For my black brothers and sisters

 

I can only relay what I hear from black members and their loved ones in our fractured society – from those most publicized and from those most known and dear:

Fear, so much fear. For yourself, for your family, for especially your beautiful black sons, for your future, for your increasingly bitter heart…

Anger, sadness, profound disappointment, numbness, hopelessness… I am unable to encapsulate all you feel or know to be true. My words are too meager, too removed. However, I was reminded last night at a prayer vigil and this morning in reading the Word that God has much to say, Himself and through his people, and those words are strong and true and will come to pass.

In Psalm 6, while being pursued by enemies, David cries out in prayer:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
    But you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
    save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who will give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
    it grows weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.

He hears your pleas, too.

If it is of any encouragement, I have been praying Psalm 9 over you this morning, my dear brothers and sisters. May you be strengthened and your heart reoriented:

But the Lord sits enthroned forever;
    he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
    he judges the peoples with uprightness.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
    Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

13 Be gracious to me, O Lord!
    See my affliction from those who hate me,
    O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises,
    that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
    I may rejoice in your salvation.

15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
16 The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion.[d]Selah

17 The wicked shall return to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.

18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

19 Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you!
20 Put them in fear, O Lord!
    Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

Take heart that the Lord hears you. He sees you. He knows your heart. You are not forgotten. Our God is one of equity, of justice, of caring for the afflicted and oppressed. I will seek justice and reconciliation with you now, here on this earth that I am called to help renew, and I know while we struggle for that realization, ultimately full justice, full equity, full judgment will be realized, without the mar of sin or error. That is the character of our God.

For now, while you respond with your family or publicly through prayer, protest, or other activism, hear the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

 

Standing with you,

Lauren

 

“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.

 

 

On the Pain of Growing Up and Glimpsing the Story in Your Struggle

There are moments in life when the proverbial crap hits the fan, when all the world seems out of control, and if you could just pause your life for an instant, slow it down, and watch from the outside, you might actually laugh… at least to keep from crying.

I picture an old college apartment, you know, that dirty “boy” (or girl) who seemed to never clean and just live in the filth. You step into their place with a rather clear mind of perspective and see the chaos swirling, junk splayed out before you in the form of a drab, crowded room: dirty dishes and uncleaned mountains of laundry amidst stacks of files and work that somehow must be done. Brown, stained carpet (didn’t it used to be a lighter shade?). Overturned tray tables. Sad furniture, grey and bleak filing cabinets, cheap shelves sagging in the corners of the room, the oppressive weight of unread papers and unchecked to-do lists, all that was meant to be completed. Such good intentions; disaster in motion. You have a remote in your hand as if in a dream, so you step back a moment and reduce the scene’s speed from real-time to a type of distant slow motion: white paper swirling majestically, floating like so many torn leaves, the fan turning in a dull, fluid whir, caked dust drifting from the tips of the fan blades. You lift the remote gently and punch a button, reducing the room from a pause to a stop. Bewildered, you freeze, furrow your brows, turn on your heel, and walk hastily from the room. You can’t bear to look it this mess any longer.

When was that last moment for you? That day, week, month, year? What was a turning point in your life? When did you have to open your eyes a little (or perhaps very much) when an experience forever changed you? And, when did you find the clarity to look back at that room, that chaos in your life, and see it for what it was – a chasm in your heart and an awful wide-eyed glimpse at your reality?

I posed these questions to my students in response to a short story that we read about losing a piece of our innocence and in turn gaining compassion. This was in October.

Soon after, at the advent of second quarter, we began reading To Kill a Mockingbird and the theme continued: Scout’s childlike, playful demeanor slowly chipped away into a hard look at the world and the evil therein. The stories kept connecting.

Two days ago, a mother and beloved fellow teacher shared a sliver of her own story in a safe space. She explained that recently, there was a day when she was home with her sons, and something terrible had happened. It was something challenging to process and something that could not change. It was out of their control, she and her husband’s. It affected their family in a deep way. And though they had protected and shielded their children from birth, helping each child carefully and age-appropriately deal with the world in a brave way when the time was right…on this day, they couldn’t do much. On this day, she watched her eldest son grow up, and in ways difficult to explain, it broke her heart. Because in certain ways, it had shattered his too.

