I often meet with other professors to learn about their courses and see how they manage their online teaching presence using our university’s digital platforms. After these meetings, I inevitably feel terribly insecure about myself as an educator. Sometimes I feel so insecure that I pledge to never look at another teacher’s course again! I compare myself and realize how much I don’t know, how I have failed to engage my students in certain ways, and how I fumble with emerging technologies.
It borders on feelings of shame that I know so well.
But today, I realized I don’t have to feel shame. I can simply admit the truth about myself and then move into vulnerability and curiosity. How else will I learn and change? How else will I ever improve? Instead of looking at this amazing professor’s course and hanging my head in shame, I peer into her strategies and imagine the kind of teacher I could be one day.
I stay curious: What would happen if I learned this new technique? What is it like to teach like this or like that? What am I gaining or losing? How can I stay myself but also become a little more like this expert?
When you accept yourself just as you are but also take on the identity of a curious learner, you escape the insecurity and shame. And you find yourself so excited to uncover all you have yet to learn.
Twenty years ago, my roommate in graduate school challenged me to read 1 Kings 10 as a picture of myself approaching Jesus. If you remember, in 1 Kings 10:1-13, the queen of Sheba visits Solomon. Picture yourself coming to Jesus just as this woman comes to Solomon. Consider these highlighted phrases that show her heart and the response of the King.
When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the Lord, she was overwhelmed. She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” . . . King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for, besides what he had given her out of his royal bounty. Then she left and returned with her retinue to her own country.
I love this passage because it showcases a beautiful picture of the way we approach God with our hard questions. We come to him with doubt and a mind full of worry. I love that the queen shares all she had on her mind. And the king answers every single question.
I also love that the woman needs to experience the king with her own eyes. It wasn’t enough just to hear about him; she wants to come herself, and she finds the reality is far better than the report about this king. Finally, I love the heart of this king who gives the woman all she desired and asked for in addition to what he had already given her.
When I forget the character of God, I look to this picture of Solomon and the visit from the queen of Sheba. I come with my questions. I come wanting to see for myself. I come with desires and requests.
And God far exceeds even the best things I’ve ever heard about Him.
Today during a radio interview, the host said, “I’m surprised I haven’t heard of you.”
I’ve heard this line before, and I never know what to say. I’m sorry! I’m sorry to disappoint you with my lack of fame and my ordinary life! I’m sorry more people don’t talk about me on social media. I’m truly sorry!
Not having heard of me has become a funny expression that several people have said to me lately. It normally comes after people realize I’ve written seven books and speak nationally and interview on the radio, etc. etc. etc. They’ll say something like, “Why aren’t you more famous?” or “So who are you again?”
The best encounters take shape when I’m speaking at large events. I’ll hang out in the lobby with folks. When people realize I’m the speaker, they’ll say, “You? But you’re so. . . ”
Normal? Ordinary? Not glamorous? I know I’m wearing loafers and a cardigan. But look, I did curl my hair and put on my pearls.
They don’t recognize me. I’m not famous enough.
And guess what? I like it when they do this, I really do. It’s not only funny and humbling and a little awkward, but it’s also rather biblical. I want people to remember the message, not the messenger. I want them to know God, not me.
So I suppose the fact that people say they “haven’t heard of me” makes my heart sing a little bit today. It also indicates how far I’ve come knowing I’m seated with Christ:
When you’re already at the Greatest Table with the Greatest King, you don’t need to make a name for yourself anymore.
So I’ll keep doing my thing, and maybe you’ll never hear of me. And praise God, that’s OK.
I’m learning today not to respond in exasperation or anger when people ask me to do things I don’t want to do or am unable to do. After all, people can ask. I can say no. Why become upset? Instead of thinking, “How dare they ask that?!” I step back and think that the question isn’t the problem as much as my response might be.
People can ask. I can say no.
For example, after I post final grades, students inevitably ask me to raise their grades. Some even beg for the A. I always find myself so angered by the request–How dare they?— but then I realize that the way they ask for higher grades with such boldness (and sometimes rudeness) reminds me of, well, me.
Don’t I approach God with a bold and undeserving, often ridiculous kind of expectancy? Don’t I also appeal to His grace on days I need it most, on days when I have nothing to offer and perhaps have even screwed up terribly?
It helps me respond with more kindness and empathy, I suppose.
And I’m learning to possess the strong and loving “no” in my life. The older I grow, the more “no” matters. Sometimes the no is actually the most loving thing. Sometimes the no fosters in a work of God we cannot see. Sometimes the no means a yes somewhere else.
People can ask. I can say no.
And I’m no longer angry about it.
