Tag Archives: challenge

My Hero: My Journey Through Psalms (71-72)

From the time that I was a little girl, I have always loved hero stories. Even now, these are my favorite stories to teach. A hero receives a call to adventure, grabs a couple of friends, departs for an unknown world, manages the trials and crises,  and then returns home, triumphant with a prize that regales the people with his bravery and heroism. In fact, my fondest memories are centered around watching a show or movie about a hero and then acting out the roles with my BFFs. First, it was the Ninja Turtles, then Power Rangers and Captain Planet, but I rarely wanted to be THE hero. Typically, I chose the ‘weakest’ hero or even the ‘damsel in distress’. My favorite  thing was pretending I needed to be rescued–and then feeling a RUSH when I was–even if it was only from make-believe monsters and villains.

As a child, it was easy for me to embrace the weaknesses and recognize that heroes should be greater than I.

As an adult, well, it’s a lesson I still have to learn sometimes…okay, a lot of times…okay, daily.

In Psalm 71, David is quick to recognize his own weaknesses: “Rescue me and deliver me into your righteousness,” he calls. And then, “turn your ear and save me.” The poet cries out. Because heroes must receive a call to action for the adventure to begin, and it is only through the adventure that rescuing can occur. As a child, I thrilled in my voice echoing through the neighborhood, signaling to my ‘hero’ I needed help, but today I often let my pride overcome that inner desire for a hero to rescue me. And I remain silent.

It is in that silence that I am bound and captive. 

My hero wants to save me. He keeps the lines open and his ears tuned in…waiting…but I do not call.

And without that call, my hero’s Status Quo remains stagnant. No growth can happen unless my hero and I take that adventure head on.

My enemy seizes this opportunity–thrilled to strike while I am still bound. They say, “God has forsaken him [or her]; pursue him [or her] for no one will rescue him [or her]” (v. 11).

Because you simply cannot be rescued if you don’t call for help. Even David, a mighty and brave warrior recognized this: “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help […] and save the needy from death”(72:12-13)

And so I dig deep, searching for the little girl I once was. The girl who thrilled to be rescued, who realized that only when you are weak and vulnerable will your hero come and save you. Because the proud and strong don’t see the need for a hero. They shut him out and claim “I’m okay” and “I can do it myself”.

But I can’t.

The weaker I become, the stronger I must lean on the original hero.

Really, the only hero.

My hero.

My God.

Because my God “will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon and through all the generations” (72:5), which is what all heroes aim to achieve, but only the ultimate hero can, and will, achieve!


God is a Romantic

I’ve always been a realist. I like things to be tangible, logical, accountable. If I can see, taste and touch it then I can account for how and why something happened, make good decisions, and accurately assess the consequences—both good and bad. This is how I live my life. Boring? Perhaps. Predictable? I suppose. To me, it’s safe, understandable, stable…

It’s not that bad things don’t happen to me, that is not what I mean, but that I usually understand why both good and bad happen because I can analyze the reality of the situation…usually.

Unfortunately I was convicted this week by my safe, stable environment. The fact that my world is so secure, is not necessarily good. Because God is not a realist.

God is a Romantic, probably the ultimate Romantic. And the stories he writes for each of us is more beautiful and full of inexplicable, delightful acts of love full of as much passion as we will allow. And that’s just the thing. My nature is limiting to God. Not that I control him, but I continually try to control what he is and what he does in my life to keep everything in order. Safe. Secure. Real.

How depressing.

Instead of experiencing the awesome power and passion that God has in store for me, I try to tell God when and where I need it, like I know better than he does.

But I don’t.

Intellectually, I recognize this, but intellectually is really the problem so I am working on a heart transplant. Becoming more open, freeing myself from this mind trap of realism and shifting my attitude toward the possibilities. As I told my students when we studied American Romanticism: Romantics see what could be, realists see what is.

Expecting more from God invites him to work his incredible and awesome power into our lives, and that passion shakes things up and shows us what it means to truly be alive. After all, we should live, not just be.

So this is my prayer: Lord, free me from my own limitations. I want to see your power and presence at work in my life even if it rocks my world…especially if it rocks my world. Amen.



Accepting Your Gifts

I work with teenagers. It’s kinda what I do. I used to think that it wasn’t who I am, but I’m not sure that’s true. I know that they say your job isn’t who you are, but I think if you are really lucky—or no, really blessed—your job IS who you are. After all. You spend about 60% (or in my case more like 80%) of your day at your job. Having it define you, in a good way, can (in fact) be a good thing.

But I’ve struggled with that, because I don’t want it to be my only thing. Being a workaholic isn’t my goal, but being a dedicated member of God’s world is. And when you find your calling and you happen to be able to make it your job, we should rejoice over that—no matter how frustrating it can get.

