Teacher, I hope you know your worth

Teacher, my heart is heavy today because as of today, in the past week and a half, in my small community, we have lost three dear friends, sisters, wives, grandmothers, and daughters.

All three of them were teachers.

My heart aches for their family and friends, and also for their students and coworkers.

This brings me to reflect on what is important in our job, and what has no eternal value at all.  Testing weeks are upon us and in full swing, but let us not be lost in dread and hopelessness and unnecessary stress.

Our jobs, after all, are not about testing.

In the midst of testing weeks where “stakes are high” and the rules are endless, I hope you remember your worth.

I hope you remember why you became a teacher.

I hope you remember what joy kids bring you.

I hope you remember the good that happens in your classroom.

I hope you remember the ministry of your work- that it isn’t about the students’ scores.  It isn’t about how well they remember all the testing strategies you have taught them.  It isn’t about their performance or recollection of all of things that you have taught them on a given day.

Teacher, your job is so much more.

You, teacher, are an inspiration.  You change lives.  You teach respect.  You teach honesty.  You teach conflict-resolution.  You teach grace and mercy.  You teach creativity.  You teach thinking outside the box.  You teach friendship.  You teach how to learn from failure.  You teach encouragement.  You teach how to embrace and cherish diversity.  You teach how to work through a challenge.  You teach love.

You are more than your proficiency percentage.

Friends, they have no idea everything that you have taught this year.  They have no idea the individual journeys you have been on with each of your kids.  No one knows those journeys except you.

In fact, the greatest tragedy in our job is to value testing so much that it consumes our minds and motivations to where we cannot see our kids as kids. Kids that play baseball and soccer. Kids that dance and draw. Kids that sing and perform. Kids that have struggles at home.  The second tragedy is like it, to consume your mind and motivations so much with testing that we cannot see teachers as human beings with actual beating hearts, with dreams, and with families.

Teacher, please take time to reflect and remember the journeys of each one of your kids for this year.  Remember their failures.  Remember all of their victories.  Remember their tears.  Remember their laughs.  Remember those high-fives you shared when they “got it.”

This is what makes our job worth it.  This is what we should value.  This is what our jobs are really about.

And friend, not only are you a teacher, but you are also a sibling, parent, daughter/son, grandparent, friend.  And it’s okay to be those things IN FULL.

As your kids are testing and you are walking around for hours for the next few weeks in silence, I hope a smile comes to your face as you think about the times that you have shared with your students this year.

And if you are in a school that shoves testing and scores down your throat, my heart truly aches for you.  Please know you are not alone.  And PLEASE know that the reality of scores and testing being everything is SUCH a lie.  It is not the reality of God’s heart at all.

Our jobs, after all, are not about testing.

I love you all.  Every single one of you.

Father, I wish I could wrap my arms around every single teacher in the state and tell them these truths.  You are our righteousness and our salvation.  Our hope lies in you alone.  You are our Rock and our Strength when we cannot stand at all.  Father, whatever comes in the weeks ahead, please help us to fix our eyes on you.  Help us to remember what is valued in your eyes.  Fill our minds with your truths, Father.  Help us to love our coworkers well, as it can be a stressful time.  Help us to love our kids well.  Help us to be gracious, as you are full of grace.  Father, pour out your Holy Spirit over our hours and days for the rest of the school year.  You are our delight.  Wrap your loving comforting arms around those with broken hearts.  Pour out your peace over their minds.  Hold them near.  We love you.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”      2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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Praying through your Giants

We stand, but barely. We don’t know what to say or what to pray. And honestly, we are tired of fighting.  We don’t want to face it anymore! We just want an easy way out. We want to quit. We don’t want to keep going. We’ve got nothing left to give.

But what if we aren’t supposed to find a way out. What if the best thing for us and for God’s kingdom is to actually persevere and fight that giant that keeps swinging his fists at us.

It’s easy to feel like the victim. It’s easy to feel like you’re trapped. The weight is heavy. And discouragement lingers like the stench of a skunk. Satan wants you to stay in that place.  He wants you to believe that things would be easier if _____.

But do you know what will tick Satan off and make him run away?

Pray God into your giant.

Allow God to speak to your giant and speak to you when you are daily facing your giant.

You are never trapped. Even though the giant rises above your head and you don’t see the way around him. He puffs his chest out with his worldly power and he assumes he has the final word. He thinks he has control.

