One foot in light, one foot in darkness?

Last week our church kicked off a new sermon series that comes out of 1 John. Today we looked at 1 John 1:5-10 (click here to visit the church website--the sermon from today was powerful; check back tomorrow or Tuesday to hear it), and to be honest--I've got a lot stuff heavy on my heart that I just need to confess and write about.

"This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth" (1 John 1:5-6). 

I confess to living with one foot in the light and one foot in the darkness--let me clarify: with my words I profess to be a believer, but my actions profess darkness. We cannot live with one foot in the light and one foot in the darkness, because as the scripture says, there is no darkness in God. We simply cannot live in light if we continue to live in darkness. I fear that my actions have cheapened my faith to outsiders who hear me say I'm a believer and then see me drink too much, hear me use swear words, hear me gossip about others, see me react out of anger, watch me put my job before my family. That stuff is not the stuff of Jesus.

"If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. [...] If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts" (1 John 1:8, 10). 

For at least a year, I've felt a nagging sense tell me not to drink that 3rd or 4th beer or use that four letter word or to reign in my emotions and think before I speak--but I've pushed off that nagging feeling and made excuses like, It's not that big of a deal; people make mistakes--God doesn't expect me to be perfect. I've made excuses for my sin--I've lied to myself and have basically set an extra chair at the table for sin. I've used God's grace as a "get out of jail free card." I don't want to confess this stuff just to free myself from the heavy feeling of guilt; I want to confess because I don't want to call God a liar anymore by making excuses for my sins. I know I've done wrong--I know I need help turning away from the darkness and running toward the light.

"But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). 

For a few months I've battled anxiety--I'm almost to the point of seeking a doctors help via medication to help me cope with the stress of balancing my job and my role as a wife and mother. But the more I pray on it and dig into scripture, the more I'm forced to examine my own life. I've created anxiety for myself, I think, primarily from living in darkness. My choices have launched me into a downward tailspin of anxiety and guilt and instead of running towards the light, I've walked in the darkness and used alcohol and swear words to cope with the stress of my job and have run to my job to cope with the stress of raising a family and all it's done for me has created more anxiety and a deeper feeling of emptiness. The words each other are so pivotal in the above verse because it implies that when we live in the light, we have fellowship with God and we know by having fellowship with God (by living in the light and confessing our sins--see the verse below) that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross takes away our sin. 

"But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness" (1 John 1: 9). 

When we confess, we are then free to enjoy fellowship with God--to live in the light. But we must make a deliberate effort to admit our sins and then rely on God's power to overcome our sins so we don't fall into a constant habit of sin or a habit of guilt that only beats us up and doesn't empower us to overcome our sin. This morning I've come clean with God, but I feel like I need to come clean to people who've watched me try to lead a double life. I'm sorry if my actions ever made you think negatively about Christianity or Jesus. My life has not always been made up of the stuff of Jesus; I'm working on getting that right. 


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Just call me Martha

I write about this a lot...I'm sure those of you who read this blog or just tired of reading my back and forth on this concept. If you fall into this category of readers, just do yourself a favor and stop reading. Go watch cat videos on YouTube instead...it'll probably be a better use of your time.

This morning I started a new devo on my Bible app that explores the topic of simplifying. Not simplifying in the materialistic sense, but a kind of lifestyle decluttering. Eliminating the kind of business that distracts from the kind of stuff that really matters--like fellowship with God. First up on the Bible study was Luke 10:38-42 where Jesus visits Mary and Martha. Mary chooses to sit and fellowship with Jesus while Martha runs around the place cleaning and cooking missing out on an opportunity to spend with Jesus while he was in the flesh. All of her running around while Mary sat with Jesus made her bitter and angry causing her to blow up out of resentment and stress. Jesus gives Martha a 1-2 punch and gently explains to Martha that Mary is doing things right. I think Martha was well-intentioned in her actions. She saw Jesus as an important guest worthy of a good dinner in a clean home. I think she started out wanting to serve Jesus, but what she missed out on was a true fellowship with Jesus. In church this morning our pastor started preaching from 1 John. We studied the first four verses where John shares the good news about experiencing Jesus and that we can also be in fellowship with Jesus. Key word: with. Our pastor emphasized that we are to be in a relationship with him and not for him. Martha missed a great opportunity.

