Tuesday, December 26, 2023

hope

The presents are all opened. The feasts have all turned into leftovers, reminders of the meals shared with friends and family. The ugly sweaters are once again relegated to the very back of the closet... until next year. Soon, lights and decorations will be taken down and here in Arkansas we'll move into the cold of winter.
 
The anticipation of Christmas is gone, replaced for a moment by the anticipation of the New Year... but everybody knows it isn't the same. That's because everyone knows there's something different about Christmas. The joy and hope you see on faces is different because it stems up from someplace deeper, somewhere at the core of each one of us. It is a hope that comes from that place in the soul of each person, from that deep down hidden place that knows each of us is made to be connected to the Divine.
 
For some, that joy and peace hinted at at Christmas very quickly give way to a quiet desperation, a search for the connection you were meant for. The joy felt at Christmas is a whisper of what should be--a joy that isn't based on anything other than the promise and hope of what is to come. When that hoped-for holiday ends, some people are left feeling only the letdown of hope deferred:
 
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."

(Proverbs 13:12)
 
For others, though, the joy and hope felt at Christmas are small glimpses of the hope we still hold--the promise that the tiny baby who came for the first time roughly 2,000 years ago will one day return, this time as King. The joy we feel at the coming of the One who came to give us the gift of salvation from our sins will pale in comparison with the joy we will feel when He returns to give us the gift of eternal life in the presence of God.
 
"All this will flow from the kind and compassionate mercy of our God.
        A new day is dawning:
        the Sunrise from the heavens will break through in our darkness,
And those who huddle in night,
        those who sit in the shadow of death,
    Will be able to rise and walk in the light,
        guided in the pathway of peace."
(Luke 1:78&79)

"We live with hope in the Eternal. We wait for Him,
    for He is our Divine Help and Impenetrable Shield.
Our hearts erupt with joy in Him

    because we trust His holy name.
O Eternal, drench us with Your endless love,

    even now as we wait for You."
(Psalm 33:20-22)

The joy and anticipation of Christmas might be over, but the promise of the Returning King carries us through the darkness of this world.

Friday, November 17, 2023

fake fruit

Probably close to 20 years ago, my sister and I taught the preschool class for VBS. The theme that year was Creation, so our room was decorated with all sorts of colorful, unique examples of plants and animals. Among those decorations was a basket of wax fruit, made to look remarkably life-like. The first morning, we noticed that one little girl had something red around her mouth that hadn't been there when she was dropped off. The quick investigation revealed one of those wax fruits--a bright red apple--held in her hand, hidden behind her back, with two neat rows of teeth marks in it. We explained that the apple was fake, even if it looked real, and that she couldn't really eat it. We moved the basket from the table to a place that was a bit more out of the way and didn't think anything else about it--until the next morning. Again, we noticed the red around her lips. We asked her if she had taken a bite of the fake apple again. She smiled and nodded and pulled the wax apple out from behind her back. The same thing happened the next morning... and the next... For whatever reason, that fake apple had caught her attention, and every morning she tried to take a bit.

That fake fruit looked beautiful. The apple was deep red with a shine. I had good weight to it--it felt solid. Sitting in a basket, it looked delicious. It promised a satisfying crunch followed by sweet juice that might drip down your chin if you're not careful. It was misleading...and ultimately empty.

How often in my life have I put out fake fruit? I don't mean as a decoration in baskets (I'm not a big decorator, though--I mostly just have books laying out on every surface that isn't covered with the stuff my kids have left out). How often do I replace true fruit:

love
joy
peace
patience
kindness
goodness
faithfulness
gentleness
self-control

with the kind of fake fruit that the world wants:

niceness
political correctness
success
spirituality
pride
self-promotion
grit
accolades
credentials

As a follower of Christ, I'm supposed to be known by my fruit. I'm called to live the kind of life that makes people see that I have something different, something that they want. I'm supposed to stop focusing on all the things this world says are important and instead focus on the things that matter for eternity. How often, though, do I offer this world just more of the same fake fruit they've already got? Instead of showing them fruit that will lead to a life that satisfies, how often do I just set out more of the same stuff that looks good, but doesn't actually offer anything of substance?

Lorigun Artificial Fruits Set for Decoration Fake Fruits Props,10 Kinds of  Fruit (Total 12 Pcs) 

God, forgive me for setting out fake fruit. The fake stuff is definitely enticing, but it has no true substance. Help me to see that the fruit You want to see in my life doesn't have to be perfect. It will have blemishes, but that's okay. The more I love, the more my love will start to look like Yours. The more often I make it a point to focus on being joyful, the more true joy will start to overflow in my heart. The more often I bite my tongue and choose to answer out of a gentle spirit instead of a prideful one, the more gentleness will start to become my true nature. God, please help cultivate real fruit in my life so that I have something of substance to offer the world around me. People don't need more of the fake stuff.

