Breathe in. Breathe out.

By faith, I did it.

I couldn’t believe it.  Was I dreaming?  What was I doing?  Was this for real?

Take a journey with me, back to a week ago.  Picture it:  It was a warm summer Saturday night, and the hubby and I were winding down a dinner date where we munched on burgers (venison for me, beet and veggie patty for him), breadfruit fries, and cheesy cauliflower at a local downtown burger and pub-style restaurant.  After the meal, we decided to take a walk around the local shopping area, where there were numerous dessert shops and boutiques.  Maybe it was the two glasses of adult beverage I had at dinner or the fact that I was feeling sublimely relaxed with no motherhood responsibilities (the kids were sleeping over at the in-laws), but either way, I saw it on the shelf in one of the shops we were walking through, picked it up, and bought it.

“It” was a nondescript yoga mat.  Nothing incredibly special, as in this day and age, yoga mats are a dime a dozen.  But purchasing that pale pink-purple rectangular piece of cushion was a signal of some sort.  I was ready to venture back into the yoga routine.

As described in my previous posts, I was an extremely addicted long-distance runner.  Well, “addicted” is one term to describe the hours I spent hitting the pavement, trying to whittle my thighs down through miles or jogging in the beating sun or hailing rain.  “Obsessive” may be a more accurate term to highlight how marathons took over all my thoughts and cognitions, as I owned close to 10 running shoes, scoured “Runner’s World” magazine daily, and spoke about Deena Kastor like she was my best friend.  Eventually I saw the err of my ways in regards to long-distance running, but similar to what many individuals battling eating disorders figure out, they trade the one addiction (restrictive eating, purging, obsessive exercising) for another addiction (alcoholism, cutting, excessive shopping).  Following suit, I decided to turn in my running shoes for a yoga mat.

Ironically, it was at the suggestion of my eating disorder dietitian almost 10+ years ago that I take up a new sport, one that did not require me to be outdoors in running shoes, one that had a definitive beginning and end, one that was in the company of others.  She suggested Bikram Yoga, as doing Hatha yoga postures in a heated room for 90 minutes would conjure up the same type of sweat and euphoria that running for 90 minutes would induce.

Little did she (or I) know that Bikram Yoga would become take the place of long-distance running, and in due time I’d end up doing two classes a day everyday, showing up to the studio at least 30 minutes early to do extra postures before, spend up to 30 minutes after class doing extra postures and crunches, and having a fit if I were unable to make it down to the hot room.  I distinctly remember one such incident, when my husband’s good friends from Japan were in town, and he made last minute dinner plans with them.  My initial reaction?  No, I can’t go because I have to go to yoga.  My second reaction?  Well, maybe I can meet everyone late for dinner after I go to yoga.  It took a lot of argumentative conversation between my husband and I (well, about 30 minutes of him talking and me crying a toddler-like tantrum) before I rescinded into saying that yes, missing one class would not be the end of the world.

My addiction to Bikram Yoga, however, eventually spilled into my eating habits, and I created rules around what I could and could not eat.

I couldn’t eat at least 3 hours before yoga.  And I couldn’t eat anything with fat in it.

I couldn’t drink any liquid of any kind during or after class.

I couldn’t eat anything right after yoga.  I had to wait until I could feel my stomach growling before consuming any type of food.

Needless to say, those rules plus all of the extreme amounts of yoga I was doing made it so that I was doing a heck of a lot of output and barely getting any input.  And so I started to lose weight.  And then I lost more weight.  And then more.  Granted, part of it was probably dehydration as I didn’t drink a lot of liquids before, during, or after class–on weekends, in fact, I would try to not eat the whole day if possible, take a steamy afternoon class, and then have 2 glasses of wine at dinner.  Why 2 glasses?  I’m not sure.  But the fact is, I was already sucked dry from no water plus a heated yoga class, and consuming alcoholic beverages soon thereafter did not help my hydration levels.  It got to a point where the owner of the studio I frequented actually put a hold on my membership, as she and many other individuals noticed my disintegrating weight and compulsivity.

Needless to say, much like the obsession with running, I eventually realized that I needed to stop.  Stop yoga, stop the compulsion, stop the insanity (ha ha, throwback to Susan Powter right there), and find balance.  I am a person of extremes, and although now I am much more balanced in my approach to, well, everything, the times when I do swing from one end to another results in my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual demise.  At a recent sermon, the preacher reflected on how what our minds are focused on, that is what our “god” or “God” is.  Thankfully now I do not wake up thinking about yoga postures, nor do I sit in traffic daydreaming about how to perfect my camel posture or headstands.  Yoga is no longer my “god”, but back when I was constantly in the hot room, the 26 Hatha postures WERE.

So how did I stop?  Basically, it was all God.  Philippians 3:15 states, “So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision – you’ll see it yet!”  It could only have been by God’s sovereign hand that I was able to resist packing my towel, mat, and clothes, driving down to the studio, and partaking in a 90 minute session.  Sure, my membership at a studio was put on hold, but I very easily went to another Bikram place, took class, and no one besides me knew that I was “breaking the rules.”  Eating disorders and addictions are very crafty, and they know how to get a person to be stealthily sly and conniving in order to continue growing the obsession.  My husband couldn’t police me during the day, and neither could my family or friends.  In the end, it was only a supernatural God that could have released me from the bondages of compulsivity.

Since that time when I prayed to God to help me overcome my yoga addiction, I had no real compulsion to take a class. Stretch after working out?  Sure.  Try doing some postures with the hubby for fun?  Yeah.  But no formal classes, since the drive to WANT to go to a class wasn’t there.  After a few years of focusing more on weightlifting and getting stronger, the numerous yoga mats I accumulated throughout the years became stained with oil as they were used when my hubby fixed the cars.  One mat was cut in half so that my daughter could use it as an exercise mat in our garage.  I relegated yoga to “that thing I used to do back in the day”–it was in my past, something that I didn’t give a second thought about.

It wasn’t until I started training with a new powerlifting coach, that he recommended that one day a week I focus on stretching.  Internally, I laughed at the idea because I’m naturally hyper-mobile and can touch my toes with straight legs even after not taking a yoga class for the past 5 years.  Stretching?  What for?  And then after working with this coach for the past three weeks (ironically, he pointed out my lack of ankle mobility after our first video conference, which I didn’t realize was an issue when I squatted), it dawned on me why stretching was so important.  Like anything in life, there needs to be balance.  Monday through Friday I work my major muscles HARD, tearing down the fibers in hopes that they grow back stronger, denser, and bigger.  Come Saturday and Sunday, my body wants to recover.  It’s cool to be able to heft gigantic weights overhead or squat way more than my bodyweight, but what good is it if I can barely move after because my knees are stiff and my back aches?  The body needs a chance to recuperate, and what better way to achieve a mind-body balance than yoga?

