The Ultimate Gift by Gina Stearns

Happy Birthday JesusChristmas comes with many thoughts of a future celebration, but also many memories of Christmases long ago. These glimpses both, future and past, warm my heart and allow me to see Christ in the season.

One of those best recollections was my first Christmas as a new believer.  I was going through a divorce that I did not seek, while trying hard to be mom and dad to my three girls: Rachel, Sarah, and Hannah.  They were the reason to try and continue maintaining Christmas traditions and to muster enough to make theirs a modest but enjoyable holiday.  However money was scant, time was slim, and energy was non-existent. Our injured family had been trying to heal from great heartache and loss within the arms of a  warm, loving church that didn’t hinge on tradition but truth, and the importance of showing Christ’s love to its people.  In addition to being both parents, I also wore two other hats at work.  I was not only the administrator, but also the head teacher of a small Montessori school in western New York, and I was barely holding it together with this double job too.

One Sunday in late November, it was announced that our church had decided to have a huge Christmas party on a Friday in mid-December and hold it in the sanctuary itself. This was revolutionary in my mind. Sanctuaries were holy ground…but a Christmas party for Jesus’ Birthday seemed acceptable and even most appropriate.  The elders had suggested  that everyone was to present a gift specifically for Jesus. As another week went by and the announcement for the Christmas party was once again made, greater clarification was provided for the types of gifts that could be given.  It was obvious that the present was whatever you could give whether it was service, an expression, or something specific  for anyone in need,  but all as an demonstration of love to Christ.

As that Friday morning arrived, I couldn’t think of anything creative, significant, or valuable to give.  Nothing.  It was a crazy day. My kids had only so many clothes and by the end of the week, all nice outfits were already worn, so we looked pretty mottled that day. To avoid being late for school,  I hurried the girls out the front door with their baggie breakfasts of Cherrios, backpacks, and my own briefcase. But not before, quicky throwing a few cans of beans in a plastic shopping bag to bring to the Christmas dinner party after school.   Our rusty gray Datsun, which we had dubbed “The Silver Bullet”, also sported an interior ceiling fabric which sagged in many places. Because I lived over twenty minutes away from the Montessori school at which I worked, I decided to stay and use what would have been extra travel time, to clean school shelves and organized library books.  The girls could help me or play quietly while I tinkered.  Our church was only a few minutes from my job. So after that, I wearily and tentatively drove to there with girls in tow to celebrate Christ’s birth like I had never before.

But I had one big problem.  I did not feel worthy of celebrating especially when I entered the auditorium and saw festive adults dressed up in lovely glittering Christmas garb. I then scanned my girls and my own attire.  We looked drab and run down, more haggard than holiday.  Fridays are a hard day for a teacher to look spunky and spry.  I just wore a blouse and khakis while my girls had on threadbare corduroy slacks and faded turtlenecks.  I felt horribly dejected and filled with self pity.  To compound my self-loathing, I felt ashamed of my “Gift for Jesus”and hid the plastic grocery sack with three cans of dark red kidney beans, the last of our reserve, in the cloakroom outside of the auditorium.

Inside the sanctuary, people were milling around a huge sheet cake adorned with red pointsettias and green holly. The words “Happy Birthday Jesus” were written in red icing with great flourish and precision.  My girls were thrilled with an idea of a birthday cake for Him and seemed genuinely thrilled to be at the festivities.  A delicious meal was served and after the dishes were cleared, we enjoyed the cake with coffee or punch. Some fanciful Christmas cookies were finally served to punctuate our supper.  I was still pretty preoccupied with my gift for Jesus, and that patheric gift of canned beans was weighing heavily on my conscience.  I wasn’t sure how or when to present them or if I even wanted to.  Perhaps I could skip my gift, melt into obscurity, and no one would notice.

All of a sudden, one of our elders was speaking in the front of the sanctuary and announced that the “gifts for Jesus” would be presented.   I turned around to listen.  The first gift was the ballet dance of a darling little girl who was outfitted in a fluffy pink tutu and danced in silky ballet shoes to an instrumental version of, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  Everyone clapped and then the next gift was explained; it was from a teen boy who promised to rake leaves and shovel snow during the winter months for an elderly woman at church free of charge.   What great ideas, I thought.  This increase on fixation on my insignificant gift, when I was startled by an elder calling my name.  “Gina Clark!”

Oh no I thought, he wants me to bring my gift up in front of everyone.  Beans!  Just three cans of beans. What could Jesus do with that?  I was so ashamed, but it was now or never.  I sheepishly and incoherently tried to explain that my gift wasn’t with me pointing in the direction of the cloakroom.  I wasn’t a few footsteps towards the exit to retrieve the bag, when I heard him calling me to clarify.

“No, he went on to explain.  It was a gift for me.  Me?  I was so confused.  “Come up and get it.”  I slowly and reluctantly went up still belaboring two things:  One — there must be some mistake, and that I still had to figure how to get my beans to the elders without them knowing it was from me; Two ­—  what people thought of my shabby khakis, crinkled blouse, and disheveled hair.  I wasn’t really registering the whole gift for me as I walked up to the podium. All of a sudden he produced a Christmas gift card for $150 for use at our hometown Kmart.  I was shocked, embarrassed, and wanted to get right back to my seat, yet managed a smile and a genuine thank you.  But that wasn’t all!  Next he pulled out a large broad brown box.  “This is for your girls.”  I spotted Rachel, Sarah, and Hannah sitting at the dinner table with red punch and cookie crumbs on their mouths.  I am not sure if they realized the significance of the moment.  I wasn’t sure I had!

I took the big box from him and he helped me dismanted its contents starting with the tissue paper.  “One of our ladies has made each of your girls a doll.”  He pulled out one of the trio and held it up for them to see.  The girls were full of wonder and smiles as these dolls were beautifully made with frilly dresses and lacey hats.   My eyes started to fill with tears, especially as I saw the joy in the elder’s face and in the audience of my church family.  I was still in awe of everyone’s generosity, and thanked them again and again in between swallowing my own tears.

As I took the dolls back to the table to show the girls, they started to take them from the box to admire them.  Hannah, the youngest, hugged hers close to her chest gently rocking it.  I was totally astonished at the love these folks had shown me and my girls. I was continuing to grow in my understand of the Family of God. The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur, but when all the gifts had been given,  we then concluded with some carol-singing.

As I had listened to words that I had sung as a child, I remembered that I had never quite grasped the import of their lyrics.  I had  figured it was the Old English that obscurred my understanding.  But now that I was born again, the veil was torn from my eyes and sweet lyrics made complete sense: “ God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day, To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.” Or another familiar hymn had rejoiced in more truth about the babe born in a stable and who had died on a tree, “Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”  The music had always been ethereal and filled with the resplendence of God, His glory, and His heavenly realm, but now there was significance and an impact that I finally understood His sacrifice for me personally.  Tears came again to my eyes as I realized what I was saved from, and what I was saved for.  And I somehow knew that day, that God would always take care of us.

