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Archive for March, 2012

Sitting stiffly in the chair across from my professor’s desk, my hands twisted nervously in my lap as I awaited her pronouncement on my recent creative writing assignment. This particular professor was not known for flattery. She’s going to tear it apart, I thought, steeling myself for the barrage of criticism that would ensue.

Adjusting her brightly-colored glasses, the professor put down my paper and cleared her throat. “This is very good.” She gazed at me searchingly. “Why aren’t you pursuing a degree in creative writing instead of in education? You obviously have a gift for writing.”

To my great embarrassment, I immediately started crying. “But I want to be a teacher, I really do!” I burst out, wiping furiously at the tears. So why did it sound like I was trying to convince myself?

When I was eight, nine, and ten years old, I had grandiose dreams of being a world-famous author. Pages and pages in my spiral notebooks were filled with imaginative stories of princesses and detectives, or accounts of the everyday adventures of my family. My heroes were Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls, and my own Great-Aunt Louise, a well-published author of poetry and theology.

But sometime in middle school or high school those dreams started to get crowded out by the pressures of getting good grades and preparing for college and the future. In addition, a growing fear of rejection and of not being good enough for the world’s standards made me more hesitant to share my writing with others. Subconsciously I shelved my desire to write next to my other childhood dreams of being a ballet dancer or a gymnast. Not practical, I decided. Teaching is a much safer career.

Now, years later, sitting in this college professor’s office, hearing her affirmation, those long-dormant desires came suddenly rushing to the surface. I DID want to write. I longed to write. Descriptions, narratives, dialogues, and story ideas were always tumbling around in my brain, begging to be put on paper. This professor was the first person in a long time who was giving me PERMISSION to write! She made me feel that it was actually a valid dream to be a writer. And she gave me the courage to do actually do something about it!

Do you have “permission-giving” people in your life? People who listen to your crazy dreams, encourage you to step out on a limb, gently draw out your gifts, and cheer you on when you feel alone and discouraged? Or are you letting fear of failure, rejection, or hurt keep you from being all God created you to be?

Seek out and surround yourself with permission-giving supporters. And if it seems that no one else is on your side, decide that YOU will be a permission-giving friend today to others in your life. Don’t be afraid to dream big dreams, because we have a big God who delights to see His children pursuing their gifts and passions!

Going Vertical!

MJ

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” I Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

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Is that who I think it is? I glanced discreetly at the young woman in front of me in the check-out line, paying for her groceries. It had been at least 15 years since I’d seen her. But I’d recognize that thick, glossy hair and tall slender frame anywhere. It had to be Sarah.

Sarah and I were best friends in fifth and sixth grade. We spent lots of time at each other’s houses – playing playing board games on the living room floor, making veggie pizzas, or giggling at sleepovers.

When my family moved to Central America for a year in seventh grade, I promised Sarah I’d write. But I was adjusting to life in a new country and trying to make friends in my new school, and I didn’t really keep in touch. After we moved back to the US at the end of that year, I tried to contact Sarah a few times, but she was hurt, and she didn’t want to see me.

The years passed, and I went to college, then graduate school, then became a teacher. Every once in awhile, I thought of Sarah and felt a pang of regret that I hadn’t re-connected with her. But now here she was, right in front of me in the supermarket! I couldn’t believe it!

“Excuse me – Sarah?” The woman turned slowly to look at me. “It’s Michelle!” I beamed. “Remember me?”

“I remember you,” Sarah said flatly. There was a chill in her voice that surprised me.

Brushing aside her strange reaction, I tried to keep my voice cheerful. “It’s so good to see you! How have you been?”

“I’m fine.” She seemed irritated at my attempts to make conversation. “I have to go.” Abruptly she picked up her bags and walked away.

I was stunned. I couldn’t figure out what I had done to offend her. Was she still upset at me for not writing to her in seventh grade? The scene replayed itself over and over in my head for days.

“If it is possible,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:18, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The peacekeeper and people-pleaser in me want to ensure that everyone will always be happy with me. But that’s not always possible.

Sarah’s cold dismissal when I tried to renew our friendship hurt deeply. But her response was out of my control. It takes three to reconcile a broken relationship – me, the other person, and God. God is always willing to reconcile people to Himself and to each other. And I was willing to reconcile. But Sarah was not.

