Sunday, October 15, 2017

I'm learning how to trust You more

hopefully, by now anyone reading this knows that I'm a teacher. And, as He has many times before, lately God has been using my students to convict and speak to me. I have this one fifth grader, we'll call her "Lucy" (that is far from her name, which is kinda fun). Lucy, I've come to find out, is rarely pleased with what is given to her. Not that she's ungrateful, it's just a "the grass is greener over there" scenario EVERY TIME she comes in my room. If we are doing group work, she wants to work independently. If we are working independently, she wants to be in a group. If we are learning a new song, she wants to go back to an old familiar one, and if we are reviewing an old song she wants a new, exciting one.
Lately she has been fixated on whether we sit on chairs or the carpet. As a third-year elementary music teacher, I feel like I'm finally finding my sweet spot of when to have students sit in chairs and when to sit on the carpet, what grades do best in what type of seating, etc. Sounds weird, but it takes a long time to figure your students out (turns out humans are complicated, go figure). Anyway, Lucy begs me, every time she enters the room, to sit on the carpet when others are sitting on chairs or vice versa. I have gotten to a point where, when she asks me "Miss Stovall, can I please sit on the carpet?", I just tell her: "Please trust my judgment."

Here's why:
I know Lucy is easily distracted, tends to be disengaged, and as I said she's rarely pleased with what is given to her. I've let her sit separately from the group a few times to test it out, and EVERY time she either disengages from class and is in her own world the whole time, or gets in trouble for distracting other students/talking during instruction. What I've found is that Lucy does best when she sits in the middle of a row of students, doing exactly the same thing everyone else is doing.
And she hates that. She hates having to go along with everyone else (psychologists, help me out here, is it just nonconformity?).
But in order to keep her from getting herself in trouble, to help her better understand my instruction, and to keep the students around her engaged, I have to make Lucy unhappy every Tuesday. She shows up at my door and asks hopefully to sit away from the group. And I tell her, every Tuesday, "Please just trust my judgment."
She doesn't like that answer. Finally this week, she asked me, "What does that mean?" I tried to explain to her that I'm doing what is best for her, even though she doesn't like it.

Are you starting to see where I'm going with this?

A lot of times I get road rage. The one thing that really bugs me is when the car in front of me is going really slowly and I can't get around them, especially if we are in the left lane. And somehow every time I get frustrated by it, something happens farther along down the road that makes me grateful for that slow car- usually a state trooper sitting with his radar gun, occasionally a crazy driver on the road that makes me realize if that slow car hadn't been in front of me, I might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and been involved in an accident.
Every time, I hear that little, "See?" whisper from God.
"See, don't I know what's best?"

He's doing for me, in the big and little things, what I have to do for my students many times each day- make them unhappy so I can do what's best for them, because I can see it and they can't.
This season of life is one that I'm finding myself trying to just get over with. I want to rush past it and get on with the next, more exciting things. Get past the job that is exhausting and toilsome and has so little physical reward. Get past the dating-for-three-and-a-half-years-and-watching-everyone-else-get-married. Get past the renting a house and having to deal with a landlord that never really fixes anything. Get past the never cooking and always eating unhealthily because I'm so out of energy at the end of the day. Get past the not really feeling plugged into my church because I'm in that weird limbo of not-college-not-singles-not-married.
These things and many others fill my mind each day and make me want to rush forward to what must be greener grass on the other side. Rush forward from behind this slow phase so that I can accelerate down the left lane and enjoy the view.

He may be teaching me to be more engaged and invested in the present, He may be protecting me from trouble or future hurt, He may be simply teaching me to trust. I don't know the purpose. I'm not going to say I don't ask daily "WHY?" because a lot of days, I do. I'm not sure why this season feels so slow and tedious, and I don't know when it will stop feeling this way. But I am beginning to trust His judgment. I am beginning to be a little bit better of a student of His, and trying to accept that He has a wonderful reason why He's leading me this way. If I love my sweet, constantly displeased fifth grader so much, how much more so does God love me and love to do what is good for me and what brings good to me and glory to Him?

If you are with me trying to rev down the left lane and feeling stuck behind the slow car, let's thank God for providing for us in ways we don't see. Let's thank Him for caring enough to make us slow down, stay where we are, and be involved in where we are each day.

"how sweet it is to trust You, Lord
I'm learning how to trust You more.
Oh, I will trust in the name of the Lord my God." -Christy Nockels- Leaning on You, Jesus

these thoughts brought to you by the following songs:
This We Know by Vertical Church
Leaning on You, Jesus by Christy Nockels
Jesus, Rock of Ages by Christy Nockels
You Don't Miss a Thing by Amanda Cook
Unpredictable by Francesca Battistelli
King of My Heart by John Mark & Sarah McMillan, sung by Bethel

