Because You Matter

It was ages ago. I was in the throws of a hellish middle school experience. A brushed-out perm, pink 80s glasses, and extra fluff around the middle don’t get a kid far at 13. It should also be said that being the no-filter-ADHD-please-like-me girl ushered me into the that kid status.

I spent afternoons laying on my bed, listening to Sinead O’Conner (probably not the smartest move for a depressed soul), staring up at the window above my headboard, watching the light dance through the blinds.

No one would miss me if I just ran away.

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That was the dialogue my head repeated over and over again as I trudged through the taunts and jeers of bullies in middle school. My mother’s horrified as she’s reading this. But she would also tell you a mother’s love can only go so far to ease the hurt of her children.

For years I’ve watched students on the outskirts. Students who walk into my classroom without ever looking in my eyes because they believe they’re not worth being truly seen—known. They believe they don’t matter.

And the classroom is only a microcosm of society. Because she walks into church dragging the weight of her mistakes with her shoulders hunched low, scraping against the backs of pews and sinners.

On the street corner he crouches, head bent against the scorching sun and grime-filled fingers hold a sign—Brother can you spare a dime?

Her children fight and fuss and scream down the grocery aisle while she clings to the cart by a thread wondering if there’s more to life than showerless days and adultless conversations.

In the office where gray walls bleed into reality, he tap, tap, taps the keyboard, staring into spreadsheet oblivion hoping he may just get to see the kids this weekend.

All of them with the same three words echoing through their thoughts.

I don’t matter.

It’s the cry of the human condition.

Painful words for someone who once believed them. Painful words for the one who believes them now.

We want to believe we are important—more than a simple number in time. We’re desperate to know our lives have purpose and meaning. When we realize there’s a reason for our birth, we can see reason for our days.

Insignificance. No bigger lie dwells in our souls. No bigger lie threatens the goodness of God more. Because we matter.

We. Matter.

We have value, not because of what we accomplish, but because we exist. We’re significant because we have breath. We have worth because our heart beats within our chest.

You’re important because on a planet with billions of people walking through their days, there is not a single one like you. Or like me. The master artist created His finest work when He created you.

The one thing that kept me home? The one reason I never ran away? The one reason my life found the light of Hope?

I knew Jesus.

If I never mattered to a single person on this planet, I mattered to Him.

That became enough.

And now? Because I have a purpose, because I matter? I have work to do. How can we heal the wounds of the outcasts? How can we bring healing to a culture that only allows a few to have a chance at significance?

By being brave. By being bold. By wrapping our arms around those only a few dare to love. By teaching our children to do the same.

Friends, we must look into the eyes of humanity and see people—really see them.

Every soul matters. Every. single. one. Christ proved it when he so loved the whole wide world from the splintered wood of the cross.

I want to stop seeing black and white, gay and straight, affluent and marginalized, Muslim and Christian, college educated and high school dropout. Instead? I want to open my eyes and see humans and love them. God’s finest artwork.

I want to stop seeing labels and start seeing souls.

Because every soul matters.

I’m in love with the God who sees us for who we really are—not for the names we’ve been called. I’m in love with the God who sees me. Who sees you. I’m in love with the God who adores His creation.

And if He were to write on walls today? Words He might want you to see?

People matter.

You matter.

Posted in Beautiful Life, Relationship with God, Struggles | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

When We Need to be Ready to Fight Giants

Do you ever wish you were someone else? The phrase I wish I was more like… floats through my thoughts. I pick at it. Hold it. Some days I clutch at the words, grasping to be someone I’m not.

I wish I could write like her. Or I looked like so-and-so. Or my house had an open floor plan like theirs. Or my kids were more compliant. So much time spent wishing. Wishing I was more. Wishing I was less. You fill in the blank. I do. All. the. time.

I’m not alone.

Over the last few days my students have colored on paper masks. One reason? High-schoolers still need the restoration only a crayon can bring. But their masks were also symbols. Symbols of the person they often try to hide.