Like David and his tiny stone, when the power of God is spoken into the gut of your giant, the giant has no more power in your life.

If you are facing a giant that is attacking your mission, your passion, your very heart, do not think for a second that the Lord is done here, or that he cannot move.

No friend. God needs you to believe that he will fight your giants and that he will make a way. He wants you to PRAY about your passions when you seem to have your fire blown out.

Never settle for the emotion you feel when your giants are standing all around.

The victory belongs to the Lord.

The fight IS the Lord’s.

But how do we do this?  When our flesh wants the easy way, and we don’t have the motivation to fight?

I find myself in this place sometimes.  When I have no passion left in my body and my giants have risen high.  God reminds me of his power and that His Spirit lives in me.  That He is higher and much stronger.  And so I pray.  I pray for God to give me passion to live for Him.  I pray for God to give me passion to do my job.  I pray for God to protect me from Satan’s lies and schemes.  I pray for God to rekindle the flame in my heart.  I pray that He would be my motivation to do all the little things throughout the day.  Every time, God wins.  My giants don’t stand a chance.  When I open up my hand, and depend on the Lord to provide for my daily bread, my life is rightly in the hands of the Father where it should be all the while.

In times like these we can truly say that the Lord carries us through.  We look back and remember how we felt standing against our giants.  We are reminded how God provided. The giant’s power will become smaller and smaller.

But wait. That giant will come back and try to taunt you. It will try to take back your thoughts and your passion. It will seek to orchestrate your life and may even smack you on the hand when you don’t comply with its ways.

But you look back and you remember.  No friend, do not forget.  Our God does not leave us to figure out our giants on our own.  No, no.  That is only if we choose it to be that way.  He will always be the provider, sustainer, deliverer, and comforter.  He will bring peace to the chaos.  He will bring light to the darkness.

HE WILL FIGHT YOUR GIANT.

Now, let me tell you this.  If you sit back and assume that God is just going to do this and you don’t actually have to do anything (i.e. sit and eat chocolate on the couch), you are missing the point in how God works against giants.  God will use you against this giant.  It will not be of your own will power or ability, but of his strength.  EVERY single person who God used for big things in the Bible had to show up, and they had to obey what He told them to do and trust that He would provide.  God remained faithful every time.

Don’t just let this giant have you for lunch.  Laugh in his stupid face and tell him who your God is.

Let us open our hands and say, “Lord, I cannot do this on my own.  My strength has run out.  And I confess that I have tried this on my own for too long.  Please provide me with a new zeal for your kingdom, Father.  Help me to focus not on my giant, but on you.  Give me back my passion to _____.  Light a fire in my heart so I can keep going, Father.  Without you I just want to quit.  You are my life and my breath. Change my heart, Father.  Change my attitude.  Help me to bring glory to your name.”

“No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life.  As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.”  Joshua 1:5

King Jesus, shine your light. Speak your truth. Make our giants fall. Help us to CLING to your Word. Help us to stand strong in your mighty power against our giants.  Rejuvenate our hearts and help us in our weakness.  When we are weak, you are strong.

Teacherache

I know you are familiar with headaches and throataches and stomachaches and all kinds of other aches from being around kids–sick and well all day.

But I’m not talking about those kinds of “aches.”

I thought of the word “teacherache” because it’s what I’ve been feeling today: aches from being a teacher.

I guess there could be a long list of teacheraches that we could joke about all day. There’s the bathroom joke, the go-to-bed-early joke, the full moon joke… you get the picture.

Friends, today I do not write about those silly yet totally real aches.

Today I write because my heart is aching from being a teacher.

We can’t talk about the specific stories for confidentiality reasons, but oh how we sometimes want to scream our children’s stories from the rooftops.

We walk by a student in our classroom and our minds wonder how their time away from school is. Did they get to eat? Were they scared? Were they alone? What did they see?

We come to an empty desk, absent for what reason? We may never know the truth.

Another student suffers often, if not daily, from a loss in the family.

Another student has been crying a lot recently and stories just do not match up.

Story after story.

We ache for justice for these children. We ache for truth for them. We ache for them to have dreams. We ache for them to get help. We ache for healing in their families. We ache for their family. We ache to protect them. We ache to provide for them in anyway we can. We ache for them to be heard. We ache for a childhood for them.

