A Sacred Space

A kitchen window with a bowl of fruit on the sill.

I live a very small life in a very huge world.

Since I love to cook, I spend a great deal of time looking out my kitchen window observing the small universe that comprises my space. I wake up early—but not too early. 6:30ish. A luxury after teaching school. I get to linger over coffee and stare out the patio door at my garden. The pond gurgles away and the birds tweet loudly–fighting over their morning meals at the bird feeders. A small breeze lifts the bells of the chimes hanging from the gazebo. Coffee cup in hand, I wander towards the garden boxes filled with strawberry plants, rosemary, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes. I never saw myself as a gardener, but I like the feel of the dirt and the challenge of making seeds grow.

It feels sacred—gardening. It feels sacred to care for the beauty around me. It feels sacred when I cut a head of lettuce or pull off an apple-red tomato for my lunch. The scent of fresh rosemary and cilantro is better than any candle from Target. Growing and tending feels like a sacred duty—after all, it was man’s first job. God asked Adam and Eve to tend the garden and take care of the animals. I’m thinking they were the first environmentalists.

In the backyard, an ornate Sun ornament overlooks some planters.
A happy sun shining on my small garden boxes.

But then came weeds—friends with the serpent of old just waiting to creep into a perfect world. Something to wreak havoc with the beauty the Creator intended. Why oh why did God ever allow Satan to enter the serpent and tempt those first gardeners? I ask God and myself that question periodically. An intense study of Genesis reaffirms that yes, everything that God created was good, which means the serpent was originally beautiful and good. And Lucifer was, too. He was a glorious angel. Beautiful beyond our imagination, and yet…he falls. (Side note—the name Lucifer only appears once in the Bible—in Isaiah 14:12. In Hebrew the name is “heylel” and means “light-bearer; morning star; shining one.” Thereafter he is Satan–Hebrew for adversary–or Satanas– Greek meaning adversary as well as prince of evil spirits and one who opposes God).

I call him “Bindweed.”

In the morning as I walk my garden, I’m on the lookout for weeds—specifically bindweed. Bindweed is an insidious weed that looks a little like ivy, but it grows and spreads so rapidly it’s almost impossible to keep out! Unfortunately, bindweed is sometimes hard to see; it wraps itself around the good plants tightly almost like it wants to strangle both their beauty and their purpose in order to replace them with its own counterfeit beauty—a pale pink flower.

bindweed
No, that’s not a string! That is the root of a bindweed I pulled out of the garden. It was hard to dig it all out, but I was determined!

I see it growing everywhere—in the lawns, on the fences, around the plants in the park. And along the trails it spreads out like it owns the wild areas, sprouting little pink flowers everywhere I look.

I think bindweed is seeking world domination.

I also think it’s a tool of Satan that I must destroy! I’m  bindweed’s adversary. Each morning I search my tomatoes for even a tiny hint of it and yank it out with anger, using my ninja gardening skills to dig out the root in order to deter its advancement into my pepper plant! My fingernails are now peeling and extra short because I’m so determined to pull that weed out, I neglect my gardening gloves and little weed puller thing. Something about that weed gets my goat. I’ve even been known to pull it out of other people’s yards or in the park areas. The hubster has to physically restrain me.

That stinkin’ weed is my nemesis.

Small Kitchen Theology Moment

One day as I was knee-deep in my butterfly bush yanking out bindweed and untwisting it from my irises, I realized that bindweed is like sin, and the more I pulled the more I saw the similarities.

Weeds weren’t in Eden. Weeds came after the Fall. (So hey, I’m accurate in calling them “tools of Satan.”) We see it in Genesis when the Lord said, “…cursed is the ground because of you [Adam]; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” (Genesis 3: 17-19, ESV). Ouch! So not only will man now die, but he will also fight with the earth itself in order to grow food.

It sounds dismal, right? A cursed earth? Struggles and pain? Don’t get me wrong here: I strongly believe that humans were created to work from the very beginning; they were to take care of Eden and its animals. Men and women were to procreate and fill the earth. They were to take care of each other and their families. But, they weren’t to live self-oriented lives devoid of purpose.

The Fall made life a lot harder (Read Genesis 1-4 closely).

Just this morning I was out in my garden—garden gloves on and weed puller in hand. (How did so many appear overnight?) Digging my fingers deep into the soil, I kept thinking about the bindweed parable developing in my head. “God, what about this? or how about this?” And then it came to me: Bindweed sin.

