I Am (Not) Invincible

I Am Invincible
by Cassadee Pope

“Broken glass inside
Won’t cut through me
Pain behind my eyes
I turn into strength
Oh I will fight
I will survive
I am invincible
I am unbreakable
I am a diamond cut to last
I am unstoppable
I am a hero
Like a phoenix from the ash
Invincible
Cracks run through these walls
But they still stand strong
Oh, heart covered in scars
But my fear is gone
Oh I will fight
I will survive
I am invincible
I am unbreakable
I am a diamond cut to last
I am unstoppable
I am a hero
Like a phoenix from the ash
Nothin’ gonna make me break or shatter
No one’s gonna tell me I don’t matter, no
I won’t let you
Time is runnin’ out, keeps gettin’ faster
Gotta find a way, to rewrite the answers
‘Till I can say
I am invincible
I am unbreakable
I am a diamond that will last
Invincible”

The lyrics above are to a catchy song, and one that part of me identifies with. I like to believe, and act as though, I am invincible. Wonder Woman is who all young girls should aspire to be, right? Invincible, unbreakable — this is what it means to be strong and tough. Diamond is the hardest naturally occurring substance on Earth. That seems like a great description, right? The epitome of strength.  Previously, I was proud of the fact that I didn’t cry at books, movies, or tv shows during the saddest parts; it showed how invincible I was.  And yet, I wonder.

Is that really how I want to be? Diamonds might be strong, and beautiful, but they are also cold and sharp. Something (or someone) that is invincible has no weaknesses.  Watch any movie that has a hero and a villain.  The villain seeks out the weakness of the hero, usually someone the hero cares for, and exploits that weakness.  If I have no weakness, if I am truly invincible, then nothing and no one is close enough to hurt me. I’m cold and distant from everyone and everything around me. That’s the only way to avoid being broken — close off your heart from anyone and anything. Don’t care, don’t love.

C.S. Lewis wrote,

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

To love is to be vulnerable.  To love is to be breakable.

Did you notice the line in the song that says, “cracks run through these walls/but they still stand strong”?  Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum.  Mixing in the precious metal causes the piece to become more beautiful for being broken.  The places where the object fell apart become the most beautiful when repaired.

This is the hope and glory of the gospel.  That God takes broken things and mends them in such a way that they become more beautiful.  He takes something (or someone) cold, rough, and sharp, and exposes the weaknesses.  His strength is displayed in those vulnerable places.

For me, this involved a lot of pain.  Parts of my heart that were damaged didn’t heal correctly the first time.  Instead of repairing the cracks and making the broken places beautiful, I shored them up to become harder trying to prevent the pain from happening again.  And just like a broken bone that doesn’t heal correctly needs to be re-broken and reset, God did the same with those parts of my heart.  Instead of allowing the impervious parts to remain, the sharp, rough places that I thought had no feeling, He reopened those wounds.  He provided brothers and sisters who have lovingly walked with me as He has healed those broken places, and done so in such a way that they are now tender and warm and feeling.  The light shone in the darkness, and continues to do so.  I know what it is to be broken, but I also know what it is to be healed, and to be repaired in such a way that the once broken places are now more beautiful.

How is it that He can do this?  Why would He do this?  Because of other wounds which were inflicted to someone else.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon
him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we
are 
healed.  ~Isaiah 53:5

He can bind up my wounds and heal my broken heart, because of the wounds of Christ.  His wounds made it possible for broken people like me to boldly approach the throne of grace. He made possible the grace and mercy and love which has healed my broken heart.  It is because of Him that the cracks are beautiful, for they display that

“we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7

I am not invincible.  Yet, it is in being broken and healed that His power is displayed through me.

The Sounds of Silence

I don’t like silence. Sitting in a quiet room makes me anxious and restless. Silence screams at me. As a teacher, the worst days of the semester are days when I give exams, because the room is completely quiet and I have to stay in that for an hour. It feels like an eternity. I have a tendency to hide in noise. As long as there is noise around me, I don’t have to be inside my own head or focus on feelings. I can compartmentalize things, keep the emotions in check, and focus on what is rational and logical.