Sunday, July 23, 2017

all the things, part 3- new promises

God woke me up Tuesday morning. I know because I was startled awake and immediately heard in my heart, "Meet Me."
I don't know about you, but I rarely talk to myself in my heart. I talk to myself in my mind, but I would never say to myself "Meet me," you know? I use first person when I talk to myself, but I don't say "me". I've never really thought about that until now, and I'm suddenly getting distracted with the exact term for that, because I know there is one, but I am sadly not a grammar savant and I have no idea what it is.
ANYWAY, He said "Meet Me," and I knew it was Him. And (as much as I wish this were not the case) I am not one of those people who wakes up at 5 AM on my off days to spend hours with God. I would love to get to that point, but for now I am too undisciplined and love sleep too much for that. I can count, probably on one hand, the number of times God has woken me up with the sunrise simply to spend time with Him (though I will say He REGULARLY wakes me up when I oversleep on school days- and can we just go WOW THANK YOU! for that because that's honestly amazing that He cares enough about me and my sweet lil school to wake me up in time to get there, even when I am selfish for more sleep).
Tuesday, I didn't know where to begin. I knew I needed my bible and some paper and a pen. I knew I needed to leave my phone behind. I sat out on the deck by the lake and had no clue what passage to turn to. I'm reading through the Bible with Casey right now, and felt strongly that I didn't need to pick up where he and I had left off. So, "where to?" was my question for several minutes. I pulled out a piece of paper I'd been scribbling on yesterday, flipped it over, and started jotting down thoughts.
The one that kept coming up was "You have only begun to believe Me!"
Again, the "Me" clued me in that this wasn't MY thought.
I suddenly remembered that at the end of the school year, I had started reading Isaiah on my own and never finished, so I flipped to where I'd left that little piece of paper, and found myself in the middle of a chapter. There was a very obvious line on the page where I had stopped reading in the middle of chapter 30 because the top half of the page was underlined several places, and past that there were no markings.
"Are you sure I'm supposed to start in the middle of the chapter?"
And here's what I found:

"He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left."

There, in the middle of the chapter, I found a passage, or 'word' if you will, that felt so made for me right now. Just two days ago, my Sunday School teacher mentioned this passage and what a beautiful picture of the intimacy of Christ and the Holy Spirit it is. Not only is Christ one with us in our sorrow, but the Holy Spirit whispers guidance to us throughout it! And I hope y'all know how much I love it when a verse comes knocking at my heart over and over again. I love how personal that feels, and if that doesn't prove that the Word is living and active, then I don't know what does.
So even the simple fact that this was the second time I had heard this passage made me dewy-eyed.

And I think I had begun to forget how tender God is/can be. I know that working with the type of students and families I work with each day, it is too easy to feel like God isn't interested in us individually. It's easy to think that He is moving at the nice, mostly-white church across town that has money for cute children's musicals and a food pantry, and that He cares very little for a neighborhood you don't want to be in after dark. I know that is a lie, and that Satan is working hard to keep my eyes shut... but it's easy to feel like that's the way it is.

So many times these past two years, I have called, "Unfair, unfair! How could you let this be, God?" and felt like there was not much of an answer. Doubt and bitterness try to build up in my heart when Satan whispers in the silence after that question- "He must not care. He must be too busy somewhere else. I must be doing this wrong."

Somewhere I missed the part where He is being GRACIOUS to me at the sound of my cry! Not only does He hear it, He feels it. (I am a mess as I type this and realize how much He cares.) He pours grace on it. And IMMEDIATELY, as soon as He hears it, He answers it.
I don't know what that answer is or even what it sounds like, but the simple fact that it has already been uttered is such a relief.

And though my only food may be adversity and my only water may be affliction, He will not hide Himself anymore. He will not seem far off. On the days when I have nothing but tears to offer, He will be there, teaching me. He will be there, to be seen and noticed beside me. He will be there, to whisper guidance in my ear.

In the footnotes of my Bible, this verse is explained by saying, "Isaiah foresees the internalized law of the new covenant and the internal guidance of the Holy Spirit."
Y'all, Jesus wasn't even ALIVE yet, and God gave the word to this prophet that someday, our Teacher would be inside us. We wouldn't have physical stone commandments anymore, we would have His Word and Spirit within us.

As if all this wasn't enough of a promise for the upcoming school year, there is more! In verses 23-26, Isaiah describes many ways in which God will give bountifully.
"He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous."
He has promised me plenty.
He has promised me growth. 
He has promised me roots. 
He goes on to say there will be lots of livestock that are healthy and keep the land healthy, there will be an abundance of fresh water in the mountains, and "the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun".
He has promised me light. 
In verse 29, He promises a song, and gladness of heart.
He has promised me joy and a song. 
In verse 30, He promises His voice will be heard and His arm will be seen. At the end of the chapter, He promises a fight against evil, and ultimately, victory.
And I love what it says in verse 32, that the Lord will strike his enemies "to the sound of tambourines and lyres." Guys, wouldn't you know that I use tambourines in my classroom regularly? Lyres not so much, since they're an ancient stringed instrument (similar to a harp)... but I find it HILARIOUS that He promised these things thousands of years ago, already knowing that in 2017, a little music teacher in Jackson, Mississippi would just cry her eyes out at the thought of His victory being to the sound of her little babies trying to keep a steady beat with a tambourine. My footnotes also comment that this means: "The role of His people is simply to celebrate."
I don't have to do any fighting or toiling. I can just celebrate the victory He already has!
He has promised me His victory.
Finally, in verse 33, Isaiah states that a "burning place has long been prepared" for his enemies to be destroyed. Once again, my footnotes give an astounding fact here that was the final nail for me, proving that this is the exact word God had specifically for me this morning. This 'burning place' is Topheth, "a location in the Hinnom Valley where Judeans had burned their children in sacrifice," that would ultimately be used to destroy those against God. 
He has promised me justice.
And, guys, I know this is a brutal word I'm about to say. I do not wish harm upon any of God's children, lost or found, but I believe in His justice and His purpose, and this verse makes it clear to me. 
For too long, these parents have been sacrificing their children. 
I wish I had a different way to put that, but I don't. 
This is not to say that every parent in Jackson or at my school is a terrible parent, an enemy of God, etc. What I mean is that our generation in general, and my school specifically, cares so much about making their children 'happy', or making their children 'like' them, or their own personal comfort, that they forsake basic spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical needs. Our parents sacrifice their children's well-being for their personal happiness, whatever that looks like- drugs, sex, money, notoriety, less busyness, etc. 

