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.

Living Word

The WordWe give words life when we utter, whisper, or shout them out. Some say there is no such thing as an original thought, and I understand what they mean. Words and thoughts may be the same, but each of us has our own unique way of expressing words and thoughts. God’s Word is an expression of His love, which comes alive as nothing else can when read with an open heart. John explains beautifully at the beginning of his gospel.

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (NASB John 1:1-5)

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (NASB John 1:14)

God’s Word literally became human, and it comes alive each time I turn to it. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I can hear and experience God’s love. Just as David wondered how God could think about a mere mortal like me, I wonder even more how He could speak to me. Without the Holy Spirit, God’s Word turns into a battleground or a fairy tale. With His help, it becomes a wellspring of living water that connects me to the Source of all love.

There are folks who say the Bible is not a very loving book. That’s true if I pick passages out of context and use them to promote my agenda or prove my point. When I see the Word and Christ as one in the same, I approach it with respect and familiarity. Christ fulfilled the scriptures and gave access to God’s unfailing love. When I absorb that truth, the Word of God becomes more than a battering ram. It becomes part of me as I read it and let it sink deeply into my being.

Christ was the Word before the world came into existence, and He will be the Word long after this world is gone. He was, is, and always will be the Light that dispels darkness. I choose whether to embrace His Light or turn it off. If I open His Word with an open heart, His Holy Spirit will help me find the love that has been, is, and will always be waiting for me.

The Journey’s Ups & Downs

The Top of the World!
The Top of the World!

While having lunch with friends this week, the waitress spilled a large glass of ice water on the floor beside me. It made a loud noise, so she was the center of attention for an awkward moment. I told her it was okay, and she smiled; but I know she wanted to crawl into a corner. That’s what awkward moments do to all of us. I am painfully familiar with awkward moments and have had far more than my share, so I learned at an early age to make the best of them. I quickly made fun of myself before anyone else had the chance or let Pollyanna make lemonade from the lemons life threw at me. 

The water from that overturned glass immediately disappeared into the carpet, and the ice quickly melted away. No harm was done, and life went back to normal. As I looked at the wet carpet, I couldn’t help but wish the same were true in matters of the heart. Once it’s broken or poured out, life can never be the same. That’s a good thing, but it’s a painful mess for a while. Each bump, break, spill, or near miss strengthens my heart and brings me nearer to God. He knows brokenness and emptiness enable my heart to climb or come down from the summits on this journey. It’s human nature to want to quit when my heart is hurting, but I’m learning that giving up doesn’t have to follow giving out. Christ will help when the burden is more than I can bear. 

Pride tells me to quit, but love bids me to reach out for help. It’s good to do what I can on my own, but it’s better to let love lead me to a place of accepting help when I need it. If I don’t, I’ll give up each time I give out. No one would attempt Mount Everest without an experienced sherpa, but many walk through life afraid to ask for help. Walking in God’s kingdom is more challenging and takes far longer than a trip up the mountain, so He gives a beautiful Guide to help us along the way.

Reaching the summit isn’t for the faint of heart because as soon as the view takes my breath away, I’m left with the prospect of going back down. That’s a more daunting and more dangerous journey than the climb upward. God reminded me in His lessons this week that ups and downs are part of the journey, and I must get used to them if I want to live and love as He desires. The beauty of being at the bottom is knowing there is no where to go but up. My favorite Psalm of Ascent is 121. I cannot look to the mountain when I am standing on top of it. I am invincible on the summit, and I forget I need help. That is the most dangerous place for my heart to be. Whether I come down carefully or in one fell swoop like the water in that glass, I am in the perfect position for remembering from whence comes my help.

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.”

God guards my going out and coming in and my going up and coming down. The journey will always have its ups and downs, but I take sweet comfort in knowing that Christ left a great Guide to help in both.

The beauty of the summit.

Looking at the summit. (Beijing 2008 Olympic Games)

Day of Reckoning or Time of Reconciliation?

Reconciliation“I reckon so” is a response used in the mountains indicating whatever asked makes sense based on what is known. Reckon means to calculate or figure, so it’s a fairly literal use of the term. It all adds up, so to speak. I’m not an accountant, but I did work as a bookkeeper for four years. I was uncomfortable balancing books, but I was ecstatic when the monthly reconciliation came out correctly. Seeing that sweet zero balance made me shout “Hallelujah!”

The lessons this week have been difficult ones that left me completely spent in more ways than one. I kept the girls last night, so I was in bed by 8:30. After they drifted off to sleep, I asked God for comfort and direction. God knew my heart was the problem. As soon as I think I’ve found some balance when it comes to my heart, the rug is invariably pulled out from under me. Roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, and yo yo’s are fun, but my heart doesn’t belong on any of them. It’s exciting to be lifted up and down; but when the ride stops, so does the fun. Being drawn near is thrilling, but being pushed away is so terribly chilling. My heart was as tired as it’s ever been this week. God saw my emptiness, but He was waiting for me to ask for help.

