Sunday, December 16, 2012

Who Doubts Teachers Now? My Thoughts on Sandy Hook

Like you, I am still in shock. Twenty babies were gunned down in their bright, cheerful school, innocently learning and unsuspecting of what was to come. 

Their faces haunt my thoughts, come to mind when I see the smiles of my own two children. I think of their parents’ grief and I weep, crying for their pain that I can never begin to understand. I see my children’s stockings and think of 20 that will never be filled. I watch my children’s chests rise and fall in peaceful sleep and know that there are parents who would give everything they have for just one more night.

It doesn’t make any sense.

How can a mother move forward when the children who grew within her will grow no more? How does a daddy walk past the bedroom where the child will never need tucking in again? How?

It is more wrong than my words can express.

In the midst of the sadness and need for understanding, one ray of light has shone. The teachers. We have all heard the accounts of their bravery and heroics, reading Christmas stories to innocents as bullets rained right outside. Finding crayons and coloring sheets to distract little ones while evil tried to overtake. Stepping between gunman and children, sacrificing self. The teachers were heroes.

The teachers are heroes.

I am in no way trying to glorify mere people, but I am so proud of my fellow educators that I have to speak out. What these teachers did Friday is what teachers do every day. We give what is ours. For some of these in Sandy Hook, that gift was their lives.

Every day in a battle that can feel as if we are losing, teachers give. We give hours that are unpaid, money that is never reimbursed, encouragement that is unwelcome. We give suggestions that are unheeded, time that we don’t have, lessons that we learned the hard way. We receive no recognition, are talked poorly about by many, and are questioned as if we’re not professionals.

We are undeterred, though, because there is something more important than the hours, the time, the disrespect.

The children.
We become surrogate parents to our students, calling them “our kids,” seeing them not just as pupils but as our own dearly loved. They get on our last nerves, trying our patience, but come hell or high water, we will not let them go.  

On a normal day, we are determined not to let them fail. We insist they complete lessons, participate in class, persevere through hard lessons. We tolerate no unkindness, teach them to encourage each other, help them to see that knowledge is powerful.

We stand between them and this evil world that wants them. We stand between them and complacency. We stand between them and the easy way out.

In Sandy Hook on a day that was not normal, the teachers stood between them and the bullets.

I have heard reports that one teacher said, “I wanted my voice to be the last thing they heard, not the gunshots…” This shows the heart of a teacher – protect the children, whatever the cost.

To those who question the value of public schools, the professionalism of its teachers – may you all, right now, know that every teacher I have met would do exactly what those in Connecticut did. We would lay down our lives for your children. We lay down our lives for them daily in our classrooms, and if, God, forbid, we were ever faced with a gun, we would still willingly give what is ours for them.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Why Praying for Protection Isn't Best

She weighed just five pounds the day we brought her home from the hospital, no heavier in my arms than a bag of sugar. She was born too early, five weeks before her due date, and had to learn to eat on her own before she could be released to our care. Her tiny hands were bruised from fluid-giving IVs, and her preemie outfits swallowed her whole. A feeding tube gave her the nutrition she needed when she lost the strength to suck, and each feeding became agony as we willed her to swallow just one more ounce.

In those earliest days, when she cried nonstop and was so physically fragile, I prayed protection for my sweet girl. “Please, Lord, help her to eat. Let all of her systems be working as they should, and keep her safe from anything that might hurt her.”

He, faithfully, answered those prayers.

As she grew in size and strength, she still cried nonstop and never slept more than 3 hours at a time. She was so hard to soothe, needing to be held all the time, and her demands seemed, some days, more than I could bear. Her brother was not yet two years old, and the needs of them both left me exhausted and weak. Still, I prayed for my sweet girl. “God, I don’t know what to do. Nothing calms her, and I am at my wit’s end. Protect her from whatever invisible irritation I cannot see, and keep her safe from harm.”

Faithful, He did.

