Thank God I Do

A few weeks ago, I was asked to share my testimony at a women’s Bible study brunch at the end of April. It’s been difficult to find the time to sit down and figure out what I want to share with the ladies in my church. I haven’t shared my testimony in a formal setting in about twenty years, and during those twenty years my testimony has changed in multiple ways. Any time I share my story with someone, I feel called to share a different part of the way that God has transformed me and this time, I’m not sure what direction I need to go.

On my way home from work last week, I heard a new song by Lauren Daigle that touched my heart and reminded me of an important part of my story. When I was in high school, I struggled with anxiety and depression, to the point that I missed about forty days of my senior year. Even though I never had difficulty with school before, I did not want to go to school because I was afraid that I would have a panic attack that would leave me debilitated in front of other people. Eventually, I started going to therapy and taking antidepressants to help me to get back to the point where I could function.

Some people might stop the story there and say that therapy and antidepressants helped them to get out of the abyss of anxiety and depression. But that’s not my story. I remember one morning, I was sitting in our church’s counseling office where I would often spend my days when I wasn’t going to school. The medication wasn’t quite working for me yet, and I was fighting insomnia and random panic attacks while the meds evened out in my system. I called out to God in my need and asked him to rescue me from the depths of my depression. I remember feeling like a light was shining down on me as I reached up to God for help. I can’t say that everything got better immediately, but I was able to go back to school pretty regularly, and I graduated on time with my class despite missing so much school.

Several times in my life, I have been back in the depths of depression. About fifteen years ago, it hit again when I was mourning the fact that I would never have a biological child of my own. At this time, I learned that I could cast out the fear and depression because God has given me victory over depression and anxiety. I began carrying scriptures in my pocket so that I could lean on the promises of Philippians 4:6-7 and Isaiah 43:19.

About five years ago, it hit even harder while my family was trying to help a foster child who was recreating the abuse of his birth family. This time, I struggled with severe insomnia and crying fits that would last for hours. I never thought I would get out of the pit, but with therapy, medication, and God’s rescue, I have overcome depression and anxiety once again. I also accepted the fact that my depression and anxiety are both genetic and physiological not flaws in my character or my faith in God.

As I am finally sitting down to write this part of my story, I am listening to songs by Lauren Daigle. So many of her songs speak to the experience that I have had over and over again of God’s hand of rescue intervening in my life. But her latest song, “Thank God I Do,” resonates with me more than any other, especially the chorus:

“I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t know you.

I’d probably fall off the edge.

I don’t know where I’d go if You ever let go,

So keep me held in Your hands.”

Lately, my husband and I have been watching The Chosen. To be honest, we avoided it for quite a while because we are usually skeptical of Christian shows and movies. We have several friends that we love and trust who said that we would enjoy the show, but we held out until we finally came to the decision at about the same time: we need to watch The Chosen. If you haven’t watched the show yet, I would encourage you to do so. Even though the writers of the show have created fictional back stories for each of the disciples, the stories of the way that each came to know Christ are so beautiful and so human. Not only that, but they have made Christ so perfectly human in His humor, His grace, His compassion, and His zeal for His Father. I have related to each of the disciples in so many ways as I have watched the show, but recently, I have connected with the story of James the Lesser.

In The Chosen, James the Lesser is written to have some type of physical disability like cerebral palsy. Because of his disability, he often feels less able than the other disciples, but more importantly he questions why Christ does not heal him like He has healed other people. When Christ sends out the Twelve to spread the message, He tells them that they will be able to perform miracles, but James is conflicted.

James confronts Jesus and asks him why Jesus hasn’t healed him yet. He questions how he will be able to heal others when he is on his missionary journey when he is not whole himself. Jesus’s answer to James is both beautiful and challenging at the same time. He tells James that He trusts him. He hasn’t healed James because He trusts James to be faithful to God even if he isn’t healed. He trusts James to heal others in His name, and He trusts that James will glorify God because even in his brokenness he is able to speak of God’s goodness in his own life.

What a challenging idea: when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

My life has been full of challenges that have caused me to feel broken: my parents’ divorce, infertility, never quite fitting in, anxiety, depression, grief. God has healed me of each of these hurts in my life, but there are times when the thorn sticks deep and I feel weighed down by sickness of the soul. Perhaps God has not completely healed me because He trusts me. He trusts me to keep telling my story to others who need to be encouraged by my testimony. He trusts me to walk beside those who are broken by the same diseases as those I have experienced in my own life. He trusts me to tell others that I wouldn’t know who I’d be if I didn’t know Him because I’d probably fall of the edge. He trusts me to tell others that I don’t know where I’d go if He ever let go, but He keeps me held in His hands.

Let it be so in your own life. Let it be as it should be today. I pray for God’s peace to wash over you in this moment. I pray that Jesus is near to you as He is near to me.

Looking Back…2022

Like many people today, I am reflecting on this last year. 2022 has been a bittersweet year for my family. We have experienced some difficulties but we have also experienced some victories. I am sure that some of you understand this feeling in your own lives.

Last year at this time, my family was grieving the loss of my stepdad, someone who I looked to as one of the strongest male role models in my life. He encouraged me to pursue my teaching career and was always happy to hear how my school year was going. This year, we are grieving the loss of my parents’ dog, Roscoe, who was at times difficult to manage but was mostly a sweet dog. We imagine that Les and Roscoe are in heaven together, celebrating their freedom from pain today.

Last year at this time, my husband was struggling with shoulder pain that he has managed for years. We were preparing for doctor’s visits, MRIs, and physical therapy. This year, my husband is healing from intense shoulder surgery. We are hopeful that his recovery will result in better mobility and permanent relief from pain.

