Saturday, April 21, 2018

Becoming Real

Soon after becoming a follower of Jesus, I was taught a model for sharing my faith story with others. It looked like this:
1. What I was like before I came to trust Christ
2. How I came to know and believe in Jesus
3. How I've changed since becoming a believer in Jesus (just the good stuff!)

It's an effective model, but it's time to add number 4. I want a more complete picture of the Christian life, because what I see sometimes is just the happy, just the Facebook post, just the Instagram filtered. I want more. I want real.

I want:
4. How I am struggling today

I need to hear how believers are still fighting the good fight and keeping the faith. I need to know it's not always easy. I need truth and reality, not magic wand, silver bullet, Disney-happy-ever-after, because that is not where I live.

When I'm really sharing my story with you, I'm sharing myself. I'm giving you the good and the bad and the ugly. I let you in on, not just the victory, but the strife as well. Who wants to hang out with a person who experiences only sunshine and rainbows? How can that person possibly understand my very real problems? What I want is someone to share those conflicts with, someone who could pray with me, someone who might understand what I'm going through. Jeff VanVonderen once said that he wanted to hear a testimony where someone stands up in the church and says, 'I'm barely hanging on today and if God doesn't come through, I don't know what I'm going to do.' Because that is a real testimony too. Testimony is not just the good stuff, not just the blessing - it includes the whole story: the losses, the difficult, the trials.

Pain and failure are such great equalizers. We don't share the same upbringing, the same education, or bank accounts, but we have all been hurt. We all know what it is to fail. Those are the moments that call out to our humility and our humanity.

"Because of our innate pride, it is usually only in failure that we 
admit our need." -The Becomers

On my very first day of school, when I was just six years old, I was dropped off at the door to my classroom by my older sister. My mom was busy at home with my baby brother. I remember being anxious as I walked into the room and found my desk. Most of the other children had their mothers with them to help them adjust to this new world. I began to settle myself into my desk and I reached over to tuck my book-bag into the cubbie underneath. I leaned as far as I could to give the bag a final push. Suddenly, my desk tipped and fell on top of me with a crash. All the moms in the room jumped to attention to try to help me, but I was too fast for most of them. I was on my feet in a matter of seconds, dusting myself off, and picking up my Blue Horse notebook and Crayola crayons. At least one mom had put my desk back in place before I could get to that task. I slid back into my seat and pretended to be interested in the surface of my desk while wishing I was invisible.

When I reflect on that day, this is the question that pops into my mind: Why I so ashamed of being helped in my time of need? My answer is this: I wanted to appear "fine." There is something within me that is scared to death of allowing others to see my weakness. This fear can keep me trapped in spiritual and emotional isolation. Think of what I missed that day by being so "strong". I had missed the blessing of relationship, the blessing of kindness from the other moms, all because I was too embarrassed to look needy. 

Thankfully, God loved me enough to not let that be my last fall. Each failure ushers in another chance to open my soul to people, to take the risk, to be vulnerable. If I pass the opportunity up, God will bring more. He will not give up - He's so crazy consistent! We sometimes refer to Him as faithful. He will draw me with cords of lovingkindness until I feel safe enough or desperate enough to admit my need. And then He will arise to meet it. That's Who He is and what He does. The Father lets me fall so I can come face to face with my need for others and for Him.

He's making me real.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Start Where You Are

When I first began teaching Taylor, my firstborn, at home 20 or so years ago, I had aspirations. I ordered a challenging curriculum that included cursive for pre-K. I knew my daughter was bright, so why not push the limits? Excel, achieve, soar higher....blah, blah, blah. And maybe burn out any hope for a love of learning on the way to the trophy store.

That excelling and achieving began to look like a driven mother and a tearful child. I was starting to think homeschool was definitely not what I wanted to do. Didn't I originally decide to teach my child so I could spend more time with her instead of sending her away each day? Wasn't I drawn in by the idea of cuddling up and reading books together? That image was not matching up with the reality of  me demanding perfect penmanship from a four year old.

My focus had moved from being with Taylor and knowing Taylor into proving to the world the superiority of homeschooling. My child needed to be an academic rockstar! Clearly, I had lost my way. I had forgotten something: I was teaching a child, not a curriculum. Curriculum is just a tool. This child had an eternal soul that needed to be loved and led.

I went to my first home educator conference that spring; the year was 1997. My eyes were opened to a myriad of choices I had not known before. Different speakers reignited my desire to know my child and teach my child, to read good literature, to explore the arts, and to use natural curiosity to delve deeper. I walked away reflecting on the quote from W.B. Yeats, "Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire." What a relief to be able to leave the bucket concept behind and treat my child as a human being.
Fast forward to the present: this time I am teaching a child who is not my own. Morgan is a 7th grader that I get to teach two days a week. Like so many people, Morgan struggles with math. When that's happening, there is the crazy part of me that thinks, "Work harder. Do more. Push. Push. Push." But my older, wiser self says, "Slow down. Try another approach. Lower the target. Celebrate progress."

Morgan needs to start where she is at. She can't start anywhere else, so why bother with all those other starting places?

Sometimes the cookies need to be moved to the lower shelf so kids can reach them.

Last year I went to a sea lion show at the Georgia Aquarium. The trainers brought out the sea lions and had them perform. One of the newer sea lion pups, Neptune, was supposed to jump into the water and jump up to ring a bell. He missed the bell.The trainer had Neptune try again. He missed again. Then the trainer lowered the target about 12 inches. Neptune tried again and succeeded. The trainer said, "I want to help Neptune succeed, so I lowered the target." She tossed Neptune a fish as a reward for hitting the mark. "Neptune will learn to hit the higher target, but for now we want to reward any effort that moves in that direction."

That phrase kept replaying over and over in my mind: "I want to help Neptune succeed, so I lowered the target.... reward any effort that moves in the right direction." It was the opposite of raise the bar high. It was the opposite of push them into the deep end and they will learn how to swim. Granted, Neptune is a sea lion. But, that makes my point all the stronger: If a sea lion needs encouragement and a lowering of the target, how much more the human soul.

I remember working at my first mall job. It was in a small, trendy shop that set a sales goal for each employee. Every day I could walk in to work, look up at the giant chalkboard, see my name and the ridiculous sales goal written there. And every day I could leave with the same sense of failure because, yet again, I had failed to meet the expectation. I hated that. But it wasn't just me: no one ever made the goal. Everyone lost. We all went home losers. Every. Single. Day.  In related news, job turnover was high. No one really appreciated feeling like a loser.

I don't want to be like my manager at the mall boutique. I don't want to set the bar so high that people are filled with dread. I don't want my students to hate learning, to feel like failures, or just quit. I want to be like that Georgia Aquarium trainer. I want to help my children succeed. I want to lower the target so my students can hit it. I want to see the progress that Morgan is making and celebrate that. I don't want to get stuck in where someone else believes she ought to be. That's not real life. Real life is where we are and that is where we begin. 

With homeschool, with parenting, with work, with play, with everything we do, we begin with souls. That's who we are: imperfect, weak, human souls who need the bar lowered every now and then.