Path Unknown

There is something that we all have in common. We all go through hard times. I’ve never met someone who hasn’t had to deal with something hard or unpleasant in their life. I’ve never met someone who hasn’t learned from those experiences. We are all human. We all have feelings and emotions. We are all impacted by situations in our lives.

Our lives are made up of a bunch of little choices. Those choices, whether good or bad, lead us down a million different paths. Those paths have brought us here to this exact moment. They all make up our stories. Those paths aren’t all made of the same things. They aren’t all smooth. They aren’t all bumpy. Some are sandy or paved or grassy or littered with sticks. Some are even made of garbage. Some take you up a steep grade and others result in you rolling down a hill. Some might be made of logs strung together along the side of a mountain. Some paths lead to a refreshing river, some lead to dead ends, and some just take you for miles and miles until you’re completely lost.  My point is that none of us are immune to tough times and we don’t always know what is next or where we’re headed. Sometimes, we have to use the hard path to get to where we’re supposed to be. Sometimes, the lesson doesn’t lie in the destination, but in the journey.

I grew up in a great home where nothing really bad happened. My parents protected, provided, and prayed for me and my sisters. We weren’t perfect, but we were perfect for us. Growing up (and even still today), I was very competitive and prideful. I didn’t think I’d have to go through hard times or deal with things that other people dealt with. I thought I was immune to hardships and I wasn’t very humble about it. Humility is something I’ve never really had (just ask any of my friends, especially when it comes to football). I rarely back down from an argument. It’s one of my many faults. This past September, I was watching Dancing with the Stars with my family and there was a contestant named Debbie Gibson. She was (and still is) in the middle of a battle with Lyme Disease. I remember thinking, “It can’t be that bad. She’s milking it. I wouldn’t ever get that; I’m careful.”

Story Time:

July 15 or 16, 2017: I was bitten by a tick on my head in the mountains.

July 17, 2017: The tick was removed thanks to Julie, Maya, and Sarah and their bravery.

July 22, 2017: I noticed that the lymph nodes on my neck were swollen and had become painful. I went to a local doctor in Georgia (where I was vacationing at the time) and I was given antibiotics that I was told would clear things up.

July 27, 2017: I made it to Grand Haven, Michigan to visit friends (more like family). I found myself (and my sister, Sarah) driving around for two hours trying to find a doctor that would take a look at my incredibly painful lymph nodes. We found a doctor, but got no answers.

I flew home a few days later and went to multiple appointments in August regarding the lymph nodes. One “solution” was to take different antibiotics. So, I did that for 10 days. That didn’t work. Another “solution” was to talk to a surgeon to have the lymph nodes removed. Um, what was this doctor thinking? That didn’t last long. We hit a dead end.

October 30, 2017: We finally got in with an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor who had performed surgeries on my family before. He was the guy who was going to help me. The visit was short, but resulted in blood tests being ordered (praise God).

November 13, 2017: Blood was taken and results came back quickly: no mono. We cleared that test.

November 20, 2017 (the day before my 23rd birthday and the first official day of Thanksgiving Break): Test results came back: Positive for Lyme Disease. “What? How could this be possible? Are we sure that the results are right? Are we sure that we read the results correctly? Everyone assured me that it wasn’t Lyme. What does this mean? Am I going to die? Will I have this forever? What kind of treatments will I have to go through?” Those are all the thoughts that went through my head. I was shocked. But I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis. I called the doctor to see what we needed to do next. The nurse told me that the clinic couldn’t treat me. She called to infectious disease doctors in Lakeland and no one would see me. We called around to different hospitals and clinics all around the state that supposedly treat Lyme. No one would see me. The CDC didn’t even have answers. We hit a dead end. We were so frustrated and confused and helpless. “How am I supposed to get better if no one is willing to even see me?” This went on for weeks.

December 12, 2017: I was having weird problems with my ears and needed a general asthma check-up, so I paid a visit to my allergist. My dad is friends with the doctor, so he came with me. He told the doctor all about our struggles to find help and how frustrated we were. The doctor was equally frustrated. He decided to start me on the typical antibiotics that Lyme patients usually take for months at a time. A week into those meds and I couldn’t last a day at work. They made me really sick. We switched to a different medication and didn’t have any problems with it, praise God.

January 2, 2018: The allergist knew of some Lyme doctors in New York, Boston, and Connecticut. He made some phone calls to see what we needed to do next.

February 13, 2018: We are still waiting on what to do next. I will be retested in a couple of weeks to see if the medications helped at all. The doctor seems to think that I don’t have it anymore, but I still have the symptoms, so I’m not so sure that he is right.

The end…sort of.

I never thought I’d be faced with a disease like Lyme Disease. I thought I was invincible. I was so critical of Debbie Gibson and what she was dealing with. I was ignorant. I never thought I’d struggle with this and I didn’t think I’d struggle to find a doctor to treat me. I thought it would all just come together. My whole life, I thought that I would choose good paths and make decent choices to ensure that nothing bad would happen to me. Man, was I wrong. (But let’s be clear. My disease isn’t a result of any sin in my life. God isn’t using it to punish me for anything. He doesn’t work that way.)

In my case, a literal path (in the woods) that I was walking on resulted in a disease that is harming my body. That path is a path that I will figuratively be on for a while. While it isn’t an easy one and I know I’ll hit a few dead ends, I know that I don’t walk alone.

This whole process has been hard. I was put on diet restrictions that were so hard to follow (especially since I have a deep love for cheese and bread). The moon sometimes makes the infected cells in my body go crazy, which makes me sick. I get tired easily. I forget things. I have joint stiffness. I have restless arms and legs, which make for many sleepless nights. I have little patience.

