My second grade teacher called me to her desk. I was nervous.
“I thought you should know you did an excellent job writing your story, Kristin. Nicely done!” I glanced at my paper and noticed a large smiley face with the words “Good job!” flooding the top margin.
My heart skipped a beat. I was excited and embarrassed and suddenly aching to tell her writing was my favorite, but instead stayed quiet. I was not accustomed to genuine and effusive compliments. Reading, writing and spelling were not work; they felt as effortless as breathing. Math and geography were achingly difficult. I had a hard time comprehending and retaining the lessons taught in those subjects.
Miss White smiled big and her dangling silver earrings shimmered. I loved her for her kindness and for her firm control of the classroom. No one got away with teasing or cheating or lying on her watch, and it culminated in a safe and peaceful classroom.
On National Starvation Awareness Day some people in our community chose to go without food to raise money for the hungry children in Africa. On that particular day during my second grade year, my best friend Melinda was sent to school without her lunchbox. Skipping breakfast that day as well, she was ravenous by the time we arrived at the cafeteria, but would not accept food from any of us. Mom wants me to understand the African kids, she said sadly.
The fall weather was stunning that day, leaves all crimson orange and yellow. We played tag in the crisp air during recess, but Melinda was listless. By the time we returned from the playground, she whispered to me that her stomach felt funny and she might faint.
I had to do something for my friend. So I explained the story to Miss White.
A fire danced in her eyes, and her lips tightened. Melinda, have you eaten today?
No. My Mom said I couldn’t because it is Hunger Awareness Day.
Miss White reached into her L.L. Bean bag. She fished out a granola bar and a shiny apple.
Eat these, dear. Don’t worry, I will call your mother and explain. Your body requires energy to get your schoolwork done. In my classroom all students will eat lunch every single day. Now eat up, and pronto!
Melinda gulped them down.
I loved Miss White with my whole 7-year-old heart that day. She was protective and fair and brave. She did the right thing no matter what and it was exceptional. She operated from a place of wisdom, and it made her trustworthy in my eyes.
That second grade year was also pure joy because Miss White brought her faithful companion to class every single Friday. Her gigantic Sheep Dog, Chinook. He licked my face as I hugged him tight. I longed for a dog of my very own, and prayed about the matter every night. Chinook made waiting more bearable, and I simply loved him. Miss White understood who adored her dog, who was indifferent, and who feared dogs in general. She made this a part of our classroom learning which was an admirable feat for one woman with twenty students.
In my experience, most people do not change too much from who they were as children. The above story pretty much sums me up today: my love of written words and stories and autumn and dogs, my protectiveness over those that I hold dear, my appreciation for fairness and justice, my admiration for people who do the right thing regardless of consequences, my discomfort in being the center of attention or receiving compliments, and my proclivity for holding things close and keeping spoken words to myself.
I lost myself a bit when our family entered ministry full time over a decade ago. I felt pressured to conform to the wishes of our congregation, and then when I just couldn’t, I wilted. I had four children at home and I was homeschooling and there were music lessons and sports. Life apart from church was full. I remember one evening a church member telling me that I needed to speak to my sons as their handshakes were “too firm.” They were little kids. I went home and cried. I could not be all of the things to all of the people. I was drowning.
I definitely wouldn’t cry now. I would probably laugh and acknowledge how crazy some folks are, bent on negativity. I have learned that a few issues must be dealt with and quickly, but not every problem is a hair-on-fire situation. The Lord has pulled me through far deeper waters since that day, and even though it stung, and there are deep scars, it also served to refine me. I no longer believe the lie that I must defer to everyone’s whims and wishes. That would be a fool’s errand. It is a relief to part ways with people pleasing, and to live in joyful freedom. God knit me together and formed me. He knows who I am. I am His. I listen to His voice and His directives. He is my Savior and my rock.
Wisdom can come with time, but that is surely not a given. We must contend for our faith, and as our heart bears a posture of submission to the will of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit will overflow. Works give evidence of our faith. I am just now, at age 48, sensing the wonderful equilibrium of faith and works. As my husband says, obey God with your whole heart and everything else will take care of itself. Part of this obedience is to be still and know that He is God, and I am not.
God formed each of us with a specific personality. He also fashioned us with weaknesses. It brings him glory and honor when we cooperate with him and our uniqueness and gladly serve Him in our giftings. It brings Him pleasure when we lean on Him in the midst of our weaknesses and rest in His perfect strength.
As Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Where do I feel most glad? It is always doing what God designed me to do.
Before the apostle Paul’s conversion to Christ, he was a strong leader, working against Christians. He was bold, direct, energetic, fervent, and powerful. He murdered believers and worked for Satan. When the Lord called the apostle to himself, did his personality change? I have been pondering this, and I believe the answer is no.
God fashioned Paul purposefully with those characteristics. When he accepted Christ, his heart softened, he became a new creature in Christ as his loyalties changed. But those traits, designed by the Creator did not. Paul served the Lord as a strong leader: bold, direct, energetic, fervent, and powerful. He was a mighty Christian, recognizing his own sin and weaknesses, while embracing his natural giftings and serving God. This is clear in much of the New Testament.
Being true to who God fashioned you to be can only happen after bending a knee in utter abandon to him. Grasp your life and offer it up, up to the Lord. Abandon sin. Cultivate a heart of ongoing and humble repentance. Then enjoy who he created you to be. Shut out the noise of the critics. You now serve an audience of One.