My story

I’m surrounded by stories.

Brian and I, as part of the Story Team, spent much of the Verge conference this past weekend at the Story Team van as we collected the stories of what God is doing all over the world. The best part was sitting in the van, just listening. Story after story, God was faithful and got all the glory.

Then on Sunday, we met up with a lady who would like to be on Story Team. We told her all about the team, how everything works, and what our experiences have been like. More stories.

And for the past month, my kiddos have been writing stories and making books for a contest. The big reveal is at an event in a half hour (thank the Lord!). It’s been all about stories in class for weeks. We brainstormed, we planned, we drafted. Then we revised and edited and published. We illustrated and them bound these books– and in all this I say “we” because I have literally been involved the entire way with all 43 student books. Last night, I stayed up until LATE to get them all graded. So. Many. Stories.

And then there’s this blog– our daily recounting of the story of year one for me and Brian. It’s so close to the end of this part of the blog, but of course, nowhere near the end of our story.

I’m surrounded by stories, I talk about stories, I teach stories, I help with stories, I tell stories… and I’m living a story.

One of my favorite authors says this about story:

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”
Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
 
I am blessed to help my students create stories, and to live even better ones. I am blessed to hear and write and edit stories of God’s grace and faithfulness. I am blessed to be living a good story. I am blessed to share my story here.
 
It’s not normal– this life of mine. But, according to Miller, it just means I found some meaning in life. And I have.
 
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior, all the day long.
–from “Blessed Assurance”

Lots-o-change

So, I told you yesterday that Brian was bragging on me. Gosh– still makes me blush. Anyways… the bragging was centered in large part around the changes going on at my job.

Next year, I will leave the elementary school and go back to being a middle school teacher. We are restructuring parts of our school, so I will still have my beloved 6th grade, but I will also have 7th and 8th grade. I will teach English Language Arts to all three grades, and then teach Bible to 8th grade. It’s another BIG change in a series of BIG changes.

In the last two years I met the love of my life, got engaged, got married, got involved in a new church and a new missional community, moved from south to north Austin, moved in with a MAN and a dog, started at a new job, switched to elementary school, wrote all new curriculum for that position, began turning the bachelor pad into a home for two, got a hematologist and a blood disorder, started a major development program through church, got a new missional community, and now, got a new job.

THERE’S BEEN A LOT OF CHANGE IN MY LIFE.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now. I am much more so than I used to be– that’s for sure. It just feels like I never get comfortable in anything, or else I do and that’s when the change comes. And what complicates this further is that I’m a natural planner– so I plan for all of these futures that never occur.

Our reading last week for Women’s Development was the book of Malachi. In chapter 3, God tells us that he does not change. I smiled when I read it because I learned that verse last semester when I learned about the character of God, specifically God’s immutability, or unchangeableness. God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises (yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations).

This is such a comfort! With all of these changes in position and location and role, my God stays the same. He stays holy and true and perfect– even when I am none of those things and shaking my fist at him that he changed things on me again!

The other part of my life that is unchanging is that I have Brian. I know that some people don’t see marriage as a forever- relationship, but Brian and I take marriage very seriously. We entered into a covenant relationship with God, and that relationship is for life– which I pray will be for many many more years. Our relationship changes, and we as individuals change, but Brian is always there.

After those last two paragraphs, I am reminded that I cannot complain about all of this change. It is my reality– it’s what God has decided for my life. I see the joy in almost all of the changes I listed above, and I can already see joy in this job change to come. No matter what the new school year brings, I have my God and (God willing) my Brian by my side.

Failure to rest

It’s not a resolution. It’s something that came up in a conversation with my WDP leaders at the end of the semester. And then God kept bringing it back up.

I don’t take a Sabbath. Yes, God tells us to. I get that. But I’m busy. In fact, I’m exceedingly busy. He gets that, right? Well, that’s what I kept telling myself anyway. But when someone pointed out that not taking a Sabbath was a sin, well, that didn’t sit real well with me.

It’s not a harsh thing to point out one another’s sins. We’re actually supposed to do that in Christian community. No one was pointing fingers or anything. Part of WDP is learning to fight sin– in our own lives as well as in the lives of those around us. It was actually in a conversation about my own self-righteousness that the whole Sabbath thing came up. While it isn’t finger pointing, I sure did feel ganged up against that night. But it was for my good.

And they were right. About both.

So, God kept bringing it back up, I began to have anxiety attacks due to negligent self care, and thusly, yesterday, I vowed to have a Sabbath.

I pretty much failed.