Which is why I said I work with teenagers, not that I’m a teacher. I am a teacher, but I don’t believe my calling is really limited to teacher. Ask anyone who has ever taught for even five minutes and you’ll understand what I mean. There are memes and blogs and caricatures, and all sorts of other things that list the “job” of a teacher and most of them are true. I teach, yes, but that’s really not  my primary “job”.  If it was, I wouldn’t work with teenagers.

Whenever someone asks me what I do, I always get one of these reactions (or variations):

  • Wow, that’s awesome. I could never do that, but I’m glad someone does!
  • Teenagers huh? I think the only thing more challenging would be middle schoolers.
  • How do you do that?

I didn’t know how to answer that for a long time, because yeah, someone needs to work with them and sometimes people are working with teens who really shouldn’t be. And yes, middle school is challenging, but challenging in its own way. Just like if you put me in an elementary school I’d probably be kicked out because half the class would be crying in absolute frustration (I’m not meant to work with that age!). And how do I do that? Well, I just do. There isn’t some kind of magic formula. If there was, then we wouldn’t have a teacher shortage because we could train almost anyone to do it.

Finally I came up with an answer I liked. And It seems to really resound with most of the people I talk to—and will bring me back to my original point.

I treat teenagers like people. Because that’s what they are, they’re just people. Yeah, they have a few more hormones bouncing around them, but seriously I know 30 year olds who have less control over their hormones than my students. What I think people fail to realize is that teenagers are people who have needs, wants, hopes, dreams, desires, loves, just like we do and when you tap into that and realize you are not just a teacher—you work with teenagers. Well, that’s when magic happens.

I may not always be a teacher. I never know what the future holds, but I do know that I will always work with teenagers because they are a part of me. I was never good at being a teenager, but who is really? It’s our job as the body of Christ to perform our function, and once we find that function we build it up—creating muscle, not fat.

“So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” Because, really, that’s the only way any of us win.

Local Paragons XI: A Ripple in the Water (local Author review)

A Ripple in the Water by Donna Small

A summer fling turns into something more in this scandalous tale of age defying love. Touching on controversial themes, particularly that of women dating younger men and the stigma attached, Donna Small spins a fascinating narrative. Having been a lifeguard at a local pool, I could particularly relate to and connect with the culture Ms. Small describes so effectively in the novel to set up for this May-December, no more like May-Augustan romance. Though some of the scenes are a bit redundant and I would have liked to see the characters developed through actions and events more than descriptions and hind sights, overall I enjoyed the narrative. The themes were easy to connect to (though could have been explored more–and may still be), and the characters are realistic. The end leaves readers craving for another Kate Penner story, which hopefully Ms. Small will deliver soon.

Local Color:                        Readability:                      Plot development:

<3 <3 <3                             <3 <3 <3 <3                      <3 <3 <3

The flash of lights illuminated the darkened hallway. He didn’t know if the lights were from a patient’s monitor, or a crash cart, or something else but it didn’t matter. He maneuvered through the maze of sterile eggshell walls, one after the other, until he finally came to room 467. This is where they said Lucy was—for now anyway.

Chris raised his hand to knock on the door, but it opened before he was able and he stood, slackjawed, staring hard at the unfamiliar face of a man in a bleached white coat as he emerged from the room.

Doctor, his mind registered as he scanned, first the man’s face, then searched for a nametag.

“Hi,” he stuck his hand out, pulling the door shut behind him. “I’m Saul. Lucy’s sleeping, finally.”

“Chris.” He stuck out his hand to shake, feeling the grip tighten as their palms connected. Chris cleared his throat before letting his anxiety fuel the questions. “How is she? What’s wrong with her?”

“Are you family?” Saul’s eyebrow raised.

“Not technically,” Chris flinched. “But I’m her emergency contact—close as family.”

Saul crossed his arms over his chest and widened his stance. To Chris he seemed to be blocking the door to room 467 behind him. With ever-increasing adrenaline pumping in his veins, he felt the heat rise to his face as his muscles tensed.

Chris clinched his fingers together until he made a fist at his side. “Then get out of my way,” he muttered through clinched teeth. “I’ll ask Lucy myself.”

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that,” Saul’s immovable frame blocked his entrance. “She’s resting now and visitor’s hours—“

“The hell you can’t,” Chris took a step forward, but the doors at the end of the hall flew open and his head jerked at the sound of his name on Susie St. James’ lips.

“Chris, thank God. How is she? What’s going on?” Lucy’s sister looked frantic; her eyes were filled with moisture and her hair was pulled into a mussed up, messy pony tail with a Cheerio stuck to the end of one strand.

“I don’t know,” Chris gritted as he pulled the Cheerio free. “They won’t tell me anything since I’m not family.” He glared at Saul, who still hadn’t moved from in front of the door.

