God Carries Us

Galatians 6:2  “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

John 13:34-35   “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Saturday, July 24th I experienced the above verses first hand. I will confess that it was embarrassing for me, but also a lesson in trust and letting go of vanity. While hiking the Rich Mountain Loop trail in Cades Cove with my hiking small group, my knee started to ache and then full on pain and locking up. One of our leaders let me use her ace bandage to wrap my knee and try to give it some support, also she let me use her walking sticks. When you are in the middle of the woods there isn’t much else to do but keep moving forward. 

The more elevation we gained the more my knee hurt, to the point at times the pain made me cry. As we started down, I hit points I just had to stop. One of the women in our group is a TBI agent. She looks at me and asks how much I weigh. I tell her and we move on. Then she looks at me and says, “I’m going to carry you.” I will admit it wasn’t what I expected and I was embarrassed to be seen as so weak. She handed her stuff to one of the women and she told me to get on her back. I admitted defeat and got on. It wasn’t an easy task to carry a 137+ pound woman while going down a mountain trail with roots and rocks to navigate. This amazing woman was being the hands and feet of Jesus. She shared my burden and carried me. 

Part of the group went ahead of us to try and find a ranger to help, and three women stayed with me. We worked to get to a cabin on the trail. It was slow and difficult, but we made it to the cabin. Then after waiting about 30 minutes, two of the women headed to the end of the trail to join the rest of the group. (There is no cell signal in Cades Cove.) One of the group leaders stayed with me at the cabin. After another 30 minutes a ranger drove up. 

As the ranger is walking towards us, I say to my group leader, “Is that Wes?” (Wes was a group pastor at our church and had been our small group leader.) As we were thanking the ranger, we learned his name is Les and he is originally from the area of Pennsylvania as my family. It is a small world. 

During the hike, we kept saying we have some lessons to learn here. We saw a bear, two deer, toads, snakes, snails, and beautiful views – all God’s creations. We were in community together in God’s creation. I learned that I need to listen to my body, and to not be afraid or embarrassed to ask or accept help. God is with us every moment, even carrying us when we don’t ask. 


Check Yourself

The United States has gone through many changes during 2020. We have experienced a global pandemic, virtual learning, turbulent elections, and protests for and against racial equality. Through all of these events, I have sought to educate myself about what I can do to make a difference – not only in the lives of my family, but also my community. 

So, who is my community? In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus teaches us that everyone is our neighbor and we are to show mercy and compassion to all. I strive to show the love and grace of Christ to everyone I encounter. Over this past year, I think we all have become aware of the systemic racism our neighbors have experienced. You may say that the enslavement of African-Americans is in the past, but when you look at how they have been limited in how much of the “American Dream” they can achieve, you will see that enslavement still exists – just in a different way. You may disagree with their cries, but you no longer can say, “I didn’t know.” 

In an effort to educate ourselves, my husband and I have joined a Racial Justice Small Group at our church. It is composed of members of our church, Black and White, who seek to educate themselves on issues and events of systemic racism, learn our personal bias, and seek opportunities to make a difference in our community. During the month of March, I am participating in the YWCA’s 21 Day Racial Equality & Social Justice Challenge. I have been reading articles, watching videos, and listening to pod casts on racial injustices in this country of not just African-Americans, but also Asian-Americans and Native Americans. 

You might have learned about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s in school, the groups of people who helped African-Americans register to vote, and the Jim Crow laws of the South. Did you learn about the James Crow laws of the North, how banks redlined areas, or Black Wall Street? There are many aspects to our country’s history that people would like to ignore. We can no longer ignore what minority groups – Black, Asian, Native American – have encountered. Our actions need to change, but first our thoughts need to change – so our hearts can change.

When I was a teacher, if I wanted to let a student or students know they weren’t meeting classroom expectations, I would say, “Check yourself” to the class. It was a gentle reminder to the class, without calling out anyone by name. I am finding that I need to check myself at times. My hope is by being aware of my thoughts, I can change those thoughts. The enemy likes to get into our thoughts, in hope of manipulating us to commit a sin or multiple sins – like the people who ignored helping the man who laid on the side of the road bleeding to death in the Good Samaritan parable. 

You may be asking, “What are those thoughts I might need to check myself on?” 

What is your first thought when you see a person of color driving a very expensive car? 

What is your first thought when you hear a minority saying certain words “improperly”? 

What do you think when you see a woman wearing a hijab? 

What do you think when you hear the name White Feather? 

            What do you think when you see a group of teens who don’t have the same skin color as you?

            What do you think when you encounter people who don’t look or speak like you?

