Get used to uncomfortable!

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But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. Ezekiel 16:15 NIV 

I’ve been reading Andrew Murray’s book The True Vine. Earlier this week I came across this strong statement:

“Self-confidence is…..a great evil.”

What do you think?  Do you trust yourself?  Probably for some things you do.  Do you have confidence in some of your natural talents?

We all do, to some extent.  But according to many places in the Bible, that is not God’s way. He doesn’t want us to trust ourselves at all.  We are to put confidence only in him.

If I look back over my life, I can spot the times when the Lord deliberately put me in situations where I had no experience or training to handle the responsibilities. 

The earliest one happened one day when I was a young military intelligence lieutenant.  My boss called me to his office and said: ‘I have a new additional duty for you. You’re to manage our battalion’s budget.  Here’s the file. Call the budget office at headquarters for any help you need.’

Did I have an accounting background?  Not at all! I had majored in foreign affairs and Russian studies.  No problem.  Lieutenants are expected to learn on the job.  And I did. Could I depend on myself?  Nope.

Similar situations followed.  Having a baby was one of those.  I had grown up as an only child AND my mom never allowed me to babysit.  I had zero exposure to babies.  Imagine the hospital handing me and Mike this 2-day old baby.  They never even asked us for proof of training or experience?  More God-directed practice in depending on him. And Graham survived.

One of the most uncomfortable of these God-ordained experiences was when I was hired by a Christian school. NOT to teach French, but to teach US history and government. Okay, that didn’t scare me too much, for I had taken some history courses in college. Not American, though!

What DID rock me were the additional two courses:  Informal Logic for 7th graders and Formal Logic for 8th graders.  I didn’t have a clue to what logic was.  All summer before that school year started, I struggled to study and understand logic. I fumed with frustration.  There was no one to help me.  Was that first year hard? You bet!  Did I cling to Jesus? Without a doubt.

What I am slowly absorbing is that God’s best plan for us is to depend 100 % on him.  But the hard part is that I don’t naturally gravitate to what feels uncomfortable.  I’m seeing that he, in effect, is saying: ‘Get used to uncomfortable!’ Like you, I prefer clinging to my idol of comfort.  In fact, when the next thing on my agenda is the habitual, I don’t even think to depend on Jesus. That framework is sin. Self-confidence is wrong.

Yet, culture blares the opposite message: Believe in yourself!  Trust yourself!

It seems that we are to be more like little children who only ever trust their strong daddy or reliable mommy.  They don’t fake being okay on their own.  As long as their parents are with them, they feel secure.  And they are content. 

I anticipate more ‘adventures with Jesus’ as he keeps training me to lean only on him.

Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children….Matthew 18:3 NLT

When ‘my’ plans don’t work out

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Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7……(then) …. whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8 NIV

An alert from American Airlines interrupted my lunch last week as I was checking email.  Something to the effect that bad weather might disrupt our travel plans two days later, on the Friday. The airline offered to change our plans at no cost.

The possibility of weather problems had not crossed my mind.  Immediately Satan suggested all sorts of bad scenarios meant to distract me.  We were flying to Charlottesville, Virginia to care for grandkids so their parents could visit El Paso to look at houses.  This weather event would affect their flights as well.

Recognizing that I was beginning to fear the worst, I forced myself to go on the counter-attack. I reminded myself that:

  • The Lord has these trips already planned out.
  • He has stockpiled provisions we will need.
  • His plans are always best.

Satan stepped up the momentum.  But I strengthened my resolve, asking the Lord for supernatural help to fight back.  What came to mind was the promise that if I resist the devil’s suggestions about our future, he will flee. 

I kept up my trifecta of truth.  I declared out loud:  I can’t stop these lying images from entering my imagination, but I will immediately respond with what I know to be true. 

And so, I waged war.

I had to continue resisting Satan’s lying thoughts longer than I anticipated.  When we got to the airport last Friday, weather turned out not to be the problem.  But there were others.

