Saturday, November 19, 2016

Don't start nothin', won't be nothin'

Today I woke up and thought about a race I had seen online. It was the standard 5k only this one said it would be a challenging race with hills ...

As I sat in my comfy chair and sipped my coffee on this lazy Saturday, I tried to think of a reason not to go...I had none, but there were lots of reasons to go. It was for a good cause - the proceeds went to adopt-a-pet, it wasn't too early in the day - didn't start till 9:30, it didn't cost a lot for the race - even for those late to register like me, and finally, I thought about those "putting on" the race - I've done a few races and I always worry, what if no one comes!

So, I struggled out of my chair and put on my running shoes and headed out the door.
Of course, this made no sense. I haven't trained in forever and I have another race scheduled for tomorrow and I really don't like even semi-cold weather and...well, that's about all I had. 

Then, I had this thought - "Don't start nothin', won't be nothin'." It sort of rang over and over in my head...the only way to do anything is to start.

There will never be a perfect time, or perfect weather, or perfect whatever - and that's not just when it comes to running. There will be days when the run feels effortless and then days when I wonder why I ever put on a pair of running shoes. Again, this isn't just for running. But no matter what the day, if I don't start, then nothing can follow.

I wonder how many of us put off things until the "perfect" time. How many dreams are still sitting on the shelf because someone is still waiting on the perfect time? Books left unwritten, businesses not started, missions left unfulfilled, friendships not developed, schooling put off...all waiting for the perfect time. 

So, today as I recuperate from the race (which was a lot of fun, by the way) I will be mulling over this little phrase - "Don't start nothin', won't be nothin'."

What is it that you've been putting off until the perfect time? Maybe the time to start is now.

Romans 14:8 (ASV) For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.

Psalm 118:24-25 (MSG)
This is the very day God acted—
    let’s celebrate and be festive!
Salvation now, God. Salvation now!
    Oh yes, God—a free and full life!

Special thanks to everyone who put on the race today! You weren't kidding when you said there would be hills!!! Still, it was a really great race and loved the day even if my husband said no to me adopting that cute little black and white puppy that Southern Pines Animal Shelter had there today. (And I won first place in my age group - so glad I started!)
Fast and Furious 5k

Saturday, November 12, 2016

It's time to argue...

Arguing has been on my mind a lot this week. It's not just because of what has been going on in the news, but my students have actually been learning how to argue or debate this week as well, and I couldn't be prouder of these young people. I thought I'd share a few moments from my week. 

#1 - When we first started working on arguing, I asked my students what they thought was the purpose of arguing. The overwhelming answer was something about proving your point. No, not quite. The goal of an argument is not to win, but to understand and to be understood. 

I decided we should practice arguing using a very hot topic on whether we should limit salt in our diets - something every young person feels passionately about (NOT!) At one point of the discussion, one student jumped up to make his point with passion. His voice rose and it became obvious that he KNEW his point would annihilate the argument of his fellow classmate. At that moment I said, "Freeze! Nobody move!" I then pointed out the young man's "opponent" and her body language. She sat there with her arms crossed and pushed back into her seat. I asked my students what did her body language tell us. They all agreed that she looked angry and defensive. I then asked, "Do you think she will be won over at this point by the other "arguments"?" The response was a resounding "NO!" Then I demonstrated the way to disagree without being disagreeable...probably one of the most important lessons I think I've taught all year.

I even shared a personal story that had happened on Facebook. In an attempt to reach out to an old friend who was upset about the way the election had gone and how angry she was at anyone who had voted for the other candidate. I opened a dialogue intended to reaffirm that despite differences of opinion, people could still be friends. Before I could finish typing a second response to her, one of her other "friends" jumped in and basically cussed me out, dropping the "f" bomb more than once. (The response from my students was an expected "Oooooooooo!" My students see me as someone who does not back down, I guess.) I shared with my students that I knew I could have a sharp tongue. My first response was to start typing a very snappy response, and I am a very fast typer! Then I felt that little nudge inside that said, "Stop. This is not the way," so I took my finger and pressed "delete, delete, delete" until all my "perfect" comebacks had disappeared from the screen. Instead I typed, "I am sorry that you felt this was the best way to respond to someone who was truly reaching out a hand of friendship." It pretty much ended the Facebook conversation. 

One of my students blurted out - "Whoa, you killed her with kindness!" I had to agree but told him that was not my intention. My intention was to build a bridge of understanding...because that is what arguing is supposed to be, listening and talking to each other to understand. I had them copy a quote that said, "Don't raise your voice, improve your argument." ~ Desmond Tutu. "Improve your argument," I like that.