So I did it.  I bought a yoga mat, and with that purchase, it solidified the fact that I am going to give myself that weekly refreshing and give my body a break from the barbell.  More importantly, it broke a fear I had for numerous years, that if I happened to return to a yoga class, the same compulsivity that haunted me years ago would start to echo in my thoughts, and I’d soon end up living in the yoga studio doing inversions all day.  But therein lies the difference between the yogini I was versus the yogini I am:  I know that while yoga can become competitive because I’m a natural Gumby, yoga is actually a relaxing and calming practice that gets me more in touch with my breath and alignment.  My main purpose in practicing is to feel my muscles lengthening, to be astounded by the wonderful body God created–it’s not for pride to be able to say I can wrap my foot around my head in lotus or bite my toes in a seated forward bend.

Here’s another disclaimer too:  I appreciate all styles of yoga, yet I am a strong Christian, and I don’t believe in the religious aspects of the practice.  I am certified in sports yoga, and know all about the importance of meditation and the definitions of the different limbs and such–but I don’t chant.  I don’t pray to any other god other than Jesus.  And I don’t find my god in yoga.  As much as I know meditating and chanting in yoga are a part of bringing together the spirit, mind, and body, I don’t do it, merely because I don’t believe in it.  I believe in Jesus as Lord, and that His peace transcends all understanding.  Don’t get me wrong–I love savassana as much as the next person, but while laying there on my mat, I’m not thinking about Vishnu.  Instead, I am feeling the breath go in and out of my lungs, and I’m thanking Jesus for the body He gave me and His strength in my being.

So the mat I bought two Saturdays ago?  It was put to use yesterday at a friend’s new hot yoga studio.  And can I just say, I loved it.  My yoga teacher friend is a wonderfully down to earth gal and her classes are always remarkable (look it up–her new studio is R3d Hot Yoga on Kapahulu Ave.), but what I loved more was that I wasn’t competing with anyone in class.  I was breathing.  I was feeling my spine move in ways it hasn’t moved in awhile.  I felt my hamstrings lengthen with each forward fold, and I felt the oxygen rush in and out of my lungs as I moved in and out of camel pose.  It was lovely.  It was peaceful.  And in the final relaxation pose, I thanked God for the health and life He has blessed me with.

I felt no compulsions, no addictive voice trying to pervade my thoughts.  And by faith, I know that finding balance in my training (and in life) is making me a more sound and whole person.

 

The Knowledge of Wisdom

This past week I attended an AP English workshop, where we 12 teachers sat in a room for 8 hours a day for 4 days straight, discussing Hamlet’s soliloquies, interpreting literary criticisms, and practicing writing answers to the three essay questions students are given for this college entrance exam.  Listening to the presenter describe the intricacies of Graphic Symbols and TP-CASTT was a daunting, mentally exhausting, yet highly eye-opening experience.  Besides learning how I can better teach iambs to students (who doesn’t love iambic pentameter???), more importantly I was able to connect with other English teachers from around the state.  We ranged in age from those fresh out of college to others who were creeping towards retirement, yet all were quite interesting to talk to.  I had lunch most of the days with one such gal from the Big Island, as she participates in BJJ and actually knows of the teachers that instruct at my husband’s school.  We chatted about the sport for a bit in between bites of our sandwiches, but most of our conversation revolved around her introductory year to AP and the fears she has about starting off the course unprepared.

I reassured her that everyone has fears, and no matter how adept one is at creating thematic units and grading papers, teaching truly is a “learn-as-you-go” type of position.  A person can garner much knowledge from college courses, but wisdom about the profession only comes with time.

Knowledge versus wisdom.  Wisdom versus knowledge.

The more we discussed these ideas, I was reminded about our church’s daily reading track, and how this plan had me contemplating and meditating on the book of Proverbs.  During my quiet times, a few questions came to mind:  What constitutes a person having knowledge?  How does one go about gaining wisdom?  Aren’t they both one in the same?

I know I used to use those words interchangeably.  If a person is wise, doesn’t that mean she also has knowledge?  However, I’m beginning to see that there may be a difference.  In Proverbs 1, wisdom is personified as an actual woman, one who shouts out to the crowd to be on the look out for knowledge.  Further on in Proverbs 4, sons are urged to listen to their fathers (because they are wise), and in doing so will reap knowledge.  Interesting.  From these sections (and many other chapters) of this Old Testament book, knowledge is being derived from the wise.  To be wise means that wisdom is INSIDE a person.  It is at his core.  What springs forth from that individual is knowledge, and consequently, when one attains knowledge, he can then walk towards gaining wisdom.

This is no easy feat.

Take the profession of teaching.  I garnered many lesson plan ideas from my colleagues this past week at the workshop (and all of these educators are quite wise, by the way), yet just because I have a digital document of their curriculum maps doesn’t make me any wiser.  I have their knowledge on my flash drive, but until I plan my own lessons, teach it to the students, and see if my kids are able to attain the learning objectives placed before them, I will not truly be “wise”.

One’s past experiences also plays a huge role in differentiating between wisdom and knowledge.  I have sat through many appointments with dietitians, nutritionists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, who have all attempted to help me be “recovered” from an eating disorder.  Although they were able to create a meal plan that provided me with the appropriate amount of calories to eat, critiqued my food logs in order to help me gain weight, and offered up CBT terminology to talk down an anorexic thought, their knowledge about the illness was quite different than the wisdom someone who has gone through an eating disorder will have.  It is that personal experience component that makes me turn to my husband or other females who have gone through the throes of anorexia and compulsive exercise when seeking help.

They get it.

They understand.

They are knowledgeable about what it takes to get better.

They are wise to how the disorder can rear its’ ugly head at any minute.

But more importantly, there is connection and familiarity.  When I confide in my husband how I pulled on a pair of shorts and “felt fat”, he immediately understood that that comment meant I was really feeling sad, disappointed, angry, or some other kind of emotion that ended up being projected as “feeling fat”.  My wonderful mate never had anorexia, but he has seen me at my lowest when I my heart could have stopped beating at any minute.  He has seen me hide running shoes in my car so that I could sneak them out for a run.  He knows firsthand the devastating actions an eating disorder could (and would) propel me to do, and he can even repeat to me what ruminating thoughts a starved mind can have when thinking about food.  As a former MMA fighter who had to cut weight for matches, he would describe how he would daydream about inhaling buckets ice cream and cookies because he had been living off of water, vegetables, and meat to shave off pounds.  Those thoughts he had about Ben and Jerry’s and Chips Ahoy were the same type of crazy-starved-brain talk that ran through my mind when I was at an extremely low weight.

