What’s wrong with being good enough?

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“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness…” Luke 12:15 ESV

I tumbled.

From an inflated view of myself.

Before the fall, the Father let me get away with preening for 36 hours. Then came the painful slap down. I felt shocked, humiliated, shamed, and sad.

My life’s vocation centers on language acquisition. God started me off with German at age 11 followed by French, thanks to a dad in the army and assignments to Germany and Belgium. Attending 9th grade in a French-speaking school introduced me to French and provided a strong base.  Eventually, the door opened for me to get certified to teach French and German.

French was my prime focus, for it is a more common offering in American schools. I did all I could to improve my French from using a French study bible, to trips with students and our family to listening to daily podcasts, reading novels and the occasional movie.  After 27 years in the classroom, I felt fluent.  I could talk with ease about most anything. Not native fluency.  But fluent for an American learner.

In March 2019, I retired when we moved to Huntsville, Alabama where Mike took a new job.  I turned my attention to learning Spanish.  With intense focus on this new language, I set French on the back burner, confident that I wouldn’t lose my facility with it.

Then suddenly, a French friend whose video content I used in my classroom for enrichment, asked me if she could interview me in French for her YouTube channel.  She thought that my ‘aha!’ moments about language acquisition, given that I was now learning Spanish, together with my experience teaching French by means of comprehensible input rather than grammar would interest her audience.

I started listening to French podcasts and watching videos to refresh my skills.  We recorded in early September and the interview posted this past weekend on her channel. 

I knew I had made errors in French because my brain has been processing Spanish for the past 30 months. So, despite the inevitable grammar and vocab mistakes, I

felt pleased as I viewed the interview.

Before it posted, I had listed all the French speakers I knew with whom I could proudly share this interview.  I forwarded the link to some 15 contacts.  Yes, I felt proud.  And it felt good.

You can see where this is headed!

Sunday afternoon, I opened the video to copy the link to send to someone else. I paused and read the comments some viewers had posted below.

Here’s what popped my pride balloon.  Someone had written: ‘What level conversation would you say this is?’.  Alice, the host, replied: ‘intermediate’.

There it was, an objective evaluation of my ability to speak French. I was shocked.  Intermediate?  Me?

This hurt SO much for two reasons: First, I thought I was reasonably fluent. Second, shame flooded me in realizing with what pride I had forwarded on this interview.

The sadness grew deeper. Fatigue set in after dinner.  And I could hardly wait for bed.

I didn’t sleep well, awake some of the time going over and over how I felt.

But God!  This morning, with my journal opened, I read today’s passages.  Then I moved on to some scriptural prayers and devotions.

The Holy Spirit was speaking to me through scripture.  Slowly, he led me through the obvious pride diagnosis to deeper matters, more serious sins. A verse highlighting contentment shone a light on my covetousness. 

Picking up my pen, I wrote out a one-sentence prayer asking Jesus to strengthen me to be content in him, rather than seek contentment in my skill level of languages.

Then it hit me: “I have coveted fluency in languages for the praise of all people!”

My actions, my feelings, my thoughts, my goals have broadcasted for years: Christ is not enough to satisfy my deepest longings. Thinking that fluency in other languages will satisfy the desires of my heart, I have been off wandering, away from God.

People say pride is the worst sin. I agree.  But without seeing what fuels my pride, I can’t kill it.

Strangely with this Holy Spirit insight and my confession, I found hope rising, knowing that this new lesson is one step in God’s ‘holiness and happiness training’.

And what about being ‘good enough’? What a lovely and freeing life philosophy!  I’m embracing my intermediate-level French and where my Spanish is at this point.  Their levels are GOOD enough to help people.  I DID teach kids French for many years.  I AM ministering to Hispanic gals during my Tuesday morning shift at our city’s pregnancy resource center. The Spanish feels broken, but it is ‘good enough’. 

May I embrace trusting Jesus as my number one source of contentment and not wander off to other lovers.

Face the facts…pray…work and trust God!

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Haggai 2:3 Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Is not this in your sight as nothing in comparison to that? Yet now be strong, alert, and courageous, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; be strong, alert, and courageous, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, alert, and courageous, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work! For I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts. (Amp)

Facts are never a problem for God. Rather, He, the Creator of these ‘facts’ calls us to face circumstances and name them.

But He doesn’t leave us alone in the midst of our overwhelming situation to stew in our ‘not-enoughness’. Not up to the assigned task? That is how He has planned this moment, for the Lord of the Angel Armies is WITH us. He assures us that He will provide what we lack, making up for our God-designed deficits. Ever our Father, He pushes us forward, gently but firmly, TOWARD the situation that scares us.

Last Tuesday at the local pregnancy resource center here in Huntsville, I faced the facts. Nothing as scary as what the returning Hebrew exiles were up against, (the book of Ezra details this ‘adventure’) but unsettling enough for me to ask Mike and my friend Joyce to pray!