When she learned to toddle and chase after her ‘bubba,’ the dangers she faced increased tenfold. She put everything in her mouth, tripped and fell more than she walked, climbed into places forbidden, and even ate the cat’s food. She, still, never slept more than 3 hours at a time. She jerked toys from brother, fell out of her crib, pulled chairs down on herself, and tore up my nerves. My prayers became longer and louder. “Jesus, it will be a miracle if she survives the next day. I feel like I should wrap this one in bubble wrap – will you please protect her when I can’t? Please, God, keep her safe. Everything she does scares me to death. She has no fear, and I am playing defense nonstop. I need you, Lord, to protect my sweet girl…”

Ever true, He did.

The first day I left her in the preschool’s care, I breathed a sigh of relief and cried tears of regret. It was already time for her to be without me? Had I given her enough love? Was she certain I’d return? Would she treat her little classmates with kindness? Would she be safe without me there to keep her out of trouble? Prayers – again – were sent heavenward. “God, be with her today, to protect her from harm. Don’t let anything hurt her, no matter what she gets into. Let her know she is loved, and let her be secure in that knowledge.”

He did.

Today, she is nearly six, and I cannot believe the child once smaller than a doll is the girl whose face I kiss each night. She is growing like a weed, legs colt-like in length, her baby teeth replaced with for-now-too-large permanent ones. She reads like her Mama and flips like a gymnast. She has her own very definite opinions (perhaps, like her Mama), and is nothing like what I imagined my daughter would be. She is secure and self-confident, outgoing and hilarious, the exact opposite of how I was at her age.

And, still, I pray. I pray so many things for my girl – a life lived fully, with no regrets; the confidence to chase those dreams forming in her heart. Good friends to grow up with, a spiritual foundation to anchor her, safety when we are apart.

I have prayed for God to protect her in all situations, to keep her little body and spirit safe from all harm. I know my mother prayed the same things for me – all moms do. It’s who we are, safety-begging women. 

But God didn’t answer all of my mother's prayers; He didn’t protect me from all harm

He allowed the most hurtful thing I can imagine to occur in my life, and He might allow an equally awful situation to unfold for my daughter. Why? Does He ignore the prayers of some mothers? Does He not hear? Is He not always faithful?

No. That’s not it at all.

It’s because His plan is better than the protection we desire. His healing in our lives cannot come without the hurt. Protection is not always preventing hardship; sometimes, protection is allowing it.

I love the story of the bleeding woman in the book of Luke. This woman was afflicted for twelve years with a condition that caused her to be an outcast in her community. For reasons unknown, she bled for twelve years, and no one could help her. Her condition was, in human eyes, incurable. It also caused her to be considered unclean according to Jewish law. Anyone she touched and any place she sat became tainted, requiring ceremonial cleansing to be acceptable again.

She heard that Jesus was passing through her town, and she likely knew the stories. He had calmed lake storms, raised children from death! Surely this man was the answer; surely just touching him could cure her. As Jesus passed by, surrounded by crowds wanting to see just what He could do, “She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped” (Luke 8:44).

Jesus’ reaction is worthy of a great discussion, but that’s not what recently struck me about this passage. It was the fact that Jesus allowed her to suffer indescribably for twelve years. For over a decade, this woman had faced ridicule, isolation, rejection from the church, unanswerable questions, and physical torment. Her mother’s prayers for protection, and no doubt her own, went unanswered. She was not kept safe, was not protected from all harm. She was allowed to be miserable and to hurt.

Yet there was a purpose.

The suffering was not without reason; the pain was not pointless. Jesus allowed her pleas to go unanswered and her condition to remain uncured so that when He came close, she would be ready. The years-long pain persisted so that at the moment He passed by, she would persist in seeking Him. I believe that without her hurt, she would likely have never realized her need for a Healer. Without her suffering, she would not have known her need for a Savior. Without her life threatened, she would not have chased the Life-Giver.

I want my sweet girl protected, yes, but more than that, I want these words she wrote as a five year old to be her life’s declaration:

My prayers for her are changing. 

I think I will always desire for her to be kept safe, but my greatest prayer is that she will be drawn increasingly closer to the heart of the Lord. I will ask God to do whatever it takes – and I don’t take those words lightly, since I know what they can mean – to capture her heart and attention. 

I will ask Him to use her life for His purposes, even it means her life has some pain. 

