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Archive for March, 2013

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“NOOOOO!!!!” The happy hum of preschoolers enjoying their snacks is instantly shattered by three-year-old Thomas’ screams of rage.
“I don’t WANT you to put the straw in my juice! I can do it MYSELF!!!” Crossing his arms, Thomas glares at me. “I’m MAD at you!”

It’s going to be a long day. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. This is more than I bargained for when I agreed to sub for the three-year-old preschool class today.

All day long, Thomas throws screaming fits when something is not exactly to his liking. “But I don’t WANT to color the T!” “I don’t WANT to sit next to Samuel!” “He’s touching MY crayon!” “NOOOOOO!!!!!” I’ve never seen a preschooler put in time out or sent to the principal’s office so many times in one day.

“Thomas’ family just moved to the area,” the other preschool teacher explains to me in a whisper. “His dad’s in the military and gone a lot. Plus his mom just had a new baby. He’s mad at the world right now.”

My heart goes out to this angry little boy, but I don’t know how to handle his fits of rage. So I start to ignore Thomas. When Allison needs help with her letter T worksheet, I gladly show her what to do. When Gregory wants me to read to him, I pull him onto my lap and cheerfully start “Curious George at the Dentist.” But I avoid even looking at Thomas, afraid that the smallest thing might set him off.
Almost done, I sigh with relief at the end of the day. We are letting the kids run off some energy in the gym before their parents pick them up. Like clockwork, after a few minutes Thomas plops down in the middle of the gym and screams, for no apparent reason. None of the other kids seem concerned.

This little boy needs a lot of love, I realize with a pang. He needs consequences too, but if I only give him attention when he does something wrong, isn’t that just reinforcing his bad behavior?

I don’t really want to do it. But I know I need to. I walk over to him and force myself to smile.

“Thomas, would you like me to swing you around?” He looks up, surprised, and agrees hesitantly. I pick him up, and he quickly wraps his legs around my waist and holds tightly to my neck.

“Ready?” I ask. He nods. As I start spinning around, I’m surprised by a sound I haven’t heard all day. I stop and look at Thomas. He’s actually giggling!

“Want to do it again?” He grins. Once more I spin around, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until we’re both dizzy and laughing. Amazing. Thomas isn’t throwing fits. And I’m actually enjoying myself!

As the preschoolers gather their coats and backpacks for the carpool line, I think of another friend in my life who sometimes acts like Thomas. Deeply wounded by life’s hurts and disappointments, she reacts in anger, verbally attacking anyone who comes near. Recently I’ve started to avoid contact with her completely. To keep from being hurt, I’ve been withdrawing from the relationship.

But aren’t there times when I, too, react out of pain and anger, hurting those around me? Yet the Heavenly Father always takes an interest in me. Not because I’m always acting lovable. But because He loves me unconditionally. Right then I decide to make an effort to reach out to my friend. Because I’ve been forgiven, I can forgive. Because I’ve been given grace, I can extend grace. Because I am loved, I can love.

Do you know someone who is throwing a tantrum at life’s injustice? Do you have a friend who’s been hurt deeply and is lashing out in pain? Though the temptation is to back away from someone like that, consider how you can reach out to that person this week. Even a screaming fit of rage is no match for forgiving, grace-filled, unconditional love.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
Psalm 86:15 (NIV)

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1094501_life_preserver“I’m not gonna make it.” I was so very tired. It would be so easy to just give up and submit to the waves that were trying to submerge me. “I just can’t keep going anymore.”

Half-wading, half-swimming, my mom and my brother Stephen and I had made our way through the clear, shallow waters of the secluded bay that afternoon, anxious to test out our snorkeling gear. Brilliant yellow and blue fish darted in and out among the rocks, so close we could have touched them! Visiting my parents here in Costa Rica was a refreshing change from my busy life as an English teacher in East Asia, and the week was going by far too quickly.

When I finally decided to swim back to the shore, my legs and arms were already starting to ache. All that snorkeling around the rocks had worn me out more than I realized. I swam underwater for a few minutes, then decided to stand up and take a break.

My feet didn’t touch the bottom.

Looking back to where my mom and brother were still snorkeling, I realized we had drifted down the coast with the current. “I guess it’s a bit deeper at this spot. When I’d swum out here, it had been shallow the whole way!”

