Thoughts from a Teacher in Today’s Schools

I have so many thoughts running through my head and my heart – a jumbled collection of ideas clouded by fear, devastation, frustration, and anger with no real organization or solutions in mind. As a result, I’m afraid this blog post will probably reflect the chaos in my heart, and that’s okay: I think it’s safe to say at this point, it probably reflects the way most of us feel right now. I will do my best to make it as cohesive as possible…bear with me.

First, I want to be clear that this post is not political, nor is it designed to point fingers at anyone. It is not intended to start a debate; I want no part in arguing. I don’t even identify myself as a Democrat or a Republican. The only label I am comfortable wearing is Christian. I hate politics and the divisive hatred it brings with it. While I do follow the news and the words and actions of our elected leaders and cast my vote in each election, I refuse to get into pointless heated discussions with people who don’t agree with my beliefs.

With that said, I think the one thing both sides will agree with is this: we, as a nation, are in trouble. The tragedy in Florida is only the latest in a series of violent acts – acts that are carried out against our children. Our CHILDREN. And instead of coming together, instead of mourning with those parents and families who sent their babies off to school, not knowing it would be the last time they’d ever see them, we’re fighting. Fighting over what needs to be done, over who is to blame, over what should happen next. And while I understand and appreciate the passion from which those arguments come, I also know that it’s not going to bring those babies back and it sure isn’t going to prevent it from happening again in the near future.

The truth is, somewhere along the way – okay, multiple times along the way – the shooter in Florida was failed. I don’t know his whole story or what it would have taken to get through to him, to help him realize his own worth and get the help he needed to get his life on the right track, but whatever it was, he didn’t have it. We can blame the fact that he was allowed to purchase a gun in the first place…we can blame the FBI and anyone else involved who didn’t respond appropriately to reports…but none of that gets to the heart of the matter.

I hear your cries for gun control. Trust me, as a teacher, I get it. I’ve gone through active shooter training. I’ve planned escape routes and imagined how to best protect and hide my students. I’ve long accepted the fact that if it came to it – and I pray to the good Lord that it never does – I would die protecting my students because I love them. I love every single one of them and would give my life without hesitation if it meant saving theirs. And I can say with confidence that every single teacher I know would do the same. It is a job we chose because we love kids and want to be around them, want to impact them, in the best possible way we can. We live in a society where as a whole, teachers aren’t valued. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t scroll my Facebook feed and then shut off my phone in disgust as I see yet another parent ranting about a teacher, followed by dozens of comments from other parents raging about individual teachers and the school system as a whole. I had a student tell me flat out, just this past week, that his parents didn’t like a particular teacher so they told him he could make her life as miserable as he wanted to. But you know what? That teacher would still take a bullet for that child.

Herein lies a piece of the puzzle of What is wrong with this world: Respect. And no, I’m not blaming our kids here. Our kids are merely a product of the environment – home, school, and media combined. They are what they see and hear and watch on a daily basis. How can we expect more out of our kids in this insane world we’ve brought them into? How can we expect them to respect their teachers and each other when they don’t see it out of us? Again, I’m not here to point fingers at anyone. I’m far from the perfect parent and make mistakes daily with my boys. My kids see me scrolling through my phone far too often, and then I get frustrated when they get too wrapped up in technology. Our kids will hear our words, but it’s our actions that will leave the greatest impact. When a kid sees hatred and violence at home, he becomes desensitized to the damage that comes with it. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t lie awake at night, crying and praying for some particular kid who told me about something disturbing he or she heard/saw/experienced at home. My ten-year-old fifth graders have seen Rated R movies that I won’t even watch. They play video games that glorify killing and beating people. It simply isn’t possible for a young, impressionable mind to take in that kind of violence and behavior and not be affected in some way. “Eh, I watched that kind of stuff as a kid and I didn’t grow up shooting people.” Maybe so, but the world we live in today is not the same world you grew up in years ago. The Internet and social media have changed the whole ballgame. These kids today – they face challenges that we as adults never even dreamed of during childhood. Let’s give them a break. Instead of putting all the blame on them, let’s root for them. Let’s try to change the world for them. Let’s let them see us coming together for each other instead of bashing each other and filling our minds and our newsfeeds with hatred. We can’t control the choices that every parent makes regarding their children, and so many of our kids don’t speak up about the abuse, neglect, and illegal behavior that occurs at home. We, as adults, have to step up for those kids. Become their voice. Offer them a mentor, a safe haven, whenever and however we can.

