I have been teaching for 12 years now, and while one some levels that is unbelievable, on others it feels almost as natural as breathing to me. I know that sounds really silly and maybe a bit cliche, but I was born to teach—in the classroom or in life, I can’t seem to help myself; if there is a lesson to be learned, I will try to teach it to you.
Whether you want me to or not.
So when I found out I would be teaching creative writing at my school this year, it was like being handed a beautiful gift. One that I treasured every single day since January.
Now don’t get me wrong, like all classes we had our ups and we had our downs, but giving students permission to be creative, unique and innovative in a world where standardization just about beats it out of them was refreshing for both me and my students.
Because the truth is, when we are kids we feel like creativity is our right, but as we get older it is almost as if we have to apologize for thinking outside that box.
But when we are given permission to create, to think with our own minds, and to really explore what makes us passionate and excited…that’s when magic happens.
And magic happened this year, my friends.
At the end of the course…
Students fell in love with writing
Students found confidence in their own minds
Students learned to give and receive feedback
Students collaborated and encouraged one another
Students became authors, and published a 250 page anthology of original works.
Students became dreamers and learned to both build up AND compete with one another (well…this is a lesson we are still learning. It’s high school, after all).
Audience, purpose, and tone became real as students understood for whom they were writing actually mattered in how they were going to market and sell their products.
Students became teachers, and took me along for a pretty wild ride.
I have published two books myself now, and I am incredibly proud to have accomplished that goal, but I’m not sure that matches the feeling of having put together the amazing anthology for my students and watching them become excited about this journey we took together.
And that’s how I know I don’t just teach, I am a teacher.
So, I give you permission to create. Sculpt something, draw something, sing something, write something.
I’m sure this questions has wandered through your mind on more than one occasion, depending on your situation what preceded it could have been anything—after all one of our specialties as humans is getting in over our heads and trying to back out only to find ourselves sinking faster and farther.
For me, these are the words I utter when all the things I have said yes to come raining down on my head all at once and threaten to drown me in a sea of responsibilities. Because once I commit to something…I commit to it. Sometimes too much. The curse of perfectionism (yeah, I know it’s not healthy and somewhat sinful…that’s why I called it a curse) is the constant struggle of trying to do everything and trying to do everything right.
I like to be busy, but the downside to that is sometimes I get too busy and forget the things that really should matter.
Can you relate? Even if you don’t overextend yourself as much as I do, I feel as though we can all allow our busy-ness to get in the way of our healthy-ness.
Martha sure can.
She was the epitome of allowing all that she was doing get in the way of her being. Because God isn’t a God of doing. He is a God of being. That’s why his name is I Am not I Do.
We are first introduced to Martha in Luke 10. She lives in a little town of Bethany (about 2 miles from Jerusalem) with her sister, Mary, and her brother, Lazarus. This trio is, if not inseparable, at least incredibly close. Never is any mention of any other family made, so I can’t help but wonder, did Martha have a husband? If not, why? The text, Luke 10:38 tells us that Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. Does this house belong only to her, or is simply a reference to her hospitality? I don’t know. I like to think that she was a strong, single woman, but I know how unlikely that would be given the cultural context, but what I do know is that husband her not, she is recognized as an important part of Jesus’ story.
The whole account is recorded in Luke 10:38-42, and aside from the family relationships, we are told two things 1) Martha welcomed Jesus into her home and 2) she was distracted with much serving.
I don’t know about you, but if Jesus came to my house in the flesh, I’d be a little distracted too! Not only would I worry about the smells and cleanliness, but I’d be super busy trying to keep him—and his entourage—fed and happy! Because let’s face it, Jesus didn’t travel alone and any time he went anywhere a crowd was sure to follow. Not only was she responsible for the comfort of 13 men (Jesus +disciples) I am certain others kept showing up. It is her home! As a southern woman, I can relate to the pressure she must have felt to make sure everyone was feeling comfortable and served.
But then, there is Mary.
Martha is working herself to a frenzy…and where is her sister? Sitting! Sitting and listening!
In Martha’s mind, she sees her sister sitting at the feet of Jesus and is burned up with anger. How dare her sister come into her home and act so selfishly?
