When Expectations Don’t Meet Reality

One of the wonderful things about teaching is the fresh start each year. There is nothing quite like brand new Expo markers, neatly written out nametags, and the anticipation of the opportunity to be a better teacher this year who learned from last year’s mistakes.

And some years you get off to a nice, smooth start…

and other years…well, they’re not so pretty.

That was this year for me.

In several different areas, it has been a difficult start to the year. My expectations of the year kind of came tumbling down when reality hit.

We all have those experiences where expectations meet reality…and reality wins.  Perhaps your school year expectations aren’t coming to fruition. Maybe you had to switch grade levels at the last minute. Maybe you got that really tough class. Maybe your grade level just decided on a new curriculum, and you have to start planning from scratch.

Perhaps your expectations were dashed in a relationship, parenting, a new job, news from a doctor’s appointment, or the struggles of a close loved one.

Our lives are full of unmet expectations. When reality hits, it hurts! But that painful reality is the perfect training ground to help us grow in Christlikeness. So here are a few lessons that God has been reminding me of lately…

Remember that there is hope

When you are swirling around, just trying to keep your head above water, it may feel like it will always be like this. You may feel completely alone in your struggle. You may feel like there is absolutely no hope.

But that is not the truth.

There is always hope. There is hope because there is a Sovereign God up in Heaven orchestrating His perfect plan for your life.  Nothing about your situation is a mistake.

 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (I Cor 10:13)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5)

God loves us so much that He allows us to struggle in life – because He is training us for more! Those painful times are the times when He is growing us to become more like His Son.

In Hebrews 12, I really enjoy Paul’s imagery of running a race & God’s discipline/training.  I am kind of a runner so I can identify with it.  So let’s imagine that I decide to run a marathon (hah!) and hire a coach to help train and prepare me for it. The first day of training, he shows up and tells me to run one lap around the track, and then we’ll go get ice cream. Each day continues like this. I may like this coach because, hey – this is easy! I can do this! But when race day comes around, I am never going to make it! My coach failed to train me!

Yet what if I had a coach who pushed me to do 3 miles…then 7…then 15…even though they were hard?  Even though my legs were exhausted? A coach who knew I was tired and knew that my legs were going to hurt, but still pushed me to go just a few miles further? On race day, I am going to be prepared. I will be ready to run.

It’s a small picture of what God does for us – He takes us through difficult times that we don’t enjoy, but they are necessary for our training. Christ  knows the race course ahead of us- He has run it before, and He holds the course record, if you will. So He is going to push you to do 15 miles when 15 miles seems to be impossible. And He is going to run right beside you the whole time. And if you are His child, through His grace, you will finish the race…and all of that training will be worth it all!

 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6)

So don’t give up! Fix your gaze on Christ and focus on daily putting one foot in front of another. God doesn’t promise us grace for the week, month, or year. He promises us grace enough for today. And when tomorrow comes, His grace will be there, too.

But this I call to mind ,and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;  his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

Check your heart

When you are struggling, ask yourself why it is that your new reality is such a challenge for you.  It’s going to require looking deep and being honest with yourself. It’s not always pretty, but the good news is that God can handle the ugliness of our hearts!  The ugliness may surprise me, but it never surprises Him! For me, I realized that I am struggling this year because I want a smooth & easy year more than I want to grow in Christlikeness. I know that God has ordained all of the circumstances for this year…but they weren’t the circumstances I wanted. I had my agenda…but God knew I needed something better.

Track your thoughts

I already know that Phil. 4:8 is going to be a staple verse for me this year!

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is   pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)

If I am going to grow in Christ this year, I have got to rein in my thoughts. I don’t know about you, but once I start allowing those negative thoughts to creep in, they pretty much swirl round and round until they have created a giant funnel cloud that  ruins my day and most likely the days of those I come into contact with. I need to run my thoughts through the filter of Phil. 4:8, and if they don’t pass the test, then I need to stop dwelling there and replace them with thoughts that are Christ-honoring. It’s going to be a daily battle – but if I want to please Christ,  it’s a battle that I must fight.

Find a way to serve others in your new reality

I am already a very selfish person. However, when my expectations are dashed, my world tends to shrink even smaller. I really don’t care about anyone else’s problems because I am wrapped up in my own.

By the grace of God, I need to stop spending so much time lamenting over my own issues, and I need to turn my eyes to the needs of others.  There have been many times when God opened my eyes to some of the struggles of those around me, and my own problems were quickly put into perspective.

Find ways to be a blessing to those around you. It doesn’t have to be something that takes tons of time – a quick text to let someone know that you are praying for them, a quick note placed into that difficult student’s desk, anything! Trust me, it’s amazing what a difference it will make!

So if you are facing discouragement or struggling with unmet expectations, remember that God already had your reality perfectly scripted out for you.  Take hope, check your heart, track your thoughts, & find a way to serve others through it all. One day we will see that God’s reality, even when painful, was so much better than our expectations would ever have been.

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Driven to Distraction

Congratulations on surviving the fidget spinners and water bottle flipping of the 2016-2017 school year!

I don’t know about you, but if I never hear the thwap of a water bottle hitting a table,  it will still be too soon.

I head up our day camp during the summer, so I am still hearing the whirring of fidget spinners…but I am hopeful that by August, that will have passed on as well (fingers crossed!).

While I certainly acknowledge that there are some students with legitimate needs for some type of fidgets, I know that in my class they were more of a distraction.  I lament how my students can’t just be quiet and still at times – they always have to be busy DOING something.

And I realized the other day how much I have in common with them in my spiritual life. I can also get so easily distracted!

