How Dare He? But Wait…

I had been grading papers for a few hours, for what feels like the umpteenth day in a row, when I got the email from my colleague. “How is the grading coming along? The students should get their papers back in time to help them on the next assignment.” Upon reading those words, the emotional response was immediate: anger. Resentment. How dare he?!?

I suppose I should backtrack and explain a bit. I teach writing—technical communication—in an engineering college, and what that means is that I’m the one teaching engineering students how to write reports. At my university, we do a lot of team teaching and this particular course is team-taught by engineering faculty—my colleague—and me. I’m responsible for grading sixty of the eighty students’ papers (one other person does the other twenty), and right now I’m muddling through individual reports that are between four and five pages each.

Have you ever tried to read sixty, four to five page research papers that are students’ first real attempt at technical communication? Yeah. Not easy. And because I want to be helpful, and the best opportunity I have to teach students on an individual basis is through the comments I make on their papers, each one takes me between half an hour and forty-five minutes.

Some more background: I have taught this particular course, with this particular colleague, four times in the past and two other times when he wasn’t teaching. And I recently realized that this is my eighteenth year teaching at the college level. Oh, and I have degrees in the teaching of writing and in technical communication, and some people even call me Dr. Rhonda in reference to my PhD (which I find a bit awkward and hilarious, but there it is). But when I read that email, I once again felt as if I were being scolded, judged, perceived as a graduate student who is just learning how to teach and grade and do all of the things. As if I can’t do my job without a reminder to do it, even worse, as if I can’t be trusted to know what my job is and to get it done. And that—that made me angry. (It still does.)

This time, though, after the immediate reaction, I caught myself. If I’m going to be fair, emails like this have been a regular occurrence with this particular colleague, not only with me but with people far older and more experienced than me. And this year he has been much better about sending them out, much better at resisting that urge to micromanage everything. This is the first time he’s sent out an email like this in a month—that’s an amazing record. So why was my immediate response anger and resentment?

Honestly, it’s because I am already upset with myself for not having the papers graded yet. While I know personally that I have been doing my best to catch up and keep up in this crazy, death-illness-and-snow-ridden semester, I also am disappointed with myself for not having caught up or kept up. And upon reading that email, I immediately wanted to be defensive, list every reason I don’t have the papers finished, justify myself, make myself look better in his eyes. And that’s just it: Even when I don’t feel good about myself—maybe especially when I don’t feel good about myself—I want to look good to other people, to have them respect me and not judge me. I want to feel better knowing other people think well of me. So many of my actions when it comes to work are motivated by this—by wanting others to think well of me. I have a hard time keeping the eternal perspective, the God perspective that goes like this:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:23-24, ESV)

I’m not quite sure how to keep the eternal perspective, but I know as I just read those words I had tears in my eyes. I am working for the Lord. The thought that he knows my heart, he knows my true efforts, he knows whether I’ve been working heartily or not, is a comfort. It’s also a motivation to keep going. To keep going when the work feels like drudgery, when everything that results from it feels like judgment or—even worse—indifference or active, intense dislike (on my students’ parts; engineers are not always enthusiastic about writing). And the thought that even when all I can seem to see and feel is the here and now, that something I am doing in the here and now may make an eternal difference—that is motivating. Because the one reward I really want, I long for, is to hear those lovely words of affirmation:

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. (Matt. 25:21, ESV)

Lord, let me be good. Let me be faithful. And let me keep going, keep working earnestly, and let me do it as for you and not for men. Help me to keep that eternal perspective.

#work #eternalperspective #workforthelord #anger #resentment #defensiveness #disappointment #faithfulness

Not Enough

All day, I have struggled.

Struggled with my sense of worth, my sense of worthiness.

I am not a good wife. I’m not good enough. I’m not enough. I’ve only seen my husband for a few minutes each day for the past nine days since his mother entered the hospital. And I think I have failed. Failed him, because he seems to have forgotten that he has a wife and children, has a home of his own. He seeks all of his comfort in his mother’s illness and death—early Saturday morning (was that just yesterday?)—in others, in his father and siblings. And we are left behind. It’s because I’m not enough. I have failed as a wife, so he has turned to others.

I am not a good mother. I’m not good enough. I’m not enough. I struggle with teaching my children God’s word, although I know how valuable it is. I want to show them, to be a living example of someone following God, yet I often fall short of actually teaching them. I am failing as a mother. I’m not good enough.

I am not a good steward. I misuse my money, my time. I have dreams of being able to do more, to minister more, to give more. But why would God trust me with more if I can’t even use what he has already given me appropriately?

I am not a good housekeeper. Just come to my house unexpectedly. Drop-bys are the stuff of my nightmares. If you come to my house without three days’ warning, you will see what I mean.

I am not a good daughter.
I am not a good sister.
I am not a good aunt.
I am not a good friend.
I am not a good teacher.
I am not a good listener.
I am not good enough.

I am not enough.

