“11 small ways to feel less helpless this week,” continued.

Earlier this week, I, along with hosts of other Americans, experienced heartache and a host of other emotions at the announcement of another black man killed by police. Alton Sterling, though a person whose life is swirling with controversy and whose police record and history is currently being scrutinized from every feasible corner and cranny of America, did not need to die that day. Then, a day later, came reports of Philando Castile’s death in Minnesota, who was shot four times by police in his car with his fiancé and child watching. Philando Castile did not need to die. Trayvon Martin did not need to die walking down the street that day. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and so, so many others did not need to die those days. I am not posting these statements to start any sort of debate; in fact, internet debates are fairly loathsome to me due to the anonymity that can often invite tactless, hurtful comments. Sympathy and empathy are often lacking without the ability to see each others’ faces and tears, discern voice inflections and intentions, hear cries, hold hands… My aim is not a debate. My point is just this: as humans made in the image of God, it is a tragedy that these boys and men lost their lives through violence. It is wrong. This is not the way the world is supposed to be. And even if some of them committed crimes, even if some of them resisted arrest, even if [fill in the blank], it is still a tragedy when life is lost. Families and communities still grieve. Someone lost their son, their husband, their father, their brother. Can we at least agree on that?

And in times when huge portions of our country are grieving, anger and accusation are not the first reactions I crave (and there are plenty of people online who are venting those feelings and ideas, in healthy and unhealthy ways). Instead, I would like to reproduce and add onto some wise advice I read after another American tragedy of a different kind which occurred not even a month ago. So whether you are still reeling from Orlando, from Alton, or from any other intense struggle you are facing, here goes.

I’ve added a few thoughts in italics with asterisks, but the rest is credit to Annie Wright, a trained therapist.

“To help you hold the weight of this world, I want to offer some actionable suggestions for things you can do this week, both psychologically and socially. Hopefully, these small things will help you process, feel less helpless, and even help those around you this week:

1. Acknowledge and feel your feelings. All of them.

There’s no such thing as a bad feeling (though some may feel more comfortable than others). Allow yourself to feel today, tomorrow, and this week, and to be with whatever comes up for you around this. Process your feelings safely and constructively.

2. Don’t isolate. Connect.

Connect with your loved ones, your local community, your larger communities (even if by phone or over social media). Share how you’re feeling. Talk it out, let others hold space for you while you hold space for them.

3. Limit your media consumption if needed.

This is so important with news being blasted at us from every angle. Monitor how much news and content about the tragedy you can tolerate before it starts to feel like too much.”

*** Additionally: I found that submerging myself in social media and news after Eric Garner’s death, especially watching the video of him taking his last breaths, threw me into a mental and emotional tailspin. I, too, could not breathe, and I could not seem to pull myself out of the vortex of reading hateful comments and processing news and updates. Despite that “lost day,” I’m thankful for that experience in some ways – seeing that video made me experience his tragedy in a much more much more personal, human way rather than just conceptualizing his death intellectually. However, I learned much about my limits that day, and because of that I encourage myself (and whoever read this) to take care in educating ourselves but not to an unhealthy extent.

“4. Refocus on your self-care and healthy coping resources.

Garden, cook, knit, craft, go for a long walk, journal, sit outside in the sun. Do whatever you know helps you feel grounded, safe, and healthy.

5. Stick to your routines.

Routines and schedules can be incredibly grounding in times of stress. Keep up your daily and weekly rituals.

6. Exercise.

Moving your body can help process and metabolize the stress and anxiety you may be feeling. Add in an extra walk or two and really make grounding and focusing on your body a priority.

7. Dance, draw, paint, or photograph your feelings about this.

Create art and process your experience through creation.

8. Turn toward supports and ask for help.

If you need additional resources, book a session with a therapist, speak to your local clergy, or call up a trusted mentor. Let those who care about you help you.

9. Get involved in any way that you can.”

*** Participate in activism, have face-to-face conversations with those in your family, your community, or your church which would further compassion and understanding. Educate yourself (in healthy ways). Read books and articles by educated authors! (And let me know if you’d like a recommendation or two.)

“10. Host or join a community process group.

Check out your local YMCA or church or university offerings to see if they’re hosting a support group for those impacted by the tragedy. If none are offered, consider hosting one with a friend or local helping resource.

11. Pray.

Yes, pray. […] Close your eyes and ask something greater than you for guidance in troubled times. Receive the support that can come from being in prayer.

Being a human is often scary, overwhelming, and vulnerable.

Tragedies […] illuminate the fragility and unpredictability of life. I think that, for most of us, this can be a very hard thing to face. […]

 

But these same tragedies can call upon us to open ourselves up too.

They call on us to be more vulnerable, to be more fully alive and in touch with our feelings, to be more compassionate and caring toward others, and to be more active and peaceful in our politics and social engagements.”

Original article by Annie Wright published here.

 

At the end of this day, this week, I hope you’ve cared for yourself and for others, as well as you’re able.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.[…] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  […] But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – 1 Corinthians 12

I know that I have friends as well as fellow Christians who are suffering. I suffer with you.

 

 

For When You’re Sick and Weary

What do you do when you’re sick? Of yourself? Your circumstances?

