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!

bananas

You Try Walking on Water!

From my 2009 Journal. God delighted in King Solomon and showered him with honor and wealth and blessing. But it looks to me as if God’s delight was conditional: If you do it My way, you’ll get rewarded. If not, I’ll zap you (I Kings 3:14). Is that how I tend to view God? The first time calamity strikes, I ask, “What did I do to anger God?”

Visual: It feels like I’m walking a tightrope: keep my balance, walk carefully the straight and narrow path, but I’m doomed because the winds of adversity will knock me off. I might start out well, but I’ll finish with little faith. It’s easy to take my eyes off Jesus at the finish line and look down in fear. Then boom! I’m done for.

It’s like Peter walking on the water. Something about his story has always bothered me. When Peter got scared of the waves and started to sink, Jesus’ words “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31) feel like a rebuke, a statement of shame. I feel like coming to Peter’s defense and saying, “Yeah, but he was the only one who even got out of the boat and tried! Give Peter a break already! Why slap him down after he made the attempt?”

I can hear Peter defending himself: “I tried; I did my best, it was instinctual, and my best wasn’t good enough. Yes, I have weak faith; so what? I’m human after all.”

Were Jesus’ words really a rebuke as in “What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you calm the storm? Why are you such a scaredy-cat about the weather?” Was Jesus angry at Peter? Weary? Disappointed? Disgusted? Sad? Or were his words simply an observation about the condition of Peter’s heart? I think Jesus had just held a mirror up to Peter’s face. (“But just wait till after the resurrection, Peter. you’re going to be a rock!”)

So back to the tightrope visual. God gave Solomon a pole—the Law and God’s promises. When he started to get imbalanced, he failed to correct his course and eventually he dropped the pole and tried to make it on his own. Disaster! Yes, I too am weak, frail, and easily blown off course. But have no fear—I, too, have a pole in my hand to steady me: The Word of God and the Living Word Himself.

Live Long and Prosper

From my 2009 Journal. Why do we hold so hard onto life here on earth? Suicide, euthanasia, and murder are odious to us. Is staying alive a God-given survival instinct? What if we knew the date of our death? Would we accept it or bargain for more days?

In her last days, my mom observed, “The will to live is pretty strong,” and she fought hard till the end to stay here on earth. Shortly after she passed away, I read Isaiah 38, the record of King Hezekiah’s demise. God said to him: Set your house in order; you’re going to die.

Hezekiah wasn’t too happy about that announcement and he wept bitterly. Remember my good works and service to You,” he replied. And later, “I must depart . . . deprived of the remainder of my years . . . my sleep has fled, because of the bitterness of my soul . . . Give me back my health and make me live.

I cannot judge Hezekiah for his response. We do this all the time. The minute someone gets ill, we pray for their recovery. I don’t think that’s wrong—but I think it needs the condition “if it’s Your will.” What would happen if, when someone fell ill, we also prayed for their spiritual growth or acceptance of their plight?

We do not always know the mind of God. We think all affliction is bad, but sometimes it fulfills God’s purpose. In Hezekiah’s case, God told him directly that His will was that it was time for him to leave this earth. When we do know His will, why do we fight against God’s directions? Do we really think we know better? He knows our heart. Do we know His? Do we know the whole picture? The whole truth? (See Job).

Surprisingly, God responded to Hezekiah’s plea: I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. I’ll add 15 years to your life. And I’ll deliver Jerusalem from Assyria.

It is a comfort to me that the God of the Universe has an ear to His creation. He has compassion on our tears and He responds with abundance. Not only did He spare Hezekiah’s life, but He offered safety from his enemies. He answered Hezekiah’s prayer, but at what cost? During the remainder of his life, pride and arrogance took over his heart. Was 15 years on earth really better than 15 years he could have lived in heaven? I can picture Hezekiah arriving at the pearly gates, realizing the ignorance of his request, hitting his forehead with his the palm of his hand, and saying, “What was I thinking!?”

The Scriptures talk about long life being a blessing. We always assume a person’s life is cut short if he dies young. Somehow it seems easier to grieve an elderly person’s passing than a younger one. But from heaven’s perspective, the younger one has been spared an awful lot of heartache. If God’s best is for a person to live 5, 15, or 50 years, then he has lived for his full quota.

When God speaks, when He reveals His will, it is best to keep silent. I don’t think it’s wrong to struggle and work through our emotions—even Jesus struggled to accept the Father’s will—but our conclusion, in the end, must be, “God’s will be done.” I don’t want someone praying for me if they’re not praying the Father’s will!

I’m not near death’s door. When my time comes, will I, too, scramble for a foothold in order to stay bound to earth?