Do we let our thoughts control our actions or do they stay simply a thought? The enemy knows that if he can get into your thoughts, he is a step closer to controlling your actions. We need to check our thoughts and make sure our actions are like those of the Good Samaritan. Do we see others the way Christ saw others? Do we have compassion for others the way Christ had compassion? Do we listen to others when they talk to us, like Christ did, or do we talk at others the way the government and religious leaders did? We need to take the time to educate ourselves about what is happening in our communities, listen to the cries of our sisters and brothers, and figure out how to be a part of the solution. Every journey starts by taking the first step, but before we can start we need to check ourselves. 

Hope is NOT Lost

At this historic time in our country, many are struggling so much that they have lost hope. It is easy to understand how one could lose hope in a future for their family, in the future of their city, in the future of this country. So much is going on that it is a perfect storm of illness, death, destruction, divide, anger, apathy, greed, superiority, and lack of faith in humanity. Yet, in the middle of this hurricane of life there is still hope. 

If you look for darkness and death you will find darkness and death, but if you look for light and life you will find light and life. The stories of hope are out there, you just have to find them. Why aren’t they the first stories on a feed? Simply, stories of hope don’t get the most hits. Most people like to read about darkness and death to either feed their need to believe all is lost or to make them feel better about themselves. If we are to grow as individuals and as the human race, we must start to look for hope to shine light in every dark corner. We must rise up and start sharing hope!

So, what can you do to find hope? One thing you can do is to start the day with a positive attitude. Determine that this day is going to be a good day and find one thing that will make it a good day. For instance, I am thankful to have a supportive husband, and it is a good day because I get to watch him read and study his Bible. No matter what else happens today, my heart has this joyful moment. It could be a good day for you that you are up, showered, dressed, and did your hair. It could be a good day for you because you just walked 8 miles or ran your first 5K. What is your one thing that will make this a good day for you?

How do you spread hope? Find something that isn’t political, one-sided, or racially charged to share on your most used social media platform. For instance, a story about how young children started a lemonade stand to help children effected by a natural disaster or a story about how a family pet that was lost because of a natural disaster was reunited with its family. Hope can be found in the middle of a pandemic. One example is when a restaurant had to shut down and its freezer and cooler started to fail, the manager shared all the food with his employees and his neighborhood. This act of kindness helped many who had lost their jobs. On my Instagram feed and Facebook Page I share a Bible verse each day. Hope can be found in the simplest of things. How will you share hope today?

When I say that hope is not lost, I speak from experience. Every time something has happened to me I have chosen to look to the bright side, not that I didn’t have dark moments it was just I didn’t want to live in the dark. I chose to live in the light. To see each day for a new chance for hope. Erin O’Donnell said in a song, “Every day begins and ends with hope.” I hold this thought in my heart each day. There is hope of what will be and hope in what has happened during the day. I have hope that this country’s differences can be worked out and real change can happen. I have hope that more will lead with love and not anger. 

Hope is an attitude. You have control over your attitudes and how you react to situations. You can see doom and gloom or you can see light and hope. The choice is yours. 

“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.”     Elie Wiesel

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”       Michelle Obama

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”     Desmond Tutu

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.”     Emily Dickinson

“I’m telling you there is hope. I have seen it, but it does not come from the governments or corporations. It comes from the people.”     Greta Thunburg

“Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Never lose that sense of hope.”     John Lewis

“Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.”      Desmond Tutu

What Trinity are You Worshipping?

During this pandemic, our church started doing daily devotions using Facebook Live. Each day, one of our church leaders would discuss various topics of the Bible to give inspiration, hope, and sometimes a reality check. One morning during a church leader’s discussion of scripture, she asked, “What Trinity are you worshipping?” This question really got me thinking about the different “trinities” people identify with and are at the forefront of their minds. 

If you were raised in a liturgical church and was asked about the Trinity, your mind most likely goes straight to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” – God in three parts. Christ is the Son of God (“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Matt. 17:5) and it is through a relationship with Christ that we are able to have a relationship with the Father. (Christ said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6) When Christ talked to the disciples about his ascension to heaven He said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26. Simply put, the Holy Spirit will guide us to follow the ways of Christ, which leads to a relationship with Christ, which will lead us to a relationship with God the Father. This is the Holy Trinity at work.* 

If you were raised in the South, being asked about the “trinity” your mind might think of cooking. The “holy trinity” of cooking is onion, celery, and carrots or onion, celery, and green peppers – the bases of many southern dishes, including gumbo, jambalaya, and etouffees. These basic vegetables create a flavorful base when they are equal in parts and cooked together.  When we think about the Holy Trinity, and how the three work together in our lives, we can understand where calling the base of many dishes the “holy trinity” developed. (There are many other tasty dishes that include these basic vegetable combinations, such as many soups and stews, that are not traditional southern dishes.)  