Every Tuesday morning, I meet with women who believe they are pregnant and turn to us for verification and assistance. They also want to find out how we can help them during their pregnancy. My role as an intake counselor is to meet with them, listen and learn what they are facing, administer the ‘pee test’, discuss our cost-free services, share something of the Gospel and to pray with them.

My husband Mike always asks God urgently to provide for me throughout my morning shift because of the gravity of these one-on-ones. All of us who volunteer and work at the center recognize that the life of the baby is sometimes in jeopardy because of the possibility of abortion. Even more important, these appointments can be occasions where questions of the eternal destination of the gal (and her partner) arise. With so much at stake, these 45 minutes or so ALWAYS feel weighty and I depend on God entirely for His direction – what to say and how.

Nine months before I left teaching Middle School French full time, I started working on my Spanish. My motivation? – a planned student trip to France and Spain the following summer. That never happened because we moved to Huntsville, changing my life dramatically. But already hooked on Spanish, I continued my language-learning journey in order to be more useful to God in a volunteer capacity here.

A data geek, I track everything about my personal Second Language Acquisition process. It’s been 27.5 months since June 2018 when I began from scratch. I employ the same method I used to teach French, that is acquiring the language through input, not via grammar or explicit learning. Starting first with simple videos and podcasts, I now read in Spanish and have some weekly conversations (language exchanges). I am at the intermediate level. The ‘problem’ is: I know what it FEELS like to be fluent in French. I can’t help but compare my skill levels. I call my level: Broken Spanish. A Mexican colleague has assessed my speaking as ‘adequate’.

Obviously just where God wants me, forcing me to depend on Him!

Back to ‘facing the facts’ this past week. Arriving at the center, I knew that all 3 of my appointments for the morning were going to be with Hispanic gals. A first for me!

No point informing God: ‘I wish my proficiency level were more advanced!’ He knows because I remind Him often. Daily, I plug on, continuing my Spanish journey, through comprehensible input (my goal is 3 hours with Spanish a day).

So, this past Tuesday, I JUST KNEW that His will for me that morning was to move ahead with my meager ability, trusting Him to make it enough.

Of course, He came through. No, I didn’t suddenly experience a jump in proficiency. My Spanish STILL felt broken and IN-adequate. But it was enough. The Holy Spirit made up what I lacked. The gals helped me as well. (They spoke NO English and two of them from Guatemala were illiterate as well – how scared THEY must feel, far from home!) And I served ‘my clients’ well enough, I think.

I didn’t get to ‘share the Gospel’ in the full sense that I am able to with English-speaking clients. With my limited Spanish it was enough for me to get through the content of their pregnancy status and services and set them up for a follow-up ultrasound appointment. BUT……I wasn’t at all afraid to pray in Spanish. For a year now, I’ve been enjoying my morning time in God’s Word using a Spanish study Bible. (Thank you, Michael!) I have acquired much of the Spanish specialized vocabulary that goes with talking about God.

But get this! I would have been thankful enough, just making it through the appointments without serious misunderstandings. But God gave me MORE.

For the first time, walking to my car at the end of my shift, for the VERY first time, I FELT upbeat about my Spanish. Serving here at the pregnancy center, using my limited Spanish is a GOOD challenge, a ‘meaty’ dig-your- teeth-into kind of worthy goal. Maybe this will turn out to be a ‘turning the corner’ marker in my quest for Spanish proficiency.

More importantly, I learned, yet again: daunting circumstances are no obstacle for the LORD.

With this ‘language high’ so vivid in my mind, this morning’s reading in Haggai struck me as a needed pep talk from God to these 5th-century BC folks (as well as an encouragement to me!) Under the Holy Spirit’s power, the prophet Haggai speaks pointedly FIRST to the elderly returned exiles from Babylon. They are the ones who likely remembered the much larger dimensions of Solomon’s Temple as youngsters in Jerusalem before it was destroyed and they were taken captive. God, through the prophet speaks to:

(Haggai 2:2) ‘….. Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to……’ the returnees who chose to journey and undertake the rebuilding of the Temple:

  • saying in effect…..Yes….this is going to be a smaller temple…and these rebuilding conditions are very, very difficult and dangerous BUT…
  • and the LORD cites those wonder-filled reasons above NOT to be discouraged.

So, it is with me, and with you, with Christians everywhere. God has created us on purpose NOT to be up to the tasks He assigns. That’s the whole point, don’t you think? Each time He comes through, our faith and awe deepen and He gets the glory. My habitual fear of failure and occasional balking alert me to my mis-guided assumption that completing this assignment, this Mission Impossible, is up to me. Yes, I need to face the facts, but I also need to focus more on the Truth. That God is my ever-present Helper. Hebrews 13:6

Drivenness is dangerous

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Galatians 5:1 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.

Graham reminded me of this truth yesterday as I was catching up with him. I had just face-timed my granddaughters as they were en route home from school. After chatting with them Graham and I talked.  This older son of ours has been an inspirer, sounding board, tech resource and overall great listener as I have fleshed out a ‘business’ called English without Fear.