Last year at this time, I had a broken relationship with my son. Since moving to Colorado in the summer of 2021, he had pulled away from my husband and me, trying to forge his own path. He intentionally skipped out on our family’s celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas. He never said goodbye to my stepdad, and he never expressed his condolences to my mom. In February of 2022, he officially moved out, claiming that he could make it on his own. Sadly, this past summer, he spent some of his time living on the streets of downtown Colorado Springs and eventually moved from hotel to hotel with a friend. I thought we had lost him.

With a renewed sense of purpose, he moved back in with us, planning on joining the Navy. After meeting all of the enlistment requirements, he shipped off to boot camp, planning what his life would look like as a new recruit. One week after he left for boot camp, he called me and let me know that his graduation date would be postponed because he was sick. He sounded horrible. My heart grieved for him, wishing I could crawl through the phone and hug him. One week after that, he called again. This time, he told me that he couldn’t do it. After being sick, he just couldn’t get his mind to do what needed to be done and he felt like bashing his head against a wall. Again, my heart grieved and I wished I could crawl through the phone and hug him. He called later that day, letting me know that he was being separated from the Navy and that he would not be finishing boot camp. For the last two weeks, I have been waiting to hear when he can come home. By the grace of God, he is coming home next week, after only a few weeks in separation. This year, I am rejoicing in knowing that my son has been returned to me. I look forward in hope to what is next in our relationship and in his life.

This year we have seen trials and triumphs, grief and rejoicing, pain and healing. I am encouraged to remember that God is always faithful. Even when we think that things cannot turn around, God’s promises still stand. Even in the midst of suffering, God is with us, holding us through.

As I look toward 2023, I am encouraged that God will continue to carry me through the trials, promising the triumphs. I hope that in your grieving, you will trust that God will lead you to rejoicing and that in your pain, he will lead you to healing. Be encouraged to seek Him this year and to trust in Him to be faithful.

What are you “for”?

Lately, I have noticed that some people are more focused on proclaiming what they are against than declaring what they are for. Just yesterday I saw yet another political bumper sticker that claimed “Republican: because not everyone can be on welfare.” In a local neighborhood, someone has painted “Let’s Go Brandon” on the side of their house, and a small business has a very offensive mural about the current presidential administration. I am in no way defending the ideology of Democrats or putting down the ideologies of Republicans. However, I have noticed a trend recently that some people loudly shout what they are against about political parties, religions, individual lifestyle choices, and so on.

Now some people may assume that this isn’t dangerous: we all have the freedom of speech, after all. However, I don’t completely agree with this. I do believe that we all have the right to think what we want and to say what we want, but there are times when these negative ideologies can negatively impact those who are impressionable and naive. Sometimes these hostile feelings about other people’s beliefs can have deadly implications.

Recently, there was another mass shooting. Which one, you might be thinking, since they happen so often these days. This mass shooting occurred at Club Q in Colorado Springs, a city which has become dear to my heart having moved to Colorado over a year ago. Obviously, there is still an investigation going on to determine the motive for this shooting, but it seems that this attack was driven by hate. What else would cause someone to enter a club that was hosting a birthday party and open fire on innocent people?

I can’t say that I know why this young man (22 years old!) killed five innocent people in Club Q. However, I can speculate that his motivation was grounded in either an obsession or an intense hatred of people who are transgender and homosexual. Either way, five innocent lives have been lost because of another example of senseless violence.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I firmly believe that our first priority is to love God. Our second priority is to love others. This is not always easy to do, especially in a world that is so focused on political ideologies that oftentimes encourage “believers” to hate others and to blaspheme God. Sadly, I have had to unfollow, block, and unfriend people on social media who are believers mostly because their posts are filled with hate and not love. I cannot understand how someone can know Jesus Christ and still post hateful messages about people. It’s ok to disagree with someone’s views; it’s not ok to plaster mean spirited memes, GIFs, or click bait articles about people.

Christians, we have to do better. If the majority of people who are nonbelievers think that Christians are hypocritical, homophobic, racist, and vengeful, then I don’t think we are proclaiming Jesus Christ as messiah and Lord. Why would anyone want to be in a relationship with someone who is so hateful? If this is how we are showing Christ in our world, then that is how people see Jesus. From my understanding of the life of Jesus, he was loving to those who were living in sin, those who were grieving, and those who were ill; he called out the hypocrisy and sinfulness of those who thought they were righteous. Perhaps, we need to check ourselves.

Our politics should not determine the way that we demonstrate Christ in this world. Our faith in Jesus Christ should determine our politics and the way that we treat other people: no matter what political side they are on, no matter what religion they practice, no matter what gender pronoun they use, no matter what color their skin happens to be, no matter how old they are or how young they are.

Christ calls us to love: there was more that he was for than what he was against. Christ was for healing, reconciliation, grace, encouragement, mercy, and empowerment. What are you for?

Please stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal

I am generally a pretty healthy person. I remember only a few times being really sick. During my honeymoon, I got bronchitis so bad that one night I didn’t feel like eating anything else but canned green beans. My husband took me to urgent care the next day to get antibiotics. In college, I had some type of virus – not mono – that sapped my energy for about a week. One year over Christmas break I caught a stomach bug that didn’t improve until about New Year’s Eve. But COVID is something else altogether.

