Every year, the week before Spring Break, our school takes students on missions trips. Some groups stay local and serve in the Tampa/St. Pete area, others go to a different state, and the rest go overseas. I had the privilege of going with 20 students to Orphanage Emmanuel in Guiamaca, Honduras.
We lived in Costa Rica for a year, so I thought I was prepared for what we would see when we landed in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. I was not. Honduras is far poorer than Costa Rica – we passed a community who lives in a dump, houses made out of materials gathered on the mountains. As we drove the two hours to the orphanage, we saw village after village of literally dirt poor families striving to survive.
Then we pulled into the gate of Orphanage Emmanuel. It was like an oasis in the desert. Beautiful buildings and landscaping, pristine conditions – even drinkable water! There were greenhouses where they grow fruit and vegetables for the residents, mammoth tanks where tilapia are raised, hundreds of chickens and pigs…
Then there were the children. 500 precious souls who live at Emmanuel because they have no other home. A few are true orphans, but most are brought here because their parents do not want them, or they have been removed from their homes by the government. Many have experienced unspeakable horrors at the hands of their families.
We were there to spend time with the children – to treat them to snacks at The Store, to play soccer and paint nails and do crafts. We thought we were there to be used by God in the lives of the children. But, as we quickly learned, the real reason we were there was for God to change us.
As our group shared on our last day there, we each had learned something different. Some had been challenged by the missionaries who worked there – their testimonies were faith-filled examples of the power of God in the lives of his servants. Others were touched by individual children – their love and joy in spite of difficulties. I was moved by the children, as well, but in a different way.
Because I am able to speak some Spanish – I’m not fluent, but I can carry on conversations – I spent a lot of my week talking and listening. And, because I naturally gravitate to teen girls, I spent most of time talking and listening to them.
Here’s what I discovered: These girls have dreams and plans, they have boys they think are cute. They have music they love and movies they watch over and over again. They complain about rules being too strict and skirts being too long. They fight with other girls and some of them hate school. A handful are sure that, if they can just leave Emmanuel and get out into the “real world” – a world without rules and uniforms – their lives will be so much better. They are, in short, just like the girls I teach! They aren’t a picture on a missions poster, a sad story someone tells. They are real girls with real names and real histories and real feelings. They are the daughters of the King who understand, some far better than I, just what it means to adopted as heirs of Christ.
This picture – taken of a sweet little girl named Catarin – best explains my experience…
If I had seen this picture on a postcard or a website, I would have assumed this poor girl was forced to work. I’d imagine her as a Cinderella or Cosette with evil adults ripping away the joy of childhood and requiring her to slave away for her meals.
But here’s what I know – behind me, there was a joyful game of soccer being played by girls who had just finished their morning devotions. Catarin had prayed, sang, and reviewed her Bible verse, holding hands with her friends. Afterwards, she picked up that broom, not because she was forced to, but because she thinks it’s fun to sweep the floor. That’s her game of choice. She did that until it was time to get in line and head to school. I saw her the next day, doing the same thing. Having fun, laughing, talking, and sweeping.
My husband and my daughter were on this trip with me – each of us returned with different stories, different lessons, we each were impacted in different ways. But one thing we all agreed on – this trip was life-changing and amazing. We are so glad we went, and we would encourage everyone to do the same. s my husband told the group, education is far more than time spent in the classroom. Our “teachers” in Honduras gave us far more than we could ever give them.
In my almost-30 years as a believer, I have prayed for all kinds of things– from requests as seemingly insignificant as a parking space in the rain to literal life-and-death issues.
Right now, though, I feel like God is teaching me to take a step back from the way I’ve always prayed. In the past, I have prayed very specifically — not that praying that way is wrong. In fact, God used the answers to specific prayers to bolster my faith and encourage me that He is there, He is listening, and He cares for me.
But specific prayers can be very selfish (“Lord, give me that job, that house…”). And I can often confuse real prayer with wishes. Though I know God isn’t a genie, I treat Him like that when I am constantly bombarding Him with “I want…” and “I need…” and “Please give me…” requests. Worse - I am assuming I know what’s best, that God should listen to me and do what I say.
Right now, for example, our family is in limbo. Again. Where will Dave work next year? Where will the kids go to school? Where will we live? I want to pray specifics – “Let us stay HERE. Don’t move us again! Or if You do, move us back to where we were before. Not someplace new. Haven’t we done that enough…?”
