Archive for August, 2011


“Every teacher who has gone through that school has come out feeling like a failure.”  Jan’s pronouncement was shocking, yet somehow not surprising.

In her position with an Asian missions organization, Jan has visited the school where I taught in East Asia many times.  This afternoon Jan was telling me about a young piano teacher, Hannah, who taught there after I left.  Throughout the long winter months, when snow piled up outside and gusts blew against the windowpanes, Hannah’s classroom was extremely cold.  The building’s ancient heating system was barely functional, and she had no space heaters.  A hot water bottle was her only remedy for keeping her fingers warm enough to play the keys.

Hannah asked her team leaders several times to do something about the freezing classrooms.  They were sympathetic, but nothing changed.  Day after day, week after week, month after month, she had to teach piano lessons in the cold.

Finally Hannah couldn’t take it anymore.  The heating issue was just one of several areas in which she felt her leaders didn’t care for her the way they should.  She went back to her home country mentally exhausted, physically ill, and burdened with the feeling that she had let everyone down.

“I’m a failure!” Hannah sighed to Jan afterwards.  “I wasn’t strong enough.  I’ve disappointed my leaders, my church, and my organization.”

I was amazed to hear how closely Hannah’s conclusions mirrored my own thoughts when I left the school three years ago.  My leaders’ lack of care for me in these “small issues” like heating in the building had left me feeling that I wasn’t valued.  I blamed myself for not being “tough enough” to stick it out, and was plagued by regrets and self-condemnation.  

“I’m so sorry you had such a difficult time at the school,” Jan said gently, after she finished telling Hannah’s story.  “But I want you to know that your leaders’ response was not representative of the whole organization.  On behalf of the team, I want to personally apologize to you.  You were NOT a failure.  We are proud of you, and so thankful for your time of service in Asia.”

“You were not a failure.”  Those words kept turning over and over in my mind.  Like warm, healing waters to my spirit, they settled into the cracks deep below the surface.  Thankfully, I had forgiven my leaders long ago.  I had already settled the issue with God, knowing that He did not think I was a failure.  Jan’s affirmation was simply confirmation of what the Lord had already been telling me.  My value does not lie in what I do or don’t do, but in who HE says I am!

“You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a failure. …Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.” I Thess. 2:1,4b (NLT)

Going vertical!



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“How long have you had this problem?” The speech therapist assesses his new client, a meticulously dressed man shifting uncomfortably on the high-backed sofa.

“I’ve always been this way!” The man shoots back angrily, avoiding the therapist’s gaze.

“I doubt that.” The therapist’s voice is steady.  “No infant is born with a stammer.”*

This is no ordinary client.  The sullen gentleman on the sofa is Prince Albert, son of the king of England.  No one could predict that the prince, terrified of speaking publicly because of a debilitating speech defect, would soon be called upon to comfort millions with his voice.

Over several months of sessions with speech therapist Lionel Logue, a picture slowly emerges of Prince Albert’s painful childhood.  A demanding father accepted nothing less than perfection, bellowing at “Bertie” to “just spit it out!” when he stumbled over his words.  His older brother mercilessly mocked “B-B-Bertie” for his nervous stammer all through their childhood and into their adult years.

Even after his father’s death, Prince Albert is still ruled by the monarch’s disparaging criticism.  During one scene in the film “The King’s Speech” (2010), his therapist Logue reminds the prince that his father is gone now.

“He’s on that coin I just gave you,” Albert grumbles.

But you don’t have to carry him around in your pocket anymore,” the therapist counters gently.

Gradually, the prince releases his fears of being a failure and the disappointment of not living up to his father’s expectations.  He discovers that he has a voice of his own and a right to be heard.

When Prince Albert is crowned king of England, he faces the greatest test of his life – a live radio broadcast of his first wartime speech in 1939.  Carefully forming each word, with his therapist and friend Lionel Logue beside him for support, the king delivers a powerful speech that marks the beginning of England’s engagement in World War II.  Carried on “the wireless” around the world, the king’s voice unites his subjects and their global allies in a time of uncertainty and crisis, reassuring them that “with God’s help, we shall prevail.”

Like Prince Albert, are you paralyzed by painful memories?  Are you living under the disappointment of unmet expectations?  Are you ruled by the unrealistic demands of others?  You can choose to reject the false labels others pin on you.  You are not a failure or a disappointment to your Creator!  He has given you a voice.  Step forth in confidence to do what He’s called you to do!

“You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 1: 7-8 (NRSV)

*From the film “The King’s Speech,” Directed by Tom Hooper, 2010.

Going vertical!



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Years ago I fell in love with a boy.  He was wonderful, and everything was so great.  At least I thought it was.  But then one day, to my shock, he broke up with me.

“How could you think there is something between us?” he said coldly. “There was nothing.”

I was mortified.  A lie started to form in my heart:  You are so ugly, no one will ever fall in love with you!  I decided to close my heart, to protect myself from being hurt again.

After several years, the lie that I was ugly and unlovable had become overpowering.  At that time I had a vivid dream.  In my dream, God put a glittering crown full of precious jewels on my head.  He said, “Miriam, even if no man will ever realize that you are beautiful – YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!  You are beautiful BECAUSE I MADE YOU.  No man in the whole world can give you this crown.  Only I can crown you with beauty!”

In that moment I understood.  I had wanted this boy to tell me I’m beautiful and give me a crown.  I was looking to him for my value and identity.  But he had no crown at all!  Only God has the crown!  Only God can define my true worth.  The truth of who God says I am became bigger than the lie and went right into my heart.  “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, BECAUSE I MADE YOU.”

Isaiah 62:3 (NKJV)  “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”

Going Vertical!

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When my mom stumbled upon a “do-it-yourself” kit for a wooden birdhouse on sale, she decided it would be a fun project to do with my 99-year-old grandmother. For Grandma, whose physical activity is limited because of several debilitating strokes, building the birdhouse was the big entertainment of the day. By the afternoon the finished product was hanging outside the living room window, and Grandma was delighted with the cardinals, finches, and chickadees that flocked to feed on the wild birdseed.

That evening, my mom showed me her unfinished “To Do” list from the morning.  Not a single item on her list had been completed. As full-time caregiver for her mother-in-law, Mom’s days are filled with meal preparation, loads of laundry, and helping Grandma dress or go to the bathroom.  Rarely does she have uninterrupted time to work on her freelance editing or translation projects.

But rather than wallow in guilt over what she hadn’t done that day, Mom decided to write up a new list of what she had accomplished.  On a fresh sheet of paper, she wrote in big letters at the top: “To Do Today.”  Underneath she scrawled only one item: “Make birdhouse.” And with a flourish, she checked it off the list!

“I’ve discovered,” she said with a grin, “that it’s much better to write my ‘To Do’ lists at the end of the day!”

So today I’m following my mom’s example.  I’m choosing to reject the condemning thoughts over what I should have done and ought to do.  And rather than worry about my “To Do” list, I will ask my Heavenly Father, “What is YOUR priority for me today?” It may be something unexpected.  He may just want me to build a birdhouse with my grandmother.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NKJV)

Going vertical!


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