Within the last few weeks, people I deeply love have shared stories with me on the phone, on restaurant benches, in my classroom, on my couch, and in face-to-face moments of unflinching truth. Words and tears have spilled forth. Prayers have been prayed. Hearts have been splayed out. The aching realization that “I’ve grown up a lot this year,” has been spoken. And for a while, for these last few weeks, I felt deeply. I over-felt. I was at a loss. I couldn’t get a grip. I was stuck in the pain and the horror of it all, of these people who I loved so fiercely and felt connected to who were hurting. It was a type of vicarious bleeding, a slow overdrawn pull that eventually left me dizzy and disoriented. It was glimpsing that torrid room and not having the remote to stop it. Instead, I spun out. Last Saturday was the worst.

But a few days this week have allowed me perspective and a “stepping back.” I’ve been able to slow down my mind and press pause on my remote. I’ve let the days drift past me and just been “in” them but not affected too deeply by them. I’ve been able to see clearly some of the chaos and the ensuing pain. Some of the brokenness. And, I’ve discovered that whether it is criticism or cancer, anxiety or exhaustion, loneliness or longing, there is some relief to be had, some hope to be gained, some truth to be held.

In a separate post (perhaps a part two), I will share some poetry from my students from that October prompt, some eloquent words of wisdom (with their names and stories protected, of course). For now, though, I’m thinking of a different story – the novel in which we just read the final page. Because, sometimes, we really need to bypass our present and fast forward to an ending we know so that we can hang on to what’s in store for our future. And here’s an ending that I know.

By the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout has lost much of her innocence. That can’t change. It still feels awful.

She has wrestled through a difficult trial (literally), attempting to grapple with the idea that a man, though having seemingly done nothing wrong, would have to suffer so much for the sins of others. She has seen ugly parts of the world filled with pain and violence and loss, and yet she also has seen beauty in which shadows stepped out of the darkness to reveal truth behind them, and heroism and protection emerges where she least expects it. The world still feels confusing. She still is filled with questions. The understanding is incomplete and too lofty for her to reach. The pain is still real, and it won’t be rationalized away or sugar-coated. It would be unfair and perhaps even cruel to try to paint it any differently than what it is. It must be dealt with. But perhaps, she can take a break from it.

So, her father reads her a story.

The final scene that we read is a tender one. Scout is in her father’s arms, nestled up, warm and safe. Despite all of the wonderings still on her mind, he quiets her with love. No matter what she has gone through, she or her loved ones have endured to this point. No matter what was broken, it will mend some. No matter how much was lost, more might still be gained. We end on hope. She is still a child, held tightly in the arms of another, and her father will be there with her and with her brother, Jem, when they wake up. Tomorrow will be a new day. And I find great hope in that ending.

Though, some people hate it. Some people want to know the end of the story. What happened to Boo? To Dill? To Jem? How does Scout grow up? What is the final page of the final book of a larger series? Shouldn’t there be a sequel? Why can’t I know what happens, now?

At times, I feel like that too. But, for now, I’m content with that ending. Because when a chapter or a book ends in uncertainty, there’s a real moment of ownership and opportunity that can be bred out of it. There is a sense in which we decide the ending. We decide the fate. We have the choice, as Rafiki shares in Lion King, “to either run from it… or learn from it.” And, that wild, blue-butted baboon is right when he smacks Simba over the head with his wisdom stick and helps Simba realize that it’s not true that “it doesn’t matter” because “it’s in the past” and “yes, the past can hurt…” but what we get to do is pull ourselves out of the past and into the present with a hopeful glimpse into the future. We get to turn what was an awful wide-eyed glimpse into our circumstances into an awe-filled, “awe-ful” (if you will) picture of our reality. That hurt sucks. That growing up is hard. That to peer unflinchingly into the truth of a situation is more than we can bear at times. We’re at a loss for words or feelings or actions to surmount that. But, we do get to decide our future. We do get to keep fighting the battle, one day at a time, and we can emerge as conquerors on the other side of it. That is possible.