Considering the fact that I am a public school teacher, it took me until August of 2022 to get COVID for the first time. My habits didn’t change when the new school year started, but at the end of the first week, I knew that I had caught something. At first, I thought it was just my allergies. I had run out of allergy medicine and didn’t have time to get more until two days had passed with no Zyrtec. I just figured that the sneezing was because the pollen count was so high in Colorado. Then, on Sunday, the sore throat started. But again, it felt like it was sinus related. Pain reliever seemed to help, so I didn’t think anything of it.

At the beginning of the second week of school, I knew that it was more than just allergies. I sneezed probably thirty times on Monday, and by the end of the evening, my nose was so stuffed up that I could hardly breathe through my nose. I slept on and off all night, feeling achy and cold. When I woke up on Tuesday morning, my temperature was just over 101. Obviously, when I tested for COVID, the pink line showed up about three minutes after I put my nose swab sample on the test.

Today, it has been four weeks since my first symptoms started to show up. However, my body is still healing from the aftereffects of the virus. I can’t complain too much – I never had shortness of breath, my fever lasted only a few days, and I didn’t have to go to the hospital for oxygen. But my experience with COVID has made me realize that it still is a big deal. I know that some people would argue with me –

“It’s just a cold.”

“It’s like the flu.”

“I wasn’t too sick. Just a headache for a few days.”

“I got over it pretty quickly.”

“Only people with other health problems get really sick.”

I really wish that people would stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when it is. Let me explain.

Stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when for the first time in my life, I thought I was never going to feel better. There were a few days that I thought that I was always going to feel exhausted, achy, nauseated. One day I would improve and then the next morning I would wake up wishing I would just die. And I’ve had most of my thyroid removed and basal cell carcinomas removed from my forehead (talk about a headache!)

Stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when my husband could hardly walk across the room without feeling like he was going to pass out. Thankfully, he went to urgent care and was prescribed an inhaler, but it was really scary for a few days. He was terrified that he would have to be put on oxygen and that he would eventually die from the virus.

Stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when my mom could hardly swallow for the first 48 hours of having the virus. I have seen my mom fight against a lot of what life has thrown at her, but I have never seen her so exhausted and defeated by anything.

Stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when a friend’s husband just came home from the hospital after eight months of recovery from the virus. He lost at least one hundred pounds during those eight months, and he was in great physical shape before the disease caused pneumonia and several other infections in his body. At one point, his blood-oxygen level was below 40%. He was given a 5% chance of survival.

Stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when it is on the list of history’s seven deadliest plagues along with the Spanish Flu of 1918, three bouts of the plague, and AIDS/HIV. Consider the fact that most of these diseases spread throughout the world before modern medical miracles like vaccines or penicillin even existed.

In recent months, I’ve had several people tell me that COVID isn’t a big deal. Some people are still denying that it even exists. I cannot logically wrap my mind around this, considering my own experience with the virus and how I’ve seen it affect my loved ones.

Today, I’m glad that I have finally stopped coughing after over three weeks. I’m glad that I’m able to breathe comfortably without having to smear Vicks all over my chest and feet (yes, Vicks on bare feet actually works for congestion). I’m glad that I never had the lingering headache that some complain of experiencing.

But the effects of the virus have not gone away completely. Over the course of the last four weeks, I pulled the intercostal muscles in my ribs which is excruciatingly painful, especially when I sneeze. Thankfully, the muscle pain is better today than it was this time last week, but it is a reminder that COVID is a big deal.

As you accept the fact that COVID is a reality that we must live with, be considerate of people’s experiences with the disease. If your round of COVID (or second or third round) wasn’t a big deal, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be a big deal to someone else. We each respond to sickness differently, so your experience may not be the same as someone else’s experience. That is the crazy thing about the virus – each person responds differently and seems to have different symptoms, some that linger and some that are gone pretty quickly.

Be encouraged today to be sympathetic to those around you, especially as we are living in a world with a virus that has the capability of causing multiple complications for many different people. Be reasonable in the way that you talk about the virus, remembering that we all have dealt with it in our own ways. Be loving as you care for those who may be sick or those who may be fearful of getting sick. Be gracious to those who have a different opinion than your own regarding masks, vaccines, and all the other stuff involved with COVID. And finally, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way you obey the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2 – NLT).

In Memory – The Importance of Being a Witness

I don’t know how people live in this world without knowing Jesus. I am not trying to simplify life by saying that religion will fix everything. In fact, I know that having some sort of faith often complicates life instead. I have never believed that getting saved will solve all of my problems. I have just learned that knowing Jesus means that I have someone to turn to, someone who understands, someone who loves me.

I have always been a people watcher. One of my teachers told my mom that if she wanted to know what was happening in class that she would ask me because I watched everyone. As a teacher myself, this skill of being observant helps me to check in with kids who seem to be struggling either academically or personally. And beyond the classroom, I have watched people’s behaviors to determine how I should act. Early on I realized that I didn’t want to make some of the choices that some people made because I didn’t want to face the consequences that they seemed to be experiencing. As an adult, I still watch people, but my observations are much different than they were when I was a kid.

Now, I watch people through social media. Throughout my adult life, I have built relationships with people from coast to coast, mostly because my husband and I have moved between California and Virginia several times. Many of the friends I have on Facebook are from various churches where we have ministered over the years. Other friends are former students that are now married with their own families. And a few of my friends are those whom I have known since middle and high school. I don’t have a lot of connection with friends from high school, but occasionally, I check in with them, mostly through scrolling through their profiles and pages. As we have all aged, it is fun to watch our kids grow up and to see where we have all landed across the country. However, I have also witnessed broken marriages, broken hearts, and broken lives.

