straight A’s

I am but a child. A silly, little girl. At forty-two. How can this be?? Incredibly, I find I haven’t advanced much beyond my primary school days. No. Every single thing that mattered then still matters today. Like grades. Because at forty-two, I discover I’m still striving to be a straight A student.

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Recently, I felt as I did in first grade. Our teacher, Ms. Wittle, would walk slowly around the classroom and squat by each desk to check our work, red colored pencil in hand. She peered over my paper but oh, there was an error. And then another. So no, I didn’t receive my reward. A sticker to indicate a job well done.

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Instead, I got this…

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Oh, how my insides churned as Ms. Wittle looked over Martha’s paper. Because apparently, she was a good girl. She did very well, indeed. I can still see the smile my classmate was favored with and hear the crinkling of the paper as the sticker was lifted away. Martha won the day.

It’s this memory that presses into me today. As vivid as the day it occurred some thirty-six years ago. The recollection was burned into a heart that felt as heavy as lead. Because that day I felt small. Inadequate. Insecure. And unacceptable. Basically, unlikeable. This is how the red lines etched upon my paper made me feel. And this is how I felt this week.

And how silly this is! Incredulous that in the midst of random police shootings and a loved one’s struggle to simply live comfortably, I cry over my report card. I agonize over the grades I receive in the school of life.

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Last night I had hot tears. I ached inside. It came from the pit of loneliness. As I lay next to my husband, tears spurted. He comforted me and asked me what was wrong no less than four times. Because I didn’t want to say it. I know how dumb it sounds. How trivial. And yet, it’s real. My hurt is real.

Finally, I uttered what lie in my heart. I told him I want to be first. I want to be the one who’s someone else’s first choice. And unlike my last cry fest in which he chastised me for my luxury complaints, this time he held me instead. He told me there are three people in our home who pick me first.

And though my husband’s tender words soothed my festering wound, they didn’t eliminate the poison that pollutes my soul…

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

Growing up, I always had one good friend. Kindergarten through third was Jennifer. I loved her so as she shone in my eyes. Pretty and popular. And strong. In second grade, we had the opportunity to try and lift a fireman’s oxygen container. Tony told me no way could I do it, but Jennifer could. And she did. Me? I struggled but managed to lift it a few inches off the floor.

Fourth grade was Hannah. She wore a purple Hang Ten mini skirt. Definitely a leader as all us girls flocked to her. Fifth I had two best friends. Jennifer and I were reunited and Sarah came into my life. And as time wore on, others drifted in and out of my life. But the point is, there was always one. One special friend. Or two. Really close. Like a sister.

We knew everything there was to know about each other. Colors. TV. Music. Boys. And truth is, that’s what I long for today. I want a woman who knows me from the inside out. How I take my coffee. How I feel just by the look on my face. A woman who can drop by anytime without having to call first. A woman who will choose me first. Every time.

I want. To be. First. First pick. First place. Just first.

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything. Colossians 1:18

I picked up a book I hadn’t read for over two weeks this morning. The above verse is what I found. Mind you, I’d already logged in my journal how I wanted to be 1st choice. But lo and behold, I discovered the position is already taken. Or it should be. First place belongs to Jesus. He should be my choice.

Amazing.

So here’s the thing about life. And striving for those straight A’s. See, there is no one person who can give me a passing grade in every single category. No friend (no matter how good she may be) can give me everything I crave: approval, acknowledgement, accolades, affirmation, assurance and acceptance.

Oh, she may give me a piece of approval here and a slice of affirmation there. But she is not God. I cannot look to her or her red pencil for acceptance. Because she is not capable of affirming me like I hope she can. Or will. And like me, she may even be trying for an “A” herself.

Sigh.

“Great Expectations” keeps coming at me. The title. Charles Dickens’ book. I think God is trying to show me my expectations are too high. I am placing people too high on a pedestal. The danger there is they’re likely to fall off. Because no one can stay that high. And the first time they let me down, I’ll end up pushing them down. Off that pedestal. And when that happens, no one gets an “A”. Or the gold star. Or the smiley face.

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It’s true. I am a lonely woman. But I keep looking in the wrong places for fulfillment. It’s not one woman who will fill all my emptiness. It’s one Man. Jesus came to be first. And I’m His first choice. For Isaiah 43:10 tells me I am chosen to know Him. Exodus 33:17 assures me He knows my name. Thus, I find acknowledgement.

By 2 Timothy 2:15, I know I am His approved worker. I receive a pat on the back from my God through Matthew 25:21. Hebrews 10 assures me I have boldness to enter His presence at any time. No phone call necessary. Revelation 3:11 tells me if I hold on to what I have, my crown awaits. And if I can just persevere… if I can fight the good fight and finish this race, I’ll get that blue ribbon after all.

And so, through God’s very word, I find the acceptance I so desire. And affirmation this little girl so desperately seeks. My God squats down beside me at my desk. He takes out His red colored pencil and gives me the grade I’ve been looking for. Not only is it an A, but it’s an A+. That’s what my Teacher has done for me today. And the tears flow down my cheeks.