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I instructed them to color and draw images that represented parts of their lives they were afraid to show. In essence? Their masks became who they really are.

Because we try to hide who we are.

Because we’d rather be someone we’re not.

Because comparison is a bitter pill we all try to swallow.

But can the sun compare itself to the moon? A flower to a steady stream? Day to night? Spring to Fall? A bird to a fish? We can never be someone we’re not.

Why do we try? In this life the flowers of humanity often try to be streams. And chaos ensues. Can you imagine if the sun decided to be the moon? Ridiculous. Yet, at times, we all attempt to be someone else.

When really? We should be ourselves. Right?

These are words we hear, but they aren’t words we know deep—where peace dwells.

There’s this story. In the Bible. You may have heard it a time or two. A scrawny teenage kid named David defeats a giant of a man named Goliath. One sling shot, five stones, and Goliath loses his last battle.

There may be a part of the story you don’t know. A few lines that cut my heart quick and deep. Words that have sunk in and are swirling around. These are the words I want to grab with white-tight knuckles, so I can rip the mask off forever.

Before David went in to battle the giant, Saul dressed the tiny shepherd boy in the king’s tunic and armor. David was under the weight of Saul’s clothing—Saul’s armor. The young, wiser-than-me David says this: “I can’t walk in these…I’m not used to them.”

Then he took off Saul’s armor.

Wait. What? Why would David want to take off Saul’s protective armor? It seems reasonable to me if I were facing a giant, I would want the heaviest suit of armor I could find. That way, not a single spear could penetrate.

David knew better.

David refused to be someone else. He faced the giant as only he could—he was himself. And if he hadn’t chosen to shed Saul’s heavy armor? Goliath would’ve quickly killed the weighed-down-with-armor shepherd boy.

His unwavering faith in God and unswerving choice to be who God created him to be brought sweet victory to David.

He defeated the giant.

When we try to cover ourselves with the weight of comparison? When we attempt to fight our giants as someone else? When we attempt to be someone other than who we are created to be? We will fail. And the giants in our lives will win.

The only way I will ever beat the Goliaths and the bullies in my life is when I am truly who my Creator fashioned me to be. I’ve been shaped and molded for my battles throughout life. I lose that shape when I compare and strive to be someone else.

But it’s so hard.

I still wear the masks and armor I think the world wants to see. Because if you don’t accept the mask, well, you aren’t really rejecting—me. But when I show you who I really am? I open myself up to the possible devastation of rejection.

But when I show you who I really am?

I get the chance to fulfill my purpose. My God-sized dreams. And those dreams? They can only be realized when I am truly myself. I get the chance to lose the striving and the stress that comes from trying to fit my diamond-shaped peg into an earthly round hole.

We are all diamonds with sparkles and slants that catch the light just right. When we attempt to change those different shaped edges we lose the ability to reflect the brilliant Light, leaving us dull and lifeless.

I’m the only me that will ever be.

You’re the only you.

Posted in Beautiful Life, Joy, Relationship with God | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

How to Love on Our Schools

The bell is poised to ring. The teacher breathes deep. Pencils sharpened to a perfect point and stacks of brilliant colored paper arranged in neat bins. Bulletin boards fresh and bottles of glue in tight little rows. Everything in just the right place.

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Waiting.

Waiting for eager voices to enter with nervous laughter. A new school year stands ready to begin. Be it public, charter, or private, our nation’s schools will open their doors to millions of this year.

Millions of hurting students. And millions of exhausted teachers.

The church has an opportunity.

Blessed to be over at LifeWay today. I’d love to have you click on over there to read more about the opportunity we have in our schools.

Posted in Teaching | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Lessons for the First Year Teacher

Dear New Teacher and Nervous Soul,

I know how you feel. Those butterflies turned evil in your stomach, tying knots? I’ve had them. Wondering if you’ve made the right decision. If you’re ready to face the responsibility. If you’ve got what it takes. I know those questions well.

But there’s excitement too. In there somewhere?