All of these feelings, these words, these thoughts, these repetitious tendencies and cycles of events?

What happens when it feels really old and stale and oppressively recycled? Like a moldy shower curtain that won’t seem to come clean no matter how much bleach you scrub it with. Like a taste you can’t get out of your mouth. Like a bad penny that just keeps showing up.

What then? How do you move forward? How do you keep from throwing your hands up?

The past two years, I’ve heard a similar sermon on rest this time of year, preached by local St. Louis pastor Zak Eswine. This year, I wasn’t afforded the privilege. This year, I just have to remember. And what I remember is that he says that there are different kinds of pains and different kinds of rest. Often times, we try to treat one kind of pain and weariness with the same kind of rest that we would another. For example, you are behind on sleep, physically exhausted. So you sleep. You are emotionally exhausted. So you sleep. You are mentally or spiritually tired. So you sleep. However, not every kind of weariness will be solved with sleep. Not every kind of weariness will be solved by time. Or reflecting. Or working harder. Or resting with our eyes open. Or escaping.

Some kinds of weariness require other solutions.

What is your go-to salve, your way of dealing? Music? Eating? Running? Hiding? Perhaps you need to vent, to clean, to purchase. None of these things, inherently, are bad, but perhaps your go-to fix just isn’t cutting it anymore. Perhaps the problem persists, the hurt still bruises, the fog won’t clear. Because diagnosing an emotional problem with a physical treatment is like slathering Bactine on a broken heart. Sure, it might help if there are some accompanying scrapes and cuts, but what’s really going to heal that break? Resetting and a cast just won’t do.

Are you physically exhausted? Sick? Perhaps you need sleep, or medicine, or other rest.

Are you emotionally exhausted? Perhaps you need time, or a friend, an outlet, or a [brief] escape.

Are you spiritually exhausted? Perhaps you need prayer, truth, a reminder.

Perhaps you need all of it.

Tonight, I’m wishing that it wasn’t just hindsight that was 20/20. I’m praying for new eyes, for insight into the heart and mind, for clarity and sight into what will heal and renew, for what kind of “funk” causes this sickness-  the stem, the root, the system that planted it. I don’t just want to slap a Band-aid on my exhaustion; I’d rather get a second opinion. I’m all in for full healing, for homeopathic remedies that really reach home. Into the depths. Inside, out. I’m all in for rewriting the story, for making the sad things untrue.

Perhaps you’re looking for that too. What’s the diagnosis, the issue? Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, right?

It just might be time for another check-up. And after that, well, not just any treatment will do.

I’m “White.” What Do I Say?

I had the distinct privilege of attending an amazing panel discussion on Saturday, November 22nd, just two days before the verdict in the Michael Brown case was released. The incredible nature of this event stemmed not from the size, location, or even the notoriety of any members on the panel, but instead on the diverse voices present. The reason I left so full of thought and inspiration and with a sort of hopeful skip in my step was because of the unique perspective of each person on the panel, the varied background and experience, the opportunity to lean in and really listen to others with education in their minds, distinct experiences from myself, and peace in their hearts. In short, it was the stories.

For the last few years, I have had the following sentiment on my teacher website:

“Life is all about stories. It’s our story and other peoples’ stories and the stories that have been written and told and recorded since the beginning of time, all weaving together in this beautiful tapestry we call life, and it’s our job to read as many stories as possible, hear as many stories as possible, and write and tell and paint and photograph as many of our own stories as possible in order to see how it all weaves together. What joy we will have telling our stories this year!”

In fact, those sentiments were part of my interview at my new teaching job and have been since the beginning of my teaching career eight years ago (part of my first day spiel to kids). “Listen, guys and gals, you have a voice! You BELONG! You have something to say. You matter.” One time, I was so wrapped up in saying this to my students on the first day of school, that I locked eyes with students, one by one, and what I saw there was surprise… and hesitancy. Surprise that I was inviting them “in” on the very first day of school? Calling for connection, validating them? Perhaps surprise that I wasn’t explaining a syllabus and putting them to sleep? Hesitancy, it seemed, in whether this would be true in the future, or if it was all just lip-service for this first-day, first impression. As I locked eyes with these kids and repeated, “You matter. You do. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise…” I felt my voice crack. I smiled, paused, cleared my throat, stood up, and fought back the tears as I transitioned to our next activity, a community-building game with sixth graders.

I have always loved stories. Maybe that sounds childish. Or naive. Romantic? Idealistic? Sure. I’ve fallen into those categories many times in my life. However, today, I’m placing myself in the category of Bleeding-Heart Realist. I make no apology for my big heart, my profuse tears, my deep well of emotion that often rises to the surface when I sense hurt or injustice in my life, the anger that rises up in me when I hear stories of someone I love being hurt or mistreated… even the inability to fight back tears at every stinking baptism I’ve witnessed since the age of twenty. I’m a feeler. Deal with it. Or, more gently, as my husband would say, “Don’t apologize. You have a huge heart; you were made that way.”

So, let’s get back to that Bleeding-Heart Realist idea. What do I mean?