But, lately, as those prayers have surfaced, I have sensed God saying, “Not so fast.” Rather than praying for specific – selfish – requests that I think are best for us, God is teaching me to pray something different.
He is teaching me to pray for willingness to obey His leading, for peace to trust His guidance, and for strength of character to endure whatever difficulties might lay ahead. He is showing me that my character is of far more consequence than my comfort. And, while I don’t have to like my “limbo” status, I don’t need to focus on finding a way to end it so much as I need to concentrate on what God wants me to learn through it.
Life today is quite different from life in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve would surely be shocked to see cars and planes, televisions and cell phones. They would probably be disgusted at what we eat and wear, but impressed with what we have built and invented. Despite all those differences, though, the first couple would likely recognize that, in our hearts, we are still just the same.
In Genesis chapter 3, we see that Satan’s tactic with Eve was to question God’s sovereignty. “Did God really say not to eat the fruit of the tree?” And, once he gets her questioning that, he assures her that God’s warnings (“You shall surely die”) are not true. God is, in fact, tricking Eve, Satan argues, because He doesn’t want her knowing as much as He does. Eve believes the lie and, within hours, realizes God is indeed sovereign, Satan is a liar, and her idyllic life is dead.
I’d like to believe I’m better than Eve. But I’m not. As usual, though, I see sin in the lives of others more easily than I see it in my own life. I see it when students cheat on a test or essay, or when they admit to having sex before marriage. I have seen sin destroy destroy friends’ marriages because of adultery or selfishness. I have seen sin wreck churches.
And in every case, the offender has an excuse, a reason why what he or she did really wasn’t wrong. It doesn’t matter that God says to obey authorities, students argue, that test was just too hard and my parents will kill me if I get a C, so I HAD to cheat. I know the Bible says don’t have premarital sex, but that’s impossible nowadays. The husband who left his wife? She wasn’t meeting his needs, so he “deserved” to go out and find someone who would. And on and on.
The bottom line is that we buy into the same lie Eve bought into. “Did God REALLY say…” that you need to obey authorities? save the gift of sex for marriage? remain faithful to your marriage vows? Or is God just old-fashioned? Unaware of the difficulties of 21st century life? His word is fine to slap on Instagram as a positive-thinking slogan, but when it comes to keeping us from doing what we really want to do…? No, thanks.
But friends, whether we acknowledge it or not, God’s word IS true, God IS sovereign. He allows us to choose to disobey Him, to turn from Him, to do our own thing. But, eventually, just like Eve, we will face the consequences for those decisions. Not because God hates us or wants to keep us from enjoying life, but because He is holy. And because He knows far better than we ever will what is best for us and for those around us.
So don’t fall victim to the same lie that has ensnared people for millenia. Don’t make excuses. Don’t justify your sin. Deal with it, confess it. Or, better, avoid it. Run from it! Don’t presume upon the grace of God. Don’t miss out on God’s best by trying to create your own Eden. God is God. You are not. There is great freedom in living in that reality.
“…If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b-32
I hate when my students don’t listen. I give instructions in several different ways: talking, writing on the board, emailing, inputting on the online lesson plans, repeating…
Invariably, though, there is “that” student: the one who, after all of the instructions, raises his hand and asks, “What are we doing today?”
And, worse, he acts shocked if the plans for the day include a test or quiz. “What?” He asks, eyes wide with shock. “I didn’t know we had a test today!”
*Groans* *Pulls hair out* “Seriously?!”
I was thinking of that today, as I got frustrated – again – for being ignored – again.
And God gently reminded me that, far too often, I am “that” student.
He has told me to expect trials (James 1:2); He has warned me that I will face temptation (I Cor. 10:13). I have read these warnings more than once, heard them more than once, even experienced them more than once.
Yet, I still respond in shock when it happens. “I have to go through a trial?! That’s SO not fair. I thought you loved me!”
Does God groan and pull his hair out?
Of course not. He, thankfully, is not like me. He gently helps me through the trials, the temptations, the difficulties. When necessary, He allows me to fail or to fall when I am trying to go about life on my own strength and ignoring His clear direction. And He is always there to help me up when I realize – again – how desperately I need His help and guidance as I go through each day.
God is a Master Teacher who has left us with very clear instructions. May we all be students who listen to His voice and are well-prepared when tests come!
