No Way Out!!

Several months ago, my landlord suggested putting up a privacy fence to create a place for the girls to play and for me to relax. I agreed to buy the fence, and he agreed to put in a concrete patio inside the fence. Through a series of mishaps that began back in April, the fence finally went up last week. I loved it! There was only one small problem; they didn’t have a latch but promised they would order one as soon as possible.

I told them not to worry because I didn’t mind having the door open; in fact, it allowed me to have privacy and a beautiful view. The girls and I enjoyed imagining how the space would look when finished and couldn’t wait to see it finished. They were here yesterday when the men came to install the latch and wanted to go out and watch them. It was miserably hot and humid, so I convinced them to play inside so we wouldn’t get in the workers’s way.

I should’ve followed the girls’ lead because an hour later, as the trucks were leaving, I realized I should have paid more attention while they were working. I assumed the guys would come in and tell me they were finished or have me to sign a release as they had done when they installed the fence, but they simply left. When I got outside, I understood why they had left without letting me know.

They had drilled holes up and down the gate and post as they repositioned the gate to accommodate the single latch they brought with them. It swung out onto the sidewalk and made access very awkward. We had to walk around it to get inside the fence, and that wasn’t what I wanted at all. I loved the way it opened before, but I was determined to be positive. I’m trying to be more flexible and go with the flow, so this was a great opportunity to practice patience. The girls and I went inside the fence and closed the gate behind us. I realized I had made a big mistake when I tried to get out.

I didn’t panic because I rarely see the obvious and figured no one would install a fence with no way out. The girls were sitting in the lounge chair facing away from the gate chatting away happily, so I decided to take my time and think through the situation. It took two minutes for irritation to give patience an easy path out of that fence. The girls and I were stuck inside inside a fence with no way to open the gate from the inside! I wasn’t scared because the porch was nearby, and I knew I could get over the connecting wall if I had to. I was angry at the men for putting a single latch on the outside of a gate, and I was madder at myself for not noticing!

When I realized there was no way out, I let my frustration show. The girls noticed something was going on and asked what was wrong. I told them everything was okay, but I was going to have to climb onto the porch and open the gate from the outside so they could get out. The girls watched as I made my way onto the porch, and they had a lot of questions when I opened the gate for them. They were tickled by my awkwardness, but impressed by my agility. We all laughed and decided to go back inside 🙂

The lessons of late have been difficult ones. God knew I was feeling trapped by more than my new fence and saw a teachable moment. He used the gate to help me learn the importance of making sure there is a way out before I go barreling into something. I will remember that lesson each time I open the gate and go into my beautiful outdoor space. I do believe it will be a beautiful space filled with lots of happy times, just not right now.

Sin is like a malfunctioning gate, but God’s forgiveness offers a way to escape. Yesterday, I walked right through that gate without giving getting out a second thought. I have always had the tendency to do just that in life. God knows my heart better than I do, and He knows I frequently get myself into situations with no way out, but He also knows I know to ask Him for help. He will always let me go where I choose, and He knows that I will get locked in a bad situation if not careful. I can pretend I’m not trapped, get mad and blame others for my misfortune,  or admit I’m wrong and let His forgiveness open the way to His will. Climbing that little barrier humbled and humiliated me, but I am so very thankful it was there. Otherwise, I would have had to break down a door or scream until someone heard me. The path to the porch offered a way out. God’s amazing grace offers the same.

Like the girls watching as I went over the little wall, God is impressed when I am willing to be humbled in order to get where He wants me to be. He also finds the humor, and helps me find the humor, in the learning process. I know from teaching that a little humor goes a long way when it comes to retaining knowledge 😉

A Little Middle School Attitude

 

I taught middle school for thirty-three years and find myself wondering how I might deal with the current adult nonsense if I were back in my classroom.

The personal attacks I see on the news remind me of those I saw during my career. Attacks hurt at any age, but they are especially harmful when we are beginning to define our individuality personalities. They are devastating for those students who become the scapegoats of disgruntled gangs.

Adults are forming nasty gangs these days, and you can believe middle schoolers are paying close attention to what’s going on in this election. Families, communities, and the world are not what they imagined them to be. The small family circle and close-knit community is not as safe as they once thought. It saddens me to see adults behaving like middle school bullies because it frightens fragile folks who are stepping out of their comfort zones and exploring their world on a larger scale. It also encourages those who bully others and find name calling to be an effective weapon.