As the dinner party had wound down, I had remembered my cans of beans.  I finally admitted to one of our elder’s wives that my gift for Jesus was some food for the poor.  She smiled, graciously thanked me, and told me that I could leave it in the kitchen.  As I left my cans of beans on the counter,  I realized that I had given all I had, that someone had given abundantly to our family from their own resources, and most of all that Christ had given all he had.

 

The night came to a close as the girls and I piled into “The silver bullet”. I drove through a snowy night, windshielf wipers slapping to familiar yet “new” Christmas carols gently wafting from the car radio.  Somehow that delapidated car with rusty doors and a wretched roof seemed aglow with something divinely bright and almost tangible inside its metal transport.

 

With great joy and gratitude, my voice rose with emotional emphasis,  “Girls never forget tonight,  Jesus IS real, and he cares for us.  He used our church family to bless us with money for our own Christmas and someone worked hard to make dolls for you to love.” Their cherubic faces looked at their dolls and I thought of the gifts that I could buy my little family.  But all that, though precious, wasn’t the most significant, and I uttered with a continued wondrous weight in my voice and glimmer in my eyes.

 

“No,  these things are nice, but they alone aren’t what Christmas is all about.  Jesus himself loved us through our Christian family and their gifts.   Always remember this night because it shall always be a reminder that Jesus himself is the gift!

 

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Oasis of Truth: Like a Weaned Child; Psalm 131 by Gina Stearns

Weaned

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

I love a good word picture to help me understand and keep Scripture in my heart, and Psalm 131 provides an excellent one to which this momma can completely relate. First as we inspect this short psalm replete with abundant truth, we see David acknowledging that his heart is not proud and his eyes not haughty.  He is not concerned with things beyond his ken and control. He has instead focused on someone else besides himself.  His attention is on God, resting and trusting in His sovereignty. This yields true peace to such an extent that he is able to calm and quiet his soul.  It is interesting to note that for him to rest in contentment, the focus moves away from his needs, pursuits, concerns, or lack. He has put his hope in the Lord, both now and until eternity, because God is a good god and is greater than all of David’s problems.  God is the source of the psalmist’s peace. As I dig deep into this psalm, I can relate to it from two perspectives:

Perspective One is as a mother.  I know what it is like to have a child who is not yet weaned.  I particularly remember my newborns and how needy, demanding, and voracious they were.  I have myself nursed six babies, some with smoothly bald heads, softly downy heads, and  wildly hairy heads. Those first few weeks and even months as a mom were the most challenging of my life.  I remember feeling that all I was to these wee ones was a milk machine, a diaper maid, and a pacifier. Nothing more.  It was all about what I could give, and as exhausting as those days were,  it gravely established that I was actual “life” to my child. It was a crucial time when I unknowingly proved to each one that I was trustworthy, loving, and always available.  I had carved energy, time, and resources from what seemed the impossible. Without this season of endless nights and sleepless feedings and everything in between, my relationship with my children would simply be nominal, insignificant, and without real proof of my true love.

On the other hand, I do remember the sweetness of the weaned child in all of them as well.   Somewhere between one and two years, my toddlers would simply come to me just to nestle in my lap.  That was it! Their desire to be near me wasn’t about what I could give them or answering the question of “why” for the seventy-seventh time that day.  But it was simply the joy of just being in my presence –the peaceful calm of no tension, but just a tender relationship at its snuggly best.

Perspective Two is as a child.  My father could be a harsh, demanding man, and I felt that his expectations for me were Herculean and impossible to fulfill.  Though I still adored him, I was weighed down with the burden that to him, I could never measure up.   It made me feel as if I was not good enough.  But I do treasure a precious memory that is starting to eclipse the other sadder ones.

It was Christmas in western New York in 1968.  One of the coldest in my memory.  We lived in an old house built in the late 1800’s.  I confess that I am always amazed at the furnace systems from those days. In my cellar, it was a monstrous octopus with metal conduit arms that spread throughout the underworld of my house, deceiving one into thinking that from such an intricate design, great amounts of heat would emanate.  But in reality it converged through a small metal grate located in the dining room in our house.  That was it!  All that for just a 2 foot x 2 foot square of heat.  My sisters and I would always carefully stand over the furnace but it was almost always too hot.  It reminded me what it might be like to live on the moon that was recently being orbited that season. Near the grate, we were overheated like sitting on the sunny side of the moon, but away from the grate was like walking on the dark side of the moon, it was bitingly cold.

This one evening, I had just finished with my bath.  I donned my silver quilt robe and slippers. My dad was sitting in his big chair in the living room across from our Christmas tree.  In the early 60’s, Christmas trees sported multi-colored lights the size of walnuts which spread an assortment of amber, sapphire, ruby and emerald glow over a fat Douglas fir.  Back then tinsel was made of aluminum and not just cellophane and it hung heavy like real icicles.  I crawled up on my dad’s lap all warm and comfy, and we just peacefully starred at the tree.  I didn’t need anything from my dad, and for that moment he didn’t seem to mind that I wasn’t a straight “A” student.  We just enjoyed each other’s presence.

Now years later I am a grown women and there are still times when I instead act like a  baby yet to be weaned. I hate to admit it.  I yell and scream out to God with my demands, and I know you probably do too: maybe it is because of a financial crisis, a wayward child, health problems or a relationship that has broken down.  I call these “wailing times”.  But I have learned that God is the only place that I can go. I seek Him because he is my heavenly Father, because he is my Life, and that he is trustworthy, loving, and always available.

And yet I know there are times when I can simply go to God, not pridefully expecting an immediate answer, solution, or provision.  Because my heavenly father has always taken care of me before, I can calm myself and simply rest in his spiritual arms enjoying his warm presence. Despite the fact that I wonder about problems too great for me, I know he has in his control. My concerns and anxiety do not matter because I have hope in Him; Somehow Daddy‘s got this. I have learned that you gotta “lean to be weaned”.  So I lean into him, and I am calm like a weaned child at peace.  And once again “like a weaned child I am content.”

 

Photo Credit: www.rd.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/14_daughter_Heartwarming-True-Stories-About-Mother-Daughter-Love_367423430_Martin-Novak_FT.jpg

Fuel for Thought by Gina Stearns

Diesel_and_gas             “I can do it, Mom. Dad showed me how to fill up the gas tank just last week!” Naomi asserted her conviction and independence as a new driver with a fresh permit.  Her friend, Lily, was coming home with us for an overnighter, and I knew it was equally important for Naomi to demonstrate her capability as a driver to her friend as well.

“Okay…” I relented with doubt as she pulled into The Raceway on Route 70. The first pump was marked, “OUT OF ORDER”, and the one behind that did not take credit cards, so that automatically led Naomi to the third pump in line.  As she proceeded to take care of our fuel needs, I became distracted  in conversation with Lily, which included many topics including driving-related comments since she too would soon be getting her own permit.  Finally we were ready to get back into the flow of traffic on 70 and home where I could relax and not be the supervisor to a teenage driver.