Back to the gun control issue: I get it. After Sandy Hook, especially, I was the first one to cry out that citizens shouldn’t own those military-style guns that can kill multiple people in under a minute. And you know what? I still believe that. It is an unpopular opinion in my little town in southern Illinois, and I have several male relatives who own them who are, if they’re reading this, sounding their war cry against me as we speak. “You can’t take away my Constitutional rights! You can’t take my guns!” But when it comes to the safety of my kids – both my own and the ones who are mine every day between 8:00 and 3:00 – I would do whatever I can to ensure we save as many lives as we can. Do I think there should be strict background checks on anyone buying a gun? Absolutely! Do I think our nation needs to look at our existing laws concerning guns and think about making some changes? Of course. But with that being said, I’m also not naïve enough to think that creating new gun laws will solve the whole problem. We all know that making something illegal does not make it obsolete. Look at the statistics of illegal drug usage. Of alcohol use by minors. If a criminal is determined to get their hands on a gun of some kind, he or she will find a way to do it. No, that doesn’t mean we should make it easy for them, but creating these laws will only create a black market for guns. People will still find a way to get their hands on them.

And so, I’m back to square one.

Parents, I hear your frustrations. I hear your cries that children are reporting bullying and other incidents, only to have “nothing done about it.” The truth is, there’s always something done about it. Schools have a protocol in place as to what happens when bullying or inappropriate behavior occurs. Those students who report it may not see it, as most action is handled in private as per privacy protocol demands, but something happens. The thing is, as teachers and even administrators, our hands are often tied. There are hoops to jump through for any serious consequences to occur. The sad reality is, if a student says something that makes another student uncomfortable but doesn’t actually DO anything, like commit a crime, there’s only so much that can be done. Instead of getting angry with our teachers and administrators, who are simply following the legal protocol, we need to call for a change in policy, nationwide, as to getting students effective help as soon as any alarm bells begin to sound.

I don’t have the answer. I do know one thing, though, and this is the part that won’t be so popular with a lot of people: you can’t really hope for any kind of change unless you bring God into this equation. We can’t continue to demand that He is left out of things and then get angry when He doesn’t seem to be here anymore. The thing is, He’s STILL HERE. Our Bible assures us that He will never leave us or forsake us. He didn’t cause this violence to happen, and for those who are shaking their fists at Him and blaming Him, I can assure you that He is weeping right along with us. But He does not, and never has, forced Himself on anyone. And as a result, sin runs rampant. When people don’t know Him and choose to reject His love, it allows Satan to get a foothold in those people and in turn, on the situation. Let me be clear about one thing: Satan is behind each and every one of these school shootings. He is a master manipulator. For those who are reading this, rolling their eyes…well, he’s manipulating you at this moment. I know because he used to have a hold in me, too. I know what he’s capable of. He is the one who convinces these poor, lost kids that violence is some sort of glorified revenge. But you know what else he’s behind? He’s behind all this hatred in our country. He comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and that’s why he loves division. As long as we’re all fighting, he stays in control and NOTHING CHANGES.

It’s time for us, as Christians, to step up. Maybe we can’t change the whole world, but we can start in our own little areas. It’s time to spread the message of God’s love, even if it makes people uncomfortable. It’s time to show our kids that they are created for a purpose, that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that there is more to this life than what they’re seeing in their schools and even at home. It’s time to help them see the joy and peace that God can give them, even in the midst of the worst circumstances. It’s time for us, as adults, to take responsibility for these kids. All of them, not just our own. It’s time to pray fervently – for our kids, for our parents, for our teachers, for our schools – because we know that prayers are not just empty words but powerful pleas that can move mountains.

I believe with all my heart, Christians, that if we want to see a change in this world, it has to start with us. So let’s come together. Let’s rise above the hate and stop getting caught up in all the arguing and blaming and pointing fingers. Jesus called us to spread His message to all the world, and we need it now more than ever.

We believe because we’ve seen what Jesus can do in our own lives. We’ve seen what prayer can do, what choosing love can do. We’ve experienced His power. Let’s help the world experience it, too.

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His Perfect Plan

I started praying to God about a week ago, asking Him what message He wanted me to share this Christmas. It’s been about three months since I last posted on my blog – I’ve been working on the first draft of a new novel and I’ve let it consume most of my writing time. But a week ago, with the first draft under my belt, I prayed. God, give me the words You want me to say.

But the words wouldn’t come.

I sat down at my computer more than once throughout this past week, sure that once my fingers touched the keys, the words would flow through them. But they didn’t. I was blank. Come on, God, there must be something You want me to say.

The more I thought about this mental block, I realized it wasn’t only affecting my writing. It was affecting my daily life as well. And that especially included my prayer life. This thing, this burden in my mind, consumed my thoughts daily.

