My experience with Nelson Mandela came later than it should have. I was in 6th grade when he was released from prison. I don’t remember being aware of what was going on. I wasn’t much of a news watcher as a teenager, and even in college I knew who Nelson was, but had little interest in or knowledge of the South African president.
My awareness of world events grew as my walk with Jesus grew. As Jesus changed my heart, I became more concerned with human rights and equality, more aware of such damaging issues as poverty, disease, injustice, oppression, war. Along the journey, Nelson Mandela’s name continued to pop up as an active leader against injustice and inequality. often grouped among other peace/equality leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., William Wilberforce, Gandhi, and even Jesus Christ.
The more I learn about Nelson Mandela the more inspired I become. Nelson achieved more in the fight against injustice in his country than many of us have in our own lives while free. He believed so adamantly in equality and human rights that he was willing to die for it if necessary.
Today, I stumbled onto this article that looks at memorable quotes from sermons preached across South Africa today that honored Nelson Mandela. Many of them speak of her courage, his compassion. And one word pops up that tugs my heart when I read it: legacy.
— “We felt it important that we should have a day where all of us as South Africans can come together and pray for our first democratic president and reflect on his legacy. But it is also to pray for our nation … to pray that we not forget some of the values he fought for … Mandela distinguished himself for good things and good things only.” — President Jacob Zuma, speaking at the Bryanston Methodist Church in Johannesburg.
That legacy, one I feel I ignored most of my young life, is one that inspires me now. Nelson Mandela left behind a legacy of love and grace. Encouraging forgiveness of enemies, reconciliation instead of retribution, hope instead of war.
Mandela said, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” [Tweet that] The more I learn about Nelson Mandela, the more I know my prayers from now on will be filled with requests for God to grow my heart and my head in order to spread love and grace to everyone, to forgive instead of fight, to live a life of reconciliation and compassion for others that is boundless and relentless.
Thank you Nelson Mandela for your legacy.
My heart is split in two right now.
On the one hand, my problem student was absent today. The class was outstanding. We opened our textbook, read and discussed some background information on The Canterbury Tales, and talked about characterization. Even when a small hiccup occurred with my PowerPoint presentation, the students waited patiently for it to load and class continued as if it had never happened.
Now, I’m not saying I expect class to run that smoothly every single day. But this is where my heart begins to ache. It was recognized by the entire class that things were running smoothly because of the absence of one student.
You are in a sad, frightening place in your life when the people around you are relieved by your absence. And I have noticed that this is the lonely pattern for those who too often exude anger, bitterness, frustration, negativity, disrespect. Eventually, people abandon you because it’s just not healthy for anyone to spend so much time filled with rage to the point of wanting to sabotage the success of others.
My heart breaks for this girl. She is 18 years old, barely an adult, and already her peers are relieved when she isn’t around. And, I must admit (although it kills me to do so), I was also relieved by her absence today.
What should I do for this girl? I have been positive, encouraging, loving, complimentary, and I have given her more chances than I can count on my fingers and toes. The Bible teaches that I should love my neighbor as myself, but I don’t think I have ever been where she is. That is a dark place, when an entire group of people are either afraid of you or dread being around you.
Jesus says in Mark that what comes out of the mouth is a reflection of what is in the heart. Where is this girl in her life if she so often spouts such disrespect and hatred towards people who are trying to help her (teachers, family, etc.)? What is in her heart? And if it is as dark as her words, what happened to her to make it so dark?
I know what I need to do. Pray. Let Jesus change her heart while still respecting her, loving her, and encouraging her as I do all of my students.
Prayer changes they way you see others because it challenges you to see them as God sees them. [Tweet that]
Jesus gained his strength by refocusing his thoughts and actions to that of His father through prayer. Even His humble words of forgiveness on the cross were said as a prayer to His Father in Heaven. “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” In John chapter 17, not long before His crucifixion, Jesus prays for every one of God’s children, including those who would persecute Him, betray Him, deny Him, and abandon Him. And, of course, just before His arrest, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus squashes all doubt and fear as He prays so fervently to the Father that He is soon ready to obey God’s will and die for the sins of all of God’s children.
Because of Jesus’s unconditional mercy on the cross, our mercy should also be unconditional. [Tweet that]
Pray for my student. Pray for me. See if there is anyone in your life who needs prayer and show mercy whether they deserve it or not.
I just needed a throwback to some classic preaching. As if an answer to prayer, I received a copy of D.L. Moody’s The Overcoming Life. I posted a review on Goodreads earlier today.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you’re tired of contemporary messages that are watered down by culture and feel-good “self-help” inspiration and contain very little Gospel, you must read some D.L. Moody. This is the way preachers used to get it done, when the message was about bringing people to Jesus and “inspiring” them to follow Him in obedience and in love.
