A Prayer for Year 6 of Teacher

A Prayer for Year 6 of Teaching

“ Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. -Hebrews 13:21

I begin my 6th year of teaching in less than 4 hours 

In between these hours, I wonder if I should have left teaching along with the 300,000 teachers who have left the profession since May 2020*. 

Between these hours nagging, insidious thoughts creep into my mind “You’re not ready”. “You should have resigned in June”. “Five years in and you still don’t know what you’re doing. 

To be blunt, I’m terrified. Terrified of my alarm going off. Terrified of stepping outside onto a city bus and entering the school building. Terrified of those pounding steps up the stairwell and waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the class of 2026. 

What was I thinking? These last two days before students arrive leave me wondering what am I going to do. I may have been overly ambitious in overhauling the curriculum I’ve used for the past three years. The yearn to try something new, but the procrastination of planning this “new” has cost me peace of mind. 

I’m afraid of looking unprepared or underqualified in front of my new co-teachers. Both possess a vivaciousness and preparedness that I am nowhere near matching. They ask questions about strategy, classroom expectations, norms, and class routines that cause my mind to draw a blank. 

How do I admit that I have no idea how I’m going to get through this school year? 

The same way I preserved through the past 5 years. Through God’s grace. With the Mind of Christ. With the Armor of God. With faith that He has equipped me to do good works. Trust in the plans that He has for me. Humbly asking for Him to order my steps. Understanding the work of teaching is not about me, but glorifying Him.  

A Prayer for Year 6 (and all teachers and students) 

Dear Heavenly Father. Praise be to you the Great teacher. Thank you for the Word of the Lord which is breathed out by You. Thank you for your word which teaches, corrects, reproofs and trains us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Thank you for calling me to be a teacher to today’s youth. May your light shine Lord. May I work as if I work for You and you alone. I thank you Lord that you use me to show Your love to my students. May I be used to encourage the 9th graders to do their best, to teach them the reading and writing skills they need to be successful citizens. I come against any spirits of discouragement, learning disability, emotional trauma, and behavorial issues. May I imitate your grace and love so that my students are in an environment where they feel safe to express their ideas, struggles and goals. 

Lord I lift up my colleagues. I pray for a positive start to the school year for our school community. Whatever burdens they are carrying outside of their classroom, I pray they are comforted, supported and at peace. Thank you Lord for open and honest communication between co-teachers, teachers and administrators, teachers and students, and teachers and parents. I thank you for a spirit of unity between all stakeholders in our students education. 

Finally Lord, thank you for trusting me with this task of teaching. Forgive me for my sinful attitudes, laziness, apathy, and lack of effort in the past. Forgive for not doing my best work and neglecting responsibilities. Create in me a strong work ethic, a sound mind and a loving heart. Thank you for your heart Lord. 

In Jesus name I pray. Amen. 

Notes: 

Scripture comes from the following sources 

2 Timothy 3: 16-17 English Standard Version: https://www.openbible.info/topics/teaching 

Hebrews 13:21: New International Verson. Bible Gateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+13&version=NIV

Statistic come from: Grider, W. (2022, June 20). School’s Out for summer and many teachers are calling it quits. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 8, 2022, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/schools-out-for-summer-and-many-teachers-are-calling-it-quits-11655732689 

Take 5 Travel: Paris

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps”-Proverbs 16:9 

Take 5 Travel: Paris

Greetings fellow travelers. As I do my best to bask in the last days of summer, God granted me a unique idea for a mini-blog series called “Take 5 Travel”. Over the next 4 days, I will highlight 3 vacation spots from my summer travels. Each post will contain my top 5 excursions and experiences from each destination, along with travel tips, do’s, and don’ts. 

Mom and I at the famed Eiffel Tower

Overview of Paris 

Bonjour! I’m not sure I’ll be able to do City of lights justice in one blog post (I may have to write a series of blogs about Paris!). The city is like stepping into a 1950s Hollywood movie set. From cobblestone streets to metro lines with cast iron gate entrances to quaint cafes decorated with flower pots; Paris is a living breathing art museum. I shared Paris with my mother and we both agreed that we wanted to go back to Paris in the future (and my mom is not easily impressed!). We were treated to an up-close view of the famous Iron lady herself, the Eiffel Tower, on a cab ride from the Charles De Gaulle airport. As soon as we stepped out of the cab, I declared “Ok, I’m moving here”.  Here’s my Take 5 of why I am probably moving to Paris for at least a year. 

  1. The Seine River Dinner Cruise
View from the Seine River Cruise

  On our second night in Paris I scheduled a dinner cruise along the Seine River. We were blessed with a hotel right next to the Eiffel Tower and 5 minutes walk to the Seine (huge shoutout to the Pullman Eiffel Tower!). I booked our cruise with Bateaux Parisiens and although the reviews about the company were mixed, mom and I thoroughly enjoyed our experience. We were seated in the middle section of the boat and almost every seat was taken. The ride along the Seine is fluid and relaxing; highlights included the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Musee D’Orsay, and the ornate bridges which we passed under. We feasted on wine, cheese, Duck confit, flounder, and chocolate cake. There’s entertainment in the form of a jazz singer with a sultry voice (with whom I shared a dance!). Our server was incredibly patient and kind in answering our questions about the menu. The highlight was engaging in a conversation with two lovely young women from England who gave us great advice about what to see in Paris.  