This weekend, one of my best friends from high school reached out to me to let me know that one of our high school friends passed away. For the most part, this is the first person that I was close with in high school that has passed away. I don’t know all of the details of her passing, and I wouldn’t share them here, if I did. However, one thing that I know is that she was hurting. It wasn’t always clear from what she posted on Facebook, but there were indications that things were not as they seemed. She was always good about putting on a smile. In fact, that was the one thing that I always remember about her from high school – her sweet smile. Sadly, I hadn’t been in contact with her for quite some time, mostly because of some misunderstanding or disagreement during my senior year of high school. I can’t exactly remember what happened, but I do know that my contact with her recently was just through her posts on Facebook – pictures of her sons and her occasional selfies. The smile was still there – but I don’t know how real it was.

I have learned through the years to listen very carefully to the Holy Spirit. Most nights, my hound wakes me up to go run around the yard. Some nights, I have trouble going back to sleep and at times, faces from my past come to mind. There are even nights when I will have dreams of old boyfriends or friends that I haven’t seen in at least twenty years. Most of the time, I pray for the people that come to mind either through dreams or when their faces appear before me. Prayer is one of the best ways that I can help someone, but after the news I received this week, maybe I need to do more. I don’t know what that looks like, but I know that I have something that so many people need: Jesus.

It’s always interesting to me when I receive friend requests from friends from high school. That’s because most of them know that I was a fairly strong Christian back then. Every week, my mom would pick up a group of my friends and take them to youth group. My friend that passed this weekend was one of those friends. Since we lost contact, I don’t know whether or not she had any relationship with God. I don’t know if she went to church. I don’t know if she knew that Jesus was just a prayer away. I do know that I could have reached out to her.

One of the most difficult things for me as a Christian is to minister to my friends and family. Through Facebook, I am connected to over five hundred people – family members, friends from my past, church people, former students, colleagues. I know that not all of them know Jesus. I know that some of them are struggling. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know how people live in this world without knowing Jesus. I believe that the only way that I have made it through many of the struggles of my own life is because I know that Jesus loves me. I know that he comforts me. I know that he guides me. I know that he protects me.

Today, I am challenged to be a better witness of the love of Jesus. Yesterday, my pastor shared that when he was first starting in ministry that he didn’t know what he was doing. He came across a book that helped him to see that the best prayer in this time of his life was to ask God to create in him the ability to be a youth pastor. He encouraged us yesterday to pray these types of prayers. So, today I am asking God to create in me a witness of Jesus Christ. To help me to minister to my friends and family members – those who know Jesus and those who don’t. If you are a follower of Jesus, I encourage you to do the same. Pray that God will help you to minister to those you love.

Pro-Love: Part Two

On June 24, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed Roe vs. Wade, a landmark case that provided abortion rights for women across the country. Instead of abortion being a federal right, the court provided the states the opportunity to make their own laws around abortion. For some, this represented a victory against the evil of destroying innocent lives. For some, this represented a set back in history that could lead to other similar reversals. I argued in a previous post that in order for the nation to be able to ethically ban abortions, there were several things that need to be addressed such as sex education and the foster care system. My previous post discussed my concerns about abstinence only education in states that have almost entirely banned abortion as a legal right of women.

A second concern related to abortion bans across the country has to do with the state of the foster care system in the United States. As an adoptive mother and a former foster mother, this is personal. In order to be a licensed foster parent, an individual needs to undergo training that includes an understanding of the legal ramifications of foster care and adoption, trauma sensitivity, abuse recognition and prevention, and other topics specific to each individual case. In my training, we heard stories of conditions that caused certain children to be taken into care – situations of extreme abuse and neglect. We also heard stories of children who experienced similar if not worse conditions in foster placement. As a foster parent, you learn not to be surprised when a child tells you about their past, a sad reality in our world today.

The 2021 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) reported that in 2020, 407,493 children were in foster care. Over 200,000 children both entered and exited foster care which means that over 600,000 children were at one time in the system during 2020. Of that number only 57,881 children were adopted with the assistance of a public welfare agency while over 170,000 children were waiting to be adopted. The remaining children were in the system until they could be reunited with their birth family or until a family member could become their legal guardian. Of the children in foster care, 45% were in foster placement with someone outside of their birth family while 54% were waiting to be reunified with family.

It is easy to gloss over these statistics and forget that these numbers represent individual children. In my own experience as a foster mother, I had the privilege of mothering two boys. Both boys were about the same age when they entered my home at different times. The first boy experienced severe neglect in his birth home and was allowed to sit in his room in the dark, playing video games most of the time. Due to his experience in his grandparents’ home, he still struggles with video game addiction and making lasting connections with others. He was adopted at fourteen and is now struggling to live independently. The second boy witnessed first hand extreme violence at the hands of his mother’s live-in boyfriend. Due to his experiences, he regularly threw temper tantrums that would sometimes last for hours. Today he is still in need of a forever home after more than seven years in the system.

These two stories are not necessarily the norm. Some children are able to be reunited with their birth family, and the goal of many foster care parents is to participate in this reunification. Other times, the courts terminate parental rights of the birth family because the conditions of the home are not safe for reunification to be a reality. In both cases of my boys, parental rights had been terminated which meant that the foster care system had determined that their plan was adoption. One boy was looking forward to adoption while the other wanted desperately to be back with his birth family despite the possibility of further abuse and neglect.

So what does this have to do with abortion? In my experience and opinion, everything. I would never suggest that these boys would be better off if their mothers had aborted them. I am so blessed that I have been a part of both of their lives. However, I am concerned that with abortion bans across the nation that the number of children in foster care will rise. Currently, it does not seem as if the states that have banned abortions will begin to provide for the economic, medical, and psychological needs of the mothers who will carry unwanted pregnancies to full term. Despite the fact that people across the United States want to protect the lives of unborn children, it doesn’t seem like many are willing to do anything to help these children once they are born.

