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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lessons Off the Court: Junior High Trauma, Conclusion

MJ had hit the rolled up mat just fine; but, for some reason, her arms spread farther out as she started into the flip. Afterwards, we tried to figure out if her palms had been sweaty, causing her hands to slide, sideways, out of position. As her weight was launched onto the mat, her arms could not hold her weight in the flip and she crumbled, head-first in front of the rolled mat. she could not get up right away and had tears in her eyes when she did manage to stand. The teacher did not know that MJ had been hurt and wanted her to try again. MJ was shaking and, refused. We all thought she should rest awhile, at least, so the line moved on. Fortunately, the buzzer rang for the end of class before MJ had to try again.

We showered and walked over to the class building. MJ said her neck hurt and she just wanted to leave. Instead, she finished out the afternoon before we walked home together. Near as I can recall, it was about six blocks from school to the corner of W. Maryland and Third, where our families lived just across the street from one another. There wasn’t a lot of conversation between us; MJ was really in pain. She held her neck quite rigid and her voice sounded like it was hard for her to talk. We pretty much just walked, quietly, in our own thoughts. I’m not sure if MJ’s mother was a nurse or not, but I had the impression that MJ would be okay once she got home because her mother would know what to do to help her.

The next day I had to leave for school earlier than MJ so didn’t know until later that she would not be in class that day. In fact, MJ would not be in class again for quite a number of days; she had broken her neck.

The pain of the injury did not compare to the humiliation of the long treatment, in my adolescent opinion anyway. In those days they did not have the metal halo rings to immobilize the neck. Rather, they put the patient in a cast from about mid-torso to the top of the head, leaving the face and ears exposed, as well as an area of hair sticking out the top of the white plaster. My friend had beautiful, bright red hair so you can imagine how that might have looked coming straight out of the cast, right? Woody Woodpecker. I felt so sorry for MJ. Besides school, I think the only place she went out of the house all of those long weeks in that tortuous cast, was one Saturday afternoon movie we saw together. She was just too embarrassed to be seen in public. I didn’t blame her; folks always laughed at the site of her cast and red hair. It was an absolutely miserable thing for an adolescent to have to endure.

MJ recovered and, as you might imagine, was excused from tumbling classes for the rest of her academic years in that school system. The things that law suits are made of, for sure, though I doubt that her folks brought legal action; people just didn’t do it all that often in those days. The Physical Education teacher was not really the monster this one account makes her out to be. In fact, she was the mother of two students in that school, a boy one year older and a girl one year younger than our class. I am sure she felt terrible about what happened to MJ. Trying to get a room full of adolescent girls to do something none of them wanted to do was not an easy job for any teacher. Asserting one’s authority sometimes looked a bit “over the top” and, clearly, sometimes it was! The student’s fear factor, coupled with the coordination challenge, should not have been overlooked.

The thing that this traumatic episode in my friend’s life did for me was inject a huge reality check into how I viewed teachers. Somehow, as a young person struggling to emerge from that cocoon of childhood into that butterfly state called “adult,” it had never before occurred to me that obeying a teacher could get your neck broken. How could we not obey a teacher? Shouldn’t obeying a teacher keep us safe? Teachers were “just humans”; but, as students, we were rather programmed to believe that they were infallible. Obviously, they were not. It was a troubling revelation.

If you missed the earlier posting with MJ, here’s the link to the 50-mile hike

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lessons Off the Court: Junior High Trauma

“Okay, stand back here, run five paces, position your hands like this, flip and roll.” The volleyball court had been covered with gymnastics mats, with one large rolled mat about one-fourth of the way inside the back border. Did I know a single student in my Physical Education class that actually liked tumbling? Nope, not a single one. We did it, because we had to in order to pass P.E. for the school term. Some students were more coordinated than others so their dislike was more along the lines of messing up their hair than the fear of crashing and burning in front of everyone. “Remember, tuck your head before the forward roll.”

The first girl ran, positioned her hands too close and didn’t make the flip cleanly. No way could she do the forward roll out of the flip; she just sat slumped down on the mat. The teacher asked her to stand by the mat that was rolled up and showed her that her hands should be straight down from her shoulders so that the hands aligned with the shoulders. They would not be in the way then. As she demonstrated this, we all moved our hands to see how far apart we needed to have them when they hit the mat. Too far out and we’d not likely have the muscle push to flip our bodies over the mat.

The first girl tried again and was successful this time. The rest of us just tensed up while we watched each girl before us hit and flip. Most did not have a clean forward roll so we would not worry about the finish. We’d just concentrate on getting our hands positioned for the flip. It was not the Summer Olympics, it was just P.E. class and surviving the hour was all the 14-year-olds in my class cared about at this point. Form and finish were just not an issue.

Fear, on the other hand, was a very real issue with some of the girls. I was among their number. It was far more than the fear of failure and the ridicule that was sure to follow. It was fear of getting hurt, though I had no idea just how badly someone could get hurt in this drill. I had a sprained or broken ankle in mind, figuring I might not land evenly coming out of the flip. One by one the line in front of me advanced and the number of butterflies attacking my stomach increased, exponentially, with each step I moved closer to my turn. I could tell my friend, MJ was totally petrified so I was worried for her, too.

MJ was the friend who‘d entered the JFK 50-mile walk for America with me the previous year. She had talents in academics and music. She was very slender, could run but, coordination was not really something her adolescent limbs had yet mastered. I was more coordinated but a chubby adolescent so had to work harder at anything requiring body lift. I could position my hands correctly, no problem, but could my muscles propel my body over the rolled up mat and through the flip? I didn’t know. I reasoned that since I could do a handstand, I should be able to do this, shouldn’t I?