Clamoring voices will soon enter through your doors and a new life will begin. In so many ways your life will not be your own. Ever again. That’s the reality—and the beauty—of teaching.

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In coming days new colleagues will either encourage you or horrify you with their battlefield stories. You must choose the voices you ponder.

May I add my voice? I’m not the best teacher you will meet, and I’ve never been teacher of the year. But there are still words I want to whisper. Words I was desperate to hear. Do you mind if I lean in?

I’m excited you’ve chosen this profession. I know you’ve heard the snide remarks and seen the looks of pity cast your way. The warnings of hazards and pay and kids these days. But I’m thrilled you’ve ignored those voices.

Welcome. I’m so glad to have you.

College can never fully prepare you for the work of teaching—nothing could. But that’s okay. Experience can be life’s greatest professor if you’re willing to learn. Because mistakes will be made. The only redemption in a mistake is to learn from it.

Your school friends? They must always include your custodian and the school secretaries. Your degree doesn’t make you better than them—my favorite custodian for the last three years held a masters in teaching from his home country. You can’t do your job if the custodians and secretaries aren’t doing theirs. It takes a village. Be grateful for yours.

Don’t be afraid to break some rules. Bureaucracy will always exist, but you don’t have to bow to it. The best teacher is the one who does what’s best for the student. Just because your lesson plans and your government have an agenda, don’t miss the teachable moments. They don’t happen every day.

Be open to old ideas from teachers who’ve honed their craft. Wise educators that have paved rough roads will surround you. A great teacher is never dependent upon age. Seek out those teachers. Learn from them. I promise, they’re not hard to find.

Avoid bitterness—like the plague. Avoid where it harbors. Not every workroom is filled with its poison, but you will feel it quickly if it is. And then run. Don’t look back.

Your students will break your heart. There will be some you can’t reach. You will ache to touch their hurting places but their walls will be just too high. You will toss and turn in the night carrying their pain with you. It will sometimes seem too much to bear. But you will bear it because you may be the only one, for some students, that even tries.

Perfect your craft. Never stop learning how to be a better teacher. I’ve been doing this a while but there are days I feel like a novice, like a new babe only breathing her first gulp of air. The best teacher is also the best student.

Choose when you discipline wisely. There are battles worth fighting. But sometimes the cost is just too high. Your battle may be won while the relationship with your student is forever severed. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. Sometimes you do.

Though you may want to, you can’t demand respect. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not right. But if you ever want to reach your students, you must show them respect day after day after day. Even when they disrespect you. Only then will they trust. And the relationship you get in return? Beautiful.

You will never win a yelling match with a student. Ever. Screaming at any young heart always shreds—always leaves scars. Don’t leave scars. Your words can wound. Deeply. Forever.

You hold more power than you think.

Take time to listen to what your students aren’t saying. Their eyes tell stories. So do their actions. Do you have a student that needs to sleep in your class every day? Ask them why they’re so tired. The answer may surprise you—and haunt you.

You can make a difference. But if, and only if, you love your students. Look every one of your students in the eye, every day. Let them know you care. Tell them they are worth your time. Love them. Love them.

Love them.

This job? This profession? This calling? It’s worth it. Worth the time. Worth the cost. Worth the toil. Worth the heartache. Because there is joy in teaching. Joy in changing lives and witnessing a life reach toward a dream for the first time.

You are the champion of dreams. The compass leading confusion through the wilderness. The voice of today helping mold the voice of tomorrow. Yes. It’s worth it.

You’re ready. You’ve got what it takes.
Students need your guidance.
They’re waiting.
For you.

And for me. Because while I wrote this letter to you, it’s words need to ring in my head too. A reminder. Of all the things that matter in teaching.

Posted in Beautiful Life, Joy, Teaching | Tagged , | 31 Comments

Loving Real In Our Mess

It was slimy. Shallow water mixed with humid air. Tadpoles and minnows filled the tiny almost-creek that was more muck and yuck than clear water. Perfect for a four year old boy. For me too.

