Why is it just now that people are valuing my questions?

Not everybody gets to that point of actively pursuing positive cycles, but for those of us so blessed, what a gift worth living!

When I was a kid, I was so full of questions. I wanted to know and see and explore everything. Turning up rocks for rollie pollies (bugs) in the backyard, spending time outside to examine different insects, playing devil’s advocate when it wasn’t fun, asking questions when I detected difference.

It’s wonderful to finally be old enough to know that asking questions is a part of resilience. Having curiosity leads to having grit and passion, and both things can help us pursue meaning in life. It’s nice to know after all that time that it was worth asking questions. Not just that the questions set me apart, but that they’re good for people.

If you’re the weird kid at school, you don’t have meaningful ways to talk about being different. People always told me that it was good to ask questions, but like a swollen birthmark, it’s nothing I ever chose, but something I couldn’t get rid of.

Being curious helped me through some terrible seasons of life. I never realized that being curious universally helps others, too. When you feel isolated, it’s really hard to identify what makes you different. It’s even more difficult to feel as though those things that make you different are actually worth something. Even when you have older and wiser people who notice such traits and appreciate them, it’s really hard to know what the hell they’re talking about until you’ve gathered some perspective. As a teacher, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a student who questions and is curious is often more fruitful than one who is complacent or is afraid to learn. Despite all those people who didn’t appreciate my questions and all the teachers who tried to resurrect them, it has been really difficult to understand the value of curiosity in myself.

It’s nothing I asked for. I think that oftentimes, you get punished for being curious, just like you get punished for being honest with people who legitimately do not want to know better. When a child tells you things that are terrible or brings up something legitimately insightful, there is often a power struggle. Denial. Lack of willingness  to listen.

Even in college, you get punished for having questions. I truly believe that you have to be in a role where you can gather some leadership for people to not attack any willingness to learn. The fact that we make our children wait so long to do things that are meaningful makes me angry. Would we have fewer high school suicides if students were more actively involved in creating their own knowledge? Would we have stronger relationships that help traumatized children overcome the past if we encouraged self-directed learning? If you empower a child and teach them that their questions are valuable and that they are allowed to ask them, you meet them where they are at in a way that reflects God, and doesn’t punish them. Learning doesn’t have to be so difficult.

And so I’m older now, and I’ve still got my questions. But I tell you, I’ve been asking the same questions for years, and only now that I’m old enough am I finally getting some answers or people who actually respect me. Why do we have to age into getting some respect? The notion that you have to qualify to matter is nonsensical for a creation made in God’s image. It really sucks that people couldn’t just listen to me as a kid when I gave them these opportunities to learn with me, instead of finally esteeming what I say now that I’ve become an adult. They are the same exact questions. How many years were wasted? The only thing that has changed is that people have started to view my life as though it has some sense of opportunity. Why don’t we already view our children like that?

“that’s not respectful”: God’s tenderness and a conversation about honor

In the school where I worked in the role of a classroom tutor, we had a five-point strategy to encourage good citizenship and kindness in our students. Different goals, such as “soaring to success” (academic excellence), “act responsibly” (good stewardship), and “be respectful” provided our classroom the words and benchmarks to encourage one another forward.

As a grown woman, I wonder how many people know what it is to be respectful. But not just that. Apart from complacently neutral, past the boundaries of pleasant contempt, who knows what it means to honor others?

If respect is the bare minimum allotment of honor, what does it mean not just to respect, but to honor our elders? To honor our husbands or wives? To honor our family and friends?

If love bears all things and believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things, how can we ignore this requirement?

The Lord does expect us to love one another. In Romans 12:10, Paul tells us “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” To be perfectly honest, I have not yet researched what the word “honor” means in this context, in Paul’s letter. Yet from what I do know about God, it sounds a lot like Ephesians 5:22-33, which commands husbands and wives to love and submit to one another. Out of abundance instead of hunger, we are called to build one another up.