I believe in transparency, and I try to be as open as I can when it comes to sharing my life – including those parts that are far from perfect. But this issue isn’t one I can share so freely, as it involves another person, and I also believe in protecting the privacy of those I love. And so, I will leave it at this: there’s an issue that impacts my life in a big way, and I can’t do much to control it. It’s something I’ve been praying about for over a year, but for whatever reason, I haven’t received the answer I seek. I go to God about it often – daily – and ask Him to fix it. That’s what the Bible says to do, right? “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that what I’m asking for is in line with God’s will. I know it’s what He wants for the person I’m praying for and for everyone else involved. Yet…it still hasn’t changed.

I’m not angry with God for not answering my prayer yet. But I can’t help but become frustrated. Why hasn’t anything changed yet? Why can’t I hear Him this time?

This morning at church, our youth group put on a fantastic Christmas play. I laughed out loud over and over again, along with the rest of our little church, which was packed with people. But at one point, the play took a serious turn and one of the kids read from Luke chapter 2, the story of Jesus’s birth. And as I listened to that story, I couldn’t help but picture Mary and Joseph, who must have been so overwhelmed by what was happening. I imagined what Mary must have been thinking the night Jesus was born. God, I trust You. I’m willing to give birth to Your Son. But the inn is full, and I’m in pain. Your Son can’t be born out here in this manger, in the midst of animals. She was so young, so innocent. This isn’t the way this is supposed to happen, she must have told Him. Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all.

But Jesus was born that silent night, exactly how He was supposed to come into this world – a humble birth, unfit for a King, yet absolutely perfect. Exactly the way God said it would happen over and over again in the Old Testament. I’m sure Mary couldn’t see that at the time, but when the shepherds came and shared their amazing story of the angels who had appeared and led them to Jesus, the Bible tells us that she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She saw that His plan had been perfect all along, and all her worries had been for nothing.

Jesus came here to be with us. God loves us so much that He couldn’t stand the idea of our separation from Him, so He became one of us to be the sacrifice for our sins. He didn’t have to come down that night, didn’t have to enter this world in that little stable. He chose to. Because He loves us. No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, He loves us. At my very worst, most unlovable moments, He still loved me. And because I accept Him as my savior, He doesn’t even remember those moments. When I mess up – and I do, every single day – He still loves me. And He forgives me.

And one of the most beautiful parts of having Him living inside my heart is this: this burden that has plagued me for so long can be given to Him. I believe in the power that comes from dropping to my knees and laying it all at His feet. I’ve done that, over and over again. But I realized this morning that I’ve been praying about it, laying it at His feet, and then as soon as I say “Amen,” I pick that burden right back up and carry it around with me. I think about it, obsess about it, wonder what I can do to fix it. And the truth is, only He can fix it. I had to lay it down once and for all today, to truly let go and just trust that He has it under control. And when He finally answers this prayer, it will be in His perfect timing, and I will be in awe of his plan and realize that my worries have been useless.

I’m so thankful for a savior who loves me and wants to carry my burdens for me. All I have to do is seek Him and turn it over to Him. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). That doesn’t mean He’s going to fix my problems right away; it means He will give me peace in spite of those problems. And for that, I am overwhelmingly grateful.

He chose to come here, to be with us. Even if He never does another single thing for me, that will be more than enough. But His gift goes even further than eternal life. No matter our histories, no matter our darkest secrets, He still looks at us with love. He sees us not for who we are, but for who He created us to be. And all we have to do is invite Him into our hearts! I didn’t do anything to deserve His love or His forgiveness, but because I choose to accept Him, He gives it to me freely.

If you don’t know Him and the peace and love that only He can give, please, accept the gift of Jesus this Christmas. Give Him a chance to work in your heart, to make your life better than you ever imagined it could be. Experience His perfect love and all that comes with it. Let Him carry your burdens.

He’s waiting with love.

Is This The Last Week???

There’s been a lot of talk this month about the apocalypse. I’ve seen multiple articles in my Facebook newsfeed about this Saturday, September 23, being the day of the Rapture. If you haven’t read about this, I encourage you to do so. I’ll admit, the case being built for that day is interesting, based on Revelation 12 and an alignment of Jupiter, the sun, and the moon and the fact that it falls during the time of the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana and the Fast of Gedaliah. Research it and decide what you think about it for yourself.

But I’m not here today to tell you the world is going to end this week, especially not specifically on September 23. The Bible tells us clearly that “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). I don’t believe we can pinpoint a specific moment this will occur.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Jesus promised us in John 14:2-3 that He would return. “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” And he also told us to look for signs. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31). So maybe we can’t predict the exact day or time, but that doesn’t mean He wants us to be blindsided by the end.

Will the rapture happen on September 23? I don’t know. But here’s what I do know: the Bible promises that He will return and it gives us signs to look for so that we are not surprised by it. Sure, a lot of people are laughing at Christians who are looking for those signs. Guess what? The Bible promised that would happen. “First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will do every wrong they can think of, and laugh at the truth. This will be their line of argument: ‘So Jesus promised to come back, did He? Then where is He? He’ll never come! Why, as far as back as anyone can remember everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation” (II Peter 3:3-4). This, like many other prophecies in the Bible, is coming true right before our eyes.