I cleaned house, did laundry, ironed, planned lessons, and cleaned my shower doors. The only Sabbath-like activities were reading a couple chapters in a book on prayer and going to church. Oh, and Downton Abbey— but that totally counts as rest 🙂

And then today at work when the other teachers were talking about how rested they were, how ready to teach and love these kiddos they felt, well, I realized that I wasn’t. When we prayed during morning devotion, I realized I had read about prayer, but I hadn’t actually done it. Sigh.

If we were perfect at everything, we wouldn’t need a Savior. I need him. I need God to keep showing me that I was designed for a day of rest. I need him to remind me that he and I are in a relationship and relationships need quality time. I need to trust in Him that the Sabbath takes priority over the to-dos and accept that some things won’t get done. I cringe even as I type that last sentence… I need him to teach me to trust.

So, I’m 0 for 1 on the Sabbath thing so far. Brian said he was actually really proud of me– he’d never seen me take and hour to sit in silence and read on a Sunday! And God wants us to come to him as children– and children aren’t very good at things on the first try– so at least I nailed that part 😉

Adoption

Our church is doing a series on adoption. Last week’s sermon was all about how God has adopted us,  how we are his children and he is our Father. This week’s was about the call to love the orphan, and how that is true worship.

I kept squeezing Brian’s hand as we listened. The fact is, adoption was on both of our hearts before we met each other. That has been such a blessing– that we’re already on the same page about it. We do want to have a child of our own, but we have a vision of a multi-racial family. God willing, that’s the plan.

It began for me when I was a teenager. At first, in my dreams, my children were multi-colored. Not multi-racial… multi-colored. I had a red baby in my arms, while a yellow one and a blue one ran around. As I got older, the dream became more clear: I had a black baby boy, and an Asian baby girl.

As a missionary in South Africa, I was around black babies all the time, and my heart for them grew and grew. A single girl on the base was even in the adoption process while I was there. A missionary couple on the base had two adopted girls. I was so in love with these children that I would have brought a baby home if it would have made it through customs.

When I met Brian, he had already had visions of an Asian girl in his future. He has a heart for the unwanted girls in those nations. I couldn’t believe that the man I wanted to marry already had a heart for international adoption. God really does have his hand in everything.

The call from our preacher today was to begin to pray about how we will all love the orphan. It’s not an if we should, it’s a how we should. God is clear on that one. There are opportunities, of course, to adopt. There are opportunities to work with adoptive families, with foster kids, and people can give monetarily. I kept wondering what it was like for those who had never considered adoption in the crowd to be hearing this sermon. Does it sound crazy? I feel like I’m already on board– we’re just trying to pay off the wedding and have our first big blow-out fight (only partially kidding) before we try adding a kiddo to the equation.

We stayed after the sermon for the info session on opportunities for how we can begin to love orphans. I know that it can be a really long process, so my thought is to just get our own process started by asking questions and getting information. We also need to begin praying about it– for God to prepare our hearts, our child, and that we will trust him in his timing.

The Story Team that Brian and I are a part of made a video that was shared today. I want to share it with you all as well. Bust out the tissue before watching– it’s a good one. I hope you guys enjoy it.

Jacob Chen – An Adoption Story from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

Eternity

One of the trillion things we’ve learned about God in Women’s Development is his attribute of eternity. God doesn’t exist in time like we know time. He’s past, present, and future all at once.

I hope I’m not alone in saying that this blows my mind. But I guess that it should, as I am completely bound by time. I can’t escape it– it is an intrinsic part of my experience here on earth.

So, when I began studying this eternity attribute, I got really confused. At first, it came across to me as a scary concept. If God doesn’t work in time the way that I do, then why should he care about this small thing that is happening in my life right now? If he can walk in the Garden of Eden, speak at Christ’s baptism, and be worshipped in the New Creation all at once, then why should he be present for me when I have a bad day and feel really sad?

Thank God that I kept studying him.

It’s not that he’s so occupied in doing all of these other things that seem so much more meaningful to me than my silly day. That’s not the reality at all. Rather, God’s eternity means that he’s not entangled by time. He doesn’t get caught up in it as we do. He exists above time. This allows him to be present in every single second of my life.

I’m in awe of this. I cannot comprehend this entirely, but it fills me with such joy to know that my Creator is here with me in everything. I am never alone. There is nothing he does not know or somehow missed because his head was turned. And in meditating on this, I feel so loved. He never leaves my side.