The world would like us to worship another “trinity” – Me, Myself, and I. This is not the “Holy Trinity” or a “holy trinity.” This worldly trinity is one that will create death in our souls. When we strive to put ourselves first and above others, we are going against everything that Jesus did and taught us. Christ said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34. The world wants us to buy into the philosophy that our needs, wants, and desires should be our focus. We are to do whatever it takes to have the “best” of everything, even if it means hurting others. The world tells us that only our happiness matters, it’s our money and we can do with it what we want, and telling a lie doesn’t matter if it gets me what I want. 

While putting others before yourself brings rewards, it is hard and can be overwhelming at times. If it was easy to put others first, more people would live their lives differently. I choose to worship the Holy Trinity. I choose to put others before myself. I choose to do what I can to make a difference in this world. I choose to follow the ways of Christ and let the Holy Spirit guide me, so I can have a relationship with my Heavenly Father. 

My question to you is: What “trinity” are you worshiping and how will you choose to live your life?

If you are looking for ways to give back to your community, here are some great organizations to check out: local Boys & Girls Club, Operation Backyard, and if you are in Knoxville – Emerald Youth Foundation, Street Hope, and The Restoration House. 

*This is a basic explanation of the Holy Trinity. If you would like a deeper understanding of the Holy Trinity, I encourage you to talk to your religious leader or research yourself. There are many scholarly books on the topic. 

Beauty from Ashes

Our church’s Music Worship Team wrote a song “Fighting for Beauty” which has a line about beauty coming up from the ashes. We all are a work of beauty, although many of us feel like we are living in the ashes of the world or our life. God created us to love and be loved. When we fight to focus on God’s love and mercy for us, we can be made a new creation out of the ashes. 

I was thinking about the song “Fighting for Beauty” as I started refinishing a table I had in my classroom. I used tables and chairs in my classroom instead of desks to support collaborative learning and give students a feel of what it is like to work in the real world. Plus, the tables and chairs were more comfortable and less institutional feeling. To find tables and chairs for my classroom, I would search on Facebook Marketplace for cheap sets. I didn’t care if the dog chewed the legs or nail polish was spilled on the tabletop, my students would do just as much damage to the furniture. These tables and chairs were meant for function not beauty. One of the tables I bought had been painted without the surface being properly prepared, so the paint started to peel and one of my students decided to help. So, the table came home to be refinished. 

This table is a great example of us and our relationship with God. We need to prepare our hearts to receive God’s love and mercy. We can’t just say we are going to follow the teachings of Jesus and not know what that means. We need to study the scriptures and learn what God is telling us to guide us to a deep relationship with Him. Being involved in a church to be among others who believe and are working on growing their faith is one part of our faith journey. Jesus came to break down the walls that separated us from that deep relationship. When our hearts are open to accept this love, great things will happen. Preparation is a key part to any relationship. When a table isn’t properly prepared to hold paint it will peel off, just like an unprepared heart will let God’s love and mercy slip away. 

As I work on stripping away the layers of paint from the side of the tabletop, beautiful woodworking is being discovered. I could see a pattern through the paint, but the natural wood is so much more than I thought was there. When we let Jesus help us scrap away the layers of sin from our hearts, He will reveal the beauty within us. The chorus in the song goes:

            “Up from the ashes, fighting for beauty, 

            just as you came to rescue me. 

            Handing out crowns to those who are mourning,

            saying to the captives be free. 

            You are free.” 

As I strip away the paint on the table, I am freeing a woodworker’s beauty they created. When I let Jesus hold my heart, He strips away the feelings of unworthiness, envy, not being good enough, past sins, and anything else that is trying to keep me from a relationship with Him. Being in relationship with Christ doesn’t mean we won’t have struggles, it just means the struggles will be lighter and easier to get through when we lean into Him. Even in the mists of struggles we can feel free. Let Christ create beauty from your ashes. 

FP Worship – “Fighting for Beauty” – can be found on iTunes, along other great songs by FP Worship.

We Must Stand-Up Against Injustice – It’s What Jesus Did

I’ve always chosen to live out Jesus’ commandment to “Love others as I have loved you.” I am struggling with what is happening in my country. My emotions and thoughts are all over the place. I am appalled by what officers did to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all crimes against others because of the color of their skin. I am frustrated by those who are choosing to destroy property and kill innocent bystanders. I am dumbfounded by what the president did to peaceful protesters – for a photo op! The devil is having a field day with America right now. 

When I saw the video of Mr. Floyd’s arrest, I couldn’t believe how the officer had his hands in his pockets and the look on his face was the look many have as they kneel down to have a casual day at the beach! Even with people asking to check on George Floyd, people saying you are killing him, and most importantly the words of Mr. Floyd – “I can’t breathe” – the officer was unaffected. Some want to say this was just excessive force and not racially motivated. I don’t know how one can’t see this as racially motivated. The fact that this officer wasn’t arrested immediately is racial. If it had been a black officer kneeing on a white man, that officer would have been arrested immediately. There is a double stander in this country. 

