Category Archives: Learn it

Counting Blessings

Sometimes I worry that I’m a little too realistic.

Things don’t really work out that well in the end, I tell myself. Expect disappointment in the long run, because, after all, we are living in a sick and fallen world. If I don’t hold expectations that are too high, then I don’t run as high a risk of getting hurt, or let down. It’s okay when I’m disappointed, I tell myself, because I expected it.

I don’t call it pessimism because I’m not seeing the world as half empty, but for what it is—sick.

Unfortunately because I tend to think this way, I miss out on a lot of things as well: giddiness, excitement, passion, intensity, mystery and maybe even joy and thankfulness because I am constantly holding everyone and everything at arm’s length. Don’t let anything too close—you’ll see the imperfections and it will disappoint you in the end.

I don’t know when I started thinking like this. I haven’t always. I used to be the most open and inviting child in the world. I can’t pinpoint a trauma, or a life event that occurred making me close up and change. I imagine it has something to do with my depression and anxiety struggle, but that’s not really the point. It doesn’t matter why I started thinking this way—the point is, somewhere along the line…I did!

BUT…

The funny thing about it is, usually when I open up to people and I let people in, I’m NOT disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been disappointed by a lot of people in life, but especially in the past couple of months, I realized just how blessed I am and just when I start to get jaded again about the world—God will send me a little reminder of my blessings.

Today I was shopping for school supplies like I do every August. I was in Walmart and Was putting all these things on the counter and I’m at the age where everyone just assumes I’m married with children so all these crayons and notebooks are, of course, for my 2.5 kids in the burbs I have. The man behind me smiled and said, “Boy am I glad to have aged out of that stage!”  Instead of just smiling and nodding, I decided to go a different route this morning and offer a bit of myself—I smiled and said, “Well, I teach so I guess I’ll never age out of buying these things since they’re for my classroom.”

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The man looked sufficiently impressed. I wasn’t buying out the store or anything, but I had a decent amount of supplies—hand sanitizer, folders, glue sticks, colored pencils and the like. “That’s what the dollar tree is good for,” he nodded and rocked back and forth on his heels. I laughed, “Actually I shop around for the best deals; that pack of crayons is only twenty-five cents here. I just want to make sure all my students have what I need for them to be successful.” I pulled out my debit card to pay and the man slipped a five dollar bill into my wallet. “I know it’s not much,” he said softly, “but I just want to contribute a little something for the fine job you’re doing for kids who don’t have the supplies. They don’t pay ya’ll enough for that.” I protested, but he held up his hand. “It’s my good deed for the day,” he said with a wink.

I may not get paid a lot, but that man paid me a compliment that was worth more than most of the money in my wallet and he reminded me today that there are people in the world who not only listen but do actually want to care.

I have a lot to be thankful for. A lot to be excited about. A lot to be passionate about, and a lot to look forward to. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be less realistic—I can’t be a whole new person—but I’m working on the attitude thing. One day at a time.

 

 

Introverts in the House

 

I don’t buy into all statistics, but one statistic that has always stood out to me is that only 25% of the population is truly introverted. My parents had 3 kids, and both my siblings are extremely extroverted so it stands to reason that one of us (namely me) would end up introverted. My favorite description for introverts is that we are ‘wired differently’. It’s a little better than other descriptions I’ve heard. Generally I’m “quirky” or “eccentric” or “weird” or my personal favorite “snobby”; I like to call it the Georgianna Darcy syndrome. I’m not proud, I’m just shy…well, maybe I’m a little proud too, but really it’s my introversion—my aversion to attention that keeps me at arm’s length from people around me.