Well, I mean stories matter. Experiences matter. In fact, they are the only equalizer and anger-diffuser that I have found in my short thirty years of life. In my story, in my experience, I have had the honor and privilege to teach students of very varied backgrounds in Saint Louis, Missouri. I have taught Jewish, White, Black, Indian, Hispanic, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Christian, Hindu, Atheist, straight, gay, curious, wealthy, middle class, poor, homeless, prominent, marginalized, liberal, conservative, independent, moderate, and indifferent. Take your pick. And in my humble experience, I have heard stories. I have experienced. I have created stories with my kids, with their families. My heart bleeds often from these varied experiences; it does. Yet, if I’m being real, which I usually am, I would have to say that the bleeding heart is good. It is, my truth told, the only way I have heard people stop spouting opinions and say, “Oh…” or have I stopped repeating my same tired words and settled into, “I didn’t know…” or had an angry parent after a difficult day of teaching her daughter move from telling me, “I just don’t think you know how to teach people who look like us,” to her student bounding up to me with a bear hug later in the week, and even a full two years later, sitting on the steps with me in front of the school, her ebony skin wet from tears of the day. “Mrs. Simpson, you don’t know how this teacher treats me,” and because of our shared stories, I can respond gently, “Hey, sweetie, do you remember how mad you were at me two years ago? What if you’re just misunderstanding each other? Maybe you two should talk, like we did,” and she says, “Maybe…”

Do you want to know how we healed? I started the conversation. She told me stories. I listened, and I responded. She cried. I cried. We hugged. We healed.

Allow me to be real.

We need to listen to stories.

Because you matter. She matters. They matter. Because you’re human. She’s human. They are human. Because you’re alive. He’s not. They’re protesting.

And, sure, it’s about Mike Brown. He’s the impetus for the movement. But even past that, it’s about life. Specifically, black life, in this moment, in this city, in this country. It’s about American life. About human life. And lives matter. They do.

I’m trying to listen more. It’s difficult… much of the time. I really stink at it, especially when I’m already armed with my own ideas and justifications for my beliefs… but it’s important. It matters.

The question, “What do I say?” in response to any person experiencing pain and anger may not actually be the needed question. I, slowly and painfully, am having to realize that whether it is my coworker sad and angry about the verdict, someone I love who agrees with the court’s decision, or my friend miscarrying her baby (which I received another two emails about today), my words will not always give answers. In fact, sometimes, my words hurt, even unintentionally. So, instead, I’m trying to focus on stories. Who else’s words can I share? What stories of sadness and hurt do I know by heart? By tears? Or perhaps, even, I throw the words aside, tuck them away in the folds of my brain for another day, and I just am. There. Here. And I listen.

Perhaps that’s what I say. Or don’t.

St. Louis: A City on a Hill? I Pray.

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I should be working. Grading papers. Or walking my dog. Or making dinner, hydrating myself, making a watering plan for my church’s new fall landscaping, or… a lot of other things.

Instead, I’m preparing myself for tomorrow.

I’ve been largely absent from media this week, especially mainstream media. I had decided to delete Facebook from my phone, post either seldom or more carefully on Instagram, and turn off the TV, for really no other reason than I had little to no time for it, and I seemed not to be using my time efficiently when I had very obviously too much to do.

Then, yesterday, the head of my school made mention of an impending verdict in his address to the student body, all 1,100 of them and the faculty surrounding them. Then my friends started talking about whisperings and questions. And, this morning, Ferguson was mentioned in a letter read to us from the Director of Diversity, a letter that he has prepared to send when the verdict is announced – the grand jury verdict that decides the fate of Darren Wilson and has the power to ignite the passions of millions of people all over our country.

So, afterward, as a small group of four who were processing those ideas, we listened, and we discussed, and we prayed.

We prayed for awareness and sensitivity to others, for deep understanding, for calming of fears, for peace… Most importantly, we prayed for the Lord to be with us. Be WITH us, God… Be before us and behind us and among us. Be at work, and in our midst, and allow us to SEE you and FEEL you with us as we open our eyes to a new day… a new day in which everything and nothing may change all at one time.

Tomorrow, we will open our eyes to a new day, and the verdict may be announced. Maybe. Some reports say 7pm. At that time, I will be home or possibly at a friend’s house enjoying fall drinks and spending time with wonderful women. I will have just finished teaching all day, oddly discussing To Kill a Mockingbird with my students on the heels of a really hard lesson about the Jim Crow Era and the systematic, racial caste system that our country experienced (and to some degree, still experiences) for so long… We will have talked about white guilt, about racial stereotypes, about the sad and incredibly wrong things that have been going on in our country for a long time, about the way the media is such a powerful force to be used for great good or great pain, about the power of our words and our actions and our very loud silence, about our responsibility to stand up and be advocates and leaders for change, about the beauty and fragility of the human heart. And I will send those intricate, wonderful souls out into the streets, to their homes, to their friend’s houses, to their Instagram accounts and Snapchats and Twitter feeds and coffee houses and theaters and living rooms and beds, and these ideas will be swimming in their heads while they receive the news in the coming hours or days… the news that may divide an already divided city.

