Category Archives: Learn it

A Second Chance

I’m not very good at giving people a second chance. I have a tendency to pass judgment quickly, rely on first impressions, and hold grudges.

I don’t like this about myself, but I admit that it is a weakness and probably a large part of why I’m not a particularly fun loving, devil may care, gregarious, everyone-wants-to-be-her-friend individual.

On the one hand, I can accept that about myself, on the other hand I don’t really want to accept it. Because we should give one another a second chance. It’s our responsibility, and a lesson we should learn sooner rather than later.

In church the other week we were reading about Jonah, and I was reminded of Jonah’s poor attitude and the chapter after he returns to Nineveh. For some reason, I always forget about this chapter. In my mind the story always ends with Jonah becoming Whale spit up, fulfilling God’s will and then learning his lesson…but even after spending time inside a fish, he doesn’t really learn anything. Not a blessed thing and that is terrifying. I’m not going to lie, it worries me that one could experience so much and still have such a hard heart. In fact, he gets mad because his sermon to the Ninevites is effective. His ticked off that they turn from their evil ways and repent. He gets so mad that he goes out to the desert to pout.

God sends a vine to cover his head and provide him shade.

Then Jonah gets mad when the vine, which he did nothing to cultivate, dies.

And God speaks up. He asks Jonah an important question: Do you have a right to be angry about this vine?

Great question. Jonah didn’t do anything to deserve the vine, to nurture the vine; he didn’t plant the vine—he didn’t even say thank you when it grew. Then, when it dies he does nothing to change his circumstances. He just sits and lets his head burn. Stubborn, isn’t he? Of course, this is coming from the runner—the one who tried to escape God and when that didn’t work had sailors throw him into the sea, I guess he thought that would be a way to seal his fate—but you can’t run from God no matter how far you go and if God wants to teach you a lesson no matter how stubborn you are he’ll teach on.

It is up to you to decide to learn.

How many of us are the same way? We are blessed with health, family and sometimes even wealth that we did not earn and rarely deserve. We are living in a world of entitlement, but as Romans is so quick to remind us—all have sinned and fall short so we really don’t deserve anything but death, destruction and punishment. Some people, no matter what, some people are determined not to be happy. No matter what they are determined to be miserable. In fact I’m not even sure they would know what to do with happiness if it grew from a vine and slapped them in the face.

You see, it’s so easy to forget about Jonah 4 because no one wants to see Jonah as a whiner—no one wants to remember the man who survived a whale’s belly as a complaining, stubborn, unhappy man. Because it doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t someone whose been given that SECOND CHANCE be able to empathize more with people who are seeking a second chance? Shouldn’t he rejoice with them, be joyful and grateful?

And yet, he’s angry! Angry that God would save them. He FORGOT too. He forgot his own transgressions and somehow I doubt he was as pure and sinless as he pouty face would suggest.

And then the bitter sting of hypocrisy sinks deep into my skin. Don’t we struggle with the same problem? We’ve all been given the same second chance, and we all think we deserve so much more than we actually do.

We think we deserve happiness.

We think we deserve contentment.

We think we deserve a life of leisure where we get what we want when we want it.

But we don’t.

We are all sinners.

We deserve misery.

We deserve sickness.

We deserve death.

Just as a murderer deserves to pay for his or her heinous crimes, each and every one of us deserves to pay for our sins. But OH how quick we are to forget our own sins when we look around and see someone else sinning. “Well,” we say to ourselves with our noses stuck up in the air, “at least I haven’t cheated on my wife like Bill. Bill deserves punishment. How could he show his face in church? He is such a sinner!”