“But Ashley!” You say, “You’re a teacher! How can you be an introvert?” Great question! Introversion doesn’t mean that you hate people. That’s misanthropy (which I’ve had struggles with), introversion is more about the way that you gain energy. Extroverts gain energy with the outer world by interacting with people while introverts gain energy by focusing on the inner world of ideas. To me, that’s textbook teacher, especially when combined with my other quirky personality traits (I’m an INFJ for anyone who has taken the Meyer’s Briggs test, you can get that). But I digress. Back to the introvert concept. For an introvert, like me, gaining energy is all about focusing on ideas, reflecting, processing, control, reading, writing, and quiet. So when we get in this writing challenge to SHARING, PUBLISHING, PROVOKING, these words stand out in all caps because they are terrifying.

The challenge for me is simple. Quit being a nerd bomber (yes, I did just pull a 90s sitcom reference) and really put yourself out there. It’s the only way that you will ever make a splash.

I’m getting ready to go on my trip to California where I will have a multitude of opportunities to read and write about many different subjects on a number of different thought provoking issues and to discuss them with colleagues from across this great nation of ours. Because, after all, isn’t that what is so great about living in this country of ours? We have the freedom to share, to publish and to provoke in whatever ways we can. Not everyone has that privilege, so I’ll gain energy from the writing and then I’ll expel it when I’m sharing. Because wheat is the point of gaining energy if you never use it?

Maybe It’s Just Me…

Maybe It’s Just Me

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inside restaurant Pan e Vino

Tick…Tick…Tick…Tock…My life clock continues louder with every little tick and each resounding tock it chimes and chirps wand each day rotates just a little bit fast.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” responds the girl in the salon. When did I become a “ma’am”?

I wonder…

Maybe it’s just me but…

I thought my life would be different. At sixteen I had a plan. I knew how my life would be at 28.

Maybe it’s just me but…

Everything seems so mundane, blasé, not at all what I had in mind.

Maybe it’s just me yet…

I know I am blessed beyond measure with beautiful people, meaningful work, and wonderful space.

Maybe it’s just me yet…

I am grateful, I should be grateful, I have forgotten how to be grateful. I am lost in a world of self-deprecation disguised as a sort of humility. I want to be proud. I want to own my pride. I don’t know where to begin.

Maybe it’s just me and then again, maybe it’s not.

 

These are just words, thoughts strung together as I reflect one Friday evening. I’m not even sure what form you’d call this. Maybe it’s verse, but I think it’s a kind of stream of consciousness. Really, it’s just me. Wondering. I’m not unhappy with my life. In fact most days I’m very content. But sometimes, especially recently I begin to wonder if maybe, just maybe I’m letting life pass me. And after I get done with all this wondering, I start to pray. My conversation with God is not exactly thrilling, it more just wondering about two little words: too late.

Are those not the most devastating combination of words? Too late—lost hope, dreams and future. They taste bitter on the tongue, as sour as the poison their power holds because once someone believes it is too late…

What is left to them?

That’s when God reminds me of Lazarus. (I started to say “I’m reminded of” then I realized it is no coincidence that this story launches into my brain).

The story is in John 11 and the NIV reads this way:

“Now a man named Lazarus was sick […] so the sisters sent word to Jesus. “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” […] he stayed where he was two more days.”

HE STAYED! He heard the news that his loved one is sick. Jesus knew what this meant, to the family. He knew what pain it would cause them. Agony, anguish, mental torment—not to mention what the physical illness did to Lazarus himself. It must have been painful to have ended in even a temporary death. And still, he didn’t go. He waited two days. Two of the longest days of his friends’ life (I’m sure they were no picnic for Jesus either).

Then the story continues with Jesus telling his disciples they are returning to Judea. His friends are worried because of the trouble brewing there, which makes me wonder if Mary, Martha and Lazarus didn’t question Jesus’ loyalty and love. I know I would have. Hardly able to understand why he didn’t come help their brother, they search for an explanation—even an irrational one. I imagine they might have thought that he cared for his own safety more than the well-being of their brother. Can you imagine the sick feeling of disappointed hopes and dreams? Maybe it’s just me…

Jesus tells his disciples they are going to see Lazarus who is dead and I love Thomas’ reply, but it is so sad. “Let us go that we may die with him.” Caustic, bitter, untrusting. Thomas doesn’t see the point in visiting the dead man. It’s too late. There are those words. It’s too late for him! Why put ourselves at risk?