Boy can I relate to that—Most of the time I love the busy life. I love serving. I love making sure that jobs get done that other people find unpleasant.
But every once in a while, I see someone else sitting…and typically it’s someone who hasn’t seemed to do anything at all to be helpful with whatever it is I am working on.
And there they are, sitting and chatting while I am running around doing, doing, doing.
I can imagine what was going through Martha’s mind—no servant’s heart, but anger and jealousy as she watches her sister do nothing. I know, because I have experienced the same—what started out as a selfless act turned into a need for recognition.
Becoming so distracted with serving that you literally forget why and who you are serving in the first place.
Well finally Martha has had enough and she orders Jesus to send her sister in to help. Yep, you heard that right, she gives Jesus an order.
I actually see this scene in my mind quite clearly as Jesus cocks his head to one side and studies Martha. He hasn’t even touched the plate she sat in front of him—because he’s been talking and teaching the whole time. He looks around the room and sees all the faces—these humans who are so hungry for him they also haven’t touched any of the food. In this moment of quiet they might nibble something, but most of them are eagerly leaning forward to see what he might say—after all it is this moment that might define the gender roles forever—are men the only ones who can enjoy and benefit from teaching while the women serve? Are women subservient? Second class?
And then he responds.
Stop doing so much, Martha. Stop all those action verbs—serving, working, troubling—stop doing and be with me more.
Listen then Serve, Not Serve then Listen
Jesus didn’t tell her that serving was bad. He just told her that she was worrying too much about things that don’t matter! That she needed to recenter her focus—less on what she was doing and more on who she was with!
In all her serving she had forgotten that she stood in the presence of Jesus.
She was so busy she almost missed it.
It doesn’t tell us how Martha responded. But given her actions the next time we meet up with her, I like to think she went a little slack jawed, then looked around the room and saw what Jesus saw.
And then she stopped to listen.
Why do I think this? Because Martha was also the sister who lost her brother, Lazarus. She sent for Jesus to come heal him, because she knew that he could, and then she waited. And watched. And nursed. And witnessed her brother die.
I have a sister. And a brother. I feel Martha’s struggles. I feel her pain. And while I don’t know if she is the oldest, I want to believe she is the middle kid given all her striving for perfection and acceptance. But it’s hard to say. Regardless, I feel this story on a deep and spiritual level. Watching someone you are close to—your brother—die and not being able to fix it is something akin to falling into a deep, deep well.
Down, down, down…
From that well, you hear Jesus. And you call out to him, as Martha did in John 11: 20-21, Lord, if only. If only you had come sooner! I know your power. I know your love. If only.
And then she could have stopped, but her next words are why I think she listened in her own home early—why I think she listened.
Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.John 11:22
Hope. Even at the bottom of that dark well, Martha found hope, not anger and righteous indignation we saw earlier in the story. She found light. The light. And she reached for it, and professed her faith loudly, firmly and with conviction of one who listened.
Yes, Lord; I believe that your re the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. John 11:27
We don’t hear that profession of faith from a lot of people in the Bible, but Martha is one of them who states it firmly and without hesitation and it is recorded for all to hear and remember throughout history.
Yes, Martha listened, but her practical nature can never be denied (um, Jesus, she says when he wants to open the tomb, he’s been in there a while…it’s gonna, you know, smell pretty bad…)…and honestly, I find a lot of comfort in that. Jesus changes our hearts and our motivations, but each of us is unique and he doesn’t want to change that about us. He accepts our unique qualities and even encourages it.
It is, after all, Martha’s home Jesus returns to 6 days before the Passover, where she serves him—only days before he is to die. Jesus seeks those who seek to serve and honor him. Even if he does have to correct them from time to time. We are, after all, just humans.
There are some times in life when you feel like life is moving forward. You get a new job. You meet someone new. You get married. A baby is born. You travel to a new place.
There are other times in life where you seem to be in a holding pattern. Nothing moves forward, nothing catastrophic pulls you under, you aren’t going backward—you are just…marking time. You get up. You go to work. You do your thing. You come home. On repeat.
I don’t love holding patterns. I find them a little depressing. No, not depressing. Frustrating. Kind of like, okay God, have you forgotten me down here? Kind of feeling.
