Well into my thirties, I learned how unchecked optimism can blind us to the detrimental effects of an unsound relationship. Projecting what we want to see in an individual leaves us with a false picture, not only of the other person’s motives, but of our own. When a close relationship brought a series of disappointments, I realized the truth behind the saying: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Talking with a colleague at a Christian school, I was reminded how easy it can be to judge others. Accustomed to the short hairstyles of most of our students, he was offended by the creative haircut of a visiting teen. Challenging his assumptions, I reminded him that our perception of others’ appearance isn’t an accurate way to gauge a mature, spiritual life in Christ.
Reminiscent of an era we wish were bygone, individuals consumed with hatred and prejudice carried torches and shouted slogans from a hideous time in America’s racial history as they marched across a university lawn. Barely twenty-four hours later, the governor of the state in which the school is located declared a state of emergency due to violent clashes. Only the base depravity of sin decries the life of another as less valuable, less human—and only the power of the cross brings us deliverance.
In 1972, public schools in my state in the US were court- ordered to desegregate. That same year, the private Christian school where I currently teach began. While much has changed since then, we still struggle to talk openly regarding the impetus of the school’s beginnings and the hidden cultural walls still present. Recently, while meeting with a prospective student’s family, I answered their questions regarding diversity with transparency because the body of Christ is healthier when facing its brokenness honestly.
One day, I noticed my bird feeder hanging in the distance and remembered it had been some time since I’d refilled it. Walking over and reaching for the refill cap, I stopped as I noticed the interior of the feeder had been taken over by a wasp’s nest. The transformation reminded me that, similar to the way a wasp nest and birdseed couldn’t occupy the same space, our choice to be filled with the Holy Spirit must be full and complete.
My friend Jen and I are looking forward to meeting in Atlanta for a much-anticipated reunion. Our friendship formed over a short span of time, but the bond has remained strong despite the distance that separates us. Anne, in the novel Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery said it best: “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” My friendship with Jen reminds me that true kinship is powerful because relationships were designed to reflect God’s kingdom.
As an educator, each spring I feel the promise of summer break beckoning me. I appreciate the respite from the usual demand to complete projects, grade papers, and participate in countless meetings. With more opportunities for quiet, summertime reminds me how often busyness can tempt me to see each commitment as merely a task to be checked off a list. Choosing to instead be present in the moment allows me to savor uncomplicated joy.
After months of intense stress at my job, as well as a busy season with family and ministry, I was exhausted—and more than just physically. Reflecting on the prior six months, I realized that, although I had tried to be consistent in my work ethic, I didn’t consistently take time to rest. Responsibility is an important part of life, but disorder sets in when responsibilities become the chain holding us captive to self-reliance.
After an appointment, I reached for my phone to see the messages I had missed. “Do you have a minute to pray over me?” The text was simple, but knowing the season of life my friend was in, I quickly dialed her number. Our relationship had been built over many years, and though there were moments invested when I was uncertain of the outcome in her life, she was now not only walking in truth but, in turn, using her God-given gifts to reach out to others.
Though I haven’t spent much time playing it over the past twenty years, I still take out my violin every so often. I keep it stored in a temperature-consistent closet, safely enclosed in a velvet case. Even so, the small tuning fork I keep in the case has been needed on more than one occasion. The vibrations from the tuning fork create the tone I need to set my A-string pitch. I can then tune the other three strings and hear a true and resonant sound as I pull the bow across the strings.
Tim Keller aptly expressed the spiritual state of humanity when he wrote, “Everything that troubles [us] is a result of idolatry. And what is idolatry? It’s taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing.” View nearly any form of visual media today and you’ll see that we’ve exchanged our worship of the Creator for the created. We were designed by God to respond to beauty—His beauty. But the promise of perfection and the temptation of power draw us to lesser gods. Food, sex, fashion, you name it. Our bodies have become our idols.
As I was overseeing several small groups in my local church, I experienced a painful conflict with another leader, who ultimately left my team. While I needed to face my own failings, I later heard an incomplete version of what had gone wrong between the leader and myself from one of her group members. Truth had been lost in a shadow of accusations.
Because I’ve worked in youth ministry as well as in private and public education, I’ve witnessed on many occasions the sacrificial love of a parent for a child. There have been times, however, when parents’ hopes for a child have revealed mixed motives. Whether from a desire to prove their own worth or a deep-seated fear of failure, parents’ well-meaning intentions can be misguided and their sacrifice self-centered.
Tonight as I sit here writing, one of our family dogs lays curled up on the ottoman at my feet. I’m his favorite of all our family members, though—in truth—it probably has something to do with my keeping his food bowl full! Seymour loves to be outside, but his preferred activity is to rest all seventy-five pounds of his sweet self on my lap. On especially busy days, he remains near me, patiently waiting until I sit down.
Bribery. We typically associate it with a financial exchange or the awarding of position—be it political or otherwise. Human brokenness, however, also lends itself to bribery of the heart. Whether it’s relational manipulation or the promise of belonging, each of us has probably encountered emotional extortion somewhere along life’s path.