On Prayer—Doing It Right?

From my 2012 Journal. I started to pray for a friend, asking God to move all obstacles from his path. But then I paused. How can I be sure what obstacles are from God (remember Balaam’s angel?) and which are from Satan? And so I modify my prayer—please, Lord, remove all obstacles that belong to or originate from the enemy. And then I think again, “But what if God was the One who originated that idea (remember Job?) So again I change my prayer:  Lord, give courage, wisdom and strength to grow through all obstacles that You allow to enter my friend’s path. That sounds right.

Does God ever get tired of my asking for the same things every day? Every day, same prayers for the same people, with different words perhaps, or different needs prayed for. But same, same, same. And then I think of my three-year-old Grandson Jack. He walks in my front door, flings wide his arms, and cries out, “Hi Grandma!” followed by “Play Wii?” Every time. And my heart melts, and I delight in his childish exuberance, and I don’t mind that he asks for the same thing every time he greets me. He makes me smile. And maybe, just maybe I make God smile when I open my eyes in the morning and say, “Hi, God.”

WORD FOR THE YEAR 2019 – REST

The problem is when labor becomes the only thing that defines who we are. When we come to see things like rest as a negative space defined by the absence of work. When we fail to recognize the value of rest for building our sense of self.

(Alex Pang WordPress Hurry Slowly)

All of my life I’ve set goals for the year, for the month, for the day. I’m a task-oriented person driven to make to-do lists. In college, my schedule was so tight I kept a minute-by-minute chart (no kidding!) for each day’s goals and activities. The advantage of this discipline is great productivity; the disadvantage is that flexibility cannot dwell in your vocabulary.

Marriage, and especially children, tended to upset my neat calendar rows, and I began to relinquish my grip on defining productivity as success. Some days just keeping a child fed, dry and safe was my goal for the day.

I’m in a lovely season of adulthood right now where I get to choose how I manage my time—no school bells, no appointments unless I make them. I have no imposed time frames from outside sources. If I were not so goal-oriented, I could imagine myself sitting all day long in a comfy chair with a book on my lap. But I don’t—there is work to be done, things I want to accomplish, ministry to attend to, and relationships to maintain.

Growth and maturity and balance, for me, have come from watching people-oriented people. I’ve attempted to embrace the fact that people are more important than schedules and “being with” is just as important as “ministering to.” But I cannot change my basic temperament, and I continue to set goals for accomplishment.

After the previous year’s marathon goal of stretching myself once a month, immediately I knew my word for 2019 would be REST. But what would that look like? Did it mean I would cancel all my prayer ministry clients? Put editing Simroots on hold for a year? Hire a housekeeper? No, it meant I would cease from self-imposed goal-setting for self-improvement. I could relinquish my “have-tos” and begin to relax. Just for a year.

RESTWhen I put the word Rest on my kitchen whiteboard, my friend Cheryl wrote more words vertically under each letter. Pretty clever and spot on I thought. I also came up with the acronym REST G (Releasing Every Situation To God).

What I learned this year: Resting is sometimes harder for me to do than doing! Jesus is my Sabbath rest.

What was your Word for the Year? How did that go?

Click on the links below to see some of my previous years.

Word for the Year 2012 – Adventure

Word for the Year 2013 – Word

Word for the Year 2014 – Food

Word for the Year 2015 – Hike

Word for the Year 2016 – Unplugged

Word for the Year 2017 – Neighborhood

Word for the Year 2018 – Stretch

Heavenly Thoughts

From my 2009 Journal. I’m at the SIM Sebring Retirement Center. These godly old missionary saints in Florida just keep giving and giving. Some give gifts of time, others of service, some of tangible gifts. Some exude gifts of beauty and grace while others serve with gusto.

I think that whatever gifts God gives us here on earth will continue to be used in heaven to serve others. What do I have to offer though? People will have perfect knowledge and won’t need me to sit and listen for hours and pray with them. Maybe I’ll get to organize the angel wardrobes or help check in the new arrivals on the heavenly database list!

What language will we speak? The same as Adam and Eve? Will we get to meet all the people we ministered to unawares? Will we go around apologizing for all the dumb things we did and said to each other here on earth? Will we grow in knowledge? I do know that we will have the full truth that answers the need of our pain. Will we experience emotion in heaven? Will we all be smart? Wear different colors or all be dressed in white?

