Monday, May 16, 2016

Teacher Tales: I Pledge Allegiance


When I first started teaching, my prayer life was jacked up! You would think I would've prayed more because of how much I'd taken on and how much I desperately needed Him to figure my way through those first days, but the opposite was true. Instead of going to Him and laying every concern at His feet, I got completely tied up in the busyness of planning lessons, writing tests, creating seating charts and ability groups, grading papers, writing meaningful feedback, and doing assignments for the classes I was taking for my Master's program. I did everything BUT pray. Sure, I talked to God because our relationship was accustomed to constant conversation, but I wasn't TALKING to Him. I wasn't spending quality time with Him, allowing Him to talk back to me. And I was suffering. I was doing so much in my own strength that it began to show. My hair began to shed. I was already a small little something, and I just got smaller. I was ALWAYS doing something for my students, even when I was with family and friends. I'd be grading papers and entering grades into my grade book at holiday gatherings. And one day, the Lord convicted my spirit to change all of that. He knew I needed Him. He'd watched me suffer long enough. Plus, He just WANTED to be with me. He longed to hear my heart and to share His heart with me. (Isn't it sweet to know that the Lord desires to talk to you and wants to be with you?) Enough was enough. He was going to get my attention.

Every morning, at the school where I was teaching at the time (and in every school where I've taught since then), we started the day with the Pledge of Allegiance before morning announcements. This particular morning, just like every morning, I stood with my students and saluted the flag. I recited the pledge with full volume to set an example for my students. As soon as the pledge was coming to a close, "...with liberty and justice for all," I heard the Lord say quietly to my spirit, "
You salute the flag and recite the pledge at the same time every day, but you haven't said one word to me today. You honor the country, but you forget about me."

Talk about conviction! Talk about shame! Oh, how my heart hurt to know that the Lord had to even say that to me! I was embarrassed! I thought
, "How could I let the busyness of my profession steal the intimacy of my relationship with the Lord?" It was a hurtful, heartbreaking eye opener, and it changed the way I see my relationship with Him.

EVERY school year, I have to revisit that conviction. Every. Single. Year. I take great pride in getting my students what they need, and that passion gets me SO wrapped up in the "doing" of it all. Every year, I hit a point where I get too involved and begin to pull away. Every year, I find myself fighting with grading papers and planning lessons and doing all that teachers do, and MAKING quality time to be with Lord. But every time I stand to say that pledge, I'm reminded that I can do none of what I do for my students if I'm not filling up on Him. There have been times every school year when I've gone a week or two without consistently, SERIOUSLY meeting with the Lord to have that intimate time with Him, but thankfully, that pledge won't let me go for long. In fact, it reminded me today.

I rushed out of my house this morning because I stayed up late working on details for summer dance camp. That caused me to sleep a little later than usual, which made this morning's "work session" go a little later than it normally does. I did some talking to the Lord while writing a chapter in my book, but that wasn't intimacy. When I stood for the pledge at school this morning, I heard His voice reminding me, once again, to put first things first. He pulled my heartstrings and told me that He wants to sit with me. He wants me to talk to Him, and He wants to talk to me. He reminded me that I pledged my allegiance to Him with my heart when I gave Him my life and that my daily pledge to the flag should be secondary to my daily "pledge" to Him.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

My Mother's Love Still Teaches Me

I remember being so sick once as a teenager that all I could do was sleep. And for about 3 days, that's all I WANTED to do. I could barely lift my head from the pillow when I was awake and it hurt to even try. I didn't want to drink. It took too much effort. I definitely didn't want to eat. I didn't even have enough energy to chew. My mom knew, however, that me not eating or drinking would only hurt me; it wasn't going to help me fight whatever bacteria had invaded my body. She knew if I was going to regain strength and eventually get back to my normal self, I would HAVE TO eat and drink. She would make her way to my bedroom several times those 3 days and make me sit up to drink apple juice. I would be a groggy, pained mess, but she would still place one of her hands firmly on my back to steady me, and use the other hand to carefully and very surely tilt that cup just right so I would get a few sips in my system. And like clockwork, she would enter my bedroom with a bowl of chicken noodle soup and, again, sit me up and steady me, no matter how much I cried and moaned and murmured that I just didn't want to eat. She didn't care. She knew I HAD TO eat. She would patiently, spoon after spoon, shovel that soup into my mouth until she felt I'd had enough to sustain me until the next feeding. I didn't know it, and I didn't realize, but with every feeding, I was regaining strength.

I remember the first day of my illness having to have my mom hold me up every time she fed me, but that next day, by the second feeding, I was able to raise my own flesh from the bed. I was still very weak, but I was stronger than before. I would've only grown worse and maybe even have died had my mom not exercised her wisdom to MAKE ME eat even when I didn't want to. She refused to let me lie there and waste away.