“What,” Susie turned and faced Saul. “What’s going on? Where is Lucy?”

“She’s okay,” Saul said, tucking his clipboard under one arm now. “The doctor has been in to see her and she’s stable.”

“The doctor?” Chris looked at Saul, his eyes narrowing into slits. “But I thought—“

Saul didn’t wait for him to finish before continuing with, “She had two seizures. One while we were at dinner, then a second one on the way to the hospital. Although it is too soon to tell anything definitive yet—“

You were at dinner?” Chris parroted him, his hands now crossed over his chest as he began connecting the dots.

“The doctor suspects, based on preliminary scans only, a brain tumor. We’ll know more after the MRI.”

Susie’s legs nearly gave way beneath her, but Chris reached out to steady her. With one hand under her elbow she pulled in a shaky breath, closing her eyes against the overwhelming possibilities.

“Don’t panic,” Saul reached out and touched her arm consolingly. “We don’t know enough yet to even be sure it’s a tumor. You should take it one day at a time.”

“Have you told Lucy yet?” Susie asked, her voice shaking.

Saul nodded. “She’s resting now.”

“Can we see her?” Susie asked, standing up a little straighter. Saul cleared his throat, hesitated, then nodded as he stepped aside. Chris didn’t exactly push him out of the way, but he did brush shoulders with him as he followed Susie into the room.

Lucy wasn’t sleeping. She was sitting up in bed, staring at a novel. Chris didn’t think she was reading, her eyes looked blank as she stared at the pages.

“Hey Luce,” Susie came in, sliding up to the bed. Lucy started, but the second she locked eyes with her sister, tears filled her eyes and spilled over her lids. “Oh baby.” Susie rushed in and enfolded her baby sister in her arms, setting aside the novel—A Ripple in the Water as she did so.

Lucy sobbed into her sister’s shoulder and Chris stood awkwardly in the background as Susie murmured soothing words to band aid the gaping wound the word ‘tumor’ had left on the room.

“I’m okay,” Lucy said, pulling back. “Sorry I fell apart like that. I just—“ she hiccupped and Susie laughed.

“You never could cry without getting the hiccups, even when you were a baby.”

“I know,” Lucy hiccupped again. “I’ve been trying to find time to read this novel for weeks now—carrying it around in my purse. I read the back of it and it looks so good! Fascinating and like a real drama—but this isn’t how I wanted to make the time.”

“They don’t know anything really, yet, Lucy,” Susie said again. “No need for us to get worked up.”

Chris admired her strength. Susie had always been that for Lucy, and even though he knew she was panicking herself, she hid it well for her sister’s sake.

“I know, but—“

“No buts,” Susie patted her leg. “We’ll take it one day at a time. Okay?”

Lucy took a deep breath, focusing on the rippling water in the photograph on the front of her novel. “Okay,” she breathed out.

But unlike in the small ripples photograph, Chris knew this was a rock thrown into their lake—and the ripples had just begun.

Local Paragons X: River Birch

River Birch Lodge is local paragon located on Robinhood Road in Winston Salem, North Carolina. One of my favorite things about the restaurant is the atmosphere. Nestled in an old neighborhood, the charm of the rustic historical lodges River Birch brings to the area really does add to the dining experience. The wait staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and the management is personable and open—especially to events. As they say on the website, “With towering ceilings of 100 year old yellow heart pine, large stone fireplaces, a comfortable back porch, family friendly bar, and a signature handcrafted chandelier, River Birch Lodge draws on natural mountain grandeur to provide you with a comfortable and casual dining experience.”

Local color: <3 <3 <3 <3                                Food: <3 <3 <3 <3

“The décor in here; it’s just so, so, adorable,” Lilly pointed to a spot above Chris’ head even as she shook her head back and forth like a mechanical doll. “Is that a papoose?”


Chris followed her gaze, then looked back at her wide-eyed innocent expression which seemed, at least to him, a bit overdone for a discussion of restaurant décor. Still, Lilly was great—good company and pretty in a baby doll kind of way. Her eyes were too big for her face, but it suited her. Her tight chestnut curls framed her face then spilled beautifully down her back, and he had to admit he loved the feel of it sliding through his fingers. Even now he found himself wanting to run his hands through it.

What’s more, Lilly genuinely liked him. Just him.

“Yeah, I think,” he said before lifting the glass of house Cabernet to his lips. It slid smoothly down his throat, drinking nicely after a long week. He’d spent most of it avoiding Lucy and the rest of it trying to convince himself he liked Lilly. And he’d been fighting with a particularly combative patient in the rehab center. “There are some skis in the corner there. Look like cross country, maybe replicas from the early turn of the 20th century.”

“Oooh,” her eyes nearly swallowed her face as she followed his gaze.