  1. Musee D’Orsay 

       “You know, I like this museum a lot better than the Lourve” my mom commented as we made our way to the 2nd floor of the “Musee D’Orsay”. I can see why she held that sentiment. Even though the Lourve is a must-see in Paris, the museum is OVERWHELMING AND OVERWHELMINGLY CROWDED. Musee D’Orsay by contrast is housed in a converted train station. The layout is much more accessible and the art is just as fascinating. Each level is organized by the artist. We saw Monets, Cezzanes, Van Goughs, Cabanals, and other Impressionist art. Plus the giant gold clock is pretty impressive and gives off Grand Central vibes.  

  1. The Metro System 
Posing in a metro station

If you lived in New York City without at least one train delay per day, I would have to give you some serious side-eye. In contrast, the metro as its called in France is highly efficient. The ticket machines allow you to choose from several different languages, English included, in order to complete your transaction. During the weekday the trains run every 4 minutes on the dot. Mom and I didn’t experience any delays. The buses not only have designated seating areas for the elderly, pregnant and differently-abled, there’s also a section without seats designated for parents with strollers. New York City transit can definitely take some pointers from Paris Metro.  

  1. Shopping along the Rue di Rivoli    

Paris is renowned for its fashion culture. Christian Dior. Louis Vuitton. Coco Chanel. With these major names in fashion comes a heavy price tag. Mom and I tried shopping at the “Galeries Lafayette” and found that ninety percent of the clothing and accessories were out of our price range. Rue Di Rivoli in contrast offers chic boutiques without extravagant price tags. Mom and I were able to buy authentic Parisien souvenirs along with a trip to Angelina’s known for their rich and creamy hot chocolate. A short walk away is the Jardin des Champs-Élysées where you can stroll in and take in incredible sculptures along with an excellent view of the Arch De Triomphe.   

  1. Authentic Neighborhoods such as Montmartre  
I Love you Wall

On our 3rd day in Paris, Mom and I went on a food tour of Paris. Although the type of food was more like samplings of tiny chocolates and macarons, the highlight was exploring the hilly streets of the neighborhood Montmartre. Partly known as Paris’s “Red light district” (avoid the area near the Moulin Rogue, sex shops, and strip clubs galore), the neighborhood has a local feel. You’ll encounter quaint shops for cheese, wine, meats, pastries and produce. Mom and I ate at a restaurant Moulin de la Galette where I ate the famous Beef bourguignon. We also took a picture in front of the “I love you” wall and walked to the highest point in Paris. Though parts of Montmartre are raunchy, seeing locals go about their day-to-day was a refreshing change from the touristy area of the Eiffel Tower. 

Street on Montmartre
The Famous French Dish, Beef Bourguignon

Other Tips 

  1. DO: Try and learn basic French phrases. Almost every single Parisien we encountered spoke at least basic English. However, locals appreciate the attempt at speaking French and will often go out of their way to help you. 
  2. DONT: Engage with strangers in high-volume shopping areas, particularly in Montmartre and close to major attractions like the Louvre. Every single tour guide cautioned us about pick-pockets and con artists. Make sure to carry your purse across your shoulder and try to use something other than a backpack.  
  3. DO: Take a stroll along the Seine, as far as you’re energy allows you to go. You’ll encounter charming locals, street artists and art students just simply living life. 
  4. DONT: Expect typical customer service. In Paris, it’s normal to wait a while to be served so try your best to be patient as you wait for your wine and cheese plate. 

Over-Rated 

  1. Palace of Versailles: If you toured Versailles prior to the French Revolution, then the splendor was definitely a sight to behold. After the French Revolution, particularly once the royalty was executed, the palace was ransacked and much of the palace is just furniture and empty rooms (although the painting and hall of mirrors are worth seeing. Instead, the gardens outside the palace are a lush and spacious alternative to the claustrophobic crowds of the Palace. 

I left Paris with the feeling of unfinished business. There’s so much I didn’t get to see and neighborhoods I want to see. Am I going back to Paris? Oui! 

Avec Amour! 

  Leah 

Seine River

Hello, my name is Leah and I Make Mistakes

I thought this goofy picture of me on my 30th Birthday was fitting!

July 10th, 2022

How could I be so stupid?

I stared, dumbfounded, at my phone. A hacker locked me out of my Instagram account and was currently spamming my friend’s inbox messages. With my password changed, I lost access to my Instagram account.

All because I fell for a silly scam.

I’ve been doing a lot of silly things lately.

Initially, I thought I was talking to a relative about a Bitcoin investment they were supposedly involved with (turns out their Instagram account was hacked as well). They asked me to make a video to support their business and I was happy to help. The part where I messed up is where I allowed them access to my Instagram account. Suddenly I was receiving a flurry of phone calls, Facebook messages, and texts from friends telling me I had been hacked. Turns out the hacker used my video that was supposed to support my cousin to trick friends into investing in Bitcoin.

Praise God I was at least wise enough to give out any debit card or banking information. After imploring my friends to report, unfollow and block my account, I kept thinking “How could I be so stupid? So gullible? Why didn’t I question if this was really my relative? What happened to being wise and discerning? How could I have fallen for this?

Embarrassed, I spent this weekend mulling over my lost Instagram account. An account which was gaining traction and being used to encourage followers with the Word of God.