I try not to be a pessimist when I look at the state of the foster care system; however, with my personal experience as a licensed foster mother, I know how difficult it is to parent children who have been in abusive situations. It is not for the faint of heart. My first foster placement was successful, meaning that it progressed with my husband and I adopting our son. However, my second foster placement was not successful which means that it did not progress to adoption. Our second placement was removed from our home and placed temporarily with another family because he was attempting to recreate the abusive situation that he was used to with his birth family. This experience broke our hearts. We wanted so desperately to be his forever family, but he was not ready emotionally or psychologically.

In order to live in a nation where abortion is not necessary, we need to seriously consider the ways in which children exit foster care. Sadly, the number of children in foster care has not changed much in recent years. I know that this is due to many factors; however, the number of children that have been adopted in recent years has also remained steady. This suggests that potential families have not made the sacrifice and commitment to become forever families for children in desperate need of belonging. It suggests that people are not willing to take care of children in need even though they are arguing for the protection of unborn babies. I just can’t help but see the double standard.

Not everyone can be foster parents or adoptive parents. Not all families can take on the responsibilities of helping to care for children that have been neglected and abused. However, I believe that there are more couples and families, especially those in the Church, who would be wonderful parents for children who need to be given safety and love. It is our call as people of God to care for those who are in need:

  • James 1:27 says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress”
  • Psalm 82:3 says, “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute”
  • Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans”

If people in the Church are to applaud the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, then they must also be willing to seek justice, defend the weak, help the oppressed, and care for orphans. At this point in the history of the American Church, I do not believe that we are doing enough. Instead, people tend to argue that women should just put their children up for adoption instead of having an abortion, but many are not willing to adopt or foster a child. People argue that people should just stop having sex, like that is a reasonable solution. Instead of showing love toward those in need, some are showing their lack of concern.

We are called to be pro-love in all that we do. This includes seeing the marginalized, helping the poor, defending the weak, loving mercy. Sadly, a decrease in abortions across the nation will more than likely mean an increase of children in foster care. What are we willing to do to help? What are you willing to sacrifice to stand behind your conviction to love your neighbor?

Pro-Love: Part One

Over the last few days, I have been struggling to understand how to move forward in a post-Roe vs. Wade society. Don’t worry, I’m not one to raise the banner for Pro-Choice or Pro-Life. I don’t feel like either perspective takes into consideration the complexity of abortion. Instead, I would argue that our stance, especially as Christians, should be Pro-Love. Being Pro-Love looks beyond a woman’s choice and the sanctity of life and looks into the underlying issues that some of us either ignore or do not understand. I cannot help but think about this issue in light of some of the practical and ethical things that must change in our society in order to try to move toward a world without a need for abortion.

Like many other evils in our world, I would love to live in a world where abortion is not a necessity for some women. But this would mean that rape does not exist. This would mean that women are provided with the healthcare they need to address physical concerns that may complicate their pregnancy and jeopardize their health or the health of the baby. This would mean that the medical, psychological, financial, and social needs of every child would be provided for without question. This would mean that women would not have to live in fear of bringing a child into an abusive environment. This would mean that we would actually see one another as children of God, fully loved and fully worthy of being loved.

Sadly, we do not live in this world. I am not a pessimist when it comes to the way that I view the world. In fact, I do believe that “The whole earth is filled with his [God’s] glory” (Isaiah 6:3 New Living Translation). Satan does not have dominion over the world. We are called to be God’s light in our world so that people can see God’s glory. I also believe that we are called to have compassion toward one another. Henri Nouwen says that “Compassion is daring to acknowledge our mutual destiny so that we might all move forward all together into the land which God is showing us” (Nouwen 57). We are called to live in community with one another – those who are followers of Jesus Christ and those who are not. In order to show God’s light in our world, our call is to love. I am not sure if this decision about Roe vs. Wade is completely about love. It might be about something much different.

There are several issues that I am concerned about when it comes to banning abortions in states across the U.S. The first is the fact that several states that have banned abortions either completely or mostly also have state mandated abstinence only sex education for middle and high school students. The second issue is the crisis that we are facing as a country in our foster care system. In order to move toward a society where abortion is not necessary or is very rare, we must first address these two issues along with countless others. Roe vs. Wade has been overturned, but the work is far from being over.

As a public school teacher, I walk the balance between living my life as a Christian and respecting the autonomy of my students and their families. It is clear that we are beginning to live in a post-Christian world. This means that the increase of atheists in our communities is rising. According to Pew Research, the highest numbers of third generation atheists are 18-49 years of age. This suggests that since more people of child-bearing age are atheists than those past child-bearing age that the children of atheists will more than likely become atheists themselves. In public schools, many children do not adhere to Judeo-Christian beliefs or any religious beliefs at all. However, instead of focusing on medically proven methods of pregnancy and STD prevention, some states are requiring abstinence only programs in middle and high school settings. Abstinence is not just a religious value; many who are nonreligious also encourage their children to remain abstinent until adulthood. Yet, it seems that the view of abstinence amongst Christian teens is not as staunch as it once was. In conversations with teens in former youth groups, I heard that many of them did not value “waiting until marriage” as teens from Christian homes once did.