However, I’m growing in so many ways. I’m learning to appreciate the little things in my life a bit more. I’m learning to not take my family for granted; they’ve been incredibly supportive. I’m learning that even though I have a weird disease, I can’t let it be an excuse to be anything other than loving, humble, and patient. I may not always be thrilled about the path that I’m travelling, but I can always try to control the way I view it. I know that God works all things for my good. (Romans 8:28). And I know that God will meet my needs according to His will. I have great comfort in that.

So, right now, I’m on a path that is riddled with fallen trees and steep hills on either side, but I’ve got my boots on and I’m going to keep walking. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but ultimately I know that God is guiding me, so I won’t ever be completely lost or alone.

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Beneficial Disappointment

There are so many times where my plans get derailed. There are times when they don’t go as I had planned in my head. I’m the kind of person that likes to know what is going on. I like to have an idea of what to expect. I like spoilers. Unfortunately, God doesn’t like to give spoilers to His plan for me. He likes to keep me on my toes…to keep me trusting Him. In this blog, I’m going to tell a story about a lesson I learned on a fishing trip last month. I really love fishing and every year, Deborah, my dad, my Uncle Ed, and I go out to Utah to go fly fishing and it’s always a blast. This story is a tad bit long and probably a bit boring if you don’t like fishing, but bear with me. There is a reason I’ve spent the time to type it out.

On the first day, we fished the Middle Provo River and caught some nice fish. We had a great time. The second day, we went to a spot in the desert that usually produces massive fish. Our guide, Walter, is spectacular and knows what he’s doing (he is Ashton Kutcher’s guide). He has always been able to put us on the fish. He took us to our usual spot and about 10 minutes and a few drifts into it, I had on a fish. It didn’t feel big, but I reeled him in. He was about six inches long; the tiniest fish I’d ever caught in Utah. We threw him back and kept fishing. I caught about 5 more small ones. So, being a little bummed but not discouraged, we moved spots. A few minutes at this spot and I had a monster on. This fish was at least 22 inches long. I was so excited. I almost had him in and he got off. I was so disappointed. So, we moved on to the last spot and it didn’t produce anything. After a short break, we fished a spot I’d never fished before. I was excited to get on some new water. This was supposed to be great fishing. We ended up catching fish even smaller than the first fish. I was disappointed that the spots that were supposed to be promising didn’t produce the fish we wanted.

We had been talking all day about a secret reservoir that was said to have massive Tiger and Cutthroat Trout. I never thought I’d get the chance to catch a Cutthroat Trout and Tiger Trout are my favorite fish, so I wanted to go try the reservoir. We drove all the way out there and ended up not fishing. It was a bit disappointing. The next day, we decided to go to that reservoir to try to land some monsters. I was pumped. After trying for a bit to perfect a new casting technique, I cast my line out and let it sit for about 45 seconds on the water. I saw a Cutthroat under my fly and I watched it. The fish saw my fly and swam towards it. As soon as it took my fly, I set the hook and reeled him in. I was so excited to finally catch my first Cutthroat Trout. After that, I didn’t want to stop. The wind was blowing super hard and I was freezing, but I would rather be fishing and freezing than sitting in the car getting warm. So, I was persistent and landed another beautiful Cutthroat.

As we drove back to the condo to pack up and to catch a red eye flight home, I started thinking: life is a lot like fishing. We start out thinking that we are going to be successful and then we fall short. Many times, we do things and we think we know what the outcome will be. We think we have all of the right skills, equipment, people, and perseverance that we could need and that should be all we need to be successful. In life, we think we know what God’s plan is. And often times, the plans that we think we know, aren’t what God has in mind. He has different things for us and they are always better than we could have planned ourselves.

If we had been super successful in the desert, we would not have tried the new reservoir and I wouldn’t have caught the Cutthroats. While I was disappointed in the beginning, God knew what was going to happen next. In life, we get disappointed when things don’t work out the way we had planned. Being disappointed is okay; in fact, I think it is beneficial to our lives. Without it, we get used to things going right for us and we never learn to trust God.

God has better plans than we can dream of on our own. God doesn’t really care that I like fishing, but He uses those times in the water to teach me lessons. He uses hard and disappointing times to teach us things and to lead us to better opportunities. When we think we have all we need, we need to remember that if we aren’t where God wants us to be, we aren’t going to reach our full potential and will miss out on big opportunities. The way we know where we need to be is to constantly seek God daily. He will lead us where we need to be. It just takes faith, trust, and time.

Being patient is hard, but keep waiting on and pursuing God. He knows what is best and He knows what you need. He’ll lead you where you need to be…where He wants you to be. And who knows, maybe you’ll catch fish you never even dreamed of catching.

Backwards Faith

Faith in humanity is flawed. We hear people say all the time say phrases like “My faith in humanity is restored” or “I’ve lost my faith in humanity”. Their faith is based on what they see or experience. If you think about it, their faith isn’t faith at all. Their faith is often actually misplaced ideas or failed, preconceived notions of how someone is going to act or how a situation is going to turn out. Their faith is backwards. They have the wrong idea.

People like to throw the word “faith” around. They think it’s a pretty word that belongs on a wall for decoration or put it on t-shirts for inspiration or make it part of a tattoo to show “depth of their mind or heart”. Faith is much more serious than we take it to be. To define faith and know what it is, the Bible is the best place to look. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”. Faith means that we don’t always know what is going to happen, but we trust that God will do what He says He will do and that it will be for our good even when we can’t see or feel what He’s doing.