The Court Jester and I laughed and explored the small stream, stepping over rocks and picking up big sticks. Really, it was so narrow in most parts we could just leap across.

In no time at all, my Caleb-boy was ankle deep in water smiling big in my direction.

Soaked sneakers. Sopping socks. These were my first two thoughts. The car ride home was my third. But I realized—damage done. And nothing died. The water was gross, but he was unafraid of the mess.

That’s the thing about children. They unabashedly share their messy lives with the world. The littles of humanity smile at us with food-lined faces and mud-caked hands. They rush to our sides with paint-stained fingers, wiping rainbow colors on our sleeves.

Children share their mess with the world—fully allowing us to be in their world.

We were all children once. Sharing our mud pies and drippy-glue pictures with anyone who would look at them.

But then we grew up.

We grew up and someone told us our mess wasn’t good enough. We’re told don’t get dirty. Wipe your face. Fix your hair. Suck in your stomach. Cover those blemishes. Show only your beauty marks. Don’t share those sins.

Hide your mess.

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Be perfect. And love perfect. That is the message we hear.

With those voices shouting loudest, we’re left striving toward perfection. Pushing.  Struggling. Attempting to attain an ideal as a wife, a mother, a human. An ideal that only ever becomes whitewashed walls. Walls that can’t cover oily fingerprints and greasy smudges forever.

When we only allow others to see our cleanest, most kept-up parts, we alienate ourselves.  We close our hearts off. The mirror we hold up to the world is a reflection that bares no likeness to the truth.

We walk around looking into the perfect reflections of a world that doesn’t exist.

When we present perfection, humanity will believe Jesus can only love the perfect. But my Jesus came because we each are imperfect. We each have stains on our dusty souls.

When we keep the world from seeing our own mud-flung lives, we are distant reflections of Christ, failing to allow the dirt of the world touch the hems of our garments—failing to love the world He loves.

But it’s so hard to be real.

So I hide. Refusing to allow others into my mess. My dust and dirt. I close the door of my home and keep you out because you might see my failings, my flaws—my mess. Afraid to let my real life seep into the life I want you to see. Afraid trust you. Afraid you won’t love me.

We are made for more. More than fear.

The truth really can set us free.

We want to be loved for who we are. For people to love our true selves—our messy, dirt-ridden selves—we must be willing to share our mess. No one can love our mess if they don’t know our mess.

I spent the afternoon with two beautiful women who have embraced my mess. I sat across the table, warm coffee in my hands, sharing my struggles, my haunting thoughts. I revealed the most diseased parts of my life right now.

These two treasures didn’t try to clean me up.  While wisdom was shared, I felt the warm embrace of two friends who love me—dirt and all.  With them I am safe.

I want others to know they are safe with me. When I step forward, exposing my ugliness, others may discover their grime can be safe with me.

We must meet each other in the middle of our slimy, gross streams. We can’t fix the brokenness—only our Jesus can mend and heal and wash our dirt-stained lives.  But we can love. And what really matters in this life? That we love one another.

And I want to love you—the real you. Because you are beautiful. Your mess is part of the thread sewn into your beautiful life. To love me, to love you, is to love the messiness of our lives. Please don’t hide from me. I won’t hide from you.

Can we go play in the mud together?

Posted in Beautiful Life, Friendship, Relationship with God | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Grace for the Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed.

This word. I know it well.

Staring at the blank canvas of a computer screen, day after day. No words.

Dust bunnies dance under tables and in corners—taunting me.

Relationships I’m failing to invest in the way I should.

Wanting to do so much for others and doing nothing instead.

Insignificance trying to root into my soul.

A new school in August requiring work all summer to prepare.

Wondering if I’m enough for my children. Ever. I know the answer, yet I keep asking.

Feeling I’m never the wife my husband needs. He wouldn’t agree. But still…

And while this glimpse into my struggles is nothing compared to trials faced by other dear friends, I still feel overwhelmed.