I have linked to

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Cure for Blurry Vision

When I was a gangly-legged fourth grader with a bad perm and unbraced teeth, an optometrist diagnosed me with myopia, or near-sightedness. I had been squinting at school, unable to read white chalk on green board, so mother took me to the eye doctor to get the problem fixed. 

I will never forget walking outside with my brand new eyes, able to see individual leaves on fall trees and crisp words on billboards. 

It was as if I were seeing for the first time. Everywhere I looked, wonders were visible. I could tell who was walking towards me before they were close enough to touch. I could make out images on the television from across the living room. This being able to see was a huge deal – I was impressed! 

No longer limited to seeing just what was in front of me, I became aware of what was going on around me that I had been missing. I was able, quite literally, to see a bigger picture.

My physical sight has been treated for over twenty years, although it needs tweaking every now and then. A slightly stronger prescription is sometimes necessary as eyes age and eye shape changes. Not too long ago, I went to the eye doctor for some new contacts. I had been carrying the prescription from a previous exam in my purse, but as is often the case in my life now, other pressing matters took precedence over my own needs. I finally made my way to the office, thinking the visit would be short – in and out with a new box of lenses in just a few minutes.

The receptionist glanced at my prescription and said, “Honey, this thing expired last month. You’ll need a whole new exam.” (Sidebar – I know I live in the south, but it irks me to no end when people call me ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ and ‘sugar.’ You don’t know me. I could be as sour as pickles from a green-lidded jar. But I digress.)

Of course I needed a new exam. Such is my luck. Thankfully, there had been a cancellation for the next time slot, so I was able to go straight back to the torture chamber known as the exam room, where puffs of air are jettisoned straight into your eyeball in spite of your ridiculous blinking efforts to stop them.

As the doctor began to examine my eyes, he could not get an accurate reading. To begin with, I only got one answer correct on the ‘reading the chart’ test, and that’s because I cheated. I knew there had to be an E on the top. 

As he asked, ‘this one, or that one?’ while turning the dial on his prescription-finder, I honestly answered, “Are you even changing it? Because they both look terrible.” 

His eye-scanning machines failed miserably, his last and final attempt to get an accurate reading. 

He finally said, “You know what? We’re going to have to do this another day. Your eyes have small abrasions on them from those old contacts, and they are too fatigued to focus properly.” He ordered me to wear my glasses for the next few days so that my eyes could rest and heal.

As I walked out of his office, self-conscious in my glasses and feeling like that awkward fourth grader again, I immediately thought of how myopic my spiritual eyes are and how damaged and weary they become, too. 

Slowly, subtly, without me even realizing it, my once 20/20 spiritual sight begins to lose sharpness and its focus lessens. When I allow the daily struggles and overwhelming task list to take precedence over time spent with God, eyes of the spirit become damaged and I see only clouded distortions. What I see is not what is. 

What I see is improperly refracted. It is only through the lens of God’s Word that I will see everything around me – every condition – in its true form. Without a daily – even moment by moment – adjustment, I become near-sighted again, seeing only what is closest to me, not the bigger picture.

So many variables give me an inaccurate picture of my reality. When I allow my emotions to be the barometer for my life, I give in to self-pity and only believe of God what I currently feel from Him. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things…” Deceitful, in case you (ok, I) have forgotten, means misleading, lying, being anything but the truth

It is not sinful to feel what you feel, but so often emotions are inaccurate. I might feel like I am worthless and unwanted, but that doesn’t mean it’s so. Our hearts deceive us, because our hearts are sinful. They are tainted by the evil one, not yet made perfect in glorious permanence. Emotions cloud our view of the accuracy of God’s words.

My spiritual eyes are also, more than I’d like to admit, blinded by what others say about and do to me. To this day, I can remember a hurtful comment made to me by a guest speaker in elementary school. I hoard others’ comments like squirrels do acorns. I hang on to them, storing them in dark, secret places, uncovering them when I see they’ll be useful (like in my poorly-attended but all-night pity parties).