There are so many things wrong with their priorities, and so many ways their children suffer because of that. I could point fingers all day and list examples for pages on end, but at the bottom of all of that, our struggle is not against these parents. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." 

I am tired of this generational curse of parents who sacrifice their children. I am so ready for this to be burned away. I am so ready for these demons' and evil spirits' temporary dominion over this neighborhood, this city, this state, this country, this world, to be over. 
And I know God is promising that this year, that victory will continue. People will continue being freed! I may not see it firsthand yet, or ever, but I BELIEVE THAT THE FIGHT IS WON.

When I look at all the things He has said that morning, my first reaction is to draw back a little bit. It seems like too much to believe. It seems like too big a promise.
But I go back to what he said at 5:45 AM- "Child, you have only just BEGUN to believe Me!"
And here He is, offering a huge chance to believe Him and feel a little crazy and giddy for it.

I have these promises as an opportunity to continue believing God, for bigger and crazier things than I've seen yet. Pray with me. Believe with me.

(rewind to all the things, part 1 or part 2)

Scriptures and songs on my heart today:
"You know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed." -Joshua 23:14

"Because of Your promise, and according to Your own heart, You have brought about all this greatness, to make Your servant know it." -2 Samuel 7:21

"You will say in that day: 

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my songand he has become my salvation."
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: 
“Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exaltedSing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriouslylet this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” -Isaiah 12

"Pull me a little closer, take me a little deeper- I want to know Your heart, I want to know Your heart.

Your love is so much sweeter than anything I've tasted- I want to know Your heart, I want to know Your heart." -Closer, Amanda Cook

"Your love's not passive, it's never disengaged, it's always present, 
it hangs on every word we say.
Love keeps its promises, it keeps its word, it honors what's sacred, cause its vows are good.
Your love's not broken, it's not insecure, Your love's not selfish, Your love is pure.
You don't give Your heart in pieces.
You don't hide Yourself to tease us." -Pieces, Amanda Cook

"Let the King of my heart be the wind inside my sails, the anchor in the waves, oh He is my song.
Let the King of my heart be the fire inside my veins, the echo of my days, oh He is my song.
You are good, good. You are good, good. 
And You're never gonna let, never gonna let me down." -King of My Heart, John Mark McMillan

"You are who You say You are.
You'll do what You say You'll do.
You'll be who You've always been to us, Jesus. 

Our hope is in You alone.
Our strength in Your mighty Name.
Our peace in the darkest day remains- Jesus.

This we know: we will see the enemy run.
This we know: we will see the victory come.
We hold on to every promise You ever made: Jesus You are unfailing!

...We trust You, we trust You. Your ways are higher than our own.
-This We Know, Vertical Church

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

all the things, part 2- Gilgal

I don't know about you, but for a long time it has been difficult for me to piece together the stories and meaningfulness of a lot of the Old Testament. Sadly, but thankfully, I am just beginning to really comprehend a lot of it. I've always LOVED the book of Joshua (maybe because it starts out with God telling him like 17 times not to be afraid and I've always felt like that must mean Joshua wasn't too different from me). So bear with me here as I wade through some huge truths in Joshua, and hopefully you'll grab some along the way!

A lot of Believing God (see first post) hangs on scriptures in Joshua, which has made it come alive for me and I am soaking in so much more than I ever have before. In Joshua 4, when the Israelites first crossed the Jordan River (from Egypt/wilderness) to Gilgal (the Promised Land), the Lord gave them some interesting directions:

"When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.... The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever."

I love this. I've always been a fan of setting up 'memorial stones' in my heart (I first got the concept from Hinds Feet on High Places), and I knew it was scriptural but hadn't done much research into instances of it. I think my favorite thing about this whole Joshua/Gilgal story is the meaning of the word Gilgal: it means 'circle' or 'rolling'. They set up their circle of memorial stones there, and God started bringing His work in them full circle. They had set out on this journey out of slavery, had doubted and stopped believing God, and then had to live in the wilderness for 40 years. Finally, the years have passed, they have Joshua in charge, they have made it to the Promised Land, and God can finally finish the work He started when he brought them up out of their slavery.
In Joshua 5:5-7, we find this: "Though all the people who came out [of Egypt] had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way."

I don't want to give away too much, but bear with me here. The Israelites have just crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, and now, finally, they were where God had intended for them to be long ago. BUT since they'd lived in the desert so long, those who had been born while they were there had not been circumcised (as God had already commanded). At this point in the Israelites' cycle, they are no longer slaves, they have their own Promised Land, yet they still look like the people of the land they came from. God tells them to circumcise those who were born in the wilderness so that they can once again be consecrated to (set apart for) Him.