Naomi drives cropped

As Naomi started down the road the car seemed to hesistate and let off a few “chug-chugs” to add to its mix of rebellious responses to her acceleration. I immediately thought, Could she have put diesel in our tank?  But I quickly dismissed it because usually the diesel pump handles do not fit into an unleaded tank. Nah, maybe there was another kind of issue with our RAV which had few problems up until now. 

But I was soon to be disproven. Naomi stopped at a red light and when next she put her foot on the gas, the car was sputtering more than a few coughs.  I panicked and told her to look for the nearest opportunity to get off the road or we would likely be struck in traffic.  She did a great job maneuvering across the lane and finally we landed into the nearest parking lot with the RAV’s final gasp, safe and sound.  That was until we looked up and saw a colorful sign that read  “The Treasure Club”.  We were mortified that we were parked in front of an actual strip joint.  Lily wasn’t even aware that such things existed in our home town, and I was embarrassed that I had two teen girls in my care exposed to such an establishment. My first thought was to get out of there as soon as possible, but I needed confirmation of my suspicions.

“Naomi, did you put diesel in this car?”  I asked my voice filled with anger, disbelief, and regret.

“I don’t know… isn’t the gas all the same?”  She inquired now agitated at the possible error that eclipsed an earlier confidence and reminder of a happier driving escapade with her dad.

“No….our cars use unleaded — not Diesel!” I retorted.

Tears started to fill Naomi’s eyes and I began the least anticipated act yet, calling my husband Mitch to explain our predicament.  He was furious, and crackled back that he would be there as soon as he could.  His job was twenty minutes from our spot of ill repute, and it seemed like an eternity until we saw him pull up.  While waiting a man, who I later learned was the manager of the club, came out of the building.  He didn’t seemed to notice me or the girls and started to take a picture of our liscence plate thinking the car was abandoned helter skelter across two parking spots.  Suddenly I got out of the car to make him aware of our presence and assure him that my husband would be there soon. I explained to him what I thought might have happened.

“Do you have a receipt? That would let you know for sure the type of gas she used, “ he informed us. Right! I thought and began rifling through my purse and securing the very paper that would dash all hopes. Sure enough it stated 6.78 gallons of ….DIESEL!  Naomi groaned as I pointed it out.

“My wife did the same thing not too long ago to my car.  Make sure you do not run it or the diesel will go through the engine quicker and do more damage,” the man droned. “Also if you ladies need to use the bathroom, you are welcome inside.”

As soon as he left, Naomi blurted in consternation what we all felt but did not express, “There is no way I am going in THERE to use the bathroom!”

Meanwhile as we waited storm clouds expanded black and billowy threatening the western skies that slowly curled closer to us.  The air grew muggier, and since we did not want to run the engine, we sat in the now unwelcome sauna.  No water, no air conditioning, no air.  Thundered rolled like my hungry stomach which would be without food for a while.  Soon the skies released their sticky salutations of sorrow to mimick the tone of our afternoon.

Finally we saw Mitch pull up like the calvary to save the day but not without first spewing forth his frustration.  “Why did you let her fill the car with Diesel?” he glared at me.

“She said YOU taught her,” I snapped with a silent double meaning that his instruction was obviously subpar. But I wouldn’t dare say what I thought.  Seconds later, the manager came out to chat with Mitch and it seemed to calm him down, but not for long.  Our impending doom grew worse as Mitch informed us that this mistake could end up costing up to a thousand dollars. Minutes later he drove off to secure a tow-truck to escort our car to the nearest repair shop. By now Naomi was further in despair, whilst Lily and I tried to comfort her.

That diesel fiasco became a lesson that Naomi will never fast forget.  What you put in a car matters; it changes how well it works or if it can work at all.  Naomi’s story parallels the importance of the fuel a Christian uses to fill their senses, mind, or heart.

LESSON #1 : The type of entertainment, information, and man’s worldly opinions that we absorb do matter and they do have repercussions.

Sometimes we do not even see the havoc that can be wreaked by even one small exposure of error, or how  easily deception can steer a person down a horrific path.  Many times it is because there isn’t any godly choices to fill our hearts, so we just blindly take what is available like Naomi did when the other two gasoline pumps were unavailable.  Like her, sometimes it is simply because we do not know better.

With the onslaught of misinformation, lies, and deception now readily available in all its attractive forms via the internet, it is no wonder that more and more people are being led off the narrow way. In the song, “In Christ Alone” one of my favorite lines is the declaration:  “No scheme of man, no power of hell can ever pluck me from His (God’s) hand. Till he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ, I’ll stand. “ However, the schemes of man are many, and they are diabolically disguised as sugary words of false prophets emphasizing love without justice, goodness without truth, Christ without the cross.  Theirs is an appearance of righteousness that touts emotion above Truth, morality above reality, euphemism above you are a sinner.  In Matthew 24:24, Jesus warns His disciples, “False Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”

The antidote: is consistent daily reading, study, and obedience of God’s Word. I say obedience but that must come from a surrendered heart to God, but it proves the love, devotion, and investment to His Truth. Truth conquers lies.

LESSON #2:  Sin has a mind of its own and can lead you to the most unexpected and undesirable destinations.

Clearly in Naomi’s predicament, she never would have believed that she would ever have ended up in front of a place of ill repute where real sin was rampant.  She would never have intentionally chosen to park there, but because of the deadly diesel, that is where she ended up. She also would never have wanted to make such a blunder that could cost our family several hundred dollars.  But as the saying goes, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” It certainly did for us that day. We even had thunder storms that added insult to injury.

The antidote: is to know that sin is crouching at our door and not to blindly go wherever, but to seek counsel with people we know.  It is essential to pray for help, direction, and the truth needed for our situation. If Naomi would have asked me for advice instead of forging ahead, she might not have caused such a problem. 

LESSON #3: Your father cares and is willing to do what it takes to get you on the right road again.

The real hero here is Mitch.  He was not happy by Naomi’s mess up, not at all, but he was willing to drop everything to take care of us, to pay the price to get the car fixed and running on the road again.  He graciously forgave Naomi for her mistake, and even hugged her for good measure. A few days later, Mitch took her Speedway to show her the wrong and right gas pumps to use in the future.  God is a father who is willing to forgive our folly, and He can us get back on the narrow road of freedom, joy, and peace.

The antidote: is to trust Him and what he had done for us at the Cross of Christ. He has already paid the price for our foolishness and for past, present, and future sins. We can go to Him, even if we feel he would be disappointed. As the great kind shepherd, He will welcome us back into the fold and set us on the right path once again.

One thing is pretty certain, it is highly unlikely that Naomi will ever put diesel fuel in any vehicle again. Let us all learn from her mistake, and may it give us fuel for thought as we continue forward on our own spiritual journey toward Christ.

Nota Bene:  Permission was obtained by Naomi to share this story in both our hopes that it might help others to be more prepared in discerning the world in which we live. Lily is a fictitious name to protect the identity of Naomi’s friend.  After all, who wants it reported that they were at a strip club unless it is to help mom with her blog.

