Turning Darkness into Light

Psalm 18:28 – You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.

There are days that feel inexplicably unbearable. There are no identifiable triggers, no events that set it off. They just happen. Today started like any other day. It should have been easy: the kids were taking a test so I could concentrate on getting some grading done, last day of the quarter and a teacher work day tomorrow, a day off on Monday to look forward to . . . But for some reason today I just. couldn’t.

I think when Satan has had a stronghold in your life, it’s easy for him to sneak back in and attack. I spent the past year in a pretty chaotic emotional state. I hesitate to say depression, because I have never thought of myself as capable of being depressed, but if I’m honest, it was pretty close. Today I was under attack. I was right back to that place I thought I had been rescued from.

I walked into my windowless cement block of a room this morning and felt it all closing in on me. Fortunately arriving students forced me to pull it outwardly together, smile, exchange pleasantries, and act like a put-together adult. But on the inside I was struggling. I got my students started, then went to my “battle corner.”

In the back corner of my room is a filing cabinet and desk. My filing cabinet is covered in 3 X 5 cards on which I’ve written verses and quotes full of biblical truth. On my desk is another stack of 3 X 5 cards – verses, biblical promises I have claimed and collected and keep on standby for when I need them. Usually the promises I need for the day have to do with working hard for the Lord, loving as Christ loved us, being patient and kind . . .

Today, I walked back there praying inwardly: Lord, I can’t do this today. I can’t do this and I don’t know why. I’m falling apart, I’m slipping into darkness. I need help, I need rescue, and I need it now. Immediately, my eyes fell on this verse:

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.

Psalm 18:28

I picked up the card, slipped it into my pocket and walked back to the front of the room to my “working” desk. That was where it stayed for the day. I placed it in front of me and read it over and over. I fingered it in my pocket as I walked around helping students. I carried it with me to lunch. It came home with me and it sits beside me now.

I won’t tell you that I felt an instant peace as I read that verse. I didn’t. I fought this battle all day long. I continued to pray. I continued to ask for emotional help and relief. It didn’t come – not immediately. But I fought my battle by believing the Word God gave me today. I couldn’t feel it, but I believed it. I believed that God would keep my lamp burning. I believed that God would turn my darkness to light. We have to battle our emotions and our doubts by choosing to believe, even if, and especially when we don’t feel it.

I came home exhausted; not because the kids had been particularly difficult or that I was extremely busy. I was just spent from my day-long battle with my emotions and my unbelief. God kept my lamp burning; the flame may have been faint, but Praise God, it still burns. God is and will turn my darkness into light.

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Fighting Overwhelm – Part 2

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

I survived my first week back at school, and so, I should add, did my students. Monday morning was eerily quiet and subdued. At 7:39 am (go time for us), I rushed toward my classroom and thought, “Are they late releasing the kids?” But when I turned down the 8th grade hall, there they were, all 200+ 8th graders leaning half-asleep against the walls waiting to be let into class. completely. absolutely. silent. Not exaggerating.

If that doesn’t shock you, well, you’ve never been in a hallway with 200 14-year-olds. I would venture to say, you’ve never been in a hallway with two 14-year-olds. Let’s just say, it was a struggle to get students to do anything, let alone collaborative discussion. I actually heard myself say, “I need to hear some noise, guys.”

Five days, forty class periods, ten lesson plans, ninety scored essays, four parent contacts, two collaboration meetings, one department meeting, two major technology malfunctions (in the middle of my lesson, no less), and more than a few panicked students realizing the quarter ends next week, later. . .IT’S FRIDAY!!!

Last week I wrote about feeling overwhelmed as I prepared to go back to school. My job tends to be a huge trigger for overwhelm in my life, as I imagine it is for other women (probably men too). Talking about how to fight overwhelm on Friday is pretty easy as I’m quite jubilant to be sitting in front of the fireplace, barefoot and in my yoga pants, with absolutely nothing on my morning agenda but sleeping in, an easy morning jog, breakfast with the kids, and being able to leisurely sip my coffee rather than gulp it down like medicine. On Sunday, it takes a bit more faith to believe what I can easily proclaim on Friday.

