My Year of Rest – Finding Healing in a Hard Surrender

Loss has piled up on me and the heartbreak has been great. Over the past several years I have been hammered by the reality of this fallen world and the messiness life can bring. Pummeled with trials, we have had little rest in between; few seasons of calm. Desperate to find joy in the sorrow and beauty in the ashes, my husband and kids have been the best life-givers and smile-bringers this world could provide. With them, I have also had my youth group.

For seven years I have served in the best youth program this side of heaven (at least in my humble opinion). The students I first mentored have now graduated high school, bright futures awaiting them on the other side of teenage life. My first year serving, I was scared and timid, doubts running rampant through my head. Would the kids like me? Would I mesh with the team? Would I even enjoy the activities and the retreats away? Would I know what to say and how to lead?

And most of all, would I have impact?

Reflecting back, I am a different person than that younger woman who first raised her hand in service. Pouring into student’s lives has taught me to love deeper, to advocate harder, and to pray more fervently. It has taught me to risk for other people, while opening my eyes to the many ways God uses teenagers to shape culture and further His kingdom. Youth group can have deep, lasting impact, changing lives in the process. My life is no exception to that truth.

Last spring I began to hear God whispering to me. Always desiring to hear God’s voice, I now rejected the message hitting my ears. Frankly, I didn’t like what He had to say. Rest was needed in my life, the kind that isn’t cured by a Saturday morning sleeping in or by a good nap on the couch. I needed deeper, more lasting quiet, space to realign my heart with His and to begin the process of healing from my wounds. As the summer got underway I began hearing the whispers of God more audibly.

He said…

“You aren’t fully surrendering.”

“You have more to lie at my feet.”

“I am waiting to carry your burdens.”

“Why are you being so stubborn?”

“Don’t you trust My plans for you?”

Making excuses, I began to argue away His promptings. God’s whispers slowly morphed into shouts, persistent against my resistance. Most mornings I awoke with heaviness on my heart. I was disobeying His calling on my life. Scared of the unknown and sad to step down from a ministry that I love, I argued with His promptings and ignored His voice. Finally, the reality of my next step became so clear I couldn’t run from Him anymore. The only way forward was through surrender.

In our walk with the Lord there are seasons to sow seeds, water plants, see fruit bloom, and collect the harvest. There are times when we need to raise our hand, take the risk, join the team, and serve God and His people with wild abandon. In these moments we feel alive and useful. Our impact makes our calling feel secure and our life filled with purpose. The community fills a need we all possess – to be needed and accepted, part of something bigger than ourselves.

But in the excitement of doing good work, we can’t ignore the call to rest.

God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2). Jesus reclined at the table and stole away to the hills alone to pray (Matthew 26 & 14). Jesus invited the disciples to come eat and experience rest from the crowds (Mark 6). God commands us to not forsake the Sabbath throughout the Old Testament and New (Exodus 23 & Hebrews 4). The Psalms are filled with David’s cry for peace, rest, and healing (Psalm 4, 23, 55, & 127). Knowing these truths, why do we feel the pressure to stay busy for Him? Why do we feel like we only matter when we are seeing results? Why is our worth so tightly teetered to our producing and striving, when our calendars are full and the accolades abound?

Why do we think He cares more about our service than resting under His care?

This season of rest is going to be hard for me. The loss feels great and the void is palpable. My new-found free time is foreign, and in my weakness, I will question His calling for this year. Yet, I cling to the pillars of faith laid before me in Scripture; those who pulled away from the busyness of this world and found value in resting under the shadow of God’s wing.

After all, being close to His heart is the best place to find healing for my heart and rest for my weary soul. He is my refuge and my strength, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Anyone else feeling weary out there? What does God-ordained rest look like for you?

The Impact of Christian Teachers Who Don’t Talk About Their Faith

Coach P. and Dr. B. Two Names. Two men who taught me. Two teachers who believed the best in me. Both of these educators modeled kindness and what it meant to be a team player. They challenged me, desiring to see my potential met. Even-tempered and filled with love, they rallied students together to reach goals, to impact others, and to leave a legacy of hard work and love wherever we went.

I don’t ever recall hearing them talk about God.

Growing up in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, my upper-middle class high school oftentimes felt like a private school. We had over a dozen National Merit Scholars, a majority of our graduates went on to attend four-year university, and we produced leaders in all areas of sports, music, and extracurricular activities. Our band performed on an episode of Barney my junior year, and Jessica Simpson sang in our choir. I loved this school and my not-so typical years there.