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. Matthew 23:8

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Yes, I am just a child. A silly little girl. At forty-two. Inconceivable.

But despite my shortcomings, God assures me of truth. His truth. I may fall pitifully short in the school of life, but in His grade-book, I’m a straight A student.

Perfect in His eyes.

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Bitter Fruit

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Youth

I’ve been duped. Deceived. And oh, how crafty he is. For he first introduced himself to me when I was tender and naïve. Young and awkward and so incredibly shy, I would hide behind my mom’s skirts avoiding eye contact with most people. Money was not flowing, so my clothes were hand-me-downs or from thrift stores. My home was an apartment on the backside of the store with a cow pasture as my view. And at first, none of this bothered me. But as I grew, shame set in. It was when I began school and saw all the other kids that the serpent planted his seed deep within me. It was then that he smiled at me, offered me his hand along with a taste of his bitter fruit. And I eagerly placed it to my lips swallowing it down whole. All of it. For he knew what would hurt me the most. And so, he told me his name. I first came to know the evil one as comparison. He peppered me with lies as I grew and I consumed every tidbit.. You’re so shy you can’t even talk. That means you’re stupid! You’re so ugly… look at your friends. How much prettier they are. Look at how she talks and laughs and attracts other people. You’re so dull, I don’t even know why she’s your friend. Look at your clothes… You can’t even afford nice ones.

And so, the sly one knew just when to introduce me to another of his attributes. For when I was a teenager, I encountered him in the form of desire and craving and ambition. Another of his lies gobbled down and tucked away into my heart. Deeply entrenched. I hated myself. I didn’t want to be me anymore. And so, because I didn’t really know what else to do, I joined the military. I got as far away from my home land as I could. I wanted a fresh start. Perhaps there, I would become what I was not. Perhaps elsewhere, I would become successful and desirable and knowledgeable like the friends I grew up with. Anywhere would do as long as it was as far away from my humble beginnings as I could get. Shedding my family and my mistakes and my old skin, I set out for adventure. I set out to be more than I was. I set out to become a new person.

Who is wise and understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and lie in defiance of the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where ever selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. James 3:13-16

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The Garden

Oh, his tricks are not new. It was deception he used in the very beginning and still works like a charm today. He knows how to speak and he covers up the truth. For although wisdom calls out in the streets and she raises her voice in the public squares, the deceiver’s smooth voice silences godly instruction. And he uses a language that God’s creation readily identifies with. He’s fluent in the tongue of desire. His speech tickles the ear…

God took man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” But, the serpent! He was the most cunning of all the animals that the LORD God made. He spoke to the woman. “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden?'” And the woman knew God’s command for He had instructed His creation. But the serpent lied. He deceived. And so, the woman saw that the tree was good for food. It was delightful to look at. And it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and she ate… (from Genesis 2 and 3)

Not only did Eve swallow the serpent’s deception along with the fruit, but she offered the same to Adam. The deceiver interjected a lie into the garden and it spread. And after both ate what they were commanded not to, their eyes were opened and they knew what they didn’t know before. Nakedness. And shame. And fear. For they ignored God’s commands. Rather than hold to His instruction they embraced foolishness instead. For when they disobeyed the LORD, they left wisdom in the dust…

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

Adulthood

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I’ve been duped. Deceived. And oh, how crafty he is. And his tricks are old ones. For deception is the language he’s used from the very beginning and unfortunately, it still works like a charm today. And when the serpent speaks, he covers up truth. I’ve been reacquainted with the sly one recently. He subtly interjected his voice into my thoughts. And increasingly, it’s him that I hear over all other voices. Even the voice of truth.

I left home at nineteen and indeed, I came home a new person. I am not who I once was. But in truth, some of my insecurities remain. And incredibly, over the course of the past few months, I’ve allowed myself to dialogue with the devil. He reacquainted himself to me through the form of one of his greatest tools… Facebook. And there, comparison speaks loudly. For it’s there I see images of happy, beautiful people. It’s there that I see women making tasty treats for their children and ruing the day their kids set off to school. It’s there that I see friends linking with friends. And so, an old familiar voice whispers in my ear. He offers me a taste of his bitter fruit… and I eagerly place it to my lips and swallow it down whole. Not only do I listen to his lies, but I believe them… Look at you! You’re a horrible mother. Other women can’t bear to let their children walk out the door and you do a happy dance when you get a few minutes alone! You’re awful! Why weren’t you invited to that? They must not like you. In fact, you don’t have any friends. You’re too dull. A prude. Why would anyone want to spend time with you. Not only that, you’re overweight. And boring.

And his lies are endless… his fruit inviting. And so, I fill up on its bitterness leaving wisdom behind. I embrace folly as I leave God’s wisdom in the dust. And as I compare myself to other women, I feel less and less and less. And the more I believe I am less than, the more I remove myself from a world I was once a force in. I hide away in shame. In guilt. In fear. And the serpent dances with glee. For he’s won the game with me.

