Green Bananas in the Classroom

From my May 9, 2009, 9:09 am (for real!) Journal. I feel sorry for students who have to live through a teacher’s first year in the classroom. I’d like to apologize to any of my 1977 Berean Academy students reading this blog.

One of my students read on my Facebook page that I’d be visiting her city this week. She wrote back to say, “I only live half an hour away!” So I invited her to visit my hotel room for the afternoon. While reminiscing about those years in the classroom, I made the statement that I was a bad teacher. “That’s a lie,” she declared. “Maybe you were inexperienced and uninformed but not bad.” I appreciated the affirmation, but it still felt true in my heart.

After we parted, I thought back to my teaching experiences at Berean and at two community colleges and decided to list all the good and bad memories that were stuck in my brain from those years. I suppose I could go to each of these memories and issues and deal with them one by one, but I think I need to start with the big picture—my view of myself. I felt tall and rigid on the inside, trying to appear bigger and older than I was in order to stay in control of my classroom so the students wouldn’t run all over me.

I felt like a shepherdess trying to herd her sheep or goats that were running in all directions, and I didn’t know how to corral them. I wanted to be like my teachers who had good classroom discipline and not like others who let the students run the show. I hear myself saying a lot of words to these sheep, but not all of them are paying attention. I’m trying to teach, but they’re self-absorbed, busy eating, or wandering off.

In those days wasting time, in my opinion, was about the biggest sin one could commit. I was a master at planning, organizing, and accomplishing, and I expected my students to follow suit. One day I remember making a false accusation to one of my students about the use of his time, and his retort had stung. What did I conclude about myself at this point? That I’m just an ignorant teacher? That I don’t really know my students? I felt shame and embarrassment, and his words left me feeling like he’d snared me in a steel trap.

Because the teeth only caught my clothes, in my mind I can shed that article of clothing and wriggle free—but that doesn’t take away the emotions. I need to apologize: “You’re right; I accused you falsely. I don’t know what you do with your time outside of class.” The teeth unclench, but the student is still wary. He doesn’t know if he can trust me. And so I have to be wary around him now. I don’t like this feeling.

I see Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves trying to woo the wolf. He’s gentle as he coaxes and encourages. I could have done that with this student. Instead, I clammed up and clamped down to protect my ego.

My picture of the shepherdess with her sheep now changes. I can woo and call and encourage instead of chase and run after and herd. And how do I feel now about myself as a teacher? I’m no longer hiding behind a teacher’s desk. I’m sitting beside the students, encouraging and mentoring them.

Was I indeed a bad teacher? No. Just a girl trying to find her own way. I’m sad that I didn’t know then what I know now. Life is such a learning process, and we sometimes leave damage in our wake of inexperience. But each of us must process our lies and wounds from our childhoods. I pray my students will have the grace to forgive me when God brings to light any pain I’ve caused them.

I was so green back then, like an unripe banana. Why do we allow green bananas in the classroom? I know everyone has to start somewhere, but we don’t ripen till we go through the process. God is ripening me little by little and, hopefully, I’m becoming sweeter as I stay closely attached to the tree stem. Eventually, hopefully, I’ll be mature enough to be plucked; and should I become overripe, there’s always banana bread!

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Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Teach us to consider our mortality, so that we might live wisely. Ps. 90:12

From my 2016 Journal. I hear of causes, movements, meetings and appeals for help that I could join. But I have limited resources, time, dollars, and energy. Each money appeal, request or event that crosses my path has to be filtered through these considerations. And I must check in with the Commander-in-Chief before I move on it—even if it’s a good and worthy cause.

A friend recently sent out an appeal on Facebook to gather items to be donated to a local charity. The words I heard in my head were “I should do that in order to fulfill God’s heart for serving the poor and needy.” It makes no logical sense to admit I feel guilty for not doing it, so I know it’s trigger-based.

Guilt and shame and “enough” are nailed to the cross, so what is in my heart that wants to hold onto this “should”?

VISUAL: Shoulds are a heavy burden to carry—like an unwieldy, large sack of potatoes. If I don’t carry it, I think, who will? Since the potatoes are my responsibility, I can’t hand them over to Jesus. For example, He can’t diet or exercise for me or walk a casserole dish over to my sick next-door neighbor. That job is mine to carry out.

“True,” Jesus says. “There are certain things you were created to carry, not Me. So here’s what you can do. Put the sack down and empty all the potatoes out onto a tarp and let’s sort them together. First, throw away the bad ones (the lies). Now sort the rest into types, colors, sizes, or any way that makes sense to you.”

