“Every teacher who has gone through that school has come out feeling like a failure”.  Jan’s pronouncement was shocking, yet somehow not surprising.

In her position with an Asian missions organization, Jan has visited the school where I taught in East Asia many times.  This afternoon Jan was telling me about a young piano teacher, Hannah, who taught there after I left.  Throughout the long winter months, when snow piled up outside and gusts blew against the windowpanes, Hannah’s classroom was extremely cold.  The building’s ancient heating system was barely functional, and she had no space heaters.  A hot water bottle was her only remedy for keeping her fingers warm enough to play the keys.

Hannah asked her team leaders several times to do something about the freezing classrooms.  They were sympathetic, but nothing changed.  Day after day, week after week, month after month, she had to teach piano lessons in the cold.

Finally Hannah couldn’t take it anymore.  The heating issue was just one of several areas in which she felt her leaders didn’t care for her the way they should.  She went back to her home country mentally exhausted, physically ill, and burdened with the feeling that she had let everyone down.

“I’m a failure!” Hannah sighed to Jan afterwards.  “I wasn’t strong enough.  I’ve disappointed my leaders, my church, and my organization.”

I was amazed to hear how closely Hannah’s conclusions mirrored my own thoughts when I left the school three years ago.  My leaders’ lack of care for me in these “small issues” like heating in the building had left me feeling that I wasn’t valued.  I blamed myself for not being “tough enough” to stick it out, and was plagued by regrets and self-condemnation.  

Healing Words

“I’m so sorry you had such a difficult time at the school”. Jan told me gently, after she finished telling Hannah’s story.  “But I want you to know that your leaders’ response was not representative of the whole organization.  On behalf of the team, I want to personally apologize to you.  You were NOT a failure.  We are proud of you, and so thankful for your time of service in Asia.”

“You were not a failure.”  Those words kept turning over and over in my mind.  Like warm, healing waters to my spirit, they settled into the cracks deep below the surface.  Thankfully, I had forgiven my leaders long ago.  I had already settled the issue with God, knowing that He did not think I was a failure.  Jan’s affirmation was simply confirmation of what the Lord had already been telling me.  My value does not lie in what I do or don’t do, but in who HE says I am!

“You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a failure. …Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.” I Thess. 2:1,4b (NLT)

Going vertical!

MJ

“How long have you had this problem?” The speech therapist assesses his new client, a meticulously dressed man shifting uncomfortably on the high-backed sofa.

“I’ve always been this way!” The man shoots back angrily, avoiding the therapist’s gaze.

“I doubt that.” The therapist’s voice is steady.  “No infant is born with a stammer.”*

Painful Memories

This is no ordinary client.  The sullen gentleman on the sofa is Prince Albert, son of the king of England.  No one could predict that the prince, terrified of speaking publicly because of a debilitating speech defect, would soon be called upon to comfort millions with his voice.

Over several months of sessions with speech therapist Lionel Logue, a picture slowly emerges of Prince Albert’s painful childhood.  A demanding father accepted nothing less than perfection, bellowing at “Bertie” to “just spit it out!” when he stumbled over his words.  His older brother mercilessly mocked “B-B-Bertie” for his nervous stammer all through their childhood and into their adult years.

The monarch’s disparaging criticism continues to rule Prince Albert even after his father’s death.  During one scene in the film “The King’s Speech” (2010), his therapist Logue reminds the prince that his father is gone now.

“He’s on that coin I just gave you,” Albert grumbles.

But you don’t have to carry him around in your pocket anymore,” the therapist counters gently.

Gradually, the prince releases his fears of being a failure and the disappointment of not living up to his father’s expectations.  He discovers that he has a voice of his own and a right to be heard.

“With God’s Help…”

When Prince Albert is crowned king of England, he faces the greatest test of his life – a live radio broadcast of his first wartime speech in 1939.  Carefully forming each word, with his therapist and friend Lionel Logue beside him for support, the king delivers a powerful speech that marks the beginning of England’s engagement in World War II.  Carried on “the wireless” around the world, the king’s voice unites his subjects and their global allies in a time of uncertainty and crisis, reassuring them that “with God’s help, we shall prevail.”