The flight had a mechanical issue.  We deplaned and waited in line to consult with the gate agent about connecting flights. He booked us on a flight out of Charlotte, North Carolina for an airport 75 minutes away from our destination.  Presumably, we could Uber from there to Anne and Wes’ house. But by the time we landed in Charlotte, that flight had been cancelled.

By grace, we had already thought of renting a car in Charlotte.  Sure enough, that turned out to be Plan C. But would there be any rental cars available?  We kept praying.  Sure enough, the Lord’s stockpiled grace included a rental car that we could drop off at the Charlottesville airport the next day.

Knowing our delay, our son and daughter-in-law dropped off the children with a friend and headed to Washington, DC for their flight.  We picked up the kids 6 hours later than our original itinerary. Whew! Finally, we were in the house with the kids and their dog. But God’s grace did not end there.

Wes and Anne’s flight was delayed and they had to spend the night in Houston, Texas.  God’s stockpiled grace for them included a $400 credit with the airline. And Anne, who is 31 weeks pregnant, got to bed earlier than they had planned. They arrived in El Paso the next morning in time to meet the real estate agent. And saved one day’s worth of rental car expenses.

What did I learn?  Like a 2×4 to the head was the realization ‘What a waste of emotional energy, worrying about anything. The weather event evaporated.’

This experience showed me once more that victory over sinful fear and worry comes by means of exercising our trust in our good God who does all things well, though not always the way we would like.

John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote about this very scenario the four of us lived through : (and I paraphrase)Our prevailing over Satan, the flesh and the world is a done deal. It is scripted that we conquer Satan and fear by means of taking God at his word and doing the next thing at hand.’

And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 1 John 5:4 ESV

Do you trust your eyes?

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Three opportunities for empathy and humility

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Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…..Colossians 3:12 ESV

Being an effective teacher requires exercising compassionate patience with one’s students. It’s easy to forget what it is like to be unskilled at something, to be a beginner.  What comes easily or naturally to us may not feel that way to our learners.

When I started teaching French to kids, I caught myself far too often using an irritated or impatient tone of voice. I’m afraid that my body language communicated: ‘I’ve already explained that numerous times.  You must not be paying attention!’

God did not leave me too long in that ‘superior-to-inferior’ posture, but creatively started teaching me empathy.

It happened like this.  One year, Mike asked me what I wanted for my birthday.  Wes and I had been batting a tennis ball over a neighborhood net during the spring.  So, I mentioned to Mike: “I’d love some tennis lessons for my birthday!” 

I anticipated that with three lessons, I would have developed basic tennis skills. Instead, these classes simply humbled me.

The tennis pro at our neighborhood club could not have been more gentle, thorough and patient. The problem was me. I could understand his instructions.  His words made sense in the abstract.  But my brain could NOT make sense of his verbal directions in a way to make my body move to match what he was describing.  I felt completely stupid, mentally deficient.

How hard can beginning tennis be?’ I thought. ‘And what is wrong with me, that I can’t connect body movements to his words?’

All of a sudden, I made the connection to my classroom.  ‘So, THIS is how some of my French students must feel.  It’s clear to me, but not to them. They feel stupid.

That aha moment changed my teaching approach and I rapidly grew more compassionate.  But I still fell into being impatient with their slow progress. ‘If only they would pay more attention!’

Humility lesson # 2 arrived in June 2018. For the first time since studying Russian back in the ‘70s, I started learning a new language. What was different this time was that I was still teaching French to middle-schoolers.  All of a sudden, I FELT how slowly I needed a Spanish speaker to go.  I FELT how much repetition I needed before something in Spanish wired itself into my brain.  Nor could not control the process.  My brain directed my acquisition.  All I could do was try to understand the sense of spoken and written Spanish.

When school picked up again in August, I greeted my students with far more patience. I also eliminated some of my methods.  Now, I knew first hand that correcting their written or spoken French was no help. Someone has to be ready to receive any correction.  I waited until someone asked a question about a word or way to say something. I also started sharing with them my daily experiences learning Spanish.  They seemed to warm to my being a student just like them.

I applauded their progress more often with real warmth. I stopped forcing anyone to say something in French until they wanted to.  Madame Cochrane was much more human and humbler as a language learner herself. With Spanish, I felt the same frustration they did when they would mix up two French words that sounded similar.  This was a regular occurrence for me.

