Thursday, September 19, 2013

And so today was terrible.

And so today was terrible.

I teach three classes on Tuesday, and I start at 8:00. I wasn’t prepared, so I got up at 5:00. No big deal, except that today I woke up with the alarm. Not only that, but I wove the alarm into my dream. That means I was very asleep.

I got up. Got my coffee. And sat down with my Bible. Except that I opened my computer first.
I never even opened my Bible.

I ran into traffic.
Somebody got into an accident on the westbound 52, and the people in front of me wanted to look.  I parked my car at Mesa College at 7:59. Class starts at 8:00.

Class was great. Mostly.
And then I walked to my next class.
This class is part of a learning community.
A learning community with a call to group unity and group success.

Ten out of 25 students came in late. Very late.
They talked constantly.
They couldn’t hear me. Or they didn’t understand. Or something.
They argued with each other. Across the room. Students taking sides. Students defending themselves.

And I intervened.
I reaffirmed the call of this class to unity.
And we got back to work.
I wanted to cry.
This has been a very difficult class. From the very beginning.

Half the students don’t listen.
Half don’t do their work.
Half don’t seem to care.

After class I did cry.
Am I okay?
Am I a good teacher?

And then I sent a venting letter to the director of the learning community.
And then I cried again.

And yet, I know God is in control. I know He loves me. I know I can make a difference.
If God empowers me and I rest in Him.

But I didn’t even open my Bible today. 

I miss your voice, God. I miss your word.
I need you.

I had another class at 2:30. This class went great. Most classes do.
And I was glad when it was over, so I could go home and grade papers.
Or do nothing.

But after class a former student walked in.
She brought me a new journal. A beautiful blue-green journal with the words, “We write to taste life twice” written on the cover and the  words “You are expert at writing so I just going to write. Thank you!”

No, that is not a typo.
And she gave me the journal and a Nestle’s chocolate bar with almonds.

She apologized for not stopping in sooner because she had purchased the journal a few weeks ago.

And I cried again.
Happy tears.

Because I am not a bad teacher.
And I do care about my students.
And I can make a difference. Not just in their academics, but in their lives.

And I heard God say, “I love you. I’m with you. You are never alone. And I knew this day was coming.” 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss: Fear and the Pale Green Pants

Another week. Another obscure Dr. Seuss story. This time the story of the Pale Green Pants. Of note, an internet search to find more about this story revealed that these pants have sort of a cult following. Who knew?

The story goes something like this: A young boy goes walking late at night and runs into a pair of pale green pants. The pants can run.

Understandably the boy is completely and totally freaked out. He runs straight home to safety.

Uninhabited pants, green or any other color, are not supposed to run.

And yet, there they are. Running.  Biking. Colliding with the boy.
The boy has never seen pants like this.
He escapes when he can—or hides.

And then one day he can’t avoid the pants any longer.
He yells for help. He screams, he shrieks, he howls, he yowls, he cries, “Oh, save me from these pale green pants with nobody inside!”

And the most amazing thing happens. The pale green pants, these strange unfamiliar pants begin to cry.

It seems the pale green pants are actually afraid of the little boy.
The boy says, “I began to see that I was just as strange to them as they were strange to me.”

And that is a profound statement.
The story reminds me of something that happened in one of my English classes last week.

I asked my students to read an article about names published in Wired Science.  The author discussed a Yale study which suggested that people with easy to pronounce names are more popular and even make more money than people with difficult to pronounce names.

My students were mortified.
That’s not fair, they protested.
That can’t be right.

And yet, the more we discussed it, the more we admitted that the study might be at least partially right. Most easy to pronounce names are familiar, and most difficult to pronounce names are unfamiliar. And we like things that are familiar to us. And that’s not fair at all.

The principle behind this finding at least partly explains why we tend to hang out with people who are like us.

And people who aren’t like us? We’re often a little cautious about them.
And they are cautious about us.

When you come down to it, most of us are a little strange. It’s a wonder we ever make friends with anyone. And yet we must.  Life alone is lonely.

We can respond to the fear by running and hiding and crying like the boy.
Or we can recognize that even when people seem strange, they are a lot like us.

I’ve seen this in life groups.
I’ve seen this as I’ve traveled around the United States.
I’ve seen this as I’ve visited other countries.

Like the pale green pants, some things—and some people—seem very strange.

