Friday, April 14, 2017

Changing Seasons...

It's been a long time since I've written anything.  And I do mean anything.  There was a time when writing was something I felt compelled to do daily, almost like eating.  And then somewhere along the way, seasons changed.

My inspirational life with a toddler and an engaging young daughter faded into something that felt a lot more like work. The young daughter became and tween and then a teen, and parenting got "real" in ways not entirely pleasant. I got a graduate degree. Changed jobs.  Twice.  Found a renewed passion for music expressed in a new way.  And then I found love again.  Seasons have continued to change.

This current season has been wonderful and also a little challenging.  My family is blended and wonderful.  I remember the night before our ceremony, I sat in my living room and thought just how much everything was about to change.  It has, but it's been easier than I had worried.  We are finding a new rhythm, and I'm so grateful for it.  I had wonderful years as a single Mom.  I'm having even better ones as the Mom in a reconstructed family.  I'm blessed with a loving, patient man who is my spiritual leader and teammate.  Still pinching myself to believe it's real, but I'm so thankful it is.

At 41, I've realized that my career is probably where it's going to end up.  Any big dreams I had on that front have faded.  I will be a teacher of lower high school grades, and I have to accept that.  I wish I could tell you that was the dream come true I'd always wanted. It isn't.  But I can learn to be content.  What it does mean is that teaching is no longer the massive, passionate creative outlet it once was.  With older kids, parenting really isn't either.  The 10 and 15 year old don't want carpet picnics in the living room anymore.  (I've shed some tears over that while tearfully looking at other mother's precious babies on Facebook.  But seasons change, and mine has...those golden early days have faded.  It is well, because it must be.)

So last night, after the supper was cooked and eaten, I left the teenager cleaning the kitchen (there are a few perks to this age 😉) and went outside to talk to Jesus where it was quiet. I didn't really have a coherent prayer, just a thought.... It's not that I'm not thankful, Lord, but I'm at loose ends. I need to create something.  I need to feel like something I do matters. And I'm not feeling that so much right now.  And He gently reminded me of this long ago blog, where I shared the hardest moments of my life and found something beautiful in the process.

So here I am today.  Writing as therapy again.  Not sure what it means or where it's going.  I'm not sure there's an audience for anything I have to stay in this stage.  But it's been my experience as the parent of a teenager that it can be a pretty lonely time for mothers if you aren't in the extroverted, club-Mom group, which this introvert certainly is not.  I do know a thing or two about loneliness.  So, here I am.  For whatever the next season brings, I will do my best to learn the lessons along the road, and to share a little along the way.

Monday, June 23, 2014

They Just Don't Write Songs About Jesus Like They Used To...

Last time, I ranted about my career, this time, it's my other interest: music. On the night before my 39th birthday, I have the following observation...

I hear a lot of people complain about modern church music being repetitive & shallow. The whole "7/11" quote comes to mind.

Having spent several hours photographing, scanning and filing music that is between 20-40 years old, I'm wondering, have these people looked at the old stuff lately? "Classic" music is pretty repetitive too...

I Don't Know What You Came To Do
We've Come to Praise Him
God is Great and Greatly to Be Praised
Let There Be Glory and Honor to Jesus
Won't We Have a Time When We Get Over Yonder
Bind Us Together
Heavenly Father I Appreciate You
Above All Else I Must Be Saved
Learning to Lean on Jesus
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
I Need Thee, Oh, I Need Thee
Bless The Lord, Oh My Soul
I've Been Delivered
Hold to God's Unchanging Hand
Shouting on the Hills of Glory
Power in the Blood

I get it - we ALL think the music of OUR youth was the best, but really, people...all the songs listed above are awesome. I sang them growing up, and I still love them. But I must be honest...

Most of them have more than half the lyrics in the title. They repeat. A lot. None are particularly complex lyrically. Their composition is a good bit simpler than modern worship music, but frankly, so are the older hymns, most of which were based on classical music, rather than a 1-4-5 pattern.

For those who don't like the current style, God is just as capable of using guitars as He is Hammond organs, which were just as controversial when they entered churches. Yes, we NEED this old stuff, but we don't need to stagnate in it and reach for the revival of 20-40 years ago. And frankly, if we want to get back to the music of the "real" church, I guess we need to take up chanting in minor keys while dancing in circles, as the early church would have done. Instead, we are commanded by God's word through one of His most prolific song-writers to sing something NEW...