It’s incredible. I cannot believe I find myself here today. And honestly, I’m a bit surprised. How could I let myself get back here? But you know, I’m also thankful. Because today, I see it. I see the truth. I’ve been feasting on the bitter fruit of the deceiver. But God offers me another fruit. His fruit. His peace. His truth. For wisdom calls out in the streets and she raises her voice in the public squares. I find that wisdom in God’s word. And there, I find His voice. In time, if I allow it, His voice will silence the lies.

Today, I turn to God and His instruction. And as His voice becomes entrenched in my heart and mind, the slippery one becomes more muted. As his lies fade, I gain strength. I decide to shake hands with the devil no longer as I instead cling to God’s outstretched hand. But it’s up to me. Every day the choice is mine… His hand or the serpent’s hand. The voice of truth or the voice of lies. Wisdom from above or wisdom from below. My choice. Because the fruit is there for the taking.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=sympathy+for+the+devil&qpvt=sympathy+for+the+devil&FORM=VDRE#view=detail&mid=3AE5312CDF5FCCF327AC3AE5312CDF5FCCF327AC

A Full Closet

Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, I listened to a Mother’s Day message today in which the speaker addressed some of the very things I have been thinking about recently. Namely… insecurity. (I’ve included the link to Lysa TerKeurst’s message at the end of this blog). And the funny thing is, she mentioned her past (as a little girl), the fickle opinions of others, and the fragile choices our children make. And I found her message to be illuminating in that she helped me identify the problem with my insecurity. And it isn’t what I would have thought. See, my line of thinking was that if you’re insecure, you’re not confident. And so logically, low confidence means that you’re not lofty and high up, right? Because if you’re insecure, you’re staying low, right? Doesn’t insecurity then, in essence, mean that you’re humble and meek? And if so, isn’t God pleased by that?

You know, I have been praying for godly wisdom for a little while now. In order to know how to please God, I need His wisdom… because His is so different from the world’s. And, fortunately, the speaker pointed to Scripture that points directly to godly wisdom. And it’s through Proverbs 11:2 that I see just what my insecurity really is: “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.” Illuminating, huh? And so, I find that insecurity is not lowly and humble at all, but in fact, the opposite is quite true. The mere fact that I have been feeling insecure, and shameful, highlights the hidden pride in my life. And if I want God’s wisdom, as I have been so praying… then it’s in my humility that I’ll find it. And so I see, the issue is not at all insecurity… but pride. Because it’s pride that cares what other people think. It’s pride that feels shame in not measuring up to other people’s standards. And it’s pride that produces those feelings of inferiority. It’s the pride of life…

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-is not of the Father but is of the world. 1 John 2:15-16

So in a nutshell… God has answered my prayer. I’ve been seeking godly wisdom, and praying for God’s wisdom, and so James 1:5 has been played out in my life: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally…” Because through a message I watched at random today, God has shown me where to find His wisdom… and it’s not in my insecurity. If I want God’s wisdom, then I must be humble. And so, I have a choice to make. We all do. We must decide where we will find our true identity… and where we will find our true security. Because if we place too much importance on this world via its opinions and its measuring stick, then we will never, ever feel secure. Because the world is passing away, and the lust of it… but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:17). See, our security can only be found in Him.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, God never ceases to amaze me. I am forever awed by how God fits together the pieces of my life… how He strategically plants me in places, and in circumstances, and with people, and how He opens the eyes of my understanding, enlightening me, that I may know what is the hope of His calling for me. See, I’ve been feeling less than. But He is opening my eyes, and I am beginning to see what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance. And I’ve been feeling inadequate, but He is showing me what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward me, who believes. He is showing me that I am complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. I lack nothing… because I am complete. But it’s Him who completes me. I will never, ever measure up to man’s expectations… but with God, because I am covered by the blood of His Son, I am complete. That’s my security.

You know, everyone wants to fit in. Everyone wants to be liked (well, most people do – I have run across those who actually take delight in offending other people). But the truth is, Christians will never, ever fit in with the world. Because the world and God see things in stark contrast to each other. God’s kingdom is flip-flopped from the worldly kingdom. God’s wisdom does not mesh with the world’s. And if we hold too tightly to the world, and the things of the world, then pride creeps in and wisdom walks out. And shame always follows.

Shame has always been with me… it’s always been part of my make-up. It first took root when I was a small girl. When young, because of things I did not have and my not-so-full closet. When older, because of things I did and a much fuller closet… only the closet happened to be filled with skeletons. And older still, disgrace follows because of the things I do, or don’t do, that may or may not measure up to mere man’s expectation of me. And so, shame cloaks me. But the cloak of shame comes directly out of the closet of pride. And that garment of insecurity was not selected for me by God. And so, I have a choice to make. I can gain the whole world today, packing my closet full with robes of shame in trying to keep up with the Jones, or… I can choose Him. And with Him, my closet need not be so full. Because with Him, I will be clothed in robes of righteousness. And with Him, I will be clothed in glory. And in order to be so clothed, there is only one item needed… Him.

And so, the choice… a full closet, or an empty one? Here or there? Or, this world or that one? The choice is mine to make. And it shouldn’t be that hard of a decision.

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what advantage is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” Luke 9:24-26

http://elevationchurch.org/sermons/cut-the-but?autoplay=sermon