But, I’m learning that there is a time and place for silence. There is an appropriate time to get away from the noise and to just sit in the silence. I don’t like it, but it is necessary. Silence causes me to stop and focus; it forces me to think about what I’m thinking about.  When I get away and just listen to the silence, I realize how noisy I am on the inside.  I get a good look at my worries, my cares, my priorities; I stop and realize that I never stop.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Other versions use the phrase “cease striving.”  For someone who likes to believe she is in control, this is difficult to do.  If I am physically being still, then I tend to focus on what is not getting done because I’m not doing it.  To be still internally is even harder.  It requires the full acknowledgment that I am not in control of anything.  Internal stillness, to truly cease striving, means I have to trust that Someone else is in control of what is going on in and around me; I have to acknowledge that I am not in control and rest in the One who is in control.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is on the run.  He is hiding from those who seek to kill him, and he flees to a cave on Mount Horeb, where God comes to talk to him.  If you are familiar with the story, you know that a great wind comes, followed by an earthquake, and then fire.  Yet, none of these are the ways in which God speaks to Elijah.  He does not speak in loud, booming tones, and in ways that would cause fear.  Instead, “after the fire the sound of a low whisper.”  A still, small voice speaks to Elijah.

The same still, small voice speaks to me today.  It comes in many forms — the gentle encouragement from a friend, the shoulder to cry on, a verse brought to memory, or the words to a song that bring Truth and comfort.  He speaks in quiet, gentle tones; tones that I can’t hear if everything inside of me is noisy, or if I’m staying busy to avoid the silence.  To hear Him speak, to feel His comfort, I have to stop.  Stop trying to find approval from those around me; stop trying to earn His favor through good works.  Cease striving.  Sit in silence and hear Him say, “I love you.”  Feel His love as bright and warm as the sunshine.

Promises, Promises

Human beings are not always good at keeping our promises.  We lose track of time and forget a promised meeting.  We become prideful, vengeful, or gossip and a promised secret is repeated.  We break promises all the time, intentionally and unintentionally, which makes trust a difficult thing.

Psalm 89:33-34 says, “I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness.  I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips.”  If I am honest, I find some of God’s promises easier to believe than others.  I can read in scripture how God made promises to Abraham or David and see how He fulfilled those promises.  What about His promise to never leave or forsake me? Trusting that promise when it feels like He has abandoned me is hard to do.  What about when I experience evil at the hands of someone else but don’t receive justice? It is hard to hold onto the future promises of God.

Dee Henderson wrote, “Is a promise made that’s not yet delivered on any less of a promise? God is trustworthy. It isn’t easy to take that on faith when circumstances are tough, but that’s what He asks of you.”  Think about it.  Is God’s promise any less of a promise, is He any less trustworthy, because He fulfills His promise in His way and His time, not mine? 

We have to focus on the One who is making the promises.  He is the one who “is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” (Numbers 23:19)  In the same verse, we are reminded, “Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” 

Look at who He is; rest in the love of the promise-keeping God who is faithful even when we are not.

Isaiah 40:11

Have you ever had a day where you just needed a hug? You didn’t want to explain anything; words of comfort wouldn’t help. You simply wanted to lean on the strength of someone else. You needed to be reminded that someone was there to help carry your load. I’ve needed that recently — just to have someone wrap their arms around me and remind me that even though things are tough now, they will get better, and I will be ok.

These are the times when I find it most difficult to turn to God. I get so hung up on thinking that I *need* to feel a physical presence, to physically have someone wrap me in a hug, that I start to think I can’t turn to God. I believe the lie that He can’t fill that need. Recently, I started thinking about what it would look like for God to fill that need — what does it look like for God to give me a hug? Sometimes, He does physically give me a hug through one of His people — a friend, a fellow church member. Usually, this is not the case. When I most want or need a hug, I don’t receive one. What then? How does God fulfill that need?