In the last three years, I think I've become a Martha. I've made myself so busy that I've missed out on many opportunities to fellowship with God and with His people. Teaching can certainly be a ministry, and I think it was for me when I taught in western Nebraska. I had opportunities through FCA, coaching, church, and sponsoring activities to build relationships with kids. In my role as a teacher and mother here, I'm rather limited in the type of relationship I can have with my students. Can I make an impact on them? Absolutely. Do I have the time to coach or sponsor an activity at this time in my life? No. Has the busyness of my job made me resentful like Martha? Unfortunately, yes.

I'd like to be involved more in my community or my church, but I've created such a tight schedule for myself and my family that adding one more thing seems close to impossible. I really hate this. We have some potential family changes on the horizon, and as I think about these changes, the more I realize I'm moving into a different season in life. Teaching and education truly is something I enjoy, but I think I'm ready to serve in a different ministry. I think I need to start praying about how to clear space in my life for fellowship with God and with His people (including my family!). It could be a long year as I struggle to become more like Mary while stile honoring the commitments I made a month ago for this school year.

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Reflections on 26.2

Yesterday I ran my second full marathon. The humidity, my crappy back, and the heat during the last 6 miles made it a particularly tough run for me, but my family was excellent crowd support. My husband, son, mother in-law, brother in-law and his girlfriend, and sister in-law and brother in-law and their two kids all came out to cheer me on. 


They had an abundance of great posters. Thanks  Amy for the picture! 
Here's some run-downs of highlights and my thoughts throughout the event: 

Miles 5-6: I ran with Marv from Colorado and Tom from Grand Island during this stretch. Marv is 75 years old and has run over 200 marathons and ultras. He's completed the Leadville 100 TWICE. He told stories about different races, but he was quick to talk about others and rarely talked about himself. I asked him what his favorite race was, and he said he couldn't pinpoint one but that he preferred ultras over marathons. He explained that in marathons, people are out to run a specific time; they run their own races. Conversely, in ultras, people are focused on merely finishing, and because they're so difficult, runners band together to push one another. I think Marv talked me into running an ultra. I caught him coming in at mile 11 when I was coming out at about 13, and he gave me a big hoop and cheer as he ran. Tom was running his first marathon. He was middle-aged, wasn't built like a runner, and wore cheap basketball shorts and his long-sleeve shirt from the event (it was a brutal 90% humidity at the start, and it was not cool by any stretch of the imagination). He smiled proudly as he talked about finishing this race he never thought he'd even attempt. When I saw Tom again, he was at mile 18 and I was at 24...he was still smiling. 

Mile 15: I ran past three teenaged girls who were volunteering at one of the intersections. They cheered as I neared, and as I got closer one girl yelled, "Keep going! You're almost done!" between bites of powdered donuts. Almost done?!? I still had 11 miles to go! And why didn't she offer me a freaking donut? For some reason I hit the proverbial wall at miles 15-20. I was just starting to feel terrible when she yelled this, and I was not in high spirits. It took all I had in me to refrain from yelling at the girl to go back to basic math class and learn how to count. 

Miles 18-23: This was a point of utter desperation for me. My back was aching and the pain had reached down into my glute and hamstring causing me to feel so tight. I was just entering the worst part of the course: an out and back for 7.5 miles on Highway 30--one of Nebraska's most boring highways. The clouds had begun to clear out and the sun beat down reminding me why most sane people avoid summer marathons in Nebraska. I tried switching from podcasts to music back to podcasts. I tried silence for a while. When I felt like I could go crazy, I called my running partner Kristin and left the most desperate voice mail. Fortunately she called back within ten minutes. She kept my mind occupied until somewhere between miles 22 and 23. 

Mile 24: I had to do some walking earlier to try and loosen up my back, but this time I had to take a walk break because I had a side ache and had a hard time getting into a rhythm with breathing because the damn humidity felt like I was breathing into a mask of cotton balls. I also felt nauseated I think from not having enough food in my system.

Mile 25.75: I came to a fork in the road where the course wasn't marked. I assumed the volunteers were supposed to direct the runners which way to go. I got closer and could see one girl, about 16 years old, asleep in her bag chair. ASLEEP. At mile 25. I damn near pushed her out of her chair. The other girl looked to be about 12. I had to shout at her to ask her which way to go, and she just pointed in the direction. No cheers, no good jobs. Just a blank-faced point in the general direction of the finish line. "Unbelievable!" I shouted to nobody. 

