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 

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/

 

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

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

Security in Christ When You’re Fearful

Hoh National Forest in Washington state. Great place for a prayer walk and to thank God for His creation!

“Hopeless”. “Desensitized”.  “Numb”. “I don’t feel safe here”. “I’m always looking over my shoulder”. “ I feel like I always have a bullseye on my back”. “This happens all the time”. I’m honestly ready to die”. 

  These words, spoken by my former students, shattered my heart. I looked around at the Black and Brown solemn faces, resignation and weariness etched in the expressions. What was frightening was how permanent those etchings were. 

I teach 9th grade English and part of the school culture is “healing circles”. Healing circles happen when there’s harm done in a community; usually a classroom where a fight breaks out or a major conflict between two students. The circle is meant for everyone to express, openly and without interruption, how they were impacted by the event. In this circle, we spoke about the Buffalo, NY massacre where almost a dozen, mostly African American, were killed by an 18 year old white male. 

A young man who could have been one of my students. 

We are living in troubling times; a two year pandemic, natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, the war crisis in Ukraine and ever present gun violence. According to the National Public Radio there have been 198 mass shootings in the United States. Everyday a news article pops up detailing a shooting in New York City.

Sometimes it’s all too much. 

When I listened to my students a heartbreak and fury arose in me. I am furious at lawmakers, politicians, guns rights advocates, adults in general. We have to do better for our children. They deserve to live in peace. They deserve to live without a cloak of heavy fear weighing them down. 

I too at times feel hopeless. The Bible tells us “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, and they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31, New International Version). 

What happens when all you want to do is faint?   

There is no easy, quick 1-2-3 remedy. In troubling times, God understands that we are running on empty.  The Bible is excellent at giving feedback on when you’re just too fed up with this chaotic world. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). In thinking about this, here are a few ways I can share on how I  remain hopeful when the world is going crazy around us; 

  1. Find a quiet place in nature (a park or taking a walk in a garden or wooded area): I love going on nature walks when I need a break from the noise of the world. Praying in a park or a beach, sitting down under a tree and journaling are great ways to appreciate the natural artistry of God’s creation. Being in nature reminds me how vast God’s majesty and sovereignty are. 
  2. Healing circles and support groups: Part of what attracted me to the High school I teach at was their response to community tragedies. The support staff and administration do an excellent job of preparing students to lead Healing circles. Being able to hear from your peers and know that we are feeling going through the same trauma helps us be more connected. Churches are also great spaces to s
  3. eek out people who will pray with and for you when the world gets too overwhelming.
  4. Gratitude Journaling: One of my friends gave me a challenge; everyday list five things you’re grateful for. focusing on what’s going well and how God blesses you can shift your mindset away from the negativity around you.  

Lastly, living without fear. When you look at the news, Facebook, twitter and other social media; we’re inundated with negativity. I always hold on to 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (New King James Version). God wants to live without looking over our shoulder for something to go wrong. Of course we should live wisely, be aware of our surroundings and let family and friends know where we are if we have to be out late or going on a long trip. However, God gave us life to live in full, not in fear. 

At the end of our circle, one of the students said “This is why I cherish every moment like it’s my last”. I hope that all of us have an aquarium filled with moments of laughter, joy, peace and love.  

With Love, 

Leah 

Resources: These are the websites of churches I’ve attended that have prayer teams and support groups. 

  1. Palabras De Vida (Words of Life): https://ccpvida.org/
  1. New York City International Christian Church: https://newyorkcityicc.org/contact/?fbclid=IwAR3RzjPmG2PQx5CdgUcfMv5ZHAlW2Z0-ku8UHdqqxW6uoFL0kkyMif3GxwE
  1. C3 NYC: https://www.c3.nyc/  
  2. Rejoyce in Jesus Ministries : https://rejoyce.online/

Security in Identity

Grand Etang National Park, Grenada. Being the beautifully and fearfully made person of God!

“You should ask the women how they see you”.

I sat across from my friend, ***Tara, as she took another sip of her drink. What she was referring to was for me to ask the women in my Bible talk how they perceived me. 

Earlier in the day, during the fellowship break at Sunday church service, *Tara approached me me all smiles and sunshine radiating in each step she took. I tried to smile away the unease that had been resting inside my stomach since I left my apartment. 

“How are you?” She asked. 

“We’ll talk”. I replied. “We’ll talk”, is code for when I’m absolutely overwhelmed or inexplicably lonely in a place where I’m supposed to experience love, friendship and unity. 

Tara and I made plans to meet around seven at night. She mentioned a craving for Wendy’s fries and the sugary strawberry lemonade. She picked me 

A little after 7, Tara picked me up in a cute black and white Mini Cooper and we drove to a Wendy’s close to my apartment.   After we ordered our food, settled in our seats, I spoke openly. 

“Honestly Tara, the only reason I think I’m still with the church is because of accountability”. Our church has a culture of “discipling” where each member meets with a man or woman who holds them accountable to the standards of the Bible. Each of us is  supposed to meet with our discipler once a week to discuss areas of spiritual growth, pray and confess any sin we need to get out into the open. Tara had been my discipler for 9 months at one point so I rapport was easy and light. I knew she wouldn’t judge or rebuke me harshly. 

I continued softly. “Sometimes I think I made a mistake coming back to the church”. 

Tara nodded at me to keep pouring out my thoughts. “It’s like people only like me for who they think I should be or who they want me to be”. I stared at my half eaten bourbon bacon cheeseburger. 

“I feel so pressured by people to be someone else”. 

Ever since I joined the church I currently attend almost four years ago, the members, mostly well meaning women, have tried to mold me into a gregarious, spiritually fruitful, bubbly social butterfly, hoping I will shed my bashful nature. 

 I remember one woman from my Bible talk told me that my love for the congregation will be proven by the way I hug the other members of the church. I’m a side hugger, but the expectation is that you greet each sister and brother with a full sized bear hug. 

When disciples coach me on how to be a more social member of the church, I smile, nod and do my best to take the feedback. Yet something inside me seems hollow, inauthentic and unnatural. As if I have to put on a performance or dress in a personality that is too oversized for how God created my fit. 

  I’ve grown to appreciate the quiet, reflective, and sensitive nature that God is cultivating in me. I’m not sure other people do. 

The topic is a recurring theme in my therapy sessions. My therapist repeatedly encourages me to “honor the spirit of God inside you”. I think the struggle with the culture of the church is that there’s an expectation to conform to a certain way of behaving. Of course I’m going to be obedient to God, serve others, and do my best to love like Jesus does. 

However, there are times that people are trying to be my potter when there is a perfectly capable potter in Heaven. One of my anchor scriptures, particularly when it comes to identity is Isaiah 64:8 “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter ; we are the work of your hand” (New International Version). I wish people understood that its not their role to mold other people into who they expect them to be. 

Too often I tried to mold my identity into what was pleasing to other people. Through prayer, therapy, and self discovery, I’m figuring out who God intended me to be. Turns out I’m royal, chosen, special and holy (1 Peter 2:9). That I am wonderfully and fearfully made (Psalm 139: 13-14). 

Of course God wants us to grow into a holy and righteous person. He made us in His image and He’s the standard for how we should live and behave. But the unique characteristics He created in us shouldn’t be stripped away for another person’s preference . I’m learning to set healthy boundaries when people offer me feedback about myself. I discern, take what’s useful and leave the rest at the door. 

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)