So what does the Bible tell us to look for?

“There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).

“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matthew 24:7-8).

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:6).

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (II Timothy 3:1-5).

 

You guys, this stuff is unfolding right under our noses. Pretending it’s not happening or that it’s ridiculous or crazy is FOOLISH. You can deny the predictions for specific days, but you can’t deny the condition of our world and the things that have happened this past month alone.

I know that like so many others, my words will be dismissed by many. But I can’t live with myself if I don’t share this with everyone I can – especially the people I love. I’m NOT telling you to prepare for September 23…I’m telling you to prepare for TODAY. Because the reality is, if we don’t know the day or the hour, it could be today. If you were to find yourself, mere minutes from now, facing God and the Final Judgment, would you go to Heaven? If you hesitated, if you weren’t sure about your answer, I’m begging you to fix that right now.

Here’s the truth: I spent way too many years of my life claiming to know God and that Jesus was my Savior, but the reality was, I lived a life that did not include Him. The Bible speaks specifically to people like I was: “Whoever says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1 John 2:4). Believing in Jesus is the first step, an IMPORTANT step, but even Satan believes in Him. If you believe in Him but don’t do anything about it, do you really believe that He is who He says He is?

I tried for so long to do things my own way. I knew who Jesus was, but I didn’t surrender to Him. I’d let him in on Sundays and occasionally through the week (usually if I was struggling with something and needed some help), but when it came time to live my life, I didn’t want Him getting in the way of my “fun.” I found myself constantly dissatisfied. “If only I had ______, I would be happy.” (You can fill in the blank with whatever you want. A new job? A different house? A marriage? A divorce?) I would set goals and get what I wanted, but still find myself unhappy.

Then someone said something to me that stuck in my mind: We are designed to desire a relationship with our Creator. We long for Him, even though so many of us don’t realize it. We look for things in this world to fill that gap, but until we allow Him to come in – to TRULY come in, not just when it’s convenient – we will never feel true contentment.

I finally reached the point that I knew I couldn’t continue to do things my way. I had to surrender, even the parts I didn’t want to surrender. I was scared. Why would He want me? By that time, I was one of the worst sinners. I’d done things that kept me awake at night. I was selfish. Hateful. Spiteful. So undeserving of Him. Why would He even listen to me? Why would He care? Why would He let me come back?

But the Bible tell us that God is willing to forgive all that stuff from our past. God promises that He will be “merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). He will forgive and forget! And all we have to do is ask and surrender. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

When I finally surrendered, a weight I’d been carrying for years was lifted from me. For the first time in my entire life, I found true contentment. Does that mean everything is perfect? Of course not. I still experience heartache and stress. My classroom doesn’t always run the way I want it to. My kids mess up. My marriage has its struggles. But the difference is, now I’m not doing it all alone. I’m studying my Bible and talking to God and asking Him for His guidance, and He provides it. He gives me exactly what I need in each trial I face. When I don’t know what to do, I can give my anxiety to Him, and He takes the burden from me. And in the face of it all, I STILL FEEL CONTENTMENT. I have a peace that doesn’t make sense most of the time.

I WANT THIS FOR ALL OF YOU. I want you to experience His love in a real way and see how He can transform you and your life. And when the end comes, I want Him to take you into His arms and welcome you to Heaven. And you can have it! All you have to do is ask. Surrender.

Someone recently told me, “I can’t go to that church. The walls would fall in.” I’m here to tell you, those walls are strong. And they’re built for people just like you and me. If God could work in my life and forgive me, He can do so for anyone. So give Him the chance to do what He promised He would do. Let Him work in your heart so that you can have the life and plan He created especially for you. I promise it will be better than anything you could have imagined for yourself.

He’s waiting with open arms.

A Prayer for our Schools

Tomorrow marks the beginning of another school year – my tenth year in the classroom. In this house, an odd mix of excitement and nervous dread fills the rooms as my soon-to-be first-grader prepares himself for something new (“Why did the summer go so fast, Mom? I thought we had almost eighty days off! What if I don’t have friends in my class? What if I miss you too much? What if I just want to play outside but I’m stuck at my desk for hours?”).

Tonight, as I make plans and get ready for my junior high students, I am overcome by an overwhelming urge to pray. Again I am reminded of Jesus’ words: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” Our schools, and our kids, are facing a world we’ve never known before – a world filled with hatred and pain on a scale we’ve never seen. And tonight, I’m turning to God and asking Him to be with us, to protect us and bless us as we navigate this new year.

Lord, be with our kids as they come back to us. You have created each one in Your image, each one with a specific purpose. You know their potential and see them for both who they are and who they can become.