It’s hard for children to go through the transformation they must go through in middle school, but I counted it a beautiful blessing to go through that with my students. I love butterflies and used their metamorphosis to help guide students through a difficult leg of their journeys. I hope I showed them that change is worth the pain. I suppose I would tell my students today that not all adults are ready for transformation.

Yesterday, while talking with two young women who work with children in crisis, I wondered if maybe adults could use a little middle school attitude during this stressful time of change in our country. Young voters love Bernie Sanders for the same reason I love him. He has faith and believes in what he’s doing. He behaves in a way that makes us feel safe, and that’s an important quality in a leader. I know that he won’t be able to do all he wants to do if he makes it to the white house, but he has a dream.

Others have had similar dreams for change, and I loved introducing my students to such dreamers because dreamers make us want to dream. Whether in fiction or in real life, we learn that all change begins with a dream. Change may be painful, but growth doesn’t happen without it. No one understands growing pains better than a middle schooler because their bodies, minds, and emotions are growing in ways that cause them to hurt. That pain causes them to act out or speak out when they probably shouldn’t.

I had a middle school moment myself yesterday when my granddaughters were not being nice to one another. I laid down the law and raised my voice. They were going to be nice to each other in my house!! It was immature, but very effective. I apologized for getting upset with them, and told them I would love them no matter what they did or said. I also told them how much it hurt me for them to hurt each other. There is nothing I love more than watching them love each other, but there is no greater angst than seeing them argue or trade insults.

God understands my hurt because He loves it when His children get along, and it breaks His heart when we hurt each other. He could make us behave if He wanted to, but He knows that kind of obedience is worthless. It might help if we got a little middle school attitude when it comes to fairness and justice and used our adult hearts and heads to help right what is wrong. Maturity has taught me that true change cannot take place in the world until it takes place in me. Gandhi said it well, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  

God is helping me understand this beautiful truth, but it isn’t an easy process. It involves letting go of my desires and trusting God to give me His. I cannot right wrongs or bring needed change until I find peace myself. It’s easy to storm in or demand my way as I did with the girls yesterday, and I know how to get a crowd to go along with me. Some middle schoolers find comfort when they learn they can easily control others, but they soon learn the crowd isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and will turn on you when the next bully comes along. When the tables are turned, they learn a new lesson about how it feels to be a scapegoat.  Hard lessons are necessary for all of us, but that’s what makes them stick with us and, hopefully, change the way we act or think.

Reinhold Neibuhr says it best in his Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Middle schoolers have trouble accepting the things they cannot change, but they try desperately to change the things they can. They may lack the wisdom to know the difference, but so do we. Perhaps, we can recapture a little of that middle school attitude when it comes to changing what we can while remembering the pain of trying to fix what we can’t. Then, perhaps, we will come to that sweet place of peace that comes with the wisdom of knowing the difference. The Holy Spirit comes in very handy in that department.

What’s in a Name?

When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint Christ’s body, she was filled with grief and frustration. She arrived at the tomb at first light, but it was empty. Jesus was gone. The others went home disappointed, but Mary lingered, longing to know what had happened to the body of her beloved Lord.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;  and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). John 20:11-17 NASB

This passage has always tugged at my heart, but it touched me even more deeply this Lenten Season as I witnessed the power of love in a new light. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, but that isn’t surprising. None of us see what is right before our eyes, especially if it is something we are not expecting to see.

Henry Cavil, the actor who plays Superman in the new movie, stood in Times Square under a giant advertisement for Superman vs Batman wearing a tee shirt with the Superman logo on the front. His face was in lights above him, but no one recognized him. He was responding to criticism about Superman’s trademark disguise. Critics pointed out that glasses would never be enough to hide Superman’s identity from those around him. The experiment proved superman didn’t even need glasses; he could easily hide in plain sight because people do not see what they are not expecting to see.

Mary asked the man she thought to be a gardener what he had done with the body. He simply said, “Mary!,” and suddenly her world was changed forever.  One of the most powerful moments in the Bible, for me, is when she utters, “Rabboni.” She wanted to embrace Jesus, but He bid her not to come near because He had not yet ascended to His Father. Like Mary, I am beautifully changed when someone speaks my name in love. Being known heals and makes my heart whole. No one knows that better than God, and Mary learned its power that morning at the empty tomb.