Mile 26.2: I looked at my Garmin and saw the finish line was still a tenth of a mile away and cursed the day I started running. 

This marathon was much tougher than my last one. That's what happens when you get older, I guess. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it. There's something about pushing my body to it's absolute limits that makes me feel so alive. I realize how crazy this sounds...I'd love to sign up for a 50k here in Omaha in early October, but I'm not going to. I'm going to cut back on the running for a few months to let my body rest and to give Nate a chance to do the kind of working out he wants to do. He's done a lot of solo parenting this year as I've ran various races, and he's never complained about me running. It's time I did the same for him. Plus...my legs will probably still be tight for the next 8 weeks anyway...

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Mom guilt

My friend Amee is a stay at home mom of two littles. She has the patience of Mother Theresa and the creativity of Martha Stewart (minus the criminal streak). She cooks healthy foods, has a nice smelling home, plays with her kids, and does it all while looking like a million bucks. I admire her. After being home for a good chunk of the summer with Jon, I realized how ill equipped I am to be a stay at home mom. I'm just too selfish. I found myself "fake" playing cars each day, half-heartedly looking for Jon in the same hiding place for each round of hide and seek and faking being surprised when I found him there, and just being snippy. I need time each day that is just me--time to read, write, think, create. When I don't get this time, I become rather unpleasant. Work tends to be my outlet. It's where I am challenged and sharpened. Unfortunately, it's also where most of my stress comes from. A few nights ago Jon and I flipped through photo albums and for the first time since we've had him, I become aware of just how fast the time has gone. As the photos flipped on, Jon's face lost the baby chub in his cheeks that he had when he first moved in with us. I started taking inventory of all the things he can now do on his own that he couldn't do a year ago: brush his teeth by himself, make his bed, reach the sink without a step stool, change the toilet paper roll, read, tie his shoes....seriously. I wondered then how many moments I had missed because of work or spoiled because of being stressed from work. I thought about what it would be like to work full time with two children (should our family expand)....and then I just felt guilty. It's the curse of all moms I think to feel guilty about some aspect of their parenting. I hate that my family often does not get the best of me, and I feel guilty for "indulging" myself in work. I wish I could just grow a pair and try the whole stay at home mom thing even if it was just part-time. Great thoughts for the beginning of a school year, folks...

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A hitch in the marathon training

About five weeks ago on an 18 mile run, I felt a twinge in my back. It was sharp but short. The rest of the run turned out fine, but afterwards my lower back and right glute were sore and required attention. The pain lingered for about 24-36 hours and then would fade. Each long run after that, the pain traveled from my lower back into my right glute and down into my hamstring. The pain was not unbearable as I ran, and I maintained a good pace. Each time afterwards, though, I paid for it. My right hamstring, glute, and lower back were sore and tight for a few days no matter how much stretching I did. This got worse through the weeks. On Thursday I finally caved and went to the doctor. I found out I have a pulled hamstring....10 days from the marathon.

The doc's medical advice was to sit this one out and let it heal so I don't tear it. His advice to me as a stubborn runner was to sit out for five days, take some steroids during this time, ice/heat/stretch deliberately, and then take my legs out for an easy 2 miles on Tuesday to see how I feel. If I feel good, he said I could run (but there's still a risk of tearing it).

Of course I want to run this marathon. I've put hours of training into it away from my family and have put my body through the ringer to prepare. Plus...my training runs indicate I was on my way to a PR. I've been in a better frame of mind with this marathon than my last. I haven't been as uptight, and it's definitely been a mostly enjoyable process. For now I'm trying to set my emotions aside to make a choice that is smart for my body.

This is the first weekend in about 5 or 6 years that I haven't run. It sounds stupid, but I feel huge and lazy and empty. I confess to have made running my identity. I try to hard to keep Christ as my identity, but I know that running has made its way into my life as an idol.

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Year 7

This week I'll be starting year 7 in the classroom...it's hard to believe. I'm no longer the youngest teacher in my building; I fall into the "teaching for 5-10 years" category. I'm not a new teacher anymore. Of course there's some sadness affiliated with this as I grapple with aging, but this also means that I'm more confident in my abilities simply because of my experience, and it means I've learned some teacher hacks to make the overwhelming task of teaching easier.