In the words of Charlie Dawes, a former professor of mine who’s Christ, Culture, and the University class I was in back in 2013 at Southeastern University, “It’s easier for us to serve a God that we created in our minds, not the God who created our minds.” It’s easier for us as flawed, human beings to live by our own rules and make God out to be something that He is not than to serve God, the One who created us and knows us inside and out. We put our faith and trust in superficial things and superficial people when we need to put our faith in the supernatural God.

I’ve recently had to have a lot of faith when it came to one particular thing: my job. I’m a P.E. coach and I have a couple of great opportunities available and I don’t know what is going to happen. On one hand, I feel really comfortable in a lot of ways in one situation and, on the other hand, a different job opportunity has arisen and has room for me to grow and progress in my career. If you’re anything like me, you like to know what is going on, what is going to happen, and when it is going to happen. I like to be mentally prepared. I’m not too great with faith most of the time. It’s not that I don’t trust God; it’s that I don’t trust myself or other people. I’m a people pleaser. I don’t want to disappoint anyone and I don’t want to be disappointed. But I know that I can’t live my life based on “what ifs”. I know that God knows what He is doing and that gives me confidence. But it’s in the time of waiting that isn’t easy. I get restless and a bit anxious.

A lot of people say that it’s the times when they have the smallest amount of faith that makes them stronger. For me, that isn’t usually true. It’s when my faith is strongest that I’m closest to God. When my trust in God is strong and my trust in myself/other people is weak, that’s when I’m the closest to God. So, when I am going through something hard, I draw closer to Jesus, which makes my faith and my relationship with Him grow stronger. So, even though hard times are terrible, I’m thankful for them. I’m thankful for times of waiting, because through these times, I have no other choice other than to lean on Jesus. Leaning on Jesus means giving up your anxiety and worry and control. It means surrendering the unknown to Him. It’s hard at first, but becomes habit once you do it over and over again and the peace that comes with it doesn’t compare to anything.

I love how Andrew Peterson writes it in his song called No More Faith:

“This is not another song about the mountains
Except about how hard they are to move
Have you ever stood before them
Like a mustard seed who’s waiting for some proof?

I say faith is a burden
It’s a weight to bear
It’s brave and bittersweet
And hope is hard to hold to
Lord, I believe
Only help my unbelief”

 

I love how honest he is in these lyrics. Faith is hard and can feel like a burden at times. We have our strong moments and our weak moments in our faith. But the smallest amount of genuine faith is all you need to begin. Genuine faith is hard and messy and takes bravery and trust. Faith isn’t about not doubting (because, let’s face it, we all doubt at some point or another), but replacing that doubt with courageous trust in the One who is the only One who knows how to deal with that doubt and trust.

So, my goal is to not put my faith in anything that is worldly. My goal is to not seek control in every situation. My goal is to put my faith in the only One who is worthy of any kind of faith and the One who created my soul; Jesus.

*Sidenote: the featured image for this post is a picture that I took a couple of months ago of a drawing from a 4 year old girl named Faith who is in my preschool Sunday school class. She thought she was writing her name correctly, but she wrote it backwards and misspelled it. It’s a perfect fit for this post.

Everything Happens For A Reason

“Everything happens for a reason”. I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before or maybe you’ve said it yourself. I’ve definitely held onto that saying in hard times. A lot of people don’t agree with or like the saying. When tragedy strikes, they can’t wrap their minds around how something so tragic can have any kind of good reason for happening or have anything good come from it.

Personally, I think there is a lot of truth in it. I know that I love God with everything that is in me. I know that in Romans 8:28, God says that He’ll, “… work all things out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” I like to read out of my NIV Application Bible when I read. There are footnotes at the bottom of the page that sometimes dive further into what a verse says. Here is what it says about this verse:

 “God works in all things –not just isolated incidents- for our good. This does not mean that all that happens to us is good. Evil is prevalent in our fallen world, but God is able to turn every circumstance around us for our long-range good. Note that God is not working to make us happy, but to fulfill his purpose. Note also that this promise is not for everybody. It can be claimed by only those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Those who are “called” are those the Holy Spirit convinces and enables to receive Christ. Such people have a new perspective, a new mind-set on life. They trust in God, not life’s treasures; they look for their security in heaven, not on earth; they learn to accept, not resent, pain and persecution because God is with them.”

  I don’t know about you, but this brings me tremendous comfort in the things that I go through. I know that I love God and am called by Him. Therefore, I know that everything that happens to me, happens for a reason. God will work in any situation.

