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.


I give myself back

Last night I watched “The Passion of the Christ” again and just like the first time I saw it, had a visceral response.  Even though it’s a film, it’s hard to watch someone I know be beaten and flogged for my sin.  Each time I hear/read/watch the story, I’m reminded of what He did for me and how badly I’d like to do something, anything in return.  But what do I have?  Today, the day between Good Friday and Easter, seems like the ideal day to reflect on giving back to the Lord for all He’s done for me.

George Macdonald wrote, “The last act of our Lord in thus commending his spirit at the close of his life, was only a summing up of what he had been doing all his life.  He had been offering this sacrifice, the sacrifice of himself” during His entire time on earth.  And, I’m reminded, He didn’t do it because he had to, but because he wanted to, which is why He’s called a Servant King. How does one give back?  What could possibly be good enough?

I’ve recently been frustrated with all the things I can‘t do because of a condition that sidelines me – this year more than most.  But this year, I have begun two new volunteer opportunities.  Guess that’s God’s way of telling me that even with less time, I still have time to give.  And He knows I love it.  It’s probably because I grew up with a volunteering mom.  When I was in 6th grade we spent dozens of hours each Christmas holiday wrapping presents at the mall for our school.  It was so tiring but we loved it.  I remember Wednesdays was the day she volunteered at the hospital and later, a number of other organizations over the years.

I’m not sure how intentional she was in thinking that her time was the Lord’s but I believe that strongly now.  He gave me gifts and inclinations.  He’s shown me that when I use them with people who give me a joy-jolt, it’s super fun.  Recently I read about a man who told the Spirit, “All that I am I hand over to you for you to live in it the life you please…Help yourself to it.”  When I’m volunteering, that’s how I feel.  ‘You gave me the desire to be here, you opened the doors and on top of it all, it feels good.’

Now before anyone writes that I don’t have to perform for Him, I know.  No one can ever accomplish or do enough to earn His love.  But because He loves me, I give my time and talent back to him.  So Happy Easter, Lord.  I give myself back to you this year.

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!

Temporary idiocy

Since I spend the majority of my time with teenagers, I sometimes get the honor of being a friend, too.  And when they get hurt, I offer my love through a listening ear.  Recently, a few of these dear people have unburdened their hearts with stories that leave me sad but thankfully, not confused.  Here’s how it goes:

As adults, we know that it doesn’t take long on this planet before someone’s going to hurt us.  Well, these friends of mine were hurt so badly and couldn’t understand why the people who they previously thought were friends were behaving so, well, unfriendly!  In one case, they were unrepentantly snubbed with merely a shrug and in another, were the scapegoat for someone else’s sins.  People on the periphery did nothing to help, just left them stranded in cold water.

In talking to them, one observation made us mildly cheered and that is that most people are just temporary idiots.  The periphery people, especially teenagers, are basically good, solid kids.  Their hearts are in the right place and they want to do the right thing, but when friends’ relationships sour, the folks on the fringe don’t know what to do.  So, they end up doing nothing, which can hurt in its covertness as much as the original hurt in its overtness. Saying nothing is sometimes the wisest route, but other times, saying nothing hurts terribly. This is where temporary idiocy comes in. Their silence or hurtful actions are hopefully temporary.  Usually when the dust settles, they can see they were in error in stranding their friend.  The true friend will tell them that later.

I know this because I had a friend do something similar to me.  She had distanced herself with giant bounds because she guessed I wouldn’t like a decision she made.  I had no idea why she was so cool, but I gave her space and didn’t freak out.  Almost a year later, she called me and shared that she had changed course and now wanted to talk.  It was one of the best talks ever because I could honestly tell her that ignoring me didn’t help either of us.  She had assumed incorrectly.  I was completely indifferent about her decision so her fears were ungrounded but just having her say she was a temporary idiot made me admire and love her more.

In a recent movie, I heard this wonderful line: The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.  Isn’t that true?  Our hearts and minds get entangled so easily, but our heads have hope!  When we give each other some time, and talk openly, we can confess that we all mess up.  With time, we come around.  May we all have the grace to give to each other generously through warm hearts and listening ears.

Squantos wanted

Know much about Squanto?  He was amazing.   Not only was he well-traveled for living in the 1600s, (okay mostly against his will, but hey, he still traveled), he was bilingual and a curious learner.  Most admirably, he apparently had a heart void of malice.  I imagine how movie producers could really take his story and make it full of nefarious plots, revenge against the white man, and scenes laced with bitterness, but that would not be true to the life this man lived.

So, why are more Squantos needed?  I don’t mean that we need interpreters for Native Americans or for others to work for the elite in shipping and trade like the original man did.  I mean we need curious learners who are willing to listen, absorb and then turn around and help.  Squanto was the bridge who stood between two cultures.  Seeing the need for help on both sides, he allowed himself to be a conduit to bless both sides by translating, explaining and demonstrating.  With him, others were able to thrive.