I love the way Beth related this to our life- she talks about wearing a label of reproach from your past (I'll get to this terminology later). Beth brings a few volunteers to the stage and has them wear some letters- think Scarlet Letter. There were several, but there are only a few I remember:
One is a D for Divorced.
One is a TP for Terrible Parent.
One is C for Crazy.
That's the one that hit me. 
Many many days, I find myself thinking, "I must be crazy". Or, in the darkest moments, "What if I am and always will be crazy?" First, I dislike that language because I have many friends with mental illnesses and "crazy" puts such a negative connotation on that. Second, I have never been diagnosed with any mental illness. I have always been an anxious person (much more so as a child/pre-salvation), and a very emotional person (thank you, ENFP tendencies and artistic temperament), and "crazy" has always been my fear. I know I am frequently irrational, illogical, and overemotional.

Somewhere along the way, I let myself label Rebecca Stovall as "CRAZY".
It was the shame I liked to pull out and put on when I felt low. Because how could any 'crazy' lady be used by God? (but like, how did I forget Ezekiel in those moments?? Ha!)

Anyway, as I got further into that session, I realized this was a real problem in my spiritual life, and was a way I was giving Satan victory in my life and, consequently, my relationships. It was a way that I was living like a slave, that I looked exactly like the world that I live in- whereas Jesus calls us to be IN this world, but not OF it. We are OF Him! We are consecrated to him and it should be visible to those around us that we are different because we are His. Our hearts are circumcised. Yet I was living in my anxiety and 'crazy' as if my heart was not circumcised.

"I must be crazy" ended right there. No longer would, or could, I wear that "Crazy" jacket. The only way for that to happen was to let God do what he did to the Israelites once they reached Gilgal- circumcise my heart. I understand that can be kind of a weird/freaky thing to see as spiritual, if you don't know much about God's purpose for it, etc. but I believe it is such an image of Christ's ongoing sanctification. He cut off the outer layer of me, cut off my jacket of shame and 'crazy', so that I could look more like Him. I realized this was no small thing. In my heart and mind, I did what the Israelites had done and set up some memorial stones.

I think my favorite thing about this whole Joshua/Gilgal story is that Gilgal means 'circle', 'rolling', or even 'to end'. They set up their circle of memorial stones there, and God started bringing His work in them full circle. Then he started rolling away their reproach, circumcising them, and healing them.

"When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day." Joshua 5:8-9

When I realized the reality of my 'crazy jacket' and allowed God to remove it, my cycle started over. No longer will I go from a promise, to miracles, to unbelief, to "crazy", to repentance, and back. Yes, I will still fall and still need to repent daily and hourly. But this lifelong cycle of letting Satan hold me back so strongly has ended. Now my cycle can be promise, belief, miracles, belief, and back- with repentance throughout. I'm done with disbelief and disobedience.

I know this because I've had opportunities to exercise it and I have already seen the miracles.

During the process of Casey looking for and accepting a job, there were some people who spoke doubt over him/us. I know they didn't do so maliciously, and for the most part they meant well. But no matter their intentions, the "Maybe you should just ___," and "Are you sure ____?" almost wore us down. Other people were pouring unbelief on us, simply because they wanted us to be safe or sure or whatever it was. There was one specific night, shortly after I listened to the Gilgal session, where we just sat on his couch and held each other and cried and prayed because it looked like nothing good was coming. It looked like God wasn't working, or hadn't heard us. I remember so vividly the moment that night when His Spirit whispered in me, "No. I'm believing God." I felt like one of those guys on American Ninja Warrior going up the Salmon Wall. Like everything was trying to push us back down, to keep us from getting to where God wanted us, and I just had to keep pushing upwards, saying "NO!" to the doubts. "NO, I'm believing God!"

Not 48 hours after that, Casey received a call from one of the dozens of schools he had emailed and applied with- one of only a couple to respond to him- and was offered an interview. A week later, he had the job. Not only is it *A* job, it is *THE* job. He will be in the Jackson area. At his new school, he is surrounded by other God-lovers, one of whom is the head coach he will be working closely with. And although it wasn't in the job description, he has been offered additional opportunities to assist in coaching high school in addition to junior high! It is truly our dream come true and prayer answered better than we knew how to ask for. It is nothing short of a miracle.

Oh, and a hilarious little tidbit- the apartment complex he will be living in is the one I lived in two and a half years ago, where he broke up with me. He will be in an identical apartment, just one building over from where I lived without him in that dark season. TALK ABOUT A GILGAL! What a hilarious, amazing full circle that has become!!

At the end of the Believing God study, Beth quotes Ephesians 3:17-19 in a cute little chant. I can't find the exact translation, but in the ESV, the verses say:  "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."

As I listened to that chant at the end of all those sessions, tears filled my eyes. Not just at the goodness of God over the whole study, but at the particular chant. I learned it when I was 9 years old. You see, when I was 9 years old, everything happened in my life- I came to Christ, I started piano lessons {and am now a music teacher}, I started gymnastics {and coached for seven years}, I went to MC for the first time {where I obtained my undergrad degree and met Casey}, and I attended the Great Kingdom Caper VBS {which sparked my love for England, and led to me studying abroad there and falling in love with it and hopefully one day returning}. That year, my Sunday School teacher Ms. Cathy taught us that chant. I realized as I listened to it that she must have learned it from doing the Believing God study and that 15 years ago, she believed God for me. When I was so young and knew so little, she did what she could with what she had and prayed for a room full of fifth graders. And even if she did that whole study and learned the chant for no other purpose but to bring Becca Stovall's 24-year-old heart to its knees on a sunny Friday, it was worth it. It means so much to me that she, along with so many others, have believed God for me along the way, when I was unable or unwilling to. What a beautiful Gilgal that is, for someone else to believe God for me until I came full circle and was able to myself.

