Please….use me!!

Seems an odd request to ask to be used, doesn’t it?  Most people get their back up pretty quickly if they feel they’re being taken advantage of, or used. But I’ve noticed something over the last few years:  even though we’re surrounded by talented and open-hearted people, we rarely use their gifts.  I believe there’s something Biblical in doing so; after all, God has gifted each one of with a unique skill set.  Even those who claim to not be gifted in anything are, happily, wrong!

How many people are walking around with the mistaken notion that they’re not needed or valued?  Too many, I’m afraid.  It makes me sad, but what makes me mad, is when people offer their gifts and skills in the face of a clear, in-your-face, at-this-moment need and they’re met with a “we’re good.”  As in, we don’t need your help.  Really? A willing, able, wants-to-help person you’re just turning away?  Yep.  I’ve seen it and unfortunately experienced often enough, now I’m just upset.  Why do we do this to each other?

At churches and high schools across the country, we take tests that are designed to pinpoint our gifts.  I always thought it a little odd when folks over 30 don’t know theirs. But dutifully we take these tests.  I’ve done so at least four times.  Each time the results are non-surprising.  Beyond those tests are just observations of activities I do that bring me joy.  Since I’ve had offers to use those gifts rebuffed a few times, I am more sensitive (or I like to think I am) to others who dare offer a service or skill.  I jump at the chance to let them.  Since I work with junior high kids primarily, I’m especially keen on taking them up on offers so they learn right away how helpful valuable they can be.  They love it!

A juxtaposition I can’t forget:  I’m sitting in Bible study with a woman in her early 70s.  We’re in the proverbial circle talking about our gifts and she’s sure she has none.  She explains how she watches her two granddaughters a few days a week and takes them where they need to go, plays with them, makes puzzles, helps with reading.  While there, she also cleans up for her daughter, the mom, and does laundry so when mom comes home from work, she is greeted to order and calm.  “But I don’t really have any gifts that I can think of.”  I loudly harrumphed.  I did.  Really?!?!  Then, a 12 year old girl hears her 11 year old friend talk about how lost she feels as a child of divorced parents and how she’s been through “too much drama” already.  Two weeks later, those girls are doing a private Bible study with two other little girls and the 12 year old uses her passion to plan and prepare and welcome, anchoring her friend’s weekend.

From these people I’ve learned a few things: when the tables need to be moved in my classroom and I can do it myself, I ask students to do it.  When a teenager tells me about their trouble coming to a life decision, I listen and assure them they have all the skills they need to make the right one and that I believe in them.  When a kid wants an answer after “struggling” for only a minute, I tell them I’m confident they can persevere…then affirm, affirm, affirm when they get it.  Sometimes our gifts lie in our ingenuity, sometimes in creativity, sometimes in just believing that we can offer the world something of value, even if considered insignificant by some.  But for Pete’s sake, don’t you dare think that of yourself, and if someone offers a gift, thank them and use it.  I’m begging you!


Falling down and getting up

Our son is a freshman in college and like most who leave home for the first time and experiment with independence, meet new friends & experience new living conditions and expectations, he’s had what Brennan Manning calls his share of “falling downs and getting ups.”  Manning called his own life “one ragged journey of” those falling downs and getting ups, but thankfully, our son has had only periodic slips and spills.

As a college student myself – heck, as a person on this planet!, I’ve done the same.  My journey hasn’t been what I would call ragged, but I’ve had ragged years and ragged emotional episodes – more frequently than I’d like to admit. Of course I can look back and see God’s hand in my life, but I scratch my head sometime at injustices, inequities and just plain confusing events.  In writing about Trusting God over the first 10 months of this year, I learned some valuable things, but also still have those moments where I’m left wondering what He’s doing.

That’s where trust comes in, but Trusting God becomes more challenging when you can’t see what He’s doing or feel you’re taking too many dings on the journey.  Those who feel like they fall down more than they get up have a harder time trusting God and that makes sense because we often make our lives about us.  When we fret, stew and complain about our lives, what we’re really saying it we’re not happy with how it is affecting us.  Like, if we had some control, we’d sure do things differently, we wouldn’t hurt so badly, life would be more fair and voila!  a natural outcome would be an ease in trusting God.  That’s what He wants, isn’t it?

I imagine Him saying, “Awww,,,isn’t she cute?  She really thinks that’s how I work?”  Yeah.  It’s true that the shadow of the cross falls across our lives in many forms and we’re left saying, “Really God?  This is what you want for my life?”  Then the seeds of mistrust get sown and the warehouse of worry starts cranking out anxious thoughts and we ask, “How could He let this happen?”  But what a narrow view that is.  The consensus of the great spiritual writers I read in preparing for writing my talks all say that it requires heroic courage to trust in the love of God despite the events of our lives.  Some days it might feel like more than we have within us to do, but it takes a surrender to say yes to Jesus’ command to “Trust God and trust in [him].”

The odds are pretty good that in the years that I have left here, I’ll continue falling down. Sometimes I battle trust.   My mind does, anyway.  But is that really necessary?  I think it’s kind of unnecessary, actually.  Trust isn’t self-generated  so there’s no reason to beat myself up if I feel like I don’t trust enough.  What I can do instead is surrender to the events of my life, knowing that they’re all in His will for it. Since I’m a girl who likes to have things to do, I assign myself these tasks then: pay attention to His faithfulness, remember that He keeps His promises and when I’ve checked those off my list each day, I’ll be ushered into a trust that God gives to me.  And I can do that with boundless confidence and no reservations.

So bring on the banana peels!  I know I’m going to fall down, but He certainly won’t allow me to stay down.  Thanks, God!!








My journey with words

I’ve spent my life with words.  Not just studying, but playing with, analyzing, thinking about and admiring them.  Teaching English, therefore, is a joy.  I get to immerse myself in words and there’s a never-ending supply of them!  They jump out at me, lean against me and whisper to me most often when I’m with my students and they catch my gasp as I touch a word in awe or delight.   An odd profession for someone who didn’t grow up around books, I realize.

To the surprise of my students, I tell them that I represent a paradox: my childhood home contained only the Bible and coloring books.  Sure, my mom invested in encyclopedias once, but the rest of the family looked at them suspiciously, at best.  I wanted to read them cover to cover, but the unspoken question was always, why?    So I read privately.  I rode my bike to the public library and sat among the books –  content to just be among them. Of course I browsed and read, too, but I also somehow knew that I was on to something.

Elementary school meant reading through all the stories in color-coded boxes.  I knew that I was a good reader because of the box’s color and the speed with which I progressed, but what I really cared about was reading more.  In junior high, I remember reading “The Monkey’s Paw” and the teacher unlocked a few secrets: there was order and reason to the author’s craft.  Layers existed that I could see and it was so exciting!  Then…the  high school.  It boasted a larger library and I spent many hours there crook-necked as I scanned the spines. Just reading, putting titles and authors together.
It was in 10th grade that I realized that I had a knack for this.  My teacher took notice of my affinity and encouraged me.  By twelfth grade, I was in love.  I had always known I’d attend college, but now I had a purpose: I would learn more about books and writing and if I was lucky, could spend many years among these friends.    And I have…but what I didn’t know at the time was that my students would become my friends, too.  It’s not that I don’t have healthy peer relationships – I do, but with my students I can get giddy about a story or hug a book (yes, I literally do this) or marvel at a word’s nuances.

I don’t want this journey to end, and I don’t know where I’m going but as long as I have a well-turned phrase waiting around the corner, I’ll enjoy the ride.