How is my sin like the bindweed I was yanking out of my garden? What binds itself to us and transforms the way we look at life? What creates counterfeit life that might appear good on the outside, but is warping our view of God and our position in His Kingdom?

Bindweed Sin.

Just like the physical weed, the roots of these bindweed sins grow deep, twisting around our souls like a creepy python. The insidious thing is that they seem ok at first. They seem justified. Take negativity, for example. If you’ve ever been around a negative person, you have seen how their view of life is a bit twisted. I’ll use me for an example.

When my hubster moved me away from Oklahoma to the Ft. Collins, Colorado area, I was negative. I didn’t want to leave my family or my friends or my house or my security (Now there’s my bindweed sin!), but I felt like the Lord was pushing me to go. Hoping to find a house with a view of the mountains and an upgraded kitchen, I was pretty devastated to find that the only homes in our price range were either trashed or east of I-25 with no view of the mountains. And no upgraded kitchens or hardwood floors. (Note: you need about $450K to get a house like we had in Tulsa.) We chose one that had a porch swing and a garden. The garden is what grabbed my soul. A pond with a waterfall splashed appealingly and the mums wore such glorious colorful outfits that I overlooked the dingy, builder grade carpet and ugly linoleum and tried to thank God that we could even afford a home. I attempted gratefulness, but I was homesick and lonely. I spent days and days without any conversation with anyone except the grocery store checkout person, my dog, or my hubster. My phone calls to family were tearful and self-pitying. Depression sat in hard.

Like bindweed, my negativity distorted the life God had graciously given me. I couldn’t see the beauty around me without a tinge of negativity. And I felt so justified! Why did I have to move away from my comfortable life and come to a place where I felt alone, isolated, and unknown?

Escaping bindweed sin is a journey…a rough one!

Slowly, slowly God is shaping me and releasing me from that particular bindweed sin. He showed me that that the true root of my bindweed sin is not negativity but insecurity. I didn’t trust Him. My insecurity was resting in a place and a people instead of in God alone. Sure it was hard.

When a bindweed sin digs in next to an already weak area of your soil/soul, it takes root and flourishes. The more you feed it, the tighter it twists itself around you until you are miserable and don’t even know why. You can’t see God at work around you and instead only see unfairness.

Bindweed sins come in all shapes and sizes—tailor made for each of us. Anger, for example. Once that weed takes hold of us, a giant chip erupts on our shoulders. It’s us against the world and God plays an increasingly small role in our lives.

Arrogance and pride? Those get deep-rooted very quickly in our lives. They start with good dose of self-sufficiency manure. We did this, that, or the other…we made it happen…we are too cool for school…look at all we have accomplished…we know everything…we are always right…(and even) we love God and His Word more than anyone else! Self-righteousness gets tangled up in this bindweed sin, too.

The list of bindweed sins is as limitless as human nature. The thing is–once they get rooted in us, they disguise themselves as something good and justifiable and even worthy—and that’s when they get dangerous. Soon those seemingly ordinary weeds wrap tightly and efficiently around us, even blooming right alongside the blossoms that are part of our God-image design.

What the Holy Spirit is raising up in us is slowly counterfeited into something else—something much less. Something not Holy Spirit made, but “other” made.

Tools of Satan, indeed.

Digging out the root…

I hate easy answers to issues like bindweed sin. When I spoke earlier about my particular bindweed sin of insecurity, I didn’t say how God revealed it to me. I’m going to go a tad personal here, but it’s truth and I want folks to see that this process of digging out roots can be hard and painful.

Insecurity seems to be coded in my DNA. I was an insecure child, scared of everyone and pretty much everything. I became a people pleaser thinking I could find security in making others happy with me. I was scared of losing someone’s love or friendship, including that of my parents. I started gaining some confidence in 9th grade after attending a church camp in Siloam Springs, Ark. We had some amazing teachers during that week and I believe that the Holy Spirit “woke me up” to His presence and the essentiality of God’s Word at that age. My insecurity was still there, but I could—with the Lord’s help—stay confident about most areas of my life.

My insecurity came back full throttle in college. I discovered I wasn’t that smart, or that pretty, or that talented. I had been “made much of” back in my church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, but that didn’t translate to a state university. I couldn’t for the life of me discover my purpose, and I married too young. The marriage was a disaster EXCEPT for my children. They were my life. Seriously. My unstable marriage fed my growing insecurity, which fed my need to find purpose.

