There is a sweetness in having someone know and truly understand you, even if it means they are understanding your weaknesses. Over the past few weeks, I have been meeting with different women and I’ve noticed certain commonalities amongst us that we all understand almost wordlessly:
1. We want to be loved.
2. We want to feel safe.
3. We want to care for someone.
4. We feel inadequate and messy.
5. We are searching and longing.
This looks different for all of us. For some of us, it’s that we want a husband. For others, it’s that we have a husband and want children. Some of us already have both and are still longing for something else. It makes me think of Romans 8:22, where it says “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” We all desire future glory, whether we know it or not. Humanity is pregnant with pain and lately, it has seemed increasingly acute.
This world suggests that beauty, youth, wealth, and recognition will bring us true joy and peace. When we realize that we are all we need and just have enough self-confidence, then we can be truly satisfied and fulfilled. Even if my God had never opened my eyes to His glory and my need for Him, I would know that what the world offers is a lie.
I know too many beautiful, young, successful individuals who still long for more. And when they get it, what then? There is an ache that this world does not have the capacity to soothe.

As always, Christ steps in. In Hebrews 4:15, we see “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” This is a pretty familiar verse, so read it slowly and think about what this means. This means that the Son of God, present and creating at the beginning of the world, knows you.He has been tempted to fill His loneliness with another person. He has been tempted to grab power for Himself. He has cried tears of fear and pain and grief. And then we see hope in that He did this without sin. This makes Him the greatest High Priest because His pleas are untainted.
We then read further on to Hebrews 4:16 and we see “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Regardless of the situation and the longing, we can confidently go to the throne of grace. Grace is unmerited favor towards ill-deserving people. I deserve death and Christ gives me life. I deserve eternal separation and Christ says I will live forever with Him and His Father. I deserve loneliness and the Church is my family. In these two verses, I have hope because I see that not only does Christ empathize with me and really understand me, but He did something about it. He united me to God and filled the void inside of me. What an amazing Truth and one that I hope to never move on from.

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When I was six years old, my dad told me that people who got married after the age of 25 had a 50 or so higher percent chance of staying together. Being incredibly analytical and loving the certainty of statistics, I secretly vowed never to get married until I was 26, just to be safe. As I got older, I realized that marriage wasn’t “just marriage” to me and I started wanting to get married while I was in college, as I saw many of my other friends doing. To me, marriage wasn’t just a lifelong commitment or just an assumed social obligation, but rather it was an affirmation of value, a promise of security, and a guarantee of happiness. Actually, I say “was,” but you could easily read this in present tense and it would be just as true.
I bring this all up partly because I am 25 and have never really gone out on a real date and also because I am 25 and about six or seven of my friends have gotten married/engaged/pregnant in the past month or so. I do want to say that I am genuinely happy for these people because I do truly love each and every one of them and I know that God has led them to the people they are with, but I guess it also leaves me wondering when my time will come.
I always thought that if I just sort of followed the rules: go to college, get good grades, get a job, stay relatively healthy, have friends and meet people, etc., someone would just find me and instantly fall in love, but that hasn’t quite been the case. In the past, and I suppose, until about a week ago, this confirmed in my mind that I am awkward, too quiet, not fit enough, not smart enough, not _______ enough, or too much of___________. I felt that if I could just meet a certain set of standards, then I would be worthy of love and I would be content and feel whole.
Over this past week, I have watched married friends care for their daughter in the hospital, I have watched one of my friends care for her husband who is battling acute leukemia, and I’ve listened to a story of two individuals who both lost their spouses to untimely deaths. I realized that singleness, if viewed as a threat, is always looming and isn’t necessarily guaranteed once you are married. If I view relationships as a conduit of value, then anyone who is single, regardless of age or circumstance is rendered valueless. Common sense says this isn’t true at all, but I do believe that this is the widely held perception in our society. Every year, I get the inevitable question from students: “Ms. Lagman, how can you still be single?”,as if they are waiting for me to explain the flaw that keeps me unattached.
If a relationship does not automatically give you meaning and purpose, what then is the point? I was listening to my pastor explaining Genesis 1, where God creates Adam and Eve in His image and calls them very good. He then says that the two become one and are united when married. Later on, in the New Testament, Paul says that men are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her by dying on the Cross. The point of marriage is to point to Christ. Marriage does not fill a hole. Marriage helps you dig a grave for your old self so that you can die to your selfish desires and live every day sacrificing for the good of your spouse out of an overwhelming expression of love.
I know that I’m not married and I might not have the foggiest idea as to what I am really saying, but I do now that the chief end of man is to worship God and glorify Him forever and I believe He calls us to this whether we are single or married. Does this mean that singleness is any less lonely or painful? No, but it does mean that God meets us in that loneliness and shows us His love once again.