What if Jonah had accepted their conversion? What if he’d stopped feeling that it was unfair, that they deserved less than he, that they were his equals? Now I don’t presume to rewrite the Bible, but I do want to look at another perspective, because after all, that’s what this blog is about. So Jonah 4 might have read a little like this:

1)And Jonah was pleased and joy filled his heart. 2) He prayed to the Lord, “Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? How could I be so blind and flee to Tarshish? I know you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in Love. A God who relents from sending calamity. 3) Now, O Lord I see how it is better to live than to die. Praise your holy name.” 4) And the Lord blessed Jonah and the Ninevites…

Because the thing is we’re all sinners. Some of us don’t want to admit that we sin, and that’s worse in a lot of ways. We go to church, sing in the choir, attend Bible study, join every committee, but forget that we are more than just an organization. We are, and should be, designed to love everyone, not gossip about their shortcomings, or worse ignore and run away from their suffering.

We’re designed to be God’s image.

But we’re not in God’s image when we are unforgiving and self-righteous, sulking in the desert of our own iniquities and sin.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what happiness is and why we pursue it. It’s not in our declaration of independence by accident. And we often take it for granted. I’ve come to the radical conclusion that happiness is not as illusive as we try to make it. Happiness doesn’t run from us, we run from it. Pursuing happiness may be a right, may be what God had in mind in fact, I don’t know. But what I do know is that Proverbs 25:26 says: “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked,” but John 4:14 says: “ but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” All you have to do to quench the thirst is drink. But we resist the water just like we resist happiness. Why?

Because it can’t be that simple, can it?

Author and Perfector


Sometimes I wonder if I’ve chosen the right path. But then I suppose everyone has doubts about their life at some point or another. The fact of the matter is, we can’t ever be sure about every decision we make. When I was in college I watched a film called Run Lola Run (directed by Tom Tykwer).  The film centers on the idea that it’s not only the monumental decisions in our lives that shape who we become as much as every tiny decision we make—down to taking the time to tie our shoe or letting the laces flap in the breeze. These little moments can shape us as much if not more. The film shows the same event, three times with tiny changes that affect the overall outcome in enormous ways.

Which in turn reminds me of Esther. I’ve been studying this book and as I’m now in chapter 6, big decisions still hold value, but the tiny ones are every bit as important.

Esther had an opportunity to rock the Persian world. She was promised up to half the kingdom by her husband Xerxes if she asked for it—which though a figure of speech, is still a pretty amazing oath. She invites Xerxes and her mortal enemy, Hamen, to a banquet to make the request. At the banquet she has a number of options—decisions to make. And any one of them can alter the course of her personal history.

  • She could, like Herodias’ s daughter did for John the Baptist, ask for Hamen’s head on a platter (Problem solved!)
  • She could reveal Hamen’s evil plan—confront the beast head on (Uncovered, unfoiled, right?)
  • Wait (What? Why wait!?!)

The timing was right! Her life had been spared, the king had agreed to dinner—now hat do be the time. If Esther makes the request, the game is over. But she doesn’t. Like Lola, she stops to tie her shoe, altering the course of the future.

But that is a monumental decision, right? That’s certainly more than just tying her shoe. What happens next is what, combined with the monumental decisions, proving to me that our small decisions have just a great an effect on our lives as our big decisions.

That night, the king couldn’t sleep.

Now the king has some decisions to make. And he’s the King of Persia—he could get a glass of warm milk, count sheep, or he has over 100 concubines so I could think of a few things he could do on a sleepless night.

Instead he orders the chronicle of his reign to be read to him.

Well, now I can see why this might put you to sleep, but this decision becomes the peripety of the entire narrative, a seemingly insignificant event that changes the course of everything.

Elevating Mordecai in the king’s eyes just enough so that when Esther does reveal Hamen’s evil plan, the king doesn’t harbor resentment against his noble prince, but righteous indignation about the injustice done to his ally and queen. Outrage, not regret in the end result.

If Esther hadn’t waited? The sleepless night would have looked very different.

If he hadn’t read the chronicle? The timing may never have been right for Ether.

What kind of changes in history would we see if even one tiny decision had been made?

Every significant even has a place, but more importantly ever insignificant event does too. Our lives are arranged accidentally. They are carefully crafted and perfected to create individual lives and purposes that we can live to be proud of. When I write, I always start with a character: Andrea, Valerie, Clara, Lucy…How much more so does God start with us as characters crafting each even toward some kind of significant end? It’s only natural to question our decisions and actions, but in the end no matter what we choose—I’m comforted to know that the author and perfector of my faith is more than my calligrapher—He’s a master craftsman.