As a teacher of Ancient World History and U.S. History, I have to teach my students that since the beginning of man there has been a desire to belittle and control others. We study slavery in every culture we study, including early Mesopotamia, ancient Israel, the Roman Empire, ancient China, as well as the United States. Slavery has always existed, and unfortunately, to my students’ disbelief, slavery still exists. These are hard conversations to have, but they are necessary to educate and to change things. Every year, I tell my students that they need to educate themselves on past and current oppressions so they can change the world. Because of the events of the past few weeks, I pray that parents, government officials, school officials, churches, and community leaders are having these hard conversations. 

A huge irony of this country’s history is that the first colonists fled their home countries because they were being oppressed, and they ended up oppressing the Native Americans and others who were different than them. Last year was the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship arriving in the English colonies. While the slave ship was captured, the colonists didn’t send the ship away. They kept the ship and its contents – including the African slaves. A few of the slaves became indentured servants, which is a “fancy” form of slavery, but most became slaves working on farms. The colonists now had the taste of slavery as a workforce for their farms. 

I used some of the materials in The New York Times Magazine’s The1619 Project in my classroom this past year. The Project has some very thought-provoking articles and poems – created by African-American journalists and artists. The poem “Middle Passage” by Clint Smith is deeply moving and gut retching about the Middle Passage of the trade triangle – the side going from Africa to the New World transporting slaves. I used this poem in my classroom to try to help my students understand what the slaves endured. As a white teacher, I feel it is my responsibility to teach my students, and anyone I encounter, to respect the history and culture of others. The first step in respecting each other is educating ourselves on what each other is enduring. I can sympathize with my minority students, but I can’t empathize because I’m white. (I encourage you to read the Project, there is a link at the end of my blog.)

While I don’t condone the destruction of property and killing of bystanders, like during many of the protests, I do understand the need to protest. This country was founded on protests. The colonists were being taxed without representation in Parliament, their property was being seized and destroyed by British soldiers, and they were being forced to buy goods only from Britain. The colonists sent representatives to talk to British officials and pled their cause, which Parliament ignored. In the end, the colonists were left with no choice but to protest. Unfortunately, many were killed during those protests – which led to the Revolutionary war. The American Revolution inspired the French Revolution. Maybe what is happening in America right now can inspire others to stand up again the injustice in their country. 

When early Christian Americans realized they could use African slaves to work their farms for them, they felt they needed to justify the enslavement of humans. This is when the myths about those of color were started. It hurts me to my core that there are still those who consider themselves Christians that still believe these myths, and think they are better than anyone else. Jesus Christ would seek out those who were the societal outcasts and show them love. He shared God’s love, mercy, and compassion with ALL people – even those who were trying to kill Him. The Good Shepherd would leave the 99 to find the one. He gave His life so we would have life. I wonder, when Jesus comes again will He be treated the same as He was before – there were those who knew Christ as the Son of God and those who wanted to kill Him because they felt He threated their power. Remember, Jesus was from the Middle East – His skin wouldn’t have been white. Will Jesus be treated with love or with hate? 

In trying to find comfort in the Bible, I read Proverbs and my heart dropped when I read the following: 

Proverbs 29: 22-23, 25 

“An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression. 

A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor. 

The fear of man is a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is set securely on high.”

Because everyone has a different background and interprets scripture differently, here is what I see in the above verses. To me, the first verse is saying that when we see injustice we need to do something to stop it, but not let our anger take over and cause us to do things against God. The second verse is reminding us when our pride takes over we will fall into sin, but when we are humble we can bring honor to our cause. The last verse is reminding us that when we let fear guide us we will fail, but when we trust God to guide us we will succeed. We can’t let our anger and fear control us, this is what the devil wants so we stray from God and His plan for us. When we fear others because of the color of their skin, their religion, their culture, their beliefs, their sexual preference, their lifestyle, or anything different than us, we are falling into the devil’s snare. Jesus told us to love each other and showed us how to see in our differences we can find common ground to work together for the better good. 

2020 has been filled with many incidents to cause fear: Covid-19, stay at home orders, unemployment, schools shutting down, riots, earthquakes, hurricanes, all on top of everyday struggles. The world is one big ball of stress and needs a big hug. We need to use this time to focus on what we can do to better ourselves and help others. We need to start to live more Christ like and share God’s love, mercy, peace, comfort, and compassion with others. We can’t be shellfish and keep it all for our ourselves. Speak out and don’t stay silent any longer. This world won’t change if we stay silent. There are countless times that Christ stood-up for those who were being unjustly ignored and persecuted. We must stand-up against injustice – it’s what Jesus did. 