#2 - I learned a new appreciation for a young friend of mine who loves to argue. A lot of my personal friends can guess who this might be.  I used to joke that if I was holding an apple, Channing would argue it was an orange. I don't think I've ever met someone who truly seemed to ENJOY arguing like this young man. I need to also state that I truly admire this young man who I've known since birth. He is a thinker like none other I know. But this week, my appreciation for him grew even more because I now think there is a method to his madness that I'm not sure even he recognizes. Every time Channing questions what someone says, he is attempting to understand and even more than that, he is challenging the other person to examine and understand what they have said. When I say I believe something, I need to able to clearly explain WHY I believe it. WHY is this the viewpoint I hold? I can't rely on hearsay or opinion, I need to be ready to give my evidence. I have to admit, this often frustrates me because it causes me to have to really THINK and since it usually happens at the end of the day or on the weekend, my brain is tired. But it does give me something to think about along the way. I examine my evidence. Can't say he's ever changed my mind, but he has caused me to make sure I really believe what I say I do. You've got to love someone like that.

#3 - I don't like to argue, mainly because I can have a very sharp tongue and, though I've been accused of many things, being soft spoken has never been one of them. To avoid this in the past, I have simply shut my mouth and avoided the subject all together. But now, I am trying to spend more time listening and learning to articulate my reasoning to those who are also ready to listen and begin a dialogue. We may not change each others' opinion, but at least we will be able to understand each other and see each other as friends with different opinions instead of enemies...and that's what true arguing is supposed to do. (Now if I could only get those who disagree with me to see that this is the purpose for arguing in life.)

I'm sure there are other things that I've learned, but I've already talked too much. Let's just say, I think I learn more in my classes than my kids and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to help instruct the future. I tell them, they are already farther along than some adults I know. Now to learn from my own lessons. I may fail at times, but I truly want to understand and be understood. I don't want to "argue" as the world knows it, but as it was originally intended to be used. 

Happy arguing, my friends.

1 Peter 3:15-18 (Message)
Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that they’re the ones who need a bath. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.

Proverbs 15: 1, 4
1 A gentle response defuses anger,
    but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.

4 Kind words heal and help;
    cutting words wound and maim.

Excerpt from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (by the way, this is a letter from the "head demon, Screwtape" to his protege, Wormwood.)

My Dear Wormwood,
Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure that the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.
Keep up the good work,
Uncle Screwtape

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Living the Dream

I had a dream...

No, I'm not about to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous speech. This is just the random thought that was in my head this morning. Actually, it's been on my mind quite a bit lately. I HAD a dream...and I wonder what happened to it.

At the tender young age of 57, I'm starting to wonder whatever happened to that dream I felt the Lord first put on my heart when I was only 16. I vividly remember standing in church saying I felt a call to ministry...I'm sure everyone in the congregation of that tiny Baptist church loved my zeal all the while knowing that "women don't go into ministry unless they become missionaries." Still, I had a dream that I felt God had placed in my heart.

Over the years, that dream has changed a little. For a while, I did serve "in ministry." I worked at church as Children's Director/receptionist/bulletin and newsletter developer, (that meant I typed and ran copies.) Still, I had the secret dream that felt unfulfilled. I knew that the dream included speaking before people...lots of people. I know that sounds pretty arrogant, but honestly, I felt like God was placing a word of encouragement and challenge in me that I had to share.

After God blessed us with two children, ironically, I felt that my time as a Children's Director was coming to a close. I went to my pastor who prayed with me for direction and within just a few months, I found myself in a classroom teaching full time. I didn't even have a "teaching degree," but I went through the Alternate Route program in my state and my BS in Advertising became my foot in the door of the classroom. (Pretty fitting since advertising is a lot like have to convince your "audience" that they need your product enough to buy in.) 

I started by teaching in a private Christian school but still felt that I wasn't quite where God wanted me - yet. The very next year, He directed me to a public school only a mile from my home. And yes, I do mean directed me. I vividly remember feeling that "nudge" to go by that school at a very particular time of day, only to run into someone who was once again, my foot in the door. Long story short - I worked in that school for 7 years. I still run into or hear from former students that remind me of how blessed I was to be a part of that school.

Then, I felt the Lord direct me to step out in faith because He was getting ready to move me. Trouble was, I had no idea where! Of course, God knew and it was the perfect place for me to teach. I was blessed to teach there for five years before once again I felt that nudge. 

This time, I felt led to another school in my district that I really knew very little about. I wasn't even sure where it was. When I asked others, the first response was "Why do you want to go there?" with a very questioning face. Evidently, no one wanted to go there. All I could say was, I think God is leading me. Turns out He was and I have had an awesome four years at this school. I've had good days and bad, but don't we all; still, I love this school and community. But I've got to be honest...I still have that dream - the one I had back when I was 16. 

I remember going to my pastor, (yes, the same one) a few years back and sharing my dream of writing and publishing and speaking. His response was something along the lines of, "What can I do to help you with this?"  I told him, "Nothing." I just felt I needed to speak to my spiritual covering and check with him to see if I was off base. I was totally leaving it up to God as to how He wanted to go about making this happen. That was it. The skies didn't open, the angels didn't sing, I didn't quit my job and suddenly hit the evangelistic speaking circuit. I went back to my classroom.