When he finally arrives at Mary and Martha’s home, they greet him with the same response; although they greet him separately they are of the same mind. “If you had been here, Lord, my brother would not have died. “

You’re too late, God.

Ah, ye of little faith.

Too late, oh so devastating to us mortals—as Alexander Pope said “born but to die.” Of course we will lose our hope and our faith with those words.

Restoration comes from one place alone.

And it’s never too late for God.

We may not like his timing. We may not understand his timing. But He’s never too late.

“Lazarus ,come forth!”

How I want to be raised from the deadness of disappointed hope and resurrected into the life of gratitude each and every day.  But, maybe it’s just me…

 

Finding Purpose

What lie has been perpetuated throughout time, but carries with it connotative fear that can send even the most rational person to the edge of lunacy?

 Purposelessness.

No one wants to believe that we are here on the planet for no reason—further still, no one wants to believe that we are completely meaningless. Do people sometimes spot this as a philosophy? Yes. Do people believe this to be true? Yes. But I also believe that the philosophers and believers in this meaningless existence also fear that this ‘truth’ as they see it, is in fact true.

 And what if it is?

 The novella The Mysterious Stranger ends with the following statement:

“It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream—a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought—a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities” (68).

Nothing exists but you.

The center of a narcissistic world loves this idea. For a while. And then it sinks in.

Nothing exists but you.

Vagrant, homeless, wandering—Sure it’s all about you, but you have nowhere to belong to, so what is the point of you?

We scramble around from point A to point B constantly searching for a way to make ourselves stand out from the crowd, to create some kind of meaning for our lives. Then suddenly all that hope that we will someday be able to find a purpose is ripped out from under us with three small words: It is true.

So where does this lie originate?

Mark Twain’s novella pinpoints this perfectly through the mysteriously appearance, intrusion, insertion, interference, and manipulation of the mysterious stranger in his novella. Though the story is started by Twain and finished by a team of editors prior to publication, what the reader learns about the mysterious stranger is profoundly philosophical.

The only one who would profit from such a lie is the Father of Lies himself, and to perpetuate the greatest lie of all, he would have to build on a foundation of truth. And isn’t that what makes a lie great? That it is actually believable?

Take the Mysterious Stranger for example. Without spoiling the story, the stranger arrives in a tiny hamlet of a town and performs tricks and treats to excite some impressionable young boys. His good looks and smooth words give him the credibility that he needs establishing his ethos. The treats and tricks tap into the boys’ pathos. This makes the manipulation of the logos, some of which is based on truth, much easier for the boys to swallow, believe and ultimately follow.

In the same way, the Father of Lies wants us to believe that we are alone in this universe. That we are not only the center of the world but that our selfish attitudes are actually a part of a greater reality and truth. That we have NOTHING to be thankful for.

And if we believe that, we trap ourselves in an eternal misery separated from the joy that is our birthright as children of God.

I don’t want to live like that.

I want to be thankful for who I am, but more than that, I want to be thankful for who God is and who God created me to be. I am not alone. There is a world, a universe, a God, a loving savior.

I’m not saying the way is going to be easy; in fact, breaking free from the lies that have cocooned me for years is back breaking work. As Ann Voskamp says in her book One Thousand Gifts:

“I would never experience the fullness of my salvation until I expressed the fullness of my thanks every day, and eucharisteo is elemental to living the saved life […] This is why I sat all those years in church but my soul holes had never fully healed. Eucharisteo, the Greak word with the hard meaning and the harder meaning to live—this is the only way from empty to full” (40).

I’m ready to stop believing the lies and start living the eucharisteo—but I’m going to need all the help I can get.