My purpose: to be perfect and independent. To be the best. If I could get perfect scores in college (I went back at 32) and be the best teacher, maybe I could feel purposeful. Maybe someone would love me and I’d feel secure.

It never happened. I got almost perfect grades in college, but I didn’t feel more secure. Same with teaching. I was good, but I wasn’t anything special. Sometimes I felt a glimmer of security, then wham! Something or someone reminded me that I was just an ordinary person who can study and plan and communicate pretty well. But I wasn’t exceptional. Just good.

The insecurity stayed. And stayed. And rooted itself so deeply that I didn’t even see it coming. The “it”? Psoriatic arthritis and osteoarthritis. They’ve been a great team attacking my spine for the last four years. The swiftness surprised me. Within a year and a half, I’d retired from teaching, had my first fusion surgery, and moved to Colorado.

I was helpless to control my circumstances. I was isolated from family and their love and support. My husbster of 15 years had to deal with a very depressed wife whose bindweed sin was distorting her view of everything.

The root digging…

We’ve been in Colorado almost three years now, and I’ve had nothing but time. My disease limited me for most of these three years, but thankfully this last fusion in March 2017 is helping tremendously!

So how did God work in my heart to help me dig out the roots of insecurity? His Word and a great deal of prayer–plus some suffering thrown in the mix to remind me that my security rests in Him alone.

Here’s the truth: Without reading and contemplating God’s Word regularly, you cannot dig out the roots of sin.

I had plenty of time to study the Bible, so I did. I took the skills I had from teaching literature and applied them to the Bible. But the Bible isn’t fiction; it’s truth. The Truth, and when we study it, the Holy Spirit impresses us with the Truth we need for the day.

Contemplation requires prayer. More prayer than just the casual toss up to Heaven. Sure, those are part of my prayer repertoire, but I can’t let them be my only prayer practice. I’m still learning to rest and stop fidgeting in my spirit so much. It’s a constant battle.

And that’s the magic formula to digging out bindweed sins: reading the Bible and praying with urgency and fervency. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any tiny re-rooting that starts to take place—and it will try to re-root. We are creatures of habit, and bindweed sins count on the rich, manure-filled soil of our human nature to help them take root again.

 After the last four years of “spiritual training,” I can usually tell when a bindweed sin is rooting because I get snippy and agitated. My poor hubster is usually the first to see the sin since I snip at him over something as ridiculous as weed killer.

Sometimes I start worrying (another bindweed sin of mine) and I hear the old tapes playing, “You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are?” And sometimes those tapes seem like truth and I start hiding my emotions by reading book after book or binge watching BBC detective shows. Those are my “Holy Spirit alerts.” No visions. No voice from God. No dreams. Just prayerful surrender and a grace-filled sovereign God of the universe who is patient in His teaching.

God is faithful and just. He cleanses us from all of our unrighteousness. He makes each day fresh and full of beauty. A garden reminds me of that truth. During the summer I can see the bees taking a buzzing stroll through my wildflower garden, scraping their feet on the pollen sacs and carrying them off in their little bee backpack. I watch the lettuce seeds emerge in hair-like green rows after only two weeks. I peer under heavy-laden tomato branches to catch a glimpse of the ripening fruit.

Glimpses of Eden. Reminders of the beauty God imagined.

Coneflowers! The bees love it!
Coneflowers! The bees love it!
A ripe tomato on the vine.
The tomatoes taste like summers at my Grandma Helen’s farm in Oklahoma.

Nightlight: Fighting Night Terrors as a Spiritual Ninja

A few nights ago, I had one of my insomnia spells. They typically last a couple of nights, and then I go back to a normal pattern. I have a couple of ways to deal with them:

  • Stay downstairs and watch BBC detective shows on Hulu until I fall asleep and can go upstairs to bed without twisting and wiggling.
  • Go to bed and use earbuds to listen to podcasts until I fall asleep. For some reason listening to pastors teach via podcasts will lull my brain and body into rest. Sometimes I hear something great that catches my attention just as I start to drift…and then I’m awake and pondering for a while. That’s what happened a couple of nights ago: it was a three-sermon night. I started with John MacArthur and then moved to John Piper’s teaching on Acts 1. I had just started to drift off, when Pastor John started praying…”I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.

I woke up the next morning with that prayer still resonating, so I did a search and found it: Psalm 27:13-14.

I love the Psalms for precisely this reason: They comfort me whatever my circumstance. They also remind me of God’s character and make me wonder what my life would look like if I truly believed in the God represented in the Psalms.