Too often, we are a bridge to nowhere.  Our spheres are small which means our influence is, too.  Mostly, we do our own thing, for our own people, for our own interests.  Many modern-day Squantos exist and they’re inspiring.  One couple gives up to 70% of their income away to those they know need it more (and they are not rich by anyone’s standards), one couple chooses to live in a neighborhood with people who outwardly are not like them so ministry opportunities will abound.  I know two people who are retirement age who are busier than ever blessing people by listening to, traveling to and serving alongside them.  Agencies exist to help those who struggle to help themselves, who society would deem unreachable in many ways.  Here are our Squantos!!

Those might seem too lofty for some of us to attain today, although the Lord may allow some of us to bless in similar ways.  But after doing much listening lately, I know that more humble opportunities await us all.  Here’s a few you can take to the bank:  someone you know needs you to stop talking about your stuff for a bit and listen to them talk about what’s on their heart and mind.  Someone you know is pretending their life is all together but they have a deep ache/need.  An agency near you needs more volunteers.  An older and/or ill person craves a phone call or an invitation to coffee.  Someone outside your family looks in at yours longingly.

I’ve been stepping into Squanto’s moccasins more lately and I’m here to tell you, it blesses me more than it blesses others.   The need is so incredibly great.  Join me?


Is anybody listening?

Recently I was poking around in a furniture consignment shop with my daughter when a man came in and spoke to the employee.  Seeing a large bench, the kind that might have been outside an old general store once, he told her, “I’m looking for a couple of benches, white, for our kitchen.  My wife would like them about this length but more modern-looking.”

Wanting to be helpful, the employee asked, “So you’d like some stools?”  (Now they had my attention.)  “Uh, no.”  Okay, what are you looking for?  He repeats himself.  Then she asked which color at which point I wanted to say, “he’s said ‘white’ twice, m’am.”  He was more patient than I was.  She continued on with questions that, had she been listening, would have been irrelevant but eventually, the man moved on, without the benches.

Oh that this were rare.  I just came from an engagement where someone bemoaned to me how good listeners are in short supply.  I know this is true because I teach.  Those kids light up my life but goodness, they are not good listeners!  But, neither are adults.  Back to my friend.  This person is gifted in listening skills.  So much so, that whenever he’s with another, they always share their concerns and hurts.  “Just one person,”  he said. “I’d like just one person who would ask how I’m doing.  I have things I need to talk about but everyone’s so busy telling me stuff, I get no opportunity to share my stuff.”

I could empathize because I often find myself on the same end of the conversation.  Don’t get me wrong:  I’ll take someone who likes to talk over someone who’s more reticent but I’d love to see a little more balance.  After all,  “The most basic and powerful way to connect with another person is to listen.  Just listen.  Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.”  (Rachel Remen)    Listening well is more than preventing the annoyance of having to repeat  words.  It’s paying attention to someone else.  That connection with another is what so many people long for.   Maybe that’s why listening is so difficult for so many.  Listening requires concentration and the ability to key into non-verbals.

The Chinese symbol encapsulates what we need to do when we have opportunity to listen to another.  Engage your ears, yes, but also all of you.  This includes your eyes (what does their body language tell you?), your heart (what can be ‘read’ between the lines?), and give them your undivided attention (don’t scan the room looking for a distraction, don’t butt in with another topic).  Of course there’s time for less serious banter but you should know when someone needs to talk, really talk.

So I’m praying that this person would find others who are as good at listening as he is and that soon, he could share his heart.  Maybe he will have the courage, as I have had to on some occasions, to honestly say to another, “I need to talk” and that listener would allow him to do so.  What a lovely gift to give to another – to put yourself aside for a bit and just listen.  What a sweet way to give someone else your heart.

Not my problem

I’ve always cringed when I’ve heard people say those words,  “Hey, not my problem!”  It comes across so flippantly, so lacking in compassion.  Usually it occurs when someone they work or live with has an issue and, not wanting to get involved or help, they simply pop out a “not my problem” and walk away.  It dumbfounds me.  Variations I’ve heard are, “Sucks to be you,” or “Tough luck,”  or worse, “Glad I’m not you!”

One of the reasons I love my husband is that he cares about what I care about.  I remember years ago being frantic about a missing photo.  I was nearing a mild panic when he came home for lunch and saw me searching.  He could have easily gotten himself something to eat and read the paper while I searched, but he got right to work.  After we found it, I told him how much I appreciated how he took the time to absorb my stress and rolled up his sleeves to get to work at alleviating it.  He said, “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.”  (insert dreamy sigh)

Just today God blessed me with solving another problem.  This was one that I had no idea how to solve and three phone calls and one piece of solicited advice had gotten me nowhere fast.  I imagined a few worst-case scenarios as I took a walk, telling my hubbie about this problem and not having a clue what to do about it.  But I’ve learned a few things over the years and I concluded as I have with many other topics in the past: “It’s not my problem to solve.  God knows about it.  He can deal with it quite capably.  Let’s see what He does.”

Well I only had to wait three days.  Not only did I learn that my problem is solve-able but it has the best, I-never-dreamed-I could-have-it-this-good solution!!  Though I did some leg-work to get this issue addressed, I did nothing but receive this news as gift straight from His hand.  Knowing that He is trust-worthy and more than able to meet my needs has been a beautiful part of my day.

So if there’s something you worry about or causes you stress, ask yourself if maybe it isn’t your problem to solve.  Give it to the One who is more than able to meet and surpass your problems, because if it’s important to you, it’s important to Him.