“Why did you put quotation marks around all your sentences?” I asked Emery.
She and I were editing the misspelled words in a story she’d written for school when I realized that every sentence had direct quotation marks around it.
Whether it contained actual dialogue or not. (And there was no actual dialogue in the story).
“My teacher told me to put them around sentences when someone talks,” she told me. “I talked. I told the whole story.”
(Clearly she doesn’t understand the difference between actual character dialogue and narration).
I was already agitated because of some other run-ins I had with her and her brother earlier in the day while trying to help them do their school work. I saw this as yet another task to accomplish that was standing between me and the end of the day.
So, I furiously erased all the quotation marks and moved on to do something else.
That moment came back to me a few days later because I was rereading something I wrote in my Bible study notes, and I stopped to make my direct quotation marks look better – they looked like tiny, weird curves suspended above the line on the page.
As I fixed my own punctuation, my memory flashed back to the quotation marks Emery used in her story – the ones I erased with almost enough force to rub holes in the page.
Her marks were PERFECT.
She took great care in making them all. The round part at the top (or bottom depending if they’re open- or close-quotation marks) and the curved tail coming off were perfection. I could tell she put a great deal of effort into making each one with her pencil.
But, I didn’t compliment her on them. I didn’t even notice how careful she’d been about forming them correctly when I was in that moment. I was too busy violently erasing them and brushing pink eraser scraps off the paper to fully take in how meticulously she’d made the marks.
Isn’t that what emotion does? Distracts us with irrelevant details and makes us miss what really matters…
I missed a chance to applaud her attention to detail – to point out something she’d done well. I didn’t exactly fuss at her about them, but I was clear about my frustration with having to erase all of them.
Who wouldn’t benefit from a pat on the back?
Who doesn’t need a little extra encouragement, especially during this time of separation and alienation?
We could all use some positivity right now.
I pray I don’t miss that moment the next time around.
I’m that parent. I don’t protect my children from every hardship. Struggling builds character. (Sounds like something my parents probably told me when I was younger. I imagine it infuriated me at the time time, but now I realize they were right…like they were about most of the stuff they told me).
Working through hardships helps children learn life skills such as endurance, perseverance (or stick-to-it-iveness as we call it where I’m from), stamina, and self-regulation. They learn about themselves: their strengths and weaknesses, what they can handle on their own, and when they need to ask for help.
These are all good things kids need to learn through the experience of living life as they figure out something hard or work through a challenge.
Of course, parents should support and encourage, but we don’t need to jump in and fix it or rescue them every time they hit a difficult place.
We can model how to work through the difficulty. We can support and encourage them with our words. We can help them talk through mistakes to figure out where they went wrong. We can assist them in developing strategies or alternatives for avoiding the same mistake in the future.
Here’s a conversation I had with Ethan yesterday:
Me – Well, that assignment took 2 hours. What happened?
E – I had to watch the video over a couple of times.
Me – Why?
E – I watched the video, but I didn’t know what the teacher wanted me to do afterwards. When I went read the assignment and what questions I was supposed to answer, I didn’t know any of the answers from the video, so I had to watch it again.
Me – What could you do differently next time so it doesn’t take that long?
E – Read the whole assignment first, write down the questions I need to answer from the video, take notes while I watch the video?
This is something his dad and I and his teachers have told him about doing assignments where you have to watch videos and answer questions with information from the videos. Many times when he does an assignment like that he doesn’t follow the advice he’s been given, so an assignment that could probably be completed in under an hour consumes more time than it should.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not awesome at this “natural consequences parenting”. Sometimes I panic when I foresee the outcome of one of their decisions. Occasionally, I feel bad when they struggle with a task. I want to offer a bail-out from time to time.
Especially when it comes to this virtual-learning-during-a-pandemic stuff. Recently, I have described our journey in virtual learning as “excruciating,” and I have begged for anybody and everybody to help me alleviate this pain. (Facebook friends may remember my desperate plea just last week when I was looking for suggestions for ways to help him stay focused while he does his school work virtually from home). In particular, virtual learning is a learning experience for me, too, but we keep at it every day.
What I do know is that I can’t rescue either of my kids from all their messes for their entire lives, so I probably shouldn’t get them used to it. Yes, they will need help negotiating lots of situations. Some will require a bail-out from mama or daddy. Other times, it might be best to let them stumble and maybe even fall on their faces (with me within arms reach of course – just in case) so they can figure out how to get themselves up again. Failure can be good for a person 😉
PS. After I wrote this today, I discovered that Ethan had gone through yet another video-watching assignment without following the advice for completing the assignment that I know that he knows (see our conversation above). When I asked him why it took him so long to do the assignment, he grinned at me…
Seriously. Go to Amazon or your favorite book seller right now, and order your copy. It is worth the $17 list price.
