A Letter From Heaven

The 45th presidential election is finally over. One side has claimed a long awaited victory. The other side has suffered the agony of defeat. This race was for many a long and hard battle fought with struggles along the way. In my eyes both candidates persevered by displaying their dignity and ability to try to unify our nation. During the next few months there will still be many challenges our country will face. There will be ongoing times of grief, anger, healing and joy as new challenges arise. We all face challenges throughout our everyday lives. For most of us, no matter what the challenges are, you will become a stronger person if you allow it.
One of the biggest challenges I faced occurred in college. College was a transitional time as I entered a new and uncertain world. It was a time to foster new friendships and learn to see the world through a different lense. It was a time of self- discovery and trying to find where I belonged in this world. God was not my top priority. My daily prayers consisted of:

“God, can you please get someone to quit taking my parking spot.”

“Lord, I know I did not study for this test, but if you let me pass, I promise I will study forever.”

“Jesus, can you please send me just one date? Maybe someone that has a job or doesn’t believe The Great Gatsby is in Arizona.”

As I headed into my senior year, I was eager to begin student teaching. My college professor observed as I taught daily lessons. Life was good! Three of my roommates were also teachers, so you could imagine an apartment filled with puppets, toilet paper animals, construction paper, tape, and lots of elmers glue. Each one of us secretly owned one of the horrible teacher sweaters with a giant moose plastered on the front that our parents gave us for Christmas. I was proud of the work I was doing and happy with my new title “Miss”.

With all of the hard word and late nights studying, cutting, correcting, and lesson planning came the excitement and anticipation of being in the classroom. With the first weeks of teaching first graders, I realized a few things key things…

1. A big part of your day is Getting Drinks and Going Potty!

2. First graders need Shoes Tied all the time!

3. They love to ask Why and Did You Know repeatedly throughout the day.

As we all know kids are very curious, and they wanted to know all about me as well. Most importantly, they wanted to know, “How did you get all of your scars?” It became the question of the day. I was thrown off guard so my first my response was I would tell them later. Maybe, I thought they would forget or maybe I didn’t know what to say. Now that I have kids of my own, I realize kids don’t forget, they need an answer. If they don’t get the answer they will keep asking. And that is exactly what kept happening.

I am not sure why I did not know how to answer the questions about why I looked different. I was teaching in someone else’s classroom and my mind was blank. Was I even allowed to tell the children personal things or would a parent be upset? These were questions for my advisor.

That afternoon I went into her office and posed this question to her. “The children are curious about my burns and I want to know what you think is the best way to handle it? Should I just sit them down and tell them what happened one time or am I allowed to answer questions only when they have them.”  

She responded, “If you don’t know the answer to this question you should not be in this field, you should QUIT!”

I was absolutely shocked. I was not going to quit. Although, she was powerful and intelligent. Maybe she was right. She was strong enough to plant the seeds of doubt in my heart. My insecurity was beginning to take over in my thoughts. I now had doubted everything I worked so hard for. I would quit – I did not want to do something I was not good at. I had one semester left and I told the division that I would not be finishing my degree. I was no longer on the right path but had taken a U-turn.

I did not want to pray about it. God had failed me before (or so I thought), why would I pray now?

I was perfectly content to be unhappy and sulk about it. I could get used the idea of just being in my room watching lifetime movies with my endless supply of Ramen noodles! But… The truth was I was miserable. I let someone choose my future for me.

I few days later, dressed in my best pajamas, I went to my mailbox and I found a handwritten letter. I did not recognize the name or address, but it was postmarked from a city I recognized about one hour away. I opened the four page letter from a women named Sara. She told me she had been praying for me in her church group. The letter stated that one of my professors goes to her church and mentioned my situation. At first, I was mortified. “I am such a loser”, with a capital L. People need to pray for me, I must be seriously screwed up. But, I read the letter again and again and again. Sarah was a mom, a teacher, and sent me a message I could actually relate to.

She told me never to give in to the pessimists in our lives. They see the difficulty in every opportunity in life. She told me to listen to the words of Langston Hughs.

Hold Fast to Dreams
For if Dreams Die
Life is a Broken- Winged Bird
That Cannot Fly.
Hold Fast to Dreams
For When Dreams Go
Life is a Barren Field Frozen With Snow. -Langston Hughs

Sarah told me that God has my back. She told me that God had a plan for me and it is not in my past it lies in the future.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your path. Proverbs 3: 5-6

 I cannot tell you that God saved me that day. I cannot even tell you that I prayed. But on that day, someone was praying for me. After break, I chose to go back into my classroom and I told the students my story. I believe Sara’s letter was the boost I needed to step out of my comfort zone and be confident in myself. The kids were excited to hear and learned a lesson at the same time. As for my professor, she had the opportunity to see awesome possibilities but became Dr. Glass Half Empty. She challenged me but I became stronger because of her. The greatest part was the smile I could give her at graduation.