So first I sort them by kind—russets, red, fingerlings, etc. Seeing different colors and sizes is easier from there.

“Today we’re going to make a stew,” He says. “We don’t need a whole sack full of potatoes. Nor do we need every kind. Only pick up what you need for right now this morning. This afternoon you’ll need a different kind.”

Whew! This feels much more manageable now.

After seeing this visual, I was able to slow my thought processes down. I cleaned house thoroughly, ran to the grocery store, got the car washed, and filled up the gas tank—all with a feeling of peace. Next I drove almost three hours through heavy traffic to attend a funeral and drove home at night. Only in the last half hour did I begin to feel tired. Thank You, Lord, for teaching me to set down my potato sack! Maybe tomorrow I’ll find time to go through my closet for gently-used clothing to donate to the homeless shelter.

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Who Am I Displeasing?

DispleasureFrom my 2015 Journal. I grew up in a boarding school where we had nightly devotions together as a group in the girls’ dorm. One particular spinster Auntie (as we called our dorm mothers) got frustrated one night with our continuing chatter and instructed us to all be silent. She began to lead us in a chorus, and I leaned over to the girl next to me and whispered, “Listen.” I wanted her to hear me sing the counter melody.

My punishment for this one-word infraction was to forgo afternoon playtime for a week in order to write out by hand 1,000 (yes, one thousand) times:  “I displease the Lord when I am not quiet in devotions.” You see—I remember the exact words all these years later! The repetition, or perhaps the injustice I felt, kept my anger alive until one day I chose to forgive her.

And then I laughed out loud when Jesus replaced those words to reflect His truth: “I displease Auntie when I am not quiet in devotions, and Jesus loves me even when I’m not quiet in devotions.”

But there’s more to the story. God graciously allowed me as a grownup to reconnect with this Auntie, and I was able to hear her life story and listen to her heart. And, no, I did not recount this incident to her since I felt no malice toward her anymore. That is the power of forgiveness.

 

Happy face

Enough Is Enough

His loyal love towers over His faithful followers. (Ps. 103:11b NET)

From my 2016 Journal. There’s a part of me that is unable (unwilling?) to receive/believe God’s love for me. Why? What in me cannot accept it?

EnoughThe word enough comes to mind—I’m always trying to earn God’s love. Where is this insidious lie buried in my heart? Somewhere in childhood perhaps. It was the culture of my boarding school to always strive for perfection. Getting anything less than 100 was unacceptable. But I discover it’s not from the teacher; it’s coming from within. Why? What do I believe about myself if I fall short? That I didn’t try enough, study enough, work hard enough? When I make “less than” I feel . . .

Memory:  A fourth-grade spelling test when I drew a blank over the word earnest. I knew it, I had studied it, but for some reason, my brain shut down when the teacher called out the word. I feel a little angst that the teacher will think less of me when she sees my paper. But so what? Because I will think less of me?

Jesus says, “Look into My eyes.” I imagine I see disappointment, judgment, and condemnation. He kneels beside my desk and asks, “Karen, why are you scared?”

“I want to be at the top.”

“Why?”

“The view at the top is more spectacular than the climb up the mountain.”

“It’s exhilarating to be at the top,” He affirms, “but the effort to get there can be fun too. You’re not going to fall. You’re roped in, anchored to Me. And to the mountain.”

“But what if I make a mistake?” I counter. “What if my pitons don’t hold? What if . . . ?”

And suddenly my visual flips to its side. The mountain is an illusion. I’m not climbing UP; I’m moving FORWARD on a flat plane. There are bumps and small hills on the path for sure, but it’s safe. And Jesus walks beside me.

“Do You really love me?” I query.

“I really do.”

“Then why do I doubt?”

“Why indeed?” Nothing can separate me from His love . . . neither height, nor depth . . .

“Enough” is Satan’s word: you haven’t prayed enough, you don’t love enough, you don’t serve enough, you are not enough.

Jesus is enough. “Enough” was nailed to the cross. “Enough” has been filled and fulfilled.

The question is not, “Have I done enough?” The question is, “Am I connected to Jesus?” While in His presence, “enough” is satisfied.

There’s a song we used to sing: “I want my Lord to be satisfied with me.” I understand the sentiment, but I think the wording is faulty. I don’t have to do anything to satisfy Him. I can simply open all the doors to my heart, release all the guilt and shame and hiding, and let Him in. But I can never do enough to satisfy Him. A child doesn’t need to satisfy a parent. A child simply trusts and obeys.