The love of God is tender as much as it is kind. As God will glorify his children in the second coming, and vindicate his family on that day of judgement, so he gives us reason to be still because of himself. There are many angry people these days about the state of our families, marriages, and civic institutions, but few fulfill what it means to love one another.

In a perfect relationship, it is not a burden to be a woman. The man that loves his wife as he does himself honors her, and makes her happy to be married. He takes care of their children. He does not act as though he himself were a child. Instead of seeking his own interests, he seeks the welfare of his family. Like Jesus being willing to go so far out of his way for us and sacrifice for what we could not do on our own, the equipped man of Christ has everything he needs to fulfill his calling. God is able to equip each of his servants (male or female) for the love he has set before them. Contrary to popular ideology, marriage really is a blessing.

Historically, I have held many strong opinions. I get angry, though I try to contain it. I have been one to feel hopeless. I have been one to feel alone, and the Devil certainly used that in seasons where I was convinced nobody wanted me.

When you go to the Lord with your full heart and he restores those empty places, a funny thing happens. It’s not that your opinions become less valid. Or that you start to feel bad for holding them. It’s that you have less need to insist in your own way and be right about everything. Love does not insist in it’s own way, and as we become more satisfied, being right is no longer the priority.

There are some people that become bolder through the love of God, but I am not one of them. As a kid, I was prepared to raise hell at all times. In all my classes, I have never been shy to share my opinion. I am not often afraid in an external sense, but fear hits me internally.

I know that each person is different. In my case, the love of God made me rest more. It made me happy. More peaceable. Less alone. It gave me words to express mourning and hope for better. It gave me the sense that God does not abandon us when we are angry, but provides us the tools through faith to fight for justice. His love helped me make sense of my life, and use it for better. He constantly provides for me out of my need, and gives me very practical help in times of trouble.

God helps in unexpected ways. For example, making the decision that I will start tithing with my first paycheck this August gives me a sense of stability. This year will not be living off of abundance, but giving God my best gives me the peace of knowing he will provide for me. God also strengthens my body when I give thanksgiving for the food I receive. I have seen it happen, and I have seen this act of thanksgiving radically change my mind and body through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, when we live in relationship with him in thanksgiving. I am well aware that my last claim sounds crazy, but I invite anybody willing to thank the Lord for your food on a consistent basis and see if he doesn’t strengthen you (I’m talking physical strength).

So many good things are already prepared and provided to those willing to allow Jesus to change their hearts. You don’t have to live in bondage forever. To live enslaved long after you’ve been paid for is to miss the entire point.

Unpredictable God

Spent most of this morning and a little of last night considering how few of the blessings I take for granted were things I knew about beforehand.

Really didn’t expect Jesus to be as many things as he’s turned out to be. When I decided to give it a shot with my whole heart on study abroad, really didn’t expect this journey would change how I think about everything. Didn’t expect it to so significantly affect my beliefs and my habits. Didn’t ever assume I’d be one of those. Didn’t expect to have peace over what I read in the Bible. Didn’t expect to make peace with the type of churchy people who just seemed to exclude people, just because we believe in the same Savior.

Never expected to meet so many Christians from all over the globe. Never anticipated that my faith would enhance my cultural competency instead of limit it. Never realized that my faith would give me God’s strength to transcend racial barriers that our society so encourages. Never expected to have my own fully-secure identity in Christ that never resulted in me trying to prove anything.

I never expected to have so many friends, let alone live this long. Never expected to know legitimately helpful information that has the power to heal my community and family. Never thought my life could be this useful. Even if there is a lot to live yet, I really did not envision becoming a peacemaker. I never thought I would be able to escape my baggage. For a long time, I was just coasting, trying to keep my head down.

Beyond those easy shores of neutrality, being a Christian actually helps me make sense of the constant chaos and death of this life. My cynicism has recourse, and I find myself hopeful. There is a truth in the redeemed image of humanity that helps the suffering seem justified. For all of us, death is inevitable. In Jesus, there is life in full supply.