Be with the super students, the overachievers, the ones who excel in school. Help them continue to do big things in the classroom so that they will go on to do even bigger things in this world.

Be with the ones who struggle, the ones who want to succeed but don’t have the same abilities as those straight A students. Help them to see that You have blessed them with talents and abilities and that Your plan for them will be amazing. Help them to find the path You have created for them, and let them know that they, too, will go on to do big things in this world.

Be with the students who don’t want to be there, the ones who don’t enjoy the classroom and feel stifled by the school routine. Help them to find their passion, their creative outlet.

Be with the ones who want to be there – not because they enjoy class, but because for those seven hours each day, they feel safe. They know they are free from whatever plagues them at home – abuse, neglect, hunger. They know they are guaranteed meals.

Be with the students who hate school – not because they don’t enjoy the classwork, but can’t even concentrate on learning because they feel like an outcast. Help them know they are loved and accepted when other students don’t make them feel that way. Help them see their worth in Your eyes.

Soften those students who are angry at the world. Help them to find their place in the middle of the chaos and give them a heart to know You and Your love.

Be with the parents and guardians – the involved PTA moms and dads who volunteer in the classroom, the ones who don’t know or care how their kids are doing in school, and every parent in between. Help them find ways to love and support their kids and set them up for success in school and in their lives.

And finally, be with our teachers and staff. Fill us with patience and wisdom. Help us to connect with each of our students, both in our content areas and in their lives. Help us to love them fiercely, as our own kids, even when it’s not easy. Help us to show them that in us, they have an ally, a confidant, a mentor, and a friend. Help us to be who they need us to be so that each and every student can experience success and most importantly, love and inclusion. Help us to be Your hands and feet each and every day. Help us to see each student through Your eyes, to love them as you do – for who they are now and who we know they can be.

Mighty God, please bless our schools. Help those students and teachers who know You to be Your light in this dark world. Keep all of our students safe, both in and out of the classroom. Help us all to have a successful year and to feel Your joy and peace, no matter our circumstances.

Thank You for hearing our prayers and loving us so completely. I ask these things in Jesus’ Holy name. Amen.

Casting My Net

prayer

I wasn’t in the mood for church this morning.
I lay wide awake at five-thirty this morning, contemplating “calling in sick” to church to let my Sunday school kids know I wouldn’t make it. After a sleepless night spent worrying about something beyond my control, my head spun.
I yawned. I need some sleep. Both my boys slept soundly on either side of me. One phone call, and you can sleep, too. It’s only one week. What will it hurt?
But something kept me from making that call. I lay there debating, but kept remembering things I needed to do there. Bible School is next week. I need to meet with the workers and find some materials. Plus, my boys look forward to “playing” their guitars with the kids’ praise and worship.
When I couldn’t lie there any longer, I got up. Fine, I’ll go. I got myself and my kids ready, grumbling in my head the whole time, still stressing about the same burden that kept me up all night.
I got to Sunday school and found I had extra students because another teacher was on vacation. The big, lively group of kids and the lesson we had on Jesus’ prayer to His Father just before going to the cross was enough to pull me from my slump a little. I left Sunday school feeling happier, more alive.
But it was the preacher’s message that wrecked me. He read from Luke chapter five, when Jesus got in the boat with Simon and told him to drop his net into the water. Simon told Him they’d been fishing all night with no luck, but that he’d try again. When he did, his net filled with fish until it broke.
How many times have I told God I’ve done all I can do? How many times have I given up when things didn’t go my way the first time? Jesus never promised an easy ride. Even when He blessed Simon with an abundance of fish, the net broke, making them work to get the fish into the boat.
God loves to bless us, but we can’t expect Him to just rain those blessings down upon us. We have to trust – we have to keep going when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel – we have to work. When we listen to Him and take that leap of faith, no matter how difficult that leap may be, that’s when we’ll see true blessings.
I was able to lay my burden at the altar of prayer. Instead of spending the whole night in my head, worrying and what-if-ing and replaying conversations, I should have given it to Him in the first place. I should have laid it at His feet and immersed myself in the rest and peace that only He provides.
But I’m grateful that He pulled me to church, even if my heart was in the wrong place when I got there. I leave there every single Sunday feeling blessed by His presence…today was no different in that respect.  But today, I also left feeling lighter. At peace. Rested. I’m grateful that He’s still working in me, that He doesn’t give up on me. I’m grateful that He not only listens to me when I’m hurt or confused, but that He cares. That he guides me and speaks to me in so many ways – often through others, like He did this morning.
And I’m grateful for the chance to cast my net in one more time. And if it still doesn’t work, one more time after that. I will keep working, keep trusting, and know that He is in control.