Jesus paid the price, and the Father is satisfied with Jesus. And that is enough.

Am I Not Enough?

From my 2016 Journal. I’m feeling disgruntled today, agitated, pacing, complaining. Jesus invites me to sit with Him for a bit. “I’m weary of working with people whose hearts are closed. Soulmate is a mythical beast.”

“Am I not enough?” Jesus asks.

“Am I not enough?” the Holy Spirit queries.

“Am I not enough?” the Father says.

And my heart cries out “I want You to be. So why am I not satisfied? Why do I cling to the illusion that flawed human beings are capable of meeting the deepest longings and intimate needs of my heart?”

“It’s not fair to expect people to be God to you,” observes Jesus. “That’s idolatry.”

And so I repent.

Be Jesus to others but let go of expecting them to be that to you.

Self-Righteousness 101

beauty salon

Photo by Delbeautybox from Pexels

From my 2015 Journal. It was time to find a new hairdresser. Mine was located on the other side of town, her prices went up, and I wasn’t always satisfied with her work. I wanted to find someone closer and cheaper and more consistent. So on the recommendation of someone in our neighborhood, I hopped on my bicycle and rode to the nearest salon, appointment at 9 a.m.

I arrived at 8:59 a.m. and the place was locked up tight. Maybe the owner was in the back. No problem. I can wait one minute. Or two or three . . . or four or five. Eventually, a lady sauntered over from the parking lot and unlocked the door. I moved closer. “Did you want to come in?” she mumbled?

Well, duh!

No greeting. No explanation as to why she was late, why she wasn’t there ahead of her clients, place unlocked and ready to receive customers with a smile. Phones were ringing, and off she went while I sat on a chair and waited, apparently no a/c on yet in the July heat. I was hot in more ways than one!

A couple minutes later, another worker moseyed in, put down her purse, opened up her iPad (really!?) and then I calmed down when I realized she was putting on some music for the establishment. Watch watch, wait.

Finally at 9:10 a.m. Miss #1 looks up from her computer and asks, “Are you Karen?” (Hmm. I’m the only one in the shop. Were there others expected? I suppose she could have assumed I was a walk-in. Still no explanation why they’re late.)

Miss #2 calls me to her chair. She’s friendly, sweet, asks questions, not too chatty. I like her. But I’m still steamed that she’s not professional enough to arrive on time and respect my schedule.

The price is right, the haircut fine (as far as I can tell), and I like her as a person. (I had no further interaction with Miss #1, the manager.)

So what’s wrong?

I need to tell them how to run a business, I fume inside. How do they expect to maintain customers if they can’t act professionally?

And so I leave the premises and ride around the neighborhood, praying as I go. I don’t want this angry emotion. It’s unprofessional! And so I hand Jesus the ball of fire that is burning in my palm. And He smiles. He knows there’s more. I know there’s more. What is underneath this anger? Is it disappointment? I have no time crunch. Why should I be upset about wasting a few extra minutes in my day?

“It’s because they’re so unprofessional,” I whine to Him. “I wouldn’t do that. I always arrive well ahead of my clients. What would they think of me if I showed up late without an apology like these two ladies did?”

And then, “Oh!” I exclaim in chagrin and embarrassment. “I know what it is. It’s self-righteousness—the ‘I’ syndrome.” Ugh. What an ugly word.

What does self-righteousness look like? I see myself wearing a large, shapeless, colorful but gaudy dress. Not too shabby, I think. It has color, it hides my unsightly curves, it’s functional.

“Would you be willing to let Me have it?” Jesus asks.

“Uh . . . okay, but I’ll be rather unclothed then.”

I pull the garment over my head and hand it to Him. And then wait. And wait.

I know that when I give Jesus something, He often likes to give me something in return. “Well, aren’t You going to hand me robes of righteousness instead to put on?”

“Nope,” He replies.

I’m a little taken aback. Isn’t that what Scripture says?

“I already gave them to you . . .” He softly answers “. . . when you accepted Me into your heart.”

I glance down then at my body and gasp. I am clothed in a dazzling white, sequined wedding gown, “adorned as a bride for her husband.”

Chagrined, I realize I had thrown a gaudy shift over top of my beautiful gown. Not pretty. “I’m so sorry, Jesus. Please forgive me for disrespecting Your gift.”