As a teenager, I was already a Christian but didn’t care two hoots about God or my walk with Him. I was saved at age nine, on a hot, summer morning in central Texas. Standing on the wooden deck of my camp cabin, my counselor prayed with me to accept Jesus as my Savior. My sister was abroad with an international peace organization, and my parents were off on a two-week vacation, so I was sent to TBarM Sports Camp. Thrilled to specialize in gymnastics, I was hoping to learn how to land my back handspring on the beam. Swimming, games, campfires, and tower-repelling delighted my adventurous spirit as well. Being nine years old, sleeping away from home for two weeks should have been a terrifying experience, but me and fear weren’t well acquainted yet. Throughout those sticky, summer nights I heard the Bible stories, sang “Lean on Me” a dozen times, and decided that maybe God did love me after all. Minutes after praying with my counselor, I bolted off the deck to jump back into the pool. I was changed but didn’t know it yet.

Thinking back to my high school days, I can’t remember knowing any Christian teachers. Maybe it was because few existed. Perhaps it was because they didn’t talk about it. Quite possibly it was because I didn’t care. Whatever the reason, I didn’t hear people talk about God much. The only reference to Him that I recall is seeing the Young Life posters in the hallway on Monday afternoons.

Today there is a growing pressure on educators to tow the faith line. Praying on the field before games, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or talking about your beliefs during a world religions unit, are frowned upon, if not forbidden. In a tight spot, you know that faith-based conversations and activities need to be student led and run, but you want to share the hope that you have. What can you do?

My encouragement today is this…

Your influence as a Christian teacher doesn’t depend on your ability to openly talk about God.

Matthew 5:16-17 says,

“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lamp-stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Oftentimes, we feel like we have to say a lot. Trying to slip the name of Jesus in somewhere, we hope to spark a conversation. Leaving our Bible on our desk, we pray someone notices and inquires. Growing discouraged, we feel like our spiritual light is being forced under that basket. Our lamp is being snuffed out by rules, boundary lines, and jurisdictions. If we can’t talk about God, how will people know about Him? If we aren’t allowed to share our testimony, then when will students hear about His life-changing ways? If we are suppose to put it on a lamp-stand, what do I do when I can’t speak openly about the thing that matters most to me?

Jesus brings encouragement by saying,

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

If you work in an environment where you can’t openly share your faith, don’t think for one second that you aren’t having influence for the Kingdom of Heaven. Fight the temptation to think your hands are tied and your impact is stifled. God’s love will be seen in the way you invest in those around you. The listening ear you provide during your lunch break. The encouragement you freely give at events and activities. The way you call out other’s strengths and encourage people in their weaknesses. The cheering on of other’s success. The respect you give to authority. The way you are devoted to your family. The grace you show during times of hardship or failure. It is your unspoken testimony. It has impact, and it matters.

Leaving the corridors of high school, I realized that I didn’t just believe in God, but I needed Him. Desiring to live a life that reflected His glory, I wanted to love people well in His name, fully surrendering my life, my passions, my giftings, my future.  The change that began in my heart at nine years old was finally getting a chance to grow. I knew I was different and wanted to change the world because of it too.

As an adult, I have reconnected online to Coach P. and Dr. B. Still men devoted to students, they continue to leave an impact on others wherever they go. What I didn’t recognize at the time, I now know. They were set apart because God’s love poured out of them onto those around them. HE was the one creating the impact that I still get to live out today.

Christian teachers…do not be discouraged. Do not be dismayed. You are doing invaluable work for the Kingdom of God. Your love matters. Your influence is immeasurable. The seeds of hope you are planting today will be harvested in God’s perfect timing and for His eternal purposes.

Keep it up. And thank you.

Why I Teach My Daughter How to Fall

Skiing down the majestic slopes of Mt Hood, my little girl raced ahead of me, weaving in and out of passing skiers. Uncontrolled in her movements, I watched in horror as she entered the tree-lined bank, crashing into a twisted heap of skis, legs, and gear. Rushing to her side, I found equipment littering the landscape and fresh tears falling down her cold, pink cheeks. Sprawled flat on her back, she muttered this one simple question,

“why does it hurt so bad to fall?”

Bending down, I gently picked her up from the ground. Dusting the fresh powder out of her hair, I looked intently into her eyes and replied,

“because I haven’t taught you how to fall properly.”

Falling is inevitable. Not just on the ski slopes but on the treacherous avenues of life too. There will be times we fail. Occasions where we get knocked down. Moments or seasons of discouragement and pain. This fallen, broken world guarantees it. Hardship will come. Suffering is inevitable. Trials will surface.

Affirming this truth, 1 Peter 4:12 says,

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the present trial, as though something strange were happening to you.”

As parents, it is hard to watch our kids hurt. Wanting to avoid it at all cost,  we step across boundary lines and try to make things right. We advocate for better grades. Beg the coach for another tryout. Plead for a re-test in math class. We even help position them to make the right friends.