I've always loved the number 24 and believed that somehow God meant for it to mean big things in my life. He told me at the beginning of my 24th year that this would be a big one. That it would be full of miracles, and it certainly has been so far. If nothing else, I think God knew this whole time that this would be the year of my big Gilgal. That this would be the year that I clung to Him tightest and believed Him for the smallest and biggest and deepest things.
I cannot thank Him enough for that, for being a God who finishes the circle.

(go forward to all the things, part 3)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

all the things, part 1- a land of milk and honey

At the beginning of the summer, I began listening to Beth Moore's 'Believing God' study on CD. I thought it would be a nice thing to listen to on my way back and forth from Meridian (because we know I couldn't survive the summer without seeing Casey as frequently as possible).

Now, let me rewind a bit before I get into all the good stuff. My mom and sister-in-law did the Believing God study at our church this past Spring, ultimately leading to my sister-in-law's salvation!! This was a huge miracle for our family. We have been praying for April since meeting her in May 2010. In fact, when I was in college, my best friend and I claimed Wednesdays as our prayer days and every morning as soon as we woke up, we prayed for the salvation of two of her family members and two of mine (one being April!) This became something we clung to and believed for so much that we lovingly call them "Miracle Wednesdays" because we know that God answers sincere, constant prayers, and we know that miracles have and will come out of this! Her sister, whom we had been praying for, accepted Christ a couple years ago- we cried over that. Then when April accepted Christ this past Easter, the first person I texted was Meg. All I could do was cry. Our many many many prayers had brought about not one but TWO miraculous salvations!

So naturally, when this study was part of what brought about a miracle for us, Mom wanted to share the goods! She passed the CD's along to my sister, who listened to them all, then passed them to me. At that time, Lauren had just begun the process of applying to become an overseas missionary, and that whole set of events has been nothing short of miraculous!

The short version is:
She had read a book that reawakened her desire for overseas missions. She was on a walk and ran into a sweet older couple who live near us. They started talking and realized they were all Christians, and Lauren shared with them her recently reawakened desire. The wife said, "Well, isn't that amazing, my husband literally wrote a book on that!" and they gave her the book. She read it and felt convicted to start researching ways to do overseas missions. Come to find out, that man was on the International Mission Board for 40 years and was the president of it for 17. She began her application to the IMB, has since finished the application, and is in the long waiting period until she finds out in October/November if she will be placed overseas and would leave in January if that happens. Somewhere during the application process, she found out she would be losing her job, as she is a teacher and they could not give her a contract for half a year. She struggled and cried and prayed, and a few weeks later, her headmaster came to her and offered her a job for just the Fall, with the option to stay with them for the Spring too if she doesn't receive an IMB placement!!

Then, before we could even bother to worry about "What if Lauren leaves in January and I can't pay the rent by myself and have to move out?", Ben's wonderful girlfriend Michaela made the decision to move to Clinton and asked if she could move in with us since we have a spare bedroom. The answer was a quick and obvious YES!

And at the same time all of this is happening, Casey graduated college and began hunting for grad school positions/a job. He didn't really know what direction to go, but he took the GRE and did well on it. However, as we prayed and walked through it, God kept closing all the doors on grad school. So, Casey decided to work on obtaining alternate route certification to teach middle/high school. He emailed and emailed and emailed, signed up for the Praxis, and prayed his little guts out. He finally got a reply from a school hunting a middle school Social Studies teacher and basketball coach- exactly what he wanted. AND the school is in the Jackson area (huge sigh of relief from us both) He had a couple interviews, took and passed the Social Studies Praxis, and was offered the job! Another miracle (that you'll hear more about later)!

So, in the midst of all this wonderful, exciting change, I find myself listening to this Believing God study. It seemed unrelated at the time, but I now see how perfectly and powerfully timed it was. And boy, did I underestimate it.
The study is based on five core truths:
1. God is who He says He is
2. He can do what He says He can do
3. I am who God says I am
4. I can do all things through Christ
5. God's Word is alive and active in me

It goes back to Old Testament truths that God means for us to claim metaphorically (you know, like when he promised the Israelites the Promised Land. Obviously he doesn't want us to go claim the Promised Land literally, but spiritually and emotionally and mentally, He has purposed for us to live free from spiritual slavery and in a place flowing with good things!).

As soon as I started listening to this study, I knew God meant for me to claim my little school as my Promised Land for this season.
I struggle, some days, to accept where God has me right now. Clinton, Mississippi seems so small and meaningless. My job/school/students wear me down so much. It seems like, "surely it shouldn't be like this." But even in listening to the first CD, I knew- this dingy old elementary school is my Promised Land right now. I can either be afraid of the "giants" and unlikeable things in it (Numbers 13:25-33), or I can embrace it and inhabit a land flowing with milk and honey.

