Posted in Devotion

A Fairy Tale Ending

Someday I’ll wake up to a letter saying that my long lost relative is actually royalty (probably in England), and this letter will reveal to me that I’m actually a princess. It’ll be just like The Princess Diaries. I’ll have princess lessons, and, of course, I’ll be a natural. A fancy hair dresser and his assistants will make my hair and makeup fancier than I’ve ever known. I’ll charm all of the dignitaries. It’ll be magical.

Isn’t that every little girl’s (and obviously some big girls’) dream?

My friends and I pretended to be princesses while we hiked Princess Arch.

It’s a nice dream based in some very real truths. The core of this desire is to be seen, valued, and beautiful. (I can’t speak to understand the male brain, but I’m sure at least part of those desires exist for him as well.) We want to be princesses because God placed that desire in our hearts, and it can only be truly fulfilled by him.

Ladies, we already are royalty! We may not have crowns or castles or even a Prince Charming, but our Father is a King. He’s the High King of everything. He created all the other kings and will one day rule supreme over all the Earth and heavens again.

If we’re already royalty, we should act like it. We’re princesses training to be Queens. We have the ultimate kingly Father as our role model, and he’s given us his Spirit and instruction manual as a guide. We should walk with dignity, kindness, and joy, knowing that the most Royal Wedding is being prepared for us. We are seen, valued, and called beautiful. We are children of the King. Just be patient, keep practicing using the instruction manual he left us, and know that one day God will call us to our heavenly castles where we can worship the king and realize our true regal identity.

P.S. Guys, I think you can claim this royalty as well and live like the children of the king that you are.

Posted in Devotion

Stuff

As I sit in my comfy chair and look around my house, I am amazed at just how much stuff I have accumulated in the short 26 years of my life. Then I think about all of the stuff I’ve had over the years and discarded. I think about the trash I’ve created, and the material possessions I’ve wasted. I’m hit with two thoughts:

  1. I am extremely blessed.
  2. What is the purpose of having all of this stuff?

That second question is what has plagued me this summer as I’ve spent the time doing the “spring cleaning” that I didn’t have time to do in the spring. I have more clothes than I can wear in a month, more books than I could read in a year, and more plates than I use regularly. Some of the stuff surrounding me is needed for physical necessity, some for emotional necessity, and some for creature comforts. But is there a point when stuff starts diminishing my life rather than improving it?

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:19-20

This advice from Jesus follows directly after teaching the disciples to pray and directly before telling them not to be anxious. The line between just enough stuff and too much stuff seems to lie in the heart. When the stuff in our lives starts to distract us from God or cause us to be anxious then it becomes a problem. We must decide if we are surrounding ourselves with stuff because it helps us to live a more productive life or if we are masking our anxieties about the future. Are we holding on to things because they bring us joy or because we’re afraid of forgetting who we are without them?

One of the hardest things for me to let go of is books. (No big surprise there right?) I’ll read a book, enjoy it, and want to keep it not because I’ll ever read it again but because looking at it helps me remember the euphoria I felt while reading it. There’s a fear of forgetting the pleasant times spent reading. There’s also a bit of pride in owning certain books that make me feel cool or intelligent. Both of those reasons reveal a small heart problem.

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There’s nothing wrong with owning stuff, and in my humble opinion, I could be collecting worse things than books. The problem with collecting stuff is that the stuff starts to take precedence in my heart instead of looking forward to God’s plans. It’s easy to become obsessed with getting the next big thing to impress your friends (or for me, owning the book that everyone is impressed with). As a believer, I must remember that the stuff I accumulate on earth does not define me nor will it make me happy (the loads of unbought books and other junk in thrift stores attest to that fact).

My identity and joy rest in God. The stuff may bring me little bouts of happiness, but that happiness is short-lived compared to the eternal joy I will experience in God.

Posted in Book Review

Southernmost: Controversial

There are some books that become more than just leisure reads because they open internal dialogue as well as create space for external dialogue. Silas House’s newest novel Southernmost does just that. The novel centers around a country preacher whose estranged brother is openly gay. After a huge flood covers his community, religious people in the community begin to think there is a connection between the legalization of gay marriage and the flood. There is great turmoil within the main character’s church when he speaks out openly in favor of loving the gay couple who have begun attending their church.

