A crown of righteousness

Many students have left an impression on me but recently I thought of Kathryn, a girl with weekly-changing hair color, piercings and a sullen look that challenged anyone from getting too close. Could I give her a ride? Sure! When she muttered something about how annoyed I must be with teens like her, I was quick to say that nothing could be farther from the truth. “I love teenagers!” Her look said she didn’t believe me. I assured her: it’s true. I think they’re the most fun, exciting and interesting people around.
“No one likes us,” she muttered.
“Ha! Not so. I do.” I hoped my sincerity came through. My young friend left my van a little perplexed but hopefully more affirmed than when she got in.
I feel blessed to see teenagers differently. I see their potential as future adults; as kids with caring hearts, desirous of being themselves but also wanting relationships with accepting adults (though they’re often loath to let adults know that). God has created my heart to be drawn to them. Most of the time, when people learn that I’ve spent my entire adult career working with teens and love it more with each year, they are completely befuddled. It’s usually because they remember their own teen years fraught with heartache and confusion; a time where one foot is in adulthood while the other still resides in childhood.

As a former teen, I remember what it’s like to have a teen’s energy and stamina but also what it feels like to be young and foolish. I’m not young anymore but I have a clear perspective of those incidences that showed me in a less than flattering light in my youth. I keenly remember feeling embarrassed or ashamed or confused after a flub; sometimes getting yelled at, sometimes just feeling the sting of silence. Mostly, I puzzled things out on my own because as a Christian young lady, I “should have known better”; however, I was still a kid and needed someone to put their arm around me and tell me how to correct myself, make things right and then to soak in forgiveness and restoration.
As a mom of three kids, I’ve witnessed their own navigation of their teen years and cherished those times when a trusted adult loves them in their awkwardness or embarrassment. If you’re working, ministering or living with teens, you will have myriad opportunities to love them after a mistake.
I recently had a front row seat to a situation that brought this all to mind. As you could guess, it involved a young person and foolishness. Teens are not yet adept at interacting with people and they’re bound to hurt others – usually unintentionally. And so this girl did. She hurt others by her actions and felt terrible about it. Eventually, by the grace of God, things smoothed out but what a lesson for her! In this case, she made a mistake, was forgiven and then restored. Throughout this experience, what was loud and clear is that we’re not princesses born wearing a crown.

Because of what Jesus did, we’ve earned a crown of righteousness, but in our humanity, we forget and behave otherwise. We make mistakes; we offend; we frustrate. That’s to be expected. But those of us who’ve lived through our years of doing the same have a huge responsibility: to remind the younger person that the crown is there, they just have to live up to it.
It’s not just teenagers. Sometimes we all just need someone to hold that crown aloft for us to want to stand up high enough for it to rest on our head. The best, most wise people hold it a few inches above us and when they do, almost everyone will rise up to it.
I’m not always going to get it right, but I want to be the one who holds the crown over a teen’s precious head. I want to inspire them to be better and to forgive them when they’re not. After having so many students through the years, the most special to me are the ones who tell me years later that I did that for them. They don’t use those words, but it’s more like, “I knew other adults were annoyed by me or saw me as trouble. You seemed to like me.” Hey kid – I did. You’re amazing, fun, spunky…and full of potential. And I can see that crown hovering over your head. It was a little askew sometimes, but that’s okay. In His mercy, God let me adjust it every once in awhile. Now, go do that for someone else.

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Moms know best

It was too quiet.  Usually her pencil flew across the page, eager to write with me.  Today, however, was different.  She sat morosely, sniffing, pencil frozen.  I tried my hand at light-heartedness -silence; I showed her my poem in progress – silence; I nudged her with an idea – silence.  15 minutes later, the situation hadn’t improved.  Time to text mom: “Please come now.”  We waited under a heavy blanket of awkwardness.  All smiles, mom came in and daughter burst into tears.  She didn’t want to do poetry and listed the reasons why it was too much to surmount.  Wise and patient, I was privileged to watch this mom calm her daughter, listen to her, empathize with her and then to tell her that she WAS going to do it.  I was surprised, but pleasantly so.  Willing to forgo a lesson that was pushing too many buttons, I set it aside as this mom insisted that her daughter push through her fears and uncomfortable perceptions and work harder.  I was impressed.

