Monday, June 20, 2011

The Blessing of Knowing and Being Known

Light is an amazing thing.  I grew up being taught that we deal with secret sins secretly and public sins publicly.  We were never to talk about our sins.  They were to remain hidden, only confessed to the person we sinned against, and then only if we were sure they knew about the sin.  In fact, if no one knew of the sin, we were encouraged to keep it that way and confess it only to God.  We were to keep up our appearance of being good.

I believe that this is a lie that robs us of one of the greatest blessings of being in the body of Christ - true fellowship.

 God says to walk in the light as He is in the light.

I believe that in dealing with situations where someone has sinned against me, then I am to contain the sin - going to the person involved, only involving others if that person will not listen to me.  And even in that, my motive is to be that person's restoration, not my vindication.  That is clear.  To show love to others and not to dishonor or embarrass them.

There is no such instructions regarding my own sins.  Actually, we are encouraged to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another.  How is someone going to pray specifically for me if I hide all my weaknesses and struggles?

Walking in the light is freeing.  Not trying to conceal my weaknesses and struggles.  Being transparent.  Proverbs says that those who try to conceal their sins will not prosper, but those who confess them and forsakes them will find compassion.  An interesting word choice.  Not forgiveness.  Compassion.  Not judgement.  Compassion.

I believe that as fellow believers we have an important role to play in each others lives.  I believe that trying to appear "perfect" when we are not robs us of the blessing of others involvement in our lives.  It is my fellow believers, imperfect as they may also be, who will hold me accountable, who will ask me questions, who will pray for me, and who will encourage me to walk in the Light.

I've found something else out from experience.  When I have struggled with a sin in secret, confessing it to God, begging His help in not doing it again... I have failed.  There is power in the hidden things.  Satan can whisper his lies behind shadows.  But when I take those very secret sins and bring them to the light, confessing them as James 5:16 says "to one another", that they are brought into the light.  There is a tremendous power in light.  Satan has no shadows to whisper behind:

If people knew what you struggled with, they would never care for you.

You think you are so good, but look at what you are like.

There is no hope for you.

There is shame in secrets and shame has immense power.

It is my fellow brothers and sisters who have been able to stand with me in the light and speak truth - God's truth.  And the power of the Light is greater than any shame or fear.  Perfect love casts out fear.  We are to be to each other the body of Christ - showing His love to each other, His compassion for our struggles, His truth for our lies, His forgiveness for our sins, and His grace for our weaknesses.

I choose to walk in the Light.  I choose to walk in the light openly and transparently with other believers.  I choose to allow others to speak into my life and live a life of accountability.  In that is more blessings than I can even list.

If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

I choose to walk in the light.  I choose fellowship with others, not simply the being with others, but the honest, transparent fellowship where I know and am known.  I choose to accept the risks involved in that, because again, it is worth it!

Whatever the Risks, I Choose Truth

I believe in truth and honesty.  That who I am inside is more important than the image I project.  That if the image I project does not match who I am on the inside, that itself is sin.  So I believe in transparency.

I remember a few times in my life when the topic of transparency has come up in the circles I was raised in.  Topics like accountability, honesty with others, sharing, and transparency..  There was always an immediate uproar - like throwing baking soda into vinegar.  This is not right!  We are to only speak of good, not of bad, so we should only speak of good in us, never the bad.  I choose to speak truth, and truth is good.  If there is wrong in me, let's bring it to the truth.  Truth is amazing in its freedom, in its transforming power, in its purifying abilities.  Truth is good.  As Hebrews says, discipline is good, bringing us to holiness.  I refuse to believe that me sharing a place where I struggle is going to cause another believer to begin to struggle with that temptation, too.  Whenever I have heard an honest, broken confession of weakness, my response has always been an answering humbleness in my life and the searching of my own life before God.  Whenever I have heard an honest confusion or struggle with God, I respond with compassion and prayer.

It was said that we should not be honest with each other because others might not be able to think highly of us after we share what we have struggled with.  I can see this being a huge concern in the way I was raised... public image being so important.... but now I stand and with all that is in me say,


If someone chooses to think less of me because of what they know about me - that is their problem and not mine.  Their sin and not mine.  I believe the truth that nothing someone else says or thinks about me can defile me.  I also know that what I have been told about other's weaknesses and sins they struggle with have only made me more compassionate of them and have a higher regard for them, not a lesser.  As if their very transparency and truth had a holiness and a tenderness that I would not walk on.  "Take off your shoes.  It is holy ground."  My heart has broken for the pain they have had to endure, rejoiced for what God is doing, and honored them.