When there were no more students in front of me, my mouth suddenly dried up like the salt flats in Wyoming. I tried to swallow but couldn’t. That blasted whistle blew, signaling the teacher’s impatience. I took a deep breath, hoping to steady my racing heart, and stepped off. Focus, focus, I told myself while counting off five running steps. My pre-flip form would not have impressed judges, had there been any besides the teacher, because my hands sprung to the flip position as soon as my legs  began to move. They were more than ready to do their job when I finished step 5. Hands flat on the mat, flip over and land. My relief at having landed evenly distracted me and left me a bit confused as to the next step. I started to stand instead of crouch but the snickers alongside the mat cause me to re-focus. Quickly, I tucked my head and did a jerky forward roll to the finish. I made it!

I have no idea if MJ’s thoughts were along the same lines as mine before her flip and roll or not. I knew she was afraid but her pleas to be excused from the drill fell on deaf ears. MJ never mentioned anything about her own thoughts as we walked home from school; when she could speak, she, mostly, talked about the pain.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lessons Off the Court: Junior High Parents Night, Conclusion

“Okay, girls, that’s it. Go out there and play fair; do your best!” Of course, our coach was also the coach of our opponents so we had to wait for her to finish the same pep talk she would be repeating for the Eighth Grade team now. Two sharp blasts of her whistle and we took our places at the center of the court. Our tallest player didn’t come close to the height of their tallest player, but we got the tip of the ball, nevertheless. That was the one, and only, kindness we were shown by these hard-driving eighth grade basketball players.

As had been my fear, their tallest player was assigned to a one-on-one defense, against me. Twisting out and pushing up in another zone made not a bit of difference; they were not working a zone defense. If I moved, she moved… no matter where on the court I was, she was in my face. When I was in place and received the pass for the shot, I just could not jump higher than the reach of those long arms. She probably wasn’t really 8 feet tall but it felt like it to my 5:4” , especially when she stretched out her arms and grabbed the ball just seconds after it left my hand on every jump shot, every single one. Fortunately, it was just an exhibition game so only lasted part of the First Quarter of the usual game time. Our team lost 2:1 and, no, it wasn’t me that made the one point at the free-throw line. I never got a chance at scoring from the free-throw line; my opponent never once fouled me. She was jus too good, as well as too tall, for me.

The sad thing was that I had hoped to do better at basketball to help cover up the humiliation that awaited me when the court became a dance floor. It was just not to be. As you might have imagined, I was not in the best of humor when the boy took my hand and led me out to the designated area, all those adult eyes watching us, smiling as only parents can at these things.

I glanced at my much taller, blond friend as the intro started. His broad grin did not bode well; that twinkle in his blue eyes was just all-too-familiar a precursor to his comedy spots. The stereo loud speakers vibrated as Chubby Checker belted out, “C’mon everybody, c’mon… twist and shout!” We began the usual gyrations, fairly stiffly at first. I could see my dance partner, laughing, twisting and turning. He looked like he was really having a great time. In fact, so much so that I forgot all the peering eyes and began to get into it, too! I just focused on his eyes and what the rest of him was doing and ignored everything else… and everyone else in the stands. Funnily enough, I did enjoy the dance, as well as the applause from the adults at the end!

Both of these events had been surprises, indeed! I had expected that the dancing would come under the category recorded in Hebrews Chapter 5, verse 8: “…yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (KJV). I expected I would suffer, big time, in submitting to my teacher and obeying her in this dance program but, it would be good for me to just obey in the end. Ha, in the end, it was the event that gave me a lot of pleasure not suffering. I wonder just how many times in my life I could have had the pleasure, had I not let fear or pride keep me from obeying?

God understands all of our difficult moments in life and He always has. While God does want us to succeed, and is our biggest cheerleader, God also wants us to grow to be like Jesus. Humility is an important part of God’s character and He wants us to learn humility, too. Sometimes that looks like the tallest eighth grader we’ve ever had guarding us, with arms long enough to rip that prideful skill right out of us in mid-air! In the total scheme of things, not so bad. The other girl and I, actually, became really good friends.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lessons Off the Court: Junior High Parents Night

“Tomorrow, the list for Parents night will be posted. Be sure to check for your name to see which event you’re in for the program.” The collective groan might have shook the building had our Physical Education facilities not been so old, made in the era when bricks and mortar formed the foundation of every public building. Off we slogged to the locker room. No need to hurry, History class was next; what’s the rush to get there on time?

“So, whadduyah think we’ll have to do for the program? Any guesses?” There were a lot of guesses and laughter filling the airspace in the long underground corridor, all of which continued in the locker room and out the doors back to the main building to history. Everyone put in their two cents worth. None of us like Parents Night.

“What I don’t get is why do it in the first place? I mean, we haven’t enjoyed Parents Night since Sixth Grade Square Dancing exhibition so why do we have to do this at all?” I wasn’t the one asking but I was, certainly, in agreement with the unanimous response that followed.

“Because they want us to show the parents the Phys. Ed. teachers are earning their salaries.” Groans from all of us 14-year-olds followed. Adults had been adolescents at some point in their lives; didn’t they know how humiliating Parents Night was for us? These were years when we wanted to hide away in the shadows, not be in a spotlight with a lot of adults watching us perform like trained dogs at the circus. Well, I’d wait to see the list… sometimes there weren’t enough events for the number of kids because of the small court we had to use for the program.

“Lucky you, Sojourner, you’re in two events, according to this list.” My friends were laughing, until some of them found the same demise had also befallen them.

“Hey, you guys see this? They’re matching us up with the Eighth Grade basketball team. Ha, we’ll whip their socks.”

“Sojourner, you’re on the team; but, that’s no surprise, you’re top scorer in our Ninth grade P.E. class.” My friends were a whole lot more confident than I was about our victory; I saw more of a challenge with the younger girls than their bravado indicated. The bantering continued, accompanied by a lot of nervous laughter as we all contemplated the crowd of parents watching us from the grandstands.

