God's plan, and so many of them have ended up being dead ends.

Here's the thing, though--when I look back at all those ends, I can see how God worked through them to get me to where I am today. Through each plan that didn't work out, God taught me something. Sometimes they were hard lessons, but I can't honestly tell you that I would have learned those lessons in easier ways.

So often, we get it in our heads that we understand God's plan. What in the world makes us think that? We're told in scripture that we can't understand God, yet we keep trying to. More than that, we get a picture in our head of what we feel God's plan is, and we think God should just go along with that picture and confirm our own view. I've been there...more than once. And yet, God is still gracious. Despite me, He has worked through all those plans and has shaped my life anyway. He has used my plans to refine me and shape me into who He wants me to be. That's not to say that I've become that person. I see my failings everyday, and I know He will be working on me until the day I leave this life.

Not every path we start down, no matter how we feel about it at the time, is the path God wants us on. At the same time, sometimes God starts us down a specific path not for the final destination of that path, but because there's something He wants us to learn through the detour. In all of it, though, we have God's promise: He can even work in our dumb decisions to make His plan come to pass.

This one hits hard. As I mentioned, I'm an analytical person, too. I question everything, for better or worse. Sometimes, those questions have extended to matters of faith. I spent my academic years surrounded by some brilliant people in physics, most of whom made me feel like I knew nothing. I've had times when I've wondered if they were right when they said that Christianity was just a religion based on myth and that the stories in the Bible were just that--stories. Other times, I've thought that maybe if there is a Creator, He doesn't really care about the daily lives of the puny beings He created--why would He? Asking those questions isn't wrong, but it seems like we as followers of Christ aren't prepared to help people who are asking them. Instead, we push the questions aside and therefore push the people asking them aside.

 On one hand, I get it. When Job started questioning why all the bad things in his life were happening and he was saying he wanted to be able to stand before God and question Him, God's answer was clear: "Who are you to question Me? Were you there when I spoke the universe into motion? Do you know better than me?" At the same time, though, when Jesus was in the depths of despair on the cross He cried out, "My God, why have You forsaken me?" I don't think God will always answer us. In fact, in my own life I've always had more questions than answers. But I do think that God is big enough to handle my doubts and questions.

In this young lady's life, what would have happened if a Christian mentor had stepped in and walked beside her in her questioning, instead of a "life coach"? What if someone who had asked those questions in the past had come alongside her, maybe had gone with her to that small group full of people who were questioning their faith? What if this mentor had pointed them all to the book, The Case for Christ, or to Voddie Baucham's sermon, or to the writings of C.S. Lewis? What if she had been told that it's okay to ask questions, that it's okay to search for answers, that God's truth is strong enough to stand up to scrutiny?

So often, we as the body of believers try to hide our weaknesses and struggles from each other. We try to show everybody that we are "good Christians." We show up at church services with smiles plastered on our faces no matter what we're going through. We keep the "bad stuff" hidden, as if somehow how we look to others is what matters. We ignore Paul's insight, "Do you think I care about the approval of men or about the approval of God? Do you think I am on a mission to please people? If I am still spinning my wheels trying to please men, then there is no way I can be a servant of the Anointed One, the Liberating King." (Galatians 1:10, The Voice translation).

 What would happen if we shared our weaknesses, our struggles, and our questions? What if we stopped worrying about what other people would think of us, and instead focus on how we could glorify God by sharing our imperfections, and how all those things get swallowed up by a perfect God?

Friday, September 8, 2023

true identity

 To the one searching for identity,

First, can I tell you that my heart breaks for you? There's nothing quite like that lost feeling,
the feeling that you don't truly know who you are supposed to be, that you're somehow "not right" and don't fit. It swallows up every other thought and feeling, makes you feel more alone than you could ever imagine. If you don't fit in your own skin, how can you ever fit with other people? You somehow feel wrong, and that leads to feeling like everything you do is wrong and can never be right.

And then, a group comes along. It seems like they have all the answers--they tell you that you don't feel like you fit because you've been in the wrong body all along. If you were born a female but you don't like "girly" things, it must mean you were supposed to be a boy, right? Or if you were born a male and don't show interest in guns and playing in the mud, you must just really be a girl. Not to mention all the ideas of sexual identity-- the confusion that throws in is almost beyond belief, let alone comprehension.