It is amazing how when I sit down to spend some time in prayer & the Word how many distractions pop up. Notifications on my phone.  The dryer stopped & I need to unload & fold the laundry. I didn’t RSVP to that party e-vite. I just remembered that ingredient that needs to be put on my grocery list. I need to get my hot glue guns  & put them in my teacher bag so I don’t forget them for tomorrow’s activity. My to do list runs through my mind as I try to pray. My Bible reading tends to get rushed because of all the things clamoring for my time & attention.

Driven to Distraction by Doing

Sometimes I am just distracted by my DOING for God.  I don’t know about you, but every time I read the account of Mary & Martha in Luke 10, I always get a little bit defensive of Martha. Just like Martha, I am kind of irritated by Mary’s  just sitting there amidst the hustle and bustle. Hello, Mary – there is stuff to do! Get with the program! We would all love to sit at Jesus’ feet, but somebody’s got to get the food ready. When Jesus rebukes her, I feel her pain.  I can imagine myself in the kitchen commiserating with her after the fact.

I think Martha truly wanted to make a wonderful meal for Jesus.  This was her gift – her way to serve Him! And that desire to serve wasn’t a bad thing…but she got distracted when she took her perspective off of Christ and put it onto the performance itself. I can only imagine Martha running around the hot kitchen, stirring this, tasting that, directing a servant here, trying to sweep up the mess over there.  And the thought comes – where is Mary?  Why isn’t she in here helping? She bustles off to find little sister and finds her sitting at Jesus’ feet.  Maybe Martha returned to the kitchen to continue working , but she begins to mull over her thoughts. The more she thinks about it, the angrier she gets until she finally marches out to Jesus and practically demands Him to tell her sister to help her.

Oh, Martha, Martha.  I can only imagine all of the thoughts that are running behind that demand…

Perhaps a feeling of unfairness- I would love to visit with Jesus, but somebody has to get all of this work done!

Perhaps a feeling of disappointment that her service doesn’t seem to be noticed or appreciated. 

Perhaps an indirect accusation of Christ Himself – don’t you care that I am busy serving you and she is just sitting here? Can I get a little help?

I can imagine, because I have had the exact same thoughts. I run around serving Christ with my gifts – and at first, my service may be truly stemming out of love for Him…but then I get distracted. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that someone else isn’t being asked to do as much as I am doing. Someone else is getting more attention.  Someone didn’t seem to show any appreciation for the help that I gave them. And just like Martha, I let it simmer until I am thoroughly upset and my joy in service is gone.

And then Christ turns to Martha and gently rebukes her.

 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,  but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42)

He saw and knew all that she was doing for Him. But in her performance, she was missing out on the relationship.  That meal she was stressing over was temporary – it would be done and over within a few hours and would be followed by many more meals. But Mary’s love for Christ evidenced itself in sitting quietly at His feet,  just enjoying His presence.

Do you ever just sit and enjoy God’s presence?

Or are you so busy DOING for Him that your relationship with Him is rushed and pushed to the backburner?  That you are lashing out at those closest to you as you feel the stress of your to-do list growing? Even though you are serving Him, you don’t have any joy?

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joyat your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11, emphasis added)

When we are stressed out & have lost our joy in serving, we need to come to a screeching halt. We need to remember what life is all about – it’s all about loving God and glorifying Him (I Cor. 10:31). If I am stretched so thinly serving Him that I don’t have much time to invest in my personal relationship with Him, I am too busy. I have lost sight of the main thing & become distracted.

What does this look like in our lives?

While I want my classroom to be a fun and engaging environment,  that  can’t be my ultimate goal.  If my goal is to love & glorify God in all that I do, then how does that apply to my classroom? Well, it means loving my students and investing in relationships. It means teaching them the information that they are supposed to know at their grade level – to meet the expectations of my administration as well as helping my kiddos to see God in each subject.

Can I accomplish those goals by sometimes doing a lecture & worksheet lesson instead  of spending hours prepping a simulation complete with historically accurate costumes? Yes! Now I certainly want to strive to have exciting and interesting lessons, but it’s okay if not every single lesson is Pinterest-worthy!

Or what about that family in our church that I want to take a meal to?   While I want to serve others in the body of Christ, can I still glorify God by simply taking a pizza and a bagged salad to that family instead of the roast beef, homemade bread, vegetable casserole, and three layer chocolate cake?

I am not saying that we lower our standards – there are times and places where we CAN take the time to plan that elaborate classroom activity, where we CAN make that full roast beef meal for the family. But, it is okay to keep it simple, too!

Service or Performance?

How can we tell if our service for God has morphed into a performance for God and thus become a distraction?

  1. Check your Relationships

Are you finding that because of your service, you are missing the ministry to those closest to you? Your family? Friends? Students? You just feel that you don’t have enough time or energy for them or you find yourself lashing out in anger and impatience?

 Most importantly, how is your personal relationship with Christ? Are you so busy serving that you are struggling to find the time to meet with Him without being rushed?

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

  1. Check your Reactions

Would you rather not take a meal at all if it can’t be an amazing homemade one? How do you react if that classroom activity went off course? If that family didn’t gush in praise over your meal? If you are tempted to react in anger or moping, that is a sure sign that there is something deeper going on in your heart. 

…For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45b)

  1. Check your Heart

Why are you doing this in this manner? Is it so that your students will think you are an awesome teacher? So that family in the church will know what a great cook you are? Are you trying to impress God? Remember that your identity isn’t found in your performance – it’s found in Christ! 

If you realize that you have become distracted, there is hope! Run to Christ and confess it to Him (I John 1:9).  Look at your heart- is there a continuous thread of pride running through  that needs to be dealt with? Is there unbelief over your identity in Christ? Has love for other things pushed out your love for Christ?