But if we slow down and say hi, the strangeness faces away.

For more Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss, check out Newbreak Church's sermon series titled Whoville.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Life Lessons From Dr. Seuss: On Becoming a Star-Belly Sneetch

This post is from my good friend Kimmie Walk. You can read more by her at her blog Queen of Malfunction.

Once upon a time, I lived in an affluent beach community with my best friend and her family. I was a Plain-Bellied Sneetch in a Star-Bellied Sneetch world. So, I did what any nineteen year old would do, I converted to a Star-Bellied Sneetch.

Life was a blur once I got my Star. I spent my nights (and even some of my days) doing drugs and my days laying out at the beach. For the first time in my life, I was one of the glamourous girls I’d always wanted to be. But what was even more than that, I finally fit in somewhere. I was finally one of the beautiful people.

I lost myself in that world. I became a shell of the person I once was. I was unkind and disrespectful. I was vain and conceited. I had no problem putting others down to raise myself up. I was deceitful, and I knew how to use my looks and my body to get what I wanted. Oh, I was good at getting my way. On the outside, I was flawless. With blonde hair that glistened in the sunlight and a slim body that wore expensive clothing. That star on my belly got bigger and bigger.

And then I got a reality check when my friend was murdered. My grief consumed me, yet, there was much more to it. My friend’s murder case was all over the news, and I was forced to take a step back and re-examine my life and the people I surrounded myself with.  Suddenly, those Plain-Bellied Sneetches didn’t seem so bad. And so, I decided to get my Star removed.

Throughout the entire two years that I wore my Star proudly, I had been at church and I had attended a life group with those Plain-Bellied Sneetches. Those Sneetches had loved me regardless of my Star. Even when I was the most unloveable. Especially when I was the most unloveable. And so, when I told those women I was ready for change, they helped erase that star, little by little.

I once lost myself in a fantasy world, filled with promises of glamour and fulfillment. I often get nostalgic for those days, remembering the fun that I had; and then, I remember Emery. I remember the pain of losing him. The pain of realizing I’d lost myself, and that brief moment of nostalgia is erased.

Now I know who I am. I know that my identity is not found in the clothes I wear, the lifestyle I live, or the friends that I have. My identity is found in Christ alone. He’s chosen me. He’s brought me out of darkness and into his marvelous Light. It seems that being a Plain-Bellied Sneetch isn’t so bad after all.

For more Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss, check out Newbreak Church's sermon series titled Whoville.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss: Confessions of a Plain-Belly Sneetch

Now the Star-Belly Sneetches 
Had bellies with stars. 
The Plain-Belly Sneetches 
Had none upon thars.

Those stars weren't so big. they were really so small. You might think such a thing wouldn't matter at all.

But because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches would brag, "We're the best kind of Sneetch on the Beaches.

With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they'd snort, "We'll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort." 

To be honest, up until last weekend, I had never heard the story of the Sneetches, Star-Belly or otherwise. It’s the story of a group of, well, Sneetches. Some have stars on their bellies; those are the totally cool Sneetches. They have parties. They laugh. They play games and go to BBQs. They don’t invite the Plain-Belly Sneetches. The Plain-Belly Sneetches are not cool.

I am a Plain-Belly Sneetch. I have been a Plain-Belly Sneetch my whole life. I was the last one picked for games like dodge ball. I suppose my small size had something to do with that.  But even though I was one of the best spellers in the class, I still got picked almost last.  I didn’t get invited to parties. It was okay. I preferred to read books in my bedroom. Or draw pictures. Or play the piano.

I did wish I could be a Star-Belly Sneetch and have lots of friends and get picfa
ked for teams. I did wish I could be cool. And popular.

But I didn’t want to give up my books or my music or my solitude.
And so I sat on the sidelines and wished I was just a little different.

Even at church, I existed on the margins. And that continued even when I got older. I was everyone’s favorite volunteer, but I didn’t have friends.

I wondered why. Why was I so alone? Why did God make me a Plain-Belly Sneetch?
In the midst of my loneliness, God reminded me that I wasn’t the only Plain-Belly Sneetch.

There were others just like me. People who saw themselves as Plain-Belly Sneetches. People who felt alone and left out.

And so I began to reach out. To invite and include Plain-Belly Sneetches to have fun.
And then I seemed like a Star-Belly Sneetch including some people and not others.