Let me give you an example: this past December, my mom was set to go have lunch with her mom and step-dad. They had not always seen eye-to-eye on most things, but they were on good terms. The day that they were planning on having lunch (Monday the 5th) my grandma had a stroke. There was a blood clot in her brain and they operated on her to try to remove the clot. She made it through the surgery and the doctors were confident that she would make it. This hope was short-lived. The next day, we learned that her condition was deteriorating and she wouldn’t make it much longer. That afternoon, I got a text from my mom who was at the hospital with her mom saying that there wasn’t anything that the doctors could do. I was in the middle of teaching an English lesson to one of my middle school classes when I got the text. I read the text, but didn’t focus on it in order not to break down in the middle of class. Class ended and it was time for lunch. That was the hardest part of that day. I had time to sit and think about what was happening. My grandma was not a Christian and had rejected Jesus multiple times throughout her life. It was heartbreaking to think that she would probably die without accepting Jesus into her life. I was a mess. My coworkers (who are amazing) stood with me in prayer that she would somehow accept Christ. After the school day ended, I talked with my mom and knew that I should encourage her to talk to her mom about Jesus. I couldn’t do it. It took a lot to hold myself together just talking about her condition; there was no way that I could tell her to talk to her about Jesus. So, after I hung up with my mom, I called my sister, Deborah. Deborah had the same thing in her head as I did. She and I talked about it and we decided that Deborah should text our mom to encourage her to share Jesus with our grandma. When we hung up, Deborah sent the text. The time that my mom got the text, everyone who was in my grandma’s hospital room had just left and it was just my mom and her mom alone in the room. It was a God-thing. My grandma was conscious at this point, but she was paralyzed for the most part. My mom was able to lead her mom to Christ in that hospital room! I get chills just typing it. My grandma, who had never really considered a relationship with Christ, was able to wiggle her toe and accept Jesus in her hospital bed! That was definitely the best news that I’ve received up to this point in my life! We knew that no matter what happened, we’d see her in Heaven again one day. A couple of days later, my grandma passed away peacefully.

Now, why did I tell you this story? I told it because God used something as tragic as my grandma having a stroke to do a few things; 1). Bring glory to His name, 2). Bring my grandma to accept Him into her life, and 3). Strengthen the faith of everyone who heard the story. I would love for my grandma to still be here with us, but I’m SO thankful that she is with Jesus and that I will see her again.

When a caterpillar goes into a cocoon, it might be scared or even think it’s about to die. But as it waits patiently inside of it’s small, dark, temporary home, it grows. Eventually, when it’s time, it comes out of the dark place and has turned into a beautiful butterfly. I think we can learn a lot from this. Even though a situation might be new, scary, dark, or make you feel like you won’t last much longer, know that at the right time, God will bring you out of that situation as a someone who has grown and learned new things.

I know that it’s hard to think of positive things happening when someone you love passes away unexpectedly, when you get bad new from a doctor, when natural disasters happen, when relationships are broken apart, or when you don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent for the next month. It’s hard to think that God is going to do things through unbelievably hard times. I firmly believe that God will use those hard times to further His Kingdom and to help us grow. Through those hard times, we as believers grow closer to Jesus and rely on Him to get us through those hard times. When we get through those hard times, we are closer to God and stronger than we imagined we would be.

If everything didn’t happen for a reason, tragic things would be just that: tragic. There would be no light at the end of the tunnel in a lot of situations.

Let me encourage you; if you love God, God will use the hard things that you go through for good. It might not make sense at the time, but God’s plans are always better than ours. God’s ideas of the way that things should be are better than we can dream them up.

Taiwan Mission Trip 2016: One of the Biggest Things I Learned

It’s been a little over a month since I returned from a 20 day mission trip to Taiwan. I’ve been meaning to write about my trip, but it’s taken a bit to process and decide what exactly I want to write…and what God wants me to write, of course. Mission trips will almost always have a huge impact on your life, so take the time to process things you learned, emotions that were felt, the different experiences you had, and the people you were surrounded by. Then, write those things down. Even if you aren’t a writer or don’t particularly enjoy it, you will look back in hard times and see things that God did in and through you because of that trip.

So, let’s start at the beginning of the story. My church sent out three different mission trips this summer. One of my best friends, Jabez, decided that he was going to go to Taiwan to help with a sports and English camp. A few times he threw the idea out to me that I should go, but things kept hindering me from going. I had already committed to being a leader on a middle school trip with my youth group and Taiwan was really far away. I got homesick when I lived an hour away from home all last summer…how could I possibly deal with being in Taiwan for three weeks without my family or the comforts of home? I began to pray about it and I decided that the trip wasn’t for me. I didn’t listen to where God was leading me. I was telling myself what I thought I wanted God to say. It wasn’t until I was having dinner with Jabez and my mom when God tugged at my heart. So, God lead me to take the leap of faith and go to Taiwan. I knew I could raise the $2,400 that I needed, but that wasn’t the biggest obstacle. I knew that if something didn’t change in me, I was going to get homesick and be afraid to fully experience all that Taiwan had to offer. For the next two months, I prayed literally every single day that God would prepare my heart for the trip and that I would not be homesick at all. I prayed that He would help me to take leaps of faith even when I was advised against it. It was a struggle, but I knew that God would take care of things.

One of my best friends, Katie, decided to join us on the mission trip and that was awesome! She and I had done a lot of travelling together in the past and we even got baptized together, so I knew that by her being there with me, I would be a little bit more comfortable. So, I prayed and prayed that God would open my heart to new things and new experiences and that He would help change my heart and the hearts of those around me. Y’all, I prayed a lot…a lot more than I had for anything in the past. As I prepared to go on this trip, I could tell that God was already doing work in me.

So, we left for Taiwan and flew over 9,000 miles to get there. The 10 hour flight from San Francisco to Tokyo was really cramped and not ideal at all, but we survived. Our group connected well, so that helped make travel easy.

Side note: In the Tokyo airport, I met Tim Tebow?! If y’all don’t know me, one thing you should know is that I’m a die-hard Florida Gators fan and have loved Tim Tebow since he played for the Gators. God totally blew my mind when I was walking in the terminal in Japan and Tim Tebow was walking towards me.

A couple of days later, camp began and it was incredible! We had family groups (#TeamLimeGreen) and that was so impactful. Jabez and I were two of the leaders in our family group. We immensely enjoyed the times we got to spend with our campers. We got to see them grow and experience God in new ways. We had conversations with them that were impactful and insightful. We learned about the backgrounds of our campers. Some of them lived at an orphanage a few hours away. It was amazing to see that joy that some of those orphans had despite the fact that they lived in an orphanage. It was incredible.

