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.

 

Celebrate

My head and heart are so full that I don’t think my fingers can type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts.  I want to scream, cry, jump up and down, pump my fist in the air, twirl in circles, shout; in short, I want to celebrate.  Why?  Because tonight I watched God’s faithfulness in action.  I was witness to God answering the long prayers of many people as Redeemer Presbyterian Church was particularized.  God provided men to stand as elders in our church, brothers to help shoulder the burden of our pastors and shepherd the flock.  This has been a long, and sometimes difficult, process.  At times, despair whispered in our ears causing us to wonder if this would ever happen.  Yet, even in the midst of our doubts, God remained faithful.  He continued to work His plan in His way even when we wondered if He was still working.  He never left us, never forsook us, and never stopped loving us.  In fact, all of this was evidence of His love for us.  Lessons learned, truths discovered, battles fought, and relationships built were all part of the process He guided us through.  Our church would not be what it is now if God had taken us down an easier or shorter path.  We still have much to learn and many more areas to experience growth.  Yet, through it all His way is perfect.  His steadfast love never fails.

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?”

The Journey (Part 4)

“I knew this would happen.  I knew it was too good to be true.”  This is the thought going through my head.  I knew He wasn’t loving.  I knew He would leave me.

Today, I found myself in the darkest part of the forest.  Absolute darkness.  I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.  Every time I tried to take a step, I tripped over a tree root or fell into a hole.  I cry out for the King, but hear nothing.  I reach out to take His hand but only feel empty space.  No longer do I hear the encouraging reminders of my traveling companions; instead, I am surrounded by the lies of the enemy and left alone in the battle.  I cannot face this dragon one more time; I don’t have the strength.  I thought the King would never leave me; maybe I was wrong.

Finally, I stop moving.  I sit on the ground, dejected.  I don’t want to cry.  Crying is a sign of weakness, and weakness exposes vulnerability.  Yet, I can hold it in no longer.  Tears stream down my face as I give in to my fears.  I wonder if the King has even noticed I’m missing.  Is He looking for me?  Or do I have to find my way back to Him?  Does He really care?  As the rain starts to come down, I scream at the storm.  I’m so scared of being alone that I feel as though my heart is being ripped from my chest.  The fear is a physical pain.  I scream louder as the thunder and lightning continue, releasing every pent up emotion.  After screaming so long I lose my voice, I sit back down, weary.  I do not understand.  Why would He leave me?

Eventually, I realize that I no longer feel the rain pouring down on me.  I look up to find the King covering me.  The storm hasn’t stopped raging, but He is there.  The fears rise again.  I pound my fists into His chest screaming, demanding to know where He was and why He left me alone in the darkness and the storm.  He doesn’t retaliate.  He doesn’t defend Himself against my blows or push me away.  He doesn’t become angry at me.  Instead, He gently wraps me in His arms, holding me until I stop fighting.  He whispers words of love and comfort to me.  He sits down, pulling me onto His lap, and gently rocks me.  This is what a loving Father does when His child is scared.

The Journey (Part 3)

As I continue to travel with the King, I am constantly caught off guard.  I expected that traveling with the King would protect me from attacks by the enemy.  Instead, the opposite seems to be true.  I repeatedly face assault from various sides.  And not in the way I expect.

The enemy doesn’t attack with swords or spears.   This enemy attacks with lies and doubts.  He sneaks into the camp and whispers to me that this King doesn’t really love me, doesn’t really want me in His kingdom.  He tells me that I was right in thinking I don’t belong with this King.  He reminds me of my scars and wounds, of the battles I have fought and continue to fight, telling me I am not a part of this royal family.   The enemy speaks louder and more often than the King, so it is harder to fight against him.  I ask myself, “what if he is right?”

Then, I notice something.  As we have traveled, it not simply me traveling with the King.  Our party has grown.  A great host has joined us; people who have known the King and traveled with Him for a long time.  As we walk, they tell me more about the King–His faithfulness, His love, how He cares for His people.  They tell me stories of how He has proven to be faithful and loving and true time and time again.  They remind me that He has chosen and accepted me to be part of His royal family.

The Journey (Part 2)

I awake the next morning feeling like the peace of the previous night had faded. I was fearful again, and watching for an opportunity to run as I donned my armor and weapons. I had to talk to Him, to explain why I couldn’t return with Him. Surely He, of all people, would understand that I didn’t belong in His kingdom. I do not belong among diamonds, crystals, pearls, and beauty. I belong where I am–among the dirty, muddy, and scarred.

As we travel, I try to convince Him I don’t belong. I tell him things I’ve experienced, battles I have fought and continue to fight, things I’ve done, all of which make me ill-suited for His kingdom. I am surprised by His response.

“I know,” He replies calmly.
“You know?” I ask, a mixture of fear, disbelief, and surprise in my voice.
“Yes. I knew all of that when I came looking for you. What’s more: I knew all of that before you ran away. I know you.”

Those last three words frighten me. I. Know. You. Does He realize this? Can He see my fear over the realization that He knows me? That level of knowledge implies a power over me. If He knows me, all of me, what will He do with this knowledge? How will He use it? Is He a King to be trusted with this power? Is He a good King? Am I safe?  Once again, the old fears come up; the dragon has not yet been slain.