Photo Credit :https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=ZYc5kjNK&id=E13B76A1FF9A1B8EB6487AAE209B105ABF30107A&thid=OIP.ZYc5kjNKF3AAtKrxYACa1AHaEK&mediaurl=https%3a%2f%2fcdn2.hubspot.net%2fhub%2f182351%2ffile-2327234669%2fDiesel_and_gas&exph=348&expw=620&q=diesel+fuel+pump+at+gas+station&simid=607992463405027178&selectedIndex=8&ajaxhist=0

 

 

 

It Takes a Door by Gina Stearns

Hobbit door                                       Over the last few years in which I have taught high school English literature, it has become quite clear to me that the motif of The Door pervades a good deal of it as well as in movies and television programs. The door is often the portal to another world, but going through it requires great courage.  I am always intrigued by the sojourner’s tale, not because I am a big risk taker, but because in truth I am, without apology, a homebody.  I am a lot like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit by J.R.Tolkien whose sweet desire was to sit safe in his armchair complete with warm tea and a good book.  That’s me!

However, if you do not exit your door to adventure, sometimes it comes to you as it did to me when my husband challenged me to teach in a traditional school again. I was horrified by my own dread of the unknown and fear of my lack of ability.  But similarly despite doubts and sudden change, Bilbo followed the venturesome “Took side” of his family which enticed him to accept the quest that awaited outside his round door, and so would I. Subsequently, I ambled out my house to an interview at Hickory Christian Academy and a few weeks later entered the school doors with a heart of great expectation. Since then, I have certainly been stretched and utterly dependent on the Lord for direction and help much like Bilbo relied on Gandalf in those sticky moments of his journey. It wasn’t what I initially thought would occur, but it is like the very growth and daring development of characters once their expedition begins much like mine did.  The change is quite apparent in The Hobbit where we initially observe poor, cowering Bilbo as he begins his trek with a band of harrowing hobbits. At the end, he evolves into the confident, resourceful, and successful hero wielding his own sword, however small, and becomes known as Bilbo the Magnificent. I am still on my journey and I can assure you I have not yet arrived as a magnificent teacher, but I wield a mighty white board marker.

Another door that has so intrigued me is the door to the Police Call Box in “Doctor Who,” so much so that I decorated my own classroom door as such. I felt so at home with this décor, that it was hard to take it down at the end of the year. But it was a huge success with the students at the beginning of the year. I loved the quote that I wrote near it, “Books are like the Tardis, bigger on the inside.”  But to experience the “bigger,” one step through that door.  Each exploit upon which The Doctor and his assistant embark is not without faith, trust, and a good bit of bravery.  There is always trouble of some sort, a galactic enemy that must be defeated or some battle with self that must be overcome. The thrill doesn’t come without some form of dread. We viewers can relate to it because life is often filled with such struggles, and we are looking for someone like the Doctor who has the answers, strength, and confidence to save the day. 

Tardis

Another door in literature is the one that goes with a wardrobe, and it is the one I am considering for this year’s classroom door, The one that goes with the Chronicles Of Narnia’s, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Some doors you intentionally go through, some are accidental gates to a journey for which you were not prepared nor expecting. I have had many of those myself.  But it is the door of that wardrobe that allows Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy access into a world of battles between right and wrong, evil and good, naïveté to maturity. 

There is one door that encapsulates all of these other ones, and is even more important. It is the door to salvation and Heaven. That door is Jesus Christ himself and is hinged on the work he had completed upon the cross, within his burial, and resurrection.  These are not my words but those of Christ himself who said in John 10:9, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

Jesus Door

Once we surrender our life to Christ, we leave behind old affections or habits or the familiarity of the safe. This can scare those that worry that they may have to give up their comforts, or what the world offers to satisfy our needs and desires.  Often we look at the Christian life as boring and mundane, yet even Jesus is found there.  There is difficulty in the adventure of being a Christian. Jesus never promises an easy journey but the opposite, but he doesn’t leave us alone and without hope. John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Christ is the real hero over this path we take and like Gandalf, Aslan, or The Doctor, he is who we turn to for help, for answers, for truth.  Sometimes we are resistant like Bilbo’s, and we do not want to share the Gospel, or go on a missions trip to some scary country, sometimes our souls lack gratitude in the day to day ordinary service, but at the end of our walking with our Savior we will be transformed not just in character but in every way. As it states in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52:  Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

For most of us, we love the glamour of the fairy tale or the fantasy, but never know the true joy and satisfaction in the journey of true delight, joy, and satisfaction which can only come through receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for our sins.  I know that is unbelievable but it is true.  We can experience all we were meant to in Christ, but it takes faith, trust, and a good bit of bravery. And it takes a door.

 

The Sound of Silence by Gina Stearns

Shhh                                                                  Now if I were really clever like my own English students try to be, I could leave this blogpost blank and illustrate my point about the beauty and benefits of silence. But since I myself have been left disappointed with the unfulfilling products of such schemes (like I will write an essay on how much I hate writing this essay), and since I naturally struggle with being silent myself in a world that has that same trouble, the following is inevitable.

First there is my own relationship with silence.

Actually, there is none.  I have a hard time with silence. I find that it makes me uncomfortable— that somehow I should fill it up with talk, albeit good talk, or perhaps music, or at the least some kind of activity that fills my head with comforting noise.  And if there is no one to hear me, I talk to myself.  Unabashed confession here.  Deep down, I am secretly alarmed by the fact that in life there is only so much time left to communicate, while thinking how thrilling it is when we break the silence with a well-formed thought or wise comment.

Unfortunately,  my own problem with silence is no more obvious as when someone else is occupying space near me. I am a relationship person, which to me means I generally love people and the dynamic dance that can happen around words.  But too frequently I abuse my own right to speak by rudely interrupting my conversational companion. Sometimes I am simply not listening but rather thinking of what next to add to our dialogue.  Often I feel painfully obligated to say something, anything, and perchance that other person is not the talkative type, I instinctively compensate for them with more chatter from me. This stream of words can run the gamut of mundane weather talk to self-deprecating comments that inevitably elicits a weak laugh from my reticent receptor. The fear of silence destroys all common sense for me.

In addition, when I am alone, which I do thoroughly enjoy, I often have music playing, reading, or doing something that fills my airspace.  Rarely do I let silence do its naked magic in front of me.  But I have some good news, as I have gotten older and despite the fact that my own time is decreasing, I find that silence has a very important and enchanting place in our lives.

Ironically the topic came up recently when I had my end-of- the -year review with my principal.  He had expressed many positive reports of my teaching, but his one complaint was that I didn’t leave enough time for the students to develop answers more fully.  In my defense, I explained that often I feel under such strict time constraints with all I need to accomplish in a class.  I admittedly tend to push my students onto the next thing, instead of allowing the silence to do its job in prompting thoughts to flourish and be eloquently expressed.  This doesn’t happen all the time, but I will say I do fight the clock and allowing for extra discussion is both my dream and my curse.  Even at one point in my interview, my principal was testing me with some added silence in the conversation, and he could see me struggle with trying to fill that awkward silence with my witty banter. And as I sat with my principal at a Classical school, I am was reminded with the apt words of Euripides,  “Silence is true wisdom’s best reply.”