Then my eyes fell upon an event I would never in a bazillion years have volunteered for: Dancing! But, not just any dancing; oh, no, nothing folksy like the Walse or Fox Trot, though someone else got that privilege. Oh, no, I was assigned to partner with my former trombone mate from Summer Band four years previous to this auspicious demonstration. We would be dancing “The Twist.” I had no idea if he would take the thing seriously; or, as would be more in line with his character, make it a comedy routine since he would have such a huge audience. Maybe, I could get my parents to forget about coming? Not likely, I’d probably have to just give them the wrong day or time. I was about to experience the worst night of my entire life; I could just see it coming.

****Lessons Off the Court: Junior High Parents Night, Conclusion… Coming Tomorrow

Friday, May 25, 2012

Nuggets from High School: Career Guidance?

     “Why did you tell my parents that they would be wasting their money to send me to university?” I was not as indignant as my mother at this news, but it was, certainly, a shock. I was a member of the National Honor Society, as well as involved in the school’s extracurricular activities. Teachers liked me, as did the students who had voted me in as the President of the Pep Club, the largest organization in the school. Why did the Guidance Counselor think I would fail university classes?

     “Sojourner, you and I both know that your interest is more along the line of extracurricular activities than academic studies. I have no doubt that, out from under the watchful eye of your parents, your studies would take a backseat to everything else. I think they would be wasting their money, and I told them so.” Give me a break; what adolescent doesn’t prefer extracurricular activities to studying?

     In truth, I felt that his opinion was more along the thread of what I experienced my first day of school, 12 years ago: “Oh, you’re Donna’s sister? We’ll be expecting a lot from you then.” My older sister was an outstanding student throughout primary and secondary school years but now, as I neared the end of my own public school education, I would have thought that this bias would have been put to rest. No, I was not going to be the Salutatorian of my class, as she was; but, on the other hand, I had more than just passing grades. What’s the deal?

     “Were my test scores so low that there was some question I could qualify for admission?” We had recently taken the tests all high school students are subjected to but I had not learned my results at this point. Maybe this was his way of sparing my parents the truth that I had received such a low score that I couldn’t get in anyway?

     “No, you did just fine. Too fine, in fact, so I’m sure there’s a mistake somewhere. Or, you found a way to cheat.” I was dumbfounded at his accusation. Cheat! Why ever would he think that? The Guidance Counselor turned his back to grab a sheet of paper off his filing cabinet. “I have it right here. There is no way you could ever have earned a 97% in Math; we both know that, don’t we?” He fairly spat out his opinion.

     “Wow, 97%! What were the rest of the grades like?” Clearly, he was not happy with my response, as his stern frown bore into my surprised visage.

     “That’s my point. They were all in that range so I know there’s something wrong with those results. You couldn’t even work the most basic of Advanced Algebra story problems, or don’t you remember?” His sneer hurt me more than the memory of my two tutoring sessions in his office at the beginning of the previous school year. Story problems in any Math course had always been a struggle for me. It didn’t really take two sessions to convince me that he couldn’t help me learn how to do them but his insistence on a second try put me back in that office.

     “I don’t know if there was some computation error or not, but I do know that I didn’t cheat on that test.” My face was burning so, no doubt, it was also a glaring red. My embarrassment quickly turned to anger and, forgetting I was the kid and he was the adult in authority over me, I shouted back at him, “Fortunately, most classes, including Math, are not exclusively made up of story problems and I can do the rest just fine! How dare you tell my parents they would be wasting their money to send me to university!” I whipped around and started for the door.

     “Come back here. You don’t talk to me that way and then just leave my office.” I did not stop or turn around. I said nothing and, fortunately for me, the nurse’s office was nearly directly across from the Guidance Counselor’s office so I stepped through that door. By now tears were pouring down my face like Niagara Falls; the nurse reached around and closed her door behind me.

     To this day, I don’t know what the problem was with this Guidance Counselor’s opinion of me. I had no trouble with university classes, Math or otherwise. Truthfully, while I had really enjoyed the activities of high school, I wasn’t interested in getting involved in much more than classes once I started university. I worked hard studying and spent hours doing lab experiments. I also held down a work-study job as a server for the breakfast meal, beginning at 6:30 AM my first year. I wasn’t messing around as the Guidance Counselor had expected.

     My mother took great delight sending this fellow an invitation to each of my three university graduations, adding my Grade Point Average and degree earned in a note with each one. Her only disappointment when I finished my Master of Nursing Science (MSN) degree from the University of Virginia, with outstanding grades and awards, was that the dear man had died before she could send the announcement/invitation.

     Dear Reader, perhaps you have also had such a story in your own past. The adults in our lives can so easily crush our adolescent spirit as we struggle to gain our independence. Often, as I believe was the case in the above story, it is not intentional. They just see things differently than teens. They often speak, or give advice, without even really knowing the individual well enough to make such a judgment. However, there is One Who does know you well; He created you! Your loving Father God knows you, your potential and your desires. He has a perfect plan for your life… no matter how old you are when you ask Him to show you His plan!

     One of my favorite verses in Scripture is part of a letter the young prophet, Jeremiah, wrote to the exiles in Babylon… at the Lord’s inspiration. God did not think him too young for such an important job and God never sees us as too old to step into His plan for our lives.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 29:11-14a NIV)

****Have a terrific weekend!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Nuggets from High School: English

     “We’re going to begin studying one of Shakespeare’s plays…” Mrs. Olson’s *announcement was interrupted by an entire classroom of groaning 15-year-olds. “Wait until I finish telling you what we’re going to do.” Skeptical, doesn’t come close to describing how we reacted. Must be tough to teach adolescents!

     Choruses of whispered “Bo-o-oring” could be heard but the teacher continued as though she hadn’t heard.