As always, House’s writing style is incredible. He creates scenes that are crystal clear by vividly describing the scenario. The plot is developed in such a way that the reader can feel the turmoil within and around the characters, much the way the opening paragraphs describe the flood waters rising. Hints to the culture arise through references to songs, poems, and news create a multi-sensory reading experience. For its literary quality alone, it’s a good book.

The parts that created the most turmoil in me were the beliefs expressed within the book. Now I am a reader who is okay with reading viewpoints that contradict my own, but when a writer expresses clearly controversial topics, it is good to create a space for dialogue. This book obviously expresses the belief that the gay lifestyle is acceptable and a couple of methods that churches tend to use to respond. While I do not think the gay lifestyle is pleasing to God, I can see some valid points in the book about how the church should respond to people living this lifestyle. In the book, the preacher remembers the experience his brother had coming out to his family, which eventually led to the estrangement of his brother from the family. When a gay couple comes to their house during the flood seeking shelter, he feels a conviction to help them while his wife feels strongly that sheltering them would equate with condoning their lifestyle. In this instance, I would lean more toward the preacher’s perspective. There are ways to show love to people who are living with sin, whether it be homosexuality or lying, that don’t require us to condone the sin. The church in this novel wants to throw the men out and shun them, but to me that doesn’t show the love of Christ. Jesus mingled with sinners in order to show them the forgiveness and redemption of God. As a church, we don’t have to condone their sin nor do we have to judge them; our job is to love all people in order to point them to God, the ultimate judge of souls. If we love sinners (because we must admit that we still sin even after being redeemed by Christ), we can point them toward God who can work in their hearts to bring them to righteousness better than our condemning words could ever do. For more on this topic see the book Messy Grace and my accompanying post about the book.

Another more troubling aspect of this book are the spiritual aspects presented through the character of the preacher’s son. There are several chapters entitled The Everything that show the turmoil about the son’s beliefs concerning God. At one point the boy says “Dad I believe in God, but I don’t believe in church.” At another point the book narrates, “The ocean is a mystery and so is God. They are both so big we cannot see all of them at the same time but we can catch pieces of them her and there. Justin believes God is big like the ocean. Even bigger. But lots of people don’t. They think he’s small enough to fit in a church house or an offering plate or an ancient book. He’s not, and his mind is even bigger than him.” At this point it just seems like the boy is trying to figure out who God is in relation to the religious fanatics in his church who turn away his dad for preaching a message they don’t like. At this point, I was standing okay with his turmoil, but then about halfway through the book, the boy begins to think along the lines of what I understand to be pantheism. The most telling quote that demonstrates this belief is “This is the kind of talk that would horrify his mother, but he believes God is in everything and everybody. Pieces of him. He doesn’t just mean the spirit, he means the actual chunks of God… The ocean is God but so are we all.” While God’s nature is expressed in nature and God is omnipresent, the equation does not go the other way. Nature and humans are not God. That leads to worship of things other than God, which is idolatry. For more on this, check out this very short and to the point article.

Finally, there is a part of me that wonders if there is a small commentary on the effect of broken homes. The boy only begins questioning his faith when his parents have such trouble that causes them to split. The young child watches his father question his faith and his mother cling harder to hers and tries to make sense of what he should believe. No one thinks to talk with him about what is really happening in his world, so naturally he starts to try to figure it out on his own. I’m not saying that divorce always leads to losing faith in God, but divorce definitely affects children in all different ways. In this instance, it seems to have led this small child down a path of spiritual ambiguity. If there had been someone to guide him through this process, he might have known the truth about God’s nature rather than the conclusions he came to on his own.

While I respect the writing and opinions of this book, it is not a book I would openly suggest to anyone. If you choose to read it, appreciate the literary value but be cautious of the theological impacts. Be sure to keep your eyes fixed on God while reading. It’s a good book for creating dialogue, but, if you are a believer of God, take caution in your dialogue so as to demonstrate love to those who disagree and maintain your own beliefs.

Posted in Book Review, Devotion

Fleeing from Anxiety

What if he doesn’t show up? What if I don’t like it? What if I forget that? What if I can’t get them under control? And the list goes on.

I often find myself thinking through every detail and possibility of the future in order to attempt to avoid embarrassment or failure. That’s worry. It’s not so much that my fleeing thoughts of worry or anxiety are a sin but that they potentially keep me from trusting God if I don’t push them away. Reading Max Lucado’s Anxious for Nothing helped me think through my reaction to worrisome thoughts that pop into my mind.