The Garden is for anybody experiencing fear, anxiety or stress or anyone who knows someone dealing with those issues. I would venture a guess to say…that’s pretty much all of us.
Gordon tells the story of the gospel through what he calls a “spiritual fable” – a narrative involving twin high-schoolers Jay and Kay and their neighbor Mr. Erwin.
Mr. Erwin befriends the siblings, and, using the garden he lovingly tends in his backyard, he helps them see how the enemy distracts people with lies and causes them to be fearful, anxious, and stressed. Then, Mr. Erwin reveals to the teens how God has already won the battle for them – all they have to do is avoid the 5 D’s which are the enemies tools for warfare.
I read this book because my son’s Sunday school teacher recommended it for parents of middle school or high school students, and I can see why. Everyone in my family will benefit from a discussion of the 5 D’s.
The copy I read actually belongs to my friend, but I will definitely purchase my own copy to reread and keep as a reference. I may even ask Ethan to read it himself since it reads like a narrative.
This book’s message is so timely because of the high-stress we’re living in right now with many still out of work due to the pandemic and school in an uproar. My son is most certainly experiencing some anxiety over starting middle school this year coupled with the challenges and frustrations of virtual learning. This, in turn is causing me fear, stress, and anxiety! I already feel more calm and confident after having read the book.
Buy it today and crack it open as soon as it arrives in the mail. It can’t come soon enough.
I especially love the idea of romantic love – I have since I can remember. I am a hopeless romantic.
But, since I surrendered my life to Christ, He has taught me that I don’t know anything about love. I thought it was something I was supposed to feel. An overwhelming, all-consuming emotion. It was supposed to make me happy and giddy and forever excited to see the person who was the object of my love.
While some of that isn’t totally inaccurate, it’s only one side of the story.
I have learned that a Christian’s love should focus on God above anyone or anything else; He is the primary object of our love.
We express our love for Him by being obedient to how He said to live and by demonstrating love to other people.
My mom was an elementary school teacher. She started teaching after she graduated college, at 21, and retired when she was in her late 50s. She loved her students, and she was excellent at her job. It was most definitely her calling in life.
Once a teacher, always a teacher though, and she has worked with all 4 of her grandchildren during their early years. They are all avid readers and super-smart (I am biased, of course, since two of her 4 grandchildren are my children).
Currently, she plans lessons using the North Carolina standards for kindergarten so she can supplement what my younger nephew does in his one day of face-to-face learning and support him on the days he is at home.
“I planned more than he could possibly do in one day, like every teacher does when they lesson plan,” she told me this afternoon when she visited my children on the way home from keeping my nephew until his parents and older brother got home from school.
Between you and me, I am certain that this woman will teach, in some capacity, until the day she dies.
Years ago, after I started my own teaching job (my sister is a teacher, too, as are 4 of my mom’s nieces – I’m not saying my mom had something to do with all of that, but who’s to say she didn’t…) and saw how much time it took outside the classroom to plan lessons and score work, I realized something: I have little to no memories of mama creating lesson plans or grading students’ work. Obviously she did both, but I have few memories of it.
I asked her about it once. She told me that she did it after school before she came home or at night after my sister and I went to bed.
When we were awake, she gave her time to caring for her family – cooking, cleaning, helping with homework, doing things together as a family. Her work was secondary to us.
She gave herself up for us. In humility, she counted the needs of her husband and children as more significant than her own needs. She looked not only to her own interests but to ours as well.
I had to live this out this past Monday. It was the first day of school, and our school district is doing what our governor calls “Plan B.” Students go to school one day a week for face-to-face learning with their teachers. The other four days of the week they learn virtually from home. The preschool where I worked the past two years closed in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic and elected not to reopen this fall, so I am home helping my children do their online learning. Monday, my children started 6th and 2nd grades on their computers.
It was hectic. Tedious. Frustrating.
We sat at our little round table in the kitchen and dove in. Both kids had their computers out. Although I had my own work to do to get my online class ready (I was able to pick up a course to teach online as an adjunct for a college), I knew better than to try to do anything. I knew that the day had to belong to my children.
I sat between them and literally went back and forth helping them figure out how to navigate their pages, find their assignments, learn how to do them, and submit them.
I wasn’t even upset. I knew it had to be done. The only way the first day of school had a chance to be anywhere near smooth or successful was for me to put aside what I wanted to do and focus on helping them get going.