Also in my thinking on time, I’m struck by this: our purpose on this earth is to glorify God. That’s it. That’s why we were created. When I think of how few moments in each day I am actually living out that purpose, I am deeply convicted. God doesn’t just show up when we’re glorifying him, obeying him, or reading his Word– no, our God is there for every second of my selfishness, every minute that I seek the approval of people, and every hour that I waste with distraction. I pray that on the day I sit before him on the judgment seat of Christ, the moments that he sees where I fulfilled my purpose will be so many more than exist to date. 

 

A lot of failure

Last night I posted about priorities, and how so far in our marriage I have not really taken Lindsey’s priorities up as my own. This has caused tension, and a few arguments. My post and our discussion yesterday had me thinking all day today, and I kept coming back to one thing: I am called to love and serve Lindsey. That is my primary duty as a husband, and honestly it is something I want to do well. Yet, I fail. Consistently.

This failure is no surprise to… well, anyone. People are not perfect; we are all broken and have our failings and blind spots. The biggest implication of our brokenness in a marriage can be seen in a simple math problem:

1 person who fails + 1 person who fails = a lot of failure

As I have posted before, getting married does not solve your problems. It doubles them. This may seem too simple of an explanation, but my guess is that any married person, anyone with siblings, or really anyone who doesn’t live alone in the wilderness knows this to be true. This is the profound, and yet faulty, ground upon which all human relationships are built.

Because this is the case, we only have two options: we can play the game of balancing wrong against wrong and apology against apology, or we can extend grace to one another and tear down the scoreboard. In our house we strive for the latter, but I confess that I often revert back to scorekeeping. I’m like the soccer dad whose kid plays in a no-score league and yet can’t help but to keep track of the goals on his iPhone from the sidelines.

So today my prayers and actions have been towards two goals. I have sought to look to the example of the one who washed his followers feet and sacrificed all for them, and serve my wife first. Second, I have confessed that I cannot change myself on my own, I need God to change my heart. That’s the only way to fix anything within me.

“Will it work?” you ask. I dont know for sure, but I have faith that it will.

Through similar prayers God has changed my heart unbelievably over the last six years, so this faith of mine is not blind. The only way for me to know is to keep pressing on, to keep seeking change through God, and keep serving my wife.

Honestly, it sounds like a really good plan.

Tonight

I’ll give you dear readers the most accurate picture of what our last several weeks have looked like: Lindsey is exhausted and asleep and I have a couple hours of work still ahead of me.

That’s it, that’s life right now. Still, we’re loved and cared for by God, family and friends, and we know it. On days like this we are learning that is enough.

A path and a purpose

I didn’t want to go to the interview. Actually, I was looking forward to the other interview with the other private school I interviewed with last Thursday.

When they called, they told me the position was elementary. Elementary?! I’m middle school-material! But they keep their 6th graders in elementary, so if I wanted to teach 6th graders there, I would have to be elementary. Ugh. The position was also still being determined, but at that point was multiple subjects– and I’m English. But the cheerful voice on the other end told me to come on in for the interview and we could talk about it more there.

When I showed up the next morning, I met some of the funniest women. I was enjoying conversation, standing around gabbing, when they told me that the position is now just English. 5th and 6th grade English. They asked me if this was okay with me.

It was about this time that I realized God was doing something incredible.

I’ve never had an interview like this– the women were hilarious! Parts of it felt like a comedy act, except that they were also so sincere. For every question they asked, I had an actual real-life story and answer. They would squeal, or say they just got chills, or reach over and touch the other one when I would answer. I knew they were excited, but I couldn’t believe it was over me! My experiences over the past couple years lined up in such an exact way that I had the perfect answers to their questions. At this point I was no longer thinking that God was doing something. I was beginning to see that He has had me on a path for quite some time.

I was falling in love with these women, and apparently the feelings were mutual. Then, I had to give a mini-lesson. They brought in third graders.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I panicked. I don’t do elementary. They’re little. And they need things. And they’re scary. But the little, needy, scary things walked in and well… they didn’t look so bad. Cute, actually.

The lesson went well. They loved the cartoon and pictures I had on the iPad, and they seemed really engaged. My interviewers, however, were engaged in something else. They were sitting back behind the students going page by page through my application and exhibiting the same exuberance from the question and answer time even though all my information was in writing. This was insane.

The kids left and the interview continued. It turned out I would actually be teaching both of these ladies’ children, so they were personally invested in my responses. And my responses were still everything they wanted to hear.

As I followed one of them around the campus for a tour, the other interviewer went to speak to the headmaster. My tour was cut short when I was called into his office. The women sat on either side of me as the headmaster asked me about my experience, my faith, and if I wanted to work there. Wait– what?