Can I let you in on a secret?

Your identity doesn't depend on your likes and dislikes. It doesn't depend on how others perceive you. It doesn't even depend on how you feel, as frustrating as that may be. Your identity isn't tied up in your sexuality or your thoughts or even how you view yourself. Your identity is who you were created to be.

And honestly, that's a hard thing for everybody. It may not seem like it. You may look around and think that everyone else knows who they are supposed to be and where they fit in the world, but I promise you that there are more people searching than you would think. There are girls who look in the mirror each morning and hate what they see. There are boys who think they can never be macho enough to be respected. There are men and women who don't feel like they will ever fit the definition of what they are "supposed" to be.

And that's entirely normal.

We live in a broken world with broken people. That can only lead to broken ideas--ideas of what we are supposed to be like, how we are supposed to look, what we are supposed to think. None of those things determine your identity or your worth.

Your identity was set when God knit you together in your mother's womb. You were "fearfully and wonderfully made," as David wrote in Psalm 139, and God calls you His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). Your true identity can be found only in Him, in doing the things He mapped out for you a long time ago. He knows you inside and out because He created you.

That doesn't mean you're perfect; none of us is. But despite your imperfections, God loves you. Through your imperfections, He can and will work to do amazing things you could never imagine...but you have to trust Him first.

You have to trust that God can handle all your broken pieces. You have to be willing to give Him the pain and the heartache and the anger and realize that He can take all the ugly parts. He can deal with the parts of your life that you keep hidden from the rest of the world, the parts that hurt too much to show other people. He asks you to give it all to Him, for no reason other than that He loves you.

He loves you. Despite the brokenness, despite the hurt. He loves you to the very core of who you are, because He's the One who created you. He wants you to run to Him, to hide yourself in Him. He wants you take all your pain. He wants to give you joy in place of tears and beauty instead of ashes. He can take what you think is the wreckage of your life and put everything back together to make something incredible.

But you have to be willing to give up yourself. You have to be willing to stop searching for identity in this broken world and instead find it solely in Him. He loves you despite all your flaws, but He loves you too much to leave you as you are. You have to be willing to give Him all your brokenness and be willing to let Him replace it with wholeness in Him.

Beautiful, broken one--you are so loved by the God who made you. His people may not be good at showing that sometimes, but that's because all of us are broken and in the middle of being made whole, too.

Just like you.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

What teachers wish they could tell you...

School's back. . If you are a parent of a junior high or high school student, here are a few things your kid's teachers wish they could tell you (but can't... or at least won't):

1. If your child receives a zero on an assignment, that's because your child earned a zero on an assignment.

~I know it's hard for us to admit as parents, but our kids aren't all brilliant at absolutely everything. And it surely doesn't come as a surprise to you that kids aren't known for always being responsible and on top of things. Sometimes, a kid will fail an assignment because they just honestly didn't understand the material. Often, a kid will fail simply because they didn't do an assignment... which leads me to

2. Your precious little pumpkin doesn't always tell the truth.

~I know, I know--your child knows better than to lie to you. But I also know something else that parents seem to lose sight of: your child doesn't want to get in trouble with you. I've heard it put this way, "If you agree not to believe everything your child says happens at school, the teacher will promise not to believe everything your child says at home." I've known a lot of teachers in my life. I can confidently say that none of the teachers I've known got into teaching because they hate kids and want to make their lives miserable. I can also confidently say that 99.999% of the time, they don't throw away a kid's assignment out of spite just so they can give them a zero. As a mom of a kid who has earned a few of those zeros, I know that sometimes a backpack becomes a black hole where assignments disappear. So when you ask little Johnny why he has a zero on an assignment, maybe you shouldn't automatically believe him when he says, "I don't know why I don't have a grade! I did the assignment and turned it in--the teacher just hates me and gave me a zero."