It was painstaking. At times it was nerve wracking. But it was what had to be done. And it was what countless parents, grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, close family friends, or nannies did on Monday and will continue to do until we get these kids settled into a routine of online learning so they can work more independently.
What we did – what we do on a daily basis for our children, our spouses, our co-workers, our friends, the person behind us in the checkout line at the store that we let skip us because they’re holding 5 items and we have a cart full – is a demonstration of love – agapao.
And this is how God instructed us to show love to each other.
Ephesians 5:2 – And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (ESV, emphasis added).
When we give ourselves up for other people, when we consider others’ needs and interests as more important than our own, when we outdo each other in showing honor, when we count others as more significant than ourselves, when we look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others, we show love to those people. We act out love. We love the way God loved – or as closely as we are able to in our humanness.
Talk to God. Ask Him to show you how to love other people. Ask Him to show you ways to give yourself up for the people around you. Then, as soon as He shows you, act on it right away before the enemy can talk you out of it. It might be something big, or it might be something small. It might cost you money or time or energy, but God has promised to use our acts of love to soften hearts and bring people to Himself. And He promises a blessing on those who bless others.
Has this ever happened to you: Someone hurt your feelings? Talked about you behind your back? Someone was difficult to deal with? Made your life hard or unpleasant?
Of course. We’ve all experienced hurtful situations and challenging people. We may not think of these people literally as our enemies. I definitely don’t think of myself as having enemies. That word’s a little harsh. But we certainly don’t think fondly of people who have wronged us. I know I have people in my life who are difficult to love. They rub me the wrong way. Our personalities don’t mesh well.
However, Jesus was clear that believers must love our neighbor – anybody we come into contact with during the course of our day – and we must love our enemy – the people who have hurt us.
Lately, I’ve been interested in exactly HOW to love others. Does the Bible give me specific instructions on exactly what to do to show love to my neighbor and my enemy?
To find out, I went back to the verse that started this whole thing: Ephesians 5:2, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (ESV).” And I studied the two Greek words for love used in the verse – agape and agapao. Agape is a noun: a thing, concept, or an idea. Agapao is a verb: something you do, an action.
Using the Blue Letter Bible app, I read through all the verses that used agapao and noted verses that gave explicit directions – something specific to do to show love. The first concrete instructions in the New Testament using the verb agapao were given by Jesus. In Matthew 5:44, he said, “But, I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (ESV – emphasis added).”
How do we love others? How do we love people who have done us wrong? Pray for them – all of them – the ones who wronged us, treated us poorly, talked about us behind our backs, don’t deserve our kindness…
Jesus told us to have a conversation with God about that person; that’s what prayer is anyway, a conversation with God.
Can you ask God to burn the bread they’re toasting for breakfast or to give that person a flat tire on the way to work?
But, you can ask God to change him or her…to make that person into someone who acts kindly, stops spreading rumors, leaves your child along at school. All those requests are fine. In our conversations with God, we’re allowed to tell Him our hearts’ desire.
However, Scripture specifically instructs us to pray for our enemies’ salvation, to express thankfulness for those people, and to pray for their well-being (1 Peter 3:9).
But, this has no place in the life of a Christ-follower. Jesus said we were to love the people who persecuted us. He also said, “do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27 ESV).”
The apostle Peter echoed this when he wrote, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing (1 Peter 3:9 ESV).”
Do good to people who hate you? Bless people who have done evil to! Can you imagine?
The Greek word used for bless means “speak well of,” and this is what God calls us to do. Don’t repay gossip with gossip or cruel words with cruel words.
Instead, try to say something pleasant to or about that person. Or, maybe try what my grandmother and mother taught me: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Do you know what might happen in prayer with God when you talk to him about this person who is difficult to love? He might have some things to say to you as well. A conversation goes two ways, right? He may convict your heart to pray for that person’s soul and salvation. He may encourage you to overlook the offensive things that person has done and will do. He may command you to forgive. To continue to be kind no matter how you’re treated. To speak well of that person (or at least to keep your mouth shut).
So, in your prayer time with God, specifically about this difficult person, who is God actually changing?
Crazy how that works, isn’t it.
I’m not saying the other person won’t also change as a result of your prayers. That is a likely outcome as well. But, God will definitely change you during your time in prayer with him.
Right now, think of a person in your life who is difficult to deal with. Someone who has said something to you or about you or done somehting to you and upset you.
Stop right now and pray for that person. Ask God to speak to that person’s heart. Ask God to pursue that person for an intimate relationship like He (hopefully) has with you. Pray for that person’s soul and salvation. Pray for that person’s family. Job. Health.