My husband is wise when it comes to eating disorders.  In much the same way, there are many women I chat with that also have this same type of wisdom about weight and exercise.  When I am faced with eating another scoop of peanut butter or handful of nuts because I am on a quest to pack pounds onto my small frame (more on that bit in my next post), but then feel that fear of losing what muscular definition I have (which is a crazy idea, I know), I turn to fellow powerlifting females (or other women that share the same love of weightlifting as me), and tell them what thoughts are going through my brain.  And wonderfully, they get it.  They understand that it takes hard training and hard eating to move more weight on the barbell.  They understand that powerlifters need to have healthy and strong bodies in order to improve in the sport, even if that means shirts don’t fit over lat muscles and wearing jeans is ridiculous because they don’t go over round quads.  Moreso, they are wise as to how our warped society deems we women who WANT bigger thighs and more mass as crazy and odd, and that this type of cultural compartmentalization can make the weight gain process that much harder.

Wisdom.  Knowledge.  Both are necessary in order to live a life of clarity, yet attaining wisdom means that one will have to take risks with the knowledge she has–this individual will have to be confident in the knowledge she has been gifted with and step forward into the unknown, ready to use said understanding to better herself.

This is no easy feat.  Whether it be as a teacher, a patient in eating disorder recovery, or a parent, no one wants to feel inadequate or less than competent in any field.  Thankfully it is by God’s grace we are able to take that first step into the unknown, hold up our shield of faith, and use the knowledge we have to find true wisdom.

Pray the Prayer

When I initially started writing this blog, I was suffering.

Physically, I had lost weight, and my gaunt face, lackluster hair, and thin legs showed that the few pounds that had disappeared from my body caused my normally sunny countenance to grey into one of fatigue and frailty.  Granted I was nowhere near a full-blown relapse from anorexia like those that I had experienced in years past, but the amount of training I was doing in the gym, the hectic life I was leading as a full time teacher and mother of two, and the lack of sleep and good nutrition I should have been receiving left me winded and in dire need of rest.

Mentally, I was fried.  The end of the school year was near, and while the students (especially the seniors) were already dreaming of spending their summer days sunning at the beach, I was making a galliant effort to drum up their enthusiasm to find comma splice and pronoun/antecedent agreement errors in preparation for the spring final exam.  It was a Herculian task, and I wracked my brain attempting to find SOMETHING that would curb the students from daydreaming about their summer freedom to instead focus in on grammar lessons.  All of this brain-wracking, however, was for naught as all it did was lead me to having a persistent dull ache in my temples and restless sleep where I’d wake up at 2am every morning, unable to go back to bed.

Spiritually, I felt empty.  I knew the Holy Spirit still lived in me, and that I loved Jesus with all of my heart.  I prayed in the mornings, mostly prayers to bless my children, students, family, and friends hurriedly repeated on the drive in to school, but the words I recited felt flat and rehearsed.  I read scripture because the verse of the day popped up on my Bible App with a “ding!” every morning at 6am, but my eyes just glazed over the words.  Sadly, as much as I loved Jesus and knew Him to be my Savior, I felt distanced from God.

It was during this empty time when I turned to God and asked Him for freedom:  freedom from disordered eating, freedom from negative thought patterns and behaviors, and freedom to be who He wanted me to be.  And low and behold, God answered my prayers immediately, and prompted me to write–write about the physical challenges I was facing, the emotional turmoil going on in my spirit, and how by God’s grace and the power of prayer, He was able to turn my whole being inside out.  Since starting this blog, I’ve found a way to communicate how my past demonstrates the awesomeness of Jesus, and how He truly has the power to heal a person externally and internally.

It would be quite easy to say that since the inception of this blog, I have not been tempted to over-indulge in exercise or skip out on eating a full meal.  Not so.  Yes, I have found amazing freedom when I put my faith in Jesus to heal me, yet the enemy is tricky–I mean, his main purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy.  And so there have been moments, specifically when I am extremely tired or overwhelmed by other events like preparing my daughter for her first day of summer school, when I hear that eating disorder voice trying to find a foothold back in to my thoughts.  It is times like those when I feel off balance, when my life is not nicely planned out and plotted, when the temptation to gain some semblance of control (and mostly through the means of exercise and eating) occur. But that is where the beauty of God comes in.  Rather than let that sinister voice berate my thoughts or lead me down a slippery slop of diet and obsessive exercise, I instead call upon the power of God to help me.

A few weeks ago at church, one of our friends who also happens to train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with my husband, spoke about his life-altering encounter with God, and how Jesus’s miraculous healing power is relevant and real even today.  As I listened to Pastor RK speak about how shriveled hands became full of working muscle and tendons, how men were set free from drug abuse and addiction, and how numerous individuals’ bodily pains and aches were erased after he prayed for them, I found myself nodding in agreement.  Yes, true healing can be found through Jesus.  But then Pastor RK spoke more about HOW to pray for these types of healings, and what he said was an eye opener:  Pray straight to the point and with intention.  In the Gospels, Jesus directly spoke to pain and commanded healing to occur.  He did not spend hours upon hours chanting or saying words just to say them.  He knew His authority, and spoke life to those in need.  It was at that point that I realized I needed to mimic those same types of prayers.  If I was confident in Jesus’s healing power, why not just command infirmities and addictions to leave?  Why did I feel the need to talk and talk and talk and use more words and more words and more words when I prayed for healing?  Essentially, I was worried that Jesus wouldn’t hear me, and that if I continued to speak to Him, even if they were only with filler words, then and only then would He hear my prayers and grant me complete freedom from whatever physical and mental ailments I suffered from.

Maybe my insecurities about being heard stemmed from the fact that growing up I was told by my mother to not speak until spoken to.  With that kind of mentality, I was quite a shy child, barely saying a whisper to aunts and uncles at gatherings.  I never fully believed that what I had to say, my views and opinions, were of value.  My demure and quiet nature also made it difficult for me to make new friends in intermediate and high school.  Rather than introduce myself to girls that I thought would make good pals, I instead hung around their area with bated breath, attempting to make eye contact with a girl or two, waiting for the one kind soul to say to me, “Hey, Lauren, want to join us at lunch?”  As a result, when I did talk to these individuals, I always felt that I had to say something GRAND and HILARIOUS and INSIGHTFUL, otherwise they would think me to be a boring person, not worthy to spend time around.