Friday, October 27, 2023

"This is not about you"

I was listening to a message given by Nabeel Qureshi, a man who was raised a devout Muslim and later came to know Jesus not as a distant, promised Messiah in Islam but as the personal, crucified, and resurrected Messiah of Christianity. He was talking about the heart-wrenching moment when he told his parents he had converted to Christianity and watched it break their hearts. He spoke of how he fell to his knees after they left, crying out to God, asking why he hadn't just been allowed to die when he first believed because it would have saved him and his parents so much pain.

He said that he then heard a Voice say, "Because this is not about you."

Those words struck me. Not because I have a testimony like Nabeel's... but because I don't.

It's something I've struggled with for a long time, and something a lot of us who were brought up in the church have struggled with. We hear dramatic testimonies--people who were in dark, dangerous places who experience God in a mighty, incredible way and whose lives are miraculously transformed--and feel almost ashamed that our own testimony is so mundane. I'm involved in a wonderful ministry called Higher Ground where I hear those stories over and over, and I'm amazed by them. Men and women who were mired in the muck of addiction, or were locked behind prison bars, or had faced horrific circumstances--then God stepped in. Through their stories, He showed His power. He reached down into the dark places, grabbed hold of them, and transformed the ashes of their lives into unbelievable pictures of His love. When they share the stories of how God transformed their lives, there is no doubt that it could only happen through God.

But that's never been my story.

I was carried to church as a baby, went to Sunday School and VBS and Children's Church and GAs and Acteens and Super Summer Church Camp and choir practice. I asked Jesus to be my Savior and was baptized at 9 years old. My life has been blessed beyond measure. While I've had struggles and setbacks along the way, as everyone has, I know that the life I've lived has been absolutely full of wonderful people, experiences, and things I could never deserve. I haven't faced the kind of darkness that leads to despair, shattered dreams, and broken lives.

Instead, I've lived surrounded by people who have experienced God's calling on their lives. I've watched them follow Him and I've seen the impact they have had on others, the way they have led people to Christ or guided them through dark times and hard decisions. From an early age, I've known that the most important aspect of life isn't being successful, wealthy, or popular. Instead, life is about being in God's will and lining your life up with His plan. It isn't about doing what makes you feel fulfilled; it is about obeying God's call on your life.

In my youth, I thought that would look like me traveling across the world. I chose to study French because it was a language prevalent throughout Africa, and I dreamed of living the life of a missionary, becoming part of a small village somewhere, showing God's love and teaching His word. Even at one point in my adult life, my parents mentioned that they thought they would be visiting me in the mission field some day.

That's not how life has turned out for me, though. It isn't a bad thing--like I said, I've been blessed beyond measure. I love my family and I love the home we are making together (even if the 7 of us feel a bit crammed from time to time). I have a job I'm good at, where I work with people who make it a point to tell me how much they appreciate me. Things aren't perfect, but I know I'm living a good life.

Still, there's been this nagging feeling that I haven't found God's calling on my life.

There have been times when I thought I did, but then for one reason or another the roles I thought I would fill haven't come to be. The paths I thought God was laying out in front of me have come to abrupt stops in some cases, or in others the path has just seemed to disappear into the weeds. I've found myself crying out to God, begging Him to tell me what He wants me to do for Him, what His calling on my life is, only to be met with silence. It has led to painful thoughts creeping into my head, thoughts like, "Maybe God just doesn't want to use me" or "Maybe somehow I've missed His calling." It has led to doubts and tears and questions I can't answer and feelings of inadequacy.

But then I heard Nabeel relay God's message: "This is not about you."

No, I haven't ever heard God speak to me as Nabeel describes. If I'm being honest, more often than not I feel like God is being silent. I don't know His calling on my life. I've begged for Him to use me and gotten no response. But what if my prayers have been out of my own need to feel competent and to somehow try to show that I'm enough instead of out of a desire to see God glorified? What if God is trying to teach me something through His silence? What if He's showing me that this isn't about me? That it doesn't matter what I do for Him, because He's already done everything for me? That He doesn't need my abilities or my competence--His will can be accomplished without them.