     “I’m assigning parts for each act of the play so you’ll prepare to read your own part. We’ll first discuss the background for the play so you can get an idea of what led up to the scenes.” This was, definitely, a new approach to reading Shakespeare… we would be the actors. Now, that sounded like it had potential. She was right, we would need to know more than which lines to read on the page if we were going to understand how to read them. Suddenly, Shakespeare didn’t seem so boring anymore. Herein began my personal love of the works of Shakespeare.

Later in the year
     “Sojourner, I’d like you to read over this bulletin and consider writing a story.” Mrs. Olson handed me a copy of the little newspaper-like journal distributed to students, periodically. I had loved the Junior Scholastic publication throughout the younger years in school but didn’t really pay much attention to it now. She pointed to an announcement, calling for students to enter a writing contest.

     “Me? You think I should write something for that contest?” No doubt my shock was evident. She really couldn’t mean me, could she? I wasn’t a writer. Her smile and slight laugh confirmed she had meant me.

     “Yes, I mean you. You have natural talent; I can see that in your compositions. If you will write a story for the contest, I’ll see that it gets sent in.” No one had ever told me they saw any talent in any schoolwork I ever turned in. Music, okay, I’d been told I had talent by the band director in junior high school, who let me just go ahead and teach myself to play as many band instruments as I wanted to learn, but academics? Never! I just figured my work was satisfactory but nothing special. Now, the English teacher was saying that she thought I had the potential to write more than to just fulfill homework assignments. This was a revolutionary concept to me.

     Did I write the story for the contest? To tell you the truth, I can’t remember. What I did remember over all these decades is that my English teacher believed in me. She thought I could do it and that was a defining moment in my adolescent life. One day, I would write a book and put her name on the Dedication page. Well, it took a while but this happened in June of last year with the publication of Dealing with Our Fears when Letting Go Seems Impossible. It’s been 48 years since that wonderful day when Mrs. Olson suggested I should enter a writing contest; I remember it as though it happened this morning. You just never know how your words will impact your students, eh?!

     Over this past year, I have read the dedication pages of other books and have been blessed to read other new authors dedicating their book to their “sophomore English teacher.” A lot of us waited a fair bit of time to heed the advice of the English teacher, as evidenced by the fact that the writers group I joined this year has many middle aged folks just beginning to write articles and books. Seems like God also knew it would take some of us time to actually use the gift He had given us. His Word assures us that it is there whether we use it or not; He’s not going to take it away.

Romans 11: 29 “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable”

     So what earthly good is reading Shakespeare? Well, besides the pleasure of well-written verse, the above episode awoke in me the seed of how to read the Bible with understanding. If I could actually read and understand Shakespeare, I could use the very same method to read the Old Testament and understand it. Even today, this is the way I read the more difficult portions of the Bible. I first try to get a grasp on the scene’s background. What was happening at the time and what was the purpose of what I was about to read? How did that event affect the people involved and why did God write this into His Book? In effect, I learned to study the Bible by learning how to read Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s words may decay and not be remembered as this world comes to an end, but the Words of the Almighty God will never decay; they are of eternal benefit to me! That’s why God’s Word encourages us to study the Bible and apply it to our lives.

     The Apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy in his second letter, as follows:

 Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (King James version of II. Timothy 2:15)

    Or, if you prefer more modern writing, the New King James Version:

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

     Is it really all that important that we learn how to read and understand the Bible? The very next chapter in II. Timothy, answers that question for us.

II Timothy 3: 16-17: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. “

     Sounds to me like it rather hits every situation where I might need some good advice and direction.
Certainly, I do want to be thoroughly equipped for every good work!

     In addition, I find I just love to read the Old Testament. I am certain my sophomore education in reading Shakespeare directly contributed to the joy I find in reading the Bible. One can’t really enjoy reading something, one doesn’t understand, right? Mrs. Olson bridged that gap for me so I can read both with joy and understanding. I am so grateful to God!

*The name of my teacher was changed to Mrs. Olson some time after I was in her class. In addition I have taken the liberty to put words in her mouth here as I cannot recall her exact words but the gist is correct.

****Nuggets from High School: Career Guidance?... Coming Tomorrow

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Nuggets from High School: Chemistry

     “We are going to begin learning the Gas Laws today. You will not be allowed to memorize the formulas in my class. Instead, you will learn how to reason out just what should be happening in each problem and that will give you the formula.  You will not just memorize the formulas.” What? Can he be serious? We’ve spent the last 11 years of our lives just memorizing stuff. In fact, we memorized the Periodic Table of Elements in this class not long ago so how can he think we shouldn’t memorize these formulas? It’s easy to memorize stuff and just plug in the numbers. Why does he think he needs to make things harder? Mr. Neitz caught us giving each other “the look” and began to smile. “Believe me when I say, you’ll be glad you learned the laws this way; you’ll never forget them.”

     None of us were convinced. We had been in school enough years already to have developed a pattern of learning and it didn’t include reasoning anything out. We just memorized whatever it was the teachers wanted us to learn and spit it back out at test time. Since I had a good memory, it worked well for me and I was not anxious, at this late stage in the game, to re-learn how to acquire and retain information to pass a test. Now, here stood the Chemistry teacher, clad in his long-sleeved white shirt, dark tie and crisp white lab coat, throwing his wrench in my well-oiled learning machine.

     “Okay now, if you have a set volume of gas inside a container and turned up the heat, what affect would that have on the pressure of the gas?” We agreed that it should increase the pressure inside the container. “So, how do you set up the formula that will result in an increase in the value of the pressure?” Meanwhile, I’m thinking how ‘bout you just put the formulas on the board and we’ll tell you. But, the teacher would have none of our old ways to solve a problem. He was determined that we would learn to reason it out.

     It was a bit of a struggle, at first, because actually “thinking” how to work out a
solution was new to us. Plugging numbers into formulas was so much easier, more familiar. However, the year progressed and I finished the course with a B in Chemistry, glad to leave the Gas Laws behind me. Or so I thought, anyway.