3. High school teachers aren't taking care of big kids, they are educating young adults.

~There's a point when kids are supposed to start transitioning from childhood to adulthood. I know it's hard for us to admit that as parents, because we want to protect our kids for as long as possible. And for the most part, that's what elementary school is for. Junior high and high school, on the other hand, has a different purpose. Once our kids reach their teen years, they should be learning to take responsibility for themselves. High school teachers know that, and high school teachers want to help you teach your teenagers responsibility. When they don't overlook tardies, it's because they know future employers won't overlook employees showing up late for work. When they stand by homework late policies, it's because they know adults have to honor deadlines or face major consequences.

4. They care about your kids.

~That teacher who refuses to budge on deadlines? Who holds the students to high standards? They truly care about your kids. In fact, they probably lose sleep over your kids. They worry when your kid stops trying in class. They do everything in their power to encourage and persuade, but they have to stand by convictions. They know that it takes high standards to get high performance; kids are smart and they know what the adults in their lives expect of them. Which leads to the next point...

5. They wish you would expect more from and for your kids.

~Too many parents approach school work with the idea that it's "too hard" for their kids. Never mind the fact that today's academics pale in comparison to what was expected of children in the past. If you tell your kids that something is too hard for them, most kids will believe you. Teachers work their butts off to make sure they are creating assignments that will challenge their students, homework and tests that will push kids out of their comfort zones so that they can grow. They know if something is too hard for a student--and they know how to push students just hard enough. Be assured that if a teacher is telling you that your kid is capable of something difficult, they truly believe in your child's ability. But who do you think your kid is more likely to believe, the teacher telling them they can do the hard thing, or you telling them they can't? 

6. They need you to back them up.

~In the past, parents supported teachers. It was rare for a parent to automatically believe a kid who came home complaining about being "mistreated" by a teacher. Parents knew that adults are more trustworthy than teenagers, and more often than not, parents supported teachers. When they heard a teacher say that their kid wasn't doing homework, the parents instated consequences at home in order to reinforce academic expectations. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Instead, when a teacher tells a parent that their child isn't doing homework, the teacher gets accused of not liking the student. When a kid comes home saying the teacher is being mean, a lot of parents automatically go on the attack. They skip over talking to the teacher and jump straight to the principal... or in some cases, even the superintendent. Give the teacher the benefit of the doubt--talk to them. I can just about promise that they will do everything in their power to give your kid a good education.

7. Many of them are burning out.


That chart is from a CNN article that talks about how many teachers have left the profession in the last 20 years. It mentions a recent survey that shows 1 in 3 teachers are considering quitting within the next 2 years. Job openings in public education already outnumber new hires by more than 100,000. Add to that all the threats that real-life teachers can "easily" be replaced by virtual classrooms or online classes. Then throw in the dismal literacy rates and the growing number of kids who reach high school and can't read. Add to that demands to teach to the test and graduate every student. Throw in demands to trade in the "old ways" (that worked) for "new methods" (that almost always prove detrimental to the education of students). Add students with no work ethic, who have been taught that everything should be handed to them on a silver platter and should require little to no effort on their part (pandemic grades sound familiar?). Throw in unrealistic demands of "equity" in education, which actually means equal outcomes despite differences in ability, effort, and merit. Take away their ability to decide what is best to teach the students they spend all their time with. Add in teacher evaluation systems that will soon be added into the equation for pay in Arkansas, yet rely in large part on how much apathetic students participate in a single lesson when they are being observed. The teacher still willing to be in the classroom with your kid? They are doing it solely because they love your kids and feel called to teach.

I'm not in a high school classroom anymore, and honestly it's because of the things I've listed here. I love teaching. I'm good at it. I can explain complicated topics in a way that makes sense, and I love seeing when somebody "gets it." I'm thankful that I'm getting the opportunity to teach again, now in the college setting where most of the issues with public education haven't quite reached. But my family still teaches, and I have 5 kids in the public school system (something we've very seriously considered changing). I know what teacher's deal with on a daily basis, and I know how little respect they get for what they do. I'm also in a position now where I see the effects of low expectations in junior high and high school as more and more students require remediation just to take basic introductory level courses in college. Parents, without your support, the teachers' hands are tied.


 I just listened to a video posted by a young woman. She posted it as an explanation of why she chose to walk away from her faith, saying sh...

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