There's a few things I'm particularly excited about for this school year:

1. The kids. Kids now are different even from kids seven years ago---the needs are much greater and the struggles are often deeper. What I love about teaching is simply being present for kids; being an adult they can trust and look to for guidance. I love exposing them to new ideas or challenging them to think of old ideas in new ways. I love their energy, their passion for finding themselves, their uninhibited ways (admittedly, these very qualities can also drive me batty). Every year one of my goals is to build relationships with kids. This year I want to work extra hard on the marginalized students--the quiet ones, the difficult ones.

2. New classes. When haven't I taught something new in my teaching career?! I still have 3 sections of sophomores, but this year I'm also teaching a grad. class for teachers and I'm teaching 11th grade (American Lit) at Burke for the first time. Teaching teachers is something I've always wanted to do, and I've loved American Lit. since I was a junior. All exciting things...

3. A renewed perspective. For the first time in two years, I'm not starting a new job! What?!? There are some amazing teachers at Burke, and they and the kids make me excited to come to work. I'm also re-learning how to create my own happiness even around people and situations that are anything but pleasant. Surrounding myself with positive people, reading funny things (like Jimmy Fallon's book of thank you notes), watching cat videos, and doing things I love help me to achieve the kind of balance that keeps me centered and not freaking out when the kid in the back of my room falls asleep again.

To those of you starting school this week: I hope you find a way to enjoy it. Education is an opportunity (no matter if you are a student or a teacher) not to be wasted.


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Teaching as Subversion

Note: this is just a rambling piece of writing that I used to process through a discussion we had in class early this summer. It’s not quite finished, but it’s a piece that has been ringing in my head throughout the summer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what a teacher mentioned one week in class--her question of, where is the book that encourages teachers to step outside the walls of their own classroom and engage in changing education? I’ve read so many pedagogical books that are critical but are solely focused on classroom practices. These are helpful books, but they aren’t doing much to change the educational landscape. The truth is, research shows that kids in the US are actually performing better than they have in many years. There are teachers and administrators across the country who give their lives to kids and who care about helping kids to become critical, passionate, creative people. While the state of education is not falling apart, there are, however, major cracks in its foundation. When a building has cracks in its foundation, it becomes structurally unsound….I fear this for the state of education in our country. Running schools using a business model, a push for seemingly all students to attend college, keeping teachers from having a part in creating school, district, state, and national level policies and standards, a heavy emphasis on assessment, the devaluing of creativity, inequality in resources based on tax base, treating teachers as paper-pushers rather than the professionals they are….the list of problems is overwhelming.

In my experience when teachers do step out, voice concern, or attempt to enact change, they are labeled as subversive, insubordinate, disobedient. For many, these labels are terrifying. They can damage one’s teaching career. I tend to be idealistic when it comes to teaching, so I think being “let go” from a job and labeled as insubordinate may not destroy a person’s career entirely if he/she can justify the insubordination and back it with sound and acceptable research. Is stepping out risky? Of course. But what happens when nobody says anything? Historically, when people are silent about inequity and injustice, the gaps of inequality widen and the injustice spreads like ringworm in a wrestling room. I want my son to attend public school, but if we continue to sit back and let things get worse, what will education look like in ten years when he enters high school?

I believe it is teachers’ responsibility to not only be engaged in their classrooms but outside as well. Most teachers devote much of their lives to teaching and helping kids. They go early, stay late, make phone calls home during their personal time, drag their families to games and concerts and performances, stay up late to create lessons, grade papers during any free time they may have left. The families of teachers often get put on the backburner just when teachers are meeting their daily obligations. My own son has said, “Mom, you always grade papers.” Granted, he’s five, and things are very black and white for him. I really am not always grading papers, but the comment did cause me to halt a bit, step back, and rethink my priorities. How do we balance our families, our jobs, and being an activist? Ultimately, I do want my son to see his parents as involved in his life AND involved in the lives of others. I want him to see his parents as people who fight to make a difference for the good of others because that’s who I want him to become.

There’s not an easy solution to these dilemmas. But, my parents always told me that nothing worth fighting for comes easy...

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