So sometimes I pray for a peripety.

A reversal of destiny—a change that will make its mark on me ant eh world.

Because you never know what decision today might lead to a monumental destiny tomorrow.

Do Not Be Afraid: A Resolution

Don’t be afraid.

As one year now closes and another gears up, we all take the time to reflect and reevaluate. People take the time to make resolutions which they will earnestly break within a month, maybe two if they are more committed than most.

I’m not judging…well, I am, but I’m also empathizing. I do the same, and though I could wish for better resolve, if I had it (if any of us did), we really wouldn’t need to make New Year’s resolutions.

So this year, I’m trying something different. Instead of making a resolution that I want to stick to throughout the year. I’m going to reevaluate each month, because I learned something important about myself this past year. I have been breaking the most repeated command in the Bible.

And I break it over, and over, and over again.

Do you know what the most repeated command in the Bible it? I learned this recently. Right off hand, if someone had asked me this before, I probably would have said it is “love one another”. No, that’s not it. The most common command in the Bible is:

Do not be afraid.

I am not a risk taker. I make pro-con lists, I weigh the value of decisions, I look at the consequences of each moment that I live (or don’t live I guess)—and I live in fear that the decisions I make every day are the wrong ones.

And not only are they the wrong ones, but they are going to catastrophically alter the universe (or at least my universe) in some way shape or form.

Talk about some ego.

Which is why sometimes I feel like I’m stuck—frozen in this life I’ve cherry picked and carefully chosen and protecting myself right out of life or maybe even a calling.

Because we can do that—protect ourselves from something that we think will shatter us, but if we allowed it to, would actually help us. And I do that more often than not

Which brings me back to the whole resolution thing. This New Year I’m going to be less afraid, because I have dreams, big dreams and I have to stop protecting myself from them. So each month I’ll make a new resolution, then re-evaluate at the end of the month.

Because this is too important to wait till next January.

At the risk of alienating everyone sick of Frozen, I’m going to quote Elsa here: The fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all [in 2015]. Let it go.

My Superpower

I’ve always had pretty good timing. It’s something innate. I can leave my house at different times—with the same destination in mind—and somehow always arrive at my destination right when I want to. Usually I can predict it to the minute (early, on time, late, whatever)—like a GPS, only without the condescending tone. Well, I don’t know I probably am just as condescending, I have my moments.

Good timing is my superpower.

I firmly believe that everyone has a superpower, we just don’t always embrace our superpowers, proving that we’re not so different than the heroes we idolize after all.

My students rarely see the point in studying English—the language, the literature, the class; most of the time they see it as a colossal waste of time. But what if English class is preparing them, not only for college and the future, but preparing them for life, for embracing their inner hero and for becoming a dynamic character in their own lives. What if English class isn’t really about English at all, what if it is really a training for something greater. What if it is training you to accept a call to be the hero in your own life?

Okay, yeah. That’s a stretch, but sometimes I wonder if life isn’t simply about the perspective with which you choose to see it.

I sit at a traffic light thinking about whether I should turn left or right. If I turn right I will get to my destination in 3 minutes, if I turn left it will take 7 minutes. But in that 7 minutes, will something else significant happen? Is there a reason to delay my journey for an additional 4 minutes? If there is, I take that alternate route and I arrive at my destination precisely when I said I would be there and as I am walking in, a friend of mine is walking out—in tears. Upset because she has just received the news. I stop. We talk. I offer the embrace she needed just at that moment. The moment I wouldn’t have been there for if I’d have arrived 4 minutes earlier, or 5 minutes later.

Timing. It may not be superspeed or superstrength. I may not be able to leap tall buildings, fly or time travel, but I can be the hero to someone who needs a hug, to the person who needs a shoulder, to the person who needs to get to work, who needs to talk.