But.

I’ve also been overwhelmed by grace. Not because life has been easy in these last months. No. But because life has been hard. Because life has overwhelmed.

And yet? Grace and blessings have been uncovered in unexpected places. Gifts given in poignant moments. Positions offered just as insignificance surfaces. My sweet, too-big baby boy falling asleep in my arms.

We only witness God’s grace when we thank, when we stop to breathe in the swirling and fragrant goodness of our days. There is always good—somewhere. We may have to scratch and dig and claw to find the beauty hidden deep, but it’s there.

Even if the only good is the good that comes from being in the hands of God. Tucked into His wide-enough grasp with His fingers touching our hurting places.

His grace is sufficient.

I know this is true. And I find this truth in the hands of the Potter.

I used to teach pottery wheel classes—connecting deep to the ideas of the molding and shaping of earth, mixed with water, mixed with stretching and pulling, mixed with the fire hardening. Ultimately creating art.

A dear friend reminded me today of the most important step in pottery. This friend who has known more pain than I dare to imagine. This friend who understands grace. This friend who reminded me of the kneading.DSC_0244DSC_0267DSC_0264DSC_1342DSC_1323DSC_1321

Before a lump of clay can be thrown on the potter’s wheel, the clay must be kneaded. The kneading requires strength and determination to work it again and again, pressing, pushing, forcing every little pocket of air out.

All other steps in pottery are useless if the kneading isn’t done with the proper care because when the vessel is put through the heat of the kiln, air pockets left will expand and destroy the piece—useless shards worth nothing.

I am grateful for the grace of kneading. While kneading, the lump of clay never leaves the potter’s hands. Ever.

In the kneading of my life, in the times I’m overwhelmed, in the struggles, I’m safe in the Potter’s hands. Drinking in the grace and knowledge that the destructive air pockets don’t stand a chance.

I never leave His hands. Ever. And that is enough. Enough to bring rest, to bring peace and comfort. Because knowing I am tucked securely into the strong hands of God leaves me needing nothing else.

In His hands I breathe.

God’s goodnesses and His graces are everywhere. In the small grateful moments of tenderness or in the deep kneading. In all the places we are overwhelmed.

I’m overwhelmed by grace because I’m overwhelmed.

Posted in Joy, Relationship with God, Struggles | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

The Importance of Meandering

Last summer I had a list. It was hand-written on scrap paper. Prince Charming and I took stock of the need-to’s and want-to’s around our home and then posted the list on that illustrious place of honor relegated to family masterpieces—the refrigerator.

It nagged me. All. Summer. Long.

By August I was guilt-ridden. Little had been done to complete the tasks I deemed must-do’s. I ended the summer feeling unaccomplished.

So these hot months? This year? I refuse to list. Period. Instead?

I choose to meander. To stroll through the summer and breathe in the moments, holding them tight in my chest. To ramble. To roam. To wander. To close my eyes and listen to crickets in the dark. To let go and run through the puddles after the rain.

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I don’t want to waste my summer.

Friends, I have files in piles around my house that have needed organization for over ten years. If our family has managed without that organization for this long? Well. I’m not wasting days of summer with my children to do it now. Nope.

Sure my grout in my tile hasn’t been cleaned since Ella was two. But in the last eight years the new color has kinda grown on me. So this summer? Using the latest Pinterest hack to accomplish grout cleaning? Not a chance. Instead?

I choose to meander.

Don’t worry. I haven’t left all responsibility behind. Clothes will be washed and meals, which may include a frozen pizza or two, will be prepared. Floors will be mopped and shelves dusted. But I want to live this summer feeling free to determine there are more important things in life than clean baseboards.

In recent weeks I have found myself attached to an excerpt from Tolken’s Lord of the Rings, “Not all those who wander are lost.” I’m allowing it to resonate. Simmer. While journeys across Middle Earth are not what I have in mind for my summer, walks with my children are.