Like Prince Albert, are you paralyzed by painful memories, or living under the disappointment of unmet expectations, and are you ruled by the unrealistic demands of others?  You can choose to reject the false labels others pin on you.  You are not a failure or a disappointment to your Creator!  He has given you a voice.  So step forth in confidence to do what He’s called you to do!

You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.Jeremiah 1: 7-8 (NRSV)

*From the film “The King’s Speech,” Directed by Tom Hooper, 2010.

Going vertical!

MJ

 

Years ago I fell in love with a boy.  He was wonderful, and everything was so great.  At least I thought it was.  But then one day, to my shock, he broke up with me.

“How could you think there is something between us?” he said coldly. “There was nothing.”

I was mortified.  A lie started to form in my heart:  You are so ugly, no one will ever fall in love with you!  I decided to close my heart, to protect myself from being hurt again.

Discovering True Worth

After several years, the lie that I was ugly and unlovable had become overpowering.  At that time I had a vivid dream.  In my dream, God put a glittering crown full of precious jewels on my head.  He said, “Miriam, even if no man will ever realize that you are beautiful – YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!  You are beautiful BECAUSE I MADE YOU.  No man in the whole world can give you this crown.  Only I can crown you with beauty!”

In that moment I understood.  I had wanted this boy to tell me I’m beautiful and give me a crown.  I was looking to him for my value and identity.  But he had no crown at all!  Only God has the crown!  Only God can define my true worth.  The truth of who God says I am became bigger than the lie and went right into my heart.  “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, BECAUSE I MADE YOU.”

Isaiah 62:3 (NKJV)  “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Are you really alive, or are you already dead?”  The question hung in the room as the German university students at the Christian fellowship group pondered how to answer.

“I think many young people in Germany are walking around dead,” one girl ventured.  “They have no life.  Their bodies may be alive, but their souls are dead.”

Others began to share more of the problems among German youth: depression, suicide, broken families, inability to communicate, and the lack of real relationships. “We have hundreds of facebook friends,” one guy noted, “but hardly any real friends.  We don’t know how to connect with people — we don’t have real life.”

“My cousin used to work in Washington, D.C.” I told the group when there was a lull in the discussion.  “She rode the train into the city every day.  Her fellow commuters were usually engrossed in their morning paper or to-go coffee or the music on their iPods.  Hardly anyone smiled or laughed or greeted anyone else.  They all looked so dead.”  The German students nodded in understanding.

Followers of Jesus

“So my cousin started playing a game during the morning commutes,” I continued.  “She would look at the faces of everyone who got on and off the train and try to guess if any of them were followers of Jesus.”

“Then she started to think: If people look at ME, can they tell that I’m a Christian?  Can they see Jesus in me?”  The room was completely quiet now, and several of the students leaned in closer, listening intently.

“I often think about that story and ask myself the same questions.  When people look at me, what do they see?  Do they see that Jesus is alive and working in me?”  As we concluded the group discussion, I had the opportunity to share one-on-one with some of the students about how to begin processing the issues of their hearts in order to have abundant life in Christ.

How about you?  Are you walking around dead because of unresolved grief, pain, or loss from your past?  Has your soul shriveled up inside as a result of broken or abusive relationships?

Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NAS).  Allow Him to sweep out all the cobwebs in the dark corners of your heart, and shine the light of His truth in every room.  You can have an abundant life, a life of overflowing joy and peace!

Going vertical!

MJ

“There’s someone here tonight who needs to hear that you’re beautiful.”

The woman with the microphone paused and searched the audience, as if she was looking for a particular target for her message.  Squirming a bit in the pew, Luisa felt as if the woman could surely see her thoughts.  At a friend’s insistence, she had agreed to go to this prayer night at a local church.  But now she suddenly had a pressing desire to get out of there.

“God wants to tell you that you’re beautiful to Him,” the woman up front continued.  “And He’s going to keep saying it until you receive it.”