And I wouldn’t even think about it that way if I didn’t have the perspective of seeing it that way. Life is a journey. We can follow our call to adventure and be the hero in our own life, or we can…not. But being passive—letting life happen to me, is more terrifying. Like being stuck at that traffic light forever.

Maybe I didn’t learn all this in English class, but I can certainly see how being passive could affect the future based on the literature, and there is nothing more human than that. We spend our lives trying to stand out and make a difference—so why not use what we learn to our advantage? How could anything be more applicable than the basic foundations of our human experiences?

Everyone has a superpower. The trick is, you have to stop being afraid of it, embrace it, and use it to become the hero in your own life.

That’s when you stop being static and you become the round, dynamic hero you’re meant to be.

So…what is your superpower?

Isn’t it Just Like a Human?

“And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.”

 Esther 4:14b

A major theme in literature, hell in life, is the idea of fate/destiny vs. free will. Do we actually have the option to choose our own path or are we predestined for something outside our control?

Much of our discussions in my class this week have centered around this, and oddly enough in my personal life as well.

This week with my seniors we talked about Paradise Lost, which I’ll admit is one of my favorite and lest favorite works to do with high schoolers. I love to talk about it because of the major themes it introduces and the way it requires them to think from different perspectives (particularly with all the allegorical implications—with the epic hero being called into question and the shift in how we perceive the hero and of course the purpose in writing a piece and how it reflects the historical backdrop of the author’s intent—there is such a wealth of discussion to draw from). It’s my least favorite for the same reason. There is no way to cover it all and even when I try to cover a tenth of it; the material can seem tedious (even to my best students) and so I often come away with a sense of disillusionment.

However, isn’t that just like a human?

After we look at Paradise Lost we move on to Lanier’s piece on “Eve’s Apology” and we talk about the Quarelle des Femmes. This is always entertaining for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is because it’s our version of the blame game for the fall of Eden. During Lanier’s time the Quarelle des Femme (Question of Women) and used in the later half of the 19th century where the roles of women were being questioned and challenged probably for the first time in recorded history and a large part of it centered around, or at least used as evidence, Eve’s role in the fall of Eden. So in “Eve’s Apology”, Lanier argues that Adam is just as much at fault for the fall of Eden as Adam and offers evidence supporting that claim and refuting much of the misogynistic mindset held previously. While the piece is heavily biased, we then hold our own debate about who is responsible for the fall of Eden and I assign students their own roles for this debate (they don’t choose sides) and then they have to offer evidence to prove their “opinion”. I allow it to go on until it gets repetitive or to heavily laden with pathos. Then we discuss. Then I allow them to broaden their scope because students argue with me that Adam and Eve aren’t the only players. So they split into four corners—Adam, Eve, Serpent or God—who is the most to blame. Out of about 30 students, only 4 stick with Adam and Eve holding most of the responsibility—the rest split between the serpent and God and we discuss the ramifications of this and then students reflect.

But to me, isn’t this just like a human?

Adam and Eve didn’t want to take responsibility in the garden, and even today we don’t want them to hold the responsibility. We want to say it’s the higher powers that are really responsible. If God hadn’t created that tree then… Well if the serpent hadn’t present temptation then…. Personal responsibility is just not something humans are fond of.

Which is why the fate vs. free will theme is such a popular one. If it is our fate for something to happen then we don’t have to take responsibility for the ramifications of our decisions, right?

I’m not so sure.

Because here’s the thing. Yes, God created the tree in that garden. But what if he hadn’t? Would we have free will? If there is nothing to choose—does choice exist? Sure, God is so outside of time he probably knew what was going to happen when he created the tree, but he still decided to give us the choice because he’d rather have companions and a relationship with us than naked drones in a garden. Because if we didn’t have free will, we wouldn’t be stuck in the “middle state” that Pope describes in his “Essay on Man”. We’d just be beasts in a garden with no capacity to reason or choose. That sounds like a boring person to have a relationship with. I mean, I love my dog, but I need my human friends.

And if there was no one to tempt us, no serpent, then we would never know our own integrity. Adam and Eve both made a choice. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). Maybe it was their destiny, but it was also their choice. Regardless of whether you see this story as literature, or as spiritual, the lessons it teaches are worth remembering.