Ask God to tell you other ways you could show kindness and love for that person and ask Him to give you the strength to do it.
Give God a chance to show you what He can do.
Maybe this sounds unrealistic or oversimplified. And honestly, you won’t see the outcome you want from each “enemy” you pray for. But that doesn’t matter. It’s what Jesus taught, so it is what God expects. As His children, we should respond with obedience, no matter the outcome.
I read Scripture and took notes on how to walk in love for over a week and prayed for God to show me practical ways to love the people around me. But, I almost missed it when He told me something to do.
In the stillness of a recent morning, I sat at the dining room table surrounded by my Bibles, journal, and note pads having some quiet time, study time, and writing time before Bill went to work and the kids woke up and started their day.
Fix his water before he goes to the kitchen.
I smiled when I caught on. God answered my prayers.
But, I kept writing a little longer.
I thought, I hear you, God. Thank you for answering my prayer. I’ll do that in just a minute.
And I kept putting pen to paper.
Stop writing and go fix his water.
So, I fixed my husband a cup of ice water to take to work and had it ready when he came out of our bedroom.
On weekday mornings around 6:30, I stand in the kitchen and talk with Bill while he is getting his lunch ready for work. Recently, he started asking me to fix a cup of water for him as he made his sandwich.
The first time he asked me to help him – in the spring once the kids and I were home under quarantine and weren’t up getting ready for school and work – my first thought was, Nobody helps me get my stuff ready before I go to work. In fact, I do a lot of stuff the night before so I’m prepared and can get everything together quickly in the morning…
But, I don’t want to think thoughts like that. I want to be a respectful wife and help my husband when he needs me.
After all, I prayed for God to reveal to me practical ways to show love to others. Study of scripture showed me over and over that God expects believers to consider others’ needs and interests above our own.
And that’s what God told me to do: stop writing, something I like to do and am typically doing this same time every morning, and fix Bill’s water, something I knew would be helpful to him.
In next week’s blog post, I’ll share some of the scripture I found that explained exactly what Christian’s were to do to walk in love.
Tired of being afraid. Tired of being sad, angry, worried…
Because 2020 hasn’t been our year, has it?
Among other things, we continue to suffer under a global pandemic. People are afraid. Isolated. Angry. Sick and dying.
There is hatred, fear, and ignorance. Social injustice is prevalent. George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in front of witnesses who used their phones to record the crime. And the officer wasn’t arrested right away. There were protests. Riots. More people died.
And this is really just the short list of things the US has dealt with collectively since January. The sum total of our year so far means there are too many people dealing with too much pain.
And I’m tired of it. It’s time to do something.
So, I pray, and I ask God, “Father, what do I do? How do I live for you when I’m afraid? How do I live for you with so many terrible things happening?”
And I turn to my Bible.
Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Well, that sounds nice. Let’s all sit around the fire and hug (no, wait, we can’t hug – gotta maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet) and sing Kumbaya.
(Honestly, I feel bad that this song is the punchline for so many jokes…really I do, but you get me, right)?
Seriously though Christians, we have to confront this pain and suffering.
What can we do? The key is in verse 2: Walkinlove.
If more people would walk in love and give ourselves up for others as Christ did, maybe we could change the way we live. If everyone is looking out for someone else, the focus is off self and onto another person.
Can you imagine?!
We can take it a step further and give ourselves up for people whether they deserve it or not! That is revolutionary! That is when God has definitely changed our hearts.
Self-sacrificial love is always a challenge but is especially hard to show for people who are unlovable or whom we decide do not deserve our love. When I love someone who is unlovable, who doesn’t deserve my affection and good will, God is at work. He is changing my heart and can use this to change the heart of the unlovable person, too.
Uh oh. I hear Kumbaya again. Do you?
Yes, I know I can be naive. I’m describing something impossible here, a utopia.
Realistically, what I propose won’t happen. It can’t, at least not completely because we’re humans. We screw up. Not everyone plays along.
But, it would have to make some difference, wouldn’t it? Even if just a small amount of people do it? A remnant?
Every little bit helps.
Practically, how do we do this? How do we walk in love?
In the verse (Eph 5:2), Paul used the Greek word “agape” for love. It is a noun that means affection, good will, benevolence, and brotherly love.