It was, also, really cool to talk to campers who didn’t live at the orphanage. They had lots of struggles of their own. In Taiwan, Christianity is considered the “Westerner’s religion” so a lot of parents don’t want their children to become Christians. They would prefer to stick to the traditions of burning money, food, and incense to their ancestors that can do absolutely nothing for them than let their children be loved by a God that actually knows their name. One girl in particular named Ranee was incredible! She is a Christian, but her mother does not approve. Ranee was sharing some of her struggles with me and it was mind-blowing how much pressure is put on Taiwanese students. If they do not get certain scores on certain tests, they will not have a good path in their life. It’s really sad to see the stress they have on their shoulders. Jabez and I grew really close with Ranee and it was extremely hard to say goodbye. Then, she decided that she would come on our adventures a week later when camp was over. So, camp ended and Ranee arrived to go explore the island with us. We were driving through the mountains and she had a heartbreaking conversation with her mother. Her mother did not like that she was with a group of missionaries, so she forbid her to see us ever again once we left the island. It was heartbreaking to say the least. Ranee was hurting and we were hurting knowing that she was dealing the disappointment and displeasure of her mother. Jabez, Katie, Rick (the leader of our team), and I all encouraged her to stand strong and not give up.

Even now, we still keep in touch with Ranee. I got a message from her a couple of weeks ago. She said that her mother was going to allow her to come to America to visit us and tour some colleges! How amazing is that? Her mother, who had previously told her she would never see us again, was agreeing to let her travel over 9,000 miles to see us! If that isn’t a work of God, I don’t know what is.

This was just one of the stories where God worked in an amazing way! One of the biggest things I took away from this trip was the power of prayer. Prayer is incredibly important and powerful. I’m convinced that it was God who didn’t let me get homesick (I didn’t even want to come back home after 3 weeks). I’m convinced that it was God who softened the heart of Ranee’s mother to allow her to visit America. I’m convinced that it was God who kept us safe in a foreign land.

When I was initially praying about whether or not I should go on this trip, I thought that God was telling me not to go. I thought I was listening to Him. I was wrong. I was listening to the fears that had me convinced that playing it safe would be better for me. I wasn’t listening to God. Then, God used two of the people that I trust to speak to me and to tell me that I should go. God isn’t going to always speak to you through His word, He’s not always going to give you the answers you want, and He’s not always going to take you to a comfortable place. In fact, He promises that we won’t be comfortable. That’s all okay. At the end of the day, God is God and His plans truly are what is best for our lives, whether we realize or agree or not.

Guys, prayer is so much more powerful than we think. I experienced it first hand and found it to be 100% life changing. I encourage you to set aside time each day to pray. For me, on my drive to work, instead of playing music, I use that time to pray. For you, it might look differently, but I encourage you to invest in a solid prayer time. It will change your life in so many different ways!

Dear Substitute Teacher

*The following is a note that I wrote to the substitute teacher who subbed for my 4th grade class while I was out for a day:

“Dear substitute teacher,

            My name is Judy Barker. I have been the sub for this class for the past week and will be here until Spring Break. This class is very talkative, but very bright. They need constant encouragement, but a firm hand. Be stern, but gracious. I will give you a list of good students, not-so-great students, and students who may need extra help/attention. Please let me know if any of them misbehave. As for teaching goes, I’ll leave you everything you will need and a schedule for the day. They have a line order. I have left that with you and they know where they need to go. If you have any questions, the teachers next door will help you. Thank you for being me today!

                                                God Bless,

                                                         Judy Barker”

For the past 5 months, I had the privilege of being a substitute teacher for the Polk County Public School system. I was at a school teaching second grade one day and during class, the assistant principal walked into my classroom and asked if I’d sub for a 4th grade class for the rest of the week. I decided to give it a shot and see what would happen. It was only for a week, right? Well, the first day wasn’t too bad. However, the rest of the week was awful. I got to know the class’ story as a whole. Their teacher moved to a different city. Then their new teacher quit on them because she really disliked them (and told them that) and they didn’t like her. At this point, their teacher consisted of a multitude of different subs. When I stepped in, I didn’t know I’d be there for almost 3 weeks until their new teacher (who is fantastic) arrived. I got to know these students really well. I even went on a field trip with them! We all got along well. With that being said, things weren’t easy. I had some problems students who didn’t like to obey authority or do their schoolwork. Every school and class has these students, so this is nothing new. I got to talk with them more and learn about their lives. I found out that some students don’t get regular meals at home, but are fortunate enough to be able to take a bag full of food home with them on the weekends, some students have been abused, and some students have a great home life. I even taught a girl who had just lost her dad to cancer.

My heart broke every day for one reason or another. These students were so broken and they didn’t have anyone who was willing to help them. During my time with them, I was able to encourage them and help them succeed in certain goals. I got to love on them and be there for them. I loved when they’d walk into class in the mornings and tell me all about something cool they did or something new that they learned. I loved getting to listen to them talk about things that made them happy. It put a smile on my face when I saw a student who had been a decently behaved student give away his special treat to the one student who didn’t earn it. He was showing love and grace and he didn’t even realize it. This was one of the coolest moments of my life.