But then I reflect back on times when life is crazy, moving forward and changing, and I realize that in those moments I was wishing for something a little more stable. I don’t like change…and yet I need change to feel like I’m really living my life. It’s one of those geeze, Ash, could you stop being so darn human for one second and just be satisfied with all the ways you’ve been blessed…kind of situations.
So the more I mark time in this holding pattern season of my life the more I start to realize it’s actually a blessing—“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) —or in the case of a holding pattern a season for every inactivity as well
A Time to Listen
I am actually a really bad listener. If I had a nickel for every time I said “huh, I think we’ve had this conversation before”, simply because I asked a question I should have already known the answer to, I’d be able to retire. Most people forgive me for this, because despite the fact that I have the same conversation sometimes multiple times, it is not out of malicious intent—and most people know I really do care—but I don’t always listen with the purpose of remembering or internalizing. I think this evolved as a way to keep me from losing my mind. I’m naturally very introverted, but on average in one day I have hundreds of conversations…that may be an exaggeration, but I’m really not sure that it is (math…I have 25-30 kids in each class and I try to personally talk to most if not all of them at least once during the class period, though I’m not always successful. Then there is the mornings when I open my room for students because I get there early before the library even opens and kids like to have a place to sit. I’d say a good 15 or 20 are in there, then at morning duty I talk to people in the halls, then at lunch my room is never empty. Never…so okay hundreds is probably an exaggeration, but still. That’s a lot of conversing).
The point is, I’m not good at listening, because although I have these conversations, listening but I am very good at hearing. (As a caveat I should say I’m not good at every-day listening, but when something is really important, I’m much better able to tune in and internalize what is being said).
Holding patterns are great for learning to listen. There aren’t as many distractions and honestly it’s a skill we all could use some practice at. This semester I’ve had the privilege of teaching a creative writing course, and it has been so incredible. Just having the time to actually talk and listen to seniors as they prepare to enter the ‘real world’ which, if we are being honest, they’ve already begun the process of by this time in the semester, has really shifted my focus. Sure, I’m in a personal holding pattern, but these young adults are just getting started and the listening I do…I mean, it’s great.
But that also gives me time to just listen at home to…if I can put away the distractions long enough (Netflix is truely evil in the sense that it can be such a time suck…and Gardenscapes…Heaven help me). God puts us in holding patterns sometimes to get our attention. It’s not that he has forgotten us, it’s that we have forgotten him and he just wants to give us the time to listen.
Get up. Listen. Go to work. Listen. Do your thing. Listen. Come home. Listen.
A time to kill
No, I don’t mean to plan out the serial murders of all those who have hurt you. I mean I time to kill self-doubt. A time to kill worry. A time to kill all those little lies that have crept into your consciousness during those busy times.
Sure, this kind of killing off should be happening all the time, but during the holding patterns they become more evident. That’s when you have a choice: listen to the lies, or kill the lies and replace them with truth. You’ve got the time to really build that truth storage, so take it.
Get up. Listen. Kill the lies. Go to work. Listen. Do your thing. Listen Come home. Listen. Store up truth.
A time to heal
Along those same lines, holding patterns give us time to heal from the wounds, changes, surprises, disappointments etc. of the moving forward time. It’s funny we don’t really think we are that wounded until we have time in life…a holding pattern…in which we can reflect. It’s in these moments that if we allow God to enter in we can start to heal.
Get up. Listen. Kill the lies. Go to work. Listen. Do your thing. Listen Come home. Listen. Store up truth. Heal.
And in that pattern, God reveals his wisdom, love and plans…that’s when I notice the healing really starts. At least for me.
A time to build up
A holding pattern gives us time to grow and learn. We aren’t as worried about time, people, or things so we focus on our own healing and growth. Organisms that can adapt, change, and grow survive. Those that can’t, don’t. God blesses us with holding patterns to give us time to breathe and adapt.
Get up. Listen. Kill the lies. Build up & store knowledge. Go to work. Listen. Do your thing. Listen. Come home. Listen. Store up truth. Heal. Build up knowledge.