Of course, I believe in God—but I when I dig deep, it seems like I’m living shallowly without recognizing the full scope of who God is. This Psalm reminded me again, so I decided to take some time with it.

Personally, I study a Psalm like I used to study and teach poetry. A clean first read—no markings and no pausing. And then I take a look at the structure. Finally—what is David (as inspired by Holy Spirit–see 2 Sam.23 for confirmation) saying to me? How is it relevant to where I am in my 21st century life as retired teacher, wife, empty nester, and grandmother?

In this case, it starts with light.

Psalm 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation/whom shall I fear?” Here in the Old Testament, the word “light” is “owr” in Hebrew, the same word used in Genesis when God separated the light from the darkness. It’s used 122 times in the Old Testament, and almost always it’s used as literal light, not metaphorical. It’s interesting that David says that God is his literal light, as in Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light (owr) to my path.”

If I relate the Psalm to me, I must trust that the Lord is my light and so is His Word. His Word made flesh is Jesus. Jesus is God revealed—the Word of God sent to illuminate a dark world. Wow. The connections in my little brain go crazy. (This led me down a rabbit trail—or squirrel crusade, as I call my hop-scotchy mental gymnastics! I started looking at John 1 and 1 John. John plays with words so beautifully and he uses the metaphor of light regularly. Go look for yourself! I use www.blueletterbible.org as my go-to source!)

I love the light metaphor—second only to the sheep metaphor. These connective metaphors make sense to me, and help me understand spiritual connotations better.

I took this picture in the spring. I love to take pictures of old buildings and this one is going to be gone soon. Every bit of land here in Northern Colorado is taken over by fracking stations or housing developments. I got this one before it’s demolished.

Artistically, light is everything in photography! A qualifier: I’m not a great photographer, but I do understand the way light plays in a photo. I’m terrible with artificial light—I just can’t make the photos look right even with a good camera and a decent flash. I don’t have the skill, so I try to use natural light and shadows in order to capture a picture. I particularly love taking pictures in the morning—the light is still soft and the colors seem more vibrant.

Light provides contrast—it differentiates objects in the world around me. It helps me see texture and color. It also helps me recognize shadows so I get perspective. But the deep darkness makes it hard to see shapes and colors and textures. Things blur together and can become distorted. It can also make things scary.

A true story about nightlights and night terrors:

 When I was little and not so little, I was terrified of the darkness. I wasn’t scared of monsters—oh no—I was scared of bad people. I read a lot of books (and still do) that involved mystery and murder, so I think I may have had a warped perspective on actually how many bad, evil, wicked people were on Sherwood Lane in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma at any given time.

So, I needed a light at night (A Dr. Seuss book in the making!). I’m sure I drove my parents, brother, and sister crazy. I HAD to have the hall light on in order to go to sleep. And here I shudder in shame a bit–I even needed it as an adolescent.

The story: My parents worked with the youth at our church, so dad decided to turn our garage into a sort of Jesus hangout. My family and I first painted black the walls black, and then added neon words scattered randomly. I wish I could remember what we painted on those walls…I know they were Jesus-based words. In neon orange. It was the early 70’s, after all. It was cool. 

I’m not sure how this was supposed to diminish fat, but we had fun with it!

BUT there was a storage section of the garage left in tact—a walled off area, so dad could house the lawn mower, the pogo sticks we never used, and one of those strange exercise machines that had a large sanding belt like thing on it that supposedly jiggled your belly fat off. We all thought it was a hoot! It was also back there—in that storage thing. Unfortunately for my imaginative brain, there was only a flimsy, wooden door that separated me and my family from the dangerous outside world.

Dah dah DAH! (Cue scary music.)

At night, with the hall light on, my brain inevitably drifted towards burglars and murderers that wanted to steal my daddy’s collection of Tennessee Ernie Ford records, and I’d remember that flimsy, often unlocked door in the scary black room that was formerly a garage. I’d lay in bed under my furry white bedspread (it was the 70’s—it was cool) and think about the danger until finally, I’d climb out of bed, meander cautiously—and I think somewhat bravely—through the living room, kitchen, dining room, utility room and then ultimately into the black Jesus room painted with neon words. First thing I’d do was turn on the light. I wanted illumination in the darkness. I wanted to see around all the corners straight back to the flimsy door—one any decent burglar/murderer could kick in with his boots.

My heart rate increased and my spidey senses were on high alert as I eased towards that far back wall. Once I’d made it to the door, I’d already accepted my fate. It was quite possible I would be killed. It was quite possible a murderer was hiding behind the pogo sticks. It was quite possible that he just wanted bizarre exercise equipment.