So often, I see how we parents are too quick to give our kids a pass on something that the child deems too hard.  In actuality, it is my firm belief that our kids are much stronger and more resilient than we give them credit for.  This mom knew that.  Happily, she’s not the only one.  A few years ago, Terri knew that her son needed one-on-one instruction.  She was right.  Schooled that way, he blossomed and covered two year’s content in one year (and the next and the next).  Pam knew that her son needed a boost, someone to encourage him and hold him accountable.  Laura knew that after a year of single instruction, her son needed a peer group.  Bethany knew that though her son felt he couldn’t work at a certain level, she put him where he’d be challenged and now he’s so proud of the work he is capable of doing.

These moms knew best!  What I value about them is that they know their children.  They know when to push and when to back off; when to wait and when to nudge.  Allowing your child to make some of their educational decisions is considerate; but making the tough ones for them based on what is seen in them is wise.

My own son is a little smarty-pants and a fantastic reader (I burst with pride) but he won’t sign up for a challenge.  So, I created one for him.  It was as simple as handing him a fat book with a “Here.  Read this.  I give you a month.”  His eyes gaped at Roots – the most obese book on our shelves.  Other adults, feeling sorry for this kid’s poor predicament, lamented that even they, great readers that they are, hadn’t read that book.  I toyed with the idea of letting him off the hook, especially since it was paired with his lack of verve.  But I remembered these moms I admire and kept the expectation that he would finish it.  Wouldn’t you know it?  He did.  And now I hear him referencing it proudly.  And as for my student who cried over writing poetry?  She dug deep and found that not only could she do it, but she did it so well that her peers admired her for her skill.

My kids aren’t old enough quite yet to realize how their mom has them figured out.  True, they surprise me sometimes, but I want to be the first one to say “You can do this.”  Sometimes we need to give them the mercy of bowing out of something, but more often then not, when all that seemed too hard is said and done, when they’ve listened to their moms, they’ll see that mom was right.

A Buddhist and a Christian walk into a room….

I met a new friend a few years ago who I liked instantly.  I hoped that we would be able to know each other for a long time.   Then she shared that she was a Buddhist.  Oh.  I have no problem with that; it’s just that I’ve never known a Buddhist before.  This was new and it was a good new. We talked openly about things and what was most appealing were these words: “I’m not going to judge you.”   How refreshing!

I know all about judging because I feel like an expert some days.  It’s so hard for us NOT to judge and we do it so sub-consciously that it becomes our default setting.  Granted, some are better at this than others, but I’ve also heard from some amazingly honest people lately about how opinionated they are, how they find it easier to gripe about people than listen to them and they seem to have more fun with friends with they’re criticizing others. Hhmmm….

After thinking about these comments, I prayed about trying a different approach with people:  to assume the best more often, and to not judge but ask about what else might be going on so I can have a more complete picture than the one I knee-jerk guess.  Or, just praying for them. As a Christian, I have prayed for forgiveness many times for my critical spirit and my lack of grace with others.  There’s no excuse when Jesus has been generous to the point of giving His life for me.  But I also know I’m a sinful woman who can look Him full in the face and His mercy covers me anew each day.

And to that end, this morning my Buddhist friend called and left me crying when I hung up.  Not tears of sadness but from a weight of compassion.  She asked the right questions, listened compassionately and understood my vulnerability generously and accepted my honesty graciously.   That kind of love brought me to tears.  I don’t claim to understand a thing about Buddhism; and I have a long way to understanding the complex mysteries of my God and Father, but I know for certain when He brings two women together to bless each other.

So here I am, a committed Christian, wanting to be a little more like my Buddhist friend in her acceptance and openness of people.  It makes me think of others who aren’t Christians but have something about their natures that I want to emulate.  Speaking only for myself and not for Christians at large, I know that I live in a bubble of my own making.  To my shame, I can’t rattle off a list of non-Christian friends.  It’s not because I’ve intentionally avoided them, but because my orbit is a little too small.  I’m working on that – and excited about it.

When we first met, my friend asked me if it would be a problem for me to befriend her and I said No immediately.  For one, I rarely think of her religion and, I also believe God can use anyone and He clearly is using her to bless me.  As we approach Easter, I’m reminded of the new life that He gives us and I’m thankful that sometimes a new turn of heart comes from unlikely places and people.