So, what was it, your last moment when you felt you hit a turning point? When did you know that you had to grow up and that you had lost some of your innocence? And what will you do about it? That is really the question at this point. What is your choice?

For, in a real, true, empowering way, the rest of the story is quite literally up to you.

You get to decide. Where will you go from here?

And, please, let me know, if you choose.

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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Always

Guns are blazing, but my aim is true.
You strike down, but HE builds up.
You try to fight,
You claw,
Lash out.
Coward.

Don’t you know? Haven’t you learned?
The fight may wage on, but the battle is won.
You can strike at me,
Keep the hits coming,
But the power that loads these guns,
The pistol shots I can fire,
The perfect aim I can wield –
It’s sharper
And has more power;
He comes in like a wrecking ball.

Satan, sit down.
BACK. DOWN.
I command it,
And you flee.

Don’t you believe?

God has more grace.

So let go. Jump in.
What are you waiting for?
It’s alright,
Because there’s beauty in the breakdown.

What [you] meant for evil, God works for good.

Always.

Genesis 50:20

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]

There’s a Hole in my Soul, I Can Feel It, I Can Feel It…

Oh, the tangled webs we weave.

Bastille in their song “Flaws” sings, “You always wore your flaws along your sleeves. And I buried them deep beneath the ground. Dig them out. Let’s finish what we started. Dig them out, let nothing be undone.” I played this song for my students yesterday and we talked about flaws, about vulnerability and being gentle with ourselves and others. It’s fitting that my own devotion would apply to me this morning, and perhaps to you. Do you wear your flaws or your sleeve? Or do you bury them deep? Are you weary this morning? Or are you relying on the Lord’s strength? Your own? Perhaps you’re like me and you think you’re good to go, but you just haven’t crashed and burned yet. I’m trying to coast to a stop more easily than I used to, to settle into a slow jog, a trot, then a walk, rather than having an epic crash with skinned knees, concussions, and other various hazardous injuries that occur when you just. won’t. stop. Because that’s me. I just won’t stop, much of the time.

That persistent voice keeps telling me to slow down, you know… that “pesky” ever-so-wise Holy Spirit. He keeps saying, “Be gentle with yourself.” He keeps saying, “Rely on me, not yourself.” He keeps saying, “Whoa girl… you know you can’t run on your own steam forever. Or even for a second… You have to come refill. You have to come to me. To the Lord. Only my Word has life.”

And yet, I often don’t listen. Often it’s the last thing that I do. I’m getting better at it, but boy, am I a stubborn, hard-headed one, and I know I’m not alone. We’re a hard-headed people… often a hard-hearted people.

There’s a hole in my soul. Can you feel it? Can you feel it? There’s nothing else that can fill that hole in my soul other than the Lord. Only the Lord. Only Christ. And yet, I try to fill it or ignore with so many other things, mainly myself, my work, my efforts, my, my, MY. So selfish am I in my pursuits to care for others or to do my job. The devil is a sneaky one, prowling like a lion, clever like a snake. But I will crush his head. I will turn his plans to ashes. I will cry out to the Lord, and I will tell Satan to flee, and he will flee from me. For what Satan plans for evil, what we do to ourselves is turned to evil, but God works it for good. ALWAYS. (Genesis 50:20)

So let’s wear our flaws on our sleeves. Let’s finish what we started. Let’s let nothing be undone.

Lord, Finish this work that you started. Forgive me for trying to do it all on my own. Thank you for making me learn this lesson over and over and over again so that I have to keep coming back to you, so that my efforts are in vain, and you are glorified. Thank you that you are strong and powerful and the source of my strength. Strengthen my weak knees, lift my weary hands to you, and make straight paths for my feet, Lord, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Heal me, Father. Amen.