Because the truth is, holding patterns can be frustrating or they can be blessings. It’s up to us (me, sigh) to decide how we are going to use each season God grants us. When we start to see the potential in every season, that’s when we truly start to live.
I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Rachel and Leah—if for no other reason than because everyone has always called Rachel and Jacob a “great love story” on par with “Romeo and Juliet”. I just want to go on record that “Romeo and Juliet” is not a love story—by Shakespeare’s own admission it’s a cautionary tale and a tragedy, but it’s really more about impulsive decisions leading to some pretty dire consequences in a world where violence and corruption are so prevalent that even love is corrupted. So in other words, you should always think things through and act with your head in addition to your ever-changing emotions. I kind of see Rachel and Jacob in the same light. Jacob is a super impulsive man who rarely thinks with anything other than those darn emotions and doesn’t see the consequences of said actions until God is bailing him out of whatever situation he’s found himself in. Now that gives me a lot of hope because the good Lord knows how often he has to dig me out of my own head and place me back on His path. And Rachel…well it took me a long time to read this story with any kind of grace for her, and that has more to do with my own demons than the girl’s actions in and of themselves.
Love At First Sight
Genesis 29:7 has Jacob seeing his cousin for the first time. After a long journey, he is tired and ready for some good ol’ hospitality. He’s his momma’s boy, after all, and hasn’t spent a lot of time in the fields or out on his own really, so he’s ready for a home cooked meal and a nice bed I can imagine. And then he sees her. The townspeople have identified her, and he is eager to be on his way—or maybe he’s eager to be alone with her, after all he is encouraging the others to water their sheep and go back to the pastures. Either way, it’s clear that he wants to impress Rachel when he “rolls the stone away” all by himself and “water’s his uncle’s sheep”. All we know of Rachel at this point is that she is a shepherdess, so she spends a lot of time outside. Probably she has dark skin, bright eyes, and later in Genesis 29:17 we are told she is “lovely in form”, probably from all that exercise she gets being out with the sheep and covering a lot of ground day in and day out. You go girl.
At any rate, she arrives and after Jacob shows off his muscles—or his impatience (take your pick)—he kisses her and begins “to weep aloud”. I feel pretty justified in my assertion that he is an emotional man, not that emotions are a bad thing, but he tends to let them kind of get the better of his common sense sometimes—very Romeo of him (if you’ve read the play, then you know what I’m saying). Like when he hangs out with his uncle for a month and falls in love with the pretty daughter—who he is so in love with he suggests working 7 years for her hand in marriage (and so he can work up some property of his own) but “they only seemed like a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:19). Which sounds really sweet, and maybe it is, except for his demand to Labon. In the very next verse “Give me my wife…I want to lie with her,” which just seems kind of shallow to me. But I live in the 21st century, my perception is colored by my disdain for this kind of thinking.
All through this bargaining, we don’t get any of Rachel’s thoughts, feelings or emotions. Even when Labon tricks Jacob into lying with his other daughter—thus gaining a BOGO wife deal—we hear nothing of Rachel’s thoughts or emotions. Was she as in love with Jacob as he was with her? I have my doubts about her devotion, which is part of why I feel that God arranged for Jacob—whom he had chosen to receive the blessing of Abraham and Isaac—to marry Leah too (and first), because God knows what we need is not always what we want.
What a Girl Wants
After Jacob unwittingly marries Leah, I would expect Rachel to be a little bit salty—especially if she was as in love with Jacob as he was with her.
Actually, we don’t see Rachel’s reaction to this marriage arrangement at all. In Genesis 29:30 it tells us that Jacob love Rachel more than Leah, but we already knew that. It doesn’t tell us anything about how Rachel feels about the situation…until her sister starts to have kids and she remains barren. This is where I start to struggle extending grace to Rachel. We’ve seen women deal with barrenness before—in previous generations of the same family—but none of these women react in the same spoiled little princess way that Rachel does. In Genesis 30:1 she declares to Jacob that if he doesn’t give her children she will just die. Oh please, girl. You will not die. Even Jacob gets annoyed with her in his response in Genesis 30:2 “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
Rachel doesn’t want to please God. She doesn’t even want to please Jacob. She is only concerned about pleasing herself, and this is seen throughout the course of the narrative.