Deuteronomy 6:3 says, "Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do [the things God commands]*, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey*wording mine

Guys, have you ever really processed that bit? A land flowing with milk and honey? I think it means more than just God providing for their physical needs and wants. I think it means more than Him just sustaining them and giving them something sweet on top of it.
Just think about some of the health benefits of milk and honey real quick:

  • strengthens bones
  • contains protein that promotes muscle growth and repair
  • contains phosphorus that helps strengthen bones/muscles and give energy
  • contains potassium, which reduces blood pressure
  • is used to nurse babies and nurse sick people back to health until one is ready for solid food
  • is packed with antioxidants and helps the immune system
  • promotes healthy sleep
  • heals wounds and ulcers
  • is a natural allergy relief
  • helps maintain healthy weight
  • has antibacterial properties
  • enzymatically produces hydrogen peroxide, which cleans out wounds (which is AMAZING to me and you can find more info in studies like this one.)
I hope you look at these facts from a spiritual perspective- if you haven't yet, go think about them. They blew my mind. God placed His children in a land flowing with two things that would give them everything they needed, not just as food, but as things to heal and grow and strengthen them. You know there had to be some Israelite who was just dreadfully allergic to some plant out there in the Canaanites' land. Can you imagine how psyched he was when he discovered honey helped his allergies?! 
I'm sure his cry was similar to what mine has been lately:
"God, how can you have the foreknowledge to see that this would happen and care enough to provide a solution to it?" But He does!

I have no doubt in my mind that God has a Promised Land for each of us- a place where we are free from slavery and sin, where we can live in His abundance and provision.
I know that all it takes to find it is a longing heart, prayer, and some separation from all the busyness that tries to distract.
I know that God used this study in Mom's, April's, Lauren's, and my heart(s?) to bring us to each of our Promised Lands and produce growth, faith in Him, and miracles! If you are interested or looking for something, I highly recommend listening to/participating in the Believing God study by Beth Moore (I am not being compensated in any way for saying that!). Don't get me wrong- I know the only answer to our hurts and troubles is Jesus, and no study or words from a human can rescue us or be our answer. I firmly believe that. I also firmly believe that this study is anointed by God and full of His Truth and is absolutely a tool He will use to draw you to His heart.

I don't know where you are spiritually today, but I hope you're His, and I hope you're finding your Promised Land. I hope you're hearing His promises and believing them and looking for miracles.
And if you aren't there yet, I hope God uses this to poke your heart and invite you to believe Him- not just for salvation or ongoing sanctification, but for big, scary miracles. For something that seems too good to be true. For a land of milk and honey.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

reality is: the flailing and the failing

I wish you had the mental image of how I'm writing this, to help you prepare for my frame of mind.
Let me try: I'm on the couch, just home from school, changed into a tank top and shorts. I've got my pint of Strawberry Blue Bell beside me, a big ol' water bottle on the table in front of me, and Judge Judy on in the background (cause my momma raised me right). Today is Tuesday- not the best day of the week, but not the worst. I think today is election day for city council/alderman positions but my polling center wasn't open, and I have not the energy to figure it out, so I'm just not going to vote.

I don't know much why all of this matters, I just feel heavy from it.
Today was the monthly meeting for the elementary music teachers in my district. My Tuesday was really pretty good up until that point. I always struggle with those meetings (they tend to start late, end late, and have not quite enough content to make it feel worthwhile), and today was worse than usual. On top of my usual annoyance with the meeting, a lot of the teachers today announced they would not be returning next year, as they are moving on to bigger and better things.

One is getting married and moving to Tennessee. One is moving to the beach. One is changing subjects and going to a new school. One is going to the school I student-taught at, and that's the one that made me most envious.

Two weeks ago, I signed and turned in my renewed contract for the 2017-18 school year with my same school and district. A few hours later, a teacher-friend of mine let me know her wonderful school had a music opening. Two days later, I learned of THREE other music positions opening at swanky schools in our area. Immediately, I lapsed into the "Ugh, God, Why didn't I wait three more days to turn in my contract?"

I am envious and struggling to accept my 'fate' for the upcoming school year. I am worn down and burned out and want to move on to a "nice" school. I am having a lot of trouble finding the light, remembering the truth, and accepting any kind of victory right now. I feel like a mess, like I'm not doing enough/any good. I feel like am not a good enough teacher to have a job at a "nice" school anyway. I feel like I may never be capable enough to put on big programs that people love, to have students who understand and love music the way I do, to earn my National Board Certification (which is my ultimate goal), or any of the achievements on the way there.
All of these feelings are centered on me alone, and I hate that.

I know they say your first five years teaching are the hardest. I so get that. I doubt myself every day and cry more than I smile, I think. This is, I would say, the least happy I have ever been in my life. Not that the other components of my life aren't wonderful; not that I don't love my students or family or friends or Casey, or find joy in unexpected places. I do, and those parts of my life are what is keeping me afloat. It's just that most days I dread going to school, and I really want that to not be the case.

Has anyone else out there been here? Any other teachers that can be a commiserating soul? Today I'm up to my ears in the struggles of teaching, and I'm flailing a little bit. I could stand an outstretched hand. I don't like this phase of life very much. Not in an ungrateful sort of way, but mostly in an uncomfortable sort of way. I suppose the flailing always is uncomfortable. There's a lot of weakness-revealing, and as always a lot of tears. Sometimes, I think the tears are caused by something else, but most of the time once I start talking about my spaghetti-tangled emotions, at the bottom I find something related to teaching. It could be my own fears and inadequacies with teaching, or something that happened that day, or overwhelmedness with impending programs and deadlines, or empathy for a bad situation.