To become the wanderer who lives in my soul, I’ve had to make choices. Hard choices. Like the one where I removed several apps from my phone that monopolize my time. Not because they’re evil. But because I have often chosen the apps over meandering, over my family, over my responsibilities.

Strangely, I don’t miss them.

I realized this summer I wanted to read. Not newsfeeds but books. Books which would challenge me—change me. I want to stop long enough to look into my husband’s eyes—deep and knowing.

With my children? I want to create random art projects. Play outside until after bedtime in the evenings. Eat Fro-yo dinners. Stay in our PJs all day. Watch movies late into the night.

I’m attempting to live unplanned and in-the-moment. I’ll be honest. It’s anything but easy. Guilt creeps in, pointing out all the things in my house that need care. When that happens? I’m learning to look past the things and see the humans in my home.

Prince Charming. My Princess and Court Jester. Me. We’re more important than spit-shined windows and never-ending lists.

To-do lists will never end. Summers with my children will.

Meandering restores something deep within my spirit. When I take the time to notice the small beauties of life, the significant nuances in a petal’s color, I am witnessing the very breath of God. Communing with Him.

In Him I find restoration.
In Him creativity is renewed.
In Him joy is profound.

I realize many people do not have the luxury of summers off, or any time off for that matter. But I’m learning there is always space in our lives for the meandering. Sometimes it simply happens. Other times we have to carve it into our days and the carving is always a removing of something.

I am learning to intentionally wander. If I’m not purposeful, I won’t stroll. If I don’t choose it, I’ll rush.  If I never try, I’ll miss beautiful opportunities this summer to make memories.

And the best memories are found in the slow meandering.

So this summer? I choose to meander.

Dear friends, I simply must tell you the super-fun, nature canvas art was inspired by the blogger Flower Patch Farmgirl. She’s amazing and if you haven’t ever, you should check her out! I. just. love. her.

Posted in Beautiful Life, Joy | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Why We Need Restoration

Summer clouds are black and heavy with rain. Waiting. Waiting to release torrents onto parched ground. I feel like the ground sometimes. Waiting to fill my soul with the cool waters of renewal and the restoration they bring.

As a little girl, I watched as my father, with his strong, muscled hands, gently stripped ancient varnish and cracked paint from furniture others had tossed aside. Daddy taught my young heart the wisdom of looking beneath the weathered surface.

Because when you look hard enough you see humanity for what it can be—not what it is.

So I learned to refinish furniture. I have a few pieces I restored in college when cheap and practicality ruled. But it’s been years since I’ve made the old new. Until last summer.

I had been searching stores for a bookshelf that could serve as a bedside table. Because I’m a hoarder. Of books.

Instead of something new, I found this rag-tag and rickety shelf at a yard sale for less than $10. Score! What we won’t talk about is how much I have spent since in supplies…

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As I brought my little shelf out into the light of home, I saw the damaging marks and grooves of a novice. Someone had attempted to remove the layers of paint and stain with cheap materials and quick fixes.

It occurred to me—this bookshelf is going to take work. It’s going to take strong hands and sore muscles and an aching back.

Because restoration is always difficult.

My little bookshelf proved no easy task. The scrapping deep and sanding again and again brought beads of sweat to my brow. And so I quit. I gave up on my little shelf. It would taunt me from the garage corner all scratched and beaten.

I saw myself. The times when I felt beyond repair—in need of restoration. Bruised and dented. Cast out and forgotten in a corner somewhere. Waiting.

Waiting for the hand of the One who restores my weary soul.

But restoration isn’t gentle. The grit of sandpaper can rub against our open wounds, causing us to cry out. Yet, sometimes we need to be burnished—to be scraped. We need the layers of grim removed and the remnants of abuse scoured away.

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There are pieces of our lives that need to be restored but we hide. We hide because we know the restoration will hurt. We know it will bleed us and tear into our hearts. We know it will open wounds and rip through scar tissue.

We’re scared.

So we need to know it’s worth it. Because the painful process is easier to bear than leaving ourselves layered with the filth of time and our wounding choices.