Then tacked on these arguments was a PS.  It is hard to be open and trust when you know some of those people will hurt you.  They may.  They will.  But...  I still choose truth and transparency.... because I know that whatever the risks of transparency, that the lies and covering up are worse.  That lies, pretense, and covering things will for sure hurt you.

Give me truth.

I'll deal with the hurt.  I'll deal with it the same way - with truth, transparency, and light.

Tranparency and the Second Greatest Commandment

I grew up in a culture of "project the good and hide the bad" all in the name of attracting people to Christ.  There is some value in being attractive, but if that attractiveness is built largely on pretense, of what value is it?  The world is fed pretense daily.  It craves authenticity.  So do I.

It's been hard for me to go against some of what I was taught growing up.  I've battled, thought, re-thought, and re-battled my way through, but I've come to the unsettling conclusion that this is a path that I must take.  There is no option.

I crave authenticity.  I crave truth - ugly truth if it needs to be, but truth.

I grew up a MK.  We always had to "put on a front".  We had to "act nice".  Whatever you felt or did... we had to put it down and put on a smile when we were with people.  The lost need to see Jesus in us.  The home churches need to see "a nice missionary family".  My family has had serious problems, but we kept quiet and smiled.

I also grew up confused.  We moved away every two years or so.  Different churches, different fellowships, different groups that we belonged to.  When we were in one place, we were there.  We took on many of their values.  This and that became right and the standard.  Next move... those very "right things" changed.  It puzzled me.

I also grew up isolated.  This led to more confusion.  Let me explain.  We were so convinced we were right.  We had the ultimate doctrine, the edge on truth.  We were right.  We were so right that we constantly pointed out how we were right and where others were wrong.  Oh, we loved them, yes, but they were sadly mistaken, tragically confused, blindly misled.... 

But being so incredibly right is very isolating.  No one else is right, too.  I wondered about an isolated Christianity.  It seemed contrary to how Christianity was portrayed in the Bible.

Unity was valued in my upbringing, but unity was limited to unity with those who believed the "pure truth" as we did.  Few met that criteria.  I learned early to detect deviations from "truth".  I could reason for my particular view of end times, of spiritual gifts, of worship styles, of ministry styles, even missions theories.  We were thoroughly taught to keep ourselves separated from the world.  We were equally well taught to keep ourselves separated from those in the church who believed wrong doctrine.

I swallowed that without thinking.  After all, "holy" meant "set apart" or "separate".  I don't know how many sermons I heard on Isaiah 52:11 Depart, depart, go out from there, Touch nothing unclean; Go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves, You who carry the vessels of the LORD.  We were to remain separate from anything unclean.

But then there is Jesus.  He sort of threw a monkey wrench in the whole theology.  I don't see Him separating from society.  He hung out with sinners - I did know that.  But He also taught in the temple and synagogues.  He spoke with all - sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and even religious leaders who were too chicken to follow Him publicly, but sat in the very midst of those who condemned Jesus to death.

Not exactly your poster child for the remain separate from the world and from those who do not believe as we do theology.

I'm beginning to think that holiness has much more to do with what is inside of me and less with whose company I keep.  That what is in my heart is more important than what people see.  That I can not be defiled by other people, but only by my own sin.  (This sentence is sitting in my heart with tremendous power now for more than one reason.)

Jesus answered the Pharisee correctly.  The greatest commandment, the whole law, can be summed up in this commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, and your soul."  The second follows on its heels, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

I choose to believe these.  I reject the lie that love is only for the good.  That we only love those whose doctrine is right, whose worship is correct, and whose life meets standards.  I believe that it is a far greater sin to withhold love from God's children than it is to hold a wrong view of worship, spiritual gifts, or even Biblical doctrine.  I believe "the basics" are much more simple that we've been led to believe.  God is.  Man sinned. Jesus took the penalty for our sins and by believing in Him we have life.  All those who believe that are accepted by God - who am I to reject them?  My command is to love them.  Love.  Not judge.  Not correct.  Not exclude.  Not set conditions for their acceptance.  Love.

Even if they dance in the aisles.

Even if they raise their hands and clap.

Even if they chant prayers written out a hundred years ago.

Even if they read paraphrases.