“Yeah, right,” Luisa thought to herself.  “I’ve heard that before.”

The thought came so quickly, so clearly, and it shocked her.  Why would she think such a thing?  But all at once, she knew the reason.  Diego.

A flood of memories came suddenly.  Worshiping with Diego in this very sanctuary on a Sunday morning.  Sitting with him in the sound booth as he ran the power point presentations for the speaker.  Going on walks in the fields behind the church property.

Charming and romantic, Diego had swept Luisa off her feet in a whirlwind relationship.  He was the first guy to tell her she was beautiful.  The first guy to tell her that he loved her.  Luisa brushed it off at first.  She couldn’t accept it.  “He probably says that to all the girls,” she told herself.  “He doesn’t really mean it.”  Diego kept saying it, however, over and over again, until she finally started to believe it.

But Diego’s actions didn’t match his words.  Though he said he would go to the moon for her, he couldn’t keep his word to meet her when he said he would, or do small things she asked him to do.  After many disappointments and broken promises, Luisa started to feel she couldn’t trust him anymore.  And she doubted everything he had told her.

Though it had been a few years since the relationship ended, those old feelings of hurt and mistrust were stirred up again as Luisa sat in the prayer meeting.  Her relationship with Diego had tainted her view of God’s love and thoughts towards her.

Through her tears, Luisa chose to forgive Diego again, releasing the painful memories.  “Help me to receive Your love, and to believe what You say about me.”  Slowly Luisa felt a warm presence surrounding her.  The truth of God’s words toward her began to sink in and bring healing to her heart – “You are beautiful to Me.  I love You.”  And unlike Diego or others in her life who had disappointed her, Luisa knew her Heavenly Father meant what He said.  She knew she could trust Him.

“How weighty to me are Your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  I try to count them – they are more than the sand;  I come to the end – I am still with You.”  Psalm 139:17-18 (NIV)

 Going vertical!
MJ

“Would you like a coffeecake?  Or a loaf of bread?”  The man in uniform stopped my friend Corine and I as we were walking out the door of the bakery.  We had met for prayer and accountability, chatting about what God was doing in each of our lives and then praying for each other.  But now it was closing time and we were going home.

“It’s free,” the employee continued, noting our hesitation.  “We have to throw out today’s bread at the end of the day.  We can’t sell it tomorrow.  So would you like some?”  Corine and I looked at each other in amazement.  “Yes, thank you!” I answered.  “My family will definitely eat it.  And we can share with our neighbors and our church… But are you sure you don’t have someone else to give it to?”

“Nope.  It’s for you!  Help yourselves.”  He gestured in the direction of his van, which was full of bags of bread, bagels, scones, and cakes.  “Take it all!  Just close the doors of the van when you’re done.”  And with that, the man turned and walked inside the shop.

“Should we really take it?” I asked Corine, staring at the loaves of bread.  “I feel kind of greedy taking all of this, but he said we could…”
Corine laughed.  “This is God’s gift to us!  We were just praying for God to provide for our needs – and He’s answered our prayers!”

Loading up the trunk of my car with bag after bag of free baked goods, I was overwhelmed with God’s abundant love and care for me.  In the past month, I’ve had several unexpected financial blows, just as I’m preparing to leave for two months of volunteer teaching at a Bible school in Germany.  It was discouraging, but I knew that the Lord had called me to do this, and I trusted that He would take care of it.  And once again, He not only gave me my “daily bread,” but far above what I would have dared to ask for!

Child of the King

“I need to hang around you more often!” I told Corine.  “This is the second time I’ve gotten free bread at this bakery – when I’m with YOU!”  Corine laughed. “I was just thinking that YOU have God’s favor and that’s why we keep getting blessed!”  We finally agreed that we are BOTH God’s favored daughters.

Do you see yourself as a favored son?  Or do you think of yourself as a beloved daughter?  Do you expect God to pour out abundant blessings in your life?  You don’t have to live as an orphan, begging for scraps from the table.  You are a precious child of the King. Receive His overflowing love today!