Image credit: https://pixabay.com/photos/girl-female-woman-face-head-3274018/

Let the Walls Fall Down: My Struggles with Feelings of Unworthiness, Anxiety, and Depression

I write this to let others know they aren’t alone and you don’t have to hide your struggles with mental health. As we are encouraged to stay home and distance ourselves to help limit the spread of Covid-19, many are felling isolated and dealing with depression. This is my story of struggling with feelings of unworthiness, depression, and anxiety.

My feelings of unworthiness began when I was young. When doctors say the years 0 – 5 are the formative years, they are correct. My mother had me when she was 20 years old and my parents had been married for two years. After I was born, my mother struggled with “illness” and my father was the one who cared for me. I think my mother had post-partum depression; back then doctors didn’t know what it was or how to treat it. The result was I bonded with my father – not my mother, which lead to my mother seeing me as competition and not a daughter. While those outside the family saw my mother as this wonderful and caring person, which she was to many, but my father and I saw a different person. The years of hearing that my knees and toes were ugly, and that I had no waist, lead to years of body image issues. Years of my social life being controlled lead to submission and isolation. I was made to feel unworthy. I suppressed these feelings for many years. 

In 1989, when I was 22 years old I married my first husband. Two months into the marriage I felt like I had made a mistake. My beliefs in the sanctity of marriage prevented me from looking at this marriage as a mistake, I just needed to learn to compromise. Well, over the next 20 years I compromised myself so much, that I lost myself. I set myself up to be controlled once again. I have always been one to follow the laws, like no underaged drinking. This led to my ex-husband determining that I didn’t drink and made sure I didn’t. He would use it as an excuse to get out of meeting people after work. I figured he didn’t want to go and so I just went along with it. The thing is, when you go along with someone so many times, you begin to believe everything that is said about you. I was told at least once a week, “If you get fat, I will divorce you.” I was expected to stay sitting on the couch if he fell asleep watching television, and not change the channel. 

The more I tried to break free, like joining a Book Club and Bible Study Group, having a homebased business, and actives to deepen my faith, the stronger he tried to control me. Any activity that was after the girls got home from school, I had to quit. What I didn’t know was, he would say something that I took as one way and he meant it another. I lived on eggshells. He would say he had to work late, which was typical of his job, but what he was really doing was staying away from home. Communication was not his strong suit. There are many other ways of control I experienced, but this isn’t a “bash the ex” post. I just want you to understand what happened in my life that lead to feelings of unworthiness, depression, and anxiety.

Then in 2010 the divorce came. I was shocked and got us into counseling. While the intent was to save a marriage, that didn’t need saving, but what happened was a realization of how I let myself be controlled. Once he moved out, I had to get a job to help pay the bills. I need a job that would allow me to keep the girls’ lives as normal as possible. I went to work for some friends’ in their restaurant, and eventually worked my way up to assistant manager. While I was being seen as a great worker, what they didn’t know was I was fighting the feelings of not being good enough and the pressures of balancing a job, caring for the girls, plus a house. I had to borrow money from my parents to pay for a lawyer, which just added to the stress and anxiety I was feeling. 

Two years later, when the divorce was finalized, I worked on selling the house and paying back my parents. The girls and I moved into an apartment and tried to see it as an adventure. The struggles of helping my youngest adjust to leaving the only house she remembered, having to go back and forth between my apartment and her dad’s, and apartment life in general, was difficult. It was hard for them to see their friends like they had before the divorce. So, anxiety was alive and well in our apartment. When the girls would be with their dad I was alone with the dog and my feelings of unworthiness. I would read my Bible, distract myself with TV, books, and going out with friends. But the feelings we just under the surface. 

Fast forward past two short relationships with men who were also controlling, I felt God calling me to do something more with my life. I decided to go to graduate school and earn my Masters in Education. I changed jobs in hope of still working and going to school – I was able to make it work about 6 months. Then the stress and anxiety, and feelings of unworthiness started bubbling up again. I worked hard to push then back down. There were times my doctor prescribed medication to take the edge off and help cut through all the anxiety. This helped, but wasn’t dealing with the deeper issues. 

Over the next few years, I learned to “manage” the anxiety, depression, and feelings of unworthiness, and had times I was able to go off the medicine. There were times when the demands of teaching and doing the best for students, along with supporting and caring for my daughters, and trying to start a new life for myself, got to be too much. So, I would go back on the medicine. Then in 2017, during a trip to see a dear friend I grew-up with, my past started bubbling up again and this time I couldn’t suppress it. My friend had seen what I endured and I had seen what she had endured growing-up. Sharing our stories and feeling her love and support, helped me know I wasn’t crazy or alone. I could no longer suppress my past, so I sought out the help of a therapist. 

