How Not to End Up Alone with Apples and Red Pens

Summer was coming to an end.

The school year was fast approaching and I was about to enter the fourth grade. This was to be my first year in public school with a real teacher who’s name wasn’t Mom.

The anticipation began with finding out who my teacher was and I wanted to find out as much as I could about her by asking all the neighborhood kids about her.

Miss Hipkins.

Was she a young woman? She must be, she’s still single. 

I can’t wait to tell all the other kids who I have as a teacher, hopefully they’ll be jealous.

Does she do fun things?

I wonder how nice she is?

These thoughts swirled around in my head as I gathered with the neighborhood kids in excitement to share who my brand new, first teacher was.

“Who’s your teacher!” asked the neighbor girl. Before I could give an answer she added, “Mine’s Mr. Herr!, He’s the best 4th grade teacher, I’m so lucky I got him!”

I finally had a chance to chime in with who I had, hoping for a close 2nd, or maybe a chance to come in with an arguable tie for the best teacher.

“I have Miss Hipkins.”

Let’s just say there was a seemingly long pause. I’m not sure if it was out of feeling sorry for me or the gratitude the neighborhood girl felt for not being in my situation.

“She’s the meanest teacher in the whole school!”

She proceeded to tell me every story she knew about her, convincing me that I was to have the teacher from hell.

Deflated, I returned home and told my parents the misfortune of the luck of the draw with Miss Hipkins. They tried to be encouraging, telling me to wait and see what happens, to give her a chance. They tried to convince me that maybe it wouldn’t be that bad; maybe the whole thing the neighbor girl said was untrue.

If only it had been untrue, even a tiny untrue would have helped.

Miss Hipkins was a tall, skinny woman, with a quintessential early ’90’s haircut. Her eyes were adorned with a frameless pair of glasses that had bright red arms which supported the frame. The red in her glasses matched the giant jar of red pens that consumed her front left corner of her desk.  She was an extremely well organized person who expected the same from us.

Trapperkeepers (I loved these!) were a must and we all were required to have them.

I soon came to realize, when we got our first spelling test back, that she was living up to her reputation.

Our spelling test was made up of twenty words, to be written in sentences she had orally given to us. Upon getting our first test back, I thought I had miserably failed judging the sea of red ink that had covered my entire paper. In an effort to show me how to write cursive immaculately, she traced over all of my sentences through the entire page in red ink.

The grade was a 100%.

I took the test home and showed my mom. There was some confusion to the amount of red ink sprawled across the paper that coincided with perfect score at the top.

I was not sure, and still am not, how she expected a ten year old to have perfect cursive. As if spelling the words wasn’t good enough, that it was hard to give a student a perfect grade when my handwriting wasn’t perfect.

She demanded perfection; she always saw what was wrong.

Every monday we were greeted with a stack of the previous weeks homework. We were not allowed to go to recess until all our homework was corrected. The correcting was to be done after lunch, during recess. One classmate, Mo, saw at most two days of recess per week. That was during a good week. Some weeks he never had recess.

One day I had to stay in for recess to correct some math problems. I was stuck on what makes a prime number prime. It was my 3rd trip to her desk. As usual, when I thought I had corrected all of my mistakes, I would make the dreaded trip to her desk where she sat munching (loudly) on her carrots, celery and small container of apples.

Oddly she never ate lunch with any of the other faculty members, always by herself.

She grew increasingly angry with every trip I made to the desk. She was frustrated to the point of anger that I didn’t understand how to get the answer.

She refused to give me the answer.

I sat there, incredibly discouraged, spending the entire recess in the room because I could not understand the answer to one problem.

My classmate Mo on the other hand had it much worse. She had become so angry with him for not understanding, that she berated him to the point of tears. She belittled him, because at 10 years old, in his immature mind, he was having a hard time understanding.

I couldn’t stand her.

But what’s shameful is that I realize how much I am like her.

I sometime see myself superior in some way to another Christian because I think I have something figured out and they don’t. I demand perfection by my judgment, on how we ought to live, what to believe and how to live it out.

When I look at my view of truth as superior to everyone else’s view of truth, I become like the disciples at the Passover table during the last supper, arguing over who is the greatest among them.

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” Jesus replied to them and said this, “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” Luke 22:24,26

We are all one-million dimensional (to steal Sarah Mae’s line).

And no two lives living out the perfection that we already have in Jesus will look the same. 

We are encouraged to love one another and serve one another, just as Jesus had done when the disciples were arguing who was the greatest among them.

Bottom line: don’t be a Miss Hipkins or you’ll just end up crunching apples by yourself with a jar of judgmental red pens.

 

 

 

The Ace of Spades: “Before I Was a Christian”

People say, “The older I get the less I know”.

I have come to realize that this is more of a true statement then I would like to admit.