     The first year at university, ye ole Gas Laws re-surfaced. Funny how we think that whatever it is we learned in high school will be left there and university studies of the same subject will be different. No sirree, right after memorizing the Periodic Table came the Gas Laws! Just like high school. Mr. Neitz was absolutely right. I did not need to rack my brain trying to pull up those formulas; I knew the principles and could easily solve the problems. Piece of cake. In fact, for the entire first year of Chemistry I cruised through the course with an A in each of the three academic quarters. Mr. Neitz had taught me how to reason, to think and not just to memorize for a test. How grateful I was to him… for the rest of my life, actually. I approached each Chemistry class for my entire university education in that same way. I even tutored students in Biochemistry, a super surprise to me! The thrill to me was that my students earned high grades for themselves, too, as they learned to reason as I had been taught.

     Forty-six years later, I still know how to figure out problems in the Gas Laws so, maybe, he was right when he said we would never forget if we learned his way! For the past 28 years I have made a career out of my interest in helping folks reason out another problem, not related to academic chemistry but to their eternal existence… not Gas Laws and how to solve the problems but God’s Laws and how to live by them to solve our daily problems. It is much the same, really.

In the Old Testament, we read the words God inspired the Prophet Isaiah to record, 1:18:

"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as
crimson, they shall be like wool.”

     One of the most difficult concepts for us to grab a hold of is the issue of our sins being forgiven. That we could actually be made whole and clean after what we have done is so hard for us to accept. How could that be… too good to be true, so we reject the truth of God’s Word. God doesn’t want us to just plug whatever information we are given about our lives into someone else’s formula. Instead, God invites us to walk with Him and talk it out, use reasoning to see what He’s trying to teach us. If we can prayerfully study His Holy Word, God will teach us His ways, customized to our own method of understanding. God also wants us to reason things out… even more than my high school Chemistry teacher!

****Nuggets from High School: English… Coming Tomorrow

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Teen Stresses: Marriage, Biblical Reflections Concluded

     One thing Sojourner needed to guard against was her own arrogance and potential to fall into the same temptation to which her friend, Susan, succumbed. Turning to Galatians Chapter 6, we see, clearly, the Apostle’ Paul’s admonition to the Galatian Church:

Verse 1: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

     Paul goes on to instruct those who have tried to gently correct the brother or sister. His duty to them is not finished with addressing their sin.

Verse 2:Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

     Don’t give up on your friend. Instead help him/her carry the load on the way to making things right. Why? Because you’re a nice guy? No, because it is what Jesus wants you to do… feelings have nothing to do with it.

Verses 3-4: If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions.”

     Be careful not to think yourself above your friend, saying to yourself Oh, I would never do that. Instead, check out your own heart. Attitude is everything and to have the right attitude is essential in both bringing correction, giving hard-to-swallow information and in helping restore the one who has fallen. Be assured, you can be the one who falls next if you are not careful. Don’t think you won’t get caught in your own sin! God is always watching… which is a real comfort if you are doing what is right but a real bomb if you’re not!

Verses 7-8: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

     Whether you are the friend being admonished or the one doing the admonishing, God is alert to your actions and your heart. You won’t get away with doing wrong or doing the right thing with a wrong attitude. If you choose to do wrong, destruction is your reward. If you choose to do the right thing, even if it may not work out best for you, you will reap eternal life.

     One last passage from Galatians Chapter 6 brings us right back to the position of Sojourner:

Verses 9-10:  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

     Don’t give up on your friends, especially those who should know better because they are Christians and read the Bible. Yes, of course, if they read it, they should know what they’re doing is wrong. Care enough to stand with them and try to help them not make the mistake in the first place. Be there for your friend, even if he or she doesn’t listen to your counsel. You should take care to see you’re doing the right thing always. It will be worth it!

****Until tomorrow then, have a great day!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Teen Stresses: Marriage, Biblical Reflections

    Since this episode in the Teen Stresses series has been looking, primarily, at Sojourner’s part to play in the crisis of her teen friend, these reflections will be focused on Sojourner, rather than Susan, the central figure. Nevertheless, the first passage of Scripture has the potential to bring comfort to all concerned in this tragic story.

      In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

     Even if we have done something that does not please the Lord, we can come to Him. He doesn’t just toss us away because we messed up; He doesn’t want our lives to be troubled. However, we are not to come with an arrogance that says this is what I want and I don’t care what Your plan for my life might be. This is what I want you to do for me… and present a list of demands to the Lord. Jesus says “Come” but includes what it is you are coming for… to take His yoke upon you and learn from Jesus. Then you will find rest; then your burden will be light.

      If, however, your burden is as it was for Sojourner… the friend of the one in trouble, you can still be pretty heavy-ladened with the burden of your friend. Sojourner was worried about Susan’s choice and feared she may be missing a crucial piece of information. Would having the information cause Susan to reverse direction, call off the wedding and just return to finish school… ending in a university education and an outstanding career in music or academics? Would it make a difference if Sojourner gave her that piece of information? And, the burden was added to when Sojourner could not be certain that Susan would not just totally reject her because of the nature of the information, rather than being glad to know before Susan committed her life to David. Yup, this definitely came under the heading heavy burden.

     At last, Sojourner did what she felt was the right thing and, indeed, Susan couldn’t accept the truth. Sojourner was crushed but, at least, she no longer had the burden of what to do; the choice had been made and the ball was in Susan’s court. While it was a painful interaction with Susan and, certainly, didn’t seem to change a thing, Sojourner was glad to have the agony of just keeping her friend in the dark finished. But Sojourner’s part did not end there. She did not wash her hands of Susan because she went ahead and married the guy anyway. Sojourner tried to help Susan adjust to married life in Susan’s weakest area, cooking.