In 2018, having taught French for years, I started to help second language learners acquire English the same way I teach French, through listening with understanding. What I call ‘Mommy Talk’ as opposed to left-brained, rule-based learning.  It works.  Many, many students can attest to the joy and confidence they have received in my classroom because of this method.  I personally know this is the optimal way to teach and pick up a language because I am acquiring Spanish that way.

Three months after thinking and praying about this new venture, I settled on a target market or niche –  those wanting to learn English as a second language. I learned to write, record and upload story videos in slow English with lots of images. I set up a YouTube channel and some tech support sites.  My idea was to eventually bring in some income that would supplement our retirement, post classroom.

But ‘retirement’ came sooner than later.  Seven months ago, God opened the door for Mike to step back into full-time work and we moved here to Huntsville, Alabama.  I left the schoolhouse after 27 years, not even finishing out the spring semester.

Suddenly, my identity was no longer ‘French teacher’.

Mike’s new job generously would provide enough income so I knew that I wouldn’t be looking for another job teaching French.  I recognized that God was gifting me with time and flexibility to spend with our far-flung family.   I would also be the support at home for Mike so he could focus on this new challenge of re-entering the workforce.  We were swapping roles, in essence. He had come from 6 years doing some part-time work at home in North Carolina while managing the house.

What I didn’t anticipate was how challenging it would be for me to move into this new role.  Only once in my life had I stayed home and that was when Wes, our second son, was born. And then for only 2 years.

I now see, though, that since the end of March, I haven’t let myself rest in God, allowing Him to lead me.  I don’t think I even ASKED Him through prayer about what kind of life He wanted for me in this new season, in this new place.

As I had done (and later recognized with repentance) in previous years, I just announced my plan and prayed for Him to bless it.  Blind to my folly.

Bereft of my ‘uniform’ of working woman, French teacher, I dressed myself in new clothes.  My new identity? Content creator for a digital product.  Without a pause, as a stay-at-home wife, I set up a daily schedule.  Discipline comes easily.  (‘she said smugly: Doesn’t it for all people?’)

Long story short, I have now become my own slave driver, but with tears.  No one has done this to me.  Deep grooves of habitual self-drivenness: I start something – and I’m all in.  Zeal and ambition are not, in themselves bad.  But when they become part of one’s identity, they can be deadly.

But God!

His gentle and persistent grace have caused me to blink twice and clear my eyes.  I realize, now with alarming clarity, that I myself had shackled Maria.  My body knew it, though, and my husband.  He’s skilled at reading body language.  He is also a good listener.  Empathetic.

What alerted me? tears, dread of having to do something with this ‘business’, and 2 days with Regina.  This friend of 13 years met me last week, half way between her home in South Carolina and my house here in Alabama.  We spent 18 hours catching up.

While describing how pleasant Huntsville is, I realized how I don’t ‘let’ myself just take an afternoon and wander, explore, go for a walk.  Why not?  ‘I have work to do.’  My boss/dictator has been telling me every day that I need to make this English without Fear endeavor into a successful business.

But why? To what end?  We don’t need the money.

Here’s my reasoning for undertaking this project:  I have experience, aptitude, some gifts and a sense of what is needed in the Second Language Acquisition space (encouragement for teachers who feel overwhelmed, as well as learners of English).  There is a need!  I can help.

But what was missing? Wherefore the dread and tears?

I lacked the desire.

Yesterday, in the car driving home from an ‘intercambio’ with a Columbian gal where we spent 30 minutes in English followed by time for me in Spanish, I was thinking about ‘what I had to do’ the rest of the day for ‘my business’.  And I dreaded the plans.

I turned off the podcast I was listening to in the car.  To think. What is it I REALLY want to do, where I don’t feel driven? That’s easy.!  I really want to speak Spanish easily. I already spend time each day with Spanish content.  And I look forward to it.  NO DREAD!

Aha!  DESIRE!!!

That is what has been missing all along in this business.

So yesterday when Graham reminded me of Paul’s word to the Galatians, I knew he was speaking Truth. Direct from my good and loving Father.

I don’t have to pursue English without Fear as a business.  God has given me space and time to slow down. To enjoy life. To savor NOT rushing.

But what about…..

I don’t know. But, here’s a thought: I could just keep creating English without Fear videos as a ministry.  No schedule.  Nothing to prove.  Just as a service.

I already have the identity Christ bought for me – ‘chosen, redeemed, beloved daughter and little sister in Christ’.  I already have a purpose for living – to glorify God by enjoying Him THIS day.

Phil 4:5 says – Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

Please forgive me, ALL of you who have graciously put up with and borne my grim, head-down, no-time-for-play presence.

I’ve been living contrary to God’s Word, by letting my DRIVENNESS be known to everyone.

Which Maria do you think will refresh others?

 

 

 

 

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