 Sometimes what we believe about ourselves (and our God) is so deeply rooted in the opinions of others that we are not even aware of their influence. I want to live by these words and dwell on them alone – “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God” (Ps. 139:17). Only Yours.

The intricacy of the human eye is mind-boggling. Scientists argue that the eye is more complex than any other naturally occurring mechanism, and that it would take a supercomputer 100 years to process what the eye does in 1/100th of a second. But in order for this complex organ’s rods and cones to work properly, light must first enter the iris. Read that again. Light must enter. Without light, there is no vision.

You likely know a verse that speaks of light. Jesus spoke to people gathered around Him, those who were desperate for accurate vision in the midst of Pharisees’ clouded sight. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Without the Light of the World entering, we will never see the bigger picture. We will squint at foggy distortions instead of marveling in crisp clarity. We will miss the visible wonders and never grasp the beauty of new eyes.

It is not just accepting Jesus that focuses the eyes of our spirits, though. I had been carrying the prescription for new contacts in my purse for weeks, but had not used it. I had in my grasp, daily, the cure for my poor vision, but it was tucked away and useless. How often do I do the same with my God? He is the cure to my every problem, the lens for my myopic sight, but I leave Him tucked away while I curse headaches that come from squinting at preventable blurs.

Charles Darwin, the agnostic scientist that Christians love to hate, said, "To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable [incomparable] contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

If the human eye, which we can see and touch and study, contains “inimitable contrivances,” how much more complex must the spiritual eyes we were given be? How many more methods must there be for “admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of . . . aberration[s]?”

We are not condemned to a lifetime of blurry sight or spiritual eyes that are wounded and in need of rest. God has given us “everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Pet. 1:3). We already have ‘everything we need.’ We have it! It’s time we live like it. We ought to be on our faces, begging the Lord daily, “Open my eyes that I may see . . .” (Ps. 119:18).

Where there is cloudy vision, there is a healing lens. Where there are weary eyes, there is curing rest. Jesus is longing to give us eyes to see, but He is waiting for us to want them badly enough to ask. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Truth about Quicksand

Who would have guessed that quicksand can be holy ground?

For anyone who has suffered a great loss or intense pain, doesn’t it feel sometimes as if the very earth on which you’re standing has become unstable? The tremors of a personal earthquake rock your once-firm footing, and you reach out for something – anything – to hold you fast. A deep chasm forms before your very eyes, and you feel yourself slipping towards its gaping opening…

You know your demise is imminent and that the infinite darkness before you is your final destination.

The quicksand holds you immobile, and try as you might, you cannot get out.

Photo by Bentley B. Fulton, National Geographic

The enemy of our lives and souls wants us to believe that the difficulties we face are impossible to survive. He wants us to feel the shaking soil and panic, not believing that a Rescuer is on His way. He wants us, in the midst of the trial, to focus on the grip of the quicksand and not the Hand reaching down to save.

And I fall for it, nearly every time. I feel the pressure, sense the unsteady floor, and believe that all is lost. In a moment of anxiety, I struggle to remember that nothing can snatch me from my Father’s hand (John 10:29).

I recently read a fascinating article about quicksand and humans' ability to survive when trapped. The truth is that no amount of quicksand can pull a person completely under. Humans are less dense than quicksand by about half, and the lowest a person will sink is to his waist. Why, then, does there exist the misconception that quicksand will drag you to your death? Because struggling against the force of the quicksand causes its viscosity to increase, thereby increasing the difficulty of getting out. In other words, the sand sediment becomes 'thicker' the more you try to escape. 

