First Day of School Jitters

Backpack packed with brand new pens and pencils and untouched notebooks and folders. Crisp, clean tennis shoes. Favorite outfit carefully selected and laid out. The anxiety riddled questions of “Will my teacher be nice?”, “Who will I sit by at lunch?” and “Will anyone play with me at recess?” And the anticipation and excitement that accompanies new possibilities and fresh starts. Yes, we have all experienced the first day of school. kid off to school

As students of all ages returned to school, I’ve received a variety of answers to the question, “How was the first day of school?” My favorite response came from my neighbor who eagerly replied, “Junior high is awesome. The teachers treated me like a teenager instead of a little kid. I had a great day!” Love it! However,  it seems that no amount of planning or preparing can predict whether it is a glorious beginning or one that sends parents and student alike wishing there was a redo button. Parents anxiously send their children off that first day and know that regardless of how it went, they will send them off for 179 more.

This got me thinking about my relationship with God. Like a parent sending their baby off to kindergarten, does He get anxious about sending me out into the world? He knows how difficult this world can be. Matthew 10:16 says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” I think most parents have felt like this at times, like they are sending their child out into the world to be devoured by wolves. I know for my father this feeling happened when he dropped me off at college. Until that time, he had the ability to process anything I encountered at school at our dining room table or during a chat before bed in our living room. Now I was away at college and he wasn’t sure what crazy ideas the professors were going to try to put in my head. (Don’t worry Dad, I failed my first college exam because I refused to even learn about evolution. Probably not the most mature way to handle that situation, but seems like it worked out ok.)

Jesus knows we will encounter great trials and difficulties in this world. In John 16:33 He promises that “in this world you will have trouble.” And yet He sends us out anyway. Why? Because just like parents have filled backpacks with new supplies and instill confidence and values in their children’s hearts, God has filled our hearts will His Spirit. We go out into the world accompanied by His strength, power and peace. God knows there will be difficult days, but He knows and holds the future. John 16:33 doesn’t just promise trouble, it also promises peace. Jesus says, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And in John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

So like a kindergarten student eager for her first day of school or a college student anticipating their first night in the dorms, we go out into the world with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. But we can go confidently knowing that God has filled our backpacks with all the supplies we will need. He has equipped us for whatever may come. He redeems our past, holds our present, and knows our future. We do not need to fear because we can trust Him.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. Matthew 5:13-16

Hali’s story: Obedience, pursuit of passion, and God’s calling

There are conversations that seem to make an imprint on your heart and simply stay with you over time.  I’m not sure she even remembers meeting for coffee that day, but I’ll never forget it. I met Hali (pronounced with a long A, like Haley) when she was just a shy and incredibly quiet 8th grader. I was her church small group leader and due to her apparent mutism, I called her Hali (short A) for most of the year. (Who am I kidding, I still call her the wrong name more times than not.)

A note Hali wrote me in 8th grade. I like to reminder her from time to time of these sentiments.
A note Hali wrote me in 8th grade. I like to reminder her from time to time of these sentiments.

Now a senior in high school, Hali was facing decisions that loomed large and carried tremendous weight, namely what to do after graduation. Should she do what was expected and go to college like the rest of her peers or go against the flow and do something completely different?

She chose the latter…

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Doing something different takes tremendous courage. Smart, responsible, gifted, and focused, no one ever imagined she’d do anything other than go directly to college. College is the logical next step after high school, especially for someone like Hali. With dreams of becoming a physician, why not take the logical next step? Because something about the logical next step didn’t feel right. In fact, it felt wrong. So maybe doing something different doesn’t just take courage, but also takes obedience. Acts 5:29, “ If we have to choose between obedience to God and obedience to any human authority, then we must obey God.” And obeying God often means doing the illogical.

Hali has always had a heart for missions and so spent a “gap year” overseas with a missionary organization. In that time, God confirmed that Hali had reservations about pursuing medical school for a reason – becoming a doctor was not the next step. But what was? She still did not know. And yet she trusted that God had a plan and a purpose for her life. She believed He would be faithful and she patiently waited for this plan to be revealed in His timing.