The beauty revealed by God’s restoration is worth the salty tears.

Restoration reveals the real, the authentic. It reveals the you. Restoration takes the world’s lies and abuses, strips them away. It leaves us raw. Beautiful and ready.

Ready for the color Jesus brings into our lives. For His love to sink into our pores, to burrow deep into our lives, the Savior must first remove our layers of grime. When we allow the Restorer of our souls to soak into the depths? Our true beauty is revealed to the world because He has seeped into every facet of our lives.

He wants to restore us. He wants to make us knew. Why? Because. Because He sees us for all we can be. Not just what we are.

A few weeks ago, I dragged my little bookshelf out into the heat-filled edges of our Florida summer. I could see underneath the layers. I could envision its possibilities. I knew it was worth the work. So I finished.

That’s the thing about my Jesus—He always finishes what He starts.

I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in
you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus
.
Philippians 1:6

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Posted in Beautiful Life, Relationship with God, Struggles | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

What You Need to Know About Labels

Say what you want about zoos. I have my own reservations about many. But while visiting my dear friends Bree and Lynn this past week in Dallas, my kids and I finally sank into the bliss of summer at a magical place of animal habitats.

The zoo. A one-stop party of animals from across the wild world. We wandered through the continents and gazed at creation. From the giraffes my daughter adores, to the tigers my boy couldn’t wait to see, we allowed our shoulders to unfurl and our heads to tip back with laughter.

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Sticky hot with the Texas sun, we meandered and strolled as much as we could while chasing children. But then I stumbled upon words. Words which stole my breath. There was a sign. A description of a caged bird.

The Lesser Bird of Paradise.

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Allow that to swirl in your heart for a moment. Lesser. Can you imagine such a label? To be caged and chained by such a name? To be forever be called…less?

Maybe you can.

We live in a world of labels. Names from which we either must live up to or come out from under. Names given to us by others—parents, teachers, friends, enemies. Names we give ourselves.

Labels fly through the air. Ready to hit their mark, tearing through the fabric of our souls. Ugly. Skinny. Fat. Addict. Controlling. Bossy. Freak. Annoying. Gorgeous. Gifted. Learning disabled. ADHD. Nerd. ASD. Mentally unstable. Crazy. Bitch. Slut. Loser. Bastard. Talented. Useless. Mistake. Smart. Waste of space.

Harsh words. Cutting words. Destructive words. Killing words.

Do you know the darkness of any of those words? Those labels? I do. The pain of a label can haunt us the whole of our lives. We allow them to define us. They fuel our mistakes. They weigh us down. They shackle us to an existence from which some only dream of breaking free.

I remember the afternoon I read a note passed from a boy to a friend about me. Ugly. That was his label. For me. I think sometimes the scar has never fully healed. And I know you bear scars too.

But.

I love that word. But.

But God.

God is the rescuer of the outcast, the discouraged, the hurting. He is the redeemer of the broken labels we’ve been given by broken people.

Because the Bird of Paradise mankind has named Lesser is still a bird handcrafted by the Creator. Every feather, every bone, every color—chosen by the same God who created you and me. He did not name the bird Lesser. Humans did.

Humans are the creators of labels. In the face of this reality, I must wonder: Who lives with a label I have bestowed? Oh, how I must guard my words.

Because God does not label. Instead He sees into our hearts. He sees the true essence of who were are. He sees all the beauty we are capable of bringing to the world. He sees His children.

I am known by the Creator of the heavens and earth as only daughter—the daughter of a King. And when the enemy comes to my door, whispering labels of venom, of poison, I need only remind him of his outcome—defeat.

While I don’t always remember that my labels mean nothing, and there are days I fall victim to the toxic words of the one who steals my joy, I find comfort in knowing through Christ, I have no label to live up to. No title to achieve. No name to be ashamed of.

My friends? Today, I ache for you to know the value and the worth you hold. You’re a masterpiece simply because you exist. You’re a precious jewel—priceless. God has created you with a purpose to be like no other on this earth.