As much as we can all sympathize with Martha, we need to learn from Mary! Don’t let your service for Him become a distraction!

 

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The Secret of a (Not So) Super Teacher

Every year, a couple of seasons in the school year convince me that I am in the wrong calling. Things build up and I become overwhelmed with what a failure I am as a teacher. I look around at the clutter, the kids who are struggling, the parent emails, and I figure that I am not cut out for this.

I watch the teachers in movies and TV who are always so sweet, perky, loving, meeting every child’s needs, saving children from poverty, ignorance, family situations…and they somehow manage to remain looking beautiful throughout the entire day (true story – one of my kids journaled that they liked how my hair looked…in the morning. Apparently by afternoon, it wasn’t up to standard!).

Sometimes I feel like I am drowning just trying to keep up, much less being like one of these “super teachers”.

I hate the feelings of weakness and insufficiency when I don’t have the answers. My pride retaliates at the idea that I have not “arrived” in my skills as a teacher.  I look at the  heavy responsibility for shepherding my students spiritually and academically, and my knees buckle beneath the weight.

God recently reminded me of the story of Joshua. He had a gigantic responsibility to lead the entire nation of God’s chosen people. He had huge shoes (er…sandals) to fill from the former leader, Moses. And God placed before him an enormous task of going in and conquering the Promised Land. I can’t help but wonder if Joshua had any feelings of insecurity or uncertainty similar to the feelings that plague me.

So at the beginning of the book of Joshua, God gave him some instructions and reassurance.  Typically reassurances from our well meaning friends and family members include listing our accomplishments and qualities and why we are perfect for the position.

That’s not what God did.

Not once did He list all of the reasons He chose Joshua to lead the people.

Not once did He remind Joshua of all of his qualifications to be the leader of Israel.

Nowhere does He sing Joshua’s praises.

Nope, God wasn’t trying to bolster Joshua’s self esteem as he faced a difficult, possibly overwhelming task.

Instead, God reminded Joshua of who was going to be with him as he faced this enormous responsibility.

Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave your or forsake you. (Joshua 1:5b)

Have not I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9)

Can you imagine the feeling of relief, security, & confidence that must have enveloped Joshua?  It’s okay, because God is going with me! The same God who repeatedly showed his faithfulness to Moses is the same God promising to be with me!

When I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of my responsibility, I must remember that the same God of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Esther, and David is the same God who is with me as I enter the classroom every day.

My assurance in times of uncertainty and difficulty must be in God’s character, not my qualifications. The solution to feeling overwhelmed is not to try to convince myself what a great teacher I am – it’s to turn my gaze to my amazing God and His promises to me in His Word!

Joshua is not the superhero leader swooping in to save the people of Israel.  God is the superhero  of this story…and He is also the superhero of my story and my students’ stories.

When I try to become the superhero in my own story, I face immense discouragement and frustration…because I realize I am woefully inadequate.  I have taught fractions every way that I know how and Johnny still doesn’t get it.  I have pulled every trick out of my bag to help Sarah pay attention in class to no avail. I don’t have the patience to repeat what page we are on for the fourth time.  I don’t know how to respond to that parent email or phone call without getting defensive. I don’t know how to keep my hair looking good all day long instead of just the morning!

I am not a super teacher.

But I have a super incredible God.

And the secret I must always remember  is that I am merely a tool in my super incredible God’s hands.

When I walk into my classroom each day, I am not walking in alone.  I am walking in…

  • Accepted & beloved through Jesus Christ though I deserve to be cast aside & punished. My acceptance is based on grace and not what I accomplish for God today.

 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)

  • With the power of God working in and through me. The same power that created the world, split the Red Sea, felled the walls of Jericho, and raised the dead is the same power at work in me and my students. Wow!

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us. (Eph. 3:20)

  • With the prayers and intercession of Jesus Christ & the Holy Spirit on my behalf before the throne of God.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27)

I can breathe when I realize that I am just the tool, not the superhero.

Now, of course, I am not advocating a simplistic “let go and let God” approach whereby you never attend professional development, search for new ideas, and grow in your knowledge because, after all, “God’s got it covered!” Joshua didn’t just sit back and hope that God would make sure it all happened okay. God gave him instructions to stay in God’s Word and be careful to obey (Joshua 1:7-8). Joshua had to step out in faith and actually lead the children of Israel. Joshua had work to do, and so do we!

If I am going to be a tool in God’s hands, I want to be the best tool that I can be! So I will seek to grow and expand my skills…but at the end of the day, I realize that without God, I am nothing.  You can have a beautiful, strong, & powerful tool that is the best tool available on the market…but if it’s not in the hand of someone who can use it…it’s nothing, just sitting there on the tool bench. On the flip side, many a great master has done incredible work with a tool that is not the newest and best. The Master’s skill is the key, but we want to be well prepared tools for His use.

So relax your expectations for yourself to be a “super teacher”.  Rest securely & confidently, knowing that everything does not solely depend on you! You are a tool in the hand of a loving, powerful Heavenly Father. His presence & His power are enough of a reassurance to face the overwhelming.  Stay close to Him, depend on Him instead of your limited abilities and resources. He delights to use broken things for His glory!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Eph. 6:10)

 

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Combatting a Complaining Spirit

The work never ends.

These kids are soooo lazy.

My students’ parents are completely unreasonable.

My administrator doesn’t understand.

These expectations are ridiculous!

Sometimes the complaints tumble from my lips while at other times they tumble round and round in my heart and mind throughout the day.

They swirl around and around until my joy has been completely sapped. I look around at my circumstances in despair and frustration. A resentment begins to build against people and circumstances that seem to be disrupting what I believe my life ought to be. And before I know it, that resentment has grown to include God – because, after all, isn’t He the One who is allowing these things?