I agree that abstinence is the most effective way of preventing pregnancy and STDs. I agree that the following criteria should also be taught in a comprehensive sex education course in middle and high schools across the United States:

Federal Statutory Definition of Abstinence Education
A.    has as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity
B.    teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children
C.    teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems
D.    teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity
E.    teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects
F.    teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society
G.    teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances
H.    teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity
from “Abstinence Education Programs: Definition, Funding, and Impact on Teen Sexual Behavior”

I do not believe that education on human sexuality should end here, especially in public schools. Comprehensive sex education should include medically accurate and age-appropriate information along with information about contraceptives, especially the use of condoms. Again, I would love to live in a world where teens do not have sex because I do believe that sex before marriage or before being in a committed relationship can have potentially negative life long effects. But as I said earlier, we do not live in that world. Since we do not live in that world, I believe that it is ethical and appropriate to teach students ways to prevent pregnancy and STDs outside of abstinence.

Sadly, many of the states that have recently banned abortion in most cases and many states that will shortly ban abortions in most cases also have abstinence only sex education in public schools. The following is a list as of today, June 28, 2022:

States with abstinence only education who have banned abortion:

  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri
  • Mississippi
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • Utah

As I conducted research today in preparing to write this blog, I also found that many schools receive federal grant money specifically to provide for their sex education courses. This includes programs that teach comprehensive sex education along with schools that teach abstinence only. In 2017, $299 million in grant money was distributed to schools to provide for sex education programs. Almost 1/3 of the funding went to schools that began abstinence only programs, equalling a total of $90 million. Since 2017, an additional $10 million has been added to support abstinence only sex education courses in the Unites States. However, the numbers do not show that abstinence only actually prevents teen pregnancy or teens beginning sexual activity. Along with this, states that teach abstinence only have higher teen pregnancy rates than states that allow for more comprehensive sex education for teens.

from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In looking at the figure that shows teen pregnancy rates across the nation and comparing it to the list of states that teach abstinence only and have recently or will shortly ban abortions, we can see that many of these states have higher teen pregnancy rates than states that allow for comprehensive sex education. For example, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, but they do not allow for comprehensive sex education. Texas and Tennessee have high teen pregnancy rates and also teach abstinence only. In my opinion, this is irresponsible and unethical. We have to do better.

If we want to live in a world where abortion is not a necessity for some women, then one way that we can start is by mandating comprehensive sex education across the nation, especially in states that have banned abortions in most circumstances. We may not want to live in a world where people have sex when they are unprepared to have a child, but we don’t. We live in a world where people make decisions that some of us would not make ourselves. However, I believe that the responsible thing to do is to at least start by teaching our teens about abstinence along with safe sex practices. Let’s be honest, some of them will have sex before they are prepared for the consequences. Education is the key to helping them make informed decisions. And more than anything, let’s do this out of love.

In my next blog, I will address the issue of the foster care system in America, an issue that as an adoptive mother and former foster mother is near to my heart.

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
― John Wesley

Bibliography (sources not linked above)

Nouwen, Henri. With Open Hands: Bring Prayer into Your Life. Ave Maria Press, 1972.

A Teacher in Grief: A Reflection on Uvalde

As I eat my breakfast every morning, I usually do some Facebook scrolling. Sometimes this helps my day to be that much brighter; other times, it just brings me down. Today my Facebook scroll darkened my mood. In no way do I blame any of my teacher friends for their posts today because we need a reminder of how connected each of us can become to our students. In interviews this week, Arnulfo Reyes, teacher at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, told his story of May 24, 2022. In one of the interviews, he told parents of the 11 students killed in his classroom, “‘I’m sorry. I tried my best from what I was told to do. Please don’t be angry with me.'” One of my former colleagues posted, “I heard wounded Uvalde teacher Arnulfo Reyes tearfully apologize to the parents of the 11 children in his care who died, asking them not to hate him. And it just about broke me.” Same. Reading his account is difficult enough. I have not been able to listen to the interview because I can only imagine the pain he is experiencing.

As I was reflecting on his story this morning, I could not get over the significance of the number 11. 11 students were in his classroom when the gunman entered, and 11 students were killed. Reyes was shot twice and has just recently recovered, but each of the 11 students in his classroom were killed. I cannot even comprehend the guilt that he feels for the loss of these children. The fact that he feels the need to apologize demonstrates the responsibility that we take on as teachers. Most of us call our students our kids. They become part of our extended family. We keep track of them through social media as they graduate from college, get married, and have their own kids. We cry with them when they lose parents, grandparents, pets. We rejoice with them when they announce new changes in their careers. We give them advice when they seek it. We remember how much they have grown in the years since they were in our classrooms.

In January of 2018, I lost one of my students to suicide. As a result of his suicide, I decided to temporarily stop teaching the course that he was in because I could not handle continuing to teach the curriculum that I had taught to him and his classmates. That school year, we read Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and we were going to read Columbine by Dave Cullen in the spring. For months after his death, I could not shake the guilt that I felt for our reading list. Here was a young man struggling with so many hidden conflicts, and I assigned him to read books that were about broken young men. I felt guilty that I did not see the signs on the last day that he was in class. I remember seeing him in the hallway on the day before he died and asking if he was ok. He shrugged it off, as usual, and said that he was doing ok. I had noticed a decline in his typically upbeat and sarcastic attitude since Christmas break, but I did not ask any more questions. I have since carried the guilt with me. If I only dug a little deeper. If I only asked the right questions. If I only…

As I read Arnulfo Reyes’s account of the events of May 24, 2022 at Robb Elementary School, I can understand the guilt that he feels. I can understand why he has said that he will probably not return to teaching. I can understand why he feels that the training we receive as teachers will never be enough to prepare us for this type of tragedy. I can understand why he is angry and wants to see real change so that this cannot happen again.