You need never live under the burdens of human labels. Instead, cling tight to the One who designed you. He loves you just the way you are.

He stretched himself across splintered wood to prove His love knows no bounds. Just the way you are.

Just the way you are. No label can ever take that away.

When you refuse to be defined by a label? When you determine to know you are loved? When you embrace the purpose God has for you?

You will find your voice. You will sing.

Posted in Beautiful Life, Joy, Relationship with God, Struggles | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Two Things That Really Matter in Education

It’s that time of year. School awards. Graduations. Promotions. Recognizing the achievements and intelligence of our nation’s children. Proud parents beam coaxing smiles from their children for pictures and social media posts.

I’ve been one of them.

My girl’s fourth grade awards were this week. I sat with my camera poised, ready to immortalize her various certificates. Because sometimes I get caught up in the scores. You know the ones.

High-stakes testing and college entrance competition gets the best of all of us. As parents we want our children to succeed. Our country’s definition of success for the school-aged child? Perfect scores and honor rolls.

No matter how hard I try not to, I get sucked into thinking a number sets the tone for my daughter’s future.

If she fails the state test, she won’t get the right middle and high school classes. If she doesn’t maintain honor roll, I can kiss scholarships good-bye. If she gets the wrong teachers, she’ll never be prepared.

I worry so much. I worry because I forget what really matters.

The more I teach, the more I parent, the more I realize there is more to education than the honor roll.

Make no mistake. I’m a teacher. For me to say education isn’t important would be laughable. I want my students to learn. I want my children to learn. But the process is different for each child.

The time it takes for my son to learn his ABCs is different than my daughter’s.

From the moment my girl received her first report card, she has known this momma only cares that she’s given it her best. If a C, even a D, is her best, we’re her biggest cheerleaders. If she struggles to learn a concept, we’re her biggest supporters.

If she fails a high-stakes test? We take it with a grain of salt. Because as teachers, her daddy and I both know those tests are never an indication of what has been learned. Trust me.

I don’t want to raise straight A children. I want to raise life-long learners. Children who want to understand the world around them and recognize the beauty within its people. If a student only learns in order to achieve a score, the learning ends when the last test is given.

Am I proud of my sweet Ella when she does well? When she makes honor roll? Absolutely. But there’s more to her education than her test scores. The question should never be what grade did you get. Rather, what did you learn?

I want my children to learn more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

During her ceremony this week, Ella was presented with a character award that did this momma’s heart proud. Prouder than any achievement she could have received for grades. And it hit me. All at once.

DSC_0781

The character of my children is far more important than their grades.

My job is not to raise honor roll students. My job is to help my children know God and love Him with all they’ve got. My job is to raise children with values, morals, and strong character.

Their character matters. If my children don’t understand why they should pursue excellence, excellent grades won’t matter. Perfect grades mean nothing if my children cheated to get them.

An education without character is the education that produces potential dictators and criminal CEOs. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of education”

Although morality does not promise a student will make straight A’s, it can determine a human’s potential for joy. And joy brings beauty to the soul.

While education is vital, the ability for my children to love their classmates means more. I am most successful as a momma if my children learn kindness, generosity, and love.  If I had the choice between children capable of straight As or children who lavish love on the world, I will always choose love.

I know what you’re thinking. Kids can’t go to college on kindness. You’re right. But I’m okay with that.

Because what if my son and daughter never go to college? Is it crazy to believe God might have something different in store for them? The future of my children will never be dictated by a score. Their future is mapped-out by God.

Jeremiah 29-11

Do I want my children to do well in school? Of course. Do I want them to pursue excellence? Absolutely. Yet, the pressure of perfection is never something I want them to strive toward.

Instead, when I think of education and the education of my children, there are two questions that matter most. Are they learning? Are they children of character?

If their answer is yes? This momma heart is full.

Posted in Motherhood, Teaching | Tagged , , | 1 Comment