And Satan leans back, rubbing his hands in glee as I lead myself down a path that leads to bitterness and unfruitfulness for Christ.

You see, those complaints were the beginning shoots of a weed that would grow stronger and stronger as I dwelt on them, ultimately stretching out their stems and leaves to try and choke out the life in my relationship with God and others.

And just as it’s not enough to take a pair of garden shears and lop off  the weed that we can see on the surface, it’s not enough to just “try harder” to not complain.

We must get to the root of the problem to eradicate it.

So how can we root out complaining

Realize what is at the heart of ingratitude

I did a lot of reading in college and barely remember most of what was in my freshman textbooks. However, I will always remember a quote from my Old Testament Survey book by Paul Benware. He said that “complaining is an attack on the love and character of God.”  Ouch. So often I categorize complaining as a “little” sin (if that!). I like to sugarcoat it with terms like “venting” or “sharing my concerns”.

Yet each complaining word that leaves my mouth is a slap in the face of my Father.

I was once a sinner who deserved immense punishment for my rebellion against the One who had created me. I deserved to be separated from Him forever.

He chose to adopt me into His family and gave His own perfect Son to take the punishment in my place.

I am a chosen member of the  King’s family, and He has given me so many promises. That He will be faithful. That He will love me unconditionally. That He will provide for me. That He is good and sovereignly  directing my life for His glory and my good. All of these promises and blessings are because of grace – I deserve Hell, but I got a Heavenly Father and a Son’s inheritance.

And not only has He given me the hope of an eternal home and a relationship with Him, but he has given me so many temporal blessings. The beauty of a sunset. The sound of the wind in the trees. A smile from a loved one. A home. A job.  Grace upon Grace. Goodness upon goodness. He has given me so much!

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (Col. 1:14,16)

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,who redeems your life from the pit,who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.  (Psalms 103:1-5)

And yet I zoom in on what I don’t have or don’t like. At  the center of my complaining heart is a heart that believes it deserves better than what God has given it. My lips sing that God is “my all in all” while my heart accuses Him that He is not enough. ..I must have Him and these circumstances going in my favor. Lord, help me keep my focus on all the blessings that you have given me!

Is the gratitude that flows out of your life as abounding as the grace that has flowed into your life? (Nancy Leigh Demoss Wolgemuth)

A complaining heart is also a heart that fails to believe God’s promises. We can surely quote Romans 8:28-29 all day long, but then we complain about that student or parent that God has brought into our lives. Wait, does Romans 8:28-29 only refer to some things working out for good? Is that issue with a parent, student, or coworker an exception to that promise of God?

Confess your heart of ingratitude

I am so quick to skip over confession. God convicts me of something, and I determine that I will do better…but do I actually take the time to stop and confess it to Him? After all, remember that our complaining hearts are a direct attack against Him! Complaining is not just a little faux pas, a minor “slip up” in good behavior. It is an act of rebellion against the One who gave all for us.

Let me encourage you to go beyond just a quick prayer that asks God to “forgive you for complaining”. Get alone with Him. Take time to meditate on Scripture that shows what God has to say about complaining. Confess to Him which specific promises and character traits you are failing to believe when you complain.

Grow a heart of gratitude

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:17, emphasis added)

Start your morning with praise – as you get ready in the morning, turn on some good music that will focus your mind on what God has done for you. As you shower and prepare your breakfast, check where your thoughts are going. Are you continually thinking about how tired you are, how much grading you have to do, the unfair demands of a parent, or the discipline problems of a student? Replace those thoughts with a time of praising God in prayer. Start thanking Him for what He has given you, what He has promised you for the day, and Who He is. Keep a gratitude journal.  Throughout the day, when you are tempted to complain verbally or in your heart, refuse to dwell on those complaints a single moment. Turn them into prayer and praise.

Lord, I confess I am so frustrated at this student right now. He just will not turn in his homework! But you know what is going on. You knew that I would come up against this issue again today. Thank you that you are wanting to use this situation to grow both this student and myself. Lord, I don’t know how to help him – but I thank you that YOU promise to give wisdom to anyone who asks for it. I can’t handle this on my own, but thank you that I don’t have to! Thank you for the grace that you have given me when I failed to meet your standards.

I love this quote from Nancy Leigh Demoss Wolgemuth:

I have learned in every circumstance that comes my way, I can choose to respond in one of two ways: I can whine or I can worship.

Replace your whining with worship! Share that worship with others and allow them to revel in the blessings that God has given instead of commiserating together over what is going wrong.

Let me promise you – it will be a battle. Just as you have to continually be on your guard with those pesky weeds in your garden and will continue to fight them, you must continually be on your guard in fighting a heart of ingratitude.  Saturate yourself in God’s Word. Determine that you will choose, by the grace of God, to respond in worship & praise to whatever circumstances that God brings your way.

Yes, there are many things that are difficult in teaching – but the secret to peace and gratitude is realizing that God knows, has allowed those things, and promises to be with you and help you in them.

Remember the words of Paul, sitting in a filthy jail – unfairly imprisoned in horrible circumstances, separated from friends & family, unable to continue his ministry in the way that he had planned.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11b-13)

 

*I heartily recommend the book Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss if you are looking for a solid, Biblical approach to joy & gratitude.

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Unfairly Judged

The hurt was overwhelming.

When the hurt wasn’t throbbing quite so painfully, the anger and defensiveness took over.

I felt that I had been misjudged.

It wasn’t fair.

They didn’t understand.

I had been unjustly treated.