This last school year, I worked with several wonderful groups of students. My twentieth year of teaching will be one of my favorites because I felt like I could teach without worrying about so many factors that affect my students on a day-to-day basis. Despite all of the great kids I worked with this year, one of the groups will always stand out in my mind. My 8th period class became like a family as the school year progressed, especially during the second semester. We laughed together, we learned together, we struggled together. As I was reflecting on Arnulfo Reyes’s interview this morning, I could not help but think about the fact that there were eleven students in my 8th period class: James. Sabra. Orion. Spencer. Olivia. Kim. Makenna. Luke. TJ. Blake. Logan. Eleven graduating seniors, ready to leave high school and take on the world. Eleven children preparing to enter the world of adulthood. I cannot imagine how I would feel today if the events of May 24, 2022 happened at my school two days before these students were finished with their senior year. I cannot imagine how I would feel, waking up in a hospital and learning that all eleven had been killed under my care. The guilt and shame would overwhelm me, and I would probably leave teaching.

Remember to be kind to those who are experiencing trauma. Be kind to those who are mourning. Grief is not linear. It leaves and then returns like a ghost waiting to haunt us. If you are grieving, give yourself the grace to heal. Give yourself permission to cry, laugh, run, dance, sleep, eat, play, read, game, write. There is no right way to deal with the shared trauma that we all have experienced over the last two years – COVID, social unrest, political divisiveness, shootings. If your grief causes you to stay the course, then do so with the strength you need. If your grief causes you to change direction, then do so with renewed hope and energy. As a good friend says, “Go and light your corner. The world is waiting for you.”

Ode to Lexapro

I’m about to go out on a limb here and tell you that I love my antidepressant. Since I started taking Lexapro almost four years ago, my mental health has improved to such an extent that I vaguely remember what it was like to spiral into the oblivion of anxiety. A few years ago, I read John Green’s novel, Turtles All the Way Down, and for the first time, I realized that other people know what it feels like to spiral. Green’s description of Aza’s obsession with human microbiota in the first chapter mirrored my obsession with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. I can remember frantically looking at my weather app, watching the movement of incoming storms and fixating on where I was going to go if the storm continued moving in my direction. I can remember pacing the house when the skies opened up and it seemed that the flood waters were going to rise and transport my house into the lake across the street. I remember making my husband go outside in the middle of a torrential storm to make sure that the culvert was not overflowing with water. These brief descriptions do not come close to what spiraling feels like: dry mouth, racing heartbeat, a tingling feeling creeping over my hands and arms, a fight or flight instinct that causes irrational terror to overwhelm.

Since October of 2018, I have taken 10 mg. of Lexapro each day. At first, I thought that my body would not be able to handle it. For the first few weeks, I would fall asleep only to be woken up by a shocking panic attack. For several nights, my husband had to hold me, cradled like a baby, until the panic would pass. Eventually, my body accepted the medication, and I was able to get more than 2-3 hours of sleep. The fog started to clear, and I felt like I was returning to some sense of normalcy.

I have been stable for almost four years which for me means no major panic episodes, no spiraling, and no hint of depression. During these four years, there have been a few times that I thought about getting off. However, in March of 2020, COVID lockdown happened – so Lexapro got me through. I thought about it again in the spring of 2021, but my family and I moved to help my parents in Colorado. The question came up again in December of 2021, but my stepdad passed away on the same day as my doctor’s appointment. So, I stay on my meds, mostly because I don’t want to return to that obsessive, frantic worry that used to plague my life.

Sometimes it’s the little things that I notice. Graduations always stressed me out. Every year I would sit with the graduates and my colleagues, waiting for a panic attack. My stomach was in knots, my attention was hyper focused, my mouth was dry. I would scan the field or gym, looking for a way out, hoping that I wouldn’t throw up, pass out, or freak out. Now, I can enjoy graduation and celebrate with my students. No panic attack in sight.

By nature, I am a pretty introverted person. I do not like being in crowds, and new situations usually freak me out. However, with Lexapro, my social anxiety doesn’t really exist. I am willing to go into new situations (like starting a new job, yet again), and I can go to new groups at church without feeling like I need my husband by my side. This is a life changer for someone like me who has trouble making new friends because my anxiety has usually won the battle.

The sad thing about being on meds is that some people believe that medication is a crutch, that it is a lack of faith, that it is a symptom of the pharmaceutical racket in our country. This isn’t true for me. When I was seventeen, my panic attacks were so bad that I wasn’t attending school which meant that I wouldn’t graduate from high school. I wasn’t functioning. With the help of my mom, I found a great therapist who suggested that I start medication so that I could function again. Thankfully, my mom let me make the choice, and Prozac worked for the time being. Four years ago, I wasn’t sleeping. I was teaching, mentoring a student teacher, taking graduate courses, and fostering a new child. The stress of my circumstances halted my sense of peace, so I wasn’t functioning again. With the help of my doctor, I started taking Lexapro and at this point in my life, I don’t feel the need to stop. The benefits of my meds far outweigh any consequences at this point.

Lexapro means that I don’t wake up in the middle of the night in a panic. Lexapro means that I don’t freak out when there is a thunderstorm on its way. Lexapro means that I can interact with my students without feeling anxiety. Lexapro means that I can make new friends without fixating on whether or not I said the wrong thing. Lexapro means that I can relax at home by myself without worrying if I will do something to harm myself.

I know that mental health is a serious issue for many people out there. I know that some people worry that medication might change their personality or their emotions. I know that some people worry what their pastor will think or what their church will think if they knew what was really going on. None of those feelings should stop you from seeking help if you need it. If you are not functioning, if you are not enjoying your life, if you can’t appreciate the big or little things, then you more than likely need to seek help. Medication might be the answer.