I did ask, and God was faithful to answer. I didn’t ask earlier because I feared a day of reckoning was coming. I’ve seen God as a Smiter most of my life, but I’ve learned nothing is farther from the truth. I suppose my upbringing caused me to think of Him in that way, but He made it clear the balancing He had in mind for my heart need not be feared. His sweet Spirit showed me truths that helped bring the zero balance I needed. So many things just weren’t adding up in my heart, but I kept pretending all was well. I knew where the problems were, but I didn’t know how to fix them. I had a flashback to personnel and payroll and had to smile when I thought of Joanna, a CPA, who would always come and patiently help me find my mistakes. The Holy Spirit was very like her as He sat with me last night and this afternoon.

Knowing what needs to be fixed and fixing it are very different things, but I know I’ll find the courage to move forward with God’s help. He knows the pain love can bring when it isn’t returned. He also knows that making someone love me is never the right way. He could make everyone love Him, but He doesn’t dare. He knows that only leaves the heart empty and hurting. Hearts need truth to bring them into balance, and the truth has never been harder to hear than this week. It’s always my choice whether or not to hear the truth. I knew what I was going to hear before I heard it, and that’s what “I reckon so” is all about. It is a way of coming around to what I may not want but know is right based on the obvious.

A dear friend told me as we walked today that my heart was worn out. She said I was emotionally empty, and it was affecting my health. She was genuinely concerned about me. My sister told me the same thing during my visit with her over the weekend. Both touched my heart where it needed to be touched and helped me find the courage to ask God for help. My heart is worn out, and that zero balance is hurting right now. I know God will bring renewal as I close the books on past hurts, stop trying to change what I cannot change, and begin anew. It is what reconciliation is all about.

A day of reckoning is “a time of punishment or retribution: a time when somebody is made to answer for crimes or mistakes.”  Reconciliation is the process of making consistent or compatible.” I like the sound of consistent and compatible but realize I’ve been drowning in punishment and retribution my entire life. I’ve made many mistakes when it comes to my heart, but God knows I’ve punished myself far too much for far too long. I don’t have to answer for any crimes, and I’ve certainly paid for my mistakes and more. 

Pain is part of reconciliation, and no one knows that better than God. His innocent Son died to bring the world’s heart into balance. I pray, with the help of His Holy Spirit, I will make stop making choices that break my heart and start making ones that heal and help. A zero balance is terribly painful when it comes to love, but every ending is a wonderful opportunity to begin again. There are no easy paths when it comes to love, but there are clear choices based upon the truth that make the heart’s journey a joyous one.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 gives me the courage to see that zero balance with an attitude of anticipation rather than fear.

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” 

On Fire or Burned Out?

I like order and always have. When order is taken away, I find myself drowning in the resulting mess. I was going under yesterday, and I wondered if I even wanted to come up for air. Life overwhelms me when I am surrounded by clutter and craziness, and I was as buried in both yesterday. I slept peacefully at my sister’s and felt a beautiful sense of belonging. I love the order of her home, and we speak the same language. That brings a sweet connection that gives meaning to the mess. In Paul’s account of what happened on Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4, order comes to the chaos when the Holy Spirit enables the disciples to be heard by all.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” NASB

The lessons from Pentecost were many last week, but finding meaning in the midst of a maddening mess was the main one. My world has been messy lately, and I was beginning to think I might never find my way out of the muck. Like quicksand, messes, madness, and muck get deeper as I struggle and strive. Stillness is the only way for my heart to hear the peace spoken by the Spirit. He speaks the language of love to my heart, and that makes sense of the mess. Air and wind have figured greatly into the lessons surrounding Pentecost. I’ve been literally swept off my feet by the power of the wind during the past week.

The fire of the Holy Spirit isn’t like any other fire, but all fires require air in order to burn. When the terrible winds knocked out the power last night, I was reminded that the Holy Spirit is sometimes like a rushing wind. It seemed my own power had been knocked out of me, so the power outage served as a vivid reminder of what happens when faced with forces out of my control. Things were flying around outside, so I decided to open the door and retrieve the flying pool toys and bathing suits before they were lost. The door almost knocked me to the floor when I did!

I came in quickly and left the door closed until the storm passed. The pool was covered with sticks, leaves, and other debris. When the wind subsided, I scooped up as much as I could before the mess sank to the bottom. I realized I had allowed a lot of debris to settle in my heart and had to smile as God used the mess left by the wind to drive home His point. It’s best not to let the mess settle and stay because that causes the fire in my heart to burn out. Wind can blow out a fire or kindle it depending upon the circumstances. The fire in my heart was at the point of going out when God sent a mighty rushing wind to revive and remind that His fire isn’t at all like mine. When the Holy Spirit’s fire comes, mine seems insignificant.