Filling the Void

The message I have tonight is a simple one. But it’s something God put on my heart days ago, something I feel He wants me to share. In fact, He actually gave me the opportunity to talk about this with two different people – two totally different situations – in the past four days. If that doesn’t tell me He wants me to share this, I don’t know what will.

I want to share a small part of my testimony that comes from my time in college. I enjoyed my time there – loved my classes, my professors, and most of all, my friends. The girls in my sorority were my family away from home. But I would suspect that many of those girls who knew me then wouldn’t even recognize me now.

During that time, I was searching for something – trying to fill a void in my life I didn’t even realize existed. In the freedom that came with living away from home for the first time, I made my own choices.

One of those choices was to leave church.

It wasn’t like I woke up one day and thought to myself, I’m not going to church anymore. It happened gradually. Late Saturday nights out with my friends led to sleeping in on Sunday mornings and laughing over late breakfasts.

When guilt pangs arose, I justified it. This is college. It’s normal. 

I remember a few specific moments, wandering out of the club at two a.m., thinking, You should go to church tomorrow. Get up early – drive home. And I actually did it several times. But when I walked into the church and looked around at all the “good” people, my bar stamp still faintly present on my hand, Satan whispered in my ear. You’re a hypocrite. Who are you kidding? You don’t belong here. God can’t love you when you’re living like this.

I let his voice keep me away until eventually, those guilt pangs stilled. After all, you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, right?

But my hectic lifestyle left me “too busy” to read my Bible. I don’t think I even had one in my room in the sorority house – all my study Bibles from high school still rested on my nightstand back home.  More than once I eyed them while visiting my parents, but I never took one back to school with me. The idea of opening it, of trying to connect with God, seemed daunting. Days passed without prayer. Those days turned into weeks, into months.

I was too far gone, too far away from Him. I couldn’t come back to Him when I knew I was living a life He never intended for me. I would come back to Him someday – when college was over. When I could get my life together. Then I would get back in church…start praying again…read my Bible.

If you talked to anyone who knew me in college, they would describe a very different person. I don’t think most of my friends knew the emptiness I felt inside. I filled it with so many other things – school, work, friends, parties. I fooled a lot of people. Especially myself. When that emptiness rose from my stomach into my throat, threatening to choke me, I rationalized it. When _____ finally happens, you won’t feel like this anymore. Until it happened, and I still felt incomplete. When you get _____, things will be right. Until I got it, and I was still lost.

That magical day when my life would “come together” never came. College came and went, but I only continued to distance myself. My life spiraled out of my control, and one bad decision led to another until I hit a point so low I had no choice but to cry out to God. Finally, I surrendered. And in the midst of the chaos, He restored my peace.

It wasn’t until then that I realized how messed up my old logic was. God didn’t want me to wait, to get my life together and THEN seek Him. He wanted me just as I was – broken, searching, living a life that didn’t include Him. The Bible tells us that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). If I had come to Him, just as I was, He could have filled that void so much sooner. He would have opened His arms and taken me in…flaws, sin, and all. He could have begun a work in me way before I finally allowed Him to. He could have saved me from a lot of bumps and bruises along my path.

I’m sharing this message tonight in case there’s anyone out there – even one person – who’s going through what I went through. Who knows there’s something missing inside of them, but isn’t sure what it is or how to fix it. I can tell you from years and years of mistakes and false glimpses of happiness that He is the only answer out there. His love is the only thing that will truly fill that void.

And above all, don’t wait to come to Him. Don’t wait for the day when you are “worthy” to come to Him – when you are a “better person” – because the truth is, that day will never come. We aren’t allowed to come to Him because of anything we’ve done…it’s His unchanging, unfailing love that gives us that opportunity. It’s because of His grace alone, grace that is offered to anyone who accepts it, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done. As someone once put it, you don’t wait until you’re healthy to see a doctor; you go when you’re sick. Come to Him when you’re broken. Let his power be made perfect in your weakness. Jesus didn’t come here for perfect people. He came for the damaged, the wrecked. The ones who needed a Savior.

I am one of the lucky ones: I found Him before it was too late. But the reality is, many won’t get that same luxury. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. Seek Him now, just as you are. He’s waiting with arms wide open.

I love that God knows exactly how to reach me – how to get a message across when I’m not listening for His voice.

This time, He chose my kids to deliver a message. And what better way to get to me than through the people I love most in this world?

I have been praying for something for quite some time, something I can’t share publicly but is important to me. And though I’m trying to be patient, I’ve grown frustrated at times because it feels like I’m not getting an answer from Him. I tell myself to trust Him, to trust His timing and His wisdom and listen for His gentle guidance.

But even though I tell myself I’m doing that – though I tell God Himself that I’m doing just that – He showed me otherwise.