Turns out a pesky little devil wanted to stop that traction and derail the goal of my Instagram page. Further, I was so discouraged by what happened and the large part I played in this situation, I didn’t complete my writing goal for this weekend. The desire, thrill, and invigoration for my writing projects dissipated in a cloud of condemnation. Praise God that He pulled me to write this blog post!

When we make a mistake or fall into a scam, it’s easy to fall into self-pity and shame. Our enemy does whatever he can to put the brakes on our goals, especially when we are trying to spread the Gospel of Jesus. Around every corner, he lurks, with his foot stuck out to trip us and guffaws as we face plant on the concrete of life’s challenges, setbacks, and humiliating moments.

And if we stay face planted in our shame, we can never rise up, dust off our pants, and let God tend to our wounds.

The Bible always is the antidote to shame. Scriptures I’m going to hold on to for this week are Proverbs 24:16, “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked” . Another is Romans 8:1, “So there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

The Instagram Incident reminds me of a time I made another mistake, this one back in March. A friend and their daughter were staying with me due to a sensitive situation. I happily jumped at the opportunity to serve a friend in need. I enjoyed their company and saw this as a chance to bond with someone from the church. Things were going well for three weeks. Then, on a particularly stressful day at work, I came home exhausted and emotionally spent. Fresh off the grief of losing my grandmother, student needs at an all-time high, and general insomnia, I plopped down on my bed and closed my eyes for what I thought was for fifteen minutes.  

When I woke up, groggy and bleary-eyed, I saw a bunch  (15 if I remember correctly) of missed calls and a text that read I’m really worried, I am calling the police. I shot up out of the sleepy stupor. Police?? Was someone trying to break into the apartment?? After scrolling through the text, I realized that it was close to 10: 30 PM. Turns out I accidentally locked my friend and their daughter out of the house and they tried to get in contact with me. I immediately called them back only for another woman from the church to answer. She explained that my friend and her daughter were now at her place. She asked me how did this happen, had I been on medication?

I felt the condemnation creep up. The following day, when I was about to text my friend to apologize profusely for what happened, they read my mind. They ended up leaving that morning, saying that the incident from the previous night was the reason they couldn’t stay with me anymore.

Those memories flashbacked this weekend. How similar thoughts of “How could I be so careless? Why didn’t I set the alarm?? What would the other members think if my friend told them about the incident?

We each have our weaknesses; shame is a huge one for me. And that’s where the devil strikes.

I have to remember I am human. I make mistakes. Some small. Some large. What I do after is what matters. Paul in Philippians 3:13 to forget what’s in the past and try to reach the goals in front of us . Similarly in Isaiah 43:18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past”. That means “if I just” or “This wouldn’t ofs”.

Going forward, I now know to be more discerning when presented with an offer too good to be true. To ask questions. To investigate.

We learn when we make mistakes. We become smarter and wiser. We can help others avoid the same mistakes we made.

Speaking of helping others avoid being scammed.

1.       If ANYONE messages you with an offer for Bitcoin or other too good to be true opportunities. Ask a ton of questions. Hackers will start to become agitated and pressure you for an immediate answer to their “offer”. Reply “No thank you” and block on whichever social media site they messaged you through.

2.      If a relative or friend messages you, call them immediately to ask if they really sent the message. If not, their social media account has been compromised, and let them know right away.

3.      Common sites where hackers try their scams: Instagram, Facebook, and Whatsapp.

4.      Sometimes you’ll get a message on Whatsapp from someone claiming they meant to message someone else. They’ll try and sweet talk you into forming a relationship (this also happened to me. I tell ya, I’m going through some surreal situations). Do not respond and again, block that account.

God uses our experiences so that we can be a support to others.

Maybe Silly isn’t so bad after all. Lesson Learned.

With Love,

Leah 

Helpful Youtube Video about Social Media Scams  

Scammers Impersonate Instagram Users in Crytpo Scheme 

Woman loses 390,000 of Inheritance in Crypto Romance Scheme

Hello, My Name is Leah and I am Pro-Life

Hello, my name is Leah and I am Pro-Life.  

DeacPost - Knit Together in the Womb - The LDA
Photo Courtesy of Lutheran Diaconal Association

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them”  Psalms 139: 13-16 (ESV)

There are moments that seem so surreal that you’re not really sure if you’re living within time and space. One of these moments was on June 24th, 2022. I was browsing my Facebook feed and saw a particular post that read “Great Job Supreme Court”. I immediately opened up a second tab, typed in CNN.com and saw “Breaking News: SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS ROE V WADE”. 

I should have been elated. 

Then why did I have such a sinking in the pit of my stomach. 

I thought a lot about what I wanted this post to be about. Would I passionately defend my pro-life position? Would I go on a tirade about how sinful abortion was in the eyes of God? 

Truth is, I have little idea how to address my feelings about what has transpired this past week. 

All I know is my conviction. That I believe life begins at conception. How I hope that some unborn lives will be saved. How my prayers include pleas for God to change the hearts of people so they can see the humanity and value of human life. 

How I’m terrified to express my satisfaction at the court ruling.  If I said my piece, my point of view, the backlash I might face from colleagues, friends and even some family members.  

Yet, I must stand in the truth of the Scripture. Jesus already prepped us to face opposition to our beliefs. Through Him, we can stand firm in our convictions despite what others say about us. 

I recall the story of many disciples deserting Jesus in John 6:66. Much of Jesus’s teachings required His followers to deny themselves, walk on a narrow path and preach the gospel which had many detractors.  