We ache, and we pray. Behind every child is a story. And a teacher sees it all in the child. We know where some say their stories might lead, but we pray instead because we have hope for them. We believe in them and their amazing ability to make people laugh or convince someone of anything or draw with amazing attention to detail or know everything there is to know about science. We also believe in the deliverance and grace of God.

We know this is just part of their story. And so we pray them through this part of their story– no matter how much it aches us to care and to love and to pray, though I should pray so, so much more for them.

These are Holy aches. Aches that come from a place of love and mercy. Aches that are small in comparison to the aches God often has for us when we hurt or have chosen to disobey him or run away. Aches that are always ready to receive. Aches that move us to action.

May we listen closely, pray without ceasing, and love them with great mercy and compassion.

But may we never believe that we are alone in our aches for these children.

“Jesus loves the little children” with so much more mercy and grace and knowledge and perfection than I am capable of. So I place my trust in Him.

Father, put your hand of mercy in every broken home this evening and speak peace over those precious children. Calm them with your Spirit. Protect them and deliver them in their current situation. Help us be present for them in the ways they need. Help us to hear what they need us to hear and see what they need us to see. Give us the wisdom to know how to move to action for them. Help us to love them enough and trust you enough to pray. Move us to pray, Father. You are our Rock and our Healer.

Power of Presence

These words have taken a while to form. These emotions have taken a while to sort through. These thoughts are not final because I continue to be changed and continue to take a step further each day.

Sometimes loss hits. It comes without an invitation, without notice, and certainly comes with or without preparation. Sometimes loss seems to never make its exit. You long to send it packing, but it keeps showing up in unwanted places. Sometimes you are fine and before you know it you can’t stop the tears. Sometimes you expect to see their face, and you forget their face isn’t here. You look around the room and feel the empty space they leave. Their face is only in pictures and in your memories. You know that they are no longer susceptible to hurt or pain, but you long to hug them or hear their voice or their laughter one last time.

Sometimes you walk much closer with grief than you ever have before. You see it’s effects and it’s demanding energy. You see broken hearts that are trying to gather themselves, trying to use others’ words and presence to gain some strength.

When you’ve been to that place, I believe you understand humanity a little better. You enter a place that you didn’t ask for, but it’s a place where everyone has to go at some point in their life. And somehow you are thankful.

Suddenly, you understand why people are thankful for texts, hugs, words of encouragement, and especially presence.

Suddenly your soul holds to these precious and tender acts of love and kindness. They help you stand. You are thankful for every hug from a stranger because they loved and knew your loved one. You are reminded of God’s love continually and you will truly not forget the comfort brought through a simple word of concern or the power of presence.

There will continue to be those moments of sadness and of heartbreak, but His mercies are new every morning. He brings healing in ways we cannot understand and longs to hold our broken hearts. He longs for us to meet Him in his presence because he knows it is the place where we will feel heard, healed, and completely known and understood. It is the safest place we can go. Our hurt needs the presence of the Lord. He knows our worries, and our stresses, and our decisions that weigh heavy on our minds. He is our true Healer.

I am brought to these verses:

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple.” Psalm 27:4

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him… The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:8,18

What I’ve learned?

There is great power in presence. You don’t have to say a word. Your presence is medicine for a hurting soul. Your hug is like a bandaid that reminds us of safety and care. Your questions and concern heal and help to process. Your patience and grace is appreciated more than you know.

When you feel you should hug, hug. When you feel you should smile, smile. When you feel you should enter, enter. When you feel you should text, text. When you feel you should go, go. When you feel you should stay, stay. When you say you will pray, pray.

The Father uses us to carry each other in hard times. No matter how awkward you think it might be. Never underestimate the power of your presence and the power of prayer. Your presence can help heal.

But always remember His presence will make us whole.

“A dream is a wish your heart makes”

“A dream is a wish your heart makes when you’re fast asleep.”

Such a magical song, right?  It actually is like a super sad sounding song, but that’s beside my point here.

This song is pretty false if you ask me. I think if this were true, dreams would be much easier to manage. Perhaps if this were true, dreams would be easier to let go of.  Maybe they would be easier to wait for.  Maybe they would be easier to grab onto.

A dream is a goal or a vision or a hope for your future. Dreams are buried deep inside a person, like a secret seed ready to sprout at any moment. Dreams are attached to emotions of all kinds. They stir excitement, fear, love, anxiety, and hope.