The stomach virus has made its rounds in our house this month. And no, rounds (plural) is not a typo – while my husband and I took one turn with it, my boys each had it twice.

With my youngest, I quickly learned that milk – his favorite drink – was not a good thing while battling this virus. (I’ll spare the details of how I learned this, but I’m sure you can use your imagination.) I was scared that he was going to become dehydrated. For the sake of his poor little belly and body, I replaced his usual milk bottle with water or juice.

Through the day, he was mostly okay with this. It was nighttime that he resisted. He knew that he usually got milk to go to sleep and then again sometimes through the night when he woke. When I gave him a bottle of water at three a.m., the screaming fit display that followed was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Of course, I tried to whisper calmly, tried to reason with him. (As if that’s really possible with an eighteen-month-old.) “Bray, you can’t have milk right now. It’s not good for you while you’re sick. Maybe tomorrow morning, if your belly is feeling better, we can try a little milk again. But not tonight.”

The screaming drowned out my whispers. I tried everything I could to soothe him – rocking, walking and bouncing, rubbing his arms and legs with my fingernails the way he likes – but nothing worked. He was determined to have his milk.

I held him against me and begged God to help me calm him down, to heal him, to comfort him. I asked Him to help Brayson understand that I was withholding the milk for a good reason.

And that’s when I heard His voice: “You want Brayson to trust that you know what’s best for him. So why don’t you trust that I know what’s best for you?”

That’s when I realized I had been so busy telling God what I needed, I hadn’t really stopped to ask for His input. I was so sure I knew what was best for me. I forgot for a moment that He is the Almighty, that He designed me with a specific, perfect plan in mind and that my own dreams may not always line up exactly with that plan.

I know that God wants us to come to Him with everything – with our needs, our wants, our hopes. And I am so grateful for that. I am so in awe of the fact that the One who created it all loves me and wants a personal relationship with me. He loves me so much that when I stop listening to Him, stop trusting Him, He takes the time to reach out to me to gently remind me of who He is and how much bigger His love is than I can ever comprehend or grasp. But part of knowing that He loves me is knowing that He also loves me enough to say No. Or Not Yet. And in not answering my prayers the way I think He should, He is preparing me for something better. Or saving me from something disastrous that He can see and I cannot.

On this Christmas Eve, I am praising Him for coming to Earth, for becoming one of us in order to bring us to Him. I just read the Christmas Story with my sons, and it brought tears to my eyes to realize of the perfection of God’s plan, bringing His Son into this world in such a humble way. It was the perfect beginning to His time on this earth.

From the beginning of it all, He had a plan for each and every one of us. And that plan included a love for us so fierce that He sacrificed Himself in order to save us – even though we are undeserving and so often ungrateful.

Thank you, God, for sending Your Son into this world. Thank You for loving us so much when we have done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

Merry Christmas to all of my family and friends!

Election Day

I hadn’t planned to write this morning, and I typically avoid sharing anything that is even remotely political. But as I was praying about my vote today and the fate of our nation, I received a message in my heart that I feel prompted to share.

We have been so wrapped up in this election, and with good reason. Our candidates this year and all the baggage that comes with them seem bigger than life. Whoever we elect as our president this year will undoubtedly shape what happens as we go forward. Imagine – he or she could potentially determine our country’s involvement in the Biblical end times prophecies!

But as I read this morning from Revelation chapter 4, I was reminded of who is truly in charge. John saw the door of heaven standing open and a throne in heaven. The One who sat on it “had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne…From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder” (4:3-5) I tried to put myself in John’s place, seeing God in all His glory right there in front of him, sparkling like jasper and ruby with a rainbow surrounding Him. I tried to picture the thunder and lightning, the creatures who surrounded Him and never stopped worshiping Him. But my tiny brain can’t really comprehend heaven and the majesty of God.

In our Bible study last week, we talked about how BIG our God is, and how small we really are – and if you ever need to be reminded of that, take a minute to go out and stand under the stars. Or in front of the ocean.

Yet He loves us anyway. He is actually jealous for us.  I take for granted the fact that I can get up every morning and spend time with God. Sometimes I forget Who it is I’m actually speaking to. Who am I that I am allowed to come to Him with my requests? Who am I that He actually listens to and answers my prayers? Who am I that I am allowed to serve Him…and that He WANTS me to serve Him?

It is so important that we go to Him in prayer today before we cast our votes. But no matter who wins, He is still on that throne. And both of our candidates look a lot smaller when you try to picture Him up there. He is still in control!

God, please guide us in this important day in our nation’s history. Help us to elect the candidate that YOU have chosen, and guide him or her in all thoughts, actions, and decisions as our country begins a new chapter. Help us turn back to You and allow You to be our God once again!

AN UNPOPULAR TRUTH

All this tip-toeing around is exhausting. And today, I just can’t do it.