I am full of fear and hope for this city, for these students, for myself…

I fear what we will do to one another, how we will wound one another in the wake of this verdict. I fear the words and actions and silences that will speak so loudly about the state of our hearts and our understanding and also lack of understanding. I fear for physical pain and vandalism and destruction that may occur to people in this city and in others, all of whom were made in the image of a peaceful and ultimately just God. I fear for friends in my city who are nervous – White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic alike – about how people will respond, about who or what is about to descend on this city, and when we will hear and see with our own ears and eyes.  I fear for the future… and yet I have so much hope. I see my city filled with so much beauty, so much grace, so much peace. I see adults and students everywhere who are peacemakers, who long to see our city united, who are pining for the day when we embrace each other even more than we already do, who are making real and concrete preparations for that. I see students who have wide eyes and open ears and soft words who speak confidently about what confuses them, angers them, fills them with sadness, as well as what brings them needed laughter and joy. I see teachers who love their students well and provide space for those conversations. I see adults who have deliberately placed themselves in situations and conversations and environments that would open their eyes and extend hands across deep lines and divides. I am so encouraged by these things, these stories, these lives, these words and hearts.

I am full of fear, and I am full of hope for my city.

So instead of working, or walking my dog, or making dinner or any of those very important things I could be doing, I am writing. And I am asking.

Will you be aware? Will you be sensitive?

When the verdict is released, will you process in whatever healthy way you can in a safe environment? Will you be aware that others will process this news very differently than you will? Will you be aware that some won’t care as deeply as you? Will you be aware that some will be hurt or sad or angry or confused or all of the above? Will you be sensitive to those reactions, and will you listen, truly listen, with the intent to understand? Will you protect each other? Love each other well? Be a body of people who supports and defends and unites, a city on a hill?

I pray that you will, and I pray that I will…

I will make every effort to do so, and I am already preparing myself to ask for forgiveness when I fall short. Because I’m a woman of good intentions, but boy, do I learn every single day, over and over, what a flawed person I am and how much I have yet to figure out. I will need to process, to listen, to discuss, to pray.

Bear with me. Bear with each other, and love one another well. Today, tomorrow, and every day.

Our city is crying out for it. The structures and surroundings, both manmade and Godmade are ready for it. The city is being prepped and prayed over. The verdict is descending. Will we be ready? Will we be aware? Will we be sensitive? Will we seek peace?

St. Louis, may it be so, I pray.

Context is King, and when Life is Bad to the Bone

So, you might think I’m crazy.

That’s fine.

I’ve been posting up a storm lately on Instagram and Facebook and my blog, proclaiming God’s power in my life and the fact that I’m going to stomp all over that coward, Satan, with the gift of words that Christ gave me. You can think I’m crazy if you want to, but if you do, you’re blind.

Satan loves shame. He loves darkness. He loves to hide, and one of his favorite tricks is for us to turn on each other because we can’t see what others can.

Satan is REAL. God is REAL, and we have power and access and weapons at our disposal in the Word and in the Holy Spirit and the body of believers. Yes? Can I get an amen?

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Yesterday, the sky on Delmar at night.

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Yesterday, my story played in chapel at Westminster Christian Academy, to about 1,000 kids and staff. I was nervous, and yet I saw how God put that together and how holy hands had formed that video from 40 minutes of my verbose speech wittled down to 5 minutes of clear, concise good words. He is faithful.

The mantra, the drumbeat, the anthem of that video was this: What Satan means for evil, God works for good. ALWAYS. Genesis 50:20. (See my video here.)

While that video played, my husband was T-boned on Delmar Street. [side note – what is going on on Delmar lately? Injured deer running the streets? Crazy?!]

My husband is perfectly great. He is safe. The other car smashed in his passenger side (praise the LORD!), and he is safe. My husband even used his gift of wisdom and words to encourage me on the phone when he called me during my planning period, and for ONCE, I had my phone with me all day… I answered right away. Praise the LORD! Brian encouraged me and then continued to care for me all day with his words and actions. Wait… weren’t you the one that was hit today, hard? It’s like the one time when we were dating, and I smacked him in the face with the Wii remote because I wanted SO badly to get that backhand tennis shot, and even though I gave him a black eye, when I started crying because I felt so badly, he ended up comforting me! What the heck?!? Life is crazy.

You might think I’m crazy, and again, that’s FINE. Think all you want. But while you’re thinking over there, I’m going to be face down praying, y’all. Because Satan is REAL, and God is REAL, and we have power and access and weapons to wield against a cowardly fallen angel who continues to strike out at me and my family.

Would you pray for a hedge of protection over the Rieckman and Simpson family today? Would you cover us in prayer?

I had the image today as I was praying, face down in couch, of a forcefield around my family. I prayed for each individual person, one by one, adults and babies alike. Pets alike! I prayed for protection to cover them. I prayed for Satan to FLEE, and I commanded it in the Lord’s name. I prayed for God to help me because I feel so bold and yet I am so, so scared. Because when you fight for God’s promises and you speak words of truth that the God of the universe gave you, crazy things happen. And Satan loves to fight back.

But here’s the thing. I have weapons. I have YOU. I have prayer warriors, and the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” James 5:17-18

Prayer is powerful. Let’s harness it.