I deeply appreciate D.L. Moody’s simple, but convicting way of delivering the Gospel. Reading his words made me long for something that has been lost in a lot of churches in America today: true, Biblical power preached in such a way that it inspires those who hear it and brings them to the feet of Jesus. I wouldn’t call Moody’s preaching old-fashioned because that would suggest the messages are dated and not applicable to our lives today. No, this message, like the Word that inspired it, is universal, timeless, and applicable to the walk of every Christian struggling to maintain their identity in Christ in a word that rejects Him.
Read this, let its message sink in. Be changed by Moody’s powerful prose and divinely inspired directions. This will be a message that will stick with you.
And the message does stick with you. I don’t know how familiar you are with Moody, but his gift as a preacher is a rare and very welcome mingling of conviction and love. He uses anecdotes, humor, and sound Gospel doctrine to strike straight to the reader’s heart and bring them to the heart of Christ.
I need that every day, some message or Bible verse or sermon that turns my focus back to Jesus. The world can be overwhelming and if I’m not living for Christ, then the world is overcoming me.
Change your life right now. Moody’s The Overcoming Life is also available for free on the Kindle, as well as a few of his other sermons.
I heard the now vintage Counting Crows song “A Long December” on the radio this afternoon and my mind swept back to friends I miss to the depths of my soul. It has been a rough few weeks, today one of the worst days I have had as a teacher. I felt like Erin Gruwell from Freedom Writers when one of my students looked at me and asked, “Do you even know what you’re doing?”
I tried not to take it personally. The student disrupts class often, usually finding some way to undermine my authority and bring her classmates on board, as well.
I try to be gracious. We’ve been in school for over three months and I have yet to writer her up, send her out, or call home. She is 18 years old. I shouldn’t need to call her mother to get her to control her behavior. But today I felt there was no other choice.
Why do I work this way? My colleagues are quick to blurt out, “Write them up!” every time I mention a disruption in my class. “Call home! Kick them out!” I teach seniors. Some of my students already live on their own or in a shelter or with friends. Calling home usually ends in either a constant ringing or the ever-professional We’re sorry. The number you are trying to reach is no longer in service…
It does require a lot of stress and strength to be forgiving, trusting, gracious to my students. They are teenagers, after all. But I remember a few teachers I had who never raised their voice, never lost their temper, and I was grateful. I’ll admit, I wasn’t easy to handle either. But some of my favorite teachers accepted my faults, sometimes even found some way to manipulate them constructively. And I always loved them for it.
I’m not there yet. I don’t know how to transform disrespect, anger, negativity, bitterness into something constructive. I do my best by staying positive, teaching with enthusiasm, using a variety of teaching strategies in order to reach all types of learners. But they don’t teach you in college how to handle a student who probably just wants to watch the class go down in flames.
So I had a bad day. During my planning, I sulked to the library because I needed a quiet place to just sit and remain calm for at least 30 minutes. I debated taking a power nap on one of the library couches. The school librarian smiled when he saw me.
“How are you doing, buddy?” he asked.
“Ugghh. It’s been a day,” I said.
Then something remarkable happened. Minutes after my rear end touched one of the cozy chairs, one of my colleagues walked in, sighed, and said, “Ugghh. It’s been a day.”
I nearly wept. I stood up and asked her if it would be inappropriate if I gave her a hug. “Of course not,” she said. As I hugged her, we both laughed and shared our griefs for the day. Funny thing is, there was more humor in our complaints than anger, a sort of unity that linked us as educators and affirmed our similar struggles as common to all who take on the challenge of teaching young people. It also allowed us to remember that a few really bad days does not make you a bad teacher.
God never ceases to amaze me. I am where I am because of God. It’s not easy, but if it were I might take it for granted. It’s when I depend on my own skills and might that I feel like a failure. But when I see God at work, even in the hug of a colleague, I am reminded why I’m here. In Revelation, Jesus said, “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.”
I pray that in spite of class disruptions, student disrespect, bureaucratic political agendas, and professional doubt, that verse remain tattooed on my heart until my last breath.
“A long December and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last.” — Counting Crows, “A Long December”
Last year, a Goodreads friend and heart survivor, Benjamin Carey, sent me a copy of his book, Barefoot in November. I must confess, I was reluctant. Not because I thought it would be a bad book, but it was another among a stack of “to-read” books already spilling over into my eventful life.
I’m glad I read it.
While not a perfect book, Ben Carey’s Barefoot in November accomplishes what I’m looking for in an excellent memoir. Below is the review I posted on Amazon:
While it is difficult for me to relate to Carey’s predicament (no major medical problems, so far *knock on wood*), his memoir Barefoot in November contains one element that draws me to all memoirs: candid honesty. Carey’s words are often harsh and bitter, but they are always honest. In spite of this occasional bitterness, Barefoot in November is ultimately a success story. Ben is a survivor, and proud of it. He is also living proof that “good health” is a holistic lifestyle change and not just “diet and exercise.”
I love the juxtaposition of the simplicity of his writing style with the deep issues he tackles: priorities, love, death, family.