” From time to time we all come to those difficult moments of struggle- when life becomes a fight. Maybe we are depressed and can’t seem to find a way out. Or maybe we’re dealing with the loss of someone we love. And maybe in that existential moment we begin to wonder what we’re living for, what we’re aiming for, what we’re struggling for.

I’ve been there many times. Times when I question my God, myself, and everyone around me. Dark thoughts swim around my head, threatening to take control. I begin to fear that my existence has no purpose, that I’m alone without hope. It’s times like these that force me to consider the bigger questions in life. Those are the times when my identity is forged in a deeper awareness of my Creator/ re- Creator’s love for me. When I am aware of this love- my purpose is clear, my dignity cannot be threatened. My fears seem so small from this unassailable perspective.” -Jon Foreman on ” Love Alone is Worth the Fight.”

I know that I am only twenty-five, but the older I get, the more I realize that I perceive life as a constant fight. I am either attempting to earn more _________ [love, money, acceptance, etc.] or I am trying to convince myself of truths I desperately want to believe about myself, my God, or humanity. Very rarely do I seem to truly experience rest or the beautiful freedom of Grace.
I think I inherently want to feel like I’ve done something to contribute to the person that I am because I think that the earning somehow constitutes value. I exercise and wear makeup because I think that will make me a creature of beauty and therefore valuable to some man. I plan and worry about lessons for days before I teach because I think this will somehow make me a more well regarded teacher. I even read my Bible and pray because I think I will be a more substantial Christian. The reality is so far from my ideal.
When have I ever really felt valued and loved? It’s been in those surprising bursts of beauty that interrupt the gray of life. The other day, I was at the Home Depot, buying paint to cover up the graffiti on my desks, and the paint salesman found out I was a teacher. His co-worker asked who would pay for the paint, and I explained that I would because I work in a low income school, but that I don’t mind because it’s just something I have to do. Looking back, I think it’s weird that I truly, 100% meant that when I said it. I don’t mind all the stuff we have to do for our kids because I remember all the times my teachers “didn’t mind” for me. To have the opportunity to be that adult to a child is an amazing privilege that I don’t ever want to take lightly. I digress. Anyway, as I was leaving, the paint salesman ran up behind me, redirected me to a checkout stand, and gave me 10% off each paint can. I was so struck by such a random act of kindness that when I went to the car, I prayed and thanked God for this grace.
Isn’t it strange how our souls respond to kindness? In the instant we receive it, we realize how we thirsted for it and how incredibly soothing it is. The next moment, though, we’re trying to find ways to justify our receipt of it, as if we can’t just accept the beauty and leave it as is. I want to find my identity in the love I’ve received from my Creator, expressed directly through salvation and indirectly through His creation. I want to know, with a deep rooted conviction, that I am loved infinitely and wholly. I want to love with a love that overflows from an overwhelming awe of the One who calls me to follow Him.