(Hebrews 12: 12-13)

To Those Who Say We Should Fire Bad Teachers

I recently found a strongly worded article that I wrote in my second year of teaching. I’m now starting my eighth year, and though I am for once not in a public school, I still get fired up thinking about those who make claims like, “We should just fire all of the bad teachers” or “Teachers’ pay or position should depend upon their students’ test scores.” Want to know why I get so fired up? Feel free to read. I stand by those words as much today as I did then.  

To Evan Thomas and Pat Wingert in response to their recent Newsweek article about firing bad teachers,

As a second year teacher, I have no argument with the premise that bad teachers should be let go. Of course, teachers who have made mistakes as grievous as the ones mentioned at the end of your article should not still be teaching. However, I do have a serious problem with proposing that we treat school as a business (implied through many of the arguments and quotes of this article). School is not a business. It is not something you opt into. It is a requirement for every child in the United States, and unlike businesses, public schools do not hire and fire kids for uncompleted work or for failing to perform up to their potential.

I teach with a veteran teacher who is close to retirement. Yesterday, we sat talking about this Newsweek article at lunch, and she rightly chose to give a rebuttal to the comment that, “Once upon a time, American students tested better than any other students in the world. […] the achievement gap between white students and poor and minority students stubbornly persists—and as the population of disadvantaged students grows, overall scores continue to sag.” She pointed out that when she began her teaching career, her only real options were to become a teacher or a nurse. Also, when she began her teaching career, many students who struggled academically or posed behavior issues dropped out at an early age to get a job. The truth is, that “once upon a time” was a time when struggling students were not as well served by our public education system, and the seeming lack of struggling students then probably added to the fact that students tested well. It may be that the teaching skill has not lowered, but instead we better include struggling students in our schools, and their scores now play a role in our “reputation” as an education system.

In this article, it was quoted that “Measuring teacher performance based in part on the test scores of their pupils would be a no brainer.” I STRONGLY disagree. There is much a teacher has control over – how effectively they teach, how much they continue to learn about the craft of teaching, the rules in his or her classroom, etc. We do not, however, have control over a students’ motivation to learn or a students’ steady increase in grades or test scores. There is much we can do to try to motivate and embolden our students, to help them take risks with their learning and TRY to succeed. However, there is no guarantee. These kids are PEOPLE. Granted, they are not grown and fully developed, but they are PEOPLE and people cannot be controlled fully. They are not wholly predictable, and to compound that, each child is different. If you have taught even a year, or if you have several children, you know that every child responds in different ways, and the “teaching” you do whether in your classroom or in your home with your kids must vary in order to be effective. Bottom line: If scores were used to measure teacher performance, I believe we would lose a lot of good teachers in addition to the bad ones. There are far too many factors playing into a student’s success – their home life, their access to resources, their personality, their learned behaviors, their state of mind, etcetera, to base a teacher’s skill set on his or her students’ test performance, even in part.

Daniel Weisberg, general counsel of The New Teacher Project, was quoted in this article saying that, “the Marine Corps never has any problem meeting its enlistment goals […].” That is fine and good for the Marine Corps, but Marines are in charge of themselves – themselves and possibly a unit of soldiers who are motivated to belong. If a soldier gets out of line and doesn’t perform, they have no responsibility to keep him or her in the program. As a teacher, you are in charge of yourself AND (in my case) 80 students. I can work and work and love them and love them and pray and pray that those students will work hard, and many of them will, but what happens when one doesn’t? Do we kick her out? Do we turn our back? No. Our public education system requires that we persist, and unless she becomes a danger to herself or others, she continues to stay in our school, and there is no guarantee that she will come around. Public education is not a business, and it is not the Marine Corps. It is public education – a whole different organization of a different kind.

I do not claim to have all of the answers, but what I do know is that the public education system does need some reformation and “measuring teacher performance based in part on the test scores of their pupils” is not the solution we need. What I truly believe is that it’s about time that policymakers started asking teachers (those good ones you mentioned, because there are many of us) what we propose, and see how that pans out. I have a feeling the public will be impressed with the solutions we come up with if we are given the time and respect to troubleshoot about our own very noble and very challenging profession.

Sincerely troubled by your article,

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.