Experts say, “’The force needed for someone to pull their foot out of quicksand at a speed of a centimeter a second would be the equivalent of that required to lift a medium-size car. So how do you get out? Don't ask your friends to tug on you; they're likely to pull you ‘into two pieces if [they] try hard to pull [you] out,’ said Bonn, a physics professor at the Van der Waals-Zeeman Institute at the University of Amsterdam. ‘The way to do it is to wriggle your legs around. This creates a space between the legs and the quicksand through which water can flow down to dilate [loosen] the sand,’ he explained. ‘You can get out using this technique, if you do it slowly and progressively.’”
Does anybody see where this is going? Can I please get an amen?!
Better. Thanks.
The quicksand – that trial, pain, looming hardship – cannot kill you, and struggling against it only ensnares you further. Your escape can only come from an outside source! The only solution to viscous quicksand is water, and the only solution to your problems and mine is Jesus. He is the water to our quicksand. God can and sometimes does pull you right out of quicksand, but He often removes you “slowly and progressively” so as not to ‘pull you into two pieces.”
Psalm 46:10 is quoted so often we lose its meaning, but doesn’t it make perfect sense in this context? “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still – your attempts to escape this on your own are only making it worse. Be stilllet me come to your aid, because you cannot fix this on your own. Be still – I am the only solution; all other methods will be in vain and will postpone the rescue.
The hardest act to take in the middle of a battle is to lay down your weapons and allow someone else to assume the defense, but Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Your role is, out in the middle of the crushing quicksand when your senses tell you that you will surely not make it, to be still and believe. Do as Jesus instructs in Luke 8:50 – “Don’t be afraid; just believe…”
Hebrews 12:28 tells us, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”
The kingdom cannot be shaken.
There will be earthquakes in our earthly lives, but His kingdom will not be shaken. The quicksand will try its best to crush us, but His kingdom will not be shaken. Our flesh will tell us that the end is near, but His kingdom will not be shaken.
His kingdom will not be shaken. 
“Be still and know…”

All information taken from Quicksand Science: Why It Traps, How to Escape by Nicholas Bakalar for National Geographic News. September 28, 2005

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Praise Him

It seems as though it should be impossible, lifting hands in praise when tears are falling in grief, but praise in pain is the most authentic form. 

I have never see the goodness of God as clearly as while enduring the wickedness of the world, and I have never been as grateful for His presence as when I have been all alone.

Why is our view of God so often dependent on our circumstances? Why do we publicly laud our God when troubles are small and happiness is abundant, yet question His love when plans go awry? He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). He does not change, is always love. We should believe that He is loving more than we believe that the sun will rise, yet we question Him immediately if our way isn’t had.

The act of praise, choosing to acknowledge the might, goodness, and uniqueness of the Almighty, has supernatural power to enact change. Abandoning oneself in adoration and thanksgiving can bring peace and perspective shifts desperately needed when emotions cloud our vision like morning fog. Over and over in Scripture we are exhorted to life His name and praise Him continually.

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts… Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created” (Ps. 148: 1-5).

If you have never seen David Platt recite these verses while speaking before pastors at the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention, you will be blessed by hearing.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Ps. 150:6). 

In times when the breath has been knocked out of your spirit, praise Him. He will bring times of refreshing, pure oxygen to fill the lungs of your life. 

When the storm rages all around and you’re sure you will be its next casualty, praise Him. He will say to that storm, as He has before, “Peace. Be still” (Mark 4:39). 

When you’re working nonstop and your trial shows no lull, praise Him. He will whisper, “…know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). He is God, the One worthy of our thoughts, not the hurt, not the hurt-causer. ‘I am the God in your life, and I will not share your attention. Focus your heart, undivided, on Me.’

The power in our praise is beyond our ability to understand. When we speak the name of Jesus, things change. When we claim the promises of Scripture, Satan is defeated. Praise doesn’t just change our emotions – it changes our reality.

Nehemiah says, “…do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10). How can joy be found when grief is so strong? By looking to the eternal good of God, not to the temporary bad of life. 

It is only when human strengths and abilities fail that we are able to glimpse the strength of He who created all. It is only when we are utterly defeated and at a loss that we can be truly victorious and find real answers.

God is enthroned on the praises of His people, literally dwelling where His name is lifted (Ps. 22:3). When we praise even in the worst times imaginable, He is there. Praise does not just mask the sadness we feel; it brings God’s presence to us. It enables us to endure what feels unbearable; it enables us to see what otherwise we would ignore. Praise gives credit to He who sustains.

“I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together” (Ps. 34:1-3).

I have learned what it is to praise "at all times," and I have been the afflicted who "hear and rejoice." My greatest prayer is that now, through His grace, you will "Glorify the Lord with me" and that we will "exalt his name together."