This morning, I recall Jesus’ words in the gospels when individuals approach Him. He asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” The question resonates with another statement God makes in 1 Kings 3:5 when He appears to Solomon. He says, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
I imagine God asking this same question and making this same statement to you and me. What would you say? What requests reflect the deepest, truest desire of your heart?
What do you want me to do for you?
God desires for us to ask, to come to Him with our needs, and to see how He answers. How mysterious and wonderful to begin each new day in response to Jesus’ invitation.
I find myself so happy making soup.
This week, I attempt a Potato Leek Soup and a Rich and Cream Vegan Corn Chowder.
I wanted options in my kitchen tonight. I also keep a bowl of fresh thyme and homemade croutons (slice homemade bread into cubes, toss with olive oil and fresh garlic, salt, and pepper and toast in a pan) for folks to garnish their soups.
As I grade papers and fold laundry, I pause to chop potatoes and fresh herbs for Soup and Stories.
My daughters love to grab a candy cane on the way out the door, and I simply replenish the candy whenever the bouquet looks thin. I used cinnamon sticks, candy canes, and some pine to create a simple decoration that smells great and invites you to take a bite.
A friend reminds me of all that goes into building a life–all the influences and teachers and experiences that shape faithfulness and maturity in another person. When we encounter someone, we become a tiny part–a little thread–in the tapestry of that life.
And we can be tiny. We don’t have to be everything. We aren’t everything.
I think about this in terms of parenting or in the scope of my ministry. Our words or actions might serve as the tiny thread that shifts the design, untangles a knot, or connects two larger threads so the pattern begins to make sense. It’s humbling, wise, and honest to admit we live as tiny threads.
Nearly imperceptible, we might just enter a life as it unravels. Our little thread might tie up a loose end, might fix a hole, might begin something new. We won’t know until heaven how our life threaded throughout the pattern of so many others. And we don’t have to know. We just have to stand ready for God to weave us in, secure us as He wishes, and approach others with gentleness and awe that now, our designs intertwine.
This morning I note the beauty of daily morning chores: I feed the sourdough bread starter; I brew the green tea; I stir oatmeal; I clean the breakfast dishes. These chores feel like small, beautiful rituals that make up my whole life. The daily things: this is living.
Later in the morning, the Italian Mama tells me about the deep contentment that comes from “small, tender mercies: walking the dog on a sunny day, seeing a shooting star, watching a full moon rise up over the horizon, the family laughing around the dinner table. . .”
It’s so true. I’ve been seeking the small, tender mercies. I linger over a student’s well-written and insightful sentence, and I consider the privilege of being this close to another person’s mind. I break from grading to roll out the sugar cookies to refill the Christmas cookie platter. I’m wearing a handmade blue apron that matches my husband’s that a dear mentor made us as a wedding gift.
I later stroll through the grocery store and pick out Brussels Sprouts from a big bin. I splurge on fresh blackberries that I’ll serve with our fish dinner. I’m wearing a handmade burgundy hat that a student presented to me yesterday. As an expert in costume design and all things fashion, he even attached a peacock and hawk feather to the wide black ribbon around the brim. I feel so fashionable, so glamorous.
Tonight, we visit friends for dessert, and I’ll bring some cookies since they come with me everywhere I go. I smell like butter and sugar; I wear flour like an accessory.
I’ll watch for the moon rising. I’ll look for shooting stars.
Tomorrow, I’ll start the whole thing again. After the morning chores, I’ll walk with the sun on my face and laugh with family around my table.
Growing older, I realize now, means perhaps most powerfully that we’ve increased our capacity for joy.
As I washed my hands in the kitchen sink this morning, I remember I did indeed recognize a flair moment yesterday (the day I didn’t blog). It’s because I glance up at my nearly dead orchid in the window sill to see that it sent out a hearty spike with bright green buds.
It’s going to bloom again!
Last year, after my neighbor gifted me with a beautiful orchid in a decorative pot shared with a succulent, I enjoyed the blooms until they died and the spike shriveled away. I trimmed it down and then basically ignored the plant.
Since I admired the dark green glossy leaves, I occasionally splashed the plant with water as I washed dishes.
And then! And then! This!
I learn that an orchid will rest for nearly a year and then bloom again with particular care. In this case, I inadvertently did everything right: the sunny (but not too bright) spot, the trimming away of the old growth, and the infrequent watering.
An orchid will bloom and then retreat into a dormant state to rest and restore nutrients. Then, sometime in the next year, it will bloom again.
It blooms just once a year. Once a year! Consider the wise orchid. I’m so thankful for the natural world that showcases the rhythms of rest and fruitfulness. I’m so thankful that sometimes, we spend our years restoring nutrients for that one beautiful moment.
An orchid blooms once a year and mostly rests. With particular care, I think about these rhythms as the winter seasons keeps us dormant and slow.
We’ll bloom in time.