What a sweet reminder the Lord gave me this morning of my mother's loving care for me. I'd completely forgotten about that time, but He didn't. He had me to recall how she consistently fed me, day after day, because she knew I needed it. He wanted me to remember that specific instance so I could see what I need to be doing now: consistently feeding myself, day after day, even when I don't feel like eating; it's vital for my strength.

I struggled with talking to the Lord and studying His word this morning. I struggled yesterday. I've learned over time, though, that in our relationship, some days will just be like that. On those days, I don't have a lot to say. I don't know what to say. I feel like He's quiet. I feel like I'm not getting any answers. And because the push is so hard, I really don't want to go to Him  to "eat". I would much rather just get on with my day. But EVERY time, I'm reminded that if I don't feed myself...if I don't open my mouth to talk to Him or open His word to receive some nourishment, even if it's a little,  I'll be weak. Even if I don't want to "eat", it doesn't mean that I don't need to.

I've learned over the years in my relationship with the Lord, just like in my relationships with others, there will be times and days when He's more quiet than others. There will be days when I'll read His word and I won't get any huge revelation. There will be days when I pray and He won't say anything right then. That doesn't mean that I shouldn't go and "eat" though. Just as it happened with my physical strength after eating food consistently and how it eventually caught up with me, the same will be true for my spiritual food. On that first day, I ate the morning meal with my mom, and at lunch I was still weak. I ate the afternoon meal, and at dinner I was still weak. The next morning at breakfast, I was still weak, but by lunch that second day, I'd gotten some strength. I'd gotten enough strength that I was able to lift myself up. I still needed some help, but I was slowly getting back to myself. By dinner I was able to eat more than I had in two days! My capacity to receive was greater. I was stronger! And it was all because my mom didn't stop feeding me. I didn't feel the effects of the food immediately, but it was working all the time.

Just because it seems quiet sometimes when you're reading and studying and praying, it doesn't mean that you're not getting nourishment. No food can enter your body and it not do what it was consumed to do. By the simple laws of nature, food will do in you what it's supposed to do. The Word of God, your spiritual nourishment, is no different, so "eat" even when you don't feel like it. "Eat" even when you're tired. "Eat" even when He seems quiet. The things you're putting in will eventually "wake up" to give you the strength and power you need to live.

"Eat" Light

I've learned to "eat" light on days when praying and studying is just plain hard. The truth is, there are some days when we just don't have much of an appetite. On those days when I feel too weak to eat a big meal, I go to Proverbs to get light bites. There's SO MUCH practical wisdom there! I tuck my light bites away so they can be used to sustain me. I may not be eating much, but I know I won't die, and I know those light bites are building blocks for my strength.

Change Up Your Diet

I'm grateful that God has used people to write books that encourage us to live for Him and walk in His ways. Some days, when I don't have the appetite to "eat" directly from His Word, I pick up on a book I'm reading and allow the Holy Spirit to use it to speak to me. He has already spoken through the author, so when I choose to read a book, I pray that the author's work will encourage and speak to me. Right now, I'm reading Sincerely Jesus by Edward Goble. The book is SO rich that I've started and stopped it 3 different times. Every time I stop it, I have to start it all over again. And every time I start it, it's like I'm reading it for the first time. It's THAT rich! It's taught me (and it's teaching me) so much. It causes me to go to the Word of God and dig deeper, and just as was the case this morning, I didn't hear directly from the Lord for myself, but I didn't go lacking on some nourishment. It wasn't the food that I originally planned to "eat", but I DID "eat".

Feed Others

Have you ever heard the saying that goes something like, "Taking care of others takes the care off of you?"  It's true. I sometimes feel burdened when I go to the Lord to talk to Him about my students at school and about everything I know I'm called to do there. And I sometimes feel heavy when I talk to Him about  Praise Movement School of Dance because of all He's placed in my hands to do there. Having my hands wrapped up in kingdom work in those two arenas AND in ministry at church can be plain out tough at times. It can be SO tough that I don't even know how to pray. Sometimes I don't even know where to start. In those times, I begin to pray for others. I take the focus off of me and I lift others up before Him. Before I know it, I'm not even thinking about myself or how heavy I felt. The burden is lifted when I focus on others and tune in to giving their needs to the Lord. I found, too, that as I'm "feeding" others, He's "feeding" me. Things that were on my heart that I didn't even know how to verbalize, He completely takes care of without me even having to say a word!

Even when we don't want to "eat",  we have to. When we're too tired to "eat", we have to. When we can barely feed ourselves, we still have to "eat". We may not "eat" much, and we may have to change up our diets from time to time, but every bite is working in us, building us and making us stronger, even when we can't see it.

My mom doesn't care for me when I'm sick anymore. I have to see about my own well being. I know when I'm physically hungry, I feed myself, and if I'm physically weak, I do what I need to do to sustain myself. Spiritually, I have to do the same. In those moments when I feel weak...when my prayer life is quiet and my reading and studying mundane...I STILL have to "eat"! I may not see it working, but thank God He reminded me with my mom's example that it is definitely working in me, giving me the strength I need to live.