Showing good will (having a friendly disposition) might look like this:
Smiling or having a pleasant look on your face
Being kind to the cashier at the store or wait staff at the restaurant
Correcting your children or other people with gentleness
Avoiding arguments or attacking someone’s opinion on social media
Self-sacrificial love (giving yourself up for others) might look like this:
Looking for the best in the situation or the person
Letting go of our own agenda to do something for someone else
***Remember, even the tiniest light starts to drive out the darkness.
Where I live, a big question for a lot of people right now is – should I send my children to school inside the classroom this year? Should they go 100% virtual? Should I take them out of school and homeschool them?
Lots of people are also asking, “How can I choose any of these options and keep my job? Who will keep my kids during the day when they aren’t at school? What is the best option for my children? For our family”?
I can’t answer these questions for you, but God knows the path He has for your family. He will reveal that to you (if He hasn’t already), all you have to do is ask. Then wait for His response.
You may wonder, “how will I know God is speaking to me?” Well…that’s a good question 🙂
Since taking that leap of faith with my family, I’ve become very interested in understanding how to hear God’s voice. So, I’ve studied the Bible for examples of how God interacted with people, and I’ve read books and articles written by people on the topic.
So, while I can’t tell you exactly what you should do in terms of your children’s school situation for the 2020/2021 school year, I can tell you this: Pray about it. Specifically ask God to show you what to do. Then, wait to hear His voice.
When you think you’ve heard from Him, ask yourself if what you think He said is consistent with scripture. Ask yourself if what you think you heard is persistent – you keep getting the same message over and over. Also, ask yourself if you feel at peace with what you think you’ve heard Him say. All these are pretty good indications that you have heard from God. Now all you have to do is do what He says!
We’ve completed the challenge – 7 days of intentionally spending more time with God than we do watching/reading the news or on social media. We should pat ourselves on the back 🙂
On the last day of the challenge, I was able to spend about an hour and a half in quiet time with God – praying and reading the Bible. Also on Day 7, I logged 12 minutes on Facebook.
On the surface, the challenge was a success. Over a period of 7 days, I was able to spend more time with God each day than I did scrolling Facebook.
I accomplished my goal.
But I don’t want to fool myself into thinking I “won” just because I met the challenge.
This exercise brought other issues to the surface.
For example, even in successfully completing the challenge according to the original terms explained by my pastor, my focus on God this week wasn’t necessarily genuine. I realized that much of the time was spent trying not to look at Facebook rather than on trying to spend more time with God. I avoided Facebook as much as I could; that was my focus. I concentrated on what I shouldn’t do rather than on what I should do.
That is legalism, and I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to focus on the outward and ignore the inward. I want my heart to change.
Instead of concerning myself with what I shouldn’t do, I should make looking at God the focus of my energy. In reality, Facebook isn’t the enemy. An unguarded heart and eyes that don’t focus on God are the enemy.
Also, because of the challenge, I was forced to acknowledge other things I do throughout the day that take my focus off God, even once I drastically cut time on Facebook.
Using the Screen Time setting on my smartphone to log my daily phone usage, I could tell that I spent fewer minutes on Facebook than I normally do. But, while I logged less time on that app, time on other applications increased, taking Facebook’s place. For example, most days this week, I spent more than an hour a day texting.
This reiterates something I already learned – I shouldn’t focus on not scrolling on Facebook (because I might be tempted to simply fill in that time with something else on my phone). I should focus instead on keeping my eyes on God. If I do that, many of the other things should fall away on their own.
However, there was still rich quiet time with God this week, and time spent with God is never wasted.
What did I learn during our time in prayer and in reading the Bible?
I was reminded, through a friend’s input, that all God wants is me – nothing fancy – just my genuine desire to simply be with him. I don’t need to worry about meeting a challenge. I don’t need to attempt to check “quiet time with God” off my to-do list for the day. I just need to be in His presence.
That is refreshing and freeing. There is no singular right way to spend time with God. I don’t need to set a timer or watch a clock to be sure I do it for a certain amount of time. I don’t need to read a certain number of scriptures from the Bible. I don’t need to pray for a certain number of prayer needs. I don’t need to make sure I sit in the same position or in the same place every time. I just need to get still and quiet and listen to and talk with God.
What about you? Would you say the challenge was a success for you? What did you learn through this exercise?
How do you feel after 7 days of focusing more on God than on news outlets or social media? Compare your current mood or attitude right now to how you felt when you first read about the challenge? Feel free to share here.
Whatever the outcome for you, let’s continue to concentrate on God. Let’s continue to weed out the things in our lives that cause us to lose focus on Him. When God shows us stumbling blocks, let’s remove them.
After all, the idea is to keep our minds and hearts on Jesus – not to spend less time looking at news outlets or scrolling Facebook.