God’s kingdom as described in Isaiah 11 and 12 sounds perfect, glorious, fair, peaceful, delightful, comfort-filled, right, and true. I long for that kingdom now. But we must wait for it with patience. My daddy longed for it. He set his eyes on heaven in the last years of his life and didn’t want to stay here any longer. Mom, on the other hand, kept her feet firmly planted on earth and refused to look heavenward till it was time. Somewhere there’s a balance. I want to live on both planes at the same time. Yes, I long for heaven, but I must be content where I am now. The Apostle Paul felt this same conflict in his soul: Heaven is far better, but for your sakes I must stay here.

The physical world of the heavenly kingdom sounds glorious. But I can experience a taste of the spiritual realm (grace, mercy, love, peace) now, carried around like a jewel inside my heart. Heaven’s treasures and resources funnel into my heart here on earth, and I can draw on that strength any time I desire or need it.

What will it be like to meet Jesus for the first time? John the Baptist experienced Him on a physical plane—he touched Him, saw Him with his eyes, observed His works, was present for the declaration of the Father’s affirmation “This is My beloved Son; hear ye Him.” John said he wasn’t worthy to unloose Jesus’ shoelaces. We tend to brag about whom we’ve touched—people like a President, the Queen of England, famous actors or singers. What would it be like to revere someone so much that it would be an honor to touch his foot?

I feel intimate with Jesus, but on a spiritual plane, not physical. How will I respond when I see Him “in the flesh”? I have no precedent on which to base my future experience. I used to think that the second you died, you were ushered immediately into the presence of Jesus. “Absent from the body; present with the Lord” after all. Now I tend to imagine there’s a process you must go through first.

Here’s how I picture it: the angels who have been assigned to you accompany your spirit to the heavenly realm. There they offer you a drink of Living Water and give you an opportunity to bathe away your earthly impurities before they outfit you in your new pure white robes—just like Joseph had to bathe and receive clean clothes and be prepared before he could see Pharaoh. And then you’re told when your appointment is, and you’re debriefed in protocol for approaching royalty. Perhaps you’re even given a tour of your new quarters and a little view of the royal city. Perhaps you’ve even gotten to spend time with your loved ones who excitedly try to prepare you for what’s to come—your first meeting with your risen Lord. The excitement is running high. You can scarcely contain yourself.

And then the moment I’ve been waiting for—the “welcome home.” And I’m way too overwhelmed and shy to approach Him—I would not dare think of reaching out to touch His royal person. I’m flat on my face like a Nigerian villager before his chief.

But then something happens. He reaches out to me; He lifts me to my feet (“The lifter of our heads”) and embraces me, and I feel His enormous, infinite love and acceptance, and I realize in an instant how many times I failed Him on earth, how many times I responded in anger or unforgiveness or self-righteousness, and lost opportunities to serve Him. And I find myself asking for the privilege of serving Him—in any capacity—just so I get to be near Him and see Him and drink in His beauty. After all, there are millions of us up here, from every tribe and nation, and we all feel the same way—we’re all falling over each other to be near this Presence.

But He asks, “Are you willing to serve Me in the royal kitchen? In the royal nursery? As a chauffeur or greeter for newcomers? As a gardener in the kingdom? As an overseer of the mansion complex? And of course you say yes—anything for You, Jesus, and with pleasure. And the work we’re given to do will be “right down our alley.” I doubt I’ll be gardening, but I might be organizing things!

How do you picture heaven?

Witnessing a la 1970s

From my 2009 Journal. I am a witness (noun) if I’ve observed something like a murder or an accident. I take the witness (adjective) stand, and I relate what I witnessed (verb). In church circles we use the term “witness to someone” like it’s an action verb done to or toward someone. It’s always had the feeling to me of an obligation, duty, responsibility, or sin if I don’t do this activity. “Their blood is on your head” one preacher told us if you don’t use every opportunity to force your belief system onto the heathen (well, probably not his exact words, but that’s how it felt).

I think “if/when the Holy Spirit prompts me” is a better approach to sharing my faith. In my legalistic days I often lamented that I didn’t have more converts to add to my scalping belt. How horrible! Where did we get the notion that we are in any way better than someone else because our numbers are higher than theirs! What arrogance. It is not us but God who calls, woos, draws, and saves.

So what is my part then? To live a holy life and, when the Spirit prompts, open my mouth and draw people to the Light. There is no glory there for Karen. I’m just the messenger girl, the stretcher-carrier, the candle-holder.

How have your views of evangelism changed over the years?

To Whom should we pray?

From my 2009 Journal. I listened to a radio pastor yesterday who stated: we are to pray to the Father, through Jesus, by (I think he said) the Holy Spirit.

Always? Is it wrong to pray to Jesus? To the Holy Spirit? And are not all three God—equal, unified? Is it merely semantics? Or is it indeed the biblical model? When Jesus was on earth, He never told the disciples to “pray to Me.” Or did He? He said, “Ask Me what you will and I will grant it.” I know my prayers change in tone and in request depending on the One to whom I focus in prayer.