I was in middle school and high school in the 70’s; this book was extremely popular!
I should never have read this book! It messed with my brain! Lesson: Avoid true crime and stick to civilized British mysteries.

Taking a deep breath, I’d jiggle the doorknob. If it was locked and there was no sign of broken glass or forced entry, I could breathe a sigh of relief and safety. (Again—I read lots of crime books. And Helter-Skelter came out during that time and totally destroyed me…as did Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth.)

BUT if I found it unlocked, I was undone! Trembling, I’d lock it and then flee back through the Jesus room/former garage into the supposed safety of my home. Convinced that the killer/burglar was hiding in the house by now, I turned on every light and examined closets and behind sofas until I made it back to my bedroom. I’d usually leave all the house lights on, so my parents probably knew about my nighttime adventures, but I needed the light to alleviate my fears. Light represented safety for me as a young human.

I still like a nightlight–not because of fear, but because I fall easily and I prefer making it to the bathroom at 2 a.m. without spraining something.

End of story and a return to Psalm 27.

We humans need light both physically and metaphysically. Light affects our moods lifting us up or diminishing us. I get really depressed if it rains or stays cloudy for a cluster of days. I think I’m part plant—probably salvia because I like the sun and bright purple.

 Light also affects us in a spiritual or metaphysical manner. We say our souls are light-hearted. Or “she has a sunny disposition.” A sort of Tigger vs. Eeyore sort of analogy comes to mind.

Maybe Eeyore is continually experiencing a “dark night of the soul.” An Eeyorian profundity: “When you come across Eeyore in the Forest and he seems even gloomier than usual, check to see if he has his tail. It may be missing.” A.A. Milne

 Sorry for the squirrel crusade. If I can use a A.A. Milne reference, I will use it. Pooh philosophy is quite profound.

 A REDIRECT BACK TO STUDY OF PSALM 27  “The Lord is my light and my salvation/whom shall I fear?” Psalm 27:1

Light plays an important role in explaining Jesus to the world. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5.

In this verse, the Son of God is the light. Note the verb tenses. Jesus—the light—continues to shine. He always shines. He is the light of the world. If we “dwell” in Him, we will not walk in darkness. John 8:12.

John didn’t just decide to use the light metaphor to describe Jesus, it was also used in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah wrote: “The people who walked in darkness/have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,/ on them has light shined.” Isaiah 9:2. (ESV)

Just a few verses later, Isaiah prophetically reveals the light as Jesus! “For to us a child is born; to us a son is given;/and the government shall be upon his shoulder,/and his name shall be called/ Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

Most importantly, Jesus uses the “light” metaphor in describing us–His followers. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

Here’s my Small Kitchen Theology moment:

I have dark places in my soul that I don’t want anyone to know about except God. He shines His light into those places and makes them less…everything. He lights them up with His mercy. He shines His grace on me and helps me move into forgiveness. As His light, I must consciously shine (regardless how little my light may seem) to the world. I must shine to my hubster, my children, my parents, my siblings, my friends, my church, and my community. Not for my glory–but so others can recognize Christ in me and glorify the Father who sent Him and offered us salvation through Him.

I’m still working on Psalm 27. I’m looking at the word “tent” and exploring its use throughout the Old Testament. I’m finding interesting and relevant connections to the role of God’s Word as my 21st century tent. It–the Word–must be my dwelling place. 

So many metaphors run all the way through the Bible—both Old and New Testaments. Do a word search on www.blueletterbible.org It’s fun and will have you heading on your own squirrel crusade in no time.

Grace & Peace

 

OUT OF COMPLACENCY, INTO DEPENDENCY

Near my walking trail. It's rural.
Near my walking trail. It’s rural.

*It has been extremely difficult for me to write after finishing my thesis; I’m always wanting to use APA citations, and my creativity seems to have flown the coop. This is a long, tedious effort to get back in the swing of things.

And the LORD God said to Steven: “Take thy wife, thy puppy, and all thy belongings and head west to the land I will show thee.” (Severance, Colorado)

Did Sarah kick and scream when Abraham said, “let’s go”? Well. . . I did. I was as mad as a wet hen. Tulsa was my home. Family, friends, colleagues=history. Comfort. And a touch of complacency. Just a touch. Really.

Everyone kept telling me how great it was—you know—Colorado—mountains—skiing—hiking—fresh air.