And so I think back to the ladies at the shop. It no longer matters that they came in a few minutes late and didn’t have the people skills to greet me warmly at the door. Perhaps this is my new mission field.

Postscript: I have since found a phenomenal hair stylist. Her name is Cindy Harris and she has a PhD in hair design (I didn’t know there even was such a thing!) I highly recommend her for all your makeover needs.

Cindy’s Total Image Salon located in Oasis Salon, 745 S Church St, Suite 301 in Murfreesboro, TN.

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Shame and Shoulds

From my 2011 Journal. There are certain words, facial expressions, and people’s attitudes that shut me down. One of them is “You should or shouldn’t . . .” My instant response is to go on the defense: “Why should I?” or “Why shouldn’t I?” That self-protective defiant attitude covers timidity to be who I was created to be.

shameI may refuse to listen to your words because they heap shame on me, but I find it’s an uphill battle to sever the ties with them. I am determined to climb this mountain even if I have to do it alone, but the weariness of the battle gets to me.

Jesus says, “Level ground would have been easier, but mountain climbing shows what you’re made of and tests your endurance and strengthens your muscles and heart. Not a bad thing. Keep climbing!” And eventually I am able to see your words for what they are—your belief system, not mine.

I’m reading Unlocking Your Family Patterns by Cloud, Townsend, Carter, and Henslin. I identify with the chapter “Learning to Achieve Adulthood.” The premise is that as children, we always feel “one-down” to adults. Growing up means coming to the place in life where we feel “equal” or “even.” My own shoulds and shaming words or posture are my attempt to feel “one-up.”

Whether your words or mine, I can turn those “shoulds” to “coulds.”

  • I should be praying more = I could be praying more.
  • I should be more available = I could be more available.
  • I should clean my house today = I could clean house today (or not!).

I’m ready to get rid of these echoes in my mind and heart. No longer will I hide my true self to protect me from your words or deeds. I can graciously and lovingly place them back on you and stand firm in what God created me to be—free of shame and life-sucking rules.

What shame messages are you battling to erase?

 

Trembling at the Foot of the Mountain

From my 2010 journal. I realized today that I’m doubting my worth in Christ. I continually question whether or not I’m doing enough to please God. Why is it such a hard thing to believe? I’ve never doubted His love for me. Perhaps that’s because I felt my parents’ love. I do feel accepted by God. It’s not that.  Perhaps my feelings are born out of my childhood perception that God is watching: you better behave. I sense a fearsome reverence that doesn’t allow me to get too close.

mountainVisual:  I am the Israelite at the foot of the mountain who is forbidden from getting too close to the mountain. I’m never Moses and Joshua who climb the mountain and see God face-to-face. I stand at the foot and tremble at the smoke. Only the chosen one is permitted on the mountain. (The funny thing is, Moses had nothing to do with God choosing him. And besides that, he had a flawed character.)

In my visual, I realize that I want to be chosen.

As I surrender my feelings to God, I see myself as a little child, hanging onto the rope barrier at the foot of the mountain. The grownups have all returned to the camp to party, but I want to be close to God.

I see Jesus approach me from the mountain. He picks me up and carries me up the side of the mountain away from the noise of the camp, away from the revelry and the debauchery and sin. It’s quiet up here, silent and peaceful. And Jesus allays my fears that my parents will worry about my being gone.

Soon the sun begins to set and I shiver in the cold. He builds a fire and gives me a cloak for warmth as we sit down for an intimate conversation. In the end I understand that though I might not be chosen for Moses’ job or role,  I was chosen because “I sought the Lord and He heard me” (Ps. 34:4).

Now when the mountain trembles, I feel safe. Jesus will protect me. I’m His child. And He promises that He will “never leave me or forsake me.” He will not leave me on this mountainside by myself. When I pray to Him, He’s not far away anymore. He’s right there, close and intimate. We’re just having a conversation.

Does God feel far away to you? Or near?

So Fix It Already!

When you try to fix people, things only get broken. (Eric Swann, Believers’ Chapel)

From my 2011 journal. Two incidents happened this week that held a mirror up to my face, and I didn’t like what I saw. I like to be kind and gentle—but I can also be bossy and take charge and can step on people’s toes, albeit unintentionally. I tend to push my way in where I’m not invited. This week I butted in where I should not have. I stuck my nose in someone else’s business and got kindly and gently rebuffed.