Pray for:

– a hedge of protection
– eyes to see the very clear spiritual battle going on
– binding us together
– staying alert
– getting in the WORD and being in constant prayer
– telling Satan to FLEE
Here’s the other thing: I know I’m not the only one. I’m hearing so many stories right now of other people’s storms. I mean, geez, just look out the window this morning in St. Louis. Today woke us up with a crack of lightning and deep rumbling in the earth. Big things are happening. And God is sovereign over every bit of it. Praise the King!
Life might be striking out at you, bad to the bone, but Our King is good through and through. He might not be safe, but LORD, He is GOOD! Can I get an amen?
PREACH. PRAISE. PRAY. What Satan meant for evil, God works for good. ALWAYS.
May that be our anthem, our drumbeat, our place of praise, always.
Time to kick start this day and kick Satan in the [err… pants.].

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On Fight and Flight [or Beauty in the Breakdown]

I’ll cut right to the chase. This morning, I burst into tears in my classroom. In front of my kids. At 7:56am. One minute after class started.

Allow me to give some context and explain.  

Last weekend – beautiful, redemptive conversations and hugs, LOVE abounding and refreshing, best friends

Monday – unpreparedness, OVERexposure, emotional wreckage (in private)

Tuesday – good and busy

Wednesday – fine and fun and fast

Thursday – The phrase “The day got away from me” is not accurate enough. The day flew by me and around me. It FLEW, and I was building the plane while flying it. Work from 7am-11:30pm without ceasing.

Friday – Wake up. GO. GO. Go. go. gooo… CRASH. Insert Gina, amazing teacher partner, who gave me a breather and took over my class while I cried in the empty hallway and in her room, and I prayed.

It’s wild to me to think about how we fight and flee. When we do. If we do. It’s also amazing to me to see how God REDEEMS, because boy, does he ever… ALWAYS. Here are five things I noticed after my 3rd hour when I got a breather.

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Fable & Lore necklace, made here in St Louis. The pattern speaks to me – partnership, gold, shining, waves, dips, doves, peace.

Camo “battle” shoes – I seem to always wear these when I have a spiritual battle ahead. I wore them to the store two summers ago when we heard that Grandpa Alex was in the hospital. I wore them to Chick-Fil-A that same week when I mightily ate some chicken and made my father-in-law belly laugh to lift some grief.

“Hunger Games” arrow rings with chain from Standard Style in KC. I feel powerful, alive, and GUIDED when I wear this. I could stab the devil with this and inflict some damage as well.

Ring wrapped in thread from local store in LA. Handmade. It speaks to me of binding, protecting, adorning, and unraveling over time, the need for redemption.

Ebony heart earrings from the annual family Hen Party. I wore my heart on the outside today; edged in gold and passed down to me from family, it was.

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I’m a lover of jewelry. I love to make a statement and decorate myself in things that make me feel bold and strong and unique.

After my 3rd hour when I got a breather and walked down that same empty hallway to get some tea, I saw adornment. I saw adornment and purpose and reasons to praise.

God loves to adorn me as well… and how odd it is (and INCREDIBLE) that it seems subconsciously (or miraculously) God guides me to dress myself in things that give me power and strength on days that I REALLY will need it.

Before first hour, I felt the stress building. I rushed. I tried to help kids who desperately wanted my attention. I did not get my plans cemented. I did not get the objectives or agenda written on the board. I did not play music as they entered like I normally do. I was not relaxed and full of peace, and I know (because God spoke to me yesterday and this morning about it, that peacemakers who sow in peace build fields of righteousness (James 3:18). Yet, I was not full of peace. I was full of exhaustion and anxiety and the need for control, and yet I was spinning out of it. I was full of selfish ambition (James 3). I would strive and strive, do and do, work and work, and I (key word: I) would get it all done and do it all well. Friends who know me, do you see a pattern?! Oh my good GOD, what you must be thinking when you look at me and see me repeating my same sins over and and over again, stubbornly fleeing from you and relying on my own flawed ability to perform. God, what must you think…?

I know what you must think, because when I returned from getting tea, I opened my Bible and flipped to the next passage in James and read this:

James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

And l listened to this: “Healing” by Ben and Noelle

And suddenly, it all fell together. I nodded and laughed and smiled and prayed, and then I blogged. Because God knows what he’s doing. Because there’s beauty in the breakdown. Because when I felt the emotion rising, I asked a kid to pray for me, smack-dab at the start of the class, and he did. And when I turned around to turn on the projector RIGHT after that, I was locked out of the system because of the storms and power loss yesterday, and that’s when I lost it. The tears started flowing, and I squeaked out, “It’s been a really hard day already, and someone needs to go get Mrs. Bush.” And they did. And she did what she did, and I did what I did.

And the kids were gracious, and they all said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Simpson. We’ve all felt that way. And we get it, and you’re not the first teacher who we’ve seen cry.” And class was better.

And 2nd hour, class was better. And by third hour, when the technology was breaking down again, the video projects the kids had prepared were not uploading and were not playing and were not using sound, and the computer kicked me out of Power Point and kids were getting flustered, I stopped class and said, “Listen.”