Moreover, I have learned that stillness is the perfect delivery system for thought, and even ideas spoken can have greater impact with silence as a chaser—especially those of a parent or a teacher. You can ask anyone in my family, I am loquacious and I do it with great zeal which is not always received in kind. But I am discovering the value of being quiet.  I remember watching an interview with an actress who starred in a series on television.  She was talking about not only the importance of the delivery of her lines, but the value of the silence between them.  She was told by an acting instruction to never be afraid of the silences, for it is there that real acting is done. Hmmm. Maybe silence can work for me!

Silence is also being choked out in our noisy society.

As a society, we do not enjoy silence.  We are constantly filling our minds with social media, television, or music.  We do not see the value in the recuperative moments in God’s creation absorbing its beauty and wonder with its subtle Gospel whispers along the way. Instead, we would rather wake up to Facebook or Twitter or a quick fix of Instagram than sit peacefully waiting on the Lord.  It appears more fulfilling to speed through a day of computer noise, busyness, and babble. But I have been caught up in the din of doing.  I have struggled to make an intentional appointment with God and time in His creation myself. But how rewarding to enjoy an autumn lesson amongst leaves that remind me off my own useless works of an empty salvation.  Those leaves ultimately surrender to earth to snows that symbolize sins that are graciously covered in righteous white garb.

My favorite times have been on tranquil walks with Mitch or my kids listening to the birds, breathing in and relishing a beautiful mountainside, billowy beach, or just natural settings in my neighborhood. We miss so much and need to put down our phones, turned off the televisions, close our laptops and enjoy the community of real people in our lives even if it means that it results in some pleasant organic discussions.  I know that is not true silence, but what is generated from it, is more productive in the long run. Silence is vying for a healthy spot in our society and we need to let it do its fruitful work.

God’s use of Silence

I do love that even God is silent at times. Often when we consider God, we think of action, creative work, convictive work,  redemptive work.  He can be very loud and vibrant, bold and focused, and He too is not short on words. After all we have the Bible which contains His Word miraculously given to men so He could share His heart and mind in both Old and New Testament verbiage.  I wouldn’t be here as a Christian if it were not for his Word, but I have also appreciated his own moments of silence.  On the seventh day he rested, not because he was tired, but because he was done.  He needed no more words.  He allowed the work to silently speak for itself.  And it was good.

I also love how he was silent for four hundred years; nothing is heard from him in the Bible from Malachi to Matthew.  There was much askew in the world at that time. Isn’t there always?  A priesthood became corrupt and full of evil, paganism and immorality had risen once again to an all-time high, the faithful remnant were beginning to doubt a Messiah was going to come at all.  There were no, “thus sayeth the Lord” to record.  Not one word. How could he have been silent for so long? HOW?!!!  I could learn from this God who is always in control and wisely measures his words.

But then afterward, the silence spoke for itself and allowed heaven and earth to come together for this perfect time. Not only did God finally speak, but He came to us in the flesh as that all-awaited Messiah.  Much of Christ’s own Words were just reiterating what the law and prophets were saying for centuries, because even if there are many words, great words, or perfect words…often they are not heard, not listened to, not obeyed.  But even those words, old and new, had to be backed up by great action to give them ethos and credibility.  After all that silence came the  ministry, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of The Word itself in Jesus Christ.  Great silence yields great power! So when I get discouraged, frustrated, or fearful, I know that silence will yield great things and I will wait better and “Be still and know that he is God!” For The Lord often whispers the truth you need to hear in that still, small sound of silence. We can be confident in the truth of Psalm 62:5 “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”

Photo credit:

Forsaken by Gina Stearns

Forsaken

Easter is such a special time, but once over, we tend to forget its awesome miracles. This last Easter, on Good Friday, I was watching the Passion of the Christ with family, and it dawned on me just how devastating it was for Jesus to have been forsaken by his own father.  Such a widely accepted fact, we tend to sweep it under the cross. I too have always known that in a very cerebral way, but not in the realest sense of the word.  Yet as I watched Christ hanging on the cross, a bloody mess of scourging, mockery, and exhaustion, I saw him cry out in Aramaic anguish, “Eli, Eli, sabachthani –My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”  I think in the past, I never truly camped on those words as I should have. But seeing him alone and rejected by man, forsaken by God — it hit me hard.

Forsaken.  I have often thought I had felt that way:  not acceptance by a desired group of people, excluded because of my faith, even my own bouts of self-loathing for not being what I had hoped.  But the times I had seemed utterly alone are the ones when I cannot hear the small still voice of God, do not sense his presence.  “Eli, Eli Sabachthani?” Why have you left me wretched and distressed?

Ironically, I hear the lies of the enemy, a counterfeit confirmation delivered in his diabolically deceitful way that God doesn’t care about me or my circumstances. It really appears to be the truth.  But the fact is that God has assured me that I am not alone. In Hebrews 13:5, Paul reminds us of Jesus’ words, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

But Jesus WAS forsaken. Truly forsaken.  

He didn’t need the enemy whispering lies to him.  The enemy appeared to be winning at this point, so the truth was a victory scored from his viewpoint. The reality of abandonment was all-encompassing. Just imagine how after being a part of the Triune Godhead where decisions and creative actions were done together as one personality team… now there was no sense of a unity of Divinity.  In fact, Christ had to be rejected as he became sin for our sake.  Now I do not pretend to even understand what all that means, but I have been previously joined in marriage and know what it is like to be rejected and left behind.  It is a horrible existence, and for me it was if I was falling into a never-ending pit.

I wonder if Jesus felt like me. There would be no end to his suffering and pain. But Christ did know the ending, as we all have come to know, and I think that is why I have often brushed over this scene. I want the immediate victorious ending, not the horrid ache of desertion of Christ by mankind and Godhead.  But the ending is so much more valuable once it is seen through the spectacles of separation. Of course being forsaken was worth it because Jesus is resurrected from the dead and has finished his work and accomplished all that was required of him.  However not to be redundant, Jesus felt completely alone and hopeless for that window of time. It must have seemed like an eternity to him.  All of his bodily suffering could not have compared to the trauma of being separated from God.

On the other hand as believers, we are never forsaken.  Christ made sure of that. It reminds me of a student who has been rejected, but does all he can so no one else ever feels that sorrow and does what he can to help others feel wanted and accepted. I am not sure of his motivation, but I do know that when times get rough and we feel alone and abandoned, Christ assures us that those are just feelings. They are not even close to reality.