     Sojourner didn’t do this because Jesus, specifically, told her to help Susan learn to cook. Sadly, it was a time in Sojourner’s life when she did not have the closeness with God that she had enjoyed as a young child. No, she did it because it was part of the “light yoke” that Jesus had said we should take upon us—doing the right thing. It was the right thing to help Susan. This is exactly what Jesus does in our lives. Jesus doesn’t just give up on us when we make a mistake and say, “Well, I tried to tell you not to do that so now you’re on your own.” No, Jesus tries to help us get back on the right path and even aids us with the adjustment process.

     But, helping the friend is not all Sojourner had to learn from this experience with Susan. The Apostle Paul had a bit to say about these situations when he wrote to the Galatians.

                   *Names have been changed.

****Teen Stresses: Marriage, Biblical Reflections Concluded… Coming Tomorrow

If you missed the beginning, the Episode began with:  Teen Stresses: Marriage

Friday, May 18, 2012

Teen Stresses: Marriage, Conclusion

(Sorry for the missed day in posting this. Life and weak Internet do get in the way.)

     “Can you tell me how to boil potatoes? I want to have boiled potatoes with our wieners but don’t know how to do potatoes.” The first home for Susan and David was a motel room that boasted a small two-burner hotpad along with a tiny kitchenette unit. Susan was learning to cook, rather on-the-job training.

     “What kind of potatoes do you have? The cooking time sometimes depends on the type of potato you are cooking.” Susan was a whole 6 days older than I was so at 16, while certainly more experienced than Susan, I was not drawing upon decades of experience cooking meals.

     “Good grief, I have absolutely no idea at all. They are potatoes, just potatoes.” I didn’t want to frustrate her any more so moved on.

     “Okay, well, most of the time you will need to plan on a cooking time from 15-20 minutes, after the boil starts. You need to peel them, if they are not those little, thin-skinned new potatoes. Do you know about new potatoes?” Boy, how does one explain about new potatoes over the phone? Well, nevermind, she can just peel them.

     “I just got these potatoes this morning.” Oops, just forget it, Sojourner, move on.

     “Okay, well, forget about what kind of potatoes you have and just plan to peel them. Try to see that they are all around the same size before you put them in the pan of water. They will cook better if they are close to the same size so you might need to cut them. In fact, if they are not small potatoes, you might want to cut them in half anyway to keep your cooking time around 20 minutes. If they are different sizes, some will not be cooked and others will be mush.” For the next forty-five or so minutes I went through the process of preparing boiled potatoes, answering all of her questions as best I could.

     I repeated each step of the instructions a few times so Susan could write it all down in her notebook but, finally, it sounded like she had everything she needed. I resolved to take her to the grocery store as soon as I could to explain what I knew about various cuts of meat, potatoes and other veggies. How I mentally thanked my mother for teaching me these things at an early age.

     We did not have cell phones in those days so it was not every day that I helped Susan with her dinner prep. Whenever I went home for lunch, though, I called her to be sure she didn’t have any questions on what she wanted to cook for supper that evening. Often she phoned me to tell me how it went before I left for school that next morning so I would be able to tell her then if I couldn’t call her at noon.

     Susan and David moved to a mobile home next to David’s parents before the baby arrived. I was glad for Susan as David’s mother was really a nice lady and proved a big help for Susan’s continued cooking lessons, as well as help learning about baby care. I found it hard to just take the time to go visit Susan when she moved to the other side of town. Sometimes my days were so full that I even forgot about her; something that made me feel just terrible whenever I did remember and saw that an entire week had passed without so much as a phone call to Susan. I think I visited her about once a month until the baby was born.

     Baby Evan was so cute and lots of fun to hold. I loved playing with him and Susan loved to talk about the things he was learning to do. She sounded a lot like the other mothers in the doctor’s waiting room. I think it was this connection that woke me up to a seriously sad revelation: Susan’s childhood was over while mine was still in full adolescent swing. Boy, she was missing so much and I was missing having her to share the events of those last two years in high school… not to mention the excitement of that first year away at university.

     While I packed my dad’s car for my parents to drive me the 386 miles to school, Susan was busily keeping track of her two little boys. Billy had come along before Evan was potty-trained so her hands were pretty full most of every day. It was not long before Susan and David divorced and Susan had charge of the two small boys alone. The last time I heard anything about my beloved friend, Susan, she was on husband number three and had six children. She was working as a hair dresser and life was pretty tough for her all things considered. Our lives, certainly, went in different directions.
*All names have been changed.

****Teen Stresses: Marriage, Biblical Reflections… Coming Monday.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Teen Stresses: Marriage, Scene 3

     “Can you come to our wedding this weekend?” There was no frilly, fancy professionally embossed invitation, just a verbal question from my high school friend. We were standing in the corridor when classes let out for the day and Susan had caught my arm. It’s just going to be in the small chapel and only the family but, if you can come…”

     I just wanted to burst out in tears. She was going to do this; she was, really, going to do this and nothing or no one could stop her. The chapel had only a few small pews in it, though it was a lovely little sanctuary. Susan and I had led a special service for the Junior High Methodist Youth Fellowship in that very room just three years previous to her scheduling it for her wedding. How could this be happening?

     “Oh, Susan. This weekend is the big game with Central, didn’t you know that? In fact, the game is on that very day you are being married. It’s an away game, or I might have been able to arrive at the game a little late so I could go to the wedding. I’m so sorry. I would go, but I can’t.” The arch rivals of our school were the teams of Central High in the next town over. Basketball games with this team were at the very top of the list for attendance. I was one of the two mascots for our cheerleading team and did not want to miss the game.

     Friday afternoon, I passed by Susan’s locker as I left Chem Class on my way over to the Admin Office. It looked to me like she was clearing everything out of her locker. I had not expected that. “Hey, Susan, whatcha doin’ there? Looks like you are takin’ everything out? There’s still a few months to the end of school, ya know?”