Often I lamented the previous 26 years of teaching French without myself learning a different language.  What a waste!

God be praised that today as I teach ESL to local Hispanics and French to two of my grandkids, I am a humbler and more empathetic teacher.

Since January 1, 2022, the Lord has now added an extra course in humility. Inspired by my daughter-in-law Anne who teaches 4–6-year-old children how to draw, I have set for myself the goal of drawing in a way that someone can identify the object! For years, teaching French and using a white board I just excused my poor stick figure illustrations, resorting to ‘Je ne suis pas artiste!’

But this past November, hearing how Anne teaches little ones to draw and seeing our youngest granddaughter’s work, I decided that maybe I could learn to draw.  So, I resolved to spend 15-20 minutes several times a week practicing. I figured that I would have to be at least better at the end of 2022 than when I started.

This new motor skill is once again feeding my empathy and patience muscles. I have not been quick to pick up this new way of moving my hand and seeing. Although we are more than half way through February, I am committed to sticking with my goal.

I know that for Anne, drawing comes easily.  She also is a natural encourager. When I’ve sent her a photo of something I’ve attempted and feel almost embarrassed, she applauds my efforts. Baby steps ARE progress.

Maybe our Father wants us to appreciate the many different gifts distributed among us.  Until I ventured out into something new, I took credit for my skills and thought that there was something wrong with others who weren’t like me. Until I tried those tennis lessons, something totally foreign to me, I had no sense of how difficult something might seem to someone not endowed with the same ability.

Do we expect everyone to think like us, to view situations the same way as we do or even do things in like manner?  Apparently so, for how often do we find other people frustrating!

In his wise providence, as John Piper has written, our God ’plans to permit’ all these circumstances with frustrating people. Why?  I think it’s to shape us into the men and women who not only bear with each other with loving patience, but also can praise Him for his perfect design and creativity shown in the variety of people.

Living with Jesus is like being a substitute teacher

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We make our own plans, but the LORD decides where we will go. Proverbs 16:9 CEV

Have you ever been a substitute teacher or had one as a child? Then you know what it’s like for these stalwart men and women who never know when or whether they will receive that early morning wake-up call. When the phone does interrupt that last hour or two of REM restoration, they quickly dress, heading out the door to such-and-such school by the designated time.

That’s how I’m beginning to look at my life.  Even though I do all my work these days as a volunteer, I still have a schedule.  I’m learning to hold it loosely. Recently, I readjusted my week so I could fly out to Seattle to encourage and help my mother-in-law.  This family need trumped what I had penciled in on my calendar.

That decision altered an entire week. I’m also finding that the Lord redirects my steps not only at the beginning of a day, but in the middle of the day. I’m developing the mindset that allows me to hold loosely every plan I make. 

I see the life of a substitute teacher as a metaphor for how we family members of God are to live.  We are not the ones running God’s household.  But he’s included us in his family to learn and to serve, obeying out of love. We should expect the Holy Spirit often to change the schedule according to the needs of the Godhead.

Mike’s clients in his contractor’s job often don’t clarify what they want, making it difficult for Mike and his team to provide value.  He sometimes laments the murkiness of his job. He frequently doesn’t know what to expect.  How like the daily duty of a substitute teacher!  I remind him to count on the Lord to unfold his plan for Mike when he doesn’t foresee how he should proceed.

This approach is so like the one a sub has to adopt. She regularly has no idea what the day will be like when she shows up to a classroom.  But usually there is a plan, already purposed and laid out awaiting her. She arrives and carries out the regular classroom teacher’s lessons, following all the directions.  She doesn’t have a say in what she is to do.  She is under ‘orders’, so to speak.

I have found a certain freedom in anticipating God’s sudden changes.  There’s no longer a reason to stress.  For example, when I flew out to Seattle, I had to change in Dallas.  The margin was a mere 34 minutes.  Therefore, I packed a small carry-on bag that would not have to be gate checked, costing me minutes.  When the pilot announced a delay in our arrival time due to a headwind, I had to fight against anxious thoughts which attacked my peace.  Proverbs 16:9 was the weapon I used.  During the 2-hour flight, I wielded that promise about 6 times, finally reasoning that if I missed my connection, then Jesus had a good reason that would be better than making my connection. Anxiety finally gave up.