All I could do was forgive Sarah for snubbing me, even though it was painful. I decided to “not repay evil with evil” (I Peter 3:9) but to just love her and continue to do whatever I can to pursue peace. I’m leaving the results up to Him. Because when my heart is clear before God, peace is always possible.

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HELD

Squealing with delight, my four-year-old son Samuel chased the waves back into the ocean and built sand castles with his siblings. I was a good mom – I faithfully applied sunscreen and kept him drinking tons of water.   How ironic that as I tried to prevent sunburn and dehydration something much more deadly was lurking under the surface.

Soon after our summer vacation Samuel began screaming in pain every time he went to the bathroom. Our doctor detected something abnormal and sent us straight to the Children’s Hospital.  The biopsy showed stage IV prostatic embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare aggressive cancer requiring an equally aggressive treatment plan – fifty-four weeks of chemo, six weeks of radiation.

Here I was pregnant with my fifth child and discovering that my son had cancer. My life had changed. Our days were filled with hospital stays, blood draws, pain killers, sleepless nights. The seasons passed in a blur. The trees shed their leaves. Samuel shed his hair.   And when treatment finished, 412 days after diagnosis, Samuel’s oncologist told us Samuel won’t be cancer-free until 5 to 10 years from now.

The song “Held” by Natalie Grant buzzed in my head.   “To think that providence would take a child from his mother while she prays, is appalling… Who told us we’d be rescued? What has changed, and why should we be saved from nightmares? We’re asking why this happens to us…”

I am helpless but not hopeless. Psalm 27:13-14 NASB says, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

God’s goodness is not defined by whether or not He heals Samuel. His goodness is defined by Himself. My hope is not in Samuel being healed. My hope is in the Lord. I don’t feel courageous, but I know He can give me courage.

Natalie’s song continues…”This is what it means to be held, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved, and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held.”

There are no easy answers. No quick fixes. Yet I hope in the Lord. He is what I cling to. He will heal Samuel – here on earth or in Heaven. And through it all, I believe we will still be held.

“Whom have I in heaven but you?And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:25-26 (ESV)

Going Vertical!

Jennifer N.

Guest writer Jennifer N. is a devoted wife and mother of five young children who writes about the challenges of parenting, dealing with loss, and her unshakeable faith in her Savior for Ungrind (ungrind.org), Designed to Flourish Magazine (theflourishmagazine.com), and at musingsbyjennifer.blogspot.com.

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It was going to be one of Rabbit’s busy days. As soon as he woke up he felt important, as if everything depended upon him. …It was a Captainish sort of day, when everybody said, “Yes, Rabbit” and “No, Rabbit,” and waited until he had told them.

Of all the characters in A.A. Milne’s classic children’s book, The House At Pooh Corner, I think I can relate the most to Rabbit. Full of ideas of his own importance, Rabbit is convinced that the world needs him desperately.

“After all,” said Rabbit to himself, “Christopher Robin depends on Me. He’s fond of Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore, and so am I, but they haven’t any Brain. Not to notice. …And Kanga is too busy looking after Roo, and Roo is too young and Tigger is too bouncy to be any help, so there’s really nobody but Me, when you come to look at it.”

My “Rabbit nature” came out recently when I experienced a major disappointment. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I wasn’t able to participate in a much-anticipated and planned-for event. And it was hard to let go of it.

“But they NEED me!” I kept thinking. “How can they do this without ME?”

 

In the midst of my pity-party, I was convicted by what the apostle Paul has to say on this subject.  “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Phil. 2:3-4, NLT).

My problem was that my focus was on me, me, ME. I wasn’t willing to let go of MY plans and MY desires.  And I wasn’t thinking about what was best for the group. I had to repent of my selfishness, my pride, and my attitude of self-importance.

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had,” Paul continues. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave” (Phil. 2:5-7, NIV).

What about YOU? Are you willing to be a servant? Are you willing to sacrifice what you want for the good of others? Ask the Lord to help you get out of the “me-first” mentality and have the attitude of a servant – putting others above yourself!

Going Vertical!

MJ

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