Last week, I talked about the first weapon God equips us to fight overwhelm (and any other anxious thoughts): Thanksgiving. This week, my focus is on my second weapon:

Knowing Who I Serve.

There is a lot of noise in the world of education. Everyone has something to say about how we need to educate these kids – politicians, parents, school boards, “the people at the district office”, administrators. . . . There is a world of teacher jargon we are supposed to know and make sure we are addressing: What standard am I teaching? How will I know if they have meet it? What will I do if they don’t? How am I differentiating my lessons? What is today’s essential question? What level DOK is it? Is this assessment formative or summative? How will the data drive my instruction? HOW WILL I IMPROVE STUDENT TEST SCORES?

On top of the external pressures, there are students who just. won’t. learn. I know in the movies, there are teachers who are student-whisperers like Jaime Escalante in Stand by Me and LouAnne Johnson in Dangerous Minds who inspire gang-bangers and near-dropouts to become stellar students and phenomenal, contributing members of society through subjects like Calculus. Trust me, we all WANT to be those teachers. We want our students to be excited and engaged and successful, and so I work hard to try and make that happen, but I am not a student-whisperer. I don’t inspire every student. That’s the reality.

It’s easy to hear all the educational noise (and I’ll be honest, sometimes I get lost in the education-ese and have no idea what people are talking about – 12 years out of the business will do that to you), to compare myself to other teachers, to get down on myself when kids are failing or misbehaving or trying to sleep, to get completely overwhelmed with all I’m supposed to be making sure I am doing. Knowing I’m not doing this job as well as others. Knowing I’m not as knowledgeable. Wondering if I’ll ever catch up. . .

That’s when I have to take a deep breathe and ask myself: Who am I working for? Who am I trying to please?

The answer to that question has to be a resounding – God. I am working for God. I am a servant of God. I have been placed here by God to complete a good work He has planned for me. God designed me with my exact skills and abilities. I am in this place, in this time, for His purpose. And you know what’s so amazing about working for God? He doesn’t just tell us to do something, then leave us to figure it out on our own. He actually works in and through us to accomplish it – if we let Him. Philippians 2:13 says “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24 tells us “The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”!

I have to remind myself that I am not working just for my human boss. I need to respect and work hard for her – the Bible tells us that also. But greater than my principal, greater than my department head, greater than my superintendent, is my God. He doesn’t really care how my students score on that test (much to my relief). He wants me to be His representative, His light in a very dark place. I fight overwhelm by reminding myself that I don’t have to be successful by human terms. I am here to work as unto the Lord, living and loving these kids in a way that pleases Him. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galations 1:10).

Fighting Overwhelm – Part 1

Philippians 4:7 – And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The is my final weekend of Christmas Vacation. The past two weeks have been a much-needed respite – a time of refreshing for our family and time to get caught up at home. We celebrated the birth of our Lord with family out-of-state; we’ve had a steady stream of kids running through our house every day and sometimes all night; we finally painted and cleaned up our daughter’s room (we’ve had the paint for a year – cringe); and I’ve had time to clean my entire house, eat a proper breakfast, and enjoy my family.

I am thankful, but as I start thinking about heading back to school Monday, the familiar feelings of dread and anxiety begin creep in stealing my peace and my joy. I begin to remember all that needs to be done at school – papers to grade, lessons to plan, standards to dissect, meetings, an upcoming evaluation and a “smart goal” I need to achieve, difficult students to deal with, parents to contact, end-of-semester grade reports, and that impending test that hangs ever-oppressively over our content. I begin to fret about all that will get left un-done at home. I can easily let it consume and overwhelm me.

I know I am not alone in my overwhelm. Life is busy and it can be hard. If you read my first post, you know that this blog is about my learning to allow God to pull me out of emotional chaos and darkness by choosing to dwell on Biblical truth. I have been to very dark and lonely places this past year. Praise God He has seen fit to rescue me and arm me with weapons to fight my emotional battle. Over the next few posts I want to share 3 of those weapons.

So how do we Biblically fight overwhelm?