I also appreciate that Carey pulls no punches, especially at the beginning of the book when he begins to wrestle with his illness and deal with the weight of his diagnosis. While in the waiting room, Carey has an interior monologue that I’m convinced would be expected from any young man suddenly struck with health problems: “I sat on a vinyl chair in the waiting room…wondering what the hell I was doing sitting around with a bunch of geriatrics. I didn’t have anything against them, but I didn’t belong there…I felt uncomfortable and out of place.”
It is this voice, Ben’s voice, that I appreciate. Authors like Carey, who admit their faults and lay their hearts out (pardon the expression) for all to see, regardless of possible criticism. This is what I love about memoirs and Carey has done a superb job.
There is much to admire in Ben’s memoir. Profanity aside, I appreciate it when an author lays bare what most of us are afraid to expose. It is what draws me to writers like Donald Miller, Anne Lamott, and David Sedaris. I don’t always like or agree with what they say, but I admire and respect that they were honest enough to say it.
Keep it up, Ben.
All of us are faced every day with many questions. "What should I wear?," "Where do you want to eat?," "When are we leaving?" But there are questions, and then there are questions. And in John 11, Jesus asks Martha a question that is definitely in that second category.
The chapter opens with Jesus learning that Lazarus, his friend, was sick - but mysteriously, Jesus does NOT immediately head for Bethany, the village where Lazarus lives.
I leave tomorrow for Asia. It's hard to believe almost a year has gone by since I applied for this program. I'm still deciding on last minute things to pack. I should be done, but I keep changing my mind about things. I underestimated the amount of space all the gifts for my host families would take up in the suitcase.
Jen Hatmaker, author of 7, must know my life.
This weekend our family (myself, my wife, & 5 kids) traveled to the Columbus Zoo. Our trip last year was successful (meaning no injuries, arrests, or missing children) and we talked about the trip for weeks after.
This year was a different story. The temperature rose to just above 90, with a humidity level that felt off the charts. Add in some personality clashes, a fussy toddler, and some disappointing animal encounters and you have a recipe for a not-so-enjoyable trip to the zoo.
We left early. This, as anyone who knows me will tell you, was agonizing for me. We missed the tigers. We missed the lions. We missed the ELEPHANTS! How do you go to the zoo and not see the elephants?
But two of our children felt sick, probably from the heat. Reluctant but understanding, we left the zoo early and retired to our much-awaited dinner at The Cheesecake Factory.
Dinner was excellent. We laughed, we devoured deliciously expensive food, we talked the employees into singing “Happy Birthday” to my now 13-year-old daughter. Then, stuffed and content, we retired to our hotel for an evening by the pool.
Jen Hatmaker recently posted on her blog about the difference between “sweet” families and “spicy” families. She goes on to share photos of her family and confess (she’s good at that) that the Hatmakers are a spicy family.
I knew the Lilly’s were a spicy family in the first paragraph. But as she described her family further, I blushed at the familiarity:
“We are a spicy people. We love obnoxious humor and sarcasm and we are very, very loud. The lot of us suffers from Big Feelings About All The Things, which makes us a passionate, emotional bunch. We don’t really do gentle. We don’t actually know what that means.”
Hatmaker goes on to express her grave concerns for her family’s well-being, concerned that her children will turn out to be criminals. She mimics a question my wife and I ask ourselves all the time:
What did I do wrong as a parent?
And spending time with a “sweet” family just makes things worse. I grew up watching Married With Children and Roseanne. My parents usually changed the channel when Full House came on because just five minutes of that show would send shivers of envy and guilt across the entire household. I feel that way sometimes when my kids turn to the Disney Channel and I unconsciously compare my family to the ones on screen.
We are a loud family. We bicker every day, several times a day, usually about something silly that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. We have so much personality that just oozes from our pores and sometimes these personalities don’t blend well.
But mostly there are moments of sweetness. Like when my 13-year-old commented on how adorable her sister was because she said that God uses balloons to paint colors in the sky. Or when we are in the middle of an argument and the toddler passes gas as if she knows it will get us all rolling until we forget what we were even arguing about.
The truth is, no family is perfect. And Jen makes an excellent point when she says, “If you are worried about being a bad parent, then you are probably a good one.” As a teacher, I see the sad truth that there are a lot of absentee parents out there who aren’t involved in their child’s life and aren’t even aware of it.
And I would even be bold enough to say that to compare my family to others is sinful and judgmental. In the grand scheme of things, we are all sinners saved by the grace of God. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory as fathers and mothers and sons and daughters.
As Jen Hatmaker puts it, “Every parent blows it. Every kid comes unhinged. Every family goes off the rails. That doesn’t mean we are ruined; it means we are ordinary.”
I am grateful that my family is full of spark, spunk, and spice. There is never a dull moment and when we mess up, we have the privilege to experience forgiveness and grace and unconditional love.
For more about Jen Hatmaker and her book 7, check out her blog:
***Update, August 1: In response to the thousands of people who, after reading this entire post, decided to harp on one single phrase ("I'm no feminist"), I wrote this. If you want to know how I can say all the things I say here, yet still reject "feminism," click the link and I'll explain. Otherwise, carry on. Thanks for stopping by.