Since I started blogging about my journey as I grow closer to God, I have been ignoring a message that He chose to lay on my heart. Not because I don’t believe the message, but because I don’t want to cause any friction or turn others away from reading what I have to say.

The thing is, I know it’s not what some people want to hear. So when God would whisper to me, telling me to write on this topic, I’d quickly push it out of mind until another message came to me, one with more of a “feel-good” vibe. Because that’s what most people want these days. “There’s enough negativity in the world these days,” someone once told me. “That’s why I don’t go to church; I don’t need to hear a negative preacher, too.”

I get it. I really do. Because when I wasn’t exactly sure what would happen to me when I died, I didn’t want to think about hell, either. But whether I wanted to think about it or not, the reality is, it still exists. And when we all have to face our final Judgment, it’s one of only two options for where we will spend eternity.

As I was studying the book of Acts this week, I came to the part where Peter and the apostles were persecuted, beaten, and jailed for preaching about Jesus. Yet they continued to do it, knowing how important it was to spread His message. They weren’t afraid of the punishment of men, and God rewarded them by sending an angel to open the doors of the jail and bring them out. They continued to be bold in their message, and the Bible tells us that they left “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Reading this passage reminded me that speaking out for God won’t always leave others feeling warm and fuzzy, and it probably won’t make me very popular. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

I believe that above all else, we need to know that God loves us. No matter where we are or what we’ve done, He loves us more than we can comprehend, so much so that He sent his only Son to take the fate that we deserve. And even though I have done things in my life that the devil still reminds me of in my darkest hours, things that haunt me in my worst nightmares, God wiped my slate clean the moment I asked Jesus into my heart. I don’t need to feel shame or dwell on those mistakes; God doesn’t even remember them anymore.

We live in a society today that no longer values a relationship with God. Many people are open about their atheistic views, claiming that they are “too smart” to believe in God, ironically enough, when He is the Giver of all true wisdom. And because of this society, there is a lot of pressure on today’s church to keep the “feel-good” vibe in their message so that they don’t turn people away. That’s easy to do when you focus solely on God’s love and His mercy, which are vital parts of this whole Christianity thing.

But there’s more to it, and it all boils down to this: simply knowing that God exists does not equate to KNOWING GOD. You can’t claim a relationship with Him based on the fact that you believe in His presence. Jesus demands a true relationship, one that requires work on our part. It’s a daily walk, a daily decision to take up your cross, die to your old self, and follow Him. It’s studying His word, talking to Him every day and giving Him control of every aspect of your life, and having fellowship with other Christians.

It’s NOT going to church on Sundays, feeling warm and fuzzy  when you leave, and then going about your life for the rest of the week. The fact is, you can’t continue to live the same old life of sin when He’s in your heart.

Not that Christians don’t sin. The Lord knows that I still struggle with various things. Many days I falter. Sometimes He points things out to me in my life that I hadn’t even considered to be sinful. The devil finds new ways to reach me all the time, trying to bring me back to his side. But he won’t succeed; he doesn’t even stand a chance. It’s already been determined who the winner of that fight will be. As long as I continue to rely on God, Satan has to keep stepping back down.

The fact is, we have a very real enemy, one who is creative and knows how to reach each one of us. He knows how to tempt each of us differently, based on our personalities and desires. And one of his greatest weapons right now is getting us to focus on the “feel-good” message and ignore the rest of it. Because as long as we’re only looking at the good stuff, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that as long as we believe that He’s up there, we’re safe…the whole idea that I’m a good person so I’ll go to heaven.

TRUTH: Being a “good person” does not get you into heaven. Believing that God exists will not get you into heaven. Believing that Jesus exists will not get you into heaven. There will be a lot of surprised people come judgment day – people that bought into that “feel good” message – when they see some of the world’s worst sinners who repented being welcomed into heaven and they themselves hear “Depart from me; I never knew you.”

Knowing and accepting Jesus Christ is the ONLY WAY to get into heaven. Not knowing that he exists, but KNOWING HIM PERSONALLY. Inviting Him into your heart and letting Him take over your life. Walking with Him every day. Making Him the center of your life.

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” – John 14:6

“Then Jesus told His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?’” – Matthew 16:24-26

I am well aware that my message today does not mesh well with what many people want to hear. But I don’t care. I have been commanded to share His Word with the world…to share it the way it is presented, not the way I want to manipulate it in order to make it more popular. His Word will speak for itself. It doesn’t need me to put my own spin on it.

I know who my Savior is and I know where I’m going when I leave this world. And the idea that any of the people I love won’t be going with me is absolutely devastating. So I can’t afford to tip-toe anymore. I will share His truth with the hope that He uses it to reach someone out there. Our time is running too short to stick solely to the warm and fuzzy stuff.