Jesus gives us the courage to stand up for our beliefs. A scripture that helps me is Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes”. 

Well, I believe in life. A right to make your mark on this world. That life matters no matter what life form. 

With Love, 

Leah 

Links to pro life organizations: 

Human Life International: https://www.hli.org/ 

https://www.heartbeatinternational.org/

 

Good Grief, Leah Royster: A Reflection of my Grieving Process and Journey Part 1

Phase 1: Anticipation and Denial

My Gorgeous Grandmother, Montie Neblett

**If anyone has a prayer request or is grieving and could use an outlet to share their healing process you can email me at godlyandgaptoothed@gmail.com . Peace and blessings!

“She won’t take her medicine, eat and she’s been fighting the hospital staff” I said in an exasperated tone to my therapist on a chilly, gray January afternoon. 

My therapist paused and said, “What does that suggest to you, Leah?” 

“I’m not sure”. I said quietly, even though I knew exactly where my therapist was headed and I was determined to try to stop the freight train sized words that were to come next. 

“It suggests that she’s done. If she’s not fighting to live, then she’s fighting for the right to die, to move on”. My therapist continued, “ You have to make sure you do everything you can to make peace with your grandmother’s transition. Think about what you need to have closure”. 

Let’s rewind. 

My grandmother, Montie Neblett, passed away February 7th of this year. Rewind further; on December 29th, 2021, my grandmother called my mother’s house number; lately she refused to get out of bed, wouldn’t eat or drink, and weighed 82 pounds. I happened to answer the phone and was glad to hear her voice. Looking back, she sounded weak and fragile; I asked her how she was doing; the conversation was brief and the last thing she said to me was : “I’m going to get up because I have to poop”.  I told her to be careful going to the bathroom. I’m not sure if I told her I loved her.  

Part of me wonders if I should have called my aunt Emma, whom my grandmother was living with before she passed, to make sure grandma was ok going to the bathroom.  

Later that evening, around 9 PM, Aunt Emma called. “Grandma had a fall, we’re at the hospital right now”. 

The 6 and half weeks between grandma’s fall and her passing were the cliche blur everyone talks about after a traumatic, life changing experience. Grandma ended up breaking her hip, requiring surgery, survived the surgery, but declined shortly after she started physical therapy at the nursing home. 

After the conversation with my therapist (the first Monday in January), I retreated into the “denial” phase of letting go of a loved one. I didn’t call to check in about grandma. I didn’t pick up the phone when my mom called because I anticipated the news that wasn’t too far off. I thought to myself, “Mom would text me to call her immediately if something was wrong”. 

Perhaps I unconsciously let go of my grandmother during that period between December 29th, 2021 until February 7th. Maybe I was upset with her for letting herself decline so quickly, refusing to eat, or fight for her life. I expected her to be around forever or at least to 100. Then I’d be ready to let her go. 

Phase 2 : Grieving and Guilt

The day after Grandma passed, I went to work. The whole day I waded through reality and an awkward dream-like state. I taught, smiled and laughed with students, and went to staff meetings. The first day of the grieving process is numb; you understand the person is gone, but not all of you has processed the implications, the loss, the void in your life. 

The second day was the hardest. The night before I sent an email to my co-teachers, principal and other support staff explaining the situation. The email was matter of fact, to the point.  Next day, I received multiple condolences from the colleagues that knew. I cried a few times in the back of my classroom, but immediately painted on  a huge smile once students started filing into the room. I didn’t tell them my grandmother died and as far as they knew, the day was a regular instructional day. 

Another blurry sequence of events followed before, during and after the funeral. The flight to Greensboro, North Carolina (God blessed me with a cheap price. 183.00 round trip to NC!). Seeing my grandma’s sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and of course my mother. I hate the idea of funerals and witnessing grief up close. Crying and emotion triggers major discomfort for a multitude of reasons, which is why I avoided funerals in the past. 

The most tense moment happened during the funeral procession. Last time I saw grandma, she appeared chipper and eager to visit her house in Florida. My chest constricted the closer I approached her casket. She looked like one of those wax figures from Madame Tussaud’s. Artificial. In some ways seeing her so unlike how she looked made her transition easier. That wasn’t grandma Montie. I pictured her lounging in one of her long, silky,  nightgowns watching the news. 

I said a few words in honor of her. Listened to the sobs of my mother and my grandmother’s sisters. My cousin, who is a pastor, delivered the eulogy. We had the repasse. Went back to my Aunt Emma’s house to reminisce. I stayed in grandma’s room, the same room where she made her transition. There was a rose scented candle that had been burning for 3 straight days. I remember mom whispering “Is that you mommy?”  The superbowl was that Sunday and while my cousin watched the game, I excused myself, went to the guest room and let out a series of sobs. I think I cried more that weekend of the funeral than I cried in years. 

After I returned to New York the onslaught of guilt rushed at me like a stampede. What if I called her more? Why didn’t I visit her during her final days? I thought of every missed call from her and all the time I thought “I’ll call her back” and never did. All the times I was annoyed with her.  All the times I said things out of anger. The times I forgot to send her a birthday or Christmas gift. All the times I forgot to say “I love you”. 