I wanted a therapist who is a Christian and a woman. I needed someone I would feel comfortable sharing what I had suppressed for so many years, who could understand my faith, who wouldn’t judge me for my actions, and support me as a mom. Therapy has made a huge difference in my life. While medicine helps with the physical aspects of my issues, therapy helps with the emotional scars. My therapist has given me tools to use, which I have shared with my many of my students and my new husband. She has helped me to understand my emotional scars are a result of verbal abuse, and how my past trauma impacts the way I react in certain situations. 

Some may think that seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness, but recognizing you have a struggle and you need help is displaying strength – not weakness. Being open about my experiences and seeing a therapist has enabled me to connect with my students and others on a vulnerable, human level. God created us to love and be loved, to be accepting and to be accepted, we are His children. We need to support each other, not tear each other down. There has been a stigma about mental health, and some still see mental health as one who needs to be in an institution or don’t they believe in its existence. We need to breakdown these walls and see that mental health is part of our wellbeing. When we free ourselves from the control of this world, we are more open to seeing God’s plan and desires for us. We are free to be who He created us to be. 

If you are feeling the anxiety and pressures of the world, you may want to seek the help of a mental health professional. Here is a great article that explains the differences between the type of providers: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health-resources

You are not alone!

A Journey of Faith and Trust

As I think about sharing my faith journey, an old hymn I grew-up sing in church comes to mind. The chorus starts, “This is my story, this is my song.” I grew-up in the Lutheran Church, as did my parents. So, Lutheran theology is ingrained in me and helped to shape who I am. Here are some snapshots of my faith journey. 

My mother played the organ in the church she grew-up in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania, and many years in the church I grew-up in a small town in Mississippi. She was also the choir director at times, sometimes at the same time as being the organist. So, music has always been a part of my life. My father grew-up in the same small church as my mother, but a few years apart – he is 11 years older than my mother. My parents were active in the church in Mississippi, serving on various committees through the years. My father was a charter member of the church. I was the last infant baptized in the old shoe store the church meet in, before moving to church building the congregation built. 

The pastor of the church I grew-up in left a lasting impact on me. He truly lived as we are called to live as Christians. He never hesitated to help someone in need. His involvement with the youth of the church was like no other. He developed relationships and encouraged our growth in our relationships with God. I remember one night when I had to go to a church meeting with my parents. The discussion of attire came up. I will never forget what Pastor said, “I don’t care if they wear pajamas to church! The important part is that they come to church!” This statement has stayed with me all these years. God doesn’t care what we wear, what color is our hair, if we have piercings and tattoos, what God cares about is our relationship with Him. 

In the Lutheran Church, infants are baptized, then when a child is about 13 years old they start Confirmation. Some churches have teens attend Confirmation classes for two years and some three years. I had three years of Confirmation, which included studying scripture, Lutheran Theology, and the organization of the church. During my studies there were some scriptures that have stuck with me and helped to share my values. Here are two of those scriptures:

1 Corinthians 6: 19-20, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” This verse was why I never participated in many activities of high school and college students, such as trying drugs, smoking, going to drinking parties, premarital sex, or other activities that would go against God’s commandments. 

John 8: 7, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Because we are human, we all sin. This verse and story in John, has always resonated with me that only God has the right to judge. We need to support each other and help each other not sin, instead of tear each other down. 

While Confirmation is considered a “rite of passage” in the Lutheran church, and a time when teens are now considered adult voting members of the congregation, it is really so much more. A time to publicly profess one’s faith in God and that Jesus Christ is our Savior. On Reformation Sunday, as my class stood before the church congregation and professed our faith in God, some of those in my Confirmation class just went through the motions, but for those of us who truly understood what we were doing it was a moving experience. 

While in college, I struggled to find a Lutheran church I connected with, so I attended church with my friends. When I was in college in Pennsylvania, I would go to the Catholic Church, then when I transferred to a school in Georgia I went to the Baptist Student Union with friends. I would read my Bible and Lutheran Book of Worship on my own, but I longed to worship with others. By attending different churches, I developed an understanding of how we are all connected through Our Savior Jesus Christ. 

When I was 18 years old, I meet the man who would be the father of my children and my first husband. Something you need to know about me is I always look for the good in people. During our 4-year relationship, I didn’t realize how he was just saying all the right things without truly believing. He would go to church with me, but I don’t think he really understood about having a relationship with Christ. I can look back now and see the things that were wrong with our relationship, but in the moments, I didn’t see the lies. Once I graduated from college, we got married. I believe in the sanctity of marriage, so over the years I compromised thinking, “This is what you do in a marriage. Compromise and put the other first.” This was a major error. I should have been putting God first and talking to Him about this man. I compromised so much, I lost myself – but not my faith. 