     “Not for me. I’m gettin’ married and it’s against the rules for me to go to school now.” I didn’t know that she had to quit immediately and it was a shock. “Besides, I need to prepare for the baby and all.”

     So, it was true. I’d defended her against those rumors but, of course, that made a lot more sense as to why she insisted on going ahead with the marriage under all circumstances. I felt such a lump in my throat and like I would throw up. Instead, I just cried. Right there in the hallway of school.

     “Oh, so there is something you didn’t know, huh? Yeah, it’s true. I’m pregnant and the rules in this school are that I can’t keep going to school.” Susan slammed her locker closed and lifted up the bag, full of her things.

     “I’m sooo sorry. Please, tell me if there is anything I can do to help you. Really, I mean it, anything.” Susan gave a nervous laugh, nodded her head, and slung the bag’s strap over her shoulder.

     “Yeah, I just might give ya a call. I’m not much of a cook.” Turning to go, Susan looked over her shoulder. “Have a good time at the game. Hope they win.” Funny how I noticed she said they win and not we win. She was gone from those halls, never to return.

     I wish I could say I was a better person, or friend, than I was; but, the sad truth is I wasn’t. Nothing would keep me away from that particular game, as long as I could still breathe. It’s like that with adolescents, sadly. A basketball game was more important to me than the support of my good friend who was getting married. As an adult so many decades later, I’m appalled; but, well, facts are facts…  I went to the game instead of the wedding.

     I may as well have skipped the basketball game for all the good it did me to go. My heart wasn’t in it adn my mind wasn’t on the game. All I could think of was Susan’s wedding and, as the clock advanced, I imagined just what Susan would be doing right then. Putting on her makeup, standing at the altar, etc. for the entire time of the game. Did we win the game? Hmmmpf, I have no idea; I don’t remember. What I do remember is that my friend didn’t have me at that wedding. Whereas, even had I not gone, our team still would have had 6 girls stirring up an already-stirred-up fan club to cheer them on to victory or console them in defeat. Susan had no one. I resolved to make it up to her.
*Teen names have been changed.

****Teen Stresses: Marriage, Conclusion… Coming Tomorrow

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Teen Stresses: Marriage, Scene 2

          Anne Landers, basically, advised me to tell Susan about the infidelity at my own risk. She agreed that someone should tell Susan; but, on the other hand, it  didn’t sound to her like Susan would be willing to believe anything negative about her fiancĂ© anyway. Perhaps, she suggested, Susan even knew about the hair dresser as, in her experience, the woman usually did but ignored the signs. Anne Landers said if I thought the only right thing to do was to tell her, I should be prepared for her to reject me. Kind of a “kill the messenger” when the news they bring is not good. Oh, boy, what do I do now? Could she really know about the older woman? Could I just ignore what I saw and hope someone else told her before they got married? She might marry him anyway and Anne Landers would be right; my friend would be angry with me, instead of David.

     I was just sick and my anguish made me one crabby camper. Of course, those adolescent hormones made it hard to know when there really was something wrong with her daughters but the envelope in the washing machine sent up red flags for my mother. There she was, standing in front of me with a soggy envelope in her hands. There was an equally soggy paper inside the envelope but all ink had been washed away in the cycling of the machine.

     “What is this? I was moving your laundry from the washing machine into the dryer and this was left when the clothing was removed? What’s it about?” I didn’t have to look at the return address, obviously printed with seriously indelible ink; I knew it was the letter from Anne Landers.

     “It’s nothing, Mom, really. It’s just the reply to a letter I wrote a couple of weeks ago.” I reached for the wet envelope, while we both looked at it. “It’s not about you, Mom, if that’s what you’re thinkin’.”

     “No, then who? Why would you ever write to Anne Landers?” Clearly, she did not believe me. She was sure I had written to the columnist about my parents deficiencies and soon the entire reading circulation would be learning about what I thought my parents were doing wrong. Was she kidding? I knew full well I would never survive the rest of my years at home should I ever be so stupid as to do my teen complaining in print of any kind, let alone a newspaper with such a wide circulation! It’s not just the elephant that never forgets, believe me!

     “Honestly, Mom, I would never write to Anne Landers about you or Daddy. Never. There was a problem with one of my friends at school. I wrote to her and she wrote back that I should do what I thought was the right thing to do.” Turning, I tossed the water-logged envelope and letter in the trash.

     “Well, I’m sure had you come to me, I would have given you the same advice so you could have saved your stamp.”

     “You’re no doubt right about that, Mom. Anyway, that was all there was to it.” I just wanted to get away before she squeezed more details out of me so started up the basement stairs.

     “So, did you take her advice? Did you do the right thing?” She was calling after me. I called over my shoulder when I reached the top of the stairs and moved into the kitchen.

     “Not yet, but I’m gonna do it.”

     “Well, you’d better do it right away so you don’t forget. You don’t want to waste her time with advice that you don’t take, do you? She’s a busy lady and she took the time to write to you.” Yeah, yeah, Mom, I know but it’s not that easy. I need to work up my courage first. Which is what I was thinking but what I said was what Mom’s everywhere want to hear.

     “Okay, you’re right, Mom. I’ll do it this afternoon.” I couldn’t imagine how I would tell Susan, but I would. I needed to get it over with in any case as it was bugging me enough to interfere with my sleep.

     Late that same afternoon I arrived at Susan’s parents’ home. It was weird to think that it might not be Susan’s home soon. I just hoped that she would listen to me; I could see trouble ahead if she married David.

     “Susan, I need to tell you something that I saw a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I have seen the same thing twice since and you need to know before it’s too late.” Both of us tensed as I swallowed hard and struggled to continue. “I saw David in his car with another girl. Well, not really a girl, actually, It was a woman who does my mother’s hair every week.”