Then there were random moments of grief. One afternoon in March, I went to get a slice of pizza. Instead of ordering the rectangular slice, I asked the cashier about the square slice with basil. He said “Oh, that’s our grandma’s slice”. Cue the tears. On the subway I saw an advertisement about a new food delivery app. The slogan: “Delivering soup as good a grandma’s”. During Mother’s Day season, I walked into Target and immediately saw a journal titled “Grandma tell me your story”. A commercial with a grandmother and her granddaughter solving a mystery. All blatant reminders of the permanent hole in my life. 

Then there’s the fact I moved up the ladder in my family. Grandma was my last living grandparent and now it’s mom, then me. Seeing mom grieve, settle grandma’s estate, close out her bank accounts, cancel her cell phone service, make arrangements to bring grandma’s body to be buried in Florida became a grim preview of what I’ll have to experience in the future. 

Grandma’s resting place in Florida

Phase 3: How I’m coping and what helps me cope.

My therapist stressed to grieve in a way that’s healthy. One point she made stuck with me; “Leah, your grandma passed with dignity. She decided she was ready to transition and did so on her own terms”. 

Grandma left this life at 93. Saw 5 generations of grandchildren. Transitioned in a warm bed Peacefully. 

People are right when they say grief comes in waves. Some days I am smiling, blissful and then something random will remind me of grandma and I’ll start to tear up. 

Only this time I let the tears come. I lean on the Lord. Prayer and journaling have been a tremendous support. Scriptures such as Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” and Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” solidify that God is carrying me through this grief journey. 

I watch old sitcoms my grandma used to watch. When we went to her house in Florida, I grabbed some of her nightgowns she wore most often, a picture nestled in a gold heart shaped frame of her and grandpa, and her pink slippers. Having reminders of her helps me feel her essence, a piece of her still here. 

Then I enjoy my life. I reach out to family and friends more often. Plan picnics on sunny days. Travel. Take walks in parks. Sit by a body of water and breathe in the fresh air. Celebrate every birthday, every milestone and every achievement. 

James 4: 14 tells us unabashedly (gotta love the pragamicity of the book of James)  “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are but a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (English Standard Version). 

Somber as this sounds, I’m inspired to live the abundant life God has given me. Whether I live for another sixty years of if my time is up tomorrow, I want to know that I honored and embraced life. Loved others like Jesus loved. Gave. Supported. Comforted. 

If anyone is grieving a loss of a loved one, I am definitely praying for you! Everyone will experience loss and grieve. And there’s comfort knowing we all go through a shared experience. I’m grateful for grief; it’s a little reminder that we know how to love. One of the most profound lines about grief came from a Marvel TV series called Wandavision (Disney, 2021). One of the characters says “What is grief, but love persevering” (now I dare anyone to tell me Marvel has no substance after that brilliant line). The love I have for Grandma Montie remains. The memories. The laughs. The legacy. 

I am grateful for everything she taught me. Grateful I had her for almost 33 years of my life. Grateful she’s earned her rest. And grateful I get to continue to live to make her proud. 

I’ll always be grandma’s girl. 

With Love, 

  Leah

Security in God’s Victory  (Or, What the Cross Means to Me)

Every Sunday the church I attend participates in communion. Prior to the symbolic breaking of bread, there’s a sermonette segment of the service dubbed “What the Cross Means to Me”. The purpose of the time is for each member to reflect on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  A member comes up in front of the congregation and shares about how the sacrifice of Jesus has changed them in a certain way. 

In Luke 9:23, Jesus discusses that His followers must pick up their “crosses” everyday and follow Him. For Jesus, the cross was bearing the sins of the world, past, present and future. For us, God gave me a revelation that we will have various crosses to bear in our lifetime. I see each day as a new cross to carry. 

When I think about what the cross means to me, there’s victory.  While I was on hiatus from the current church I attend, I worshiped with a bilingual Spanish church. One of the Sermon’s was titled “The Victorious One is Here”. The sermon examined Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem a week prior to His crucifixion (I think this was the palm Sunday service). The pastor passionately asserted that Jesus was crucified so that we could have victory in our walk.

 Most of my life, I lived in a constant state of defeat. . I brushed off life, expecting to fail at my goals, dreams and desires. I developed a defeatist attitude in all areas of my life; ministry, jobs, friendships, leadership roles at my school, and different degree programs. Mentally and emotionally, I gave up on ever truly belonging or finding that solid forever friend group. One little setback and I’m saying “nothing ever works out”. I gave up on marriage. Having children. Writing. Feeling peace. My anxieties, fears, depression, insecurities and doubts were waging war in my mind and at times defeat felt imminent. 

Jesus is victorious. He didn’t suffer for hours, almost naked, lungs bubbling with blood, flesh hanging off and bearing the crushing weight of my sins for me to dwell in defeat. He conquered death, a victorious eternal king. Paul directly states in 1 Corinthians 15:57 “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. Whenever I’m tempted to walk with the weight failure, I cling to God’s truth. That because of Jesus I can overcome, persevere, dream, and try. 

The next steps are to put on the victorious casing in my daily walk with God. A practical way to walk victoriously is to celebrate and thank God for the victories I experience each day; a lesson plan that my students enjoyed, making a colleague smile or uplifting the spirits of someone who was having a crummy day. I can look forward to and believe in future victories; a family member or close friend saying yes to Jesus, my students graduating from High school, a finished manuscript of my first novel. SOmetimes I will fail or take a misstep. Yet I remember who I belong to, the one who overcame the world, death and sin. 