As I rushed around getting ready for the coming darkness, I was worried that the girls wouldn’t be able to find their way downstairs in the dark. As I lit my last little candle, the electricity returned. There was a vast difference between my candles and the light that suddenly flooded the house. There is an even greater difference between my efforts to bring order to the mess and God’s ability to clean and clear. Without His Light and Spirit, I stumble around in the darkness. With His love to guide me, I gain access to His power. That is more than enough to keep the fire burning brightly in my heart.

Reality is Real

Photo credit: Lauren Davis
Photo credit: Lauren Davis

When daddy was drinking and in a philosophical mood, he would say, “Reality is real!” My sisters and I would try very hard to hide our grins; but when daddy wasn’t around, we would mimic him by repeating his famous line with serious faces.

As teenagers, my sisters and I didn’t understand what daddy was trying to tell us, but God made it clear that daddy’s wisdom was right on target for my heart. Reality is real, but I have always preferred fantasy to reality. The world of fantasy is a safe one where I can pretend all is as I wish it were. Fantasy is a beautiful hiding place where I can create my own world away from the pain of reality. The problem arrives when reality will no longer be ignored.

Reality sent my heart reeling this week. God gently, but firmly, showed me the futility of fantasy while I was wallowing in self pity on the ground. It takes a while for me to process information, but when I finally do get it, I don’t forget it. God showed me that the place where my heart was hiding was not where He wanted me to be. He has been over and over this same lesson for years, but I keep taking His reality and twisting it into my fantasy.

Whether a decision is made for me or I come to the learning on my own, the results are the same. Transitions and transformations are painful. Leaving the known has never been easy for me, and reality means facing the truth. I’m an eternal optimist and hope to stay one, but sometimes that optimism gets in God’s way. He reminded me this morning that I’m like Charlie Brown trying to kick that illusive football, and that is keeping my heart in limbo.

I never have found the image of Charlie Brown and Lucy on the football field to be a funny one. My heart went out to poor Charlie Brown, and I wished Lucy would stop messing with him. I knew it was never going to happen, but that didn’t stop me from wanting it for him. Perhaps I simply wanted it for me. I am a lot like Charlie Brown when it comes to love. I keep running toward it, but it is always snatched away at the last moment.

Charlie Brown seemed doomed to fail forever when it came to that football, but God showed me there is always hope. Lauren Davis gives Charlie Brown a new ending in her version. I had to laugh when God placed it in my path. The Holy Spirit takes on some unusual forms when helping me find God’s way, so I wasn’t surprised when God used Spiderman, Charlie Brown, and daddy’s words of wisdom to teach an important lesson.

Reality is real, and that’s a good thing. Trying is a good thing, but trying to make things be what I want them to be isn’t. It’s comforting to know that God is always there to catch me when I fall, and His sweet Spirit will teach me a new way to love. Every ending is an opportunity for a new beginning, and that gives me the courage to get up and kick that ball. When I find myself failing over and over, I need to remember that God knows more about love that I ever will and is always right there to help me get where He wants me to be 🙂

 

The Feeling That Follows

At the Last Supper, both Jesus and Judas make up their minds to obey. Jesus decided to obey His Father, and Judas decided to go with his gut. Jesus knew about Judas’ heart, and I know it broke His own to see His disciple and close friend go in a direction He knew would bring separation and intense pain. Jesus would taste such pain on the cross as He bore the sins of the world. Christ’s pain turned to joy as He obeyed His Father. Judas’ momentary victory turned to unimaginable pain as he decided to go his own way. Satan satisfies self beautifully, but the pleasure is temporary. God satisfies the spirit beautifully for an eternity.

Each moment of every day, I make decisions in regard to my heart, soul, mind, body, and spirit. When I decide to follow God, I often find pain; but it gives way to indescribable joy. I get a taste of heaven when that happens and feel very close to God. When I decide to follow self, I find great pleasure; but it gives way to terrible misery. I get a taste of hell when that happens and find myself far away from Him. Decisions are, and always will be, up to me. It is so tempting to go with the immediate pleasure. I’m human and too often make my decisions based upon feeling good.

The beautiful news is that Christ made it clear at the last meal He shared with His disciples that He wasn’t leaving them, or us, alone. In John 14:16-20, He says to them:

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” NASB

He says the very same thing to me today and every day. The problems I have with decisions come from forgetting that I am not alone or on my own. I am one with God and Christ through the Holy Spirit. If I follow God, as did Christ, those decisions are clear. If I follow myself, as did Judas, those decisions are also clear. The difference is in the feeling that follows those decisions. With self, I get a great feeling followed by a terrible let down. With God, I get confusion and pain followed by understanding and joy. Life is all about the ending. Life with God is guaranteed to end well, and that is well worth any temporary pain that may come as a result of obeying Him.

Christ kept His eyes upon what was to come, and I have to do the same if I am to live a life, as a dear friend reminds me, worth living forever!