Even if they have sin in their lives that they have not dealt with.

Even if they "hear from the Lord".

Even if they baptize their babies.

My command is to love them, not separate myself from them.

When I was young, I was pulled from pretty much the only fellowship we had with any believers because there came into the fellowship some who were dancing in the aisles.  There were also some who were sharing that they thought God had told them something.

It was isolating - to the extreme.  It also occurred at a time in my life that I could have most used the emotional support and comfort of the body of Christ.  (We am not perfect - why do we demand it of others in order to worship with them?)

I read my Bible often in that isolating time.  I saw people dancing in worship.  Miriam.  David.  Even John the Baptist jumped for joy before he was born.  I read people hearing from God - often. It seems God even has a delight in talking with people.  I also read a commandment in one of my favorite books, ".... not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day approaching..."

I choose to believe that fellowship with other believers is obedience to God - even imperfect believers with imperfect doctrine.  I am to be with them as the verse says, "... encouraging one another...".  EncourageThis is what God wants - encouraging one another - not judging one another.

Re-thinking MY History

 This blog has been silent for a long time.  It is not because nothing is going on in my head, but perhaps the opposite - so much thinking that I had to think it through well first.  I posted once about re-thinking history and the stories of Schindler's List and the S.S. St Louis.  How it was time for me to take what I had been told, and how I had been told to feel about it and rethink it.  To evaluate it in the face of facts and truth.  Even when it meant we didn't come off so squeaky clean as I had previously thought.  No longer were we the conquering heroes that rode in at the end of WWII and saved the day.  We were the sleepy, self-absorbed people who didn't want to get involved and did not listen to the cries of millions being killed.

I've been re-thinking much of my own history, too.  Who I am and what I choose to belief.  I have grown up being taught by many people - my parents, missionary "aunties" and "uncles", churches, Bible schools, friends, mentors....  They've taught me many good things.  They've taught me other things that I have been re-thinking.  Many, many years ago, I faced a difficult situation where there was a conflict between two belief systems that two groups were teaching me.  One of those sat me down and for two hours hounded me as to why what they believed was right and the other was wrong.  I sat silent praying for some answer.  At last, I think God gave me the words to say to respectfully extract myself from the situation.  I said, "I have heard what you are saying and understand your position now.  I have also heard what they say and understand their position.  I would like some time to be able to search the Bible for myself and see what it has to say on the topic before I come to a conclusion." It was an answer no one could argue with.

Year later, now I think it is time to stop floating between beliefs and not declaring either.

I spent a good part of this year in a painful search.  It included pushing some good friends farther away as I spent time not just accepting what we have been taught, but praying, struggling, and searching the Bible for answers to what I will believe.  I'm glad I took the time to do it, even if it was years later from when I made that original request.  In the middle of all that, this blog was largely silent as I wrestled.  Some things can best be done alone with God.

I've thought deeply over posting the conclusions I came to or not.  I've decided to do it.  Why?  I need to say this for my sake.  I've always been honest on this blog with the good and the bad - and I want to continue that honesty.  So the next few posts will be that - the conclusion that I have come to.  What I now believe.  Who I chose to be.  Among those choices were choosing truth, light, transparency, accountability, and encouragement.  Choosing to leave some things in God's hands.  I chose most of all, to live in the LIGHT.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Empty Smiles

A wrong committed is a wrong once done.

A wrong never corrected is a wrong twice done.

It is that time of year again.  We meet again for a retreat with our organization.  We pack up and drive there.  Our kids excited, although honestly, it is really mostly our team's kids there.  Our kids have grown together since they wore diapers and function as a group of cousins.  They are excited about the chance to spend a weekend playing together with no chores.

I go along again, growing more and more silent as we near the place.  Smiles and hugs await me.  Excited exclamations on how good it is to see us and have we lost weight and did you get a new hair cut.  Talk and laughter as if we were friends.

I get an impression of a woman with bleach dyed hair, dark tanned skin, a face lift, and heavy make up.  Is there anything real in there?  Or is it all show?

I don't believe them.  I don't believe their smiles.  I don't believe their concern.  I don't believe their lives.  I watch them from a distance.  Automatically smile and nod when people say things.  I find my hardest puzzles and sit in a chair and appear deep in thought.  (I like Suduku, but have recently found Sumuko which is much more challenging and keeps me busy.)  If people ask, I say I am attempting to ward off Alzheimer's by keeping my mind active.  It is easier than saying I don't want to engage in superficial conversation with you and try to ignore the pain.