Tattoos are incredibly popular. There are tattoo parlors all over the place – in storefronts, in malls, in the city and the country. There are upscale tattoo parlors, non-smoking tattoo parlors, tattoo artists working alongside make-up artists and hair stylists. Tattooing is a statement, it’s art, its fun, it’s meaningful…
But it’s not for me.
I’m not saying it’s wrong. Lots of people I know and love have tattoos. I’m just letting you peek in my head (be careful, it’s messy!) and see how I came to my conclusions. You, of course, are free to make your own choices. Unless you’re still living at home or being supported by Mom and Dad. Then you need to do what they say, whether you like it or not. When you’re making your own money you can go out and get a tattoo of you getting a tattoo while your parents look on in horror. Until then, just content yourself with doodling on your hand with a ball point pen.
Let me address a few reasons people give for getting tattoos and my personal response to those reasons. Feel free to disagree below. I love hearing from you!
But I want to get a tattoo of a cross or of Jesus so everyone will know I’m a Christian.
Seriously? We show our love for Jesus by our actions, by how we treat others, by how we forgive, how we encourage, how we help those in need and comfort those in pain. No one is going to come to Jesus because he lives on your shoulder. But they will come to him when they see that he reigns in our hearts.
I want to get a “Mom” tattoo because I love her so much.
Let me just say, as a mom, I would much rather have flowers. Or chocolate. I’d rather have you visit me when you’re grown, have you take care of me when I am old and sick. But tattooing me on your body? Not so much.
I want a tattoo of my favorite (sport/hobby/TV show/superhero). When I was in college, a classmate came into our Communications class sporting a shiny, huge, incredibly colorful tattoo of Sylvester the Cat on his forearm. A cartoon character. On his forearm. I looked at him and shook my head. We were seniors. He’d be out interviewing for jobs soon. With Sylvester the Cat on his forearm. I could hear the resumes being shredded. Don’t put something on your body that will embarrass you at any point in the near or distant future. Which brings me to the last argument…
I’m going to get my tattoo in a location no one will ever see. It’ll just be my fun little secret. So what’s the point? Why get it? And don’t tell me it’s so you’ll remember something or someone special. If you need a tattoo to remember someone or something, he/she/it isn’t really as important as you think he/she/it is. Seriously.
That is why I choose “Not” to tattoo. That, and this….
This week was “Show Week” at my school. For those who have participated in theater – whether behind-the-scenes or onstage – you know that week is crazy. Lights, sound, costumes, hair, make-up, set and props must all work together in harmony with the acting, singing, and choreography so the show can be the best it can be.
You also know that, almost without exception, there is a point during show week where the cast and crew think, “This is going to be a train wreck.” But, also almost without exception, the show ends up much better than anyone expected.
“Bye Bye Birdie” was no exception on either count. We had a couple rough rehearsals. Lines were dropped. Props were dropped. Even actors were dropped! (this is my daughter, playing Mae Peterson, being “let down” by her Sonny Boy)…
But, on opening night, everything came together. The cast and crew were fantastic, and the audience was thrilled. It was a phenomenal production! The others directors and I were so proud.
Life is often like that. “All the world’s a stage”, after all! But our Director, unlike us fallible humans, is perfect. He knows everything. He is never taken by surprise.
But we sometimes forget that we’re a work in progress. We’re in the middle of “Show Week” – working towards our “opening night”. Things are going to get messy. We’re are going to make mistakes, to question where we are going. We’re going to let people down. We’re going to let ourselves down.
In those moments, we need to listen even closer to our Director. Cling to His Words, go where He tells us to go, say what He tells us to say. Even when it doesn’t make sense to us, we need to trust the One who knows far more than we do!
We can be assured that, if our hearts belong to Jesus, “opening night” is going to be far beyond our wildest dreams. An eternity with the God of the Universe, in a new body, a new heaven and a new earth. Wow!!
So live in the mess. Thrive as a work in progress. Trust your Director. And enjoy. Because, in the glittering words of Conrad Birdie, “You’ve got a lot of livin’ to do”!
Earlier this week, a police officer knocked on our front door — in the middle of the night.
Dave and I were both sound asleep, and my first thought was that we were being robbed — obviously I was sleep deprived. What robber knocks?? We warily approached the door, where a very nice lady cop was standing, her car in our driveway. Dave opened the door and the officer apologized for waking us.
“But,” she said. “Your garage door is open, and we have had some robberies in the area. I wanted to make sure you were all right and that you knew to shut and lock your garage.”