As my emotions vacillated between the hurt and anger, I knew Christ was trying to teach me something in the experience.

I just wasn’t too sure that I really wanted to learn.

We have all been there – drowning in the injustice of a situation.  Whether it came about through a student, parent, administration, or family member, we know the feeling of being unfairly judged.

In my case, I wanted something or someone to show my accuser that they were wrong, and I was right. I wanted vindication!

But, of course, that’s not quite what God had in mind!

I should have known this was coming…after all, I had sort of asked God for it.

This past Christmas season, I had been really wanting to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Although I have never done Advent before, I had seen many neat ideas online. I decided to try it this year in my classroom to help us all look forward to the Savior’s birth. We would gather around our class Christmas tree each morning  and read some of the Old Testament stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible. I loved doing this as the storybook is perfectly set up to illustrate how those stories showed the need and longing for a Messiah. I wanted to understand that longing and anticipate Christ’s second coming throughout the holiday season.

When I faced my own personal misunderstanding, I understood that longing a little better.

After all, if anyone knew about longing for justice and peace, it was God’s own people.

How they had labored under such cruel masters! How long they had clung to the promise given hundreds and hundreds of years ago that Someone would come to deliver them…yet as grandparents told the promise to their children who told it to their children and so on, it may have become little more than a fairy tale to them.  After all, God had been promising this for about 700 years! Yet, here His people were, still under oppression. Still being mistreated. Still suffering injustice. Still no peace.

Where was their Savior?

The Savior that Isaiah had promised in his prophecy so long ago?

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)

It was a verse I had heard every Christmas. It was a good Bible verse. It was typically on my Christmas bulletin board in the hallway. It was the prophecy of the birth of Jesus. It was in the Hallelujah chorus. It was just one of those verses that showed up a lot at Christmas time and everybody knew.

But this year, this verse was different for me.  For the first time, Christ’s names really jumped out at me in light of what I had gone through.

Wonderful Counselor

The One who would give wisdom to me in dealing with this difficult situation.

Mighty God

The One who is almighty and all powerful. This situation seemed impossible, but He is a Savior that specializes in the impossible.

Everlasting Father

He is MY Father. He will always be my Father. He will never leave me or forsake me. He knows and understands the pain that I am feeling right now.

The Prince of Peace

He is the One who can bring peace. He is the One who can work in hearts on this earth to bring about peace, and He is also the One who will bring ultimate peace one day.

I began to understand that yearning God’s people felt in their hearts for This Promised One – the yearning for peace and a day when all would be set right.

Yet, when He finally came, they rejected Him.

He didn’t fit their idea of a Savior. He was meek. He came to serve. He got His hands dirty and spent time with sinners. No thank you, they wanted someone to come with swords blazing and free them from Roman oppression. Their narrow view of a Savior caused them to miss Him when He finally did come.

Oh, let me not make the same mistake! As I long for your second coming when conflict and misunderstandings will be no more, help me to keep my eye on the greater picture. This is not about making sure that I am proven right and justified before another party.

This is all about you.

When I am misunderstood or misjudged, it is a reminder that this world is not my home, that I cannot be satisfied here on earth. This earth and all who are in it are broken. It’s a reminder of why you came – to redeem this shattered, sin-sick world.

I am reminded that you know exactly what it is like to live in this unfair world. In fact, your entire life was spent being unfairly judged & misunderstood. You know and understand how I feel – in fact, you understand in a deeper way than I ever can because you were perfect and yet misjudged!

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrew 4:15)

I am reminded that you chose to voluntarily undergo the most severe injustice that has ever or will ever be served so that I, your enemy, might be declared righteous.

You suffered willingly, humbly, and lovingly.

When life isn’t fair, help me to remember that these situations are windows that allow me a glimpse into who you are and what you have done for me.

Help me to follow your example and respond in humility and love instead of pride and bitterness.

 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (I Peter 2:23)

Help me to not place my value in what others think of me, but to trust that you know the truth, and I can rest in that.

And thank you for bringing unjust treatment along throughout my life…because anything that makes me yearn for you  is a good thing!

 

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Dear Parents of my Students…

Dear Parents,

I don’t know if you noticed, but your child came to class today without their coat…and it’s 40 degrees outside. What would you like me to do with them for recess?

You may not have realized that your child didn’t do their homework again…even though I have let you know every other time your child didn’t complete their homework. Do you check it?

Did you know that your child forgot to bring their lunch to school…again?

  Do you see the behavior notices that I am sending home? Do they raise any concerns?

I admit that sometimes I don’t have the most loving attitude towards you. I secretly feel that if you did your job better, my job would be easier…and you probably feel the same way about me! I know that you are frustrated with me for many things as well!

Can I let you know something? I am overwhelmed. I love your kiddo and would jump in front of a bullet for them, but I feel like a failure at meeting the individual needs of my entire classroom of students. I know I am not meeting all the needs of your child – trust me, I know! I have 18 students, and the feeling of not being able to meet all of their needs about drives me to quit teaching.

I can’t tell you how much I desperately desire to send your kids out of my classroom one year later as children who are kinder, more responsible, and more in love with their Savior. I also want to try to help them become smarter, help them to try and stay organized,  teach them academic lessons, how to get along with others at recess, get them to their art, music, PE and private lessons on time, be their nurse, their counselor, their cheerleader, their disciplinarian…while keeping up with lesson planning and the mass of paperwork that I am responsible for grading.

But you probably feel pretty overwhelmed, too. You do it all day every day for 18+ years. There is no summer vacation or Christmas break for you. There is no end of the year. You have to hold down your own full time jobs and all the pressures that go along with that, come home to fix dinner/do laundry/take care of the home, car, yard; pay your bills on time, get your kids to all their extracurriculars, keep up with church activities, and get your kids out the door early in the morning because you have to be at your job on time. God has ultimately placed the responsibility for your children in your hands. Wow. I feel overwhelmed just looking at all you have got on your plate.