“Listen, Satan is the worst. And you might think it’s funny, and it kind of is, but there is some REAL, supernatural, technological difficulty going on here. There is some real spiritual battle happening in my heart and in this classroom today, and Satan’s not going to win. God is bigger and stronger and better. Amen?” The kids laughed and clapped, and I said, “Let’s be honest. That might sound weird to you, but there is a reality to the fact that Satan doesn’t want us to flourish. And he’s a butt-hole. I HATE him. Don’t you?!” [insert shocked student laughter] “I absolutely hate him, and I believe that when you call upon the name of the Lord and you tell Satan to flee, he has to. He has to flee, because God is greater, and Satan sucks. Yes?” And they all echoed yes. And we went on with our class, and we played some of the videos and solved some of the technical difficulties, and we ended class in prayer, going on with our day.

Guys, Satan is real. God is REAL. And we have POWER and ACCESS and PEACE in the Holy Spirit. God is willing and able to redeem situations and overcome evil when we ask and even sometimes when we don’t. But He wants us to ask and ask boldly. And he will fight with us as we tell Satan to flee. And he will. And now, here I am, using TECHNOLOGY that has failed me all day to share this message with you. God is a restorer and a redeemer. God is a warrior and a comforter. God is a HEALER.

I am fighting against Satan’s temptation to despair today, and I’m telling Satan to flee. Will you join me in the fight? Will you allow God to speak to you and heal you and do powerful things in your life? Will you allow the Holy Spirit to enter and move in power?

Amen. May it be so.

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When the Flames Consume Us

I’ve always loved a good fire. There’s something mesmerizing about the flames, white-hot spark igniting yellow-orange upward waves of heat… black char glowing red as the embers smolder. It’s captivating, warm, inviting… hypnotic… dangerous.

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When I was just a little Taz, I sat at this campfire with my family and tried to judge the right distance from the fire. Naturally, my feet propped onto the stones’ edge. After the fire and cacophony of voices died and the Hershey’s wrappers lay sticky and discarded on the ground, I rose, and stumbled over my feet. No matter how I tried to walk, my feet were not cooperating, and I kept lurching forward as if I were walking on small forest moguls placed by some fiend (my brother?!). Instead, I discovered, when I sat and lifted my feet, that the soles of my shoes had melted and re-formed in lumps and mountainous hills, cavernous valleys, and oddly misshapen curvatures. I had gotten a little too close to the heat.

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I always seem to do this, to reach too close to the flame or the boundaries, and it often takes a burn or a slow meltdown to realize what I needed to learn… approach cautiously, judge from a distance… listen to the wise speaker and heed their warnings. The last picture was taken at our last City Church fall retreat. It was a beautiful moment in a sun-filled field on a walk of escape that was so dearly needed. My dear husband came with me into this open field that reminded me of the West 40, and we stared at the golden grass waving in the sunshine as I melted down. I sobbed and told him of my fears, my anxieties, that were rising in my chest like a wave that I could not stop. They reached my shoulders, seized my heart, fogged my brain, and left me burnt and ashy, remnants of what I used to be. I was being consumed, and I didn’t know what to do to stop it. I remember him holding me and rubbing my back. I remember him speaking tender words to me. I remember prayer. And I remember opening my eyes to beauty and a few minutes of serenity and clarity. I remember saying I never wanted to leave that place, and then wiping my eyes before taking this picture, full of joy.

Then, I remember coming down from that place again, that high ascent, grasping his hand, and returning again to the fog and the mire, to the slow burn… It lasted for five more months, the fog and the flame, eating away at me. In March, I felt much like this – remnants of what I used to be.

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There was good all around me, but it was hard to see. I had burned down and left a chasm that needed to be filled, and at the right time, God showed me restoration. This field above is in my parents’ backyard. My father, who knows of my pyrotechnic tendencies, said last spring, “Marie, I have some burning that we can do. I saved you a huge pile.” We lit it on a quite windy day, and it caught and spread, quickly. No matter the hoses we dragged out to spray, no matter the hands on deck, the fire spread, and we couldn’t stop it. The fire department came twice, not once. It even reignited three hours later after we all thought it was put out. But what has come of that space is now beautiful, lush, filled with green grass healthier than it was before, and it only took a few weeks to start showing the beauty out of the ashes. Sure, there was embarrassment at what had happened; we didn’t mean to start the fire. There was anger from others, unintentional casualty; a neighbor didn’t understand our intentions; she even thought that we wanted this. Though, mostly there was understanding, a few laughs when the fear had died, a few slaps on the backs and, “It’s okay”s. A few voices reassuring that even people who always seem to make smart decisions have a goof-up now and then that they can’t fully control. We’ve all been there. There was grace.

And, I’m realizing new truths now. That God is an all-consuming fire, and we should be thankful for that. Grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, grateful that he is no longer to us the burning bush that cannot be approached, but a fire that burns within, a spirit that is indwelling, and his fire burns pure and perfectly. His fire consumes even those smaller fires we set in our own lives… His fire is our salvation; we must step closer and hurl ourselves in or be swept into something else. We must submit to Him, reverently and with awe and worship.

So, this morning, I leave for school with that. That we have not the scary, untouchable, awesome God from the Old Testament, but instead we have mount Zion and the city of the living God. We have innumerable angels in festal gathering, an assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, we have God, the judge of all, the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant whose sprinkled blood speaks a better word for us. He is removing things that are made which are so easily shaken and replacing them with what cannot be shaken. He is burning us down and growing us up. For that, I am grateful. For relief from anxiety, I am thankful.