Side by side with Jesus, I’ll always strut in victory. 

With Love, 

Leah

*Scriptures related to victory*

  1. 1 John 5:4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
  2. Deuteronomy 20:4 For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” (New International Version)

Social (In)security: A series of Reflections on Fellowship and Connectivity

Each Sunday I wake up with the same tightness in my chest; the thought of going to church is supposed to encourage and uplift my spirit. The church I currently attend laudes itself as “the fellowship of believers” or the “God’s family”. The culture thrives on intimate connection through Christ, which is 100% biblical. The church leaders expect us to be immersed in each other’s lives, no boundaries and with complete trust. Almost every Sunday service there’s a member tearfully expressing how much they are grateful for the body of believers. The scripture often quoted comes from Matthew 13:44 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field( NIV Version)”. 

I sit in silence as church goers weave right past me. This is the part of the service called “The Fellowship break” where eager congregation members huddle, all smiles and hugs. I watch as women in flowery dresses squeal in delight as they approach another sister (in Christ). I watch brothers (in Christ) fist bump and bro hug. The cacophony of conversations swirls all around me and one part of my brain begs “Get up, go say hi to someone. This is why you’re lonely and don’t feel connected. You’re not trying”. Then the dominant, insecure part of my brain retorts “I told you we don’t belong here. No matter how hard she tries, she’s never going to feel connected. We’ll always be on the outside”. 

A close  friend of mine point blank asked me “I wonder if you really value the Kingdom” (the members of the congregation). The more I ponder that question (and she asked me this almost a year ago), the more I find myself wrestling with the requirement of being bonded with a single fellowship. Naturally, I’m an introvert and coupled with social anxiety creates a cocktail of overwhelming feelings when I go to church for various “meetings of the body”. 

Instead of experiencing encouragement and love, I am ready to leave as soon as I get to the 3rd floor of the building where the service is held. Sweaty palms, fuzzy head and blurry vision I take my seat. Instead of clapping and bouncing along to the sounds of worship, all I experience is a hollow heartache. I wonder why I decided to come back after leaving the Church in May of 2021. It seems the more I try to connect with members, the more the emptiness and disconnect increases. 

My therapist attributes my social anxiety to the fact that I purposely made myself a wallflower to protect myself from being hurt by others. She said “You’re not used to putting yourself out there and initiating conversations. Oftentimes you’re going to have to make the first move”. 

There are times when I make an effort to connect with the women of the church. I smile, make small talk, but then the conversation stalls or feels too forced, inauthentic. In fact, I often feel like I have to put on a facade, conform to the person the people in the fellowship want me to be ; gregarious, talkative, peppy. Sometimes I feel like I have to be someone else to be accepted, to be chosen to participate in service or just plain seen. 

There’s a quote from one of my favorite movies “The Breakfast Club” (John Hughes, 1985). Andrew, the jock, says to John Bender, the trouble maker, “You know, Bender, you don’t even count. I mean if you disappeared forever it wouldn’t make a difference. You may as well not even exist in this school”. 

That sums up how I can view myself in the context of the church I attend. Invisible. Overlooked. There’s a desperation and longing to experience the same fellowship that is so praised by the church leaders and members. But I don’t. And there are many times I don’t think I ever will.  

Then I think of Jesus, how I belong to Him once I said “Jesus is Lord”. John 1:12 “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he became the right to become children of God”. I may be one of God’s shier sheep, but I have to remember “The Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture”(Psalm 100:3).  

Another important point is to know that I am not the only person who struggles with social anxiety, loneliness or feeling invisible. It can be hard to admit these struggles in an environment where instant bonding is celebrated. I’m reminded to pray and seek out those who are overlooked. 

One challenge I literally just gave myself as I conclude this post is for next Sunday; find someone who is sitting alone, who isn’t engaging in conversation and just say hello. We have a God who sees us even when people look right past us. I am 1000% guilty of staying in my bubble, too afraid to move when someone is feeling the exact way I am. Sometimes my I get so caught up in my owns thoughts, I need to have eyes like Jesus, able to see the Zacchaeuses longing to be seen from the treetops (Luke 19:1-2) 

I’m grateful to be able to write about this topic. Social anxiety, loneliness and the persistent feeling of being left out may not be the most comfortable topic within a church. It requires examination internally and externally. My prayer is that all those who feel like I do know how much God loves and cares for each of us. As much as I would like to at times , we are not meant to live life alone. God created Eve for Adam because He knew it wasn’t good for anyone to be alone. Perhaps one day the connections will come. For now, I’ll fix my eyes on Jesus, because I know He calls me friend. 

And with a friend like Jesus, who can ever be lonely? 

With Love, 

Leah

A Bold New Life

“Would anyone like to volunteer to share a four minute story? We’ve got prizes”. The MOTH presenter, *John, enticed. I looked greedily at the stack of books he plopped down on the podium. Always a sucker for free literature and immediately raised my hand. Me. The young woman who can sometimes barely look a person in the eye. Me. The young woman who freezes mid conversation with a complete stranger. Me. The young woman who used to keep her eyes planted on the sidewalk. Me. The young woman who immediately races past chatty church folk to get to the seat in the farthest corner, usually hidden by a concrete pillar. Me. The young woman who stayed silent at staff meetings even though a tornado of thought and ideas were swirling around her head. 