It’s a tricky thing—when to step in and be helpful and when to keep my mouth shut. I like to solve problems and find solutions—if I know the answer. But if the person doesn’t need or want my help, then I can be a hindrance.

black-and-white-close-up-equipment-210881I see a problem. It needs fixing. Then fix it already! What is that inner drive? Is it temperament? Genetics? Wounding? This drive can accomplish good things, or it can be a catalyst for ill. The thing is, when I see it in myself, I try to fix it. When I see it in others, I want to fix it myself or encourage them to fix it. I wonder: Why would anyone want to continue to wallow in the mire when there’s an answer for their pain?

So how does it feel when things aren’t right and in their proper order? My brain likes things orderly. Words should be spelled correctly. Punctuation in its place. Pictures straight. No clutter on the table. Other people are wired to enjoy and thrive in clutter and mess and chaos. Why can’t I be more tolerant of other people’s messes?

The key? I am not the solution to everyone’s problems. Imagine that! We were taught in evangelism class to be aggressive, to push forward, to get people to make decisions and “draw the net.” Unfortunately, those tactics can actually cause more harm than good and can drive people away.

I want to be honey that attracts, not vinegar that sets people’s teeth on edge. I want to learn to be content with people’s messes, but not content with my own. I can only fix ME.

Later. So now that I’m tuned into it, I caught myself once again giving unsolicited advice. It was unappreciated and inappropriate. How do I break myself of this habit?

This second incident occurred when a visitor came to drop off his two girls at my Grade 5 Sunday school class. When I discovered that one of the children actually belonged in Grade 2, I ran after the parent to inform him of his mistake.

“But the sign said her class was here!” His tone was angry and insistent.

My first response? Fix it, of course! I wanted to prove he’d read the sign wrong. I wanted to walk him to the next wing and show him how to find his daughter’s classroom (but I couldn’t leave my 5th graders alone).

This same emotion shoots me back to a memory when I used to work in a dime store where I was assigned, happily, to the fabric department. I was fresh off the mission field and had never worked retail before. I didn’t even know how to count out change in American money. One day a lady came in with a bag of material and dumped it angrily on the cutting table. She claimed it had been measured incorrectly. Well, my grandpa, who had owned a hardware store in Des Moines, Iowa, had taught me that “the customer is always right.” So, without re-measuring or checking it against the receipt, I pulled out the bolt of cloth and proceeded to cut another length as she specified and exchanged it.

That’s the day I learned the rule that when there’s a problem, you’re supposed to defer it to your supervisor. Oops! My boss was kind about it, but I knew I’d messed up.

So . . . what was I feeling when this lady stormed into my section of the store? I felt for her. How annoying to be sold the wrong length of cloth! I’d been there myself—trying to make a garment when I’m short of material. It’s like I could feel her dashing water all over me.  In my visual, I can see her tripping over a log or something and losing her pail of water. I feel bad for her. I’m more concerned that she’s okay than that I got wet. “Are you okay? Did you get hurt? Can I help you draw more water?” I ask. That’s how I respond. Fix the problem.

Psychologically, I know I’m not capable of taking another person’s emotions or pain for them. I can only feel what I feel. So . . . I mentally climb into this lady’s shoes and feel what it feels like to trip and lose my balance and lose all my water. But as I do that, I begin to laugh—amused at myself for not seeing the log in time.

For some reason that helps. Now in the memory, when the lady walks in with her material, I can say, “Oh how disappointing it must have felt to start a sewing project and become stymied.” And I can look at the Sunday school parent and say, “It must be annoying to find you’re in the wrong spot and you still have to drop off another child before you head to the worship service.” No more emotional response; no need to fix the situation. It is what it is. Just acknowledge it and move on.

Who are you trying to fix so that you can feel better?

Jesus, the Gentle

When two people meet, there is an exchange of energy. There are life-givers who release energy into your soul, and others who receive energy from you. (Blessing the Spirit, by Gunter and Burk, p. 7)

Hug

From my 2007 Journal. I have experienced a gentle touch and an encouraging word from a friend. It feels good, comforts, calms, soothes, draws me in, relaxes, releases tension. It’s lightweight. Jesus’ touch is like that. You want more. You want to stay there where it’s smooth and soft.

In my grief today Jesus told me, “I’m a gentle lover.”

The opposite does not feel good. Harsh, hard, repelling, forceful, pushy, annoying, irritating, pesky, jangling, heavy, recoiling, repulsive, hurts, makes you steel your nerves. That’s what hate-filled words feel like. They are a physical force and a spiritual attack.

Jesus the Gentle. Lover of my soul. I want to be more like Him.