Throughout 20 + years of marriage, I endured much that conflicted with my faith. During the end of the marriage, I was working on reconnecting and deepening my faith. I had even started seminary and was seeking a Masters of Divinity to work in Children and Family Ministries. When I got back from being in St. Paul, MN for two weeks at Luther Seminary, I was presented with a letter asking for a divorce. I didn’t see this coming. Throughout the long process, my faith was tested. I confess I had moments that I felt like God was forsaking me, even though I knew in my heart He was strengthening me to endure everything that was happening and what was to come. 

I confess that during my divorce and the year after it was final, I wandered trying to find myself. I put my daughter’s first and tried to maintain a sense of “normalcy” for them. We attended church and participated in church activities when my work schedule allowed. I remember standing in church one Sunday saying the Lord’s Prayer and it hit me. How could I ask for forgiveness if I couldn’t forgive my ex? This was a Holy Spirit moment for me. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting, it is a willingness to let go of what was keeping me from my relationship with Jesus. I felt like a weight had been lifted and I had a new hope. 

October 2012, Confirmation Day for my oldest daughter. This was a true test for me, in many ways. I was proud of my daughter and how she was growing in her faith. This was the child who at 3 years-of-age looked at me with all seriousness and said, “Mommy, I don’t want Jesus to love me.” I was shocked, to say the least, and asked her why. She responded, “Because I don’t want Him to die.” Wow! She got it at three! Before the service started, the pastor asked the congregation to give a round of applause to the newly married couple – my ex and his new wife, the woman whom he had an affair. The congregation was a bit surprised, not many knew about the divorce. For me, this day was about my daughter. 

A part of the service involves the Confirmation teachers, parents, and other family laying hands on the Confirmand and give them a blessing. When it came time for my daughter to knee for her blessing, her teacher was in the middle, my parents, her younger sister, and I were on one side, and her father and his new wife were on the other side. Another part of the service was for the Confirmands to give a speech about what this day meant to them. Many talked about being an adult member of the church, but my daughter was the only one to say, “This deepened my relationship with God.” Again, she got it. After the service, many came up to me to give their condolences about the divorce and to ask how I could stand up there with him and his wife. I told them this was my daughter’s day with God. I knew what I was experiencing was nothing like what Jesus experienced on my behalf. 

When the divorce happened, I had to get a job. I started working at a friend’s restaurant, and worked my way up to assistant manager. It hit me one day, “I’m working all these hours and how am I changing the world?” This was God working on me again. The Holy Spirit was calling me to do something else – return to God’s plan for me. After some prayer and discussion with a friend and my girls, I felt God was calling me to go back to school to be a teacher. My thoughts were, “Really? How will I do this and provide for my girls?” As always, God provided a way. I enrolled in Johnson University’s Master of Education, Post-Bachelorette program.  I went to classes on Saturdays and at night. April 2014, I graduated with my degree. God had a new plan for me. 

After a few years, I started to see my girls growing up and I began to feel like something was missing. I confess it took some long conversations with God to have the strength to start dating again. I had gone on a few dates and went out with a man, who like my ex wasn’t a true Christian. So, I when I signed up for Match.com I told God that I would trust Him, and if I was to meet someone He would guide the meeting. As always, God had a plan.

June 30, 2018, I married a wonderful God-fearing man who loves me and supports me like no one ever has in my life. We serve together at church and he serves because he wants to, not because I ask him to serve. We encourage each other in our walks with Christ, and are in a small group to be encouraged as a couple. We pray together as a couple and as a family. I will never forget the first time we said, “I love you,” to each other. We had a long in-depth conversation about what those three words meant to each of us. While some will think it was nerdy, for us it was God revealing to us what was to come. 

As we began discussing marriage, I began having the feeling of being baptized again as a renewal of my faith and body. I struggled with this for a bit because being baptized as an infant, I didn’t understand the need to be baptized again. I couldn’t shake the feeling of the need to be baptized. When I decided this is what I needed to do, I talked with one of our pastors – the one that had baptized my husband – about what Sunday would work. So, one Sunday at church my soon-to-be-husband and one of our pastors, baptized me in the front of our new church home. Some of my Lutheran friends would question why I felt the need to be re-baptized, but for me and my relationship with God it was what I needed to do. 

I know this is a long post, but I am over a century old and my faith journey started at a young age. I hope this glimpse at my walk with God can help you see that no matter what – God is always with us. All we have to do is reach out for Him. When I tried to do things on my own, everything fell apart. I am where I am today because I trust God and talk to Him daily. A relationship with God isn’t easy when you are bombarded with the noise of the world, but I can tell you it is well worth the effort. 