Many times feelings cannot be trusted, but truth can.  In II Corinthians 4: 8-9, it states, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” The reason for that is that Jesus IS with us, “even to the end of the age.”  He was forsaken so we would never be. His forsakenness rendered the greatest of experiences for the sinner who truly believes—salvation, a welcome part of God’s family and a sure spot in Heaven forever.  He was God’s forsaken so we could be God’s keepsake. If his being forsaken yielded the greatest gift of all, RESURRECTION POWER.  Imagine what good can come from those times of earthly rejection, we also cry out to a God who is really with us. Forsaken? Not!

Photo credit:  farm8.staticflickr.com/7010/6829761849_5984e6d27b.jpg

 

Enough by Gina Stearns

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Enough: such a small word with such enormous meaning.  The term enough hits me often when I think of food, money or materials things, myself, and most importantly my God.

It is possible to ever have enough?  What is enough? My mom used to say to us girls when we got too loud or carried away, “Enough is enough!”  But in a world that suffers from great addictions to all things around us: screen time, food, money, approval, sex, drugs, alcohol; the opposite of “more is better” has greater prevalence.  It seems that all we ever see within our society or ourselves is that there is never enough.  We can see its effects all around us.  Our country has one of the greatest epidemics of obesity, drug dependence, pornography addiction ever seen in American history.  Despite those facts, we continue to hear from fast food commercials that bigger is better. Other companies’ lure us with the lie that we deserve the best.  What about the emails, advertisements and billboards that we need the latest and greatest: better clothes, nicer homes, and luxury cars. But is super-sizing truly satisfying?

As Americans, we think that we are entitled to more because of our faulty understanding of the Preamble to The Declaration of Independence guaranteeing us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.   According to an article from historynewnetwork.org, John Locke had changed the original phrase “life, liberty, and property” to the terminology we have today. But the meaning of happiness can be traced to the Greek philosophers Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. The term happiness has it derivation in the Greek word Eudaimonia and in using that phrase “Locke is invoking Greek and Roman ethics in which eudaimonia is linked to aretê, the Greek word for “virtue” or “excellence.”

Unfortunately, the term happiness seem to have been misinterpreted because of our misunderstanding that possessing more is equated with happiness, and we should pursuit it no matter what. Research shows that the original intent of the word happiness is anchored in the concept of virtue not outrageous vice.  We are not actually guaranteed more stuff, but actually pursuing what would bring true contentment, patience, goodness, and self- control perhaps with less or at least enough.  Some have found minimalism as an answer.  But we can also go overboard the other way too. How much “minimalization” is enough? Indulgence or self-flagellation is not the answer either.  Moreover, with the abundance of a prosperity gospel encouraged from the televangelists’ pulpits, it would also seem that not only the Preamble ensures our desire for more, but that God’s name has been misused in the gain for more materials.  But the Bible again also hinges the concept of prosperity on gains in virtue and spiritual growth, not necessarily monetary gain.  Our greed has caused us to be deceived in our interpretation of not only the Declaration of Independence, but especially the Bible.

In addition, even when I inspect myself, I wonder am I ever going to be enough: Good enough, smart enough, thin enough, pretty enough, organized enough, spiritual enough.    How can I possibly measure up to a world that continually expects so much and sinisterly increases the bar all the time?  When I look at others’ lives spread on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, I am definitely lacking in so many ways.  I can never measure up. And maybe within that self-defeatist answer is the good news.

For when is enough truly enough? Well the answer is very timely. Epiphany time! Nothing this world offers can ever be enough.  All the answers that the experts point to will never fulfill. Even my own selfishness like an all-consuming fire that cannot be quenched is greedy and crying out, “Not enough.”

But there is only one source of enough and the good news is that it does not come from me, you, or this deceptive world.  If one wants enough, it is found in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ.  He is enough.  He satisfies. He satiates our deepest desires and offers us enough.  Over two thousand years ago, He took on the fullness of sin: the addictions, the avarice and all the horrific iniquities that were pursued by the “not enough” in people’s souls.

The answer is not just good news, but great news. The cross was enough.  For those of you that think that God should have done more, or done it in a different way, all I can say with my mom’s Brooklyn accent, “Enough is enough,” because it was Christ’s ALL!  Even if God never answers another one of you prayers in the way you wish, if you have Christ, the cross was and is enough.

So when that brownie is crying is illusory lies to you, or the Pottery Barn catalog is making you discontent, or you hear that others are making the grade but you are a loser, just remember that if you are a believer, your identity is in Christ.  Of course you aren’t enough.  Does that shock you?  But He is.  If you haven’t heard this good news before, let me tell you that no cold cream, or new diet, or new president, or new pastor is going to satisfy you.  This is why you want something more, but cannot put your finger on it.  It is your deepest desire to be at peace not with this duplicitous world, but with a genuine and generous God.

If you haven’t the chance to put your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, I invite you today to acknowledge your sins of not enough, repent from all of the ways you turned from God. Then raise the flag of surrender of trying to be your own God, and put your faith in him and believe on his finished work of complete sacrifice on The Cross.  Ironically a sinless Jesus took the penalty of your sins and mine.  I know that He will give you the peace, satisfaction, and rest for which you have been searching. Maybe your pursuit has been for this world in all its deficient forms. Pursue Christ instead!  Let us not only celebrate the resurrection of His life but now yours when He returns.  For the first time, you can say that you are finally accepted as you are because you can finally recognize and appreciate that what Christ did for you was and is enough. No need to super-size anything — the cross is enough. Jesus Christ is enough. Guaranteed.

Photo credit:     http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-zP84p_16ci8/UIPMOjxKEkI/AAAAAAAAGaE/JwxDzhbWlBc/s1600/christ_passion_movie_cross.jpg

Sanctifying Lessons from Green Eggs and Ham by Gina Stearns

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Her big brown eyes gazed at me with great expectation as she ambled toward me holding a bag of “My Little Ponies”, colorful manes spilling out.   It was our special day together, and I had planned so many fun activities to do with my new granddaughter Hazel like baking cookies and reading children’s books.

“Nina, can you play ponies with me?” “Nina” was my own form of Nana, and I liked it since it rhymed with my nickname and was the last four letters of my real name. I now lived in the South where Grandma-type names are varied and creative. So why not Nina?

“Sure, Hazel, after we bake some oatmeal raisin cookies.” Together we mixed flour, butter, sugar, raisins and oatmeal.  Hazel ended up with flour on her cheek, and I held off wiping it away as long as I possibly could; she was just so adorable. Then as the delicious treats baked, we played ponies on the living room rug. I made a makeshift pony nightstand from a Shopkins’ grocery basket turned upside down.  A pool for the ponies was fashioned from strips of blue plastic and a toy palm tree added that beachy touch.  She played alone for a bit, while, I served warm cookies on a tray, and poured her milk into a Frozen Princess cup.  This was the perfect segue to exit pony world and begin enjoying our sweet snack.  All was going smoothly until I asked, “Hazel, how would you like me to read you some storybooks?”

Hazel cookie

“No, I don’t really like reading, Nina.”  Hazel retorted, her dark brows furrowed, punctuating her fair skin and blonde hair.