My dad's favorite verse is Micah 6:8, but it comes from earlier in the Scriptures:

"And now, Israel, what is the Eternal your God asking of you?
Only that you fear Him, live as He wants you to, and love Him;
serve Him with every part of you, heart and soul;
and obey His commands and rules, which I'm giving you today for your good."
(Deuteronomy 10:12 & 13)

God, please help me to take the focus off of myself and what I can do. Help me instead to focus on You and what You have done, on what You are doing in the world around me--even without my help. Help me to fear You, live as You want me to, love You, serve You with all of me, and obey Your commands. Help me to see that it doesn't matter what I may or may not be called to do for You, because You have called me to You.


Monday, October 9, 2023

tear off the roof


 I've just spent a weekend serving on the Higher Ground Experience, where so many have seen first-hand the power described in this song. If you're facing heartbreaking, mind numbing struggles in your life, know that

"There’s power in the presence
Power in the blood, powеr in the name of Jesus
And Hе has more in the hem of His garment
Than the camp of the enemy

There is a life changing
Grave shaking, dead raising power in the room
Heart-healing, hell-stealing
No ceiling power, so tear off the roof"

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

What is the cost of free?

 There's a small country church in our community that makes it a point to love on people through loving on the school. They show up in support all the time, but one of the main things they do each year (usually more than once) is by taking over the concession stand for a home basketball game night. They run the stand for every game that night, and they don't charge anyone for anything.

When I was teaching, kids would be talking about the "free concessions" all day for those games. They would talk about everything they would get since it was free. I tried to make it a point to remind them that the concessions weren't free--they were just being paid for by somebody else. Because during those games, that church keeps track of everything they give people--and at the end of the night, they pay for everything. Those nights are far from free. If you've ever had dinner at a basketball game, you know how much it costs to even get a simple, basic meal: typically $2 for a drink, $4-5 for the main entree, and another $1-2 for a side/candy, or somewhere around $10 per person if they are just getting one meal. What happens when you tell a whole gym full of people that they can get anything they want from the concession stand for the whole night without paying?

Though it is a gift for everyone at the games that night, for that church there is a high price.

The same can be said for our rights and freedoms in the United States. Millions of us have been given a gift that we think of as free--we stress that we have very specific rights that are granted by our Creator, the rights and freedoms that are outlined in the Constitution. We look at them as guaranteed, but too often we forget that they weren't--and aren't--free. There have been men and women throughout the history of our nation who have paid for those rights and freedoms. They have given their time and service, and a vast number of them have given their lives.

Though it is a gift for the rest of us, for the men and women who serve in the military there is a high price.

Most importantly, though, is the gift of salvation. For us, it is the ultimate free gift:

"4 But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us,
united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—
even though we were buried under mountains of sin—
and saved us by His grace.

He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms
with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King.

He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony
to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness
that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed.

8-9 For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved.
You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort.
It is God’s gift, pure and simple.
You didn’t earn it, not one of us did,
so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing.

10 For we are the product of His hand,
heaven’s poetry etched on lives,
created in the Anointed, Jesus,
to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago."

(Ephesians 2:4-10)

So often, we focus on the fact that our salvation doesn't cost us anything. Oh, we're thankful for it. We point out that we could never get to heaven on our own, and we talk about grace as "undeserved favor" that we can't earn. But how often do we think to stop and think about the cost of our salvation?

We know Yeshua came to earth, but what does that mean? John tells us, "In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made through Him, and apart from Him nothing was made that has come into being." (John 1:1-3, TLV) Think about that for a second--through Christ, all of creation came to be. He was there from the beginning, worshiped and exalted, seated in the throne room of heaven next to the Father. He was surrounded by the heavenly hosts calling Him worthy and holy. And yet, He stepped out of all of that.

He chose to humble Himself, to have His glory and power contained in the weak, fragile vessel of those He created.

He chose to come to earth, to be confined by time, to face all the trials and temptations that we face.

He chose to watch a friend betray Him, then watch almost every other friend walk away.

He chose to let Himself be whipped, beaten, mocked, and spit on.

He chose to let Himself be led to the top of a hill He formed so He could be nailed to a tree He created.

"Who, though existing in the form of God,
did not consider being equal to God a thing to be grasped.
But He emptied Himself—

taking on the form of a slave,
becoming the likeness of men
and being found in appearance as a man.
He humbled Himself—

becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross."
(Philippians 2:6-8)

He chose, while hanging there in agony, enduring the excruciating pain of that death, to ask the Father to forgive the ones who put Him there.

He chose to forgive us, to take the punishment we deserve.

What a high price to pay for us to be free.



 

Friday, September 22, 2023

deconstructing

 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.

Questions
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.

Parents, step up

  Like every generation before us, we bemoan the current state of the younger generation. And like every generation before us, it's our ...

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