Sara’s letter eventually became my saving grace. It took a long time but I eventually realized God works through each one of us. The letter is still next to my bed. Every time I face a new challenge in life I read the letter she wrote me on that day. Her one act of kindness and compassion gave me the strength I needed at a difficult juncture in my life.

Right now we are all facing a tough time in our country. These challenges can help us grow together in unity or fall apart. If we choose to spread God’s love by the things that we do for one another we will be stronger. We all need encouraging words from time to time and most of us need a prayer. So even if you are not ready to pray for yourself take the time out today to pray for someone else.

“For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13  

 

Imperfect Perfection

I have discovered my favorite moments with my kids are at night. These are the moments they tell me all about their day. This could go on for hours, if I wouldn’t flip the light off. I love to hear what was challenging to them, what made them happy or why they were sad.

I was sitting in bed with my daughter, Sophie, a few weeks ago as she was especially chatty about a new book that had caught her attention. She was reading Wonder. With her pre-teen dramatics in full flare-up, she explained to me the plot of the book (which I already knew). She was very upset because the main character of the book was being bullied, just because he looked different.

“Auggie loves Stars Wars just like me, mom. These kids are just cruel!”
She was getting it. I want my children to be empathetic. I want my daughter and all of my kids to understand how to treat all kids, no matter what they look like, with love and kindness.

I was about to be thrown for another loop, without any hesitation my daughter says, “Mom, when I get older, I probably don’t want to look exactly like you. It would be a little scary to look like you.” Her hand touched my nose as she said, “if my nose was crooked, well, the kids in my class would make fun of me.”

After a momentary loss of words, her head was still tilted down to the bed as her eyes searched for my response. I quickly changed the conversation to humor, “well no one wants these fangs” and I pretended to bite my victim with a sinister laugh. I turned my head and walked to the closet with tears rolling down my face. I quickly leafed through shelves of clothes for yet another day. I gave each of my girls a kiss goodnight and my daughter looked into my eyes as if she knew my thoughts. “What’s the matter, mommy?” I simply replied, “The cat must be making my eyes itchy.”

For an instant I wanted to tell her “I want to look like all the other mommies, but I never will. I am sorry if I embarrass you.” I wanted to tell her that I want her to want to grow up and emulate her mom in every way. But I simply said “goodnight”.

I went as quickly as I could to my bathroom and looked in the mirror and looked at the reflection staring back at me. I covered half of my face and I saw a beautiful reflection, then removed my hand to see the other half which is full of scars from a childhood tragedy that was part of my past. I squinted my eyes hard enough and saw a blurred reflection, a photoshopped like image that made everything look better at that moment in time.

In that moment, I was taken back to church when I prayed to God as a little girl. I would hear the words in service “I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the words and you shall be healed.” I remember praying, “Jesus, maybe this week you will say the words to heal me.” I was not sure what the words were but maybe God could heal me. Quite possibly, God would snap his fingers or if I closed my eyes tight enough when I opened them “POOF!”.

As a 38 year old Young woman, I have somehow come to realize that although this “Poof theory”, as I call it, would be quite lovely it doesn’t exist. I have this sneaky suspicion that Jesus saves his miracles for more important things.

That night, as I looked at myself one last time, I realized that I am exactly the imperfectly perfect image that God has created. As I look in the mirror at each imperfection there is also strength. Jesus has healed me by giving me the courage and determination through adversity. He has shown me love and given me love to share. By trusting in God, I have had the opportunity to see that true beauty lies within and a beautiful heart is more powerful than outside appearances.

With new breath, I walked back upstairs and told my daughter three things that night:

BE KIND – Don’t ever say words that would hurt someone else. Only say words that you would want to hear. Just like Auggie – words hurt and once you say them you can’t take them back.

YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL – You have a beautiful heart and that is more important than what you look like, always. Do not judge anyone on their looks or their differences.

BE YOU – Make good choices, let God help you because he is always with you.

I never realized how I would feel after a short conversation. The fact is our past is part of us and makes us who we are today. I believe that we all have had moments of wanting to be more beautiful, smarter or even wealthier. My prayer today is that we find peace and beauty in recognizing the strengths we have.

“God will make everything beautiful in your life in his time. He will drop flowers of Grace in the garden of your heart so all will see the beauty that is your life in Christ.”
Ecclesiastes 3:11-14

Cotton Fields

For the past few weeks I have been intrigued by watching the Cotton fields turn from tiny green plants to fields of white.  My children have also been in awe.  “Can we feel it, can we touch it?”  Coming from western Pennsylvania I am used to having a blanket of snow on the ground this time of year.  Seeing the cotton cover the field like a white blanket made me miss home.  I could see the the fields go for miles.  For one moment I could see all of us on our sleds sliding through the fields of cotton!  What fun… The kids have their piece and now we have learned something else from living in Alabama.

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