The first time my son uttered the syllables “ma ma,” my heart melted into a puddle. The first time my granddaughters called me “Gigi,” my heart went to a new level of love. The children in my granddaughter’s kindergarten class call me “Gigi” when I visit or volunteer, and that fills my heart with joy. They squeal with delight each time they see me at school or out in the community. They act as though it’s been years since they’ve seen me. That delight is what love is all about, and it never gets old.

God delights when He hears His children say His name with love, but His heart is broken when His name is used to justify violence or spread hatred. His greatest desire is to be with us, and to know that we know how much He loves us. When we say His name and the names of those around us in love, His kingdom comes, and His will is done.

A name spoken in love brings joy into the world, and that is what Easter is all about What’s in a name? Everything!!

Happy Easter 🙂

 

 

 

That Sweet By and By

Happily ever after used to be my battle cry.

I was sure I would see Jesus in that sweet by and by.

I couldn’t seem to find my dreams no matter how I tried,

So I began to drown inside the ocean I had cried.

 

Jesus never seemed to tire as He caught each falling tear.

I know He wished I’d let go of my paralyzing fear.

He made sure that the way to Him was always crystal clear,

But I put up my obstacles and would not let Him steer.

 

He bid me trust and promised that He’d never told a lie,

His precious love so much more than simply pie in the sky.

I loved Him more than anything and said that I would try,

But wondered if I had been wrong when I began to die.

 

I gave up the steering wheel and prepared myself to veer.

I let go of everything but decided to stay near.

His sweet loving word of comfort was all my heart could hear.

He showed me miles of faces, and I saw those I held dear.

 

Some were here and some in heaven, but all were filled with cheer,

When they saw I realized their love would always be near.

That sweet by and by is not in the sky; it’s always here.

The love I sought, already bought, by Someone very dear.

Happy First Anniversary to Me :)

Happy first anniversary of blogging to me! The year has been filled to the brim with lessons that have taken me out of my comfort zone and pushed me beyond what I thought possible. I marvel at how God has taken my desire to share my journey with my sweet grandbabies and turned it into something so much more. In my thirty-three years of teaching, I was constantly telling my students to write about their lives because no one else could write their autobiographies. I journaled my pain, but I never found the courage to write my own story until a dear friend encouraged me to write for Lillyann. Audience makes all the difference when it comes to writing, and I was suddenly motivated to tell the truth with love so she, and now Mylah, could hear Gigi’s heart.

Life and love are about hearing one another’s heart, and that has been the biggest lesson I’ve learned as I’ve brought my story into the open. It’s a lot like taking off my clothes in front of a large group of people, and I almost didn’t do it. I put it off until God made it clear that I needed it even more than my little granddaughters. Telling my story has opened my heart in a way that I could never have imagined a year ago. I thought it would be easy to blog about my life, but that has not been the case at all. For those of you who write and share your stories, you know exactly what I mean. Writing takes a toll on the heart, and I’ve always known that. In my classroom, I had photos of famous authors all around the room. I thought it was important for my students to see the face of the person who wrote the literature we were reading.

One day, a middle school student asked me very seriously if all the authors on the wall had sad life stories. I was cautious how I answered that question because I wanted my students to be encouraged to write, but I also wanted to be honest. I told him that many of the authors did have tragic lives; I saw a teachable moment and knew I needed to be honest. I love middle school students because they are so very real and know the pain that brings into their own lives. I told my students that writing takes a willingness to let others see your pain and feel your hurt, and that takes a toll on the heart and the soul. It isn’t for the weak and takes more courage than anything else in this world. I didn’t tell them that was why I avoided real writing like the plague. I wasn’t ready to reveal that much to them. I wish I could have been a better example in that regard.

They understood as only middle schoolers can, and I’m sure many of them saw my own cowardice. They didn’t call me on it, so that means they either didn’t notice my fear or they understood and respected it. I do remember wishing I was as brave as those faces looking down from the wall that day. I have thought about that question many times and find great irony in the fact that I taught writing yet didn’t write. I see now that my passion came from the fact that I could not do what I so wanted them to be able to do. Like a prisoner pleading for those on the outside to enjoy the open air, I was pleading with them to do what I could not bring myself to do. I was fifty-seven before I found the courage to write as I knew I should and fifty-nine before I found the courage to share my writing with others. I would say late is better than never, but I know timing is much more complicated than that.