Needless to say, I had quite a depressing complex about who I was.

And so when it came time to pray, I constantly felt the need to talk to God and rationalize to Him why I needed His healing hand in my life.  I would gab on and on, but sadly, all of those words didn’t feel like anything special.  They just felt, well, like words.  Empty words.

But when Pastor RK spoke about the direct prayer, and that since we have the Holy Spirit in us, we too can pray the same way as Jesus did, his words made sense.  Yes.  Of course.  Why try to rationalize and plead and be overly verbose to a God who already knows my needs?  Why should I try to “please” the enemy to leave my thoughts, when he is already underfoot and I have the power of God on my side?  Trying to out talk the voice of the enemy (and in my case, it’s an eating disorder voice) will lead to nowhere because that enemy is the king of deception and lies.  Why not just be straight to the point and direct?

Similarly, I harken these short and powerful prayers to be much like how I interact with my toddler:  straight to the point.  Do I ever rationalize with a crying two-year-old why he can’t pick up mud and fling it in the air and then try to roll around in the mess?  Of course not!  Instead, I just say, “Dirty.  No.” and then lead him away from the mud puddle.  Toddlers aren’t able to mentally plot out the why behind their actions–they’re still in the “yes” and “no” phase of life, and as a parent, it’s my duty to teach my son right from wrong.  The “why” of it all will come later when necessary.  In the same way, the enemy doesn’t need to know my “why”.  When that eating disorder voice starts trying to tempt me to skip a meal or spend thirty more minutes in the gym, rather than try to talk myself down from engaging in said behavior by going over the reasons why I need to eat and how much additional training will only rob me of muscle gain, I instead merely say, “No.  Not good for me.  No.”  And then I continue on with my day.

Here’s a disclaimer for all of you reading this blog:  I was taught CBT to combat the eating disorder voice, and this form of psychological treatment can be wonderfully grand.  I know numerous individuals who have benefitted from this type of treatment, and that is wonderful for those people.  For me, however, attempting to “talk down” the negative thoughts just left me brain dead.  Rationalizing a voice that is screaming at you to run another mile or only eat carrots can take up one’s entire day, which is what ended up happening to me for many years of my life.  Thankfully, God showed me that because of His power in me, I am able to combat even the most demanding and negative of eating disorder voices with a simply powerful, straight to the point prayer:

“Eating disorder voice, leave my thoughts now.”

“Spirit of peace, fill me now.”

“Guide my thoughts, Jesus.”

Simple prayers, no more than a sentence long–it has been these types of utterances I’ve said out loud when the addictive and obsessive thoughts come into mind.  And it has been these types of prayers that have given me the most freedom to live a life fully devoted to God.

As I look back on that defining moment when Jesus filled my spirit with true freedom, I realize that I didn’t drone on and on in my prayer for His freedom.  I asked for faith.  I asked that whatever He wanted for my life, to make it clear to me.  I asked that He remove whatever was not in His plan.  And that was it.  Short, sweet, and to the point.  Amazingly, that is the type of God I serve and love–a God who is so powerful, so awe-inspiring, so aware of what His plans are for me, that all I need to do is utter a few words, and He will be faithful and just to hear those words.

What a freeing and faithful God.

I Could Get Used to This Life

I could get used to this life.

I wake up without an alarm, the room still dark and cool.  My daughter is lying on the floor next to our bed, her waist-long hair splayed out around her head like a dark brown halo.  She has taken to laying out the green and blue patchwork blankets on our bedroom carpet at 7:30pm every night, grabbing her favorite fluffy pillow, and camping out there until I turn off the light and lay on our futon mattress.  I should usher her upstairs to the bunk bed that she and her brother share, but there is something comforting about hearing her deep breaths as she nods off to sleep at night.

I could get used to this life.

I softly walk to the kitchen, take out a cup of cold-brewed Deathwish Coffee (yes, that is actually the name of it), and sip it quietly as I start preparing breakfast for the crew.  Sliced cucumbers and aspargus topped with wasabi sauce, cut up turkey slices, half a banana, and a handful of nuts for me–apple slices or fresh red grapes with peanut butter and jelly toast for the kids laid out on matching pink and blue plastic plates.  Like clockwork, as soon as I am done cutting and arranging said food for the little girl and boy, I hear Shogun jabbering away to himself in the bedroom, which is my cue to head up the two flights of stairs and rescue him from the wooden bunk.

I could get used to this life.

I peek my head into the room he and his sister share, and he is already sitting up in the lower bed, handmade patchwork blanket in hand, a big toothy smile on his face.  “Good Morning!” he jabbers, arms suddenly outstretched to me as I make my way to his bed.  I lift Shogun over the bunk bed barriers, and holding his tiny hand, we make our way down the 14 stairs, counting them one by one.

I could get used to this life.

I let go of Shogun’s hand as soon has his feet hit the living room carpet, and he ambles over to the Paw Patrol pillow situated in the middle of the room.  Sitting on the soft cushion, my little guy remarks to me, “Shi-shi.  Shi-shi.  Poop.”  It’s his cue to tell me, “Hey, mom, diaper!  Change me!”, and so I follow suit.  By this time big sister is awoken because of the noise outside, and she staggers out of the bedroom, hair disheveled and eyes bleary.  Misha sits next to her brother, gives him a big hug, and in an almost inaudible voice, she whispers, “Good Morning, Shogunnie.  I love you.”

I could get used to this life.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are days when this scenario is more “Come-on-stop-crying-go-brush-your-teeth-before-we’re-late” than the picturesque scene I just described.  But more often than not, the morning routine is calm.  It’s (dare I say) relaxing.  It is different than the normally hectic actions that occurred during the regular school year when I was attempting to get Misha into her uniform, grab a pop-tart for Shogun to eat in the car, and getting my iPad and bag together–all at the same time.

Now don’t get me wrong again.  I love my job, I adore my students, and I find inexplicable joy dialoguing with them about literature, writing, and all things books.  But truth be told, I love the simplicity of being a mother.  It’s a bit oxymoronic to say being a mother is simple, but maybe it’s because this summer break is a time when I don’t have to be “on” that I’m finding all the normally stressful duties of the day aren’t as crazily maginified.  Teaching is one of the most mentally and physically exhausting professions, as one is constantly walking around a classroom, drumming up excitement for subjects as enticing as grammar (that was sarcastic, by the way), and rarely finding a spare minute to sit down to drink water and eat a snack.  It’s no wonder that teachers are often times just as excited as the students for vacation days.  By the end of my work day, after meeting with students about papers, lecturing on Edgar Allen Poe and making copies of upcoming assignments for my ninth graders, I was ready to head home, put my feet up on the coffee table, and zone out to “Full House”.  But there was always Misha’s homework to go over, the dinner that needed to be cooked, and the laundry that should be washed.  I rarely got time to take a breath in between school and home duties, and towards the end of this last month, I was starting to feel delinquent in my role as a mother.  I spent hours planning lessons on short stories, grading essays on Thoreau, and designing new curriculum maps for the incoming freshmen.  But when did I have the time to sit with my son and do an alphabet puzzle with him?  When did I have the time to play restaurant with my daughter?

