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.
I’ve decided to start a new series of posts based on the Bible studies I’ve been writing for the young women at our church. This series is called authentic. Did you know authentic by definition means real, genuine, not copied or false–but my favorite part of the definition is the last made to be or look just like an original.
Genesis 1:26-28 says:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the mage of God he created him; male and female he created them.
(ESV, emphasis mine)
That means God literally created us to be authentic–just like the original (himself)–with power, authority and ownership over the things of this earth.
His word is filled with examples of God drawing his people back into their true authentic purpose. It is not a collection of fairy tales or outdated history. It is alive and can teach us about our lives and our own God-given purpose. These stories teach us to be authentic and remind us who the real protagonist of the Bible is. Not us, but God.
Stay tuned for the first installment (published 8/12/18)
I may be 32 years old, but being told that I have gotten 100% on something still makes me feel, well, proud.
Unfortunately, that is also my greatest struggle with sin–feeling as though I can do it by myself, that I can EARN a 100% with God, and forgetting life isn’t all about me.
This collection of Psalms (120-134) is a humbling reminder to me.
Named Psalms of Ascent, this collection has been the center of debate for scholars–when were they written? why were they written?–honestly, we don’t even know if they were written at the same time by different authors or collected later and assembled, but we do know that they are associated with the journey, or pilgrimage, to Jerusalem and moving up to the temple. In other words, moving closer to God. And the journey itself is clear in the written words.
While there is a lot to unpack in each individual psalm, I found a lot to work with when treating them as a group. A general progression is clear and emphasized in these poems with the use of repetition and analogy throughout.
First, we have an acknowledgment of God in Psalms 120-121; the poet(s) acknowledge the almighty power and presence of the Lord and his role in our lives. We move next into the pleas or appeals to God’s character. The plea of peace (122), followed by a plea for mercy (123), then an acknowledgment of the Lor’ds strength and favor (124), a plea for God’s goodness (125) and favor despite the hardships of life (126), and finally the joy, rest and rewards God grants to his people (127); what it ultimately boils down to is the promises of prosperity for trusting in God as his chosen people (128-129). In our next poetic phase we see repentance (130) with a recognition that we cannot achieve this, but rather it is granted through grace despite our naturally evil hearts (131). WIth a specific example of a man who sinned but still received the favor, pleasure, and promises of God (132), David’s story begins to tie all these poems together as the Psalms of Ascent end in thankfulness (1333) and praise (134) turning focus back to God and his awesome power and might.
These Psalms outline how we should approach God, but also teach how to grow closer to him. Although we are maybe not physically ascending, spiritually we can experience growth if we follow this example. Which, I’ll be the first to admit, I can always use some help with.
First, we must always acknowledge who God really is.
Beginning our prayers with the acknowledgment of God’s awesomeness and power takes the focus off us and places it where it should always be–on God. I use to think I was the protagonist in my own life. BUT I’M NOT! I am a minor character in God’s story, which is both humbling and restoring because it means I don’t always have to be in control of the outcome. Nor should I be. This life is not about me. It’s about Him. It always has been.
Next, we can appeal to God’s character for more purposeful lives.
This is a great supplication moment for peace, mercy, goodness, strength, and favor. BUT it’s not about YOU or ME; it’s supplication for ISREAL, aka God’s people. This is a time to focus on community and prayers for the local church and/or the church as a whole. The story STILL is not about me as an individual but about US as the bride of Christ. In helping others we grow closer to God, not in helping ourselves first.
After we focus our attention away from ourselves and our selfish needs then we can ask for forgiveness.
Amazingly, when we re-direct our focus, it highlights the many things we need to ask God to help us fix in our own hearts. We must then ask for forgiveness and accept the grace he offers us. In placing emphasis on God and other’s first, we abandon our pride and expose the places in our hearts that need work to be purified and made holy. Only then can we grow closer to God.
Finally, in the end we turn back to God, admitting to ourselves that the story has always been and will always be about Him, not us.
In reminding ourselves of the promises God has made and the promises he has fulfilled we are then able to humbly ask him for the desires of our hearts because then we will be less focused on what we get out of it and focused on the purpose of these supplications–how they can bring glory to God’s story, the only story that actually matters.