Can you sum up your life in 6 words?

i can’t help it, I’m always on the prowl.  Magazines, flyers, books, sites, the backs of cereal boxes, for pity’s sakes… you name it, if it has words on it, I want to read it.   I scour, wander, search and I find.  Besides my own edification, I want to find an interesting writing assignments for my students, and to that end,  I stumbled across a book on six-word memoirs.  I tore through it, wishing I could know some of these people who so succinctly summed up and shared their lives in this form.

 

How do you even begin to start when asked to state your life in a mere six words?  Were it me, I could go in a number of different directions.  My health? How about Need replacement body; this one’s broken.  My family? Married kind, gentle, guy; never fight.  Or, Won kid lottery, have three winners.  My career: Best job: teens plus writing, reading.  My hobbies: Chocolate: bake, frost, share, slice, savor.

Here are my favorites:

Optimistic:

Curly haired sad kid chose fun.

Tragic childhood can lead to wisdom.

I live the perfect imperfect life.

Working with what God gave me.

 

Sweet:

Sweet wife, good sons; I’m rich.

Polio gave me a happy life.

We were each other’s favorite person.
There’s an interesting story behind these:

Almost a victim of my family.

Thought I would have more impact.

I fell far from the tree.

It was embarrassing so don’t ask.

 

Funny:

Without me, it is just aweso.

It’s pretty high, you go first.

Overjoyed I’m not like my sister.

Well, I thought it was funny.

Now it’s your turn.  I know I have readers who don’t post a comment but I’d love to see your six-word memoir. If you can sum up your life in six words, please do!

 

 

Meet Chuck

Two weeks ago I sat across from a 17 year old guy who slouched in his desk, waiting for my writing lesson.  He listened politely enough but when asked to write a sentence, he said matter-of-factly, “I can’t.”  The others filled me in:  he always says that. They didn’t encourage or expect him to do anything.   Unoffended, he confirmed that, in his own words, he “can’t do much.”  With a shrug, he looked at me blandly as I stared at him, incredulously.  Can this kid be serious?  I perceived no attitude, no defiance… just a simple statement of fact – from his point of view, that is.  Apparently, from the reaction of his peers, everyone just took his inability as the way it is.  Ha! Challenge accepted, kid.

I wish I could have introduced him to Chuck.  In case you didn’t know, Chuck Close is a world famous artist and I stumbled upon his work this week.  I was drawn to his concept of only using faces as his subjects but as I read more, I was more and more impressed; not with his work as much as with him.  His book tells of his growing up as an artist which is quite predictable, I guess, but what grabbed me is that this man graduated from high school not being able to add, subtract or multiply.  To say he had learning challenges is an understatement.  Yet, he graduated from three colleges, the last being Yale.

After finding much success with his art, marrying and raising daughters, he suffered a medical emergency which left him a quadriplegic.  Many would find it reasonable that his art career would be over but not this guy.  His assistants Velcro the brushes to his hands and he’s fashioned special chairs and lifts so he can work on his super-large paintings.  Impressed yet?  I am!  So I think back to this kid who told me he can’t write a simple sentence.  He was perfectly healthy and academically capable but his attitude was awful.  Actually, I’ve seen lots and lots of negative attitude but this guy was indifferent, which some would say is worse.

I’m happy to report that at the end of our time together, this young man found some inspiration and wrote two pages for me.  I ribbed him before I left, “Couldn’t even write a sentence, huh?  Look at you now.”  He seemed pleased and not a little surprised.  I hope that’s all it took to shake him from his complacency and realize that he has so much more ability that he thought he did.  I hope even more that he finds himself meeting people who let him know just how capable he is.  Even if he were to lose the use of all his limbs, he is STILL able to do so much.  After all, look at Chuck!

Can we “play well with others”?

Remember those teacher comments on your elementary school report cards?  Your parents loved to see “a pleasure to have in class” but that is an individual accolade.  “Plays well with others” shows you know how to interact with others which is a super important skill to have.  We live with all sorts of people who land somewhere on the continuum of being able to easily interact with people to those who more closely resemble Homer Simpson falling down a hill.  (Duh!, ugh! doh!)