And so when summer break began two weeks ago, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Literally, as soon as I left campus for the last time for the 2016-2017 school year, I let out a huge exhale that mirrored that of my son attempting to blow out candles on his birthday cake (and side note:  he will be two next month!).  Teaching was done.  Now I could focus totally on mothering.

I know I need more balance between work and home, and sadly, the amount of time I spend doing school stuff outside of the campus has drastically decreased throughout the years.  Despite this change, there has secretly been a little inkling of fear in my spirit that was causing me to look down on my own parenting skills.  What was this fear?  It was a fear of being alone with my children because in my perfectionistic mind, I imagined my mothering skills to be less than up to par.  Although I knew that every parent has her own opinions on how to best raise her child, I always felt uncomfortable in my label as “mom”.  I wasn’t one of those snuggly-types of mothers who always wanted hugs and kisses from their child, nor was I a stern-type who showed no emotion at all.  My mother was known as the disciplinarian, and while I do enforce rules, I rarely yell like my mom, and my daughter and son have never gotten a spanking.  I felt uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure what my “style” of parenting was, and since I didn’t know that piece of information, I constantly felt on guard.  Were other people watching me with my children and secretly critiquing the fact that I let my toddler eat ice cream for a snack?  Were other people whispering behind my back because my daughter’s long hair was tangled and not in perfect pigtail braids?

But then I realized that God has blessed me with children for a reason–not to validate my own parenting skills because in the end, He is their true Heavenly Father.  It is my role as a mother to lift my daughter and son up to God each and every morning, bless them with prayers every night before they go to bed, and raise them to seek after Jesus with their whole hearts and bear His light to the world.  In Titus 2:4, the scripture states that mothers are designed to love their husbands and their children–and “loving” another is more than merely making breakfast every morning for the kids or making sure they have clean clothes.  “Loving” another ascertains that a person is emotionally and spiritually there for another, and that individual would also show the same reverence she has for Jesus to another person.  This got me thinking:  Do I love my children the same way I love Jesus?  And vice versa?  How do I show love to my daughter and son?  Do I do the same to God?

When I do actions for my children out of love–cutting their PBJ into cute shapes, gifting them with tiny toys from Target–is it out of compliance to someone else’s expectations or because I WANT to do said actions due to my love for them?  Folding Shogun’s clothes and changing his diaper throughout the day may take on a tiring feel, yet even though those actions are not my favorite, I do it because I WANT to.  I love him and am thus willing to sacrifice sleep or my own desires to bless him.

I think that is the main reason why I am loving this summer so far.  All of the morning routine actions, all of the time I’m getting to spend with my children, are because I WANT to.  I see Jesus in their shinning faces, and no matter how stinky Shogun’s poop is or how much Misha will whine for a cookie, I WANT to be around them.  I am their mother.  I am the person Jesus placed in their lives to grow them into loving children of God.

I still have another twenty-two days with my little girl and little guy before I head back to school.  Twenty-two days to enjoy the early summer mornings, hot afternoons, and calm nights with them before my first teacher meeting.

I still have twenty-two more days to embrace the role of mother, to grow in my knowledge that God will guide me in parenting, and that by loving my kids, I am also showing my love for Jesus.

I could get used to this life.

Love: Wanted. Love: Found.

After writing about my obsession with running this past week, I sat back and thought about all the different types of addictions I had in my short lifetime.  Let me tell you.  Man, the list was LOOONG.  A few highlights here:

  1. Long-distance running (as noted in my previous post), but really any endurance sport became obsessive.  Maybe it’s the nature of the beast, since one has to train hours on end to prepare for a race.
  2. Hot yoga, specifically Bikram yoga (2 classes a days, everyday, anyone?!) because there was something very therapeutic about sweating out all of one’s toxins for 90 minutes.  And in my crazed brain, if one class made me feel tremendous, wouldn’t two classes make me feel beyond awesome?!
  3. Cleaning the house (my fingerprints are literally unrecognizable because I used so many darn Clorox cleaning wipes), which entailed Swiftering daily, vacuuming daily, disinfecting toilets daily…you get the picture.  EVERYTHING daily.
  4. Preparing lesson plans and grading papers in advance. like weeks in advance if applicable.  This may actually not be so negative, since a persevering work ethic at school allowed me more time to do things at home that were NOT English teaching related, yet I ended up causing myself unnecessary mental anguish if the unit plan was not PERFECTLY SO by a certain arbitrary deadline.
  5. And finally…finding true love.

Huh?  Wanting to find true love could be considered an addiction?!  Number five is one that I didn’t really think about as an obsession until just this past week.  What brought it up?  Well, the fact that one of my best friends since high school got engaged.  Yes, she found the man of her dreams and just this past week he “SURPRISE!” proposed to her.  She messaged me the great news the other day while the kids and I were eating sushi, and as soon as I read her text I wanted to jump out of my chair, leap in the air and shriek, “YAYYYYY!!!!”  But instead I calmly went back to eating my salmon nigiri, and as soon as we were out of the restaurant, I called my friend to get the inside scoop on the proposal.

Everyone wants romance, love, and passion–maybe it’s because having that ONE person to share a future with validates something in a girl’s (or guy’s) brain that she (or he) is worthwhile because, hey, someone else is choosing to spend the rest of his/her life with that individual.  For me, I always dreamed of what my significant other would be like and when I’d find him, because I needed to be reassured that someone else (besides my parents) loved me.

Truth was, back in my high school and young adult years, I didn’t really know if I loved myself.  That is not a lie.  I truly was not sure WHO I was, and so how could I be certain that I could love the person God created me to be?  Sure, I was a whiz at writing and could whip up an English essay in an hour flat, but I wasn’t sold on the fact that this character trait was “good.”  People said I was patient, sweet, and fun to be around, but what did that really mean?  Deep inside I secretly thought I wasn’t that “cool”–I didn’t have a hilarious sense of humor, nor was I able to wow friends or acquiantences with my off-the-charts intellect.  I just kind of “was.”  What made me special?  What person  would choose to love a gal like me with no outstanding qualities?