I’ll leave you a final thought connected to this idea of a substitute teacher.  A simple way of thinking of the grace that Jesus provided is that of a substitute.  He took my place as guilty sinner, deserving of God’s just anger and punishment.  What is more, his perfect life also substitutes for my fouled-up record.  A double substitution. Maybe it’s only fitting that I can sub for him as hands and feet in the part of the world he has placed me.  What do you think?

Delilah Sins

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Don’t say anything that would hurt [another person]. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you. Ephesians 4:29 God’s Word Translation

I’m home again from my trip out to Seattle where I spent 4 nights with my mother-in-law.  I decided to travel sooner than I had planned because she seemed to need some encouragement and company.  A few health setbacks had recently plagued her and she sounded sad and lonely on the phone.

Five days before arriving, I had hurt her during a Zoom call when I brought up a couple of subjects, asking her pointed questions meant to hurt her and make me look superior.   Cousin Terry, who knows my heart only too well, calls it ‘being imperial’. She suggested apologizing to my mother-in-law when I arrived.

Within 20 minutes of being welcomed into her apartment, I did just that. I told Mom how sorry I was for deliberately hurting her.  She apparently hadn’t noticed during that Zoom call, or so she said.  But I pressed the issue so she would know that what I had said was UNKIND and that the Holy Spirit had leaned on me hard in the days that followed.  I confessed how sorry I was for hurting her.  Then I asked her forgiveness.  She responsive hug brought me relief, that sense of being washed clean and separated from my sin.

During the 4 days with her, God gave me several occasions to notice and not to succumb to my decades-old tendency to bring up a topic with the intention of criticizing one of her viewpoints. The prime test came when together we viewed her church’s Sunday service, streamed on You Tube. I knew that several girlfriends (thank you Joyce, Jill, Frances, Cousin Terry and others) as well as Mike were praying for me to cultivate a heart of kindness to source my words.

What startled me was noticing the obvious places, where up until this week, I would have initiated a comment meant to put down something she said and/or to point to how ‘wise’ and knowledgeable I was about the topic. Instead, I kept my mouth shut. 

What I did do, for a change, was to look for something positive I could respond with when she made a comment.  For example, when she praised the young deacon who gave the homily during the service, I simply said: “Yes, he enunciated well (through the mask) and spoke with clarity about the topic.”

I realize now that Mom is not someone who asks me for my opinion or viewpoint.  She’s not curious that way.  I cringe thinking of the countless times I have offered my views, unbidden.

What cemented this lesson in choosing words meant only to bless and help others came from what I read in a book from Joyce, Watchfulness: Recovering a Lost Spiritual Discipline.

In the section I read only three days ago while still in Seattle, the author describes ‘Delilah Sins’.  These are those evil habits that we cherish, that we love to indulge in. It didn’t take me long to articulate my # 1 Delilah Sin, that of provocation.

I have been a ‘provocatrice’ for as long as I can remember. 

I am SO glad that the Lord has finally intervened before it’s too late.  NOW is the time for me to kill this practice. This temptation has for far too long promised a moment of delightful satisfaction….only to leave me UN-satisfied and feeling ‘sour’.

I praise God that for the first time, I actually feel a new desire growing, one where I keep my viewpoints to myself unless asked.  Now, I want to use my words simply to give help and hope.  Looking back over my life, I see clearly that the majority of my words have often been unnecessary and many times meant to make Maria look good, not Christ.  Thank you, Lord, for your gift of new mercies.

Mean-spirited Maria

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….what is inside the heart —the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:4 CSB

Pop often accused me of ‘pulling wings off of flies’. I had a sense of what he meant.  This was his way of letting me know how unkind I had been, picking at and trying to provoke my mom.