As I sat thinking about this recently, I came across Isaiah 40:11

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.  (ESV)  

When I read that verse, my immediate thought was “HUG”.  It may sound silly.  But, as I think about the phrases “gather. . . in his arms” and “carry . . .in his bosom”, isn’t that exactly what I’m looking for when I want a hug?  These verses assure me that He is holding me in His arms and close to His heart; someone else is strong enough to carry me AND my load.

Butterfly

In her song, “On My Way,” Country music artist Kellie Picker writes, “My eyes have seen more than they want to/My heart has scars that run so deep.”  Those two lines broadly encompass the reasons why I never thought I would be where I am today.  Christian music artist Brandon Heath has a song titled, “I’m Not Who I Was.”  And while that sentiment is true, I am not the person I once was, neither am I the person I thought I would be.  If you had asked me 4 years ago where I thought my life would be in 2015, my current circumstances would not have even come close to where I envisioned myself.

4 years ago, I saw myself as this ugly caterpillar who was never going to come out of the cocoon.  Too many things in life created “scars that run so deep.”  I was filled with shame and guilt over things in my past and convinced that no one could ever love me for who I really was.  When friends would talk about grace and forgiveness and justification, I would verbally agree with what they said; I could spout the lingo and be the good little church member.  Inside, I desperately wanted grace and justification and forgiveness, but was convinced those things could never be mine.  I had made a profession of faith as a child, but spent over a decade angry at God over situations and circumstances in my life, and even did some things just to try to hurt Him the way I felt He had hurt and betrayed me.  Surely, He couldn’t still love me.  My thought was, “I’m glad grace is true for you, but it could never be true for me.”

4 years ago, God used some very special friends to show me how wrong I was.  Through months of conversations and counseling, God was showing me that He did still love me.  I was blessed to be in a church where I heard the message of God’s grace and love every week.  Slowly, like the winter turning into spring, God began transforming my heart.  Hearing of His grace every week was like experiencing a flood in the desert.  The words flowed over me like water over dry ground, and as the message sank deeper in, the ground softened.  John 4:1-26 became one of my favorite stories.  I was always terrified that God couldn’t and wouldn’t relate to me because of my sin.  Yet, my pastor reminded me through that passage that Jesus was with the Samaritan woman the entire time he was exposing and dealing with her sin.  He didn’t leave her; He didn’t decide that she was too dirty or might contaminate Him.  Instead, He sat by her and calmly, patiently, related to her.  When I doubted God’s goodness, my pastor reminded me of the crucifixion.  Look at the lengths to which God went so that I could be His child.  How could I doubt His goodness towards me?  What more could He do?

1 year ago, my life and outlook completely changed.  My pastor approached me, knowing my story, and asked me to help lead a children’s ministry at our church.  I was shocked.  Had he forgotten what he knew about me?  My gut reaction was to say, “you don’t want someone like me leading ministry” or to argue that past circumstances and struggles somehow disqualified me from serving.  Yet, as we talked and prayed, he reminded me of my identity.  Who I am, how I define myself, is not found in my past.  My identity is not found in my job, relationships, or talents.  My identity is found in Christ.  I belong to Him and I am what He has declared me to be.  I am a beloved, redeemed, child of the Most High God.  When my Heavenly Father looks at me, He sees me clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ, not covered in my sin and shame.

The past year of doing ministry with children has been a time of learning and growth, with more to come, I’m sure.  Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  This verse encapsulates the past year of ministry.  My passion is to work with children, and God has given me that passion.  Not only did He place the desire in my heart, but as I have grown in my relationship with Him, He has provided a place for that desire to be expressed and fulfilled.  Between my work as a math and science teacher, and my ministry with children, my heart is full.  My cup overflows.  If someone had told me 4 years ago that I would be helping lead a children’s ministry, I would have sarcastically laughed at them and told them they were cruel to suggest it.  Yet, God is faithful.  He uses broken vessels to showcase His power and love.  When people find out that I teach or do children’s ministry, they always ask, “do you have kids?”  My first thought is, “yes.  I have too many to count.”  My heart is full.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.”  ~ 1 Corinthians 15:10
This verse is true in so many ways.  What I consider the shameful and ugly parts of my story are still God’s grace to me.  Those circumstances have given me a deeper understanding of His love and grace.  My current roles as teacher and children’s ministry leader are further evidence of His grace to me.  The ugly caterpillar might still look like a caterpillar to some people.  Yet, I have no doubt that my Heavenly Father sees a beautiful butterfly.