I tried remaking myself to being the girl that all the guys liked.  In high school, that meant I should look “surfer-like”, aka have highlighted hair, wear short denim shorts to show off long tanned legs, and have no blemishes whatsoever on my face.  Uh, that was impossible since I’m only a five feet-something, Japanese female with oily skin.  In college, being the girl that guys liked was very similar to what was presented in high school–but now, there was the added component of being able to go out until all hours and drink the night away.  No bueno.  I didn’t mind nursing a beer or two, but seriously, staying up to 2am (or 3am or 4am) sucking down Bud Light would only make me bloated and zombie-like the next day.  Once I started working, then the ideal girl that guys liked shifted:  Could she cook?  Did she have a stable job?  Did she make her hair nice and wear make-up out?  No.  Kind of.  Heck no.

I was out of luck in the guy department.  Don’t get me wrong–not all guys liked these characteristics in a mate.  But the majority of boys I hung around did, and so I internalized those traits and attempted (to no avail) to implement them in my life.  I highlighted my hair.  I dieted and ran to keep my legs as slender as possible.  I sipped my Bud Lights with the guys.  I did everyhting I assumed a girl “should” do in order to find a man.  But what did I find?  Nada.

Once I hit my mid-twenties, I became very cynical.  Sure, maybe there was a knight in shining armor to sweep me off my feet, but where was he?  How would I find him?  And then the thought came to me.

Jesus.

He was my knight.

He loved me before I was even born.  He loved me when I was going through my awkward braces and glasses stage.  He loved me when I sat in Chemistry with a blank stare on my face.  He loved me when I missed notes during my oboe concerto.  He loved me when I failed miserably and felt like I could do no right.

But Jesus also loved me when I received As on my English essays.  He loved me when I walked across the stage at my high school graduation and was handed my diploma.  He loved me when I was able to travel with the University of Hawaii Wind Ensemble and perform a solo during one of our national performances.  He loved me when my face beamed with pride at what I was able to accomplish in my young adult life.

Jesus was the one that made me special, and He was the one who sacrificed His life so that I could live mine here on earth.  Once I came to that realization, that no other guy regardless of how much he said he would care and love me, could ever compare to the One true God who chose to love me for all eternity.  Similarly, since God created me in His image, how preposterous would it be for me to say that I wasn’t sure if I loved myself.  Did I love Jesus?  Yes!  I sure did.  So, if I loved (and still love) Jesus, and His Holy Spirit was in me, wouldn’t that mean that I was actually loving God since He was a part of me?

Mind.  Blown.

Oddly enough, as soon as I came to that revelation, I met my soon-to-be husband.  It wasn’t love at first sight as I imagined it would be, and in fact, I thought he was cute but that his ears stuck out too much.  But there was no anxiety around our meeting, no hemming and hawing if he was “the one”–because I knew my true love was already deep in my spirit.

Romance, love, passion.  Those are things many people look for because they are signs of intimacy, and who doesn’t want to feel like she is included and belongs?  But there is great joy, a great sense of peace, that the Holy Spirit brings when that individual accepts and loves who God created her to be, because then she can fully love herself and those around her.

 

Running the Good Race

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, running was my life.  I know that is a pretty cliched saying, that “ABCDE is my life,” but in all seriousness, strapping on my pair of Brooks and hitting the pavement was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, the image that replayed in my mind while sitting in class, and the last mental cue that popped up in my brain before falling asleep at night.

My high school boyfriend joked that I’d be one of “those” mothers who would lace up her sneakers until the day she was in labor and a few weeks later would be out pushing around an all-terrain jogging stroller at Ala Moana Park.  Small talk with family and friends revolved around the latest running news, and more often than not acquaintances would gawk at my twig-like legs and state with awe, “Wow, still running I see!  What is it?  Did you do four marathons already?”

During college I worked part-time at a running shoe store, where I was able to test run the newest styles, measure people’s feet, and fit them with appropriate sneakers.  I felt a LITTLE like Al Bundy, retying shoes for customers and passing them the box of try on socks, but to me, being in the store was Heaven on earth.

Outwardly I was a devoted athlete, doing fartleks and tempo runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, incorporating long, slow distances on the weekends, and signing up for every local race I could.  Adorned in Nike shorts and finisher t-shirts, I was the epitome of what it meant to be a “runner.”

But inwardly, running was dangerous.  Physically, cardiovascular exercise is tremendous for the body–it helps keep the heart healthy and protects it from disease and degeneration.  But like anything else in life, too much of a good thing becomes, well, dangerous.  When my obsession with accumulating miles and trying to be faster and faster with every run morphed into me losing 15 pounds from my already small frame, running became dangerous.  However, despite my body’s need for fuel and rest (two things I never gave it during my stint in long-distance racing), I neglected to see the folly of my actions, and instead focused on the immediate gratification I got from completing a cool ten miles.  Running was my drug of choice, yet at the time I was blind to how the pavement pounding and wind in my face could be such a detrimental addiction.

I remember the first time I ran three miles with my high school cross country team.  The feeling of my legs hitting the grass in the Manoa neighborhood and the blood rushing through my thighs was exhilarating.  But what was even better was the endorphin rush at the end, the feeling of calmness and (oddly enough) tranquility in my bones that came when I collapsed on the ground with my friends to stretch and chatter about the short training jaunt.  Back then, three miles felt like an eternity.  During the run I even contemplated turning back early, as all I could think was that there was no way I’d be able to make it to the turn around point and then retrace my steps to campus without hyperventilating.

Flash forward a few years, and three miles was my warm up.  I was up to an easy ten miles a day, clicking away at a 8 minute or less pace.

Ten.  Miles.  A.  Day.  Every.  Day.

Well, except for Saturdays when I’d log between 15-20 miles.  In one session.

Writing that now, my knees ache.  Literally, my patellas cry out in pain at the amount of pounding they used to take day in and day out.  Praise God I never sustained a traumatic injury of any kind–with that much output and no rest, I’m shocked that I didn’t develop some kind of bone spur, strain, or tear.

Why was I so compelled to log in that many miles?  Why???

It may seem like a cop-out answer, but 99% of the reason why I sacrificed sleep, time with friends, and my health to run was because of the eating disorder.  Along with restricting and being highly selective of my intake (hey, it was the nineties and the low fat rage was booming), I also saw long distance running as a way to form the ideal body–which in effect, was a way to numb and distract myself from the real issues at hand that were out of my control, namely my mother’s illness, graduating college, finding a real job, and meeting a guy that I could end up marrying.