Weapon 1 – Give Thanks:

Philippians 4:6 says “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

It is easier said than done, not to worry. But when God gives us commands, He also gives us a way to carry out those commands. We are told not to worry, but it is not left at that. The answer for how follows. We are told not to worry, but to pray and “petition”, or ask, and to do so with thanksgiving. I have learned that giving thanks is not only a command, but a very effective coping mechanism.

My hour of worry and overwhelm tends to be 3 am (can you relate?). I will suddenly wake up, plagued with all the worries of what I need to do, what I’m not doing, the plight of my children, my husband, the world . . . I’m convinced the devil works overtime at night. To fight this battle, I’ve taken to getting up, opening my journal and writing out my worries and requests along with something I can be thankful for in relation to this worry. Last night was one such night. After fighting my wakeful thoughts for a while, I snuck downstairs and wrote it out in my journal. At 3 am I seem to think that everything depends upon me, so I had a lot to write down, but here’s an example: I work too much at home and neglect my house and my children (worry) — thank you, Lord, for a very helpful husband (thanksgiving). Help me to get my work-load under control (request/petition).

Overwhelm and worry are not only restricted to 3 am. Sometimes it can strike at inopportune moments; in the middle of class with thirty 8th graders under my supervision, for example (yes, I can be a complete nut-case). I’ve learned to grab a pen and post-it (ever-present teacher tools) and start jotting down things I am thankful for. The moment I can start giving thanks, panic subsides; I can breathe again. “The peace of God, which surpasses every thought, (begins to) guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). If it’s 3 am, I (usually) can sleep again; if it’s in the middle of class, the students don’t have to witness a complete teacher meltdown.

There is a worship song called Surrounded (Fight My Battles) by Upper Room that beautifully expresses this. A portion of the lyrics state:

In the valley I know that You’re with me
Surely Your goodness and Your mercy follow me
My weapons are praise and thanksgiving
This is how I fight my battles

I believe You’ve overcome
And I will lift my song of praise for what You’ve done

This is how I fight my battles
This is how I fight my battles
This is how I fight my battles
This is how

It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you . . .S

The hardest thing is that I have to repeat this process over and over. I will present my requests to God, thank Him, hand it over to Him, then pick it all up again. But it’s a battle I have to keep fighting. It’s a battle worth fighting. Sister, it may look like you are surrounded, surrounded by overwhelm, by circumstances, by sorrow, by sin . . . but you are surrounded by Him. Keep fighting your battle; give thanks.



Who am I Becoming?

Proverbs 16:9 — A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.

It is New Year’s Day, 2019. A new year, a new start. We resolve to be better people, to work out more and eat healthier (starting tomorrow of course – the 1st is football-watching day), to be more organized, to spend more time with our families . . .

I have often resisted New Year’s resolutions. They are so easily broken. But today, as we enjoy our days off (I’m sorry if you are working), relax with our families, and recover from late night celebrations, it is a good opportunity to reflect. I tell my students over and over: You are becoming who you will be; the choices you make now and the habits you are developing now are determining who you will become. I realize that eighth graders have a limited capacity for seeing beyond today, but maybe, just maybe, one will get it. And maybe, just maybe, I ought to take my own advice.

Today I am asking myself: Who am I becoming? What choices am I making and what habits am I developing? If I continue to make these choices and create these habits, who will I be one year from today? Who do I want to be one year from now? What choices and habits will help me become that person?

If I’m honest with myself I see that my thoughts, my words, and my actions are leading me to become an anxious woman, a negative woman, a defeated woman. This is not who I want to be, and more importantly, this is not who I am in Christ. In this morning’s Revive Our Hearts podcast, Nancy DeMoss Walgemuth (if you haven’t noticed, she’s my girl) posed the question, if we could ask God for four things, what would they be? As I was pedaling my way around the block with my dog, Daisy, on-leash, and my girl, Nancy, in my ears, I immediately had four words come to mind: wisdom, direction, peace, and joy.

This is what I want to become: a woman of wisdom, a woman of direction, a woman of peace, and a woman of joy. How? I don’t have the answers, but I know The Book that does.

How do I get wisdom? 

James 1:5-6 — If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

What steps do I need to take?

ASK – easy enough. “Ask in faith, with no doubting . . .” – much harder.

How do I find direction?

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.