May you meet this all-consuming fire that I speak of today, and may you be swept up in its glow and glory. That is my prayer for you, and for me, continually. Amen.

[Hebrews 12:18-29]

Ripping out the Roots

On Wednesday, I came home from school and was, as of late, met by a barraging overflow of zucchini leaves, spilling over the vegetable garden into my path. All I wanted was to move forward and set down my things in the house, but instead, I lifted leaves and pushed back the vegetation in order to put my bags down on the back deck and let Brooklyn out of the house.

I came back. It had been weeks… months? These leaves, an offset of a different problem, had begun to intrude into my space a while ago and now were covered in a type of powdered mildew, nevermind the host of squash bugs boring into and infesting their roots. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I began cutting. and snipping, and snapping, and ripping. It took me about thirty minutes to realize that I was still in my dress clothes, but at this point, who cared? It was swelteringly hot, and my long sleeves and pants didn’t deter me. This needed to get done. And after I cut out all of the disease, about 2/3 of the massive plant, I could finally see some fruit, several zucchini to harvest, and also the tangled mess that had been slowly poisoning the plant from the roots up. There was no salvaging that part, but it was thriving the best it could anyhow, even if its offerings on the outside looked bleak, its spiky leaf tips pointed toward the sky like a vessel. “Fill me; help.”

Then there was the kale. From afar, it looked fine, but then at ten feet, I saw the stripped leaves, the ribbed ruffage full of munched holes. And at a few inches, upon inspection, I observed the problem too. A caterpillar. No, many of them. No, hundreds, thousands? Their eggs and their little striped bodies, just a half-inch long, had found a village, a sprawling food-filled metropolis, and they were happy. I… was not. And after assessing the damage, I decided that having no kale was better than the shred of what had been left behind by this ravaging. I’d rather rip them up from the roots and start over. I could plant again, put down new roots, but the kale would not survive in this state, and the risk of spreading it to the rest of my garden did not make me pleased. I went to work.

The funny thing is, as always, it struck me, during this ripping of the roots, that this is yet another of my gardening life metaphors. I also went to work on something different recently, or more accurately, I went to work, at WCA. And my departure from my old, beloved school felt somewhat like these plants… I hadn’t been thriving anymore. Somehow, and I don’t know how the descent happened (like the plants, I didn’t see its origins), I had been slowly being eaten at, had been trying to thrive and yet offering less-than to my kids. There was still good there, still fruit growing, but it was harder to see, and I was under so much stress and confusion about what was happening that I couldn’t come out from it. I wanted so badly to stay where I was and be what I had been, but it was time to be transplanted, to be ripped out of the place where I had put down roots so someone else could put theirs down and do beautiful work.

My friends have been asking me lately, very thoughtfully, how I like school, my new job, and I can say unreservedly that I love it. I LOVE it. It is renewing and full of life and vigor and glory. I am happy… what a novel sentence. Fleeting as it usually seems to be, I am happy. And I hope that the feeling stays. But more than anything, I am thankful. I am thankful for what I now realize was the perfect amount of time in my first “garden plot”… I didn’t understand then why I was still there. If I’m in so much pain, if I’m struggling so much, why would God still have me here? But, now, hindsight 20/20, I see. He built into my character. I was still creating fruit, even if less than usual. I was still stretching out my hands, rugged and stained though they were, trying to find answers. And God taught me some amazing things. The confusion, the anxiety fog, the relationships that I had, the way that I grew in the last few years in my understanding of social justice, the teammates I had… everything was for my good, for my growth. I see now that the teacher I am is informed by much of that. The joy that I have now is in light of that. I know that I am where I am supposed to be, and I know now that I was then too. And at the proper time (though it seemed late to me), God brought change. He ripped me out, roots and all, and I started over. I am so thankful…

What an incredible school I came from, what incredible people… but other people were still thriving there while I was not. It was time. And at the perfect minute, I came into a job with the right kids, the right parents, the right curriculum, the right room, the right school, the right colleagues, the right passion and joy. I am thrilled. Genuinely… my cup overflows.

This is what I wish for my students, for my friends… that this tiny glimpse I have now of God’s plan and his story would be something you could see too, that the current struggle you are in would reap strength and depth of understanding later as you look back on this time, that you will be filled to overflowing with future joy, and that you would do as God encouraged me to do last September… almost a year ago today… “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2 … and see what he has planned for you. Then, get to work.

Amen.

Delivery

I took a break the other day, and it was very, very needed. Suffice to say that I brought myself to a new low, one that I did not realize I was capable of spiraling into, a new level of exhaustion that I had previously left untapped… It makes me wonder about even lower levels, but that would be another exploration into anxiety, and I need no more of that.

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So I took a day… I was given a day. And, it was so, so needed.

And, I suppose that I should clarify and say that it wasn’t a whole day. It was really just a morning because after that I worked eight hours on my schoolwork to prepare for the following day because I felt that that might also help me to calm my brain, if I finished a few tasks.