Likewise, we employ ways to prevent our kids from seeing us struggle. We hide the truth about the job layoff. Skirt around the facts about how bad Grandma’s cancer really is. Wipe the tears away before they get home from school. Maybe we think hardship makes us look weak. Perhaps it undermines our authority. Surely they would see that we don’t have all the answers and aren’t perfect after all.

Teaching our kids how to fall is one of the most difficult, yet loving things we can do as parents. It can help them avoid the scariest consequences and encourage them to cope appropriately. It allows them to see that we aren’t defined by that mistake or dream gone awry. Providing a playing field for God’s power and faithfulness, His grace is on display for them to experience firsthand. After all, His desire is to produce things of lasting value in their lives, like the ability to persevere and run their race with endurance.

Romans 5:3-5 says,

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

James 1:2-4 teaches,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”

Perseverance, character, and hope. Maturity and completeness. I should value those above the safe and easy road, even though it goes against my human nature and motherly instinct. I must teach my children, not how to avoid falling, but how to fall with grace on their side.

As we arrived safely down to the lodge, I led my daughter over to a small hill where we could practice falling. Modeling it for her, she traced my steps and followed my lead. Laying beside one another on the cold snow, I showed her how to pick one ski up at a time, lining them up for an easier ascension. Grabbing hands we safely got back on our feet in unison.  And with a smile on her face, she turned and asked to ride up the mountain once again. Ready for the next adventure, undeterred by the risk of falling once again.

One day she will journey the mountain of life on her own. I won’t be by her side every day to catch her or help pick up the pieces. My prayer is that she will have experienced God’s steadfastness throughout her life, so she can lean on Him to help place her back on solid ground.

And that takes practice, and me willing to show her how.

 

 

 

 

 

The Nuances of Being a Nice Girl

Imagine being an 11-year-old girl walking into her first day of middle school. The unfamiliar sites, sounds, and smells bring anxiety, excitement, and a healthy dose of fear. Will I be able to open my locker? Will I have a friend to sit with at lunch? Will I survive dressing down in PE? Will I be prey to the notorious middle school mean girls?

Being a middle schooler has never been harder than it is today.

During my junior high career, I managed life fairly well. Being both a cheerleader and band member, I straddled a wide divide of friend circles. To most, I was known as being a “nice girl”. Making good grades, kind friends, and staying above the fray. Do I have regret, sure. Do I wish I could redo some conversations, definitely. The most blaring injustice I committed was my keen ability to be silent.

One fateful week in early February, the student council was prowling the halls with Valegrams in hand. Being a gifted, cheesy poem writer, I had been asked to write a poem to be given to a certain boy from a particular girl. After writing this labor of love, I handed the masterpiece over to the proprietor, soon to realize the poem was going to be signed from someone else. A girl who had no idea she was sending this. Someone who often was the center of teasing. A person who needed to be defended.

And I let it slide. Not wanting to ruffle feathers, I stayed silent. Maybe she wouldn’t find out I was the one who penned the poem. Maybe she wouldn’t be upset after all. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t really matter.

As I sat in math class, on Valentine’s Day,  I shifted nervously in my seat watching the Valegrams be passed out. To my horror, the boy receiving the card read it aloud in front of the class, sending the unsuspecting girl into a hysterical fit of sobs. In that moment reality hit like a dagger to my heart….My silence had made me a mean girl.

Our daughters don’t have to be silent. They can adopt the nuance of being nice.

Nuance = a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, sound.

What if our daughters shifted the meanings of their words to bring life? What if their expressions reflected compassion, love, and friendship? What if the sounds coming from their mouth were joyful noises instead of  insecure jealousy? What if they gave voice to the bullied, included the outcast, showed compassion for the lonely? What would it look like if our teenage daughters embraced the nuances of being nice?

Change would begin to happen. The climate of our middle schools would shift. Students would start to believe they are good enough. Valuable. Loved. Cherished. No longer would the middle school years be clouded with a veil of insecurity and sadness. Our hallways would look different because nice is contagious and preciously rare.

In four days my oldest daughter will take her first steps into an unfamiliar middle school hallway. Some moms and daughters have collectively decided that this class of girls will CHOOSE NICE. When others slander, they will speak up. When others insult, they will encourage. When others isolate, they will include. This is a new class of girls who will commit to loving well, despite their own insecurity. Instead of waiting for others to set the tone, they will be the cultural trend setters. Will it be hard, yes. Will they be ostracized for it, maybe. Will it make a different, absolutely.

And we can’t challenge our girls to choose nice, if we don’t choose it first. Will you join us in this pledge to adopt the nuances of being nice? The return is well worth the things we have to lay aside.