By the grace of God I am what I am.

 

Mathematical Childhood

Algebra toy

Does anyone else remember these toys?  I played with one as a child, and I see similar toys in my church nursery.  The concept is simple–you match the plastic shape to the hole it fits in.  Most toddlers are amused by this toy.  What toddlers (and probably their parents) don’t realize is that they are learning algebraic skills.  In Pre-Algebra, the first step in learning to solve algebraic equations is to learn how to recognize when a number is a solution to an equation.  For example, we ask, “is x = 5 a solution to the equation 2x + 7 = 20?” And, we plug 5 in for x to find that 2(5) + 7 ≠ 20; so, we say that it is not a solution.  In other words, the “shape” of x = 5 does not fit the “hole” 2x + 7 = 20.

Think about this: if we didn’t have algebra, the only way to solve any problem would be brute force; we would have to try every possible answer to find the right one.  In terms of the toy, we have to try every piece in every hole in order to find the right ones.  This would prevent so many new developments and insights into our world.

Students like to claim that they will never use algebra in real life; they argue that they don’t need it.  What they don’t realize is that they’ve been using it all their life.  As we grow and learn, we simply hone and develop the skills and neural connections we’ve always been using.  Mathematics teaches us new ways to approach problems, new ways to look at the world, new ways to think about things.  We learn skills that can make our decision-making process more efficient; we no longer have to try every piece in every hole to find the right one.

When Am I Ever Going To Use This?

“When am I ever going to use this?” is probably the most common question I get from any student. We assume that if something has no practical value, if we cannot see immediately how it might be of use to us, then it is worthless to know. Yet, if that is our rationale, why does it matter if we know the earth revolves around the sun or have read and discussed Shakespeare’s works or know how to solve a system of equations? If our only criteria for the worth of something is its usefulness, then why bother learning anything outside of the field in which we desire to work? Surely a chemist has no need of reading literature or learning history and government. The mathematician can forgo all classes that do not teach mathematical operation and proof. The wife and mother who wishes to stay home and raise a family has no need of literature or chemistry or mathematics.

By no means do I actually hold to those ideas. Regardless of the field in which you work–science, psychology, art, mathematics, stay-at-home mom–value is found in studying various subjects. The value of knowledge goes beyond the practical. As we study various subjects, we are better equipped to interact with our world.

Mathematics and philosophy develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that we use to make decisions every day. Let’s suppose you received several lucrative job offers and need to decide which offer to accept. You seek out information on the companies, evaluate the offers, compare the risks and rewards of each offer, and reach a conclusion. These are the same kinds of critical thinking steps used in solving basic math problems–we see what information is presented in the problem, decide what information we need to evaluate the problem, consider our options, and reach an answer. In our job example, we must also decide which offer is best suited to our goals and aspirations in life. Philosophy helps us consider and evaluate what we find important in our lives. Is your goal to make money? Then, you would place more value on the job which offers the highest salary. What if your goal was to raise a family? You would accept the offer which allowed you more time for that priority.

Art and music and the humanities teach us to see the beauty in the world around us. They help us learn to see the world through different lenses. Considering the viewpoint of another person, spending time thinking about how or why they see the world a particular way, causes us to expand our own thinking, to see the world from a different perspective, to better understand the people around us. The humanities show us that different interpretations of the same situation can be equally valid. Compare the works of Picasso and da Vinci. Both artists painted human subjects, yet they did not see those subjects in the same way. Is one wrong and the other right? What of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright or Filippo Brunelleschi? Is one better than the other, or merely two different ways of seeing the world? These things cause us to consider why we prefer one artist or architect or musician over another. What is it about the work itself that draws you in or repels you? What does it reveal about how the artist (or you) view the world in which we live?