And all of a sudden, I understand how your child can walk out the door without a coat or lunch. I understand that homework isn’t being checked like it should be because maybe you are just trying to hold everything together and keep up with it all. That maybe you let your child get away with something because you are just so tired of dealing with the same issues over and over again, and you don’t even know what to do about it.

I can understand because that is how I can send them home without the study guide that I forgot to hand out in the end of the day chaos.

I can understand because it’s how I forgot to communicate with you in advance about those supplies that were needed to be brought in to school today.

I can understand because that is how I missed that issue involving your child  that happened at school today.

Now, it doesn’t mean it’s right when you or I drop the ball in different areas…but when we look at all each other has going on, it might help us to understand one another better. It may help both of us to be a little more willing to extend grace to each other.

So maybe instead of criticizing you, I should start praying for you.  I pray for the school staff, my students, the school…but am I praying for you? That God would give you wisdom as you raise your child? That God would give you grace to juggle all of your responsibilities? Certainly it is a far better use of my time and energy than grousing about how parents today are too lenient, how they don’t care, how they’re raising their kids all wrong.

And can you pray for me? Pray that I would have wisdom as I work with your child throughout the day. Pray that God would give me discernment in meeting the needs of a classroom full of kids that are each uniquely different. Pray that God would give me grace as I juggle all of the paperwork and planning involved in teaching as well as reaching the hearts of my students.

Pray that God would help both of us live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).

Pray that God would give both of us His wisdom that is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

We are on the same side.

We are both fighting to prepare your child to grow to love and serve Christ in a hostile culture .

We may use different tactics, but at the end of the day, our goal is the same.

To “[show]  to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done…That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:4,7)

It’s a huge responsibility that we can’t fulfill on our own or even working together – we both desperately need God’s grace!

So let’s prayerfully, graciously move forward together, knowing that we also have the King of Kings on our side giving us all that we need to steward the gift of your child!

Love,

Your Child’s Teacher

 

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My Classroom is Messy

It was a Wednesday evening at prayer meeting.

Wednesdays are loooong days of the week for me. Many times I drag myself into prayer meeting feeling a little more dead than alive. By that point, my hair has fallen limply out of its curls.  My make-up didn’t survive the day, and I probably have a large pen mark on my shirt or skirt.

My pastor had us open to the book of Proverbs that night…to a chapter and verse I am sure that I have read before. It was never a verse that had really stuck out to me, though.

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the   strength of the ox.  (Prov. 14:4)

It just didn’t seem like the verse I would have prettily scripted out in calligraphy on scrapbook paper and stuck to my bathroom mirror.

But as my pastor read Proverbs 14:4 that night, I found myself perking up and smiling instantly. It described me and my classroom perfectly!

The verse essentially teaches that if you don’t have any oxen – you’ve got a really clean barn…but not much productivity.  On the other hand, if you have oxen, you’ve got more of a mess, but you also have a huge blessing in the help that they can be.

Sooooo, I wouldn’t say that my classroom is quite as messy as the barn mentioned in that verse…but…some days it can be pretty rough. Pencils everywhere (except in a student’s hand when we are starting a spelling test – then there is nary a pencil to be found!). Little snowfalls of pencil and eraser shavings are sprinkled around individual desks.  Tiny pieces of paper litter the ground. Can we all just admit that kids are messy? They track goose poop all over your carpet when they come in from the soccer field. They mess up your perfectly organized classroom library. They don’t turn in their homework and make you chase them down for it. They get in fights with their friends. They whine. They tattle. They go CRAZY the week before vacation.

Their parents can be pretty messy, too…they forget to sign those forms; they stop to talk to you at inopportune moments; they forget to send their student with that special item needed that day. Sometimes they are upset over an issue, and that can be messy to deal with, too.

But for all of my students and their families’ messiness, their teacher is just one big mess, too.

You see, as my pastor pointed out that night – ministry is messy.

I get frustrated when I expect it to be otherwise. When I expect my 18 kiddos to sit perfectly and understand long division the first time I explain it and never forget their lunches and love each other and never disagree and be fully engaged in listening to my voice for about 35 hours a week…well, needless to say that my expectations get dashed within the first 10 minutes of a Monday morning!

Sometimes I think about what it would be like to work in a job where things aren’t so messy. I look at all of the sweat, heart, and soul that I pour into teaching and guiltily think that there has got to be something easier out there to do.

And you know what? I know there are easier jobs out there… but there aren’t many jobs that have this kind of return investment.

Just as that farmer would have a much easier job cleaning the barn if he didn’t have any oxen, I feel that sometimes I could be a great teacher…if it weren’t for the kids 😉 Yet, those oxen are worth the mess to the farmer because of all the benefits they bring to him.

And my own little messy classroom is worth it. I may get to see glimmers of the benefits this year in my class – that smile, note, or sweet words from a student or their parent. I have the opportunity to see how God is using my messy students to work on my own messy heart. But only when I cross into eternity will I get to see the true returns on my investment. Only in Heaven will I get to see the lives impacted and changed.

Maybe it won’t be hundreds of students that I have impacted…but if I can help even one child love Christ more and choose to serve Him, wouldn’t it all be worth it for just that one child? One changed life?

And when I stand before Christ to lay any rewards at His feet, I am not going to be thinking of all the messiness involved in teaching – the frustration, long hours and stacks of grading, the difficult students or parents. I am going to be praising Him for His faithfulness in helping me to steward my messy little piece of earth in a 3rd/4th grade classroom in Charlotte, NC.