“Awesome! Come on up!” John eagerly welcomed me to the front of the room. The story I picked was random; an anecdote about my time working at a small movie theater walking distance from my house. God gifted me the title on the spot “Well Spoken”. 

I’ll tell you the tale of “Well Spoken” in another blog post. What mattered to me was not the story I told, but that God blessed me with the courage to tell this particular story in the first place. As far as stories go, there were far more compelling and poignant ones in my repertoire. And I really wanted the bell hooks (RIP) title “All About Love”

After I finished my story I received enthusiastic claps and John smiled and said “That was awesome, you finished in 4 minutes exactly!” He continued “There’s so many ways to expand on that story. Great Job!”. 

I grabbed my literary prize and two new friends I made at the MOTH workshop congratulated me on telling my story. 

What’s wild is that I wasn’t even supposed to be at that storytelling workshop in the first place. 

Let’s rewind to the night of June 17th. 

With Juneteenth approaching, I felt like I needed to commemorate the true “independence day” (loosely independent) for Black American. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture , a historic institution that specializes in archives of Black history, was holding a literary festival in honor of Juneteenth. I browsed the list of events and The MOTH storytelling workshop immediately caught my attention. 

The MOTH is a non profit organization that specializes in oral storytelling. The organization hold various storytelling workshops, story slams (people compete) and community sharing of stories. The premise is to tell a mostly unedited, true story in 5 minutes or less. The stories can range from a person’s first kiss to the time they were chased by rabid monkeys in the rainforest. Each story should be unique to the person, raw and exposing in some aspect. 

I was excited to see a free workshop and I quickly clicked the link to register. To my disappointment I saw there were no more spots left and no where to put your email on a waitlist. Bummed I prayed, “Lord, if it’s you will, I would really, really, super really like to attend this workshop”. 

Well, you know the rest of the story. 

If this was me from two years ago, I would have sulked and thought, “oh well, maybe next time”. But I shot my shot. I strolled into the workshop 30 minutes before the start time and asked another attendee if she knew if there was a waitlist. She responded she wasn’t sure, but encouraged me to stay. 

Because I was bold and took a chance, I met two new friends, both aspiring writers. I learned about different storytelling techniques. We listened to one of the presenters tell a compelling story about his time in Paris, France. 

If I hadn’t approached that brightly lit room, walls covered with pictures of smiling black and brown faces, in the basement of the Schomburg, I would not be telling you this story right now. 

God wants us to be bold. 

If you look at His creation, the entire planet is a bold statement of his majesty! We are told to fan into flame the gift of God that is is in us (2 Timothy 1:6). I boldly prayed to get into that MOTH workshop and 1 John 5:14 was fulfilled in that moment; “ And this confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us” 

One day, I’ll work up to  the MOTH storytelling stage. I truly believe God has placed an abundance of stories for me to share. Perhaps He can use my stories to spark someone else into sharing their own story. 

Because we all have a story to tell. And we have one incredible Author who writes our own. 

With Love, 

Leah 

Resources: The MOTH: https://themoth.org/
Bible Verses Courtesy of: https://www.biblelyfe.com/blog/bible-verses-about-boldness

The Trouble With Love Part 1

“I hope I’m not becoming a misanthrope” I sighed to my friend, *Janice, on a Tuesday evening. We were relaxing in her cozy, 10th floor apartment after a dinner of hard shell tacos. I explained that people are irritating me to the extreme lately and I didn’t want to become closed off to others. 

Lately, I’ve grown to empathize with cranky and cantankerous characters like All in the Family Archie Bunker or The Grinch. Each time I venture out into the open world, I grow frustrated with abrasive New Yorkers shoving past me with so much as an “excuse me” to cram into an overcrowded city bus (I admit, I may have too high expectations of NYC dwellers in terms of courtesy and politeness). I clench my hands into fists while waiting in line at Mc’donalds while  an indecisive customer decides to play 50 questions with the cashier. I give my scariest evil eye to the lady at the restaurant who is playing an obnoxious video on her phone at maximum volume (This also happens on NYC buses ; newsflash there’s this nifty little invention called headphones) 

What’s bothering me is that my specific prayer, recently, is for God to cultivate a love like Jesus. A pure, sacrificial, no barriers and complete love.  

Instead the mere existence of the human species vexes me to the point I want to pull an Emily Dickinson; shut myself off from humanity and continually churn out novels from the refuge of my bedroom. 

Yet God gave this one commandment in Matthew 22:38 that admittedly causes me great angst ; Love your neighbor as yourself”.  

Lord why are 90% (a guestimate) my neighbors so darn unlovable. 

Of course I am not 100% lovable myself. Stated at the beginning of this piece, my misanthropic tendencies are growing faster than weeds in a field. I shy away from conversations, connections and can be downright standoffish to others. My therapist and I have talked through childhood learnings that contributed to my behaviors. However, as a child of God I am called to the highest standard (which I sometimes throw tantrums at). I often wonder why “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son” (John 3:16). Yes, the world. Not just Christians. Not just my parents. Not just my brother. Not just my aunts, uncles, cousins and my cozy network of close friends. God loves everyone. 

And as much as love is a struggle for me, I must love everyone too. 

This sunday at church, a young woman talked about how Jesus wept for humanity. She used a term that I mentally kicked myself for not coming up with on my own “We need to sow tears for humanity”. She discussed loving without barriers, limits and expectations. The sermon hit me with a proverbial arrow to the heart and I realized my heart needed God to perform major surgery. 