The Trinity is spatial to me. I visualize The Father high up, above, beyond the earth’s atmosphere, ruling the universe, sitting on His throne, judging, overseeing, in charge of the atoms, big, big, big. Jesus, on the other hand, is here, beside me, friend, intimate, sitting with me on the bed, at the table when I eat, watching over my shoulder while I’m at the computer, walking beside me at the grocery store. I see the Father watching over me; the Son is beside me. But the Holy Spirit is in me. He permeates every cell of my body and brain and heart, convicting, whispering truth into my innermost being, comforting, enlightening, revealing, opening my eyes, teaching.

Three separate Beings? Yes—and no. They are one—there is only one God, no longer separated now that Jesus is home again. They’re not “apart.” Just as I am made up of three separate (but unified) parts—I have a body, soul, and spirit. I can no more separate one from the other than God can divide Himself. I suspect it’s not as big an issue as we make it. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one after all!

I still have my earthly body, and my spirit/soul are finite/limited, but I am made in the image of God. I cannot pray to one “part” of God without praying to all parts. I suppose you could say that I could speak to my body, or I could talk to my “self” (my soul/mind), or I could converse with my spirit, but each part is aware of the other parts.

Just for fun, listen to people when they pray and note whom they address. What do you think this reveals?

Shame Lifter

We all need connection, but the universal thing that keeps us from it is SHAME and FEAR. (The Power of Vulnerability, Ted Talk by Brene Brown)

From my 2009 Journal. I just finished reading Shame Lifter by Marilyn Hontz, my former pastor’s wife. She says shame was the undercurrent for all things she did or felt in life.

I, too, admit to feeling an undercurrent in my heart—the shame of inadequacy—a restlessness in my spirit that I’m hiding. It happens when I feel my mind slipping away from me—when I can no longer remember a name or recall a common word or someone tells me they had dinner at my house and I’m surprised because I’ve forgotten, or I’m asked to speak in front of a group. I feel so out of the culture, out of sync, unintelligent, afraid I’ll say something dumb.

The roots go all the way back to my Grade 6 furlough when I had to ask a friend what a word meant—a common English word that was never used in my boarding school in Africa. And even after her explanation, I misunderstood. Here’s how it went:

Someone had scrawled some words on the blackboard of the teacher next door: “Mr. Hart cut a fart.” I found Billie Bean, an African-American classmate, pulled her aside under the fire escape stairs, and asked her what a fart was.

First, I felt her hesitation and embarrassment at having to explain this bodily function. There were inadequate synonyms in sixth grade to explain, and so she pointed to her derriere and said, “It’s what comes out of there.” Okay, now I got the picture: someone was suggesting that Mr. Hart had taken a knife and cut in half a piece of excrement. Why in the world would Mr. Hart do that? And what would possess a student to scrawl that on the blackboard?

When Billie discovered my misunderstanding of this American idiom, I do not remember how she corrected it, but I believe that’s where the shame of inadequacy became planted. I believed the “should”—I should have understood—but even more I could sense her discomfort and the subject felt dirty.

Jesus is my shame-lifter. Being culturally ignorant was not my fault, and I didn’t have to take on Billie’s embarrassment. Perhaps I became the more intelligent one since I now knew that word in two languages!

How Big Is God?

From my 2009 Journal. Isaiah’s imagination wasn’t big enough to give us perspective on God’s vastness, so he put it in human terms: compared to God we’re just tiny insects crawling around our little world.

God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in (Isaiah 40:22 NIV).

I think of the song “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” If the world fits in His hands, how big is the rest of Him? I can picture a standing giant who flings a handful of dust into the air and each speck begins to sparkle with a gazillion twinkling lights and the universe is born. According to verse 26, each star is numbered and named! Not one is missing or lacks anything. But those stars only come up to His middle while His head and torso tower above them.

Here I am on earth trying to understand this huge Being and all I can see is a shadow coming toward me. The little grasshopper has no perspective at all—everything is too immense. Perspective comes when you look at it from the giant’s viewpoint. And that’s what Isaiah was trying to convey I think.

This passage makes me think of a doll house: everything is miniature to me, but from a grasshopper’s perspective it feels spacious. The miniature logs in the dollhouse fireplace aren’t enough to give me warmth. The tiny loaf of bread on the dining room table would not begin to satisfy my hunger.

Another perspective of God’s bigness was captured  in the song “The Love of God,” by Frederick M. Lehman,  The third verse of the hymn, Lehman said, “had been found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave.”

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

How big is your God?

Universe pexels-photo