“We are only successful if those around us are successful,”  rings true in so many arenas, especially the work world, yet some folks have a hard time embracing it.  Lately I’ve be made aware and reminded of some women who don’t want to share people as friends or celebrate when a peer succeeds.  I’ve been known to not talk about an accomplishment with certain women because they’re more likely to be miffed or fake-happy than to give me a hearty congratulations.  Other women make their poor friends “choose” between them and another friend when that friend offends them.  Seriously? Are our hearts not wide enough, our lives not full enough, our selves not confident enough to take joy in someone else?  This grieves me.

How do we define success?  Is it only what we accomplish?  Is it about our bank account?  A truly grounded person might be more inclined to point at a mature, self-less individual who lives to lift up another.  Those that are worried about making sure others know how great they are might be missing more than they realize.  Personally, someone who wants to hog the limelight is the least attractive in the room.  I’m drawn to the person who is interested in others, who asks good questions and genuinely listens to the answers; someone who might have a lovely resume but instead demonstrates qualities of concern and care for others.

And yet today, we’re awfully interested in ourselves.  I’m no different, most days, but I’m striving.   My good friend says it like this: I think it starts by cultivating a life focused wrongly on self.  It’s the Me Show starring ME.  We have forgotten how to celebrate with our neighbor who is going to Disney Land because we’re sad that our vacation’s highlight is a trip to the library.  No fair!  We don’t get out the poppers and bake a cake for one another enough because it’s all about us.  We need to learn how to be glad for each other while still rejoicing in the way God enriched our life.

My husband likes to end the day with a question for himself, “Have I blessed anyone today?”  This question alone allows for a stance of selflessness.  Each day, he’s looking for small ways to bless other people and every day, whether he realizes it or not, he does.  A full, rich and successful life is not the ME show.  Rather, it’s a life lived with such gratitude and others’ focus that we can celebrate with others as God blesses us each in the way He’s pre-ordained.  I would say that that being concerned about blessing others and celebrating them is one of the most loving way to play well with others.

Don’t let worry overwhelm your wonder

Two summers ago my son was preparing to go on his first Mexico mission’s trip.  At the time, the news was rife with stories of danger for travelers.  For that reason, the team had been advised by locals to not do the street ministry they typically did – it was just too dangerous.  A week before they were to leave, our youth pastor called and told me that the leaders felt the Spirit leading them to continue with the ministry; so strongly, in fact, that they were asking if it were all right if our son participated.  What could I say?  I trusted the team’s word from the Lord and I trust the Lord…there was only one answer: Of course.

That choice was based on love, not fear.  Before you think I’m a stranger to worry and fear, I could tell you stories that prove I’ve spent my time there.  However, not long before that summer, I’d learned about the difference between love-based prayer and fear-based prayer.  So much of our prayers and conversations are fear-based.  ‘What if’ and ‘They might’ sentence beginnings prove it.  If you think about your prayers, so many of them ask the Lord to cover our fears.  He does and wants us to bring to Him all our worries, but I’d found that when I prayed too many of those kinds of prayers, my thoughts followed.  Instead, I tried a new tact: love-based thoughts and prayers.  What a difference!!

So, after that phone call and all during the mission trip, I prayed love-based prayers for my son and the team.  I asked that they truly minister and bless; that their love for Him would outshine any darkness there; that their compassion would be strong for everyone they met…and on and on.  Not once did a fear enter my mind.  The Lord reassured me that everyone would come home overwhelmed with awe and wonder.

Not only did that happen, but my wonder for the  peace He provided and the accomplishments of His goals overwhelmed me, too.  My son experienced beautiful people, the using of his gifts, camaraderie of the team and a stepping out of himself that he couldn’t have, had he stayed home.  With that, was a wonder at what God did.  His hand was everywhere as they all shared stories of an ability to go beyond what their bodies and spirits could do, so they could reach people who needed their touch.

As for me, basing my prayers in love made all the difference.  Had I worried instead of waited for Him to show me his power, I would have missed out.  My son needed to go to Mexico to teach me that, I guess.  Now, even though the world would tell me I have plenty of issues to worry about, I just can’t because I know that around the corner is an experience that will leave me in wonder at what God has done.  If I worry, I miss it, because an important part is for me to trust him to work, set aside my worry and wait for the wonder.  It’ll come.  I know it will because He keeps allowing me to live it, one story at a time.  So if you’re tempted to worry, don’t.   The wonder’s coming.  Watch for it in hopeful and confident expectation.  He will come through because He is a love-based God.