For this summer I’ve decided to give this “love without limits” thingy a try with the expectation that it becomes part of my DNA makeup. I want to bleed 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. To live out 1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (New International Version). 

Most of all, I want to love like Jesus. Unconditional and without limits. A sacrificial love. 

With Love, 

Leah

Reclaiming My Voice

Annadale Falls Grenada. This Spring break trip sparked a new energy for creativity!

“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3, English Standard Version)”. 

Praise God I completed the 7 day blog challenge! This is the longest blogging streak I’ve completed and each day grew more and more strenuous. I suppose that’s what happens when you don’t use a muscle or skill; your body and brain stretches in ways not stretched in a while. 

Today I started a six week writing workshop hosted  by New York Writers Coalition (NYWC). Each Saturday from 2-4 I join other writers on Zoom along with the instructors. The workshop is completely free, unless people make donations to the organization. The instructors present us with a prompt and we’re given 20-30 minutes to write. The instructor gave a prompt called “Taking it back”. Below is the piece I came up with. 

I’m taking back my voice. I buried her deep in the crevices of my insecurities. “No one listens to you”. “No one cares what you have to say”. “Our words will always go unheard and ignored”. “Why do you bother speaking anyway?”. 

When I was little, my voice danced freely while reverberating through time and space. So much needed to be said, expressed, challenged and questioned. 

Yet, so many attacks caused her to retreat. Adults telling her to “Be quiet and stop making so much noise”. Ridicule by our peers when she spoke freely during class. Teachers overlook her words. 

SO I captured and bound my voice, trying to silence her permanently. “Only speak when spoken to”. I sternly warned her. “If people invite us into the conversation, then I’ll let you go”. 

I kept her imprisoned in a cage, but I never expected her to grow restless, enlarge, grow louder and become steeled. 

Somewhere during our lifetime, she became too powerful to contain. As I grew, so did she. Outgrew her cage. 

And then she ripped open the seemingly impenetrable cage I stuffed her in all those years ago. 

Now I think she’s planning on taking me back. 

Taking back her rightful place, an unstoppable force. Determined to be heard, she tore down the fortress of silence I worked tirelessly to construct and uphold. 

She terrifies me. 

My voice speaks her mind. She shares the depths of her innermost thoughts with strangers. Speaks her truth while demanding an audience. And for God’s sake, when did she get so loud! 

My voice; off and on the page, no longer accepts silence, disregard or attempts to extinguish her flame. 

A Flame which continues to spread and there’s nothing I can do. My voice, the fiery phoenix. 

As I continue to rediscover my writer’s voice, I hope to spark courage and elation in everyone who comes across The Bashful Butterfly blog. To share how  the Glory and grace of God constantly transforms me into someone bold and powerful. Come join this journey with us! 

With Love, 

Leah   

**In case readers are  looking a writers group: 
NY Writers Coalition: https://nywriterscoalition.org/

Racing to The Finish Line

Hiking Mt. Rainier, Washington State. I was fixing to pass out, but I made it somewhat to the top.

Well, I’ve come to a place in my seven day writing marathon where I’m feeling the strain and exhaustion of pouring out intimate parts of myself. There’s a rawness to realness and right now my innermost parts are sore. I find that the second to last part of any journey or goal is the hardest. I’m almost to the seven day mark of my writing sprint, but this sixth day is pushing my limits! 

What I’ve found fascinating about the writing sprint is the different directions each blog piece has taken. As if the words came alive and said “not this way, but that way”. Originally, today’s post was going to be about love and an intense conversation I had with a woman in my Bible talk about the topic. I sat down to write about our conversation and my learnings, but the words were stuck in a pipeline of the muckiness of writer’s block. I crossed out sentence after sentence until I paused. “Perhaps I should write a poem about love” I thought. No go. 

That’s when I realized that I was tired. The week had been long, strenuous, my students ancy in anticipation for the weekend. For five days straight my fingers sprinted across the keyboard, producing words that were pent up for years and years. The process was liberating, exhilarating and a hundred mile per hour coaster with dips, loops and twists. My energy is at an all time high. 

Now I’m pooped. 

And that’s perfectly fine. 

I think about the concept of a marathon. The goal isn’t to finish first or finish the quickest. The goal is to simply persevere and finish. At times, that means taking breaks. Or say more with less. Writing is hard! Even if the words are flowing perfectly in my head, getting what I want to say on page is a whole other event. I wish I could lasso the words in my brain and yank them right on the page. However, each lap I complete is a victory. Each time I put my writing out into the world of the web is an accomplishment. 

Last summer I went to Seattle,Washington  with a good friend I met at graduate school. She’s an experienced hiker who thrives in nature. I’m more of a “sit my tush down underneath a shaded tree in a park with a Starbucks a few blocks away” type of gal .  One foggy morning we hiked up Mt Rainier. I thought I was either going to pass out or tumble down the mountain. There were times I needed to slow down. My friend would be way up ahead and I was far back huffing and puffing the higher the altitude became. 

But I hiked that mountain. 

A scripture I came across in the Bible is 2 Chronicles 15:7  “But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!” (New King James Version)  There were times I didn’t know if I would be able to commit to all seven days of writing a blog . Yet, God has a lot to say through me and trust me it’s best to let Him speak! 

So let’s finish this race. I see the finish line!  

With Love, 

Leah