I walk when given the chance.  I walk alone.  I sleep as much as possible.  Sleep is an analgesic, and my body thankfully responds to the pain by putting me instantly into a very deep sleep with comforting dreams.

I function.  I look fine.  I lead groups.  I listen.  But the irony of listening to people share how they got through a difficult thing by the support and listening and prayers and encouragement of each other... these same people who never called when I was hurting nor checked in to see if we were recovering.  Actually, not a word from any of them during the whole thing.  One man, who was not with them, called once.  They never did.   Not in the crisis of last year.  Not in the struggles of years ago.  Not even when I asked for help.
I don't believe their smiles and hugs.

At least four were there to witness the "debrief" session last year that ended in a violent verbal attack on us.  They saw.  They heard.  They did nothing.

I expected after a short time for things to cool and settle that this would be brought up.  Corrected.  This is wrong.  We don't do this, and we need to make it right.  It never was.  Nothing was ever done.

I walk in among them wounded and uncared for.  Hurting among people who cover their eyes so they will not have to see.

I grew up with this group.  I was raised with them.  I thought they were the best.  (I still reserve the possibility that in other countries, this group is good, but here, in this place, they are what they are.)  I was loyal to them.  This was my family.

And they did nothing when I was hurting.

I survived the retreat.  One more year, I survived.... without going crazy and banging my head repetitively against the wall.  That I count as a victory.

I'm thinking of not going next year.  I'm thinking of letting my kids and husband go, but there has to be something that I am needed at besides that.  I don't know that I have to keep enduring this.

I just don't do fake well.

I need some time to recover from the retreat.  Days to walk, to cry, to bang my head against the wall, to pull weeds from my garden and watch life growing.  Days to watch small children running and giggling in the warm summer days.  Days to organize my freezer and do my ironing.  Days to be silent and try to get the strength up again to go on.

I want to go yell at someone.  To scream that this is not right and it is doubly not right to leave it unrighted.

It is just pointless to yell when no one is listening.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

She Did It!

Kayla took her final exam today in math.  She took a 7th grade math final and got a grade of 76% on it.

Looking back three years ago to when I was asked to work with her in the beginning of 6th grade, I am grateful to be able to share this day with her.  The first half of sixth grade, I banged my head against the wall trying to "catch her up" to the rest of the class.  I went head to head then with the principal and asked for permission to pull this child off this curriculum and teach her separately from the class.  I promised that if I did that, I would be there for her every day (ok, some days I traveled, but for the most part) and stick with it until she graduated or was able to be integrated.

Half way through sixth grade, I pulled her out and put her into a 3rd grade book of a totally different curriculum.  She struggled, but kept trying.  We went back to the basics... learning to add.  For an hour and a half every day we struggled on through the simplest basics.  Some days she got it.  Some days she forgot everything she knew.

Last year we did a fifth grade book.  Skipping up two years, we slogged through word problems, fractions, measurements, and found some delight in geometry.  There were still many tears and never a test mark higher than 71%.  But that second year was a milestone in another way.  She lost her fear of math and began to believe that she could do it.  I told her honestly that I don't believe she should chose a career in math like accounting, but that she will be perfectly capable of managing life normally with the skills she is learning.

This year, I took a risk and started the now eighth grader on a seventh grade curriculum.  There is a big jump from fifth grade to seventh.  She buckled down and began to learn.  I took away her calculator for the first part of the year and made her slog through long division one more time.  In fifth grade, she had learned fractions with the help of a scientific calculator.  The focus then was simply on "how to enter the right numbers and get a right answer".  When I saw how well she was grasping concepts this year, I took the calculator away for a few months and said, "You are doing well enough now to be able to understand how this works."  And she did.  I gave it back when we got to calculating interest again.

The assistant principal looked in on us once this year and said, "She has really overcome her emotional disability in math."  That is true, and I am proud of her.

The last half of the year, she began to really believe in herself.  A test score of 87% got her thinking, "I could maybe get a 100% once in my life."  I backed her up.  I taught her test taking skills, reasoning skills, double checking skills.  I encouraged her.  We practiced for tests.  I showed her the test the day before, "see, this looks just like the review sheet you just did well on.  It is nothing to be scared of."  We reduced her anxiety.  Her grades crept up.  92%,  97%  Then came the day when she got 99%.  She looked at that grade and groaned... she had got the last question wrong.  I think she was hurrying because she was excited.  She begged, "What if you give it back to me and let me try that last one again - don't tell me anything about it, just let me try?"  So I did.  And she got her first 100%.  I'm not sure who was more proud - her or me!