I know the importance of readiness when it comes to learning, and the teacher in me knows that my heart wasn’t ready to write or admit that I couldn’t in that classroom long ago. God used my passionate desire to write to encourage my students to write. He really does make all things work together for good. He was writing His story on my heart all along, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. The most difficult critic to get past when writing is self, and I imagine that’s true for all writers. A year ago today, I struggled with sending my first post. I know I read it a hundred times and cried almost as many times before finding the courage to take my clothes off in front of the world and say here I am. I smile when I read that now because my heart has truly come home, and I love myself in a way I never believed possible. I marvel at how God works, and I thank Him and all who have given me the courage to open my heart and be who He created me to be.

Here’s my first post. Lessons in Love

Lessons in Love
Lessons in Love

Bringing My Heart Home

In his commentary on Jeremiah, Walter Brueggemann says, “We become like the god we serve. Pursue a bubble and become a bubble.The object of love determines the quality of love.” My study of Jeremiah over the past two weeks has been a challenge. Jeremiah has a way with words, and his poetry always touches my heart very deeply. However, his message from God is not an easy one to swallow. All prophets must struggle with the temptation to say people want to hear, but there is another word for those who do that. Prophets and harlots have very different agendas. Harlotry is easier in the short term, but prophets who speak the truth with love have a sweet closeness to God that is far better than anything this world has to offer. Jeremiah knew the cost of proclaiming the truth, and God’s messengers know it today.

The past three days have been powerful ones for me as I’ve been given the rare gift of seeing a glimpse of my nineteen-year-old self through the eyes of a dear friend. Forty-two years ago, I went on a camping trip with a very special friend. It was a time of connection that brought us closer to God, and it was wonderful to get to relive that time. He wrote a book based on conversations we had that weekend and shared it with me this week. As we talked about the book today, I was deeply touched the healing our honest communion brought both then and now. Sharing the truth with love changes the one telling the story as well as the one hearing it.

Jeremiah knew the importance of sharing Gods truth with love. He was given a difficult message to pass along. Those words were for the people of Israel thousands of years ago, and they are for me today.

Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:10 NASB

It’s been a month of dying to self and having my very foundation pulled out from under me. The razing prepared my heart for the building and planting God has in mind. God put loving friends right where I needed them, right when I needed them. He always does, but I don’t always notice. I hope to become more aware of all He has at every turn and pray I never lose my sense of awe when it comes to His glory.

I was reminded this week that childlike faith is to be cherished, and I also learned to love who I have been, am, and will continue to be under God’s loving care. I am grateful for those willing to love honestly and share the path in a way that gives me the courage to share my own story. When I find the courage to tell the truth with love, I find God in that telling. It changes me and those with whom I share the path. The lessons this week have been very difficult, but I love the way God brought them home to my heart. In fact, those lessons brought my heart home in a beautiful way. It’s His and always has been, and I know He has wonderful plans in store as He continues to “pluck up, break down, destroy, and overthrow” so He can “build and plant” what He has in mind. 

The sunset this evening was just God showing off, and I absolutely love it when He does that!!

Bringing My Heart Home

Lust, Love, and m&m’s

God broke the sugar coating right off of my heart this week and used a very sweet image to teach an important lesson in love. I have the tendency to allow my heart, as Langston Hughes would say, to “crust over like a syrupy sweet” in order to protect it from the pain that accompanies love. God’s love cracked that colorful coating into a thousand pieces last week in order to show me the deep rich love I was about to miss. Forest Mars and Bruce Murrie found that a candy coating would keep their sweet chocolate from melting in my hand before it melted in my mouth. I learned the same about my heart long ago.

I wasn’t expecting the image God brought early this morning. In fact, I already had my own image and my own beautiful thoughts. I am learning to let go of mine and go with His. Lust is a colorful candy coating that covers love if I let it. I’m afraid I’ve done just that for a very long time. If I settle for lust’s candy coating, I miss the rich love God has in mind for me. I can’t imagine putting m&m’s in a jar and looking at them or licking off the coating and throwing the chocolate away, but I came very close to doing just that last week.

God knows the way I love, and He always knows exactly what my heart needs. I marvel at how He used a little piece of candy to teach a lesson I will not soon forget. Each time I eat one of those sweet little treats, I plan to smile and thank God for the deep rich love that is more than I could ever imagine on my own and far better than the thin colorful coating that covers it.

Love, Lust, and m&m's