As an avid book-lover and enthusiastic teacher of literature, I was a quite disheartened to hear that she was not excited about books or the wonderful stories they contained. But I was not totally discouraged. I went into the basement with Hazel in tow and pulled out from a bookcase some of my own children’s favorite books, some that would best showcase my own dynamic reading skills.

She managed to get through Mother Goose and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with marginal interest, but it was Green Eggs and Ham that catapulted Hazel into the magic and beauty of the narrative and the power of books.

As we read through the musical rhyme of, “I will not eat them here, I will not eat them there, I will not eat them anywhere.”  Hazel began to join me in the “Seussian” song that many others have come to know and love.  She was thrilled to see the plethora of places that Sam would not eat green eggs and ham.  Her smile lit up her face while her eyes sparkled with delight.  Hazel became like the character within her storybook enamored with reading, just as Sam’s friend finally did with those green eggs and ham. And then I thought:  How much like me.

You see, Green eggs do not fall too far from hens that lay them. Ironically, it is often the same for ME when the Lord urges me to do something that I think I will not like or fear I cannot do. I often react the same way, digging my heels in the dirt and objecting through my own array of impossibilities or scary scenarios:  I couldn’t possibly invite that person to my house for dinner, please don’t ask me to write about THAT! I cannot share Christ with that person!  Not in a train! Not in a tree! Not in a car! Lord, Let me be!Those are sins of omission, not doing the good things I should.

But it doesn’t end there.  Sometimes it is my actual sins of commission:  Doing things I shouldn’t like: gossiping, being sneakily snarky with my husband, getting angry with my children because I am tired, or eating another helping of dessert when I know I have had enough.  Though I obey in many ways, I sometimes fondly hold on to my favorite secret sins that seem to beset me the most, that prevent me from experiencing the best that God has for me. Now I was beginning to clearly see myself in my granddaughter and this Dr. Seuss character.

Moreover, Sam’s friend’s resistant response and attitude of stubbornness also reminded me of my own initial obstinacy and disillusionment with obeying God. It doesn’t sound too Christian does it? But it’s true.  This is why I so desperately need a Savior and His direction and encouragement through the Holy Spirit.  I too am not always aware of the rich blessings of succumbing to the wonder and joy of obedience just as with the idea of eating Green Eggs and Ham or Hazel’s reading books. Eventually, I am willing to surrender and fulfill those actions of omission or refrain from sins of commission when I finally obey the voice of my own friend and partner in sanctification, the Holy Spirit. Soon I am thrilled by the rich blessing of obedience and seek to do it more often and in more ways.  That is until I occasionally forget that blessing. But just as “that Sam I am” was persistent, and I continue to try and engage Hazel with new stories, so too the Holy Spirit will be in it for the long haul with me.

I will always have the picture of that day seared in my memory and I pray that my elation is as great as Hazel’s that day when she asked, “Nina, I love this book, can I take it home with me!?!”

For Hazel had become smitten with reading, and Green Eggs and Ham was the key to open the door to imagination, the power of words, and the honey that dripped from the sweet comb of books. I too had been thrilled by the outcome of obedience, not as stubborn as I had been before, knowing the benefits of submission.  That day with Hazel was magical and I had learned a great deal too. The cookies may have been mediocre, and our time with the ponies may not have been as fun as she hoped, but when Hazel fell in love with reading that day, I felt the golden privilege to pass on my love for words to my granddaughter. And I will read to her here or there. Say! I will read to her ANYWHERE!  May I with similar abandon, surrender to God with the same ready obedience.

Window on my Witness by Gina Stearns

Window WitnessesEvery weekday morning, I race into the school building, up the stairs, and into my classroom. I am now 57 so racing is not at a breakneck speed like it was when I was 30, but it certainly feels like I have already run a marathon by the time my keys unlatch the lock on my classroom door. Before classes begin, I unload all of my books, computer, and portfolio into my room, stash my keys into my top draw, and grab my burgundy coffee cup.  Then I quickly leap down the flight of stairs and hopefully, before the bell rings, slip through closing cafeteria doors for daily morning devotions.

Once inside, I sit among my colleagues spread out at various cafeteria tables as the devotion is presented by the chosen teacher or administrator for the day.  Usually these readings are very uplifting, and I am thankful to gather with like-minded educators who are dependent on the Lord for strength, patience, and direction.  Sometimes a late teacher straggles in right before the devotion is finished; occasionally, I am that teacher.

Probably the most heart-warming part of this routine is standing and singing a hymn with my fellow teachers, and spotting the wee eyes of many of our younger students watching us — faces pressed against those large-windowed doors of our cafeteria through which I just skimmed moments before. Their wide eyes peer in as they watch and listen to us sing. I love the thought that these momentary slices of our faithfulness is on exhibit for these precious ones to discover and follow in their own lives.  It is a window on my witness.

However, it is at that moment that I am very aware of how intentional my example is to them right then. How much more would my witness be throughout the rest of my day, if I pictured my students looking through a tangible window scrutinizing my words, action, and even my thoughts.  Ouch! Would it be as pleasing to God if an opening was really there for people to inspect my day, especially those little children?  How I wish a window, a material reminder, was present to keep me from laxity, knee-jerk reactions, or thoughtless words. But in a way there is.  My students are always watching me, even if the strong physical window is not present; a spiritual one is.  Day in and out, I need to remember that they are listening to the words I use– as if I am speaking a hymn.  They are inspecting my dance with the mundane being played out before their eyes:  how I react to their misbehaving, what I do when the internet is down, or I how I deal with having once again misplaced the latest grammar worksheet. (My mystery desk somehow becomes the Bermuda Triangle for papers that only moments before were organized, paper-clipped, and ready).  Or how about when I get asked for the fourth time what page we are on in The Oresteia?

The burdens of being a Christian teacher are great.  I pray for my students, sometimes alone, often times with them. I pray for myself. I work hard at preparing lessons that more so teach them how to think and not so much what to think. They tend toward the latter. It is easier for them and me.  But we press on together. As a teacher in a classical school, I want to point them to goodness, beauty, and truth which are all contained in Christ. But if my witness is wishy-washy, if I am not willing to live up to the standard I set for them,then my pride and hypocrisy are more toxic that inspirational.  I leave footprints that could lead not to God but a circle of confusion, or worse despair.

So on days when the worst things happen, when my students are not at their best, when I am far from where I know I ought to be, I also have a type of window that as a child I too peer through. On the other side of this window is the one witness of who God is and how I can have His strength, ability, direction, patience and love to do what I am called to do for His glory.  I see Christ — who in Matthew 11:29 says “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” For when I lean on Christ, especially and intentionally in front of my students, I have left the best footprints of all…what to do when I am at the end of my rope, when I have sinned, and when I am weary.

So at the end of the day when that portfolio and computer bag feels ten pounds heavier than when I first carried it to my room that morning, when the fresh make-up and hairstyle of the day and the crisp clothing from morning have melted into the grime of life; I can look back at that day and smile satisfyingly because I have been a real example of what it means to be a Christian, a teacher, a friend, a child myself. I have in fact been to those kids a real window on my witness, not because I am great, but because He is.