I do believe that there are times when I need to muscle through my anxiety or depression, but I also have learned that when I can’t, that doesn’t mean that I don’t trust God enough. Depression and anxiety are medical conditions, not a condition of the heart. Yes, God can help us to overcome anything, including depression and anxiety. I believe that he has set me free from both. However, I also believe that medication and therapy are avenues of healing.

For now, I love my antidepressant. It helps me to get through each stressful situation that lies before me. It has restored my sleep, calmed my nerves, and given me opportunities for new experiences. It has helped me to appreciate life again.

If you are struggling with your mental health, reach out to someone. Get the care that you need even if that means medication. It’s not a crutch, a weakness, or a lack of faith. Be encouraged to take care of yourself.

Here we go again…another school massacre

It was during second period on a Wednesday. I was sitting at my desk during my planning period when the announcement was made over the PA that we were in a stay-in-place lockdown. This usually means that students and teachers need to stay in their classrooms, but the likelihood of an active shooter in the building is pretty low. Sometimes this lockdown announcement is made because there is a student concern in the building (mental health breakdown, medical concern). Other times, this lockdown occurs because the police department is in the building with the K9 unit, checking lockers for drugs.

This time, however, there was a potential threat in the building: a student had brought what looked like a handgun on the school bus and had made multiple threats against students and staff. As the lockdown continued with no new information, I sat in my classroom attempting to find something to do to ease my anxiety. The urgency to use the restroom increased as the minutes went by, and I kicked myself for not going between classes after first period. I decided to check the hallway, knowing full well that we were in a stay-in-place lockdown. I opened my classroom door, looked down the hallway to the left and saw what I assumed to be a police officer holding what looked like a semi-automatic weapon. Freaked out, I flinched back into my classroom and returned to my desk, hoping that no one would come knocking on my door.

I went back to my desk and did a quick Google search of my school to see if there was any information. Thankfully, the local news had a brief, explaining that a student had brought a pellet gun on the bus that had been mistaken as a handgun. Shortly after I read the brief, my principal contacted the staff through email, updating the situation and attempting to relieve our fears. I continued to sit in my classroom, hoping the situation would end soon, but thankful that it seemed that the potential threat was not too big of a concern any longer.

Eventually, the student was arrested off campus, but he refused to tell police where the alleged weapon was stored. For several hours, police checked every single room, bathroom, and closet in the building. At the time they did not know if the student was acting alone, or if there were potential explosives in the building. Finally, I heard a key unlocking my classroom door, but a face was not what I saw first. A police officer used his weapon to open my door, not showing his face until the door was completely opened and he had done a quick visual search of the classroom. He told me to leave the classroom and follow the police officers who were stationed at ten-foot intervals down to our school gymnasium where students and staff were waiting to be released. The gym was chaos as students and staff stood in line for the restroom. Staff members urged students to find a seat in the bleachers, but anxiety was thick in the room as no one really knew exactly what was going on or when we would be able to go home. Eventually at about 1:45 pm, parents and guardians were allowed to pick up their children.

This is one lockdown in my twenty years of teaching. Thankfully, this was the most precarious situation that I have experienced, but that doesn’t make the situation any better. During my first year of teaching, there were several bomb threats and we were required to evacuate to the school stadium. During my first year as a middle school teacher, a lockdown was called because a man was walking on the street near the school with a crossbow. Several times, my school has been put on lockdown because of some other disturbance in the neighborhood. I am grateful that I have never faced an active shooter in my building, nor have I lost a student or colleague to the senseless violence that we have seen yet again in an elementary school in Texas.

To be honest, I am numb. Since the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, it seems like there is an increase in school violence. Yesterday’s shooting is eerily similar to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 – another unreal example of what students and educators face today: the possibility of a gunned intruder, blindly killing whoever is in the way – even innocent seven, eight, and nine year children.

I honestly don’t know what to say. I could comment on the fact that we need policy and change, not thoughts and prayers. I could criticize the lack of mental health services across the nation. I could argue that students and families need more support from local authorities. I could complain that our nation is going to “hell in a handbasket.” But none of my words will change anything. Yesterday, at least nineteen children were killed while they were in what should be one of the safest places in our cities: an elementary school. They were looking forward to summer vacation – sleeping in, going to the pool, eating popsicles in the front yard, watching TV, playing video games until the early morning hours, relaxing after a long school year that was “back to normal.” I guess it was back to normal since gun violence at schools has increased once again since students and staff returned to “regular instruction” in 2021.

All that I can do today is be grateful that it wasn’t at my school. All that I can do as I look toward the next school year is pray that it won’t happen again, not anywhere.

One thing that I ask is that people stop trying to simplify this problem by blaming it on gun control, mental health instability, bullying, family breakdown, or any other single issue. This evil in our society is so much bigger than any one problem. Any ill in society is so much more complex than that.

The other thing that I ask is that you would pray: pray for the students, pray for the teachers, pray for the support staff, pray for the administrators, pray for the communities, pray for the families, pray for our nation. We need to stop blaming one another – our political polarization is not helping nor is our nationalistic view of our faith. Living in a world that mostly preaches division, hatred, power, and position is exhausting. We need to remember that love is the greatest commandment. LOVE.

So today, LOVE your neighbor even if you don’t look like them. LOVE your neighbor even if they are slightly weird. LOVE your neighbor even if they stand on the opposite side of the political divide. LOVE your neighbor even if they worship differently than you. LOVE your neighbor no matter what.