Sing unto The Lord a NEW SONG... Psalm 96:1, Psalm 98:1, Psalm 149:1; Isaiah 42:10

Now that I'm so close to joining the old crowd, I can freely express this as someone who is no longer young, and for the record, my Mom Lucy Johnson approves this message. ;)

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Location:E Peace St,Canton,United States

Friday, June 13, 2014

It's Those Stupid Teachers...

You go to a doctor. He says, "Stop smoking. It will kill you." You continue to smoke. You develop cancer. You return to the doctor and say, "How dare you! You failed me!"

You go to a mechanic. He says, "You need to change your oil." You decide that it's too much trouble to do that. Your car dies. You return to the mechanic and yell, "You messed up my car!"

I haven't lost my mind. I know these scenarios don't make sense, but it is EXACTLY the argument being made against teachers in our schools daily on any number of websites.

Earlier this month, a reporter took a picture of a prom program from Paul E. Robeson High School in Chicago which read, "This is ARE story." The jokes and condemnation began, and who was on the receiving end of most of that criticism? Those stupid, lazy, ill-educated, overpaid, irresponsible, incompetent, ridiculous TEACHERS, and their evil UNION too! Of course it's the TEACHERS! Who else could possibly be responsible for Chicago's problems?

I'm not defending that program. The error is ridiculous and egregious. It shouldn't have happened. But. Exactly how are teachers responsible for the condition of urban Chicago? I posed that question in response to an article today and was treated to an inarticulate and insulting response that I'm not allowed to respond to. The poster (who had a cat as his profile picture) took my well-reasoned argument and basically decided that all those failing students should join the army, since I personally had failed them all. Since the army doesn't take drop outs with discipline problems and I teach in Mississippi, not Chicago, I suppose it's better that I don't respond because you can't really fix that sort of reasoning, but that whole altercation has served to stir me up.

I take personal responsibility for my students. Ask any of the students I have taught or their parents. I work VERY hard to help them succeed, and I take every success and failure seriously and personally. There are a LOT of teachers like me out there. We work hard. We love the kids we teach. We believe in what we do. We KNOW we could make more money doing something else - and NO PEOPLE, WE DON'T WORK FROM 8-3 WITH THREE MONTHS OFF IN THE SUMMER.

I also acknowledge that there are BAD teachers. Lazy ones. They aren't the point of this rant, and if there is one in your child's school, there is a sure fire way to get rid of them: become involved. A lazy teacher will resign from a school where there is a strong culture because they can't stay there and be lazy. Easy? Easy.

The point of my rant is as follows: We, the teachers, have been screaming at the tops of our collective lungs that the system is flawed. We have been giving suggestions about improving it. We have begged for education to be FULLY FUNDED in Mississippi. We have pleaded our case concerning the inordinate amount of time spent on those lovely state-mandated tests. We have opined against the constantly changing state of said tests, and the fact that with each new administration, we are pushed to make sure "No Child (IS) Left Behind," as we "Race to the Top" and dig for the "Common Core." We have asked why the geniuses behind every one of these sure fixes have never bothered to teach a class or inhabit a classroom. We have wondered why politicians are making these calls based on their cronies opinions rather than asking the people who are working with the STUDENTS every day. We have warned that our kids need a more definite moral compass, and that the disappearing fabric of family life along with rampant poverty and lack of opportunity in certain communities is strangling our children. And how has the American public responded? You haven't.

Instead, you've argued over charter schools, voucher systems, and the "flavor of the month" quick fix. You've had personal and self-righteous conversations about why you chose public school, private school, or home school, always claiming that the option YOU chose is the best. And for your family, maybe it is! I have taught in public and private school. I have seen excellent home-schooling programs. It's all good, and it should all be working toward the goal of educating America's kids. It shouldn't be the smokescreen that allows the set up of a state-sanctioned class system. But guess what? That's what the constant bickering about voucher/charter/public/private/homeschooling is doing.

There's a simple bottom line: Failing families and parents produce failing kids that go to school. This produces failing schools, which in turn produces failing students, thereby perpetuating the failing community. What I'm describing is a cultural problem, and one that is going to require a cultural paradigm shift. A teacher can't fix it in 45 minutes a day (the average time a classroom teacher sees your kid in a high school.)