For God, who is without sin, there is no death. The Lord does not remain angry. As we live, death is a constant. From the perspective of God, who is eternal, death is the inevitable outcome of humanity’s actions. But despite this world, there is the love of God all around us, constantly available in Christ, and in full supply.

As I prepare to move, I’m looking forward to those blessings remaining unpredictable. The Lord has power and the authority to move and we just have to be willing to respond to him.

Fragility and the help of Emmanuel

Getting ready to move makes you very aware of how much conversational give and take is really for other people. As I get closer to moving away, I feel as though some of my friends are more delicate than they would be otherwise. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells sometimes, trying to soften the things I’d normally be saying full strength, not wanting them to feel afraid or angry that I’m leaving, trying to hedge against burning bridges on both sides. When people sense that the end of a season is coming, in the frustration of changing, we can sometimes lash out in ways that wouldn’t be wise in a longer relationship. When people feel threatened, or they sense that a relationship is disposable, they don’t always act wisely.

I have some trouble with my boss sometimes, who is somewhat type A. She is not a fan of change, and she gets overwhelmed easily. Like some family members I know, she feels uncomfortable when I am not always sunny and happy. If I come in thinking about something complicated, or if I say something that shows too much frustration or mourning, she gets defensive and finds creative ways to take things personally. Sometimes when we have a lot going on, it can be difficult to work around my boss. She can get overwhelmed and make rash decisions that she wouldn’t make thinking clearly. There is tension because I’ve been there longer than her, but I just try to do what she asks of me. The nature of our work is to constantly answer questions that are both broad, complicated, and more often than not, somewhat critical. If you don’t keep a level head and pick your battles, you are liable to lose it.

I think my boss is afraid. Whenever there is a lot going on, she feels more helpless dealing with the situation. Sometimes, she will talk aloud or take a lap around the office just to calm her mind and break out of any discomfort. Though I think she would probably prefer a more predictable and less high-stress work environment, I’m just doing what I can to keep the peace. When she gets frustrated, she can be slightly verbally abusive and condescending. She makes choices without consulting anybody, and uses a tone of voice that is disrespectful towards the students we work with. Because there is often a language barrier, her stress makes her unable to helpfully work through counseling a student with limited English proficiency. When she gets overwhelmed, she relies on attitudes and actions that aren’t often professional. She took offense the other day when I told her that I don’t feel comfortable when she takes up so much of my personal space without asking (she was trying to explain something with her hands on the back of my chair and I really didn’t feel comfortable). She found a way to take that personally also.

When you allow difficult circumstances to make you afraid, that fear controls you. When you work in stressful work environments, you have to be skilled at de-escalating situations, not building them. Though my boss doesn’t yet understand this, I do my best to get out of her way and stay level headed. Since I leave soon, her taking my matter-of-fact statements personally is not ultimately my responsibility. My responsibility is to do the best work I can do, and try to set an example that may rub off. When she takes a second to cool down, she acts more respectfully. She does make an effort to understand where I’m coming from after she’s had a minute of peace. She does try to make me feel appreciated when she finally calms down. I just feel a little bad for her because I remember what it’s like to deal with all that anxiety and have to go through the emotional fireworks. Looking at it from the outside, I feel sorry for her because I know the ups and downs are unnecessary. And I know it’s something she tries to control, even if she can’t on her own strength. Those kind of patterns are exhausting.

The more I work with kids, the more I believe in being a facilitator instead of a judge. My job is to encourage the ones I love to come to productive conclusions by listening and giving supportive advice. My job is not to control people’s every waking action. A lot of parents try to control their children without really teaching. A well taught child learns how to teach others, and is useful to society. A micromanaged child doesn’t make sense of the constant ebbs and flows of life’s changes, and learns to be afraid instead of to take initiative.

I see God’s presence a lot more in this “Emmanuel” kind of role. “God with us” walks us through our problems and provides his own strength for us to work through them. Teaching is a reminder to rely on God’s strength, because it’s true that those who teach will be judged more fiercely. If you seek responsibility, you become liable for all that responsibility means.