When I searched on line to see if my dad had just made up this expression, I read with horror: “In typical usage, it describes a cruel person, such as a bully or someone who enjoys tormenting others…… for no other reason than to take pleasure in being mean to them/in watching the other person be hurt….emotionally, physically, or otherwise. (accessed 24 Jan 2022)

I did this very thing in my most recent zoom call to Mike’s mom. She loves her Episcopal church and during our conversation, she expressed great sadness in how attendance has dwindled during the pandemic.

I could have just commiserated with her.  Instead, I boasted in how many people have joined our church. I also slipped in some remarks to the effect that in order to become a member, you have to be able to point to when you gratefully accepted Christ’s righteousness for your own and what He has done for you since then, unlike her denomination. Totally unnecessary, and meant to make her feel bad.  She never knows how to respond to me when I bring this up.

At the end of the week, I’m flying out to Seattle to spend a few days with her.  She’s growing more fragile and isolated due to all the Covid restrictions in her retirement complex. I’m hoping to cheer her up some and cook some food she’ll enjoy.

Back to that zoom call, I continued with a mean spirit, asking, ‘Do you all still have to wear masks in Seattle?’ (I knew the answer).  Again, it was meant to be a dig, designed to highlight the difference between Washington state and where I live, here in Alabama where we have no Covid restrictions. 

Then I added something about how ineffectual and silly masks are. Unnecessary!

I felt terrible during the entire conversation.

I confessed my cruelty to the Lord and told Mike.  But the following morning, the Holy Spirit REALLY convicted me.  During the first half of the day, even at the gym, He continued to reveal more and more of my heart.

Let’s call a spade a spade.  What I did during my conversation was to ‘despise’ my mother-in-law.  It dawned on me while on the rowing machine, ‘there’s no middle ground’. Either I love someone or I despise them.

Calling my sin by its nature helped me, in a painful way. This morning, the ‘reveal’ continued. 

What do you think of when you read how we are to ‘flee from sin’?

I picture Joseph escaping the clutches of the promiscuous Mrs. Potiphar. But I never have applied this warning to Maria, until this morning.

That’s when I also came across the 1 Peter advice to wives of unbelieving husbands. Again, I had never thought of how I could apply to me, in a different context.

 I’m praying and have asked friends and Mike to pray for my heart during these next few days with Mike’s mom.  I want to be that quiet (‘unprovoked and unprovoking’ per the Greek) and gentle (‘self-controlled’) gal whom the Father is pleased to call his daughter.

 

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

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And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:23 ESV

I lead a weekly ESL conversation class on Zoom. Typically, four of us meet for an hour.  The two women are Mexican and our one gentleman lives in Argentina.  They are strong intermediate-level speakers.  We have come to know each other and enjoy this mid-week hour as friends.  And I know they appreciate being able to practice their English.

As a language coach, I propose the weekly topic. Yesterday’s question or theme is the title of this blog.  ‘What do you want people to remember about you and how you lived your life?’ I wasn’t sure if my three friends felt put-off or startled when I sent them via What’s App the question to consider. They approached the subject with enthusiasm and we ended up learning a lot about each other’s cultures and approaches to death.

What’s interesting about this topic is that one of my sons is currently reading a leadership book for Christian men about creating a vision for oneself as well as for one’s family. He mentioned one of the suggestions was to do this very thing, to start with the end in mind. Just how DO you hope people will assess your life once you have died?

Happily, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel as Christians. The Bible provides many possibilities that are pleasing to God. The verse at the beginning of this post is one that continues to linger in my daily thoughts.

The way the apostle John condenses and communicates Jesus’ commands struck me about 2 weeks ago as a wonderful life purpose.  What pleases God is for us to rely on Jesus and love people as our Lord did while on earth.

Actually, the first part, ‘trusting Jesus’, is the main command. I am to depend on him for power to love people well.  Active love, how I treat people, is costly because it involves investing resources such as time, energy and money.  Added to that is my attitude, how I bring patient, studied attentiveness to someone in order to understand their needs and the manner in which they feel respected and valued.  I can’t do any of that in my own strength. That is why relying on Jesus is paramount.