I am going to thank Him for how he took a perfect mess and turned it into something so perfectly glorifying to Him.

Ministry is messy, but it’s worth it.

O Lord, you are my God;  I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure (Isaiah 25:1).

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When Your Best isn’t Good Enough

My sneakers pound the black belt of the treadmill. Faster. The speed picks up. Faster. The voice whispers again. I push harder. The treadmill picks up speed and I break into a sprint to keep up. Faster. Longer. Better. I gasp for breath but my sneakers keep pounding.

I blink and I realize it’s not the treadmill that’s pushing me – it’s me. Do more. The voice whispers. Be more.  Everything begins whirling as I frantically try to gain control and keep up. But it all goes faster and faster. Keep going. You’ve got to be better.

And as I try to keep up, I begin to wonder – when did I have to start being the best at everything?  The perfect student, the perfect teacher, the perfect friend, the perfect Christian? The girl who outwardly has everything together and knows exactly where she is going in life? The girl who can never slip up?

I am constantly running, trying to be faster, better, stronger. As exhaustion sets in, I grit my teeth and push through it.  My students need me. My family needs me. My church needs me. To admit I can’t do it all is weakness. To share my struggles with someone else makes me look needy. But I’m supposed to be the person who has it all together- weakness and neediness are not options. And so I push – harder and harder. I will be the best. I will succeed. And I will do it on my own.

And the treadmill spins out of control.

I fall down. Hard. Embarrassed. Glancing around to see if anyone witnessed my disgrace. The voice that urged me on now cruelly sneers at me. Way to blow it. What a failure. Did you really think you could be good enough? Now look what you’ve done – you’ve ruined it all! And I sit there on the cold ground as the treadmill keeps going beside me. But I’m not on it. And I wonder if I’ll ever be back on it.

Maybe I have failed in an aspect of my classroom management. Maybe I missed the deadline. Maybe I disappointed my administrator or my students’ parents. Maybe I let down my own family.

But as I sit there humiliated in the stillness, a kind voice calls to me. Come unto me and I will give you rest. Give me your heavy burden and take mine instead, for it is light, and you will find rest for your soul.

Tears stream down my face as I pant heavily. No, Lord, really, I can do it! Just give me another chance! I’ll try harder. I’ll do better.

 Daughter, you can’t do it. And that’s okay! You were not meant to be able to do it — to bear this burden of perfection. I have already borne it for you. I have taken it off your shoulders yet you insist on fighting me to try and take it back. Be still. Be still and know that I am God (and you are not!).

And it hits me – I am not God.  I am not perfect. I do not have everything under my control.  I can’t be enough for my students, their families, my family, and my church. I can’t meet all of their needs.

But God is  enough for them – and for me.  I just have to step back, slow down, and trust Him with what I can’t do.

So when my best is not good enough – when I fail? By God’s grace, He will help me to stand back up. He will put me back on the treadmill…but He puts His hand over the controls. He is the One who is going to set the pace this time. He knows what I can handle with His help.

He is not disappointed that I can only do a 2.0 mph pace instead of the 8.0 mph that I want to do.

He allowed me to spin out of control to bring me back to the point of dependence on Him. He knows that other than Satan, I am my own worst enemy!

It isn’t His voice I hear telling me that I am a failure. His voice is whispering,

I have loved you with an everlasting love…

Nothing shall be able to separate you from my love…

And knowing that God’s love for me didn’t change because I wasn’t good enough today? Well, I can face anything if I know that He still loves me! Back when I accepted Christ as my Savior, God knew I would fail. He didn’t adopt me into His family because He knew what an amazing addition I would be! He chose me, knowing full well all the ugliness and messiness I would bring along with me!

How thankful I am that I serve a God who rewards faithfulness, not perfection.

For the righteous falls seven times and rises again… (Prov. 24:16A)

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Asking the Expert

“How do you help a student get organized?”

“How do you help a student struggling with reading comprehension?”

“How do you help a student who can’t stay in their seat?”
“How do I get play dough out of the carpet before my custodian finds out and kills me?”

What did teachers do before Google?

Seriously, I don’t think I go one day without Googling something.

I am so glad that Google does not judge me for some of the rather….well, dumb, things that I ask. Because I ask a lot of questions.

When I am not on the internet surfing for answers to my myriad of teacher questions, I am hunting down the other teachers in my school and asking them question upon question.

How would you handle this?

What would you do in this case?
What do you think?

I love getting answers. I love the feeling of implementing something that I learned to hopefully solve a problem I am facing in my classroom.

One day, I realized that when I have a question, my default is to Google it and begin to pick other teachers’ brains around the world.

Now that is not necessarily a bad thing – asking questions from those who know more than we do is a very wise course of action! In fact,  Proverbs encourages us to listen to others instead of relying only on what we know!

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,  but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)

However, I realized that my questions always drove me first to “the experts” rather than to THE EXPERT.

My first response should be to take my question to the One who created and knows both me and my student.

After all, where better to find answers?

My God wants me to come to him with my concerns and issues. He isn’t so busy taking care of world affairs that he doesn’t have time to “deal with” my problem of a class that won’t stop talking. He isn’t going to scold me for taking up his time for something so “minor” in the grand scheme of the universe. He tells me to come to him. He tells me to ask. He promises that He will give.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

I want my default to be that I take everything to Christ first.