I think that it’s a lot easier for people to come into a relationship with God through Christ by having teachers in this kind of “Emmanuel” position. If we aren’t willing to serve, we should not be teaching. If “Rabbi” was a good enough title for Christ, then teaching is an honorable position. Good teaching requires you to serve. You have to be patient.

It’s hard for me to sympathize

In a world where men justify raping women “based on her actions”,

It’s hard for me to relate to your porn addiction.

In a world where your lust can be the defining feature of my character,

It’s hard to have sympathy.

In a world where women are burned in acid attacks,

And where children are raped freely,

Where terrorists are enshrined in patriotism,

And we beg God to come quickly,

When I see so many beautiful single women in churches,

And so many broken marriages because of cheating,

When there are so many single moms just trying to make ends meet,

And little boys focus on getting laid,

And many girls unilaterally suffer the consequences,

I feel angry.

Even at work, there are always those guys who expect you to counsel them through the temper tantrums,

And want a shoulder to cry on,

Without doing any work.

I don’t want to hear your poisonous locker-room banter about how “she deserved it”,

I don’t want to wonder how you turned so vile.

There are good men, but they aren’t common.

I wonder how so many beggars can be choosers,

With leaders like this.

I want to care about how this sin affects you,

But it’s hard to see so many leaders absolutely apathetic to how this sin affects me.

And if you once more have access to the goodness of God,

And the perfection of Christ,

I wonder why there aren’t any strong men of God stepping forward,

Prompted by God to move.

So…how political is Jesus?

I just had dinner with a nice couple from my church who are pretty fun to spend time with. We spoke for a while about church, recent events in our lives, and through my questions for them, politics.

I know there are some people who don’t just launch into political discussions, but I think that so long as you try to be respectful, there isn’t all that much to lose. There are definitely issues that can set people off, but overall, the most important identity for people already under Christ is that you are a Christian.

Talking with people inside and outside of the church about politics is productive. Regardless of the results of this election, working across party lines and towards reconciliation is really important for people who believe in Christ. Most importantly, discussing politics can be a really good exercise in learning to listen and see things from alternate perspectives. In the hour or so I talked with these friends, I understood a lot more of their frustration and disappointment with the current state of affairs in the US. Though we certainly come from different schools of thought when it comes to politics, the fact that we are willing to listen to each other is probably the most important purpose of that conversation. Likely, no one was converted into my school of thought, nor I theirs. But the fact that people with legitimate differences are willing to listen and support one another is a valuable goal in and of itself.

Politics doesn’t always include discussions about things that matter, but it can. At it’s best, politics can be inspired by the desire to see God’s justice here on earth and love for creation. There are so many people who are currently suffering and to them, if God isn’t actively pursuing justice in a way that can be considered political, he must not be real. Who is God if he doesn’t really care about me and my situation? How can you try to tell me about God and not address the fact that I’m suffering?

Ultimately, the desire to see God’s kingdom on earth should be larger than the strategies we use to accomplish it. Different political parties are like different philosophies on what is best for most people, and what people really need. As a Christian, my faith is a worldview that outranks my opinions. I endorse specific strategies that I hope will help the poor, the foreigner, the elderly, children, the oppressed, and families. I could tell you how my political orientation relates to my faith, but at that rate, is it really political?

Another uncomfortable reality related to politics is that no matter how great our lives are on earth, heaven is better. Which also sounds like a cop out to people who are legitimately suffering. Still though, if any of us got everything most people strive after, it still wouldn’t be as good as God’s kingdom and all that exists through the spirit. If we invest too much in trying to manipulate every detail of this life and try to convince people we’re right about everything, do we lose sight of God? People who only care about politics are exhausting.

So, which is it? Does faith cause you to participate more in politics, or less? Maybe it calls us to participate in ways that could be both? Or that when we allow ourselves to be led by faith, others attribute political intentions over faithful ones?

If you don’t know God, faith can seem a lot like passionate politicking. When people assume that our greatest bone to pick is probably political, that just reflects a lack of understanding of God. Overall, God is greater than the political squabbles because he’s GOD. Like, he’s so much bigger than that.