No More School, Say it Isn’t So

As a parent and a teacher, this is a difficult time to navigate. It is hard for children to understand that they can’t just do whatever they want because school is out. There is learning to do, there are people to keep from getting sick, some people are sick and don’t know it, and we can’t just go through the drive-thru for lunch. 

The average family is experiencing a life they never imaged – job loss, needing to go to food banks to feed the kids, as well as worries about losing the family car and home. On the positive side, people are spending time with their families playing games, doing crafts, going outside and riding bikes, reading, baking, and learning new technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to stay in touch with friends and family. Thanks to Facebook Live and other platforms, churches are reaching more people than ever before. Many people are reading their Bibles everyday or just starting to explore the Bible.

This is a time to slow down and figure out what is important to you. Is it a job that keeps you working 14-hour days, 7 days a week or is it your spouse and kids? Is it a house and car you can’t really afford, so you have to work all those hours or is it living within your means, so you can spend more time with your family? Many of us and reevaluating our lives. 

And then there are teachers. We are happy to be spending time with our families, but many of us are trying to teach our own kids as well as our students. We are worrying if our students have enough food, if the student who was just placed in foster care is adjusting to their new family, if the student who is in an abusive home is being checked on by DCS, as well as are our students reading and practicing their math skills. 

So many schools across the country are like my state and are out for the rest of the year. Not being with my students the past few months as been relaxing, stressful, and surreal. Like many teachers, my heart is breaking. 

A Message to My Students:

I knew it was coming, but I had hope that it wouldn’t. As I sit here a bit numb and stunned, I am having a hard time processing that the school year is over and I won’t see you again. I keep thinking, “Is this really happening?”, “This is just a bad dream, right?”, and “Surely, I didn’t hear correctly.” We have spent the last three years going through middle school together. You aren’t just students to me, you are my kids. 

I told you on the first day of 6th grade that once you are in my class you are my kid. I told you on the first day of 7th grade, once you are in my class you are my kid. And to the few of you who never had me in 6th or 7thgrade, one the first day of 8th grade I told you once you are in my class you are one of my kids. You are my “daughters” and “sons.” I worry about you making poor choices, not having someone tell you that you are loved, that you won’t have enough food, and if you will have someone to listen to your questions and help guide you. 

I am grieving with you that we won’t have a track season, awards day, Honors Society ceremonies, 8th grade dance, yearbook signing, talent show, teacher/student basketball game, and one last day to tell you how proud I am of you and you are loved. This all seems surreal. I keep thinking this will all end, and we will have one more day together. 

One more day to hear, “Hey Mrs. Preston!” One more day to hear about your weekend. One more day to remind you to “live in the penthouse, not in the basement.” One more day to tell you corny jokes that you roll your eyes at. One more day to see your smiling faces. Just one more day with you is what I need. 

How Can You Escape Your House and Never Physically Leave? Read a Book

When I have the time, I enjoy reading. So, having to stay home is providing me time to read! I have fond memories of my father reading to me at bedtime, even when I could read on my own my father would read to me. It was our special time together each day. One book I remember him reading to me was a Swedish Fairytale book, which I still have somewhere in a box. My father instilled in me a love of reading and learning, which I instilled in my daughters. Books can impact us in different ways. Some books are great escapes from our current situation, and some books help us learn more about ourselves or the world around us. 

Here are some of my favorite books I recommend you try. During this pandemic, you can listen to books for free on Amazon using their Audible Audiobook. If you are like me, you prefer the smell and feel of holding a real book, but during this time it might be hard to get the real book. 

Some of My Favorite Books:

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is the story of a single dad, his daughter “Scout,” and their life in a small Southern town in Alabama during the 1930’s. Atticus Finch is a lawyer who defends a Black man accused of a crime he didn’t commit. The story shows the prejudice towards others of different races, as well as towards the mentally handicapped, and how a young girl struggles to understand.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

This is a story of a Black man researching his family history and discovers his mother isn’t just “light skinned” she is white and has a Jewish Heritage. This is a story about love of family and doing anything for each other. 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This is another period book I love. This book is one that my father encouraged me to read when I was in Junior High. Once I read the book, we watched the movie together. This is a story about a young girl growing up in the early 1900’s of America. The struggles of poverty many experienced, and trying to find hope in any situation.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

This is a quick read, but so meaningful. The story follows Eddie as he meets people he impacted during his lifetime. (Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie is also a good read.)

Sweet Tea Tuesdays by Ashley Farley

This is a story about close friends who share sweet tea every week for 26 years, then life happens. A great “beach read” about women who come together during though times. 

Mary Kay Andrews is an author I have read just about all her books, and recommend every book of hers I have read! Andrews writes about strong women who have to overcome their situations. Many of her books take place in small Southern Coastal towns. Here are two you might enjoy:  The High Tide Club and The Weekenders.

A good book is a great escape, so pick-up a book and start your journey.