So why all the argument? Simply put, the current education debate is rooted in a document entitled "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants." It compares America's schools to those in Europe and Asia and finds our schools sorely lacking. It sets out some things that we need to do to compete with those regions, some of which have already been enacted, with ever more being enforced each year.

The fallacy of that (horribly written) document is that it is comparing apples (America's education system) with oranges (Europe/Asia). The "model education systems" it touts sort students into ability groups by the 2nd and 3rd grade. That's great for test results, but it isn't great for kids. It means that you decide who is going to be a doctor or engineer or mechanic or waitress by the time a kid is 10, and if your kid is a late bloomer? Sorry, it's blue collar for her.

Are you catching on yet? We are modeling after countries - trying to compete with countries - that have a rather static class system in place. Are you scared yet? You should be. It is counter to everything that America is founded upon. So why the massive buy-in? A little leg work will help you figure that out (who stands to gain from that class system), and I don't want to veer too far off point. So, back to the title...

This is not a teacher problem. It isn't even a school problem. It is a societal/cultural problem. PEOPLE! It isn't the teacher's responsibility to educate your kids. It's YOURS! It IS the teacher/government's responsibility to make an education available. It is YOUR responsibility to make sure that your kid avails himself/herself of that opportunity. It is YOUR responsibility to get involved and help your kid by making sure the cell phone is not in use at 2:30 am the night before the big test. (If they have a phone and you don't take it at night, they are probably on it at all hours of the night.)

My rant will end this way. My students and their parents know how I feel about my work. They know what I do to help them succeed. I'm not trying to defend myself here, because I don't feel the need. I am TERRIFIED that such an important issue has been dumbed down to the fault of the "stupid teachers" instead of placing the blame where it belongs: with each and every citizen who sees the problem and does nothing but defend their own political agenda. If you want to complain about a teacher, ask yourself first, "What have I done to make this different?" If you haven't done as much as you've griped, change that and you will change the world.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Of Books and Shelves...

It's summer, and that means that for a few beautiful months, I can focus on my home and my family almost exclusively, instead of the juggling act that so often occurs during the school year. As part of that process, I'm getting rid of "stuff" that we don't use and revamping several areas of the house. During a recent journey into the disaster zone, a.k.a my 12 year old's room, I discovered that she was in need of a new bookshelf. Of course, I turned to Craigslist, found a deal, and made arrangements to go pick it up.

And then, a crisis. They sold my shelf to a buyer who had an available pick up truck - it wouldn't fit in my Honda!

So, I took a look around my house and discovered that I had an old, tired shelf with a bad coat of white paint. I could fix that up for Noelle, right? Right.

I ran (not really) to google and researched various furniture painting techniques. I loved the "chalk paint" idea, until I saw the price. $35 for a quart of paint? No. Period. Way. So, I researched alternatives and decided to wing it.

A combination of Valspar paint and primer along with some Lowe's sample paint jars (I LOVE THESE and have just found the newest source for my canvas paint, despite the fast dry time) and some SC Johnson's paste wax are working magic on that book shelf. So far, it's gone from this:

(Noelle is expressing her dismay that I might put THIS in her room)

To this:

More photos coming once that waxing is finished.

I've also found that this massive, useless room on the other end of my house with its own A/C unit makes a pretty amazing workshop, and that I might really like doing this kind of thing...

So, in this golden summer, I'm learning new things about furniture, and about me. Fall will bring a new job, new responsibilities, and perhaps another new chapter of my life that I'm not quite ready to wrap my mind around yet. For now, I'm just enjoying the journey, and the paint! :) 'Til the wax is cured!

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Angry Prayers & Delayed Promises

Psalm 94:12-13 - Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord, & teach him out of Your law; that You may give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked.

I've been working on some Bible study notes this morning, and in that way that God sometimes works, He has been speaking to me too.

I've had a sort of tough week, with lots of angry conversations directed at God. (Judge me if you want. It works for Him, apparently. I'm still here.) So, for anyone who reads this blog, the question will arise: Just what are you so angry about?

Here it is:
I'm a little worn out with being tested.

I'm seriously worn out with being lonely.

I'm exhausted from watching people who have hurt me prosper while I'm still struggling.