I wish I had paid attention to John’s exhortation when I endured ongoing bitter attacks from a student at my last school. I tried to respond with love and patience, but out of my own reservoir. It got to me.  Many days I headed to school absolutely dreading French class with this gal. Her animosity and her dad’s displeasure with me lasted a year and a half before she graduated from the middle school. 

Five years later, I feel clear now on just who is my power source to obey. And in fact, I got to put my money where my pen is.  Yesterday, I realized that my mother-in-law who lives so far from us needs some TLC. At 93, she has been hit with one medical situation after another.  She said to me yesterday over the phone, ‘Maria, why is all this happening to me now?’  Thank you, Father, that your Spirit got my attention.  I booked a flight this morning for next week.

Wrapping up, what is it that I want on my tombstone?  ‘She relied on Jesus and loved her friends and family well.’  No, that doesn’t include ‘neighbors’ like my former student.  But I think that if I can mature in believing and depending on Jesus to love those who make up my family and my circle of friends, the spillover effect will extend to others the Lord places in my life.  That is my hope and my prayer.  

I killed the ‘red lizard of sin’!

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If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Matthew 5:30 ESV

Until last week, that talkative ‘red lizard of Sin’ continually plagued me.

Did you ever read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis? It’s a short book and very compelling. In one scene, an angel confronts a man who has died, described by Lewis as a ‘ghost’, someone who had rejected God and heaven. On this ghost of a man’s shoulders chatters a lizard, unceasingly arguing for the mildness of sin that he, the reptile, represents. 

This angel advises the confused ghost-man to kill the red lizard who whispers all the more persuasively to the contrary.  The lizard argues that the man most assuredly can manage him, that’s he quite tame, that what he suggests the man indulge in is not that bad.  

The angel doesn’t argue with the ghost-man or with the tempter. He simply offers to kill the Red Lizard himself.

The ghost-man cringes out of fear, anticipating pain and the loss of his pet sin.  But he yields to the angel who slays the reptile, thus liberating him.  I won’t spoil what happens next.  Read the book!

Like the vacillating ghost-man I have felt the forceful propaganda of a similar red lizard.  The Spirit himself finally convinced me that I had to sever something I had created because it was causing me to sin.

What was that sin?  An out-of-balance preoccupation with something material that often shoved Jesus out of his primary place in my thought life and heart.

I wrote last week about the project I started in 2018 to build a business helping language learners with English.  Nothing sinful in and of itself.  But starting and building an online presence tapped into pockets of ambition and pride deep inside of me that became disordered. 

Last week when I posted my blog, I had resolved to wait on God to see what he wanted me to do.  Within 24 hours of hitting ‘publish’ I knew what I had to do, what HE wanted me to do.  Since I was continuing to obsess, I had to take drastic action.  I truly wanted to be FREE, to tolerate NO interior drive that competed with Jesus.

So, I killed it.  I severed it, this on-line presence.  I knew that I did not have the power to tame it or change my thoughts and feelings.  Just as we clean up our phones to make more space, I had to eliminate the largest ‘file’.   

I called up Go Daddy, the tech company hosting my website, and told them to cancel it.  The tech support guy reassured me that it would remain active until the subscription period ran out in 5 months. 

“No, I want you to kill it now.  It’s a trigger for me.”  I’m sure he didn’t understand.  But he proceeded to read me the statement declaring that if he shut down my website, I would lose everything I had created. I replied, “I understand and accept that.  Please just do it.”

Just like that, three and half years of content disappeared. I purposely chose not to back up anything. Then I contacted Mail Chimp and did the same thing.  With this service, I had been writing and sending out helpful teaching tips, follow-up extension activities and how I had used each video in my on-line English class.  Now that was gone, too.

What did I feel?  Nothing. Just a sense of blahness.

But by the next morning, by grace, while lingering over scripture and dialoguing with Jesus in my journal, I started to feel light, free and cheery.  I knew I had done what was right for me.