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”  Ephesians 3:20-21

Going vertical!

MJ

Sitting primly in her chair at McDonald’s, a thoughtful six-year-old girl with dark brown hair slowly licks her vanilla ice cream cone, careful not to let any drips fall on her clean dress.  Her dad smiles across the table as he sips his coffee.

“How was school today?” he asks gently, trying to engage her in conversation.

“Fine,” the girl replies shyly, looking down at her dangling feet.  Nervous and uncomfortable, something seems to be holding her back from relaxing and just enjoying being with her dad.  Instead, she focuses on her dripping ice cream cone.

That little girl was me.  The oldest child and the only daughter, I put great pressure on myself to be perfect – a 99% on a test wasn’t good enough.  I was so afraid of letting down my parents or my teachers.  More than anything, I wanted them to be proud of me.

Impossibly High Standards

Somewhere along the way, my view of God became twisted.  I felt that I had to keep up my “perfect” performance to earn His acceptance.  I was afraid of His frowning disapproval if I didn’t match up to the impossibly high standards I had set for myself.

The first public proclamation God the Father made during Jesus’ earthly ministry was after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.  A voice came from heaven saying, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  Jesus hadn’t even started His ministry yet!  He hadn’t done anything to earn His Father’s approval.  But God didn’t say, “I’m proud of my Son for all He has accomplished.”  His pleasure in His Son wasn’t based on anything He did, but just who He was.

I can’t receive love and acceptance from my parents or anyone else until I am fully convinced of my Heavenly Father’s complete love and acceptance of me.  As I am learning to release control of my performance-driven life and accept my identity as His beloved daughter, I am finally becoming free to love and to be loved.

The Father’s Love

Fast-forward about 25 years from that first McDonald’s ice cream date with my dad.  My father is recounting the story to me over cappuccinos at Starbucks.  “I just wanted to take you out to do something fun,” he remembers.  “But you were so serious, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.”

My dad pauses and then says tenderly, “You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t have to worry about making a mistake.  I want you to know that I’m very proud of you and I love you.”

Eyes filling with tears, I can hear my Heavenly Father’s voice saying, “This is My beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”

Going vertical!

MJ

Frustrated at her inability to communicate with her new American family, a little Chinese girl breaks down in tears on the floor of her bedroom.  Refusing to be consoled, she wails, “Wo xiang hui zhong guo!” (“I want to go back to China!”).  Torn between two worlds, eight-year-old Fang Sui Yong of Guangzhou, China struggles with her new identity as Faith Sadowsky of Long Island, New York.

Faith had never known the security of a real family.  She was abandoned at the age of two, and lived the next six years in an orphanage and with foster families.  Though her American adoptive family showers her with affection, she has a hard time accepting their love.  Will they stop loving her one day if she misbehaves or makes them angry?  Will they send her back to China?

“In China, I didn’t know why they adopted me, and why they loved me,” Faith says in the PBS documentary Wo Ai Ni, Mommy (I Love You, Mommy).  How could this Jewish family from Long Island love an orphan in southern China before they even met her?  Confronted by these questions,  her mother smiles gently at the little girl with jet-black hair and big dark eyes. “I adopted you because I wanted a daughter to love.  I love you because you’re my beautiful daughter.”

False Identity vs. True Identity

Do you struggle with your identity? Are you letting yourself be defined by others’ opinions of you?  Do you believe that you are merely a product of your life’s experiences?  You can be free from the shame of false identity.  Our Heavenly Father invites you to be part of His family.  He chooses to love you, not because of anything you’ve done, but because you’re His son, His daughter.  You don’t have to remain an orphan any longer.  Receive your new identity as a precious child of God!

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.  And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father!”  Galatians 4:4-6 (NLT)

Going Vertical!

MJ

“Oh happy day, happy day, You washed my sins away!” Singing along to the Tim Hughes CD, I was having fun decorating the shop next to our Bible school for Christmas.  We use the rented space during the week for after-school tutoring, a neighborhood cafe, and small group Bible studies.  Hanging pine branches, gold ribbon, and strings of lights, I imagined how surprised everyone would be when they saw the final effect.

