Blues and violets were dancing together across the sky, accompanied by the setting sun. The trees on the hills strained to touch their tips to the periwinkle above. The highway dipped like a roller coaster and rippled for several more miles. It was a late-April evening in northern Florida, and it had been a day.
You know how some days can make your heart thump-thump-thump? My heart had been thump-thump-thumpy all day. Lessons hadn’t gone as planned and students were excessively edgy. Too many unexpected events, too many interruptions, too many minor hiccups were the perfect cocktail for a thump-thump-thumpy heart.
The weeks leading up to spring break are harried for teachers. Third-quarter grades are due, parent conferences need to happen, regular teaching must go on, and everyone is desperate for the break’s arrival.
When the days seem short and the weeks long, it is easy to feel that nothing will be done on time and that everything is out of control. Well, everything is out of my control, but I know the one who is in control. So as I counted down the weeks to the break, I turned my thoughts to consider God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty (or his supreme power and rule) is not limited to the ability to make something happen or keep something from happening. While that is certainly part of it, it is only a part of it. We are known and kept by God Most High more intimately than that.
It was a cold and rainy day—the kind where rain boots are the only sufficient footwear and a Starbucks cup is an indispensable accessory. So with my rain boots on my feet and a latte in my hand, I headed to my car. It was one of the rare days I decided to listen to the radio while driving. My iPod is usually plugged in but this day was different. It was Christmas break, freezing cold in Florida, and raining in January. It was a classic winter day; so far from the norm that it was fitting to listen to the radio for a change.
While I was backing out of my spot, I paused and strained my ear toward the absurd clip of a message littered with vocalized pauses that I was hearing on Christian radio.
James MacDonald—pastor, author, and radio speaker—was in the middle of telling his audience to look at God’s resume to prove his character. He suggested taking a minute to “interview God” to see how he was worthy of the task set before him.
My ears started to bleed. I punched the radio button to stop it and I reversed and sped away, as though driving away could put physical distance between myself and the ridiculous scrap I just heard.
As you read the Bible, you see that the lives of the saints who have gone before were shaped or marked by some sort of affliction and suffering. Job is possibly the most prominent name associated with suffering, but he is certainly not the only one who suffered. Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, Paul, Peter and plenty others are on that list.
King David, who is equally as well known, though for different reasons, also lived a life full of challenges and affliction. Some came from being a soldier; some came from being a king; some came just from being human. The psalms that David penned are both a cry for help and comfort and a record of God’s faithfulness and love as he experienced them. These two themes are tightly woven into Psalm 119, making it clear where David sought his comfort and strength. In Psalm 119:50, 51, David says, “Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”
The campaign to be your best self is gaining momentum. It’s established by psychology and human development studies, then made fashionable by culture. Like any form of self-help, becoming the best version of yourself demands that you call to action the long-dormant, inner and secret motivation you have to conquer addictions, break bad habits, get out of debt, or retire at the ripe age of 38.
A how-to article by Scott Barry Kaufman from the HuffPost blog describes your best self as someone who lives “a life rich in health, growth, and happiness.” Melissa Camara Wilkins writes that to be your best self you draw from your strengths, do things that make you happy, and act in ways that feel right.
There’s a strip of street that I drive on daily that is somewhat run down and speaks of a time when businesses were popular in that area. They were perfectly located in a long-ago small town, but with the late outward expansion and developments, they look forgotten. Tumbleweed blowing down an abandoned, dusty street is a picture of the apparent desertion.
There is one particular store in that forsaken spot that was renovated and opened as, what looked like, a consignment store, thrift store, and ongoing yard sale. The owners—whoever they may be—made slow improvements. First came the inclusion of local art. Then came the updated outdoor space. Then a fresh coat of paint and new green awnings. Then a new sign and better name: Muse Emporium. Then the merchandise started to look less yard-saley. What sat as a forgotten and sad building has become a lovely place that breathes life again. (I have made all of these observations on my commute; I have yet to go in!)
The Apostle Paul was an eager man and writes about his eagerness throughout his epistles. He is eager to remember the poor when he writes to the Galatians. He has an eager expectation and hope as he exhorts the Philippians. He urges the Ephesians to be eager to maintain unity. Being eager can apply to all types of situations, but the believer will find himself eager to do the things of the Lord and to honor him. Such eagerness is placed on our hearts by God to do his will and further his kingdom.
This eagerness infiltrates all areas of my life. One such eager desire of mine is to love my students well through all their needs and wants, hopes, aspirations, and education. I often pray that I will love them well. Loving them requires that I be more than teacher sometimes. The role stretches to mother and father and doctor and counselor and referee.
During my sophomore year of college I did what I had determined I would not: I changed majors. I went in as an elementary education major and within three semesters I was overwhelmed and had cold feet—frostbite cold. So I changed. I don’t like change. I like predictable, routine, and familiar.
I gave up a program that was becoming predictable, routine, and familiar because my gut was uneasy. To officially change majors, I had to get permission from the heads of two departments, the old and the new. I knew one but not the other. I walked with leaden footsteps into their offices, expecting them to ask me to defend my position and decision. But neither professor asked for a defense. Each simply checked my progress and GPA and signed on the dotted lines. It was far easier than I expected, though morbidly uncomfortable.