As for skiing—Tried it when I was in my 20’s; gave it up for Lent.

However, I do love mountains, so after I quit kicking (silent screaming continued for a while) and accepted the inevitable, I laid down some ground rules for Steve and God:
1. I must have a house west of I-25
2. I must have a mountain view
3. NO TRACT HOMES!
4. No linoleum must ever touch my feet.
5. No builder’s grade carpet (I would not give up my 50-year-old hardwood floors for tacky carpet).
6. No split-level or two-story homes need apply.

Yes, yes. . . I know. I’m blessed to have a home. I sound so materialistic. In the words of Idina Menzel–“Let it go!”

Then I met our realtor, Scott, and he showed me a total of five houses within our price range. That was it. I’d scheduled three days for looking at houses and only needed one. Seems the oil and gas boom in northern Colorado meant more folks moving in and fewer houses available. Prices went up and up and up and bidding wars ensued.

Lesson: Don’t lay down ground rules.

The Reality:
1. The only houses west of I-25 in Ft. Collins within our price range were split-level, dingy basement, one-and-a-half bathrooms, no-closet-space homes.
2. Mountain views were 50K extra.
3. Tract homes east of I-25 were more affordable.
4. Only two houses were available that wouldn’t require massive renovation and cleaning. One backed to a busy road in Greeley (where the wind wafts the scent of meat processing plants through the town). The other was clean. Good location. Nice quiet neighborhood. A two-story with finished basement. Great storage. Clean. Horrible builder’s-grade carpet. Linoleum in kitchen and bathrooms and 3’ x 4’ square entryway. No mountain view. BUT an incredible garden in the backyard and three full bathrooms. Great sized master.

We bought it the second one.

The Move
Steve moved out first. He started work at a church in September. I stayed behind to sell the house, pack, and finish my master’s thesis. The house sold in 12 days, so I moved in with my parents to finish writing my thesis and moved out in November.

I learned so much during the time with my folks. Certainly researching the effect of optional single-sex classrooms for boys

View from my "tower" at my parent's house. I worked on my thesis there.
View from my “tower” at my parent’s house. I worked on my thesis there.

struggling with literacy was an eye-opener and a very difficult research topic (one I’d chose for myself—no excuses!); however, the real growth came from just being around my parents and watching Christ in action through their lives. Blessed.

More Reality: Identity Crisis

I’m a teacher. It’s my identity. My teaching consumed me—about 60-70 hours a week (to the chagrin of my hubby). Teaching provided me with wonderful colleagues, terrific students, and an outlet for my creativity. Every week I’d look over lesson plans, re-work them, integrate some newer ideas, and grade papers. My reward? The appreciation of my students and their parents. It was never monetary. It was, however, a source of pride. I wanted to be an exceptional teacher. I loved having a great reputation. It sounds so conceited, but it’s brutally true—I valued my reputation and identity as an exceptional teacher.

Vanity, vanity. Poof. It’s gone.

Now I’m unknown. I apply and apply for adjunct teaching positions, but I don’t know anyone who knows someone. No connections.

And I miss my daughter and my parents and being only 3 ½ hours from my grandson.

But I’d become complacent. I see it now. It’s Windex clear to me now.

My complacency looked like this:

  • I figured that once I finished my master’s degree, someone would hire me based on my recommendations, reputation, and connections to wonderful teachers.
  • I figured I’d eventually find the right church and get involved.
  • I figured I’d start feeling stronger and be able to bike and lose weight and get healthy (I had to quit teaching for a year due to major arthritis issues and need for disk fusion surgery—worked on master’s while recovering).
  • I figured I’d start having weekly dinners with my parentals and with my daughter and her hubby.

I figured a lot of things, but didn’t take action on any.

Complacency.

And then God said, “Enough already.” Maybe. Who knows what God is saying in the heavenly realms concerning his millions of children?

Now I’m living east of I-25, have no mountain view, walk regularly on linoleum and builder’s grade carpet. AND I’m at peace.

Linoleum isn't the end of the world. Just miss my hardwoods.
Linoleum isn’t the end of the world. Just miss my hardwoods.

Dependency.

Severance, Colorado is on the eastern plains. When the wind sweeps down from the north, we get a nice whiff of a giant sheep ranch. The tiny town’s motto: “Where the geese fly, and the bulls cry.” The geese I get. The bulls weeping? Ah. Interesting story. Bruce’s Bar in Severance (an authentic “hole in the wall”) is famous for Rocky Mountain oysters—thus the bull’s cry. Ouch.