The fear of the unknown left me with a multitude of questions:  What am I going to do after college?  What if I hate my job?  Will my mother be able to see me graduate?  What if I never find anyone who will love me?  What if I never become a mother?  There were times at night when I’d wake up, my room cool and dark, and yet I’d be sweating.  Seriously, beads of perspiration would drip down my head as these thoughts and questions filled my perplexed brain.

Basically, I was scared to grow up and be a woman.  So instead, I fixated on changing SOMETHING about myself that I did have control over and eased my mental turmoil:  my body.  Long distance running was one activity that could tune out the noise, relive me of the anxiety, and grant me some kind of serenity.

Runners often claim of getting that “runner’s high”, when one feels like her legs could turn over and over for miles on end, breathing even and unlabored, mind clear.  That “runner’s high” was what I aimed for every time I hit the pavement.  Ironically, the more and more I ran, the longer and longer it took for me to achieve that state of euphoria.  Whereas I could once get that calmness after a short three miles, the following month I’d have to go five miles to receive that same feeling.  And then five miles turned to seven.  And so on.  And so on.

Those people who have met me within the last few years would be astonished to know that I once spent close to twenty hours a week JUST RUNNING.  Why?  Because I now can’t go more than 2.5 miles on a treadmill or the road without feeling like my head is going to explode from boredom.  What made the change?  God.

I tried willing myself to stop running cold turkey, especially when I weighed 88 pounds and was still attempting to huff and puff around Diamond Head under the blistering noon sun.  My husband even went so far as to hide all of my shoes (and boy, did I have SO MANY shoes!), shorts, socks, sports bras, and shirts in his office so that I wouldn’t be tempted to run.  Sadly, the eating disorder voice would speak to me when the itch to lace up hit, and I’d end up spending God knows how much money on second hand clothing and gear–and then hide them around the house and in my car so I’d still be able to run in secret.

It was only Jesus–the same God who healed the deaf and mute, who cast out demons and walked on water–who was able to change my thinking around overnight.  I remember the time very clearly:  I had just come back from a secret run around the neighborhood before heading off to work, and the overwhelming feeling of guilt burdened my spirit so much that I broke down into tears.  Why couldn’t I just WILL myself to stop?  If I could restrict food in a world full of hamburgers, shakes, and ice cream, how come I couldn’t just stop running?  And then I felt the Holy Spirit urge me:  Pray.  Pray that Jesus would guide my actions. Pray that whatever Jesus would want me to do in life I would do, and that everything else He didn’t want me to partake in be pushed aside.  Pray for His heart and His will, not my desires and wants.

Truthfully, it’s a scary prayer.  Give up everything that I wanted?  It’s a misnomer to think that what one desires is more than what God would want.  In Isaiah 55:8-9, the scripture states, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'”  God is more in tune with a person’s needs and wants–even moreso than the individual himself.  If that is true, then who am I to say that I know what’s better for my life than the God who created the world and my existence?  Didn’t He knit me in my mother’s womb, and am I not fearfully and wonderfully made by Him?  

So on my knees in the middle of the living room, tears rolling down my face, I prayed that prayer.  Lord, let Your will be done in my life.  Not mine.  Whatever is not of You, in my spirit, take it away.

And like a switch that was in the off position, with those words the lights went “on” and I had no desire to run.  Seriously, I kid you not, the lure of the road, the feeling of sweat dripping down my brow, my legs pumping full of blood as I gasped through mile after mile, disintegrated.  I’m sure this may sound quite “easy” or unbelievable to you who are reading this blog (“What?  Lauren just prayed?  And her addiction lifted?”), but in all honesty, there is a spiritual power at work when one prays.  Jesus is not a liar, and when He said to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7), He will be faithful and just to follow through on His word.  Jesus did and can do miraculous physical healings, and in that same way he gave sight to the blind and rose people from the dead, so can He take away an addiction that had plagued my life for years on end.

Don’t get me wrong.  The enemy, the eating disorder voice, would love for me to relapse into a full-blown marathon running spree.  There are moments since that day when I feel like I want to run, and when that urge comes up, I ask, “Lord, is this ok?  Do you mind if I go for a jog around the neighborhood?”  The majority of the time, I feel a sense of peace in my spirit, and so I pop on my shoes and 20 minutes later the deed is done.  And if I don’t feel that sense of peace?  Well, I don’t go.  Honestly, there have been a few times when I didn’t listen and strapped on my Mizunos anyway, and let me tell you, those runs were HELL.  If I can imagine what hell is like, those runs were it.  Dead legs.  Gasping for air.  Counting down every second until the distance was reached.  With God, there is a peace that transcends all understanding.  Without Him, there is much struggle.

In the end, I look back on all those marathons I completed and am thankful.  I don’t miss the blisters on my toes, the millions of Clif Shots I’d buy a year, or waking up at the crack of dawn to file to the starting line of a race.  What I am thankful for is that through all of those miles, through the years of me not listening to God and instead choosing to listen to myself, Jesus nonetheless still loved me and was there for me.  And when the time came to return to Him, He welcomed me with open arms.  No medal, no race PR, no amount of miles I logged could ever compare to the love, forgiveness, and acceptance of God–because unlike the fleeting records and trophies of this world, the prize from running a race for Him reaps eternal and everlasting rewards.

Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate.

At our last English department meeting for this school year, there was a feeling of jubilation in the air as we quickly went through the nitty-gritty administrative details (Don’t forget to turn in keys!  Don’t forget to update your curriculum map!) and chit-chatted about our upcoming summer plans (No summer school!  I get to stay home with the kiddos!).  Eventually we educators got caught into discussing the popularity of graduations, and how preschool and kindergarten ceremonies are now A THING where toddlers parade across stage in construction paper hats to accept certificates of early education merit.  The discussion then turned to whether or not these types of ceremonies are really warranted, and not just for the toddler set.  Why do high schools celebrate the ending of a school year?  Aren’t there more important life events one could throw confetti for?

This past Saturday, one hundred or so of our school’s seniors took part in such a celebration.  They marched across the Blaisdell Concert Hall stage, smiles as wide as the ocean, enthusiastically shook hands with the president of the school as they grabbed their diplomas, and pumped their arms in a victory call.

WE DID IT.  WE DID IT.  YES, WE DID IT.

Seeing these rudy-faced young adults eager to enter life after uniformed class schedules and curfews made me quite excited for them (I’m not embarrassed to admit my eyes welled up with tears of joy), but the questions about the uniqueness and practicality of celebrating graduations still remain.