Chris resisted the urge to roll his eyes as he buttered a piece of bread. There was nothing wrong with Lilly—she just wasn’t Lucy.

“You seem like a real outdoorsy kind of guy,” she said oblivious to his musings. “Do you ski?”

“Not well. I’ve been once or twice. Last time I nearly took myself and a friend off the side of the mountain,” Chris smiled to himself, remembering the infuriated indignation flashing across Lucy’s face as she picked herself up out of the snow. A trip to forget the past, move on from Pete—but Lucy hadn’t been ready then. At least that’s what he told himself.

“Yikes,” Lilly laughed. “Ouch.”

“Yeah, ouch is right,’ Chis murmured, thinking less about the skiing and more about Lucy herself. “I’m much more of a water sportsman. Kayaks, water skis, surfing.”

“You surf?” she perked up. Chris could see the image in her mind and he hid his amusement behind he wine glass.

“Much better than I ski,” he said.

“Then you might be better at snowboarding. My brother says they use a lot of the same techniques for both. He’s been on the amateur surf circuit in California for a couple of years now.”

“Really?” Chris lifted a brow, more attentive now. “Does he want to go pro?”

“I think he’d like to,” Lilly leaned back as the waiter sat her Very Berry Salmon Salad in front of her. “Looks delicious. Thank you so much.”

Chris mentally put a check in the plus column for Lilly. He loved how nice and polite she was when they went out, and was about to comment when the waiter sat his on French Dip Beef and Brie Panini in front of him and his phone rang at the same time.

“Thanks man,” he said, reaching in his pocket to check the infernal device to make sure everything was alright at the hospital before putting it on vibrate. “Sorry, Lil,” he said.

“It’s no problem,” she nodded, not even looking up from the salad as she cut through it with her knife. “I know the price I pay for dating a doctor.”

Chris frowned as he looked at his sister’s number flashing across the screen. Katie didn’t usually call him, but she’d leave a message. He hit ignore before answering Lilly. “I’m not exactly a doctor you know.”

She shrugged, “Occupational therapist is pretty close.”

“I wouldn’t tell the guys who spend all that time in med school that,” Chris laughed, and picked up his sandwich, dipping it into the sauce. No sooner had he done so than his phone began buzzing in his pocket again. He frowned, dropped the sandwich and stared down at it.

“Why don’t you just take it?” Lilly said after swallowing a very small bite of her salad.

“It’s my sister,” Chris hit ignore again. “I don’t know why she doesn’t just text me.”

“Speaking as a sister,” Lilly said. “I would say don’t question it, just answer the phone.” She pointed her phone at him. He shrugged and took a bite of his sandwich. And then Katie called, again.

Now he was worried.

“I’m sorry, Lilly. Something must really be wrong. Will you excuse me?” He stood and walked toward the front of the restaurant away from the diners to answer. “Katie, this better be—“

“Shut up and listen, Chris,” Katie was breathing heavily. “They just took Lucy to the hospital in an ambulance. They couldn’t get ahold of her sister so they called me. I’m in New Orleans on a business trip, but I’m looking for flights back now. Can you get to the hospital? I don’t know what’s going on and they won’t tell me anything on the phone. I’m trying to get ahold of TJ, but he’s not—“

“I’m on my way, Katie. I’ll call you when I get to the hospital.”

“Thank God,” he heard her voice crack. “Chris I—“

“I know Katie. She’ll be OK,” he said even as he pulled his wallet out of his pocket. He stopped at the hostess station on his way back to his seat. “I need two to-go boxes at our table please. We have to leave now. It’s an emergency.”

He didn’t wait for the response, as he practically ran back to the table. “Lilly, I’m sorry to cut this short, but I have to go to the hospital now. It’s an emergency.”

The waiter appeared behind him with two to-go boxes. Chris handed them to Lilly, who stared at him dumbly as he pulled out money and threw it on the table. Stuffing his sandwich in one of the boxes, he impatiently waited for Lilly to pack up her salad.

“Is your sister okay?” Lilly managed as she closed the lid to the to-go box.

“Yeah, she’s okay. It’s,” Chris hesitated. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t want to tell Lilly it was Lucy in the hospital but something inside him held back. “It’s just a friend of ours. Katie is out of town and they won’t tell her anything on the phone. I need to go to the ER and see what I kind find out—just to make sure everything is okay.”

He was careful to avoid pronouns.

Lilly studied him, but said little as she followed him out to the car.

When they pulled into her driveway, Lilly leaned over and pulled his head down toward her until he could feel her breath on his cheek, “I hope your friend is okay.” Her whisper wrapped around him, disappearing into a supple, possessive kiss. Chris relaxed into the kiss, nearly forgetting his urgency, even as Lilly pulled back and then swayed her way into her house leaving him more confused than ever.