So I took the morning. And I ran. (I HATE running…) I slept in, I cuddled up to my husband a little, and then I laced up my tennis shoes, and I RAN, and I breathed, and I RAN… And before I had left on this run, my head was feeling still pretty cloudy, but I had learned that it was my dear friend’s induction day, and she was in a lot of pain too, of a very different sort.

So, I took my phone with me, and I RAN.

And what I felt almost immediately was relief. Warmth on my skin, energy in my legs, calm in my head, and focus because all that I had to do was let the music flow into my ears, keep my eyes mostly open, and just keep running forward. That was it. Keep pressing on toward the goal… and that day my only goal was to GET OUT of my mind and RUN.

I didn’t run the whole time. Let’s not pretend that I’m some sort of athletic prodigy (that’s almost laughable!). But it felt good, and at times, I closed my eyes, and I sang out loud, and I pressed on and challenged myself to keep going. And I prayed for myself and for my friend.

“God, help us in this. Help us to get through this. Help me to get through this. Lord, I’m so tired and so confused, and I just want to be able to focus, to get through this day with clarity. I just want peace, Lord. Help me, help me, help me.” And I cried out in my mind to Him as the music pounded in my ears and my tennis shoes pounded on the asphalt. “We look to Yahweh, Yahweh! […] And He will reign forever, He will reign forever, HE WILL REIGN for-EVER and EVER!”

God spoke through my headphones via his people in Hillsong. Keep going. He’s with you. He’s yours. You are HIS. Your brokenness does not define you. You can emerge from this darkness. He is with you. He is WITH YOU! He is WITH you!

My feet kept going and my heart kept pounding and my ears kept singing and soon my mouth was singing his praises, out loud in my neighborhood, past the tennis courts and around the bends and up the hills and on the sidewalks past the streets and into a field. I watched the leaves fall, yellow and dying, onto the ground, and I prayed in my head, “Not yet, Lord. No, not yet. While I still have breath, I will praise you.” And I thought of Erika and Justin and baby Shepherd Alexander, and I prayed for them too. “She is yours, God. He is yours. That baby is yours, God. Help her through it. Bring life. While we still have breath, let us praise you. All of our energy and our might and and our breath is for you, God.”

And soon I came to a field, and I felt I should slow. Or dance.

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So, I jogged in a few funny circles, and I tried to decide whether to keep singing aloud or twirl in circles, to make myself even more undignified than this… to revel in this freedom.

I looked around to see if anyone was around, but the trees were high and shielding this place, so I just sat down. And Hillsong sang on, “My hiding place, my safe refuge, my treasure, Lord, you are. My friend and King, Anointed One, Most Holy.”

The words subsided and the music lingered in my ears, lulling me… so I texted Erika some words from the Lord that I was receiving too, and I lied down on the asphalt with my eyes turned up toward the blue sky, and I closed them too. I let the heat and exhaustion of my body fade as my chest rose and fell, and I let the sweat pour down my face and the world swirl around me, and I allowed the words to sink in. “I will exalt you… I will exalt you… I will exalt you. You are my God.” And after a few minutes, my eyes opened and adjusted again to the day I was given, and I stood up stronger. I breathed in, I breathed out. I breathed in, I breathed out. I looked around. And someone else was coming, now, after my respite. So, I turned and walked up a VERY steep hill (that didn’t feel quite as difficult as it usually does), and I walked home.

I showered, got some grub, and I got to work. And I wasn’t perfectly healed, but I was IMMENSELY better than I had been. And each day since has been a little better as I have learned to rest and to start my days with grace and a good Word.

Each day has been a struggle lately. Some worse than others. Fear and anxiety and confusion has overtaken me. It almost felt like it took my under. But, I’m emerging, delivered, just like beautiful Shepherd Alexander did that day, at 1:50pm (just shortly after I finished nourishing my body with a good meal), and he was 7 lbs, 13 oz, and 20.5 inches long.

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He is gentle as a shepherd and strong through his King, just like me. He has weaknesses and fears and need of care, just like me. But he has a Redeemer like me, a God who does not hear his people cry out continually, over and over in anguish and despair, and not answer. Our God is a restorer, a hiding place, a safe refuge, and we will exalt Him, Shep and I. And his parents and their families too. We will cry out into the world and find the Lord drawing near, and we will find peace and deliverance, again and again. We will emerge into the world stronger and braver because of our strong, strong God. We will fight, and He will redeem us. We will be brought to places of peace of respite. We will carry on. I’m trusting that today.

971791_10103708366006674_616554872_n“I will exalt you. I will exalt you. I will exalt you. You are my God.” It’s been ringing in my ears for days.

I will exalt you, God. You are my God, indeed. I will try to get my mind out of the stubborn place where it lies and the overworked, perfection-laden spiral it shatters into, and I will try to trust you, to exercise my faith in you, to believe you when you say, REST, before I am brought low. To believe your commands and follow them. I’m trying God. I know you’ll stay with me. You are near, God. You are mine. I am yours. I am your joy and your crown, whom you love and long for. And I will try not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present my requests before you, and your peace, which transcends all understanding will guard my heart and my MIND in Christ Jesus.

Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Amen.

Thank you.

Now, I’m ready to take on this day.