I grew up in a “typical Christian home” where most things seemed black and white. I knew what was right and wrong. At least that is how I describe it in my ‘testimony’. In many ways I am incredibly thankful for the home that I was raised in by my parents and the hard work the put in to raise me. But sometimes I envy those who’s lives were a wreck in some way and then had a visible, dramatic transformation when they found God.  

Or should I say, when God found them.

Either way, I sometimes wish their story was my own. A story in which I would be able to look back on my life and proclaim, “See, this is what God did in my life. I was ‘this’ and did ‘that’, but then God dramatically transformed me”.

Maybe that is why I like Paul so much in the Bible; I love how his story is dramatic and compelling. There is a clear distinction from what he was to who he is. There is no fogginess in his ‘testimony’. He killed Christians and then dramatically turned into one.

And me?

I grew up in the church.

Fortunately, I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t been in jail. I wasn’t even a rebellious wild child. The closest thing I ever got to rebellious was hanging out occasionally with the wild ones in high school.

Basically, I don’t have anything different that happened before I became a Christian.

And how was I suppose to? At 7 years old there was only so much wildness and rebellion that I could accomplish before my conversion.

I cringe when I hear people talk about what they did in their youth or sordid past and use the phrase, “Before I was a Christian”, as if that absolves or changes what they are today. Somehow I can’t use that phrase because I was saved at such a young age. So then do I have no excuse? Does being a Christian now change everything?

Does it change your ability to make bad decisions, screw up less and appear better then you were before?

The only thing that changed was that God lives and works through me.

And that death is dead to me thanks to Him.

It does’t negate the sin nature that is in all of us.

I become frustrated even more when I look at my own life and I don’t have the excusebefore I was a Christian”.

It’s as if “before I was a Christian” nullifies everything, and by everything, I mean sin and the nature of it.

Somehow after you become a Christian it changes everything. By everything, your ability to sin and do wrong.

When I turn and look inward at my own sin and struggles I feel shame and helpless to talk to anyone in the church because I don’t have my “before I became a Christian” in my stack of cards. I have the lowly 2 of clubs.

The judgement of, “You were a Christian at the time right?” expression on faces which are usually followed by the thoughts of, “How could he have done that and be a Christian?” Which usually leads to, “He was being disobedient to God” kind of thoughts.  I know these thoughts because I’ve thought myself about other Christians. And these thoughts permeate through conversations as well amongst well-meaning Christians.

For this reason I have often thought on many occasions, “I want that ace of spades card that trumps everything, the holy grail of all lines in the church (love this pun by the way), “That was before I was a Christian.”

It’s almost as if you can’t talk much about anything really bad that you have done as a Christian. Just about the only thing you can ask prayer for in small groups and gatherings after you become a Christian are the light sins. You know the ones I’m talking about, “Please pray for me because I’m really struggling with patience today.” Or maybe, “Please help me love my neighbor well.”

I feel I have to live this fake, sissified, and mostly unauthentic life called the Christian journey, or whatever other cliche term is used.

I want another card to play besides my lousy 2 of clubs. Can I at least get a queen of hearts?

Something? Anything?

Maybe a joker.

Thats the card I play.

The one that says I’m fine.

Everything’s fine.

I’m doing great, I really am.

But I’m really thinking, “I would tell you how I really am if only I had the ace of spades.”

What if there weren’t any cards?

What if this was an even playing field? The christian life isn’t focused on the cards you were dealt but rather a real authentic life. A life that still is affected by sin no matter if you are a Christian or not.

I would rather live an authentic life then hide behind a mask.

Anyone ever feel like this?

“Salvation is not magic. We’re still in a fallen world.” -Francis Schaeffer

When Love is On Your Terms (The Gay Marriage Debate)

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This past week, these past few days, I have done a lot of soul searching.

The war of words that has been waged on the internet has been seemingly endless surrounding the gay marriage debate. Long, heartfelt debates and conversation have occurred even in my own home. I have wrestled with what to believe, what to support, how to show love, what is truth and how to untangle this mess called my faith and how it works in our culture.

I have read many articles from several blogs of some people I have grown to respect. I respect these people, not because I agree with them on all issues, but because of their heartfelt sincerity in expressing their view points.

While I sort out the mess in my own heart, trying to separate my own sin nature from what is truth and how to show love, I have rested inside my soul what I believe.

There has been so much banter and noise in the online space surrounding the gay marriage debate that I have been trying to avoid it, but that has been increasingly hard to do. The toxicity has made me sick to my stomach because of the awful discourse that I have seen, mainly inside the Christian online sphere.

Today I was reading across the Twitter stream and came across an individual who I had grown to admire through his writing, especially his writing on the current gay marriage debate. The reason I admired his particular article on gay marriage was that even though I completely disagreed with him, he had the ability to write in such I way that I respected him and how he approached the subject.