God shows us that wanting certain things in our lives is not necessarily a bad thing. Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, all these women wanted children. Our wants are not the problem. Our desires are not the problem. Our hearts and our motivations are what God cares about the most. In her selfishness, Rachel hurt her sister, her husband, and ultimately God, but her wants seemed more important, and it almost got her killed by her father.
Genesis 31:19 reveals the crux of Rachel’s problems. When Jacob is ready to flee Laban, because he knows he’s overstayed his welcome, Rachel steals her father’s household gods. Then when her father pursues them and demands the return of the gods, Jacob is so offended (after all, he’s a follower of his father’s God) he said if they gods are found Laban can put that individual to death. Rachel is wily though. She hides them under her saddle and sat on them—then she played the “period” card—which of course sent this ancient man a running because, well, whose father wants to talk about that with his daughter? So she gets away with the crime…and keeps the idols. Rachel can never be as happy as Jacob or even her sister, who finds peace in embracing a personal relationship with God, simply because Rachel searches for validation in the things of this world: children, husband, idols. You see, what a girl wants is not always what she needs.
You Took My Husband
Leah gets a bad rap in this story nine times out of ten she is seen as the manipulative one—the one who stole Rachel’s fiancé from beneath her sister’s nose. But I think that is an unfair statement. Not only was Leah acting in obedience to her father when she married Jacob, I wonder if she was also acting in obedience to God and her own heart. This is pure speculation, mind you, but I find Genesis 30:15 to be an incredibly revealing verse: “But she [Leah] said to her [Rachel], “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
Oh Leah, interesting point. Didn’t you take away Rachel’s betrothed….? There are so many unanswered questions here, and that is the first thing I expected Rachel to bring up. But it isn’t! The verse ends with: “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” Rachel concedes to Leah’s claim!
The story is complicated, and not exactly the greatest love story of all time. Sure, Jacob loved Rachel—but Rachel only loved what Jacob could give her and when he didn’t, she sought it elsewhere…everywhere but with God. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, when we seek our validation outside of our Almighty Creator, all we do is create heartache for ourselves—and those around us. Leah learned this lesson. Rachel never did. And as a result, their family—though formed under the blessing of God—would always live in strife and contention.
So the lesson here? If you want to avoid tragedy, seek God’s favor, and thank him for your blessings. That doesn’t mean your life will always be easy, but it can make a difference in how you react and live through life’s disappointments. Don’t believe me? Just ask Leah and Rachel.
So, the title of this series is authentic, and I’m just going to get real here for a minute, so bear with me.
I have spent the vast majority of my life feeling as though I am second best—and compensating for that by trying to be perfect thereby proving that I am, actually, the best. But then when anyone praises me, or gives me a compliment, I have a hard time accepting it as true because I never actually feel like I am good enough.
And it is exhausting.
As this battle rages inside of me, I hear the simple truths of the father—you are enough, I love you through your flaws—and I know that perfectionism is its own sin, still the battle rages on.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m hopeless. I’m just saying that I am human and this is the battle I fight against my sin nature. Some days I trust in Him enough for it to quiet…and some days I don’t. Hey, I said I was going to be real here.
I get the feeling that Leah probably felt a lot of the same struggle, only she had some pretty tangible proof that the world really did see her as second best. At least when compared to her sister.
Behold, it was Leah
I have lots of feelings about Jacob (Leah’s future husband), but the strongest is that he was an incredibly flawed man—who God still made the forefather of his great nation. So my drive to be perfect, clearly isn’t the way to God’s heart. It might actually be more of a separate than some of these blatant sins, just because of the pride issues that accompany it—but let’s set that philosophy aside for the moment and focus in on Leah.
At the start of the narrative, Jacob has run away from a pretty sticky situation at home. He and his mom had manipulated Jacob’s father into bestowing his deathbed blessing on him rather than on Esau, who traditionally should have been the recipient as the firstborn. Given that Jacob had already manipulated his older brother out of his birthright, this second backstabbing was a little too much for Esau—and so Jacob fled his brother’s wrath and made is way to his mon’s brother, Laban, who is not exactly the most honest of individuals either (go back and look at the Rebekah post if you want some more juicy details on that family dynamic). When he arrives, he’s asking around about his family when Rachel makes an appearance—seeming, in a lot of ways, similar to the way in which his mother appeared before the servant and became the wife of his father, as story I am sure that he grew up hearing being so close to his mother and everything. So it really isn’t much of a surprise when he waters her sheep, as his mother watered the camels so many decades before.