Lately, I've found myself wondering if this is really my cup of tea. If I really want to spend my days laboring and pushing and pulling and prodding for fruit that I may never see. If I really am good enough at working with these babies to get them where they need to be. If I really am a talented enough musician to put together cohesive programs that make sense and entertain and simultaneously MEAN something. If the "love" part of "tough love" is obvious enough for these students to know that someone out there genuinely cares for their well-being and success. If I can really stand to do this for the next 30+ years; if I really have that kind of energy.

I already feel so old and lethargic.
I already dread the Mondays so much.

When I was in college, everything related to teaching seemed so glittering and exciting. It was that fairy-tale view of teaching that college has to puff you full of so that you can survive your first year. "wow, I am going to mean so much to these kids, we will love and respect each other so much. it will be 'hard' some days and I will be 'tired' sometimes but I would stay up all night and give everything away for my students to get what they need. I am going to be the best teacher because I am confident and flexible and I work hard and everyone will love me" and on and on it goes.

I don't want to sound like the jaded I've-been-teaching-for-three-years-and-I-don't-love-it-anymore teacher, but that is kinda reality.
Reality (at least for me, at this school, with these students, at this point in my life) is
"That kid would not speak last year, but now he does a little bit."

Reality is "His dad got taken to jail last night, and he watched it happen, and I know these crocodile tears of his are not over his work, and I don't know what to say or do."

Reality is "I think I have called this mother every week this semester to tell her that her child is rude and disrespectful and she doesn't seem to care to help me work on that."

Reality is "Last year I spent $500 of my own money on things for my students, and that's just the stuff I saved receipts for."

Reality is "Post-tax, my income is below the poverty level and I am a single with no dependents; how in tarnation am I supposed to be able to support anyone with this money?"

Reality is watching pro sports on TV and realizing that the players make more in one game than I will make in my entire life.

Reality is writing a kid up, and making them hate you because they don't comprehend that you did it because you care about them.

Reality is this student literally begging to leave my classroom because, what I have come to firmly believe, the presence of the Lord is too strong and spiritual warfare is so so so real.

Reality is a fourth grader finally being honest with me and saying, "Miss Stovall, I hate coming to your class because everyone tries to act up and it makes you mean." and having to genuinely apologize to this undeserving child for taking my frustration out on him week after week.

Reality is humiliating moments like that over and over again, all day most days, on repeat.
Yes, I am oversensitive.
But I firmly believe teaching will knock you down about 24 levels and send you home in tears most days, in reality.

I have to remind myself that people are worth more to me than anything else. These students are worth more to me than my income, my circadian rhythm, my pride, my dreams of travel and/or teaching at a "nice" school that has PTA breakfasts and iPads and big fancy programs with backdrops.

I have to force myself to look at their eyes, to really look at them, and swear to myself that I will give them every last bit of me that I can. That if somewhere along the way they fall off and don't succeed and don't become the very best person they can be, it won't be for my lack of trying.
I have to remind myself that encouragement is more powerful than chastisement.
I have to remind myself that flailing and failing are okay, and good, and necessary, and they make me more pliable in His hands.

And I have to remind myself that no matter how much I want to, I cannot be all the things. I am not God and I am not anyone's hero.

I am one person who cares a little bit too much, and that is all. Hopefully, someday, or somewhere along the way, that will be enough for a student or two.
Hopefully, I will not leave the profession to become a travel agent, or gymnastics coach, or personal shopper for a rich lady. (those are my top three alternative professions, if you're wondering... hairdresser is a close fourth.)

At the end of it all, I just hope that this will matter someday. Today, it feels as if it matters very little and my work will not stick around past May. Maybe that's asking too much, for my work to matter to someone, or more than one someone, but it's what I want. I want the flailing to yield fruit. I want the failing to bring fortitude.

I want to sow seeds that bear fruit that matters and lasts and sustains someone. I want to reap them too, but if I don't get that far, I'll think be okay.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

outgrown shoes

this season of life is a really weird one for me. I don't like things that don't feel like they're cut to suit me, and this period of time definitely doesn't. Casey eloquently put it as "outgrowing our shoes", which I feel like perfectly sums up so many of the things I am uneasy about these days.

I'll be honest, it's really weird for me to be open about being in love. it feels weird even admitting that so publicly and bluntly. makes me uneasy. I want to shout about it everywhere, I want everyone to know how amazing this is (insert Buddy the Elf "I'M IN LOVE I'M IN LOVE AND I DON'T CARE WHO KNOWS IT" gif here). But I also feel like it is something that should be held sacred and soft between just us two. There's a weird balance there that I have yet to strike. I'm not sure how or where to find it. I'm not sure if anyone has ever found it before-- now that I think about it, every relationship I know seems either too public or too silent, there is no in-between.

I feel like I should be able to sit down and calmly talk about this without giggling and avoiding eye contact because I know I'm blushing so hard and WHY DO I FEEL LIKE I SHOULDN'T ADMIT HOW MUCH I CARE ABOUT HIM AND HOW LOVELY THIS IS? I find myself, even now, almost three years into this wonderfully imperfect relationship, sometimes avoiding his loving gaze when in the presence of others cause I don't want to have some magical gushy moment that might make them realize that we're kind of madly in love. I find myself being uncomfortable using the term 'madly in love' even though that's simply it.
How can you not be madly in love with a man who spends new years eve building legos with you?