When isolated from friends and family and familiar places, you can keep kicking and screaming (I did), get really depressed (I did), or learn to trust your heavenly Father (I’m trying).

I began to live in God’s Word. I meditated on it day and night. I found a Bible study class in Ft. Collins. The ladies are precious and the study consumes much of my time. I found a church—Mountain View Community Church. Stevie and I love it. We are getting involved, and I am the volunteer print woman. I am now running bulletins, printing whatever needs to be printed. Using the folding machine. Stuff I learned to do as a graphic designer for South Tulsa Baptist Church in Tulsa eight years ago. I am trying to be useful while I look for a teaching position with a local community college or university.

I have no idea what is going to pan out for my future. None. I’m learning to walk by faith and not by sight—and it’s stinkin’ hard for a control freak like me.

What I know: God is the source of my strength. It doesn’t matter whether I “know someone” or have “connections”—He is my connection.

Kitchen tables are not for eating--they are for studying!
Kitchen tables are not for eating–they are for studying!

On the front of my Bible study notebook I have inserted a printed page that reads:
“If I do not stand firm in my faith, I will not stand at all.” It’s from Isaiah 7:96.

I recite it several times a day. It’s still lonely and isolated. I don’t have any friends yet—just some acquaintances. But God is my anchor and He holds me steady against this changing and sometimes overwhelming tide of change.

Childish or Childlike…which did Jesus prefer? (Please read with a bit of a southern accent–not hick–just Pioneer Womanish)

Israeli boy praying http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalgrace/35760489/
Israeli boy praying http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalgrace/35760489/

In Matthew 18, the disciples had been verbally tussling with each other over who would be the big “dawg” next to Jesus in Heaven. (I will qualify the following statements by saying not all men are egotistical. There, qualification in place.) Onward…in typical male patterns of behavior, the disciples engaged in basically a pissing contest. One up-man-ship at its finest. Jesus was not amused, so in order to teach them a lesson–and teach us all a lesson–he grabbed what was closest and wove a parable. This time, he used a child.

I like to picture the disciples for a moment. Kind of dirty and hairy. Long robes dusty and smelling a bit rank. Shoving and bragging about who Jesus liked the best and who would get to sit right smack dab next to him in heaven. To say they were being immature and childish would be correct. To say they acted like they never even knew what Jesus expected of them, would also be  correct (at least in that moment)  and a tad disappointing.

If you have children, you know this experience very well. You raise them with certain moral and spiritual guidelines and then, “whammy.” The “stupid” hits. You know the “stupid.” It’s when your kids reach that age where their brains seem to fluctuate from brilliance to stupidity in a matter of minutes. The “stupid.” 

I saw it a lot in the classroom. One minute the teenagers were blowing my mind with their insight into Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” and the next they were throwing paper wads across the room trying to reach the waste basket or breaking each other’s pencils for no apparent reason. The “Stupid.” And it infected 90% of the males. Sorry.

Let’s just say, I can see these grown men acting this way quite easily. But I also imagine Jesus was really disappointed. He only had ten more chapters to teach these guys about God and how they were to live for God having served with the son of God. They needed to understand that yes, they were Jews (and a Greek), but the law of the Old Testament no longer acted as their guide to living. They had the actual Messiah in their midst and he was teaching them how to live in a New Way. The law abolished in favor of love for God and love for neighbor. And soon, the Holy Spirit indwelling as a permanent Jesus-conscience. 

A child in Israel http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalgrace/35760534/
A child in Israel
http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalgrace/35760534/

So a child. Jesus chose a child to confound them once again (he was really good at this). As a parent and now as a grandparent, I know I would do anything for my kids. I love them more than…well…you know. Words don’t say it well. When my kids, David, Eric and Katie Jean, were little, I was always protecting. Not hovering, but aware. David liked to control the Lego’s–dictating the desirable architecture, so I needed to step in and make sure that sharing took place. He was also extremely shy. Painfully shy. The world hurt him daily. His first words to me after I picked him up from PreK were, “It’s chaos.” Now I know he was dealing with Asberger’s, but in the early 80s, not much was known about it, so I tried to act as his world-shield.

Eric liked to wander off. In the mall, he’d disappear under the clothing racks and I’d hear his tearful voice calling for me. The worst time was when his dad and I had all three of the kids at Fiddler’s Green in Denver for a 4th of July celebration. Thousands of people. One minute my darlin’ four-year-old was holding onto Katie Jean’s stroller and then he was gone. Just like that. I have never felt so afraid and helpless in my life. Again, no words. We found him an hour later. Some sweet teenaged girls took him to a safety hut and he sat there bawling his eyes out until I reached him (via the park security). I still get a lump in the pit of my stomach when I think about it.