She went on to get three in a row.  Test after test going back home with a big red 100% marked across the top.  She still needed tutoring and she will never be strong in math, but she was proving them all wrong.  This kid could learn!

We did a big review over the last weeks, and she was taking her final test (which I wisely did not tell her was a final test but simply said, 'hey why don't you finish this last review sheet and then we'll move on".  Big things like "final exam" would still paralyze her brain.).  I watched her do well on the first half and was thrilled, but she did not finish that day.  Looking back, I wish I had pulled her out of a few classes that afternoon to finish.  They had a week off for a end of year trip, and she came back today to finish it up.  A week later with no review right under her belt, and she made some mistakes she might not have made if she had been more prepared, but she still finished it with a mark of 76%.  I suspect her final term mark will be around 85% and her year total will be around 75%.

That is a victory worth celebrating.  Through three years, we've also developed a relationship, and I've spent a lot of time this year simply teaching critical thinking and preparing her for high school.  I won't have her anymore, but I will still be in town.  I will see her at church.  I told her to call me if she gets stuck again.  I'll still help when I can.

But today watching her smile as she remembers her math and works through the problems, I am reminded how much it matters not only what we teach, but how we teach it.  Kayla's situation was the result of a child with learning disabilities caught in the middle between a strong parent who thought one course of action was best and a strong principal who thought another was best.  Neither was willing to back down.  The principal said that if the parent will not admit the child and her siblings have learning disabilities, then he won't do anything to help, and eventually the parent will be forced to see that he (the principal) was right.  Great plan and it would have worked, but where was Kayla's best interest in it all?  Is she just the guinea pig used to prove a point?!  That was when my irritation with the matter grew to outrage and I took her on as a permanent one on one tutor.

I was nervous.  I am not a teacher.  I have no training in learning disabilities.  I am not really that strong in math, although I do enjoy it.  Math was my weakest subject on my SATs.  But I had a fighting passion that this one child not be thrown to the side in a showdown between two very strong adult personalities.  I was deeply concerned about the future of a child with poor logic skills who would go into high school thinking she was a failure.  What would she turn to to fill that void in her that says, "you're stupid and can't do things"?

So we learned together.

And when the assistant principal said this year that it was good to see her get over her emotional handicap, the fear of math, I was irritated again.  Our principal is trained in a high level of at least one way of working with kids with learning disabilities.  He had all the skills to help, and he had worked with her for a few years.  And she ended up with an emotional handicap.... after all that help, all she knew was that she could not do it.  I think the problem was in the how not in the what he was teaching her.

She needed someone to believe in her.  She didn't need to be scolded one more time.  She didn't need to be asked complicated questions.

Our school has a firm belief that you should teach kids the "why" behind math.  That they should thoroughly understand what is happening when you multiply or why 2/3 plus 1/2 works out to what it does.  That works ok for smarter kids, but it is baffling at times.  Math problems are presented a varying number of ways and the kids are to understand what was going on.

I dropped all that with Kayla.  I told her my goal is that she learns to get the right answer.  I couldn't care less if she understands the concepts, but that she learns to know what is being asked and what she needs to do to get the right answer.

I challenged the principal to give me this one child, who is obviously not going to survive the way things are, and let me teach her with a whole different theory.  Let me teach her "how".  How to do the math.  Then let's see if later on if she begins to catch some of the "why".  He shook his head because that is against his theory, but allowed me since "she's not learning anything anyway".  She proved this year that it worked.  She did understand some of the concepts once she had repeatedly been doing the problems.

But most of all today as she finished her final exam, I am proud of her.  She made it from 3rd grade getting Ds to 7th grade getting As and Bs in two and a half years.  That is an accomplishment!  I am proud of her for sticking with it and struggling through.  It is quite a commitment to ask a child to work hard on math for one and a half hours every day one on one.  Just the focus needed for that is rough.  She did it.  She'll walk across the stage in a few days to graduate from 8th grade with her head high.  She knows she has struggles in some things, but she also knows that she can overcome those struggles and she can succeed.  I'll be in tears when she gets her diploma.  We've come a long ways together and I've grown to love this child turning into adult.