I'm not old enough for this, but I'm also finally old enough for this.
We're outgrowing the shoes of 'boyfriend/girlfriend' and 'just a relationship' (we might have outgrown the 'just' a long way back), but it isn't time for the new shoes yet. so... we just uncomfortably waddle in the outgrown shoes and make the best of it and giggle at the waddling and talk in funny voices.

A long time ago, I told him,
"I am the book you tried to write at 3 AM.
Then everything I am came pouring forth and you realized you were unprepared, you had not the capacity for me. You set me aside so you could go buy reams of paper, and boxes of pens, and a big, comfy chair, and pounds of coffee beans, and brightly colored mugs, and all the supplies one forgets about with the small writings that go on, but they suddenly remember when The Novel sneaks up on them. You left to prepare yourself for me, and me for you. You left so that there would be no doubt that when you returned, you would be more than ready to sit in a chair and leisurely pen my lines for the rest of your life."
And I think this outgrown-shoes phase is the next part, like writer's block. The book will happen eventually, but right now is not the time for it to come flowing forth.

I wish everyone who ever fell in love got to experience it the way I'm experiencing it, outgrown shoes included. I understand not everyone gets it this way- though I don't understand why- but I just wish we all did.
Falling in love with someone who loves me so weightily and stickily brushes away any and all fear. I suppose because it is a Christ-centered, pure love- and therefore, perfect love- it drives out fear. I'm not afraid of what he might say or do or become or think. I'm not afraid of being too much for him. I'm even not afraid of my own dark parts anymore.
Without my knowing when or how, he fell quickly and fiercely in love with the parts of me I have struggled hardest to accept or change.
And that doesn't mean he just accepted them. That means he sat down, and pointed them out to me, and held them up to my face and said, "I see this part of you. It isn't something I don't notice because you try not to bring it up. I see it and I already love it. I see how it has changed you and grown you and shaped you and refined you. I cherish how it has made that part of you softer and more sensitive and more guarded. It makes me want to put a balm on it and guard it with you. It makes me want to teach you how to love it since you haven't learned how to yet."
From my overactive thoughts to my thunder thighs, to my inability to talk normally about ways people hurt me, to my tiny "lucky" tooth, to how mad I get in traffic. From acne scars to stretch marks to cellulite to yellow teeth to weird toes to suspicious mind to mean self-talk to gossiping nature to lazy heart.
He says, "Babe, I've noticed you don't really know how to talk about your deepest hurts, and you are beginning to realize you've never realized how huge they are. I just want you to know you can talk to me about it anytime. You don't have to have it figured out. I want to hear your heart."
He says, "I love your lucky tooth and if you ever do anything to change it at all I will never forgive you, because that funny tooth is one of the first things that drew me to you and I adore it."
He says, "You overthink a lot, sweetie, and it takes up too much of your mental power. Give yourself a break and just pray for people instead of overanalyzing situations, your heart will feel so much better. Here, hold my hand and I'll help you."
He says, "Sweetheart, I love and appreciate every piece of you, no matter how messy or frumpy you feel. I know you don't like your thighs or rolls, and you sometimes think the stretch marks and cellulite are ugly, but I think they are womanly and strong and beautiful, and they show that you have lived. Let yourself see that as beauty."
He says, "I know it's a fight for you to keep from gossiping about people but I treasure the fact that you fight it daily and seek to speak truth and life instead. Your mouth speaks beautiful things."
He says, "I hope you know you are the fiercest, most delicate creature I know. And that is the best combination I can imagine and you perfectly embody it."
And girls don't always get to fall in love with that. Girls fall in love with "I wish you would lose weight", "shut up", and "you're kinda pretty in your own way" every day. They don't fall in love with men who know what it means for a woman to be fierce and delicate. They don't fall in love with men whose eyes are so perceptive to things both concrete and abstract, and whose eyes are so faithful to a covenant of purity even before marriage.
They don't fall in love with men whose compliments are "you refresh me", "your mind amazes me", and "I love just looking at your eyes."
They fall in love with "you're hot", "come over baby", and much more vulgar things than I dare type.
Girls don't always get to fall in love the way I'm getting to fall in love. I wish we all did. And I don't know why we don't all have that (I guess that's not for me to figure out), but I'm here to show you that it's possible to.

It may not sound fun to walk with outgrown shoes, but the feet walking beside me are faithful and gracious and loving, far more than I could ever ask for or deserve. If you're looking for a nudge or a sign to trust, to wait, to stay, to love someone you could only deserve through the grace of God, then this is it. Trust Him.
"Take a break from all the plans that you have made,

And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper.

Beg Him please to open up His mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister.
Shine the light on every corner of your life,
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open.
Then read the Word and put to test the things you've heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken"
(-clear the stage, jimmy needham)

this season of life is really weird, and I don't love feeling uncomfortable with most things most days, but the one constant is the goodness of God. I think we all outgrow our shoes in different ways throughout life; I am sure I'm not the first of His children to have felt like they had outgrown something, who yearned for the future instead of living in the present. I am certain He took care of them, in His time, and in His way, just as He has for me and for Casey- from the first day until now. I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! I know that I have already seen as much of it as I can handle. I am so grateful for the life and experiences He has given me, including the now-moments I get with Casey, and that is enough. 

welcome to midnight.

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