     “Well, David was probably giving her a ride somewhere. What’s the big deal; he’s a nice guy.” Her jaw was set and her eyes bore into mine. Oh my, but this was not going well. Hmmpf! I started it now so I’d better finish.

     “Susan, she was nearly sitting on top of him. Her arm was around his shoulders and she was speaking in his ear. They were both laughing at whatever it was she said. He was not just giving someone a ride somewhere.” I had tears dripping down my cheeks, but Susan’s face was beet-red with anger… at me, not David.

     “How dare you spread these lies about David! How dare you! Just to keep me in school so I can be your biology partner, or play tennis, you would lie to me… trying to ruin my life.” Okay, now my tears were shifting from compassion over her pitiable situation to anger. I returned “fire.”

     “You’ve got to be kidding, Susan! I haven’t said this to a single other person, including my mother. I’m probably the only person in this town who cares enough about you to tell you what everyone else knows. He is driving down the main streets in town with her nestled right next to him. Wake up before it is too late. He is not ready to be married to you or anyone. Don’t ruin your life for someone like that.” Susan stood, turned away from me and walked through the front door of her home. Before shutting the inside door, she locked sad eyes at me.

     “You’re wrong.” I cried all the way home, but I knew I had done the right thing. Perhaps she had suspected; but, perhaps, hearing someone else say it, had made it real. I’d never know. We never, again, spoke of this time on her front porch.

     The next time Susan spoke to me was to ask me to attend her wedding in the small chapel of the Methodist Church, where the two of us had spent many early childhood summers laughing and playing during Vacation Bible School.

*Teen names have been changed

****Teen Stresses: Marriage, Scene 3… Coming Tomorrow

Monday, May 14, 2012

Teen Stresses: Marriage

     “You’re gonna do what?” I was so shocked, it just couldn’t be true. “But, Susan, you’re only 16! What about school? You’re my biology partner.”

     “Yeah, I know and I’m sorry. You don’t really need a partner, though.” I protested this pronouncement so vehemently, because it was Advanced Biology and it was the year we would dissect a fetal pig. Okay, maybe with that frog last year, I could have done it alone and the two of us just had a fun time doing it together, but not the pig. I knew I needed help. “Don’t ya see? I love David; I really do.”

     “So, love him already, but that doesn’t mean you need to marry him now! You’re still in school. What about college? You can’t be serious. Are your folks really gonna let you get married?” Susan’s father was a tough guy and he pretty much scared me half to death when he roared. I just couldn’t imagine he would agree to let her drop out of school to get married to a boy who had only just graduated from high school himself. Okay, he was tall, athletic and two years older than we were but this was life, not dating. “Susan, you have your whole life ahead of you. Your grades are at the top of the list, you play the piano beautifully and could probably get a music scholarship to add to any academic honors scholarship, if you wanted one. Why give that all up? Can’t you wait to get married?”

     “No, I don’t care about that stuff. I love him. I thought you, of all people, would be happy for me.”

     “Can’t ya think about this some more? I mean, it changes a lot of things for me, too… it’s just too soon to get married.”

     "We just got engaged last night. We haven’t set the date for the wedding yet, but I’ll let ya know, unless you won’t come anyway.”

     “Of course, I’ll come; what are ya talkin’ about here? Just think about it, will ya? Think about waiting until we graduate, huh?” Susan just shook her head, sadly aware that I didn’t get it. Of course, I didn’t get it; I wasn’t that attached to a boy. There was just so much to do in high school… who wants to give it all up already. Adult life happened soon enough, I figured, why rush it?

     Like everything else in a teen’s life, all matters were considered with the teen as the central focus. How does it affect me and my life? Since this blog is about the journey of my life and not Susan’s, the above news was a thunderbolt of pain in the midst of my sea of tranquility. Life had been going along really well. I wasn’t sure I would be allowed to do the dissection project if she dropped out of school and being married would, definitely, end our hours on the tennis courts. Susan just had to change her mind or wait until she was older to marry David. Somehow, I thought he must, surely, love her as much as Susan loved him. They were getting married, right? He must feel the same way about her and not want to wait until she graduated to do the wedding.

     As days passed, Susan and I did hang out a little but, mostly, she was not available. I assumed she was with David. Then, one afternoon, I was walking down First Avenue on my way to the Post Office when I heard David’s car coming up the street. I turned, figuring I would give Susan a wave, but was nearly flattened with the shock. It was not Susan snuggled so close to David that she could be in his lap, arm wrapped around his shoulders as he drove.

     What should I do? Did Susan know? Should someone tell her? Could I tell her, even if someone should? I mean, I was in shock with a cannonball slamming into my stomach when I saw them and I didn’t love the guy nor plan to quit school to marry him. Oh agony; what do I do?

     Tell my Mom and ask her if I should tell Susan? Ya think? Uh, normally, I might have put that suggestion right at the top of my list. However, sitting right there next to Susan’s fiancĂ© was my own Mom’s thirty-something hair dresser! If I told Mom, she might say something to her hair dresser who would talk to David or any number of people before Susan had been told. That didn’t seem fair to me. But, would Susan even believe me since she knew how much I thought she should wait to marry him. Would Susan just think I was saying that to get her to do what was best for me, in which case, she would be furious with me? Susan didn’t want anyone to know yet so I couldn’t discuss it with any of my other friends either.

     There was just one place I could go… the advice columnist, Anne Landers. I asked her not to put my letter or her answer in her newspaper column, just in case Susan read it that day. I think I made it clear; I needed an answer right away. I knew the columnist’s twin sister also wrote such a column and hoped she was conferring with Abby because her answer seemed to be taking a long time for the crisis I was in.

     Then, about two weeks later, I reached into the post office box in town and there it was… my answer from Anne Landers. I could hardly wait to get home to read it!

          *Teen names have been changed.

****Teen Stresses: Marriage, Scene 2… Coming Tomorrow