After Spring Break, I began subbing for other schools and classes. When you enter a classroom for the first time, it’s almost impossible to know what kind of students you will be teaching that day. For me, a prayer each morning that I would pray consisted of me asking God to place students in my path that needed love, encouragement, and kindness. I knew that if I could encounter some of these students, I could help make their day a little better. I always had “trouble students” in my classes. I could tell that they would act up on purpose just for the attention. They didn’t care what kind of attention they got as long as someone was paying attention to them. That broke my heart. Their parents didn’t really care about them and we all could tell. So they would do what they had to do to attain attention from other adults. Often times when a student would misbehave, I’d pull them aside and talk with them. I’d encourage them to make better choices. A lot of the students that I pulled aside were students that had a lot of influence on other students. I would tell them how much of an example they are and how they can be a good leader if they did the right things. A lot of times I could see the transformation in them after this talk. The little bit of confidence and encouragement that I gave them was what they needed. Throughout the day I’d encourage them more and thank them for doing the right things instead of the wrong things.

Overall, I learned a few things. 1). Kids these days are struggling and as a society, we aren’t doing too much to help them. Parents want to be a friend instead of a parent and in a lot of cases they don’t even want to be a parent. This leaves kids feeling hopeless, unloved, and not valuable. This causes them to try to find love and acceptance in places that will only encourage them to follow bad paths. 2). The world is full of broken people who are hurting. It’s our responsibility as Christ-followers to love and encourage them no matter who they are or how hard they make your life. 3). It’s important to have guidelines to live by and it’s ok to still have fun while following those guidelines. There’s nothing more chaotic in a classroom than having a fun activity and the entire class completely ignores all of the rules. This results in someone getting hurt, property getting damaged, students getting scared for their safety, and teachers getting frustrated. Rules are good and it’s important to have fun inside of those rules.

Didn’t Jesus say, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”(Matt. 19:14)?
Society can be harsh and treat kids like they don’t matter and like they don’t have thoughts, feelings, emotions, or dreams. Jesus reminds us to treat them as the special people they are. They are so important and we need to remind them of that importance.

So, to all of the teachers and substitute teachers out there who are on summer break, thank you for all that you have done to impact the future generation of people. Thank you for being patient, making countless sacrifices, and for loving your students. Without your diligence, we’d be in even bigger trouble than we are in now. You are incredibly important and your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed!

And to all of the good substitute teachers out there, keep up your good work and keep fighting the good fight! Your love, gentleness, and kindness don’t go unnoticed. You do a special job that is crucial to the functioning of society!

*Also, congrats if you’ve made it all the way to the end! You’re the real MVP for reading this whole thing!

 

I Had It All Wrong (Pt. 2)

*I wrote part 1 to this post a couple of days ago, so if you haven’t read part 1, I suggest that you do so before you continue to read this.*

Assuming that you are continuing to read this because you have read the previous post, I’ll dive right in. In my last post, I talked about my experience with worry and anxiety. God used my deadly worry to open my eyes to see that I shouldn’t worry about anything. I started off the last post with a couple of questions. I’ll ask them again. Do you ever catch yourself saying that you’re worried about something? Do you ever catch yourself saying that you’re concerned with something? Probably more often than not, you use the word “worry” instead of the word “concern”.

I don’t quite remember where I was or what was going on around me when I was thinking of this, but for whatever reason, one day I was thinking about a certain situation and I was pretty worried about it (or so I thought). Then I recalled Matthew 6:25 where I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to worry. “But if I’m not supposed to worry, does that mean that I don’t care about the situation?” I thought to myself. I got to thinking and I realized that I wasn’t as much worried as I was concerned about the situation.

I think that a lot of people get worried and concerned mixed up. I’ll give the definition of worried and the definition of concerned and we’ll see how they stack up. The definition of worried according to Dictionary.com is “to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts, uneasiness, or anxiety.” The definition for concerned according to Dictionary.com is “a matter that engages a person’s attention, interest, or care, or that affects a person’s welfare or happiness”.

Clearly, they are similar, but that doesn’t mean that they should be used interchangeably.

When we use the word “worry” when we are actually concerned, it can paralyze us. I was preparing to write my last post and as I was reading through Matthew 6, I got to the end of the chapter where Jesus tells us not to worry. I was reading my application Bible and at the bottom there was some elaboration on the idea of worry. It said, “Here is the difference between worry and genuine concern- worry immobilizes, but concern moves you to action.” “Wow”, I remember thinking. How true is that (and how fitting, considering I planning on writing about the difference between the two)? Jesus told us not to worry, but he never said that we shouldn’t be concerned. When we worry, it makes us feel out of control and anxious, but when we have genuine concern we feel the urge to do something about that concern and change the situation.

Worry puts us in a ditch, but concern puts us in the passenger seat (next to God who is in the driver’s seat, of course).

I was reading a book by John MacArthur called “Found: God’s Peace”. In the first chapter he talks about avoiding anxiety through prayer (Fun fact: you can get the book for free if you email his people). Anyways, one of the lines in the first chapter says, “Some people assume that worry is the result of too much thinking. Actually, it’s the result of too little thinking in the right direction.” This got me thinking. When we talk about worry and anxiety, we often say that it is caused by thinking too much about a certain situation. While that can be true, we need to understand that thinking about it day and night won’t change the situation and will only continue to drown us in our worry and anxiety. We need to surrender all control of the situation to God and think about how perfect His plans are. After all, Jesus said it himself, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25)

I encourage you to use the word “concern” instead of the word “worry” when you are genuinely concerned with something. If you change the way you think and speak about certain things, it’ll help you focus more on right thinking and you’ll most likely end up feeling better about that situation. I’ve started saying “concerned” instead of “worry” and honestly, it changes your perspective on the situation, so I encourage you to do the same. It could change your life!