Yup. He offered me the job on the spot. I told him I would have to speak to my husband and get back to him, even though inside I wanted to hug the man. I did get a group hug from my interviewers before I left. We made plans for me to be there the following morning. I mean, if I decided to take the position…

Before the headmaster offered me the job, he told me that he thought I was sent there by God. This is an incredible thing for a person to say. Thoughts raced through my head: They want me. Me? Me. And they think God sent me. Like I’m an answer to prayer. But I’m nothing. This is crazy. This is crazy.

But that’s how God works. He waited until the last possible second this summer to change my teaching position. He knows I’m good under pressure– He designed me that way. And He revealed how he had been preparing me through every experience I had at my last school and on the mission field and in my walk with Him. We don’t always get to see that part– we just have to trust that He is sovereign and sees a bigger picture. But this time, I got to see it. I got to see His hands move.

My life is not an accident. God didn’t say poof! one day and then step back to see what would happen. He is intentional. He is sovereign. And He is loving.

I looked at Brian in the doctor’s office where we met up afterward and shook my head. “Why do we doubt?” I asked him. “Why do we doubt?”

***

Post Script: Never say “never” to God.

The first time I said never to God, I told Him I was leaving my hometown and never coming back. He gave my my first teaching job there.

In college, when people would assume that my English major was a path to teaching, I would grimace and gasp, “Never!”

And as a teacher, when asked if I would consider teaching elementary, I again grimaced and swore, “Never!”

Yesterday, I began my new job as an elementary teacher.

Some may say He has a sense of humor. And while that may be true, I think it’s also true that our Creator knows us a little better than we know ourselves.

We do it together

I was on Google Chat today talking to my cousin, Mara. She asked me how things had been going, and my response was “tough but wonderful.”

Things have been tough.

Moving is tough. I’m still not finished. And it is difficult to move two houses worth of stuff into one house worth of space. There are boxes and piles and hidden junk everywhere. Things have to be thrown out. Decisions have to be made about what to keep, how to organize, whose artwork gets to hang on the wall and whose goes into the attic. And how in the world am I supposed to decorate with a bright orange, plastic stadium chair? But we’ve done it. We’re still working, but we’ve compromised, carried heavy loads, and organized to the best of our current capabilities.

Going to the hematologist is tough. He’s located in the Texas Oncology building and that makes the trips a little scary. I’ve already been told that I’m clear of the “C” word but sitting in that waiting room is heart-wrenching at times. And I never know what the doctor will say– levels are up, levels are down, get a biopsy, give yourself this injection… But we’ve done it. Brian and I have done it. We go, we sit, we wait, and we walk out together. We do all of it together except my injections– my husband does NOT do needles. And the doctor says I’m good now, but even if I weren’t, I know that I can go through any medical issue with Brian by my side.

My commute has been tough. Sometimes it’s two hours getting home. It sucks. I just sit there on MoPac thinking about everything else I’d rather be doing. But when I walk in the door and my husband hands me a glass of wine and has crafted a delicious home-made meal, things get better. Brian will prep the coffee-maker to go off in the morning so that even though he’s not up that early, there’s a little love brewing when I wake up. The commute stinks, but we’ve made it work.

Work has been tough. I have been out a lot this year and my absence has caused some problems. It’s also just that time of year– state tests, kids that don’t want to be here, and the slow slump into summer. I’m stressed– always needing to grade something (it never ends…), constantly worried that my kids aren’t prepared or that one is going to fail, worried that I’m letting a coworker down or about a relationship at work. This one has been tough for Brian. I get all up in my head and sit and am not much fun to be around. But he prays for me and with me. He offers up solutions and, most importantly, holds my hand and cheers me on. We’ve done it.

So, yeah, it’s been tough. I’m always behind, always tired, and always running through my mental to-do list. And still, the last 5 weeks have been incredible.

Mara said it best when we were chatting– “The best part about being married is you have someone to go through all the tough times with you!”

She’s speaking from experience. Mara married my cousin, James, in October. And they’ve had their own share of tough times. Everyone does. Tough times are an equal-opportunity aggressor. But now that I’m married, I have this whole new approach to struggles: we do it together.

But we can’t take all the credit for making it through. In fact, I take none at all and I’m sure my husband would feel the same. Though it is such a blessing to have my husband with me through all of this tough stuff, Brian and I entered into a covenant relationship with God. It’s the three of us now. And though we’ve helped to carry each others’ loads, we couldn’t do it without God giving us the patience to deal with one another’s moods. We would not have gotten through if God had not given us the love to bless each other and forgive each other constantly. God had to give us the desire to serve one another and we had to be obedient to pray for the other and together.

“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” -Ecclesiastes 4:12

We do it together. Just the three of us.