Studying diverse subjects makes us more human. We become more knowledgeable about the world around, better able to interact and converse with the world. More than that, each subject teaches us something about the God who created it. Mathematics, science, government show us a God of order, rules, and details.  Social sciences remind us of a God whose very essence is relationship and interaction. Humanities teach us of a God who creates and enjoys beauty.  Open your eyes and your mind and let yourself become more human.  Take a class or read a book on a new subject; see what it teaches you about yourself and the world around you.

6 years…..

Sandy and David

“Friendship is a deep oneness that develops when two people, speaking the truth in love to one another, journey together to the same horizon.” ~Tim Keller

“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”” ~C.S. Lewis

 

The gorgeous bride the in the picture is my dear friend, and now former roommate.  When I initially moved in to her small apartment, I don’t think either of us expected it to last 6 years.  Our friends have heard us laugh many times about how opposite we are.  She is an introvert; I am an extrovert.  She is organized; I am chaotic.   The list can (and does) go on.  At times, we wondered what God was thinking when He created this relationship.

We have walked with each other through dark nights and bright days.  She has challenged my opinions and helped strengthen my beliefs.  Through discussion and questions, she has taught me how to consider other sides of issues.  She demonstrated what it looks like to love people well and to serve those around you.  She showed me how to make a house into a home.

Proverbs 27:17 says “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  That sharpening involves friction.  Through conflict, we have both grown and changed and become stronger.  We have learned how to speak to one another in love, to speak the truth and gospel to one another. 

Yet, speaking that truth into each other’s lives required that we allow the other person to draw close, to get to know the real us, and to develop a level of trust that ran deeper than any other relationship I’ve known.  At times, that level of trust is frightening.  Yet, through that, I have grown in ways I might not have experienced without that level of trust.

We are entering a new chapter now.  God has graciously given her a wonderful husband, and while this might alter the dynamics of the relationship we have, it by no means brings it to an end.  We will continue to grow and change and learn from one another; we will continue to (occasionally) have friction.  Yet, we will also continue to love one another, to speak the truth and gospel into each other’s lives.  Our friendship over the past 6 years is a testament to the grace of God.  Not only in the way He created and sustained the relationship, but also in how He has used it to grow us deeper in truth and closer to Him.

Everyday Sacrifices

It is 5 days past Memorial Day, the day we stop to remember the men and women of our armed forces. On that particular day, we have special events and many people make a point to thank our service men and women, and we stop to remember those who never made it home. But, I found myself wondering today how often we stop during the regular days and remember our troops.

Do we think about the everyday sacrifices our troops make? These men and women are missing their children’s school events, sports competitions, family birthdays, and anniversaries. How often do we pray for those who are missing these special days? How often do we pray for the families back home who miss their moms, dads, brothers, and sisters? The next time you find yourself thinking about an upcoming special day, take a moment and pray for the safety of those who are sacrificing a few of those days for us.

Can I ask you a question?

As a junior high math teacher, I have lost count of the number of times my students have asked, “Can I ask you a question?” Most of the time, they don’t bother with seeking permission; they just ask their questions. They are comfortable enough in our student/teacher relationship to know that they can ask and I will answer (if I can). 🙂

As a Christian, I don’t always realize that I can do the same thing with my Heavenly Father. He invites my questions; He wants me to seek to understand. In Isaiah 1:18, we are told “Come now, let us reason together” and if we read Job chapters 38-41, we see how God answers Job. Notice, He never condemns Job for seeking answers; He doesn’t rebuke Him for asking questions.

I can ask my Father questions when I don’t understand.  I may not always get an answer, but I’m still encouraged to keep seeking and asking.  Keep the communication lines open.  Asking questions is part of the relationship.  The hard part is figuring out what to do when you don’t get the answers you want.  How do I move forward and keep trusting when He is silent?

The answer to that is counter-intuitive, at least for me.  It takes faith to trust Him and to keep moving when I don’t understand what is going on.  Where does the faith come from?  He gives it.  Did you catch that?  I forget that frequently.  He gives us the faith to trust Him when we don’t have answers.  He not only wants us to trust Him; He gives us what we need to do so.

I am invited to sit in my Father’s lap and say, “Can I ask You a question?”