Why celebrate the ending of a school year when there are still so many more challenging life events yet to come?  Should we as a society award praise to a child who has attended four years of English, science, and math classes (all required, mind you), and emerged from the tests and homework being able to analyze Shakespeare and compute biochemical equations?

Why do parents, family, and friends shed tears of joy when seeing their loved ones parade across stage wearing a black cap and gown, when in truth, said students still have the rest of their lives to fully experience?

Is it really so impressive that students basically followed our society’s rigorous educational rules (i.e. spending hours listening to lectures and even more hours studying in hopes of getting the “A” that will propel them to a good college) and survived it all?  Are we merely celebrating the fact that they were pushed by us adults to do something which was PROBABLY not what the teenagers actually wanted to be doing anyway?

Initially, I agreed with the majority of the educators in the room in response to these questions.   YES!  Life hasn’t really begun for these students.  Lets not delude them into thinking that high school IS IT.  There’s attending college.  There’s finding a job.  There’s working at a job.  There’s dating (UGH).  There’s getting married.  There’s (possibly) having children.  Life has so much more to offer after the cap and gown ceremony!

But then I realized what my high school years were like.

Midway through my sophomore year, I felt the pull of inadequacy tugging on my spirit when I saw classmates acing tests that I received all red marks on.  I struggled through understanding Japanese characters, and no matter how many flashcards I made, the brushstrokes for kanjis never took to my brain.  After one incident when I had to give an oral presentation in history class but stood there in front of my peers, eyes bulging with fear because I didn’t remember what to say, I realized that I still had two more years of being just “mediocre” in my studies. It was a sobering realization that I would not be the valedictorian, salutatorian, or even in the top 10 percent of my graduating class.  I had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone is meant to be great at everything–and it was a wake up call that happened during my high school years.

Ironically, I spent a lot of my breaks completing homework so I could have free time when I got home to practice my oboe.  I thought that since I couldn’t excel in academics, I could at least have SOME talent in music.  Even carving out for myself that chunk of rehearsal time at home, however, didn’t leave me feeling any more relaxed or confident in my musical abilities.  Instead, the more times I played the same run in the Saint-Saens concerto or practiced my chromatic scale, the more my weaknesses were exposed.  And then I got the awful case of the “shoulds”:  I “should” practice at least 2 hours a day to get better.  I “should” play “Metamorphosis” in this manner so that the judges would like it.  I “should” make the first chair of the symphony, otherwise no one will think I’m great at anything.  It was a lot of “shoulds”, and in the end, those “shoulds” left me feeling even more inadequate in my capabilities.  I had to learn that the limitations and expectations I placed on myself could be either helpful (yes, set goals!) or harmful (no, don’t place unnecessary stress on yourself!)–and it was a wake up call that happened during my high school years.

In the midst of trying to attain somewhat decent grades and medals in music recitals, I was also highly influenced by my long-legged, tanned, surfer-like female classmates who seemed to exude the sexual appeal that guys at school desired.  I realized that looking the role of a “popular” girl meant that I would have to turn from the person God made me to be into another creature, and maybe once that transformation occurred, I would find acceptance and inclusion.  I, being only 5’1″, Japanese, and inept at water sports, was aesthetically the complete opposite of what I deemed to be the “perfect girl”, but that did not stop me from trying to transform myself to a surfer chic.  As a result, I used self-tanning lotion to make myself darker, flooded my closets with thin-strapped tanks, and bought a pair of reef slippers that didn’t fit me well, but who cared, because all the “popular” girls had them.  Still, my short legs did not compare to the taller Caucasian gals’, and my stick straight hair did not flow in the wind like theirs.  I secretly desired to have the attention those “popular” girls had, because the smiles from boys, the look of envy from other girls, the carefree attitude they encompassed were what I was missing.  One night, I distinctly remember laying on my bed, eyes opened to the Heavens, hypothesizing that only IF I had the perfect exterior, THEN I would feel special and THEN I’d be internally happy.  The fact is that Jesus made each one of us perfect in His sight–sadly, I didn’t realize this during my time as a teenager, but what it means to have self-acceptance (or lack thereof) reared its’ head during my high school years.

So as we teachers talked about the absurdity of graduation, my knee-jerk reaction of “Yeah, that’s right!!!  Life hasn’t started yet!!!” changed to one of “No.  Wait a minute.  High school is HELLA hard.”  In what other time in one’s life will a person have to learn pretty challenging lessons (how to accept oneself, how to set goals), all the while battling teenage insecurities and (gulp) hormones?  What other time besides during high school will students realize that there IS a big world out there beyond the walls of the classroom, and taking that first step to the unknown is tremendously intimidating?  Even more nerve wracking is that they are doing it all as 18 year olds without any previous experience living on their own in the “real world.”

And don’t forget about all the other “stuff” that high schoolers are dealing with that we teachers don’t see:  parent relationships disintegrating, strife between siblings, sports injuries that can knock a kid out for months on end, friendships changing as social circles collide, and teenage hormones running a muck.  It’s almost like these high schoolers are back in the terrible twos stage where toddlers are asserting their independence and personality, except these young adults have pimples, don’t speak in gibberish, and can drive.

Clearly, graduation is a time of celebration.

We are celebrating a monumental time of inner growth and development.

We are celebrating that many students had to endure much emotional and spiritual learning beyond the academic rigor of papers and tests.

We are celebrating how high schoolers are taking that next step to fulfill the call God has upon their lives.

While typing out this post, I’m reminded of all the graduating seniors I saw parade across the stage this past weekend to accept their diplomas.  Some looked enthralled, while others seemed relieved.  Either way, there was satisfaction in the fact that God was there with each one.  He had knit every single student in his mother’s womb, thoughtfully cultivated that individual with His Holy Spirit, and amazingly, we in the crowd were able to see His handiwork there on stage.  Matthew 28:20 urges believers to “Go forth and make disciples of all nations”, and that is exactly what this graduating group of 2017 are doing.  They are taking a spiritual (and literal) step from the life they’ve known and are seeking to do God’s will in their lives.

My high school experiences were rough, to say the least, yet those times of trial were made all the sweeter when I stepped on the stage at Blaisdell some 18 years ago and received my diploma.  Yes, it was merely a piece of paper that stated I had accumulated the required amount of credits to graduate, but having that certificate in hand meant more than grades.  It showed that I was a fighter, that I was a survivor.  It demonstrated that I could push myself through great mental, emotional, and physical strife, and by God’s grace emerge on the other side ready to do His will.

So celebrate, class of 2017.  Celebrate your achievements, your failures, and the path God is leading you on.  Celebrate.  Celebrate.