Grace in Practice: Teaching

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about grace. I am not sure why, but it seems to continually pop up in conversations, media, and even just in random occurrences throughout my day. For instance, today was science planning at my school and, as I was speaking to one of my friends, he stated, “Teaching is so hard because you work a lot and you do so much and, at the end, you feel like you pretty much did nothing and you can be so much better than you were.” Honestly, I do feel like teaching is, at once, of the least and one of the most grace-filled professions in existence.
You cannot be a good teacher and refuse to pour out grace. Every day, some kid (usually the same one) will yell, curse, scream, refuse to do work, or in some way, make your inadequacies obvious, but every day, that same kid will show up and you will teach him. He will probably be the kid you think about when you wake up and the kid you think about when you are about to sleep. You might even plan lessons around him in an attempt to engage him. He will do everything he can to push you away, but you, with your teacher’s instinct, will keep coming after him. Grace, as Paul Zahl defines it, is one way love.
At the same time, most good teachers have a hard time experiencing and receiving grace. We are a performance oriented group, focused on “winning” kids over, raising test scores, and making interesting and enjoyable lessons. We measure our success by the success of others and when we fall short, even if it is only by one or a few kids, we feel as though we have completely and utterly failed. I say this, not to say that I am a good teacher, but to say that I, and most of my colleagues are often so overwhelmingly aware of our shortcomings, that I fear we never see our triumphs quite so clearly.
I think this world is one that cries out in desperation for more and more one way love and I think that we so often seek it in the wrong places. People often tell me I just need “more self-confidence” or to “love myself” or “show grace to myself.” I know myself. I know the depths of my faults and I know that I am not enough to cover the darkness within.
John 1 comes as such a glorious and soothing balm to my soul when Jesus is proclaimed to be the “light that the darkness has not yet overcome.” This light is within me and it cannot be silenced. It is a light that is a continual reminder of grace because its glow never diminishes, try as hard as my flesh may to snuff it out.

New beginnings

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I decided to take a break from my current Bible reading plan and am starting the “A Fresh Start” plan from “shereadstruth.” I loved the quote at the bottom of the introduction to the plan, so I copied it into my journal as a personal statement of commitment. Before I go into the reading, which was Genesis 1:1-31, let me say that this quote super struck a chord with me. I am the older of two children, a committed law-follower, an anal retentive perfectionist, and an overachiever. I hate getting things wrong and I feel better about myself when I can count all the things I have done right. Unfortunately, that list has been rather short lately. This is the time of year when teachers are most painfully aware of their shortcomings and I find this to be particularly jarring for myself, personally.
As a teacher, I am so aware of all the assessments I could have given, how far behind I am in grading, how I could have deepened a relationship here, or grabbed a teachable moment there, and how it seems like even the first teachers are surpassing me in ability. As a Bible study leader, I see all the times I could have prayed more for the girls in my group, how I could have initiated more coffee dates, how I could have led better Bible studies, or how I could have been a better example of Godly womanhood. As a woman, I think I could lose more weight, eat better, be more assertive, care more about my appearance, or care less about my appearance. All the lists of “shoulds” and “coulds” are piling up and I find myself struggling under their weight.
Then, Christ comes in. He confirms what I have already come to know: I am not enough and all I do on my own is fall short. I need more of Him and I need to see my desperation for His grace. I can’t make it right because He is the only One who can do it and He has done so already. I can’t get better until I see that He is the Best. My list of things I have done right will always be shorter than His list of things He has done perfectly.

So. Back to Genesis. I was blown away by verse 28, where God gives the commands to Adam and Eve. I had never noticed it before, but all of the things He commanded them to do were things He had already demonstrated He Himself could do perfectly by creating. He was fruitful by producing the plants and the animals. He multiplied all living organisms on earth. He filled the earth, subdued it, and clearly had dominion over it because anything He commanded happened instantly. Why then, would He pass this command onto His creatures? I realized that the command came after the statement that man and woman were made in His image and likeness. He desires us to follow Him in order for us to reflect Him and show His image accurately.

Of course, my heart immediately went to all the ways I don’t reflect Him and all the ways I instead choose to disobey His commands. But then, I realized that grace is written all over this passage, woven into each line and bursting from every word. God calls everything “good” and everything happens as He commands, and yet He creates humanity. He KNOWS that we aren’t going to follow all He commands and that we are going to take His good and drag it through dirt. Yet, He creates because He loves. That’s how it was at the beginning, that’s how it is now, and that’s how it will be at the end.

Follow Me

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. ” -Matthew 4:18-21

  I have been teaching seventh grade science for the past three years, and it is honestly one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I love it and I have committed to continuing to teach at least for the foreseeable future, but I definitely struggle. One of the biggest challenges I have found in teaching is getting students to follow what I say. First of all, my students are twelve to thirteen in age and they almost by default decide that they need to oppose me. Second, many of them have grown up in a culture of entitlement where they have been conditioned to believe that they are either victims, the center of the universe, or debt collectors waiting for a payout. Third, they are surrounded by their peers and are far more concerned about the approval of their friends than they are about their own well being and the approval of their nerdy and awkward science teacher.