My anxiety stems from a lack of control. I worry when I don’t know exactly how a future situation will pan out. As Lucado points out, those initial thoughts aren’t the problem. It’s what I do after those thoughts that counts. I can either continue to dwell in that dark place and panic, or I can praise God.

I’ll admit, the idea of praising God when I’m anxious seems crazy and a bit impossible, but it’s Biblical.

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I’ll say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to all. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything, but instead in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-6

The solution is clear: rejoice, be thankful, pray, and allow God’s peace to take over.

Here’s an example. The first day of school always makes me nervous, even though this will be my third year of teaching and my fourth first day of school as a teacher. As the day grows closer, worries about classroom management, likeability, and content knowledge will seep into my thoughts. I can be completely prepared physically, but mentally I will still have anxieties. Knowing what I do about Philippians 4 and remembering Lucado’s admonitions, I should replace those worrisome thoughts with gratitude and prayer to God. Every time they pop up, I need to say a little prayer and breathe a breath of gratitude because my God is in control.

God is in control.

Then comes the second part that helps the peace stick in my mind. Paul goes on to say,

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:7-8

Once I’ve given the worries to God through prayer, I have to let them go. The easiest way to let go of something and not grab it back is to fill your hand, or brain in this scenario, with something else. In almost any situation, there is something true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise. On that first day of school, I can focus on the opportunity I have to minister to my students, the training I have received, or the successes of my peers. Even if I’m in a situation where it’s really hard to find something else to think on, I can always think on God because he fills all of those requirements.

If worry and anxiety plague you, even just on occasion, I’d encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Max Lucado’s Anxious for Nothing, or at the very least, start memorizing Philippians 4:4-8. Christians, let’s show the world that, because of God, we don’t have to live constantly in worry.

N.B. I do want to clarify that I recognize the difference between anxious thoughts and and clinical diagnosis of anxiety. While I believe God can overcome a mental illness, I don’t want to simplify anyone’s pain or anxiety.

Posted in A Letter, Book Review, Class, Literature

Dear me,

One beauty of summer break is having time to read an entire book in one sitting. I know it’s only June, but I’m already looking forward to next school year. One of my favorite writing projects of the year is the letter to your future self. At the start of the year I ask the students to write a minimum of five paragraphs in letter form. I give them a topic for each paragraph and review letter form. It’s a simple assignment with the purpose of reflection and to give me an idea of their writing abilities and style. It also serves as a great back up writing assignment for when students inevitably enter the school at the tail end of a larger writing project later in the year. I grade this assignment for completion, checking that they’ve addressed each part of the letter and followed letter format. Then we put the letters in an envelope and hide them away in the cabinet.

Watching the students read their letters, along with a letter I wrote to each of them, at the end of last year was sweet and funny. Some were pleasantly surprised to see they’d accomplished goals such as making honor roll or passing all of their classes. Some chuckled as they read their adorations of some guy or girl who wasn’t so important to their lives at the close of the year.

Even though I’d planned to do this writing assignment again, reading Dear Me sparked an idea to make this project more reflective. Dear Me by Warren Hanson is a 77-page series of letters between a young person and the older version of that person. The young person wonders about her future, while the older person gives general advice about how to live. It was quick read that left me thinking about reflection. After the students receive their letters back at the end of the year, an end of the year assignment should be to reflect upon this letter and respond with a Dear Younger Me letter. This could also be worked into a class wide letter to the upcoming sophomores.

I just love when my casual reading connects to my teaching life. Now I’m off to write my Letter to My Future Self and my Dear Younger Me letter for this point in my life. And of course I need to listen to Matthew West’s song of that title.

Posted in Devotion, Gratefulness

Replacing thoughts

Worry and fear are often what separate me from God’s presence. The devil knows that I am susceptible to worry, fear, and over analyzing situations, so in order to keep me from worshipping God, he plants little thoughts into my brain. Through reading Max Lucado’s book, Anxious for Nothing, I am reminded that the fastest way to destroy those worrisome thoughts is to fix my eyes back on God.

In Philippians 4:8, Paul gives a formula for thinking in order to achieve his difficult command to “rejoice in the Lord always… Do not be anxious about anything.” (Philippians 4:4,6). He says, “finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”.

Lucado gives the example of a woman in a difficult situation who found something within her situation that applied to each of these qualifications. While I can’t take credit for this idea, praying to God following these qualifications seems brilliant. I think when I find myself worrying or over thinking, I’ll try to focus on this scripture.

(Sorry the picture is sideways)