I'm physically sick of WAITING.

I'm suicidal wondering if ANYTHING, EVER is going to CHANGE? FOR ME? For the BETTER?
(For those who take me too seriously, no you don't need to contact a therapist. I'm not in danger of taking my own life, but I'm not too proud to admit that I've wished for death a time or two. I'm in good company with some others in scripture: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, David, Job, and the list goes on...)

Occasionally, I'll get a well-meaning friend who sends me a message wanting me to be positive and worried that I might be depressed. He or she just wants me to count my blessings and focus on the positive, and there is much merit in what is said. I take it in and appreciate it, every time.

But they aren't living my life.

They haven't lived my last 20 years. My guess is that it's been a while since they've spent a few days without speaking to another person. I have that reality every few weekends. It's isolating, and while I've had some profound promises from God, I can't see them yet. Several years ago, I reached the place where I decided they weren't even real promises. I decided to lower my expectations and just live with what I had expecting it never to get any better.

Over the past few months, God has been challenging that viewpoint. I decided to believe things WOULD get better, and I started looking for signs and saw a few. And then came this week...and those angry conversations. :)

Now, if I were a better blogger, I would be writing this after the answer comes and it would be a tale of triumph. Alas, I'm not a better blogger. I'm me, and my long-awaited happy ending still ain't here... but I can say a thing or two about what I know.

I know that I have grown this week - He has been teaching me through the chastening. God has once again reminded me that my faith needs to rest in Him, not in what I see. He has reminded me that I don't need to be afraid to ask for what I want. He has reminded me that I am His child, and that there will come an appointed time for it all to "get better." He has reminded me that trust is important, and that what I am experiencing right now is all part of His plan to make me into someone who reflects His light.

In the meantime, I'm learning to live today without concentrating (i.e., worrying) too much on tomorrow. Those of you who know me know that this is pretty much killing me...but maybe dying out to self is something I need to do anyway.

'Til the answer comes... :)

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Audacity of Hope

Earlier today, I had a conversation with a dear friend, & she asked me a thought-provoking question: "What is it that you want the Lord to do in your life?"

My first response felt honest ("I don't really know, just His will."), but the true answer cut pretty deep...I was afraid to tell the Lord what I wanted, because I was terrified that He wouldn't answer, or that He would say "no." There have been so many disappointments that hope feels like a luxury somebody like me just can't afford.

But tonight, I have placed the desires of my heart & my soul before the Lord. Noelle, David, & I prayed about what we want God to do for us as a family, & I asked my children to pray with me about His will for our lives & the future I would like to see us have. It is the most terrifying & liberating thing I have done in years - to be so completely exposed in vulnerability - to admit that as much as I DO want His will above all else - I also want some specific things in this life that I've never had. To trust that God won't say "no" without walking me through it...

For so many years, I have lived with "just enough" - with the manna, meal, & oil of His daily provision. But the end of that season is coming, & by faith I will live out His promises in Deuteronomy 28:1-14 & Jeremiah 29:11. This is my year of abundance & the "expected end" of a very long drought is overtaking me - EVEN NOW when I cannot see it - in Jesus name.

Deuteronomy 28:2 And all these blessings shall come on their, & overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God.

#listening #believing #daringtohop

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Space Between Healing and Being Made Whole

Recently, I was asked by a good friend to come and speak at a singles' conference. There were so many positive and uplifting things I WANTED to say, but as the conference approached, the message that I felt impressed to give was intensely personal and painful. I'm sharing it here, and I can honestly say it is the hardest thing that I have ever also contains the most truth. This time, as is so often the case, those two things go hand and hand.

As someone who has not lived an easy life, I've always found great comfort in stories - there is something comforting about knowing that I can have an expected ending in a relatively short period of time. And so very often, when my life is at loose ends and I can't see answers, I find the answers I seek in Bible stories. In January 2010, I faced a dark period of testing - one that put a mirror up to my very soul and revealed a deep brokenness I had not known was there. So, to the Bible I went...