What steps do I need to take?

Trust Him, don’t rely on what I know, acknowledge Him.

How can I have peace?

Philippians 4:6-7 – Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

What steps do I need to take?

Stop worrying, pray and give thanks instead.

How can I be full of joy?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

What steps do I need to take?

Rejoice, pray, give thanks no matter the circumstance. Just do it.

So, here I go, my resolutions for 2019:

  • Resolved to seek wisdom daily from my Father through prayer and time in His Word.
  • Resolved to ask for wisdom in faith – believe that He will do what He says He will do.
  • Resolved to set aside what I think I know about what I should do and where I should go – Pray and wait before I make a decision.
  • Resolved to take my worries to God in prayer, and thank Him for what He has already done.
  • Resolved to choose joy no matter my circumstances.

It’s a tall order. But I have God who works in me giving me the desire and the power to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13).

 

 

 

 

Where I Choose to Dwell

Philippians 4:8 – Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise–dwell on these things. (HCSB)

Last year was an extremely difficult year. In a very short time, our lives radically changed. I went from being full-time, stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, to full-time working mother of public school children. It was more difficult than I ever imagined. I loved being a stay-at-home mom. It wasn’t all “sunshine and lollipops,” but I believed in what I was doing and I was content, even on the hard days. Yet with my one choice, the family whom I was accustomed to being with all-day, every-day, was being torn apart. It felt like my heart would break each morning as I left my own children to spend my days teaching other people’s children — children who weren’t obedient, children who fought against me everyday no matter how hard I tried, children I knew in my head I needed to love but my guilt-ridden heart merely tolerated.

I am convinced that we often go through a period of grieving when life changes. I do not want to be insensitive to anyone who has grieved the loss of a loved one. I understand that is a different type of grief entirely, but I believe there is a grief of change. Over the course of the year I was grieving the loss of the life I once had, the loss of time with my family, and the loss of the person I identified as – mother and wife.

It was one of the darkest times of my life. I was heartbroken and homesick, I felt alone, I felt inadequate, I felt without hope, and I felt ashamed for not being able to handle this change gracefully. These thoughts and emotions took over and almost completely paralyzed me. I cried every day. I spent hours working and reworking lessons that seemed to only fall flat. I lost almost all confidence in my ability as a teacher. I felt completely useless as a wife and mother, and I struggled to enjoy the moments I did have with my family because dread of leaving them again would take over and poison my joy. I remember telling my husband one evening through my tears, “I don’t even recognize myself anymore; I miss the person I used to be.” He was always very kind, but I knew he agreed.

How God is bringing me out of darkness is a story that will unfold over time. It is still an on-going, difficult process. It has not yet been completely written. I still struggle with emotional chaos; longing for the life I once had, fighting thoughts of inadequacy, and questioning my ability, my calling, and my purpose. I still have days where I feel alone and without hope. Yet through this my relationship with God has grown. I am not the strong and “empowered” woman I once believed myself be. I am so very weak, but I take comfort in the promise that His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). I need Him like never before. Yes, God is my “crutch”. He’s a pretty good crutch; a crutch I never want to be able to be without.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth of Revive our Hearts often says that anything that makes us need God is a blessing. This time of life has been hard, but it has also been a blessing. I want to use this blog to share the many lessons I have learned and am still learning; the Biblical tools and truths God has armed me with in order to rise from despair and begin living in victory.

This brings me to the title I have chosen. As I prepared to return to school this August I began to panic, question, dread, and grieve. I tearfully spent each of my final summer mornings crying out to God and searching for help and answers. One morning I read Philippians 4:8 and the final words of the passage, “dwell on these things” stopped me. I felt in my soul these words: Choose where you will dwell.

This has become the theme of my year. We are always choosing where our thoughts will dwell, but I often choose to wallow in feelings of anger, frustration, self-doubt and pity, uncertainty, bitterness . . . any number of ungodly thoughts. This blog is my anthem, my manifesto, as I try to allow God to work through me so that I may choose to dwell on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. I am incapable of doing this on my own, but praise be to God who has redeemed (is in the process of redeeming) my life from the pit, and crowns me with faithful love and compassion (Psalm 103:4).