He made me question what I believe without being abrasive. He made me question what it means to love people and what that love looks like. I walked away questioning what it really meant to love others, how to show love, and how Jesus would want me to love others.

Then I saw his tweets.

Sucker punch would be one way to describe the hypercritical words I was reading 140 characters at a time. And not just one tweet, but repetitive tweets.

He was mocking me, although not intentionally, even though he had no idea who I was. He did this by ridiculing my point of view; he mocked how I view gay marriage. The words he was using that once were used to edify me as a brother in Christ were now used to mock my point of view.

He encouraged me the day before in what it meant to love others and how Christ showed love. But when there is an opposing view against how he interprets the Bible, and the love he spoke of went out the window.

The comments are passed off as nothing but simple humor to make a point. But if he were to follow what he preached it would not seem that way. Making fun of how another brother or sister in Christ interprets the Bible seems pious and prideful and not at all like the love he so eloquently wrote of in his article.

I feel disappointed.

I know we all have our faults, and we all say and do things that are hypocritical sometimes, but it was very hard to read a respectable post just to turn around and read the hypocrisy hashed (pun intended) out on twitter negating everything he had just written.

I hope as Christians we are able to disagree with each other in love, not just preach on it as if we own the corner of the market on love. Love does not belong to only one side of the debate. 

The world is watching.

They are watching how professing Christians are fighting, arguing, and slaying each other with their words. Words that are not spoken in love on either side of the debate. And when the bible speaks of this:

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

I wonder this: through mockery and ugly discourse, what will they know?

 _______

Photo credit: “Christ’s Example – Life of Christ Framed Canvas, Found at DaySpring

When Life Feels Like a Sham

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I’m sitting in a small enclosed room within a room, 5 feet by 5 feet, sound proof. A musty smell is in the air resembling the aroma of an old worn couch. I start to feel claustrophobic until I hear the audiologist ask, “Jesse, can you hear me?” I straighten myself in the most attentive way I can.

Yes”. I reply.

Through my small innocent ears in oversized heavy earphones we begin.

say….baseball.”

baseball.”

say…ice cream.”

ice cream”.

say….cat.”

cat.”

At three years old, before the soundproof room, I had a hard time listening to my parents. When they called me or asked me to do something, I refused. They thought I was merely being disobedient; this sometimes led to being spanked. My behavior was not changing much and my parents grew worried that it might be something more than me being defiant. My mother grew suspicious that I wasn’t able to hear her. One afternoon my mother decided to test me to see if in fact I was having a hard time hearing.

With my back turned towards her she asked me, “Jesse, do you want some ice cream?”

Ice cream was, and still is, (anything with sugar for that matter) my achilles heel.

With no response she approached me a few steps at a time until she was within steps behind me. She then knew it was for my lack of being able to hear her that I did not listen to her when she called on me.

Turns out, both ears were defective.

Through the years my mother worked hard to help me catch up with my speech: I had many more visits to the five by five room with awkward headphones repeating what they wanted me to repeat and raising my hand every time I heard obscure noises.

Adolescent years led to teen years and I started planning what I wanted to do with my life after I graduated.  At seventeen I was determined to go into law enforcement and be a police officer.  I attended college and graduated with a degree in Crime, Law and Justice.  I had applied to local law enforcement agencies and was to have a choice between two police municipalities.  All I had left to pass was a simple physical.

I was newly married with a newborn on the way when I received the letter I had been waiting for since I was seventeen.  To be offered a job as a police officer.  Instead of a job offer, the letter from the department was asking to remove myself from the application process because my hearing was not good enough.

I was not good enough because of my hearing.

Squeezing the letter in my hand I filled with anger and bitterness. Completely shattered and broken, I fell onto the bed.  Staring up at the ceiling, tears streaming down, my vision becomes impaired as it turns into a mosaic picture.

My wife comes in and she knows. The pain is running down my face.

Helpless to offer words that can change what is, she hugs me.

Anger, frustration, disappointment and more anger was all I felt.  I directed all those emotions in daggers straight towards God.  I blamed Him for making me the way I was.  I blamed Him for giving me “the desires of my heart” yet physically restricted.  I felt as though I had wasted four years of my life in college working for something I could never achieve.  I was exasperated at knowing there was no amount of work and drive to reverse or change this reality.

Eight years have passed and painful wounds still linger. The one question I ask repeatedly is this, “God, why have you made me the way I am and for what purpose?” I wonder what lies before me or will it merely be a reflection of the past covered in pain and disappointment.

I don’t know what the future holds. I’m not sure what will even happen tomorrow. But I know God has a plan for me and I have to put myself out there. To go to a place where I’m uncomfortable and uncertain. I desperately want answers to all of these questions–but I don’t have them.

So in the meantime, I’ll just hold on to these words.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11.