It’s taken me two years to reach this point. I’ve wavered and talked to Mike and family members ad nauseum about feeling a love-hate relationship with English without Fear.  Making weekly content has felt burdensome. Yet at the same time I have taken pride in what I offered weekly to the language learning space. The burden grew as I felt or imagined that my subscribers ‘expected’ new videos on a regular basis. The continual wrangling with my thoughts and feelings weighed me down.

Am I sorry I started English without Fear?  Nope. I learned a lot about video production. I made contact with English language learners around the world who have enriched my life.  My faith deepened and I grew in my understanding of what sin is.  I don’t want anything to compete with Jesus and the first place he occupies in my life.

As Graham, my son, reassured me.  I can always start something similar again, if that is God’s will for my me.  He doesn’t waste any experience, but repackages it for his purposes.

My yoke or his yoke?

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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 NIV

I visited the bathroom too near early morning so that I couldn’t fall back asleep.  Instead, I lay awake thinking.

Over the past 10 days, I’ve been obsessing a bit on an old matter I thought I had already dealt with. It started like this.  The day after Christmas I met with a local Hispanic pastor whose church wants to offer ESL (English as a second language) classes as a ministry.  I’m very excited about this project since I know I can make a difference in some local women’s lives.  The Lord has given me years of experience teaching French and now English on line since I’ve been retired. I use the best method available, one that is based on research about how people acquire language. I don’t use the traditional tools of grammar pronunciation drills, but employ the intuitive approach of teaching with comprehensible input.  I describe it simply as ‘Mommy Talk’.  Nothing intellectual there.

It wasn’t the idea of starting up this ministry that kept me awake.  No.  But what happened, given this new endeavor, is that I resurrected the issue of creating content for my YouTube channel ‘English without Fear’. 

I initially began creating simple videos for English language learners in 2018, with the idea of turning it into a business after leaving the classroom.  Later, I realized I didn’t want to make this a money venture, but continued producing content as a way to ‘bless’ the language-learning community. Unfortunately, I started to feel ‘obligated’ to keep producing a weekly video. 

Throughout 2020 and 2021, I wavered back and forth about letting it go, because it felt burdensome, like a self-imposed ‘should’. Through counseling and much prayer, I closed the door on that project, producing my last video in early October of this past fall.

That is until I uploaded another one last week, the final week of 2021.  I justified going back to this activity by linking it with the forthcoming ESL classes. ‘My videos might be useful to my future ESL students!’, I reasoned.

But it’s been too much for me.  Not in terms of time or energy, but in emotional space.  Like a magnet, I have felt the irresistible pull to think about it, to plan the next episode. But my thoughts have gone back to being irrational. ‘My YouTube followers expect new content!’  

When I am honest with myself, creating these videos still feels like a task, a ‘half to’.  Not only do I not like feeling obsessed, I don’t like thinking about anything more than Jesus.  When other matters crowd out my meditations on the Lord, I feel drained.

So, this morning I journaled to Jesus: ‘I’m exhausted still struggling and debating ‘do I’ or ‘do I not’ make more videos? I feel my mental energy being sucked away from you, Lord. What do you want me to know?’

I then continued with Bible reading.  A few minutes later, I remembered something I had recently read in Oswald Chambers. He had advised waiting and not ‘doing’ whenever you felt doubt about a proposed course of action. That thought felt like a strong suggestion from Jesus.  So, I took it seriously and committed to wait, at least another week, before thinking about this question again.

Then came another thought.  Trevin Wax had quoted John Stott in a piece, “Go wherever your gifts will be most exploited for the Kingdom of God.”  That certainly affirmed my involvement teaching ESL to local Hispanic women in a church setting.

Finally, advice from my friend Mabel made its encore appearance in my conscious thoughts.  She had shared a two-fold very useful way for deciding where next to invest one’s energy. Ask yourself:

  • What do you love doing?
  • What can you do that no one else is doing?

That’s easy.  I DO enjoy helping people acquire language the natural and best way.  And no one else that I know of in Huntsville is teaching ESL this way to Hispanic gals.

But plenty of people around the world make video content in simple and slow English.  I think Jesus wants to keep me walking with him, bound closely by his lighter, tailor-made, energy-providing yoke, rather than the one I tend to craft for myself.

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