Sometimes dreams are suppressed, pushed so far down that they are forgotten. Some dreams are unknown to everyone but the dreamer. Some dreams seem to be bursting out of your eyeballs causing you to lose focus on any task at hand.  Some dreams are unrealized until your heart suddenly aches as you watch them go by or even fall apart.

Sometimes our actions affect our dreams coming true. Sometimes our dreams seem to be flooded out by life’s happenings and stresses and responsibilities. Sometimes consequences of our actions have a way crushing our dreams.  Sometimes it is someone else’s actions.  Sometimes, still, it’s just life.

How can we possibly dream these dreams and continue to live in the present?  Sometimes this feels like a weighty endeavor. Any swing of the pendulum, forgotten or obsessed, is dangerous. There is no doubt that our dreams are important.  They help make us who we are deep down.  They help us get to where we need to go.  They motivate us to action. They reveal our passions and desires.

I am just going to be totally honest. I have no perfect answers for the balance of dreaming, but I have learned some things along the way in my pursuit of my dreams.

All I know is that God created us.  He made us with passions and desires.  He created us with the ability to dream. The time before a dream comes to fruition is not time wasted. In fact it may be the very time God wants to use to help teach you and mold you before your dream can become a reality. It may be that without this time, you might just fall apart in the weight of your dream. We shouldn’t settle during this time in comfort or laziness. We should burn with passion all the more, ready to serve God in the place we are in.

I am certain that Satan wants you to neglect your dreams, especially when you know they are from God. He wants you to continue to make excuses. He wants you to feel paralyzed in your dreams. He wants you to keep suppressing that burning feeling deep within you. He wants your dream to stay in the dark. He wants you to say you will start “that” tomorrow. He wants you to give up, and he also wants you to give in.

I am also certain that Satan wants you to become obsessed with your dream. He wants you to focus only on your dream. He wants you to be defined by your dream. He wants you to exalt yourself and your accomplishments in your dream. He wants your dreams to be shallow and selfish. And he wants you to be totally crippled when something short of your dream plays out.

God can be and should be glorified, whether you are or you aren’t “living out your dream.”

When it comes down to it, life isn’t about your dreams. Life isn’t about you failing at your dreams, being successful in your dreams, or about how another person’s life looks like compared to yours.

Praise God that our worth is not in our dreams being reached!

With the Lord as your strength, you will make it through the day and every day leading to your dream.

With the Lord as your strength, you will have safe arms to fall into when your dream, maybe even every single one of your dreams, falls apart before your very eyes.

With the Lord as your strength, you will realize dreams you didn’t know were buried deep within you.

Though we long for our dreams to come quickly and to come “true”, we cannot let our longing for our dreams take hold of us so that we are no longer controlled by the Spirit of God. No dream is worth forsaking our Father.

No dream has been thought that God doesn’t know. Our focus should not be on our dream alone, but on our Creator who gave us the ability to dream.

May we feel the freedom to dream, but also feel His grace when our dreams seem to be out of reach.

May we seek and feel His healing for broken dreams that haunt our days.

May we seek his wisdom so that we may walk in his light.

May we rejoice in the Lord, no matter the season.

May we pray that our dreams are a reflection of God’s heart.

May you allow light into your dream. Tell God. And tell a friend.

May we take the next step where God desires for us to go.

May we encourage others in their pursuit of their dreams.

May we have the eyes to see when the pursuit of dreams is crushing everyone in its path.

May your hope not lie in your dreams, but in the LORD “for with the LORD is unfailing love, and with him is full redemption.” Psalm 130:7

May you receive his blessings wherever you may be in dreaming. He is the prize, no matter the outcome.

What I Do Know

“I don’t know.”

This statement is perhaps the most humbling statement as a human being, but perhaps the most accurate and the most certain place of a human.

“I don’t know.”

This statement can be a reaction to a circumstance or a situation.  It can be a reaction to a question.  It can be a reaction to a decision.  It can be a resting place, a state of being in times of uncertainty and trial.

“I don’t know.”

This statement should probably be used more than it is.  In this world of immediate answers and google searches and quick turn around, it has become less acceptable.

“Well, why don’t you know?”

Like “not knowing” is unacceptable or less intelligent or makes you “less than.”

I may not know, and I may not understand a lot of things.  I may not be able to tell you why _____ happened.  I may not be able to tell you why that thing failed.  I may not be able to give the answer you want.  I cannot explain your suffering.  I may not be sure about something so instead of agreeing or giving an answer you want, I might just say, “I don’t know.”