Cue the song that I thought would be today’s soundtrack, the one I pulled up and watched/listened to on YouTube just a few minutes ago: “Not Enough” by Our Lady Peace from their album Gravity. As I was listening to that, YouTube’s “watch this next” suggestions pulled up another song: Lauren Daigle’s “You Say,” the opening line of which reads, “I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough…”

An algorithm, I know. Someone wrote an algorithm to pull songs and videos with similar lyrics and make suggestions for one based on the other. But when a song comes up reminding me that God loves me, God knows me, that I have worth because he sees worth in me, then I need to cling to that.

Even after the song came up, even after the reminder of how God sees me, I once again proved I am not enough. My husband came home, and instead of being supportive of him, I let my hurt, my frustration, my own anxiety and stress come out in the form of anger toward him. I tried to express what I was feeling, and when he responded by trying to express and explain what he was feeling and what he has been spending his time doing in return, I kept biting back.

The truth is, none of us is enough. I really do fall short—so tremendously short. All of us do. That’s why I so desperately need God. Because he IS enough. Even his name says that: I AM. Without him, I will never be enough, never be the person he created me to be. But although God sees the sinner, he also sees the Savior and my potential as I hide myself in him.

He knows who I am, inside and out, better than anyone ever will—myself included. But but he also knows who I have the potential to be, who he created me to be, who I will be with his help. Amazingly, even knowing all he knows about me, knowing that I will fail again and again, he showed me the most tremendous love there is: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, ESV).

I’m not enough. Still. Every minute, every day. But he is, and for that I am grateful.

Jan. 14, 2019 addendum: I have received such an outpouring of love and support and understanding after this post. I am blessed to have a supportive family in Christ, whether I know you personally or not. Thank you.

Supporting Arms

As a writer, words are important to me. I can (and do) spend hours finding just the right words to convey my message when I write, and a well-written worship song—especially one that echoes God’s own words to us—will have me raising my hands in praise. But all too often, finding just the right words to say eludes me. My mouth is much less wise than my fingers, often blurting out ill-advised words that have little thought put into them. In the moment, when what one says is what counts, I fall incredibly short.

Last night, I didn’t have the words to say. I felt helpless to help my husband. He was hurting, anxious, and a little lost, wanting to cling to and draw strength from God but not quite sure how to do so. His mother, in her late eighties, was admitted to the hospital yesterday. The doctors have located the problems but can’t offer any real medical solutions. My husband’s is a position many of us have been in, and at the end of the day I found myself, as I have in years past, trying to encourage and support him as he learns how to lean on God. But I felt incredibly inadequate to the task. And even as I offered Bible verses to respond to the concerns he voiced, I wanted to run and hide. I know how much supporting him in times like this will cost me, and I don’t have the strength to endure it.

That’s just it, though, isn’t it? I don’t need the words, and I don’t need the strength. Instead, I have to trust that God will provide both the words and the strength, for me and for my husband. Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what they would say, “for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:12, NIV). And when Moses doubted whether he was up to the task that God had given to him,

The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Ex. 4:11-12, NIV)

And although I forget time and time again—even as I am counseling others to do so—I need to rely on God, not on myself, for strength, for that is when his glory is revealed: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'” (2 Cor. 12:9, NIV).

What I do need to do—what I am called to do in times like these—is offer my husband what support I can. Sometimes, when the words to a worship song are right and it seems fitting to lift up my hands in praise, my arms tire but I resist putting them down until the verse or chorus has passed. At times like those I think of Moses, lifting up his hands and the staff of God in support of Israel as they fought Amalek (Ex. 17:8-16). When Moses lifted the symbol of God’s power and presence into the air, the Israelites prevailed in the battle. But when Moses began to tire and his arms fell, the Israelites began to lose. It is then, when he was tired and Israel was losing, that God called upon Aaron and Hur to come alongside Moses and lift his hands up for him, “one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset” (Ex. 17:12).

When I was facing my own inadequacy last night, I texted a friend of ours to (again) ask for prayer, letting him know of my own struggles. He responded, “You will be exactly what [your husband] needs when he needs it. God has equipped you with everything that you need to get through this.” God hasn’t called upon me to be strong, but he has called upon me to support my husband, to hold up his arms, to carry his burdens (Gal. 6:2). In turn, I am able to cast my own cares on him (I Peter 5:7) and, in him, find rest (Matt. 11:29-30).

This afternoon, as I struggled with finding the words to finish this post, our friend texted me again: “Praying for you today!” It turns out, that as I have been working (writing) to hold up my husband’s arms through prayer, through study, through understanding, others have been holding up mine in turn. The Bible doesn’t tell us that anyone came along to help Aaron or Hur, but in my imagination I can see a chain of people holding the arms of my husband, his mother, his family, and even me up in prayer. Even in the midst of uncertainty surrounding my mother-in-law, we can rest in the arms of our Lord and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Praise the Lord.