Since then, I have self-published some of my writing in limited supply and actually have been blessed to have two of my blogs shared in a book of devotions, but mostly it's just been tapping out on my computer and sharing on facebook and occasionally checking to see if anyone has read the blog. No speaking engagements, no big book deals, just words on the computer screen. 

Other friends who have been writing for only a short time excitedly tell me of the book they are having published and I smile and cheer for them all the while wondering why my writing still only graces the screens of a few friends and loyal supporters. But the dream? Well, if anything, it looks like the dream is getting farther and farther from my reach. 

Then this morning, out of the blue, came a thought. 

My dream was to share encouragement and challenge while standing before a crowd of people...and in an instant, my students flashed into my mind. 

Every day, I get the opportunity to share the hope of God and encouragement from His Word and the challenge to hold tight to the promise that He has a purpose for your life. Oh, don't worry; I am not violating the rules of the public school classroom. I don't specifically preach the "gospel" as in Bible verses, and there are never any altar calls in my classroom. Instead, I just share the promises I know are true in simple everyday conversation. I challenge them to be thankful in all things, to be gentle with those they disagree with, to listen more than speak, but to not be afraid to speak when they see injustice, and most of all I share hope and love - not hope and love that could possibly come from an old, out-of-touch, somewhat quirky teacher, but hope and love that comes from my Father. Real hope. Real love.

So, I guess you could say I am living the dream, it just didn't look like I thought it would. 

I am still writing - and I do my best to share what I believe God shows me. Sometimes it's just for me, but every once in a while, it touches someone else as well. And the speaking? Well, I've been teaching now for 17 years. The first year I taught art so I had about 240 students (more or less). Since being in the regular classroom, I've taught at least 60 students each day, most years closer to 75. So, you do the math, (because I'm an English teacher!) I've shared what God has given me with hundreds...maybe even close to a thousand lives. It may not look like what I thought it would, but my life really is a dream come true.

Jeremiah 29:11The Voice (VOICE)

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Eternal, “plans for peace, not evil, to give you a future and hope—never forget that.

John 10:10b The Message
I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

Numbers 23:19The Voice (VOICE) 

God is not a man—He doesn’t lie.  God isn’t the son of a man to want to take back what He’s said, Or say something and not follow through, or speak and not act on it.

World English translation: Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good?

Thoughts to ponder:
1. Do you have a dream that you know God gave you but it doesn't seem to be coming to pass? Take another look at your life. Is it possible it has already come true, just not in exactly the way the limited human mind can see?

2. What difference will it make in your life if you realize that the dream has not died, it just looks a little different than you imagined.

Please feel free to comment or share...and as always, thank you for reading.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Do you understand the words comin' out of my mouth?

Words - I've never been at a shortage for them, and at times they have gotten me in trouble. I can even talk with my "foot in my mouth," which a skill that not everyone has! Lately, however, I've noticed it's been getting more and more difficult to have conversations with people without stepping on toes. People who were once "friends" are "unfriending" or growling under their breath at those they once were busy "liking" on facebook. Many of my friends have vowed not to say ANYTHING remotely political because of the backlash they get from posting their opinions.

I recently posted on facebook something I first said during the 2012 election. "Think of the those running for President. Ask yourself, "Does my favorite candidate even know my name?" Now think, if something should happen in your life (not on the natural disaster level - just normal 'life' stuff) would the candidate come to your help or those around you? 
I'm thinking, it's not worth alienating those around you to support your candidate. The day after the election - the president, whoever that may be, still won't know your name. Those around you will still be the ones who will come when you are in need.Vote your conscious and leave the results up to God. Reach out to those around you...those from both parties. They are your friends." 

It's crazy that we've found ourselves here once again. 

Then this morning I read a verse that made me start to think about the words that are "coming out of my mouth."

Isaiah 61:1 - "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners"

I had to stop and think. Are those the kind of words that are coming out of my mouth? Words that proclaim good news to the poor? Words that bind up the brokenhearted? Is there freedom in my words or anything that would release those trapped in darkness? 
I have to be honest; I'm not so sure. 

At times, my words are cutting or sarcastic...sometimes out loud and sometimes just in my head, but they are there. Sometimes my words are self-serving, making me feel smart or superior. Sometimes my efforts to be funny with my words sound insensitive or crass. Sometimes my words are simply idle chatter of no substance at all. 

But I want the Spirit of the Lord on me and I want it to be evident. No short term argument or funny meme is worth losing that. 

I'm afraid that those around me do "understand the words that are coming out of my face" and they aren't necessarily fulfilling Isaiah 61:1...and it's time that I changed that. I want to spend the words I'm given to proclaim good news, not bad. I want the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart to be pleasing to God. (Psalm 19:14)