We should not be ashamed in our “I don’t know.”

But… what I DO know makes everything I don’t know melt like ice.

What I know is that God is here.  He is present in the “I don’t know.”  He is here in the uncertainty.  And I DO know He is who He says He is.  I DO know that Jesus was a human, born as a babe just like me.  I DO know that he makes people– makes me alive.  I know that He came to this earth to live– fully God and fully man– to die, and to be resurrected to bring humankind near to Himself so that we also might LIVE.  I DO know that his love and his mercies cover my selfishness and pride when I feel ashamed that “I don’t know.”  What I can hold on to, what I can build a foundation on is not what I know about anything except Christ.

“For I resolve to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

I will seek the Lord, and I will seek the Father’s heart in Scripture, but there are many things I don’t know.  The “I don’t know”s keep me searching.  They keep me drawn in to Him.  In all the things I can’t be certain of, He keeps my heart wondering.  There is an endless list of things I will never know.  And I love that.  It actually gives me great comfort through His Spirit.  I know my Father knows, and I know that He has depth of wisdom that I cannot fathom.  That is our Creator!!

There is nothing shameful about not knowing.  It is perhaps the most accurate and certain place a human can be.

It is in that place of “I don’t know”– where things are frustrating and confusing and just plain hard– where Christ is the only hope.  The cross of Christ gives me hope in the mud and mire for as long as I fix my eyes on his truth.  He keeps me taking the next muddy step, no matter how messy or uncertain it might feel.

Whatever your “I don’t know” is today, I pray that you will rest and revel in Jesus Christ the King, our glory.  May we take time to focus less on what we don’t know and more on what we do know.  In Him, we know.  In Him, we live.  In Him, we can find rest for our thirsty and weary souls.

The Table of Mercy

He met me at the table that day, and I knew it.

There are times you realize God’s provision after the fact. Sometimes you reflect on something that happened, and you say to yourself “I wish I realized at the time what God was doing.”

Sometimes, though, God’s provision is so loud and so evident that you are completely aware of his presence and movement.

That’s how it was that day.

It had been a rough few weeks. Work was overwhelming and taking over my entire being. Constantly feeling like I couldn’t catch up even though I was working all the time. I hadn’t been spending time with the Father like I usually would. I was very busy meeting other’s demands and needs.  In addition, there had just been a lot of other things weighing on my mind. I felt heavy. I felt emotional. And I wasn’t happy.  I had nothing left to give.

I knew I was in that place that Sunday morning. I was driving to Bible study, and I remember praying for the Holy Spirit to meet me, to fill me, even though I felt so empty.

I remember answering questions in Bible study, inadequately of course. Feeling like I couldn’t get the words out that I wanted to say. Feeling misunderstood.

Before communion, however, we sang a melody that completely melted away my inadequacies:

“Come to the table of mercy
Prepared with the wine and the bread
All who are hungry and thirsty
Come and your souls will be fed
Come at the Lord’s invitation
Receive from His nail-scarred hand
Eat of the bread of salvation
Drink of the blood of the Lamb”

He invited me to come and to feast and to receive. The words washed over me, cleansing me and reminding me that my Heavenly Father didn’t ask for me to come to the table of mercy all put together. He didn’t ask me to spend and give.

He asks me to come, as I am. He meets me in the middle of my mess, and He longs for me to receive His mercy.

In Matthew 23 Jesus was in a long talk with a crowd about the Pharisees. He warned them about becoming like them. He called them blind, amongst many other names. At the end of that chapter he said that he longed to gather their children together under his wing, but they were not willing.  They didn’t realize the invitation that was before them.  They didn’t realize its worth.  They refused to receive his mercy.

Sometimes, I think I am like the Pharisees. I don’t always want to go to the table with Christ. Sometimes I am not willing.  Sometimes I would rather do things my way. Sometimes I am stuck in my emotions.  Or sometimes I am at my wit’s end and just don’t have the energy or mindfulness to realize that my invitation is always right in front of me.

Oh gracious Lord, help me.

He invites me under his wing. He invites me to receive his mercy. He invites me to learn from him.

I am so thankful for His table of mercy.  Here, I am made whole.  Here, I am reminded that He is all that really matters.  His infinite goodness and glory and beauty is all I see.

Everything else vanishes away, like He is holding my face in hands so near to His very own.

He invites you to have a seat.  Do you see Him?  He is present.

Will you receive his mercy?