And that’s when I realized that there’s not that much difference between Star-Belly and Plain-Belly Sneetches. We’re all pretty much the same. We’re Sneetches. And we need all kinds of Sneetches.

In Romans 12, Paul acknowledges that we’re all a little different and he cautions followers of Jesus Christ not to take themselves too seriously, not to consider themselves more important than they actually are.  He says, “For in the same way that one body has so many different parts, each with different functions; we, too—the many—are different parts that form one body in the Anointed One. Each one of us is joined with one another, and we become together what we could not be alone.”  In other words, we need each other.

God has made us and gifted us uniquely.
God made prophets and servants and teachers.
God made encouragers and leaders and givers.
God made people who are merciful.

And no matter what our gift is, our gifts came from God.
We need to use them. Humbly. Faithfully.

And whether we are Plain-Belly or Star-Belly Sneetches, God made us. And we need to love each other.

The most important thing is love. For God and for all Sneetches. 

For more Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss, check out Newbreak Church's sermon series titled Whoville.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss: All Alone!

All alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
You’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on
From Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Setting off on journeys can be exciting. And terrifying.
And isolating.

When you’re venturing into unknown territory, whether it’s going back to school or moving to a new duty station or starting a new job or having a new baby, you will feel alone. Like you are the only person who has ever traveled this path.

But you don’t have to be alone.
It’s not even good to be alone.
In fact, we need each other more than ever when we’ve started off on unknown journeys.

King Solomon wrote:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) 

I used to spend a lot of time alone. I still do, I think.
In fact, as much as I love my friends and family, alone is sort of my default place.
I don’t ask questions. I don’t ask for help. I try to figure things out on my own.

I’m pretty good at that, but not good enough, and that creates problems that could easily be avoided if I just had people in my life.

And yet I’m learning.

Back when I was in my 30s, I had a surprise pregnancy. This would have been my fourth child, and Duane and I had only planned on having three children.  Nevertheless, after the shock, we were super excited about having another baby. We didn’t expect any problems. My previous three pregnancies were textbook. And then, after 14 weeks, there was no heartbeat. The baby had died.

I was devastated. I had no close friends to turn to, and I didn’t know anyone who had walked through this. My husband did not understand my sorrow. My kids were too young to talk to about the depth of my loss.

I felt alone.

God, in His mercy, sent me a couple of women who listened. I didn’t know them well, but they had experienced their own pregnancy losses. This was good. But for the most part I was still alone.

And then, surprise, one week after my fortieth birthday, I found out I was pregnant again.

Once again, I was shocked. Once again, I recovered from the shock and became excited about the new life inside of me. Once again, I miscarried at the end of the first trimester.

I wanted to die.
But this time was different.
Alone the way, I had started forming friendships. Not just casual friendships, but deep spiritual friendships. And God used these friendships to comfort me, to encourage me, to strengthen me.

This time I had the kind of friends who pray with each other, hug each other, cry with each other, laugh and celebrate with each other. The kinds of friends who take care of each other when one of them walks through something that seems impossible.

My sorrow was deep. I still struggled. But this time I was not alone. This time was different.

It sounds cliché, but I formed these friends in small group Bible studies, around dinner tables, and across cups of coffee.  It took time.  Time outside of group.
Sometimes there were conflicts. But we cared enough to work things out.
And I wouldn’t trade these friendships for anything.

Yes, we need each other. To pick each other up when we fall down, when we struggle with new challenges. To keep each other warm, to comfort and encourage one another when we begin to doubt ourselves. To protect each other when we face difficulties.

For more Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss, check out Newbreak Church's sermon series titled Whoville.

Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss: The Slump

This post is from my good friend Kimmie Walk. You can read more by her at her blog Queen of Malfunction.

And when you're in a Slump, you're not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

Last year, I went through what may have been the darkest period of my life so far. At the end of September, I lost my uncle and my job on the same day. My relationship with my mom was in a bad place, and my dad was so overwhelmed with grief that he wasn’t always very nice. It felt like my entire world was falling apart. Finally, in November, I was offered a job at a preschool. Things were finally starting to look up; and then I got a phone call informing me that my fingerprints hadn’t cleared due to something that had happened five years earlier. I completely lost it.