Before I jump on the internet, pull out my college textbooks, or grab the ear of a colleague, I want to first start on my knees. Praying that God would…

  1. Give me Wisdom – wisdom in choosing the proper way to deal with the situation. There are so many ideas out there – I need wisdom to choose the methodology or solution that would be most helpful to my student.
  2. Help the student that is struggling – That He would encourage the heart of that student who is academically behind. That Sarah would realize that her value is in Christ and not her GPA. That little Johnny would be able to stay in his seat. That through these struggles, these students would be drawn to love Him more and realize their own need of help from Christ.
  3. Give wisdom to others involved in the situation – that He would help parents know how best to help their child. That administration would have wisdom in making decisions that could affect this student.

Those behavior issues? Yes, I will probably still ask others for advice…but I will first pray that God would work in that student’s heart. That neat Pinterest behavior modification idea may help…but without prayer for a changed heart, all I am doing is helping to mask the symptoms of that student’s sinful heart.

Those parent issues? Sure, I will use that great communication idea found on a blog…but first, I am going to pray for my own heart in dealing with that family. That I would be loving and Christ like in the way that I relate to them. Then I am going to pray for those parents – that God would give them wisdom in raising their children and that they would also have the correct responses in the face of conflict.

And when I get to see God answer those prayers and work in powerful ways, I will know that it is not because I am such a wonderful and clever teacher. I will know that He graciously listened to my request and worked in ways that only He can work.  I will know that He directed me to that idea to help my student who struggles with reading comprehension. I will know that He worked in my heart, my students’ hearts, and their parents’ hearts. I will know that He is the one who deserves all the praise.

So I am not finished asking the experts, yet.

But I do want to ask the all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving Expert first.

Praying this year that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1:17).

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Loving the Hard-to-love Student

Maybe you have gotten your class list for the upcoming school year and you were eagerly reading it when a name on the page brought you to a screeching halt.

You got THAT KID.

Of all the students that ended up in your class, you ended up with THAT KID.

He is legendary among his former teachers.

The stories you have heard about him are enough to get you to consider retiring at 35.

He may be obnoxious. She may be lazy. He may be disrespectful. She may be argumentative. He may be disliked by every other student. Whatever he may be, he will be a challenge.

Most teachers I know would take a bullet for any one of their kids. We love each and every one of our students…and yet that very student I would jump in front of a bullet for, I can act so unloving with in my daily interactions. I get tired of dealing with the same discipline issues. I get frustrated with their derailing of my plans. I just want them to learn their lesson! I want them to make my life easier! Why do they have to be so difficult?

When I look into God’s Word, I see so many examples of hard-to-love students.

That student who always spoke their mind…that was Peter.

That student who thought that they knew better than the teacher…Well, that was Peter, again.

That student who just never seemed to learn his lesson…that was the entire nation of Israel!

The student who turned against the One pouring His life into him…that was Judas.

The student who whined and complained no matter how much they had been given…that was…Wait. That is me. Don’t I look at all the blessings that God has given me and whine about what I don’t have?

Come to think of it…I am also that student who speaks her mind to God about what I do and don’t like about His plans for my life. I’m that student who turns her back on God and does her own thing many times. I’m the student that never seems to learn the lessons that God is teaching me. I’m the student that thinks I know better than the teacher.

Hmmm…could it just be that I am a hard-to-love student?

That despite all of the good things I may have done…really, I haven’t done anything that could possibly deserve God’s love? That before salvation, I was actually God’s enemy?

And, all of a sudden, that hard-to-love student and I have something in common. A BIG something! Neither one of us deserves love based on our actions and attitudes.

But, you know what? True love doesn’t depend on how much somebody deserves it. True love is unconditional. It is freely given.

How thankful I am that my Heavenly Father didn’t give up loving me. He didn’t love me because I was anything special. He didn’t love me because I deserved that love. He just loved me. That’s who He is.

He loved me so much, that even while I was His enemy, He sent His beloved Son to take my punishment.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, emphasis added)

I have been shown such amazing grace and unconditional love even when I was at my worst.

How can I then, being loved and accepted despite my condition, turn to that hard-to-love student and just let them go?

Give up on them and ride out the year?

Constantly nag at them and their faults?

Speak harshly to them and about them?

Because, you know what? Who doesn’t love the kids who love them back? They’re the easy ones -the ones who scribble “best teacher ever” on their spelling tests, bring you treats and handwritten cards, and just float through your class following all of the rules. It takes a heart changed by Christ to love the student who blatantly disrespects you, shows no regard for your rules, and seems to hate your guts.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies [I certainly hope you don’t consider your student an enemy – but I think the principles here still apply!] , do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse youIf you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (Luke 6:27-28, 32; emphasis added)

Lord, help me to show that student the unconditional love that you have shown to me.

Help me to  faithfully pray for that student…committing to pray for them every single day this year. It’s hard to spend that much time praying for someone without loving them.

Lord, help me to act loving even when I don’t necessarily feel loving. Help me to remember that love is a choice. It is not a feeling. Even when I am struggling with this student, help me to find the next loving thing that I can do for them.

That may mean sending them back to their seat so I can have a moment to pray before dealing with the discipline issue.

That may mean actively looking for something that I can praise them for or thank them for doing.

That may mean slipping a note inside of their desk for them to discover the next day.

That may mean asking them to join me for lunch or an after school snack in the classroom.

That may mean giving up some of my desires and rights to find a way to serve that student. It will mean sacrifice. But the sacrifices I may make don’t come close to the sacrifice that was made for me!

Lord, help me to remember that if this student is hard for me to love, he is probably hard for others to love. If I don’t show him your love, who will?

And most of all, thank you for loving this hard-to-love student so much that you sacrificed all to adopt me into your family. You knew what you were getting – and yet you still chose me.

When I show love to that hard-to-love student, I am living out a picture of the Gospel.  Lord, help this hard-to-love teacher love as she has been loved.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

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