Swimming on my back this time, I aimed for the beach once more. But every time I turned my head to look, it seemed no closer than before. And when I tried to stand after a few minutes, there was nothing but water beneath me. This time my head went under and I got a mouthful of salty seawater. Coughing and sputtering, I looked toward the distant beach where my dad was reading in the shade of a tree. I waved my arm frantically to get his attention. He cheerfully waved back.

“He has no idea I’m in trouble,” I thought in desperation, struggling to keep my head above water. I’d never been a strong swimmer, and now I felt so desperately weary.

“No one would even see me go under,” I realized. My mom and brother still hadn’t noticed my distress, and we were the only ones on this isolated stretch of beach. “I’m going to drown right here within sight of my dad on the shore.”

I don’t know how, but somehow I made it to the shore that terrifying afternoon in Costa Rica. My dad later told me that when I was swimming on my back, I was actually going in circles. No wonder the shore never seemed to get any closer. When I finally crawled onto the sand, gasping for breath, I couldn’t believe how close I had been to giving up.

Hopeless. Helpless. Desperate. I’ve been there before. Sometimes life just seems to be one pounding wave after another of pain and disappointment and loss. And I feel like I’m drowning in it all.

But God doesn’t leave me there. When I have nothing left, not even the strength to yell for help, I look to Him in desperation. And even if He doesn’t pluck me out of the circumstances I’m in, He gives me the strength and the grace to make it through the rough waters.

How about you? Are you stuck in destructive cycles of conflict and harmful relationships? Are you in danger of drowning under waves of disappointment? Do the depths of pain in your life seem endless? You are never without hope. Help is on the way. He won’t let you drown.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“…He pulled me out of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!”
Psalm 18:16-19 (The Message).

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“So, what are your writing goals for this year?” My cousin Nathalie turns to me expectantly, pen poised to take notes. Jennifer looks up from her laptop and smiles encouragingly.

It’s a simple question. But I can already feel the rising anxiety.

We’re on a weekend writers’ retreat at the Outer Banks of North Carolina – brainstorming ideas, reading portions of our stories or articles aloud, critiquing each other’s work. It’s completely natural to talk about our writing goals for the upcoming year – this is why we’re here! So why in the world am I suddenly tongue-tied and nervous?

“Well, Michelle? Do you have any specific goals?” My cousin isn’t one to give up easily.

The whirring of the dishwasher seems unusually loud. My stomach twists in knots. All at once, I’m seven years old and standing in front of the blackboard, trying desperately to solve a difficult subtraction problem, feeling a dozen pair of eyes boring holes into my back. I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans.

“Goals… Yeah, you know I’m not much of a goals person,” I respond slowly. “I don’t know why. I just hate making goals. Guess it’s because…”

Suddenly it hits me.

“…Because if I make a goal and I can’t meet it, that means I’ve failed.” The words tumble out before I can stop them, my voice trembling. “So it’s easier to not make goals than to risk failure.” Embarrassed at my tears, I wipe my nose on my sleeve and rub my eyes with the back of my hand.

Fear of failure can sneak up at the most unlikely times, in the most unexpected places. At the root of my fear of failure is the fear of disappointing others. It’s saying, “What everyone else thinks about me matters more than what God thinks about me.”

“You know, just because you make a goal doesn’t mean you HAVE to accomplish it,” my cousin is saying gently. “It’s just something to aim for.”

“Start small,” pipes in Jennifer. “Baby steps.”

I know they’re right. I can do this.

“Can I put, ‘drink 3 cups of coffee a day’ as one of my goals? I’m pretty sure I can meet that one!”

Laughing, the three of us are able to come up with reachable goals – for today, next week, this month, and this year. Once I’ve typed them up, I let out a sigh of relief. That wasn’t so bad.

“And even if you don’t accomplish all these goals, you’re NOT going to beat yourself up, are you?” asks Jennifer, cocking her head.

I grin and shake my head. It’s ok to fail sometimes. It’s ok to admit I’m not perfect. Because HE is perfect, and HE never fails. Taking a sip of my latte, I mentally mark ‘drink coffee’ off the list with a big check. Next on my list – trusting God to help me overcome my fear of failure, one small goal at a time – CHECK!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
Deuteronomy 32:4 (NIV)

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