We thanked her and promptly obeyed, walking around the house to make sure no unsavory characters had made the same discovery the cop had made.
While we didn’t enjoy having our sleep disrupted, we were grateful. Who knows what that nice officer may have saved us from!
I’ve been thinking about that incident the past few days, and I can’t help but compare that police officer to the Holy Spirit. Just like Dave and I left our house unprotected, sometimes we leave our minds and hearts unprotected — we put ourselves in situations where the door to sin is wide open. The temptation is right there. The Holy Spirit warns us – through a gentle reminder, the words of a friend or pastor, a passage of scripture that comes to mind– and we have to make a choice.
Sadly, I find that it was far easier to obey that cop than it is to obey the Holy Spirit. I didn’t argue with the officer. I didn’t justify why leaving the garage open would be all right. I didn’t say, “No one will come to MY house. I’m going back to bed.” I shut that garage! Then I locked the door to the garage. And, for good measure, Dave stuck the key in and set the deadbolt on the door to the garage. We even checked the other doors, just to be sure our house was safe from would-be robbers.
How sad that I care more for my house than my soul.
When the Holy Spirit warns me — “You need to forgive that person.”; “You shouldn’t be watching that show.”; “Respond with gentle words, not harsh ones.” — I rarely obey immediately. More often than I should, I ignore the warnings: I don’t forgive, I keep watching, I spit out a mean response. Then later, I reap the consequences. I ALWAYS regret not heeding the Spirit’s voice. Why do I refuse to listen?? When He is giving me help far greater than any police officer on the planet?
God used that officer for more than just a physical wake-up. It was a spiritual wake-up, as well. A reminder to heed His words, His warnings, to stay within His protection.
“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” II Timothy 1:13-14
When I had Emma – on my 24th birthday – I did something rare: Math. And I realized that the day she turned 16, I would turn 40.
That day came last Saturday.
We celebrated our milestone birthdays with a trip to NYC, and we were joined by some of our closest friends. It was a perfect weekend.
Contrary to what you might think, Christian school teachers who write a few poorly selling books do not make a ton of money. Shocking, I know. So just darting off to NYC for a weekend is not something we could normally afford. But we were gifted with the money to do this, and it was, most definitely, the best birthday gift I’ve ever received (having Emma, of course, was a great birthday gift, too…but this gift was pain-free, and it was spent WITH Emma. So January 31, 2015 officially trumps January 31, 1999).
So what did we do, you ask? Don’t read on if you are prone to jealousy
- Saw THREE Broadway musicals: “On the Town”; “Phantom of the Opera”; and unplanned-but-saw-it-because-we-got-stuck-in-NYC-an-extra-day-oh-darn, “Les Miserables”
- Visited the Museum of Modern Art where I saw, up close, REAL Picassos and (my favorite!) Monets. We also saw some very odd pictures and sculptures for which Emma made up very creative, deep meanings, leaving us all laughing and, most likely, annoying the real art-lovers nearby
- Had Cake Boss cupcakes AND cake, along with a birthday greeting from Grace!!
- Lunched at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where amazing singers are the wait staff. Their rendition of “One Day More” was unbelievable!
- Dined at Junior’s – a super cute diner right across from the windiest alley this side of Chicago
- Stayed RIGHT in Times Square, with a crazy good view and surprisingly comfy beds
- Visited TONS of shops — we had to stay warm!
- Walked two miles, down Broadway, past 34th street and Macy’s, Herald and Union Square, to find some of the best chocolate ever — Chocolate by the Bald Man
- Had TWO flights cancelled (thank you, snow!!)
- Rode the Subway
- Rode the Long Island Railroad
- Played in the snow in Long Island while waiting for the airport shuttle (actually, that was the girls, not me. I’ve had my fill of snow play. I watched them while drinking my coffee and tightening my scarf)
- Met NO rude New Yorkers – every single person we met was kind and helpful. Truly.
So that, in as much of a nutshell as I can put it, was my 40th and Emma’s 16th birthdays, now forever known as…
The. Best. Birthdays. Ever.
I turn 40 on Saturday.
Depending on your age, that may be REALLY old or quite young. I am quickly shifting into the latter category :). Milestone birthdays tend to make me reflective — like a New Year’s Day on steroids. I look back over the last decade, or two in this case, and think about the one to come.