Which brings me back to Esther, and of course myself. Esther was brought to the palace, but it wasn’t of her own free will, exactly. I mean, technically she probably could have run away, but where would she run to? She’s a teenager in Susa. She runs off into the desert to do what? Get eaten by wild beasts? Die of dehydration? Become a Bedouin or a prostitute? Really, her only viable option was to go to the palace to be either the King’s concubine or queen, and she lucked out. She was chosen as Queen. Then, Haman, the conniving weasel decides he doesn’t like all the Jews (bad blood between his people and the Jews, exacerbated by Mordecai’s disobedience of the ordnance to pay homage to Haman) and so he’s going to kill them all. Great. What he doesn’t know is he has just sentenced his queen to death. Oops.

Well, who knows, Esther, maybe this is your destiny.

I don’t know about you, but those are not very comforting words when approaching your husband for leniency could mean your death.

But, isn’t that just like a human?

Mordecai needs Esther to do this to save her people, so who knows! Maybe it’s your destiny—and that keeps his hands clean if it goes wrong (I’m being a little harsh on Mordecai, but I really feel for Esther. Poor girl.). But in a weird way, that who knows does give us hope.

Because, as Beth Moore points out in her Esther study, when the who knows becomes “I know” we know it is our destiny—and this is when we are disillusioned. When we come face to face with our destiny we sometimes feel like it should have more meaning than just ‘who knows’. I feel for Esther here—she’s faced with a destiny and she realizes that either way she will likely die. What a moment of mortality for a teenager. Not on the same scale, but I’ve had those same feelings of, dude, it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

I had a plan. I knew what my life was going to look like, and this wasn’t it. I’ve wanted to be a teacher for pretty much my entire life, but when you get up one day and your students come into class and aren’t responsive, or are responsive negatively or ask you things like: “Ms. Carmichael do you ever get bored when you are teaching?” I kind of just want to throw my marker in the air and say “to heck with this destiny.”

But I don’t.

Because more often than not when we have a personal relationship with God, we know that even when our destiny doesn’t seem to be exactly what we thought it was, He’s still got a hand in it—which is why I love Esther’s response. She doesn’t say yes, exactly. She says, “Go gather and fast. I will go. And If I perish, I perish.”

Hello, thank you personal responsibility. I did not hear a “If I perish—it’s your fault Uncle Mordecai” or “If I perish, God will avenge me”.  It’s “If I perish, I perish”. Esther realized two things about this debate. 1) Destiny requires sacrifice and 2) Destiny requires action (free will).

I’ve had that response to my life more than once. “Okay God, I’ll keep on here. But if I snap, I snap.” I haven’t snapped yet (though I’ve been close some days, kids, so you better watch yourselves ;-)).  Some days are harder than others, especially when I’m struggling with my own personal life. I’m exhausted for reasons outside my control, I have family issues (and boy do I have issues), and I do, contrary to popular belief, have a life outside of school. Even so, who knows? Maybe you’ve been brought to this position for such a time as this?

Because 1) Destiny requires sacrifice—and I can attest to that and 2) Destiny requires action (free will) and I’ll add a 3) Destiny requires thankfulness. Because, after all, God created us for SOMETHING, he gave us free will to give us a purpose, and that is something to be thankful for even when things get tough.

I guess my point is this. We spend a lot of time debating whether it’s destiny or free will—when in reality, it’s both. Or destiny is dependent on our free will. The more we rely on our God the more He will guide us to the destiny we were born for. The more we resist, the more suffering we will endure on our way to our destiny—whatever that may be. Because, isn’t it just like a human to make things more complicated than it has to be?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve explained something to my students 12 or 13 times and then I tell them to get to work and then they ask me what they are supposed to be doing. I explain it once more and they say: Oh, is that all?

Yes, dears. That’s all. Don’t make it more complicated than it is. And I remind myself of the same.

Don’t make it more complicated than it is.

Because isn’t that just like a human.