Acknowledging God, Appealing for others, Asking forgiveness and Admitting who the true protagonist is…
allows us to ascend toward him and grow both in faith and prosperity–being given, not earning, the only A+ that matters: God’s grace.
The Paradox of God’s Character (my journey through Psalms 110-118)
True honesty is a myth among the human race. As the boy Macduff observes to his mother in Macbeth:
And must they all be hanged that swear and lie? […] Who should hang them? […] Then the liars and swearers are fools, for there are liars and swearers enough to beat the honest men and hang up them. (Act 4 scene 2)
And he’s right. Honesty is out of fashion and has been since the fall of Eden. So it is no wonder that we sometimes judge God by our human standards. Even though we are made in the image of God, he is not human (he chose to become human as Jesus, but even so he retained his divinity), which means his character is not like that of the liars and swearers of Earth.
I think C. S. Lewis expresses the paradox of God’s character best in the novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when the children ask if Aslan (an allegorical representation of God) is safe, Mr. Bever responds with:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
This, paired with the psalms, leads me to draw a few conclusions about God that prove he is not hopelessly flawed like the human race.
God is unchanging
Humans have a hard time with change. Some people love it, but the vast majority of us have a hard time adjusting to any kind of change. Sure, it helps us grow and keeps us from being bored out of our minds, so change can be good, but adjusting to it is always a challenge. I wonder if this is because our hearts yearn for the one we were created in the image of an unchanging, steadfast, unsafe, King. Psalm 110:4 says that “the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind”; Psalm 117:2 reiterates this with “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever”; Psalm 118 repeats over and over again that His steadfast love endures forever. And this is just here in the psalms–the rest of his word is filled with other examples of how he is unchanging. He is alpha and omega–the same today, yesterday and forever.
God is faithful and just
When I think about the character of God, I am constantly reminded of the Israelites’ wandering through the desert. Over and over again they complained and whined and forgot about the Lord’s provisions. Over and over again Moses spoke to God, intervening for this unfaithful grumbling. Over and over again God demonstrated his faithfulness by sticking to his chosen people, but still like any loving father, teaching them that actions have consequences–proving his justice is real. As Psalm 111:7 says, “the work of His hands are faithful and just: all precepts are trustworthy. ” And God values this kind of faithfulness in his people. Psalm 112: 5-6 asserts this: “It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.” Remembered by the original and most high judge.
God is giving
When I feel like I’ve been overlooked, or forgotten, because (just being vulnerable here) this is something I struggle with a lot. A sense of insignificance. I have to remember that God is the giver of all good things. He wants to bless his people. He wants us to walk with him, not just talk about him or fear him. Psalm 113:9 is evidence: “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” Having a barren home can be…debilitating, even in our culture. And I’m not just talking about the inability to bear children, but the isolation that comes with perpetual singleness–and the way our culture seems to ask “what’s wrong with you” if you are not in a relationship by the time you are 30…or even earlier than that if you are a woman. God doesn’t see something is wrong with a woman who is ‘barren’ in any sense of the word. No. He sees an opportunity to give, to bless, and to honor this woman for her faithfulness and that is a hope that I hang on to every single day (no pun intended). Because, as Psalm 115:12-13 says: “The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Isreal; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great.” If I believe that God is unchanging, faithful and just then you better believe that he is one who will bless and give the most amazing gifts. Even if it’s not in the timing we might prefer.
God is not Safe.
I have been reading an excellent book by Mark Buchannan entitled Your God is too Safe. If you haven’t read it, you should start immediately. In our culture we have created this image of God–this cuddly, hang it up in the Sunday school image of a man in a white robe cuddling a lamb and smiling down at children. Sure, that may depict a fatherly image of God, but it’s not the whole picture. It neglects to consider the power of God. The mind-blowing awesomeness that is wrapped up in an all-powerful being who has no beginning and no end. Who can destroy us with one word–or heal–or create–or bless–a multifaceted triune of holiness that can’t be put in a nice little box that we take out with our Sunday best and then put away while we live the rest of our lives. The being who frightens and commands the seas and storms. Psalm 114:3-8a sums it up with “What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan that you turn back? O mountaints that ou skp like rams? O hills, like lambs? Trembel, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob who turns the rock into a pool of water…” Our God is not safe, nor should we try to make him so. But he is good, and for that we should ever be thankful.
Encouraging restoration, healing, and expression through writing.