I went into each of the last two decades with specific plans and dreams, and God laughed. Silly girl! His plans, though sometimes more difficult, were always better, and never, ever what I expected. (note: the hyperlinks in here are to previous posts)
When I turned 20, I was dating Dave. We were fairly serious. I knew he was the one, and he was slowly coming around to that fact. We were engaged that summer, and married a year after that. Here was my plan for the remainder of that decade:
- I would finish college
- We’d move to Texas
- I’d get a job teaching English at a public school in Dallas….
- So Dave could go to seminary full time
- He’d graduate seminary…
- And get a job at some college or church (that was fuzzy) where we would live forever
- THEN, we’d have kids. I’d be 27 or 28.
Here’s what actually happened:
- I got pregnant (age 23)
- I graduated college (age 24)
- We moved to Texas — against my will (a baby changes everything!)
- I was a full-time mom and an ad junct English teacher
- Dave went to seminary part-time
- I got pregnant again (age 25)
- I got pregnant again (age 27)
- We decided to go to Spain as missionaries, sold our house and most of our belongings, and spent a year driving around the country to raise support (ages 28-29)
Yep. My plans were WAY off. But I am so glad. My plans may have been safe, but they wouldn’t have required much spiritual stretching.
When I turned 30, we were just starting our year of language training in Costa Rica. My plans for that decade were pretty simple:
- We’d move to Spain
- We’d live there forever
Here’s what actually happened:
- We moved to Spain (age 31)
- We returned to the states less than a year later, broken (age 32)
- I got my “dream job”: teaching AP English at a Christian school (age 32)
- Another dream: I got published (age 36)
- Another dream: I starred in our mega-church’s mega Christmas production (age 36)
- Loss of a dream: I was no longer being published (age 39)
- Loss of two other dreams: We moved to Largo – away from the school and church I loved (age 39)
Again, my expectations and God’s plans did not match up! And though some of those differences were terribly painful, they were good. Because God is good. And He is far more concerned with my eternal holiness than my temporary comfort. He teaches me, stretches me, and molds me into someone who will reflect Him to those He places in my path.
So, when I turn 40, you know I have plans! Lots of them. But I hope that, after two decades following Jesus, I can do a better job at holding those plans in an open palm. I want to be less frustrated when my plans don’t work out, more accepting of whatever surprises God brings about. I hope that, along with the gray hair and wrinkles, I am starting to show more Jesus, too.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jer. 29:11
Yes, I just quoted Taylor Swift (I have two teenage daughters, you know!) And while I don’t agree with a lot of T-Swift’s life philosophies, I am in full agreement that, with haters, we need to just “shake it off.”
I am thinking about haters right now because I just deleted a venomous Facebook comment directed at some spectacular kids. It was nasty and rude and designed to not just bully, but to eviscerate.
I am also thinking about haters because, as a teacher and a writer, I have been – and am – the target of some pretty rotten opinions and, sometimes, even outright lies.
So what do you do when you’re on the “hated” side? Just how, exactly, do you “shake it off?”
Know Who Defines Your Worth
The Bible tells us we are fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator whose love is so deep and so wide that nothing can separate us from Him. A God who sent His Son to earth to provide a means of salvation so we can spend eternity with Him. You are special, not because of who you are or what you can/cannot do, but because of WHOSE you are. We are sons and daughters of the King! Rest in that truth, my friends. Do not let anyone but the God who loved and made you define who you are.
Do What’s Right, No Matter What
Some of the worst hate is directed at us because we are doing what’s right. Jesus experienced just that, and he told us to expect the same. I have readers who hate my books because of the amount of Jesus that’s in them. I have students who hate me as a teacher because of the amount of work I require. I could write different kinds of books, I could show movies and hand out A’s just for attendance – but if I did those things, I would not be doing what God called me to do as a writer and a teacher. And obeying God’s calling is far more important than being liked.
Haters are Often Hurt
The nastiest people are often deeply wounded themselves and so feel the need to wound others. They have been mistreated, abused, ridiculed, neglected…and they respond by building a wall around themselves to prevent further injuries. They lob their missiles from behind that wall, hoping to injure others because, as the saying goes, “misery loves company.” The last thing we need to do is retaliate. We can pray for those who persecute us. We can show them love and kindness, and we can share the grace that has been given to us by God. That is not easy – in fact, I think it’s the hardest act God asks of us. But, through His power, we CAN love the unlovable.
So if you are dealing with some hate right now, know you are not alone. Let’s “shake it off” together.