For the first time, I began to notice something about the stories of healing I had heard since I was a child listening to my Mamaw Warrell read them to me. From that very early time, I had known that Jesus was a healer, but I had never noticed how different those healing experiences were for the individuals between the pages of scripture. First, I went to Matthew 8:3-4 and Jesus healing a leper - a leper who walked right up to Jesus and said, "If you will, you can make me clean." Jesus replies, "I will, be clean." BAM! The leper is healed. That triggered the old Sunday school memory of the ten lepers, so I flipped over to Luke 17:11-19, and there they were. Ten lepers healed, but then there was that one leper...the one that came back and gave thanks. That one leper, he was MADE WHOLE.

There it was, the little detail that had been nagging at the back of mind. Why were some lepers healed, and that one leper MADE WHOLE? I seemed to remember my Sunday school teacher talking about the one leper "giving thanks," but my leper in Matthew 8 was thankful, and he didn't get made whole. One thing I knew: I wanted to be whole. Not just HEALED. WHOLE.

So, I went looking for answers. How did the people who were MADE WHOLE get that way? Where was the answer? I traced them across the life of Christ. In Matthew 14:36, anyone who touched the hem of Christ's garment was made whole. In Matthew 15:28, the woman who asked Jesus for the crumbs He would give to a dog received wholeness for her child, and in Luke 8, both the woman with the issue of blood (touching that garment again) and Jairus' daughter become whole.

By this time, I was asking The Lord where I could purchase the hem of His garment. I had been "thankful." I had engaged in "praise." I was busy with "church" and "church activities." None of those held the key. So where was it?

Clearly, in reading the stories, one thing stood out. Jesus told each recipient of wholeness, "Your faith has made you whole." But I couldn't wrap my mind around that either. That first leper? He had faith! He told Jesus that he KNEW that a touch would heal him! So, it had to be a specific KIND of faith that led to being whole. In prayer, I wrestled with God, asking Him where I would find the answer.

See, by this time, I had figured out that there is a space most of us never think about: the space between healing and being made whole. Healing is an act of Christ alone. It is sovereign, and He doesn't need US to make that happen. He can heal of His own power and His own might. We don't even need to have faith for that to happen. But being whole? That doesn't happen at the moment of healing. It happens when the power of Christ is mixed with a specific kind of faith -the faith of ACTION: the faith that DOES SOMETHING. THAT'S what those who were made whole had in common! They DID SOMETHING! For the woman with the issue of blood, she touched his garment; for the one-out-of-ten leper, he returned to give thanks; for the Canaanite woman, it was witty repartee mixed when a good dose of gumption, for Jairus, it was going out to find a man called Christ when hope seemed lost...

Then I went back to the drawing board. I felt like I had plenty of "action." I was teaching Sunday School, in the music department, videoing services, working with the youth...I was involved in so much "church" stuff that I met myself coming and going at the church doors. So, what was I missing? I didn't understand yet, but I would. All my movement wasn't action. It was just movement.

It was during this time that I found the 58th chapter of Isaiah, and I discovered the key to being made whole.

Isaiah 58:6-7 - Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him? that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

That was a selfless sort of action I wasn't entirely familiar with. The 10th verse clarified it even more:

Isaiah 58:10 - And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul...

And there it was - the secret to being made whole. To become whole, you must first be empty, but not just any kind of empty. You must pour yourself out to those who need it most - those that no one else is willing to touch.

I had an image of what I had been doing for years: filling my vessel and then "pouring it out" right back into the church building...where the people needed it the least. And all the while, there was a lost and hungry world outside that was DESPERATE for the flowing water of the spirit. And I was too busy pouring myself into GOOD things, but not the things that would truly and completely empty me out - empty me of my past, my pain, my problems - and allow Him to fill me anew.

As I continued to read Isaiah 58, the principle became so very clear. The space between healing and being made whole can only be filled with one thing: emptying yourself out to those in need: POURING OUT, so that that God can fill you again...making you whole. The rest of the 10th verse reads:

Isaiah 58:10- ...then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as noonday.

58:11 And The Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

58:12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, "The repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in..."

The power of being made WHOLE is in finding an identity beyond your brokenness. It is not something Christ can do for you. It is process He participates in, but you are the key. When you take your pain and pour it out - pour it out on the needy and oppressed - then, He can make you whole. And you can plant the seeds that will become those who will build up the wastelands of our world, those that repair the breaches in a world that has become so divided that people who have not known great pain cannot span the gaps.

There is power in brokenness - the power to be made whole. Pour out, pour out, pour out...and allow Him to make you whole...

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