After a bathroom break on the second floor, I eagerly skipped down the cement steps back to the shop. I took them two at a time as I belted out to the echoing walls, “Oh happy day, happy day…”  Suddenly there was no step beneath my feet.  Before I realized what was happening, I crumpled on the floor, feeling a sharp pain in my right foot as it turned under.  Shakily I tried to stand, biting my lip to keep from crying out.

Pride And Stubbornness

I briefly debated calling one of the students next door to ask for help, but felt too embarrassed.  “There’s hardly anything left to do – I’m sure I can manage it,” I told myself.  For the next thirty minutes I hobbled through the shop hanging decorations, arranging candles on the tables, and sweeping the floor with a push broom.

By the time I finished cleaning up, locked up the shop, and stumbled up the three flights of stairs to my room, my foot was throbbing.  Taking off my shoe to inspect the damage, I saw a swelling mass on the right side that was already turning purple.  My pride and stubbornness in not wanting to ask for help caused unnecessary pain!

Depending on Him

I’m reminded of a story I heard about Israeli shepherds in Jesus’ time.  If a young lamb kept wandering away from the flock and didn’t listen to the shepherd, the shepherd would break the lamb’s legs and carry it around his own neck.  This apparent cruelty by the shepherd was necessary to protect the lamb from being attacked by wild animals or getting lost on its own.  During the weeks or months it took for the lambs’ legs to heal, it grew to know and trust the shepherd’s voice.  In a time of total helplessness, the lamb became completely dependent on the shepherd.

The past few days it’s been a real struggle as I’ve had to depend on others to help me up the stairs, open the doors, or carry things to my room.  Every time I think “I’m OK – I can do this by myself,” the pain in my foot reminds me that I really do need help.  I feel like the little lamb that thinks it doesn’t need the shepherd.  If a sprained ankle will keep me depending on Him, then I’m thankful for it!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. …For when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:9-10

“Would you like the 25 centimeter or the 35 centimeter broom head?  And do you prefer the 3 meter or the 4 meter handle?”  The helpful salesman held up the options, smiling as he waited for our decision.
For the past hour, my co-worker, Bridget, and I had been perusing row after row of buckets, mops, sponges, and cleaning solutions.  Our task was to select sufficient supplies to stock our Bible school for the next two years.  Countless decisions had to be made about size, amount, and quality of the items.  My head was spinning with choices.

The strangest thing about the whole experience was that money didn’t influence our decisions.  If the salesman told us a particular type of toilet cleaner or window squeegee was the best, we took his word for it. We never once asked the cost.  On this particular trip, price didn’t matter – because the bill had already been paid.  The Christian owner of this well-stocked cleaning supplies shop had given us an extremely generous offer. He told us we could select all the supplies we needed for our ministry. He would pay for them himself.

Although I knew it was a voluntary donation, I still had a hard time accepting it.  When offered a choice, I gravitated towards the smaller bottle of solution or the flimsier broom handle.  I was hesitant to take full advantage of the owner’s offer.  But the salesman who was helping us insisted that we should get the better quality options.  I struggled with feeling like I was being greedy just for accepting what was being freely given!

As we drove home, Bridget said she felt like a princess today, selecting what she wanted from the shelves without thinking of the price.  And suddenly it hit me – I am a daughter of the King!  The God of the whole universe calls ME His beloved child and wants to shower me with His love, yet I’m turning away from Him, saying I don’t deserve His attention.  Why do I have such a hard time receiving?

Grace

James 1:17 says “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”  So our shopping spree today was really an outpouring of love from our Heavenly Father!  Looking at our van stuffed with cleaning products we didn’t pay for, I had to laugh.   So each time I clean the floors with our new microfiber swivel-head telescoping-handle mops… I’ll remember to receive with gratitude the good gifts God wants to give me!

“For out of His fullness (abundance) we have all received one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favor upon favor and gift heaped upon gift.”
John 1:16 (Amplified Bible)