My sons, Eric (left) and David (right)
My sons, Eric (left) and David (right)

My baby woman, Katie Jean, liked to do whatever the guys were doing–but she wanted them to do it her way. I was always saying, “Boys, include her but don’t cave in to her!” I didn’t want a manipulative female child and I don’t have one. I have a stubborn, determined, brilliant young woman who developed Type 1 (Juvenile Diabetes) when she was four. I was in the midst of divorcing their father when this happened. Again. No words. Painful. Hard to give a shot to a little girl twice a day when she doesn’t understand what is happening to her.

I tell you these stories about my children to commiserate with each of you who are parents and who understand the need to protect and encourage and nurture these wee ones. I’ve seen the other side of this coin, to use a cliché, within the high school classroom.

Kids moved daily from one parent to another due to a wonky divorce settlement. Teenagers parenting their very young siblings while their single father or mother hits the bars for a negotiate a one-night stand or to drink or smoke some weed. Then go home–or not.

Teenagers without any consistency in their nurturing cycle. Some survive in tact. Most don’t. 

Back to Jesus and the child. Unless we become like this little child, he said, we won’t see or enter or experience the kingdom of heaven. I had to ponder this and read several different translations. I even researched the roles of children during biblical times, but I always came back (as did the translations) to the fact that Jesus said to be childlike.

My daughter, Katie Jean.
My daughter, Katie Jean.

Vulnerable. Trusting. Needing guidance from our father. I think Jesus was telling them, stay close. Listen. Learn. Trust. Don’t go off half-cocked thinking you are this independent big dog with all the answers and ever expect to understand and see God.

Break down the walls that are keeping you from being childlike. First, break down the intellectual walls. LISTEN: that doesn’t mean be ignorant. God gave us a brain and He expects us to use it. Grow and develop intellectually. NOTE: GOD IS NOT THREATENED BY YOUR INTELLECT. YOU CAN’T OUT-KNOW HIM.

Next, ignore the Pat Robertson’s and Jim Bakker’s and Ted Haggard’s and all those folks who claim to know Jesus, yet seem arrogantly focused on themselves. Not a childlike honesty and vulnerability visible to the naked eye. BUT quit using them as an excuse to hate Jesus. Discover Jesus for yourself. Stop it with the excuses already! It’s arrogant. It’s bigotry and narrow-mindedness. It’s like seeing one gay man with a pink boa and lipstick and then thinking that every gay man is like that. Ridiculous. I teach gay young men and women and there is nary a pink boa in the bunch (although I do have a tiara and quite possibly a boa in my prop closet). The same open-mindedness you graciously give towards your gay friends, show towards Jesus. I hate it when people hate on Jesus and yet never try to know him and instead blame other people because “they’re hypocrites.” Could we please NEVER use that phrase again? All people are hypocrites. Some are bigger hypocrites then others (think politicians and all those well-meaning, outspoken environmentalist celebrities who drive big cars, or let someone else drive them in big cars that use tons of gasoline and then preach to the rest of us paeans how to live environmentally friendly lives. Chaps my tush).  

It’s time for me to display vulnerability and trust. It’s time to lean on my heavenly Abba. Let him guide and nurture and love and direct.

My last yearbook photo...makes me weepy.
My last yearbook photo…makes me weepy.

I know this is hard. I’m struggling with it. I had to resign from teaching last week because my health is not improving and there is no way I can stay in the classroom. My heart breaks every time I breathe. I cry with disturbing regularity, and I’ve gotten quite mad and even cussed a bit which is not like me. I’ve even used the “fair” excuse (and I hate that excuse).

I have a new job, but it doesn’t have benefits. It’s hourly. It’s a significant loss of income, and my husband and I are trying to figure out how we’re going to make it. God is kind of “repurposing” my life. I hope He doesn’t use sandpaper. 

So like a child, I’m staying pretty nestled up to my father (except when I’m cussing) in order to let him guide my path.

We are replaceable in our jobs–but we are irreplaceable to God.

May the grace and peace of Jesus help you to learn childlike trust and abiding faith. Amen.

 

Here are the links to the professional photos above:

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalgrace/35760489/”>danny.hammontree</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalgrace/35760534/”>danny.hammontree</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>