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For two years she explored other careers in medicine, including becoming a local paramedic. And she developed ministry skills working with the very same youth group she was raised in and where I first met her so many years before. The passion for missions remained, the passion for medicine began to fade. And overtime a different passion she’d always had grew even stronger. A passion placed there by her Maker. A passion in line with His heart. A passion for those in bondage and in slavery. Hali’s heart is to see captives set free and captors brought to justice. Suddenly Hali’s calling seemed crystal clear…

And so today, my friend Hali moves to Chicago. She’s off to college in pursuit of her passion and in obedience to the Lord she loves. Today she takes another step in living out the calling placed on her life. Faith is still required. God gives us all a lamp for our feet to illuminate the next step, not a headlight to reveal the entire path. But He promises to go ahead, walk along, and hem in behind. He never leaves nor forsakes. And He finishes what He starts. And though I will miss her deeply, I could not be more proud or more inspired. And because she is way too humble to share her story, I felt compelled to do it for her. Because we can all learn from Hali… that following God takes courage to be different. That the risk it takes to obediently follow God is always worth it. That following God is an unbelievably exciting adventure. And that God’s call to serve His kingdom always aligns with the gifts, talents, and passions He gave us when He created us. Imagine that…

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Hali May, I’m honored and privileged to witness your adventure and I am waiting with eager expectation to see where the journey takes you. I have no doubt it will be to places and heights you could never imagine. “All this is why we are constantly praying for you, so God will make you worthy of the great calling you have received from Him and will give you the power to accomplish every good intention and work of faith.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11)  ~Much Love, Karen Ann

 

 

Thoughts from the Office: Robin Williams and Dealing with Pain

Some things just seem to shake people up more than others. The news of Robin Williams’ suicide this past week seems to be one of those things. It seems that for many, hearing the news of his death has become one of those moments you never forget, one of those moments that you speak about with the phrase, “I remember where I was when…” I’ve had several of those moments in my life. The first was the Challenger exploding. The Berlin Wall coming down, declaring war on Iraq, and of course 911 are all seared into my memory like a branding iron on an animal’s hide.

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Honestly, I’m not sure if this will become one of those moments or not, but I do know that I will long remember the way others have responded to this tragedy. I do not often write directly about my life as a counselor, but I assure you that it influences every aspect of my life, including my writing. I learn much more from my clients than they ever learn from me. Each client’s unique story, perspective, brokenness, and road towards healing inspires and challenges my own journey. And so in light of that, let me step out of the norm and share a few thoughts from the office…

Everyone hurts. Pain is a part of life, an unfortunate part, but a part nonetheless. This means that when you are hurting, you are not alone. Others have been there, some are there with you now, and many will be there after you. Even the Bible is full of people familiar with sadness, anxiety, and pain. Elijah begged to die. So did Job. Moses was scared to talk to Pharaoh. David sat in sackcloth and ashes. Remember even Jesus was called the man of sorrows. God knows what you are going through.

Pain is temporary. This one is often difficult for my many chronic clients who have battled depression or anxiety for more days, months, and years than they wish to count. But every new day holds the hope and possibility of a good day. And hope is a powerful thing. Without holding onto the hope of a good day coming with the next sunrise, pain with surely be permanent. Remember, though there may be pain in the night, joy comes in the morning.

Everyone needs help. It always saddens me when I discover how long a client has been suffering in silence before they finally found the courage or reached a place of desperation large enough to make a phone call. We are not meant to walk through life alone and we are certainly not meant to walk through painful times alone. We all need help. We all need support. We all need each other. When you are experiencing times of pain or despair, please reach out. Call a friend, a pastor, or a counselor. Believe me when I say that there are things that can be done to ease the pain the bring joy back to your life.

Be a steward of your pain. Pain is a gift. Yes, you read that correctly. It is a gift. Pain teaches. It points us to places in our lives that need our attention. Pain inspires growth. It allows us to see where change and maturity are required. And when you’ve been through a painful time and come out on the other side, it is a gift to share that victory with others. Allow your pain to make you compassionate instead of jaded, sensitive instead of stubborn, victorious instead of a victim, and patient instead of prideful.

I have read many blogs in the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death. Some advocating for awareness that depression is a disease and needs to be treated as such, some arguing that suicide is a choice and should never been described as anything else. Regardless of beliefs regarding suicide (and I know I have mine), I believe we can all agree on one thing: it is tragic. Please do not allow stigma and shame keep you or a loved one from getting the help and support you need. There are people who care. There are people who are trained to walk with you and give you the tools you need to make it through. There is hope.

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One of my favorite song lyrics says, “Dying is easy, I’ve known from the start, It’s the living that’s the hardest part.”* Jesus promised this would be true! He says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” It would be terribly hopeless if the verse ended there. Thankfully it does not! Jesus continues saying, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus, the man of sorrows, is also the man of hope and joy. He has overcome the world. He came to bring abundant life (John 10:10). And therein lies the tension on this side of Heaven: the promise of trial and tribulation alongside the promise of abundant life. Someday that tension will be resolved and all those who follow Jesus will receive the treasures they have stored in Heaven and enter an eternity of no more tears, no more sorrow, and no more pain. What a glorious day that will be! Until that day comes, embrace the tension, cling to the hope each new day offers, and choose joy and fulfillment Jesus promises is found in following Him.

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*Living is the Hardest Part by Rictor www.rictormusic.com