The thoughts that went through my head on a daily basis ranged from “your existence on earth is a mistake,” “you have no purpose in this life,” and, the worst, “if you drove your car off a cliff today, nobody would miss you tomorrow.” I finally called up my friend and life group leader Dana and said “I’m not doing well, and I really want to kill myself, and that scares me.” It was the first time, ever, that I’d admitted I was living in the darkness.

I tried everything to come back into the light. I read my Bible when I couldn’t sleep at night, I listened to worship music repeatedly, I listened to sermon podcasts, I journaled, I cried, I prayed, and nothing made me feel closer to God. It felt like God wasn’t even a presence in my life. I spent my days eating or sleeping, and I spent my nights crying. I didn’t want to be around anybody, and I hated myself even more every time I looked in the mirror. In February, my grandmother died. Her death opened up childhood wounds that I never had any intention of revisiting. Even after being on medication and being in therapy, I finally decided to end my life.

I woke up one Friday morning in March and said, “I’m done, God. I’m done living this life. Where are you? If I’m supposed to be on this earth, you need to prove it to me. I need you to give me a reason to live.” I got in my car and drove to the gym. I checked my phone after the gym and saw that I’d missed a call from the preschool. I listened to the message. My appeal to the state was approved, and I was asked to start work that coming Monday. After six months, God had finally revealed himself, and the plans I’d made to kill myself that day were canceled.

I’ve grown in ways unimaginable over the past six months. I’ve learned to love myself and view myself as the woman God views me as. I’ve allowed people in my bubble and I’ve stopped isolating myself. But most of all, I’ve learned that He still holds the whole world in His hands, and He still loves me enough to pull me out of the darkness and back into His light.

No matter what is going on our lives, God is faithful. He always loves us. We are never alone, and He will deliver us.  

For more Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss, check out Newbreak Church's sermon series titled Whoville.

Slumps can come when we walk through dark places, but sometimes they can come out of nowhere. Dr. Seuss says it's not easy to unslump ourselves, and while I don't think he's an expert in this field, I do agree. We need other people, we need God, and sometimes we need outside help from counselors or physicians.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss: The Waiting Place

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

Life is full of infinite possibilities. 
Or at least it seems like that when we start out on the journey.

After a few bumps—and a few slumps—and a lot of travel—we find ourselves in the Waiting Place, which Dr. Seuss describes as “a most useless place.”

It’s filled with people. People who are waiting.
            Waiting for a train to go
            or a bus to come, or a plane to go
            or the mail to come,  or the rain to go
            or waiting around for a Yes or No
            or waiting for their hair to grow.
            Everyone is just waiting.

I agree with Dr. Seuss.  It is a useless place.
I know because I’ve been there.

I started off my journey with lots of dreams. Someday I was going to travel. Go on a mission trip. Lots of mission trips. Learn Spanish. Get a Master’s Degree. Teach at a university. Write a book. Someday.

The thing is, nothing ever changes in the waiting place. Nothing is ever quite right. And so we stay. In the Waiting Place. Waiting.

I got very discouraged in the Waiting Place. I started to forget my dreams. It didn’t seem like my life had any purpose. And I asked God, “Why doesn’t anything ever happen?”

And God said, “Move.”

He didn’t say where to move. How to move. How fast to move. Just move.
And so I started moving.
Every step was hard.
Was I moving in the right direction?
Was I doing the right things? Was I making the right decisions?

What if I did something wrong?
The thing is, once we start moving, God starts directing us.
That’s what He did for Abraham.
That’s what He’s doing for me.
That’s what He’ll do for you.

Moving in new directions means sometimes I don’t know how things will turn out, and I’m sorry, Dr. Seuss’s 98 and ¾ percent guarantee doesn’t always mean things turn out the way I want them to.

Sometimes I panic because I think I will fail.
Sometimes I panic because I don’t know what will happen next.
Sometimes I panic because moving ahead is hard.
Moving means I encounter challenges I would never have experienced in the waiting place.

But I don’t go back.

Along the way, God says,
Trust me. Keep moving.
I have plans, but you need to get ready for them. Stay close to me.
Listen carefully, and I let you know which way to turn.
I will create a pathway for you.
Not someday. But now.
Even if you can’t see where you’re going, I can.
The journey is long. 
Trust me.

And so I keep moving.
At times the pace seems incredibly slow, but I am no longer in the waiting place.

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole. 
1 Peter 1:3-5

For more Life Lessons from Dr. Seuss, check out Newbreak Church's sermon series titled Whoville.