Jacob was a pretty emotional guy, so it’s also not super surprising that he was all like, I wanna marry that girl—after all, he’s remembering his mother’s own love story. The major difference here though lies in the fact that in the month that he stayed with his uncle Labon there is absolutely no mention of Jacob asking God to be a part of his decision making process! Jacob is not thinking with his head or his spirit. Genesis 29: 16-17 tells us that Labon had two daughters: Leah (the elder daughter, who had weak eyes) and Rachel (who was lovely in form and beautiful). I do not believe this means that Leah was ugly, just that her eyes were not bright, maybe she would even have, in modern times, had needed corrective lenses so maybe she squinted a lot. What it does mean, is that Jacob saw her as second best. He fell in love (boy how I hate that terminology…still it works here) with Rachel’s outward appearance. I have a hard time believing he really got to know her. That’s just not how ancient cultures typically worked. He saw her. He wanted her. He struck a deal. Not having anything to offer his uncle for Rachel’s hand, he says he’ll work for 7 years—enough time to really put together some of his own property so he will be able to care for her.
Unfortunately, Laban was just as manipulative as Jacob and after the 7 years was up, he saw an opportunity. Not only to ‘get rid’ of his cumbersome older daughter, but to trap Jacob into working for him (cheap labor) for another 7 years. So, he sent Leah to the wedding bed (which isn’t so weird since she would have been heavily veiled and similar in form to her sister).
The next morning: there was Leah.
Always Second Best
Now, Leah had to know and been privy to the plan of her father, but I sincerely doubt she had much choice. I do wonder what she felt in that moment when she consummated a marriage that was built on a lie. Was she in love with Jacob? Was she doing her duty to her father? What went through her mind as she slept with this man who was so clearly in love with her sister? While we will never know, but we do know that in Genesis 29:31, the Lord saw that Leah was not loved. He enabled a quick pregnancy for Leah and kept Rachel barren, which also makes me question Rachel’s heart and character. Yes, Leah was a part of the deception—and the situation was complicated and terrible, but we have a choice in how we treat others in spite of the circumstances. I suspect that Rachel had always treated her sister with a kind of contempt, and so here she is taught a lesson through.
Leah truly believe that her husband would come to love her as son after son is born. First Reuben, then Simeon and Levi…always hoping for that kind of love she has always craved. And then something happened in Leah’s heart. It’s hard to say exactly what—but when she had Judah, she stopped caring about her husband’s love and embraced the love of the Lord, the one—she realized—who had always loved her unconditonally! The only one whose love she really ever needed.
I love that verse, Genesis 29: 35, when she says she will stop seeking approval of man and start praising the Lord. Sometimes the world is cruel and unfair. We seek approval. We seek love. We seek acceptance. We seek companionship. All these things we chase after every day…are found when we stop and praise the Lord. And that is beautiful, if we are willing to embrace it.
Lean and Rachel engage in quite the baby-making competition, which is only appropriate given the life that Jacob carved out for himself. His own sibiling rivalry landed him in the position where he would always have to deal with sibling rilvary, first in his wives, then with his sons. Oddly, though, through it all Jacob does not rely on the wisdom of God. Or, I guess, that’s not odd at all. When we don’t make God the center of our decision making and we rely on our own judgments, competitions, and desires, we’re bound to enter into conflicts that become complicated and sometimes very painful.
What is most striking is that even though Jacob never sees her value, God does. In 1 Samuel 16:7, we are told that mann looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. That is never more true than in the case of Rachel and Leah—Rachel is the pretty one, the loved one, but she is also the petty and the devious one. Ergo, God chooses Leah’s child, Judah, to be the line to the greatest kings… David…Solomon…and Jesus.
And in that, I feel hope.
Encouraging restoration, healing, and expression through writing.