  This week, I had one of those “teacher moments” that reminds you why you decided to get into teaching. I had one of those moments that temporarily makes you forget about the staff meetings, the burden of “closing the achievement gap,” the students who ignore and belittle you, the administrators who pile on the demands, and all the other things that cause teachers to quit in droves every year. I had a moment where I saw a student learn and apply what he had learned.

 I have a student who I am going to call Joe, just in case anyone from my school sees this. I have had Joe since the beginning of the year and he is difficult to teach. The highest grade he has gotten in my class is a D, he reads at a fourth or fifth grade reading level, he is constantly disrupting my class, and he distracts almost every other student in the room. However, I came to the realization a few weeks ago that I genuinely love this kid. Every teacher has those kids that make lasting impressions and who are kids they would legitimately do anything for. Joe is that kid for me. Anyway, I have had numerous occasions to talk to this kid throughout the year because he (along with three or four other kids) eats lunch with me every day, he is in the running club I organize, and he is just consistently in my room to talk about his day or the problems he is having. Recently, I realized that he has changed a lot as the year has progressed.

  This week, he was arguing with another student in the middle of class. It started getting out of hand because they were yelling while I was attempting to instruct the students and they both stood up and began showing signs of aggression. I gently grabbed Joe’s shoulder and told him, in a low voice, to ignore the other student. To my surprise, Joe immediately stopped and sat quietly for the rest of class, until I sent him out to cool down because I could see the anger building as he sat quietly and took the other student’s insults. Once he was outside, I told him I was proud of him and that I knew it was hard to have self control. He replied that he knew what he had to do and he didn’t want to get in trouble. At the beginning of the year, we had this same issue and he actually started fighting the kid in my class in the middle of instruction.

  The second thing that happened this week was that I told him he needed to stop hanging out with the two friends I always see him with. His friends, I told him, were going nowhere and were okay with it. Both of these students are completely failing my class and are disruptive and at times disrespectful. He responded that he had been friends with both kids for a while and he knew it wasn’t good but they were his friends. He then proceeded to run out in the middle of my discussion with him. I assumed he wasn’t listening, but the next day, he asked to eat lunch with me without his friends and I didn’t see him interact with them during class.

  I had Joe’s best interests in mind from the beginning of the year, just as I have every student’s best interest in mind. However, he has bucked against me at every turn and refused to listen to anything I say. It wasn’t until we had built up a relationship and he himself was convinced that he actually started following me and making decisions that went against his reasoning and personal logic. He trusted my logic and my decisions more than his own because he knew I cared and that he could trust me.

 God has had my (and your) best interests from the start, even before we existed. We buck against him at every turn, assuming we know better. We should always take the highest paying job, always go to the best school, always follow our hearts, always marry the most attractive person, pursue comfort, etc. We trust in our own logic and our own understanding, not realizing how we are hurting ourselves, the people around us, and God Himself. However, when we follow God, we find life and we realize He knew what was best all along.

  I think that’s what often blows me away when I read this passage of Jesus calling the disciples. He calls them in the middle of their work. He doesn’t wait until it’s convenient for them or until they have worked their way up to trusting Him. He calls them when He wants to call them and…they follow immediately. What is it about Jesus that they must have seen that told them they could skip through all the resistance, the defiance, and the clinging to their will? What is it I perceive about Jesus that makes me not skip through those things?

 I find it far easier to pursue my own goals and interests than to follow those of my Savior and King. What would life really look like if I chose to wholeheartedly run after my Savior and my God who has done nothing but show me grace? Oh, that my heart would be softened and my eyes opened to the worthlessness of all I hold dear apart from my God. Let my teaching be for You, Lord. Let my breathing be for You. Help me to let go of my selfishness and my reluctance to loving You.  Let me not wait for a convenient time to follow You. Instead, let me follow You know and let me see that You are all I need.