I Had It All Wrong (Pt. 1)

Do you ever catch yourself saying that you’re worried about something? Do you ever catch yourself saying that you’re concerned with something? If I had to guess, I’d say that most of the time, you say that you’re worried about something more often than you say that you’re concerned with something.

Sometimes, I find myself thinking a bit about the phrases that I say. Whether it be phrases like “What in the world?” or “I’m worried about it”, I tend to stop and think about the general meaning and the literal meaning of the phrase. When I think about the phrase “I’m worried about it” I feel a bit unclean. As I study the Bible, I’m reminded that I should never worry about anything (Matt. 6:25, Luke 12:24-34).

But as I keep thinking, the question enters my mind: am I really worried? What does worry actually look like? According to Dictionary.com, here are some of the definitions of the word “worry”: to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts, a worried condition or feeling, uneasiness, or anxiety. No wonder I feel uneasy when I think of the word “worry”. The Bible says many things about worry and anxiety. It says things like “Do not be anxious about anything…” –Phil. 4:6 and “An anxious heart weighs a man down…” –Proverbs 12:25.

There are many situations in my life where worry and anxiety have plagued my heart and mind. Situations such as being in a completely new place by myself without much with which to support myself, having to sit aside and watch as someone I dearly love was in an abusive situation, searching for a place in life where I felt I could thrive, watching as some of my closest friendships disappeared before my eyes…I could go on, but you get the picture.

I found myself in a place where worry and anxiety ruled my life to the point where I was physically impaired. I tried different methods to reduce stress such as breathing exercises, going for walks, journaling, and sleeping a lot. None of those things seemed to do the trick. I was consumed with anxiety and worry.

I tried lots of things that I thought could solve the problem, but nothing worked how I wanted. I thought that maybe if I tried something different and tried to ignore the symptoms that things would turn around and get better. Boy, was I wrong. Things kept getting worse. Eventually some things resolved themselves (some in calmer ways than others), but I still had that worry inside of me. I was still anxious because of the things that had happened. Typically, you’d expect for most of the worry to go away and things to feel better. I did start feeling better a little bit in my mind, but in my heart, I knew that things still weren’t right.

During the hard times, it was way easier to say that God was in control rather than to actually believe it. If I said that He was in control, I could make it look like I was fine, but when it came to dealing with things, I could do things the way that I saw fit. I was in control, but I was completely powerless. I realized that I could do nothing to improve my situation. There wasn’t anyone or anything on the face of the earth that could improve my situation. That’s when it hit me. I was looking in the wrong place. Nothing on this earth could give me that comfort and peace because nothing on this earth is the author and giver of that peace…God is. Numerous times, God told me to surrender it ALL to Him…not just say it with my mouth, but say it with my heart. How is giving up control of my life supposed to make me feel in control? News flash: it doesn’t. While I might feel better about it temporarily, I’m not made to be in control. Once I surrendered the situations to God, everything was out of my hands and the One who authors my footsteps gave me the peace I was looking for. I had no power to change things, but God did.

“We don’t just need faith that knows, but we need a faith that goes.” –Zachary Weathers

When I was sitting with my students in youth group on that Wednesday evening, I didn’t expect for that night to change my life. While Zach didn’t quite intend for me to understand his quote the way that I did, it couldn’t have been more impactful. Suddenly it all made sense; I don’t need a faith that simply knows that God is in control, but I need to actually surrender (go) my doubts, worries, anxieties, and fears to the One who casts out all fear…to the One who takes care of me.

I wasn’t created to worry about things. Heck, Jesus said it himself; even the birds will eat and the fields will be clothed…am I not more important than they? (Matt. 6:25-34) I shouldn’t worry about anything. God will take care of my needs in His timing.

It’s all clear, now…well, this part is. When I’m faced with times where I worry and feel anxious about things, I’ve learned to immediately surrender those situations to God. By praying in those moments and realizing that God is in complete control, I’m relieved of any worry, anxiety, and fear. And I have to say, there isn’t anything else like the feeling of God-given peace.

Jerry

So, I realize it’s been a while since I’ve last written…if you consider four months to be a long time. The last four months have been pretty crazy. I’ve had lots of different ideas about different things I want to write about, but I haven’t had the motivation to sit down and write it. So, here I am; writing about one of the things that has taught me a lot.

Back in December, Deborah and Sarah (my sisters), were riding in a separate car than myself and friend, Jabez, were on our way to our college Bible study Christmas party. When we arrived, there was a lot of food and a lot of people. It was pretty typical for a Christmas party. Towards the end of the evening, Deborah told me that she saw a homeless man in the median of one of the main roads here in Lakeland who looked cold and potentially hungry. There were plenty of leftovers at the party, so she decided to get a couple of to-go boxes and some sodas to take to this man if we could find him.

We drove around downtown looking for him. There was no telling who exactly it was that she saw on the median. As we were driving we saw this man who was pushing a shopping cart full of things; mainly aluminum cans. It was a chilly night and all he had on was a black beanie and a short-sleeved shirt. We decided we would stop and give this gentleman the food that we brought. His name was Jerry. Jerry was an older gentleman who had seen his fair share of full moons. He lived his life on the streets going from shelter to shelter. We talked with him for about 40 minutes and he was extremely thankful for the food and the company. We got talking and he told us a little bit about himself and where he came from. He grew up in Louisiana as one of many children. His mother passed away when he was young and he never knew his father. He had been in and out of jail all of his life. He had struggled with drug abuse in the past and was in the process of getting his life together.