The body of Christ is made up of a bevvy of different opinions, which all matter less than the perfection of God. You’ve got people from every tribe, nation, and tongue who are gradually adding up to praise the Lord, and the cultural diversity alone isn’t going to allow a situation where everyone agrees about everything. Given how much people’s opinions change within one culture over 100-200 years alone should be enough evidence that most of the things we believe don’t ultimately matter.

In the end, politics is useful only so long as it is useful to God. God can work through a variety of different methods and more often than not, mistakes. His plan doesn’t require our righteousness. The fact that he doesn’t need us to be right is good.

Resisting “I told you so” and focusing on love

Anyone saved by grace with a temper might find some hope in what I’m about to say. I don’t know about y’all, but sometimes when my family provokes me, I get really mad.

Part of what angers me is when people don’t listen. I can tell my family members something legitimately designed to help them, they’ll blow me off, and I find it hard not to feel a little justified and self-righteous when things happen just like I warned them.

I don’t know whether it’s just women that do this, but the “I told you so”s are a constant temptation for me. It’s not as though it’s not true that you warned somebody, they didn’t listen, and the present consequences of their actions are their own fault. Sometimes, it’s really cut and dry. Like last week, when my dog peed on the floor and I told my sister to put a paper towel down so she didn’t step in it and then she stepped right into the puddle some 10 minutes later.

Needless to say, I’ve already ruined the introduction of what I’m trying to say. It’s just that when you know better, it’s so hard to watch people make mistakes. I know that love bears all things, but I sometimes find myself praying for bad things to happen just so that people will have a need to re-evaluate. It’s not a great place to be, but I’m just trying to be honest here. I don’t want my perspective to remain this way, but this is definitely where I’m at today.

But you want to know what I have at least learned (and still struggle putting into practice)? If you shut your mouth and let the spirit speak for itself, it often works out well. Better even.

In “I told you so” situations, I can pray that the Spirit convicts. I don’t need to always fight for myself. For example, when you’ve already carefully picked out words to ask a family member to work with you to solve a problem and they don’t listen, just stay silent (after you have made a reasonable effort). Sometimes the Holy spirit speaks through other witnesses to the situation. You can pray that God will help the person you love get their crap together in times where you know they wont listen to you. Which is absolutely infuriating. But it is what it is for now.

I really hate that my family finds creative ways not to listen to me, but it gives me hope that there could still be help available to them through the Holy spirit. I know that it’s not really up to me to work this hard, but this is the way it’s always been, and it’s taking time to adjust. It’s hard to learn all these things about God that could really help them and nobody cares what you have to say. It’s hard to be the only person that takes God seriously in your family, especially when some family members may only believe in God through a situation involving absolute destruction, because they presently hate him. But I still love them. And I still want them to be saved.

I’m trying to learn to bear with it and trust God to provide when they wont listen to me. I experience a lot of cursing aimed in my direction. My family has such shallow things to talk about (everything under the sun from politics to money to ideology) that if we’re being honest, they really don’t know me very well. My friends know me to a certain extent, but in God, I am known fully. And I have peace and hope for a future where I can do better for my kids. I get angry, but I try to buy into forgiveness. It’s still hard. I am going to be one of those adults who doesn’t try to ignore helpless situations. When I work with kids or if I have kids of my own, I won’t just ignore them.

As of today, that is the solution to my problem. It’s not in solving my own situation, but in being a listener for people struggling in similar situations of their own. My children (biological or students or just the ones I care about) will have an advocate in me. Without people like that, I would have never had hope for long enough to buy into God. And now I know that he helps me.

To be honest, my situation may never change. Hell, that’s even likely. I get mad at God and ask him to save my family, because I love them. There are a lot of decisions I’ve made that nobody appreciates or understands that I made out of love for them specifically. But I believe that Jesus cares for them, and that God would still love them if they always rejected him. So I’m trying to focus on leaving it up to God. It takes some bravery.