 

One Teacher’s Report Card by Gina Stearns

 

LIT MAG picIt’s been awhile since you have heard from me, and the reason has been that the busy life of a teacher has pretty much sucked up the two most important commodities of a blogger: the first is the mind space for thoughts about compositions.  But even when I have topics about which to share, I have little time to get those thoughts on paper.  Consequently, I have invented a pretty ingenious scheme, so much so that my students wanted you to know of it:  Busy Teacher assigns blog writing as an assignment to students so said teacher has time to write.   Brilliant.  There they sit in front of me all typing away on blogs being birthed before my very eyes.

And now for mine.

What has consumed my thoughts and has been weighing on my writer’s heart for all these months is a way to remember the lessons I learned my first year teaching. So this is my own Report Card for the school year 2016-17. When I first started teaching, I thought that my students would be learning all kinds of wonderful literature like The Canterbury Tales, Julius Caesar and To Kill a Mockingbird, or inspiring lessons in diagramming, and giving oral presentations.  However, what has impressed me the most about this past year, is that I am the one to have learned the most.

At the start of school, I was blessed with four different English classes and an elective.  If you are a regular reader of Deserts Like Eden, you already know the feats that I had to overcome in learning just the technological aspect of my job, but it was the other faces of what makes a teacher that emerged in me throughout the year.

It all started with my first class — English Honors III:  Daily five 11th graders graced my mornings.  They were the hard-working, respectful lot that never complained no matter what I threw at them.  They quietly forged ahead with tenacity and strong work ethics; they were like the deep swallow of caffeine I needed habitually to get started on the exhausting and trying day ahead.  I learned from them that some classes just do what they are asked no more, no less.  That was okay for me.  Because….

Next came my ninth-graders.  Like a pound of wild puppies they ambled in everyday full of wonder, opinions, and noise.  Lots of noise.  It would take me a few minutes every day to calm them down after a barrage of questions like: “What are we going to do? Can we go out? What was our assignment? Do we HAVE to read?”

I was always perplexed and vexed at the routine of their questions and why they just didn’t settle into their Daily Grammar Practices.  But I eventually won their hearts with a few tricks up of my own.  One was my simple love and passion for the novels we read.  I encouraged them to read aloud, but it was the times that I read to them that made all the difference.  I did all the voices:  A British one in Romeo and Juliet, The Brooklyn accent of Meyer Wolfsheim from The Great Gatsby,  the southern drawl of Maudie Atkinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, my best Jewish intonations found in Wiesel’s Night.  I had them on the edge of their seats with my inflection, volume range, and pauses.  I admit that it always helped that I cried at the end of the novels, because the stories tugged at my own heart. They sat there amazed that simply words could produce such profound effects on their teacher and ultimately even them.  I would also stop to point out great writing like the following line from The Great Gatsby, “AT 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment-houses.” They ate it up, no pun intended.

My ninth graders taught me to just LET THE WORDS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES.

In addition, I taught two tenth grade classes, one Honors and the other Non-honors.  My Tenth Honors was filled with students who loved to please me.  The listened attentively, they thought deeply, they studied hard, and they connived ways to get into my Gratitude Journal.  If they did not do as well on a quiz or test, their tender hearts were despairing that they may have disappointed me.  For the most part, I truly enjoyed them, and I felt they appreciated me. They taught me that sometimes it isn’t anything you do: some classes are simply magical.

I was thankful for them because after lunch came the 10th Non-honors class.

This group consisted of eleven students who told me the first week that they were stupid and not good enough for the Honors class.  I told them that from now on they would be known as the HONORABLE class.  Being honorable means that you do your best no matter if you are recognized for it or not.  It was a lot to get them to have that perspective because they were actually the most unruly students I have had ever had.  That kind of class occurred at the end of the day, and they could really taint the rest of my evening causing me to believe that I was truly a horrid teacher.  They could not sit still or be quiet for long periods of time.  It was a great challenge, and some days I questioned my calling as a teacher because of them. One student tried to encourage me after class one day telling me that even though they were a tough class, he felt I was truly a great teacher.  He called me “great”; I called him and his class mates “honorable”.  So I never gave up on them and ultimately they did not give up on me even if their devotion was not where I wanted it to be. I prayed for Christ to give me patience, love, wisdom, and energy and God did just that.  The Honors class had loved me and pleased me, but it was in the fiery furnace of the Honorable class that the teacher in me was forged.  I came out stronger and more confident at the end of the year. For them I am truly grateful.  Both are my favorites, but you will likely have to have a Socratic Seminar to prove either class wrong.

This class taught me that sometimes you can do everything, but you need continued hope and the help of God.

see jesus

As a Christian in a Christian school, relationships are more significant than the report card, character more key than comma rules, the Gospel more important than grades. Trying to maintain textbook rules of what was deemed professional went out the window for me.  I had to be real with them because their souls were on the line.  So when one student called me a name as I inadvertently passed by a classroom he was in, my heart broke.  He was coming to my class seconds late, and after a few minutes I found myself silently sobbing in class.  I had wanted to appear indomitable, but instead vulnerable.    He was distraught and the class was hurting for us both.  Although he had offended me, the Lord showed me my own sin in that transaction.   I asked for forgiveness of him, the class, and the Lord that his opinion of me mattered more that God’s favor. Instantly, a newfound respect came over his face, and then he asked for my forgiveness.  He then asked if he could pray, and I would not deny him that.  His sweet words of repentance and self-admonishment for gossiping warmed my heart and after that our relationship was more than restored.  Till this day, he stops by and says hello and lets me know how his year is going.

As a teacher, I often have to do the tough stuff and nothing is harder for me than to give hard consequences, but when a couple of my students were caught plagiarizing, I was sorely disappointed.  These weren’t weak students, these were hard-working and dedicated ones.  But when a zero went into the gradebook, they had learned an important lesson —they weren’t the only ones.  I too learned a hard-hitting one as well.  I discovered I that could give the hard consequences that were a sign of true love, and that ironically their respect for me had increased.

Mrs Stearns thank you                                                                                                                       Many more lessons and confirmations that God had me in the right place had surfaced throughout the year.  One example was when I blurted out to my mentor, the head of our English department,that I had come to the conclusion that I was not an educator but just a grade broker.  In response he laughed, and I had added that I guessed I had finally understood the reality of my  new calling.  His simple yet wise answer changed my life.  He then retorted firmly, “That’s an illusion, you ARE an educator.”

He didn’t know as I walked away that tears rolled down my cheeks in gratitude for his encouragement.  Yes, I am an educator, a teacher, and I love my daunting job. As for my “grade” this last year as a teacher, I think I would get an A for effort, but the final grade is one that I may not be able to measure for years to come.  Who knows what lives with Christ’s help I have inspired, challenged, and changed?  But until then, I will keep my eyes on the Lord and depend on Him and know the truth behind Henry Adams words, “A teacher affects eternity, she can never tell where influence stops.”