As we talked about his past and what he was doing now, he said something that I’ll never forget. He said, “There are so many excuses to do wrong things, but there are always reasons to do the right things. You just have to look for them.”

I made a mental note of that and wrote it down as soon as we got back in the car. He was absolutely right. When it comes to our life and doing the right thing, we often make excuses to not do them because doing the right thing can sometimes be inconvenient, time-consuming, or uncomfortable. Because of this, we find ourselves doing the wrong things when we know we should be doing the right thing. We have to decide that the reason for doing the right thing outweighs the excuse to do the wrong thing. For Jerry, he decided that instead of using his circumstances (being a homeless, former drug addict) to live recklessly and treat himself and other people as if they don’t matter, he would spend his days helping other people that are on the streets. One of the first things he said to us when we gave him the food was, “Oh man! The guys are going to love this!” He was excited to use the food that we gave him to help someone else, rather than keep it all for himself. That spoke volumes of his character. He was only concerned with helping other people. Towards the end of the conversation, Deborah noticed that he was shivering, so she decided to give him one of her blankets (if you know Deborah, you know that she loves her blankets). He couldn’t have been more excited or thankful that she gave him that fuzzy, gray blanket.

What I learned is that instead of using bad things that happen in my life as excuses to hurt people and myself, I should use them as a reason to treat people as Jesus would. I should let God use me in any situation that I find myself in, whether it be a job I don’t quite enjoy, if I’m having a bad day, if I’m in a new stage of my life that is difficult, or even if relationships with family or friends are less than ideal. It’s way more important for me to brighten another person’s day, whether it’s by giving them food, holding a door open for them, or even simply smiling at them, than it is to let my situation sit over me like a raincloud and be bitter and standoffish. After all, life is way more than just working 9-5, trying to accumulate as much money/things as I can, or trying to do things that will only benefit myself. Life is about using my circumstances and resources (no matter how small or abundant) to help other people in whatever they are going through.

So, thank you to Jerry for helping me to understand this valuable concept through a different lens. And thanks to Deborah for being like Jesus and wanting to help others…even if that means giving up one of your favorite blankets.

[Disclaimer: The feature picture is not an actual one of Jerry. It’s the closest one that I could find that resembled him and his cart full of cans.]

Be The Tree

Have you ever had a certain theme or idea that keeps popping up in your life over a period of time? I have. Lately, for me, it has been the idea of fitting in…or not fitting in, for that matter. In society these days, everyone wants to be known for something. Everyone wants to fit in and be accepted. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to be accepted, the way we go about finding acceptance is what can affect our lives.

What I’ve noticed in different groups of people is that we often compromise things we believe, standards that we hold, or even dreams that were placed in our hearts in order to find acceptance that might only last for a short time. Many times, we give up on the things we have valued in the past and we set them aside to have certain friends, do a certain activity, or even attempt to be loved by someone. We live in a false sense of hope that if we compromise what we believe or the dreams we have to fit in wherever we go or in the things we do, we will find happiness and satisfaction in being the new person that we are becoming. Sometimes wanting to be someone different sounds so much better than being ourselves.

Now, I understand that it sounds so enticing to want to be a “cool kid” or be someone who is known for something great. We all have a desire to want to be recognized in some form for something that we do or the person that we are; that is human nature. I think that human nature fails us a lot. We have tendencies to want to do things or be involved with people that don’t do anything good for us just for the sake of being accepted. We can sometimes allow ourselves to think that doing things that might not be beneficial to ourselves in order to be accepted is more important than doing things and being with people that are beneficial. That can be a dangerous road.

I have an idea that isn’t something new, by any means. What if instead of trying to be accepted for things that we are not, how about we try to fit in by standing out as the person that we are? Sounds complicated, right? It isn’t, really. We are ALL made as a unique reflection of God. Each and every one of us showcases something great about the One who created us. If we try to be like someone else, we aren’t letting ourselves exemplify all of who God made us to be.

Earlier this month I was in Utah on a fly fishing trip with Deborah (my twin sister), my dad, and my uncle. On our last day of the trip, we decided to stop fishing a few hours before sunset and go see the Pinnacles. If you don’t know what those are, look them up! Anyways, we were driving between the pinnacles and admiring the amazing geology that they display. About halfway through our drive, my dad pointed out that there was a tree that was all by itself of the side of the cliff. Right then, it clicked. While that tree was alone on that cliff, it was doing what it was made to do and it got noticed for doing that. In my life, I want to be more like that tree. While it can be easier to give in to our surroundings and not want to be all of who I’m meant to be, I want to brave the elements and grow and be noticed by the One who’s opinion matters the most; God’s. That tree would not have grown or been noticed if it had not braved the wind, rain, and heavy snow that was pressuring it to fit into the rocks and disappear.

Have you ever read the book The Oak Inside the Acorn by Max Lucado? Every time someone in our youth group graduated, our youth leader, Sarah (who has an amazing blog: www.sarahledeboer.com), would give them a copy of the book. In the copy that she gave me when I graduated she wrote, “Judy, Be the tree God created you to be.” While those words are so simple, they could not be more telling (or more appropriate for this post). In our lives, we will have situations and people who want us to give in to the elements of the world and fit in and be accepted with a false sense of acceptance. We should aim to brave those things and grow into the person that God created us to be. Then, we will be accepted by the right people and known for being THAT person…the one who God intended. And who knows; maybe someone will look to you as the “cool kid” and want to follow you and allow God shape them into the person they were made to be.

(P.S. If you read all of that, I commend and thank you because it was a little bit all over the place and it was probably a little hard to follow at times.)