Tag Archives: love

Surely You Don’t Mean Me, Lord

In a tiny East Texas town, I stood before my eight 11th grade Sunday School students who were staring back at me with glassy eyes while I expounded on a lesson from Amos. It was at that moment I heard God whisper to me, “You have to do this.” 

Whaaaat??? This is the girl who never babysat. This is the girl who has a degree in accounting. This is the girl who said, “I’ll never be a teacher!” This is the girl who told her dear friend who loved substituting she was crazy. 

My initial response was, “Surely You don’t mean me, Lord!” Eventually, it became, “If You say so.”

I followed my crazy friend’s footsteps by starting out subbing and loving it too. Now I was also crazy. Next, I contacted the area college to see how to get my teaching certificate. I enrolled for the fall semester in the two classes I needed before I could do my student teaching that spring. In the summer before I enrolled in college, I had two close calls to begin teaching with an emergency certificate, but neither materialized. So off to college I went!

This girl was scared to death and so excited at the same time, because God had called me and I had stepped out in faith. The plan was coming together beautifully. Until…

There was a phone call my husband made to buy some used electronic equipment for the plant he worked for from a plant in Louisiana. Did he know anyone looking for an electrical supervisor position? Maybe? The trip to pick up the equipment included an impromptu job interview. I’d only been in college a month when his job opportunity came. Now what?

God was leading us to move in a few short months, before I could finish the semester for preparing for His call on my life and too late to get a tuition refund. Why did He put a kink in what seemed like a perfect plan? I was subbing on the days I wasn’t attending my college classes and loving it.  I was a shoe in for getting a job for the next school year. Didn’t I do everything in my power to obey God’s call?

Instead of being a college student and substitute teacher, I began preparing for a move that was not in my plan. Finding a place to live close enough to my husband’s new job proved difficult. The one place we could find had a horrible school situation for our children, but I had heard of a Christian school and checked it out.

From the time I arrived in the reception office, I felt at home at this school. There were hot pink “Moms In Touch” prayer group brochures on the counter. Everyone was so helpful and made me feel hopeful. Not only did my children have a wonderful Christian school available, they needed me to sub and my degree was enough to be able to teach there the next year.

God really did have an excellent plan in Louisiana that was so much better than what I thought it was supposed to be in Texas. Be flexible, Cheryl!

Meanwhile, the house in Texas didn’t sell. We rented it to our church’s education and youth minister for almost a year. We had little cash to get into a new house, but the rent house wasn’t where my sweetheart wanted to live. He wanted to live in the piney woods further north, so I painstakingly searched for a house in that area. Keep in mind that I had found the perfect school for the kids and me where we were living. Didn’t my husband understand God’s obvious plan for us?

After finding an adequate home for us to buy, I mentioned to our school superintendent one day at church that we were moving north. I was shocked and disappointed to hear they had a campus near there and had two teacher openings for the next year. I didn’t want to leave our new town. It seemed like a perfect place for us. Why did my husband have to be close to pine trees? Why would God move us away, set up a great situation, then make us move almost an hour away six months later?

I remover driving north on the interstate to handle business for the move, crying and singing along with a Twila Paris song on the radio, “Do I trust You, Lord, when I don’t know why?” 

It was easy to say “yes” to becoming a teacher. It was easy to say “yes” to moving to Louisiana for my husband’s wonderful job opportunity. It was easy to say “yes” to a Christian school for the kids and me. 

It was SO HARD to say “yes” to starting over again. But I did it! I had to trust God and my husband, even when everything inside of me was screaming “NO!”

This girl who loved Jesus taught 1st grade to 24 precious students with a degree in accounting and lots of faith that the Master Teacher would show me how to be a teacher. My daughter had been in 1st grade the year before, so I was familiar with the curriculum. I loved those kids and was determined that they wouldn’t suffer just because I had never taught school before and didn’t have an education degree. I had never been so exhausted in my life, but it was a successful year. 

By May, I felt like a total failure as a wife and mother. School took so much out of me, partially because I felt the need to go way above anyone’s expectations to prove I was good enough without a teaching certificate. Every time someone told me how good a teacher I was, I felt the sting of the enemy’s fiery darts because of how much my family had been neglected. 

I quit. Told my principal I wouldn’t be back the next year. She asked how she could help. It was too late. I never asked for help at all that year, though I was drowning under the weight of my unrealistic expectations of myself. Everyone said the second year is better, but I couldn’t take that chance. She said she had seen real leadership qualities in me and had felt I would be the one to eventually take her place. I was shocked and flattered, but no job was worth sacrificing my family. God had someone else in mind, I was sure.

Apparently, I had misunderstood what God had asked me to do with my life. Or maybe the timing was wrong. I didn’t really know what to make of this mess, but I was sure God was at work. 

That next school year, I managed to get a grip on my home life, attended a daytime ladies Bible study, and subbed in either the classroom or cafeteria at school. I missed being at school all the time, but I enjoyed not being so stressed and burned out. Ladies at church didn’t seem to want to sing cute songs with motions. Part of me was craving being with kids and fulfilling the call I believed I received. What was I supposed to do?

My certified, experienced, mature, pastor’s daughter replacement seemed fabulous at first, and our son was in her class. Then things began unraveling. One of the boys in the class was constantly being picked on by her. The students were way behind in the curriculum. Principal observations went well, but not much teaching was going on when no one was looking. My son came home crying many days, saying how mean she was. It was a hard time, and I felt so guilty.

Eventually, I was asked to help with an improvement plan. I was to observe her for a week, teach with her observing me for a week, then observe her again for a week. Reluctantly, I agreed, putting my ability to tangibly love my enemies to test. Afterwards, nothing really changed, but she did enough to keep her job. A personal matter brought about her resignation in January.

Next, they asked me to take over the traumatized classroom just until a replacement could be found. They needed a lot of love and to catch up academically. I agreed to fill in temporarily. The first day I was back in the classroom, I knew I had to stay. Those precious kids needed me and I needed them. After talking it over with my husband, he agreed I could come back if I didn’t let it drive me crazy and have to work all weekend. 

With more realistic expectations and writing  my lesson plans on Thursday nights, I was back where I belonged. They were such a sweet class, and I loved leading them in silly songs with hand motions. I was doing God’s plan HIS WAY instead of mine, and it led to so much joy!

My principal retired and I ended up taking her place. Our little campus was turned over to a local church a few years later and most of us moved back to the campus where the kids and I began. Once again, I was in the classroom, but taught 4th this time. In my 40s, I was required to complete my masters in education for our accreditation and state approval. I was put back into a leadership position again as I prepared to graduate. God blessed me so much during more than twenty years in Christian education. 

God did mean me when He called an accountant who was a stay-at-home mother to become a teacher. It was quite a roller coaster ride to get there, but I really did have to do this. And He was faithful to walk with me all the way.

My Mother-In-Love

This essay was written in memory of my mother-in-love, Ann Neiswender, as an entry for an audition for the 2016 Baton Rouge Listen To Your Mother show. As it turns out, I ended up in the cast of the New Orleans show instead. To watch me read to a live audience, click here and the essay is below. I was very privileged to have a mother-in-law who treated me as a daughter. It was a humbling experience to be part of the #LTYMNO show, as well. 

                  

What comes to your mind when you think of your husband’s mother? As my school nurse in elementary school, my future mother-in-law gave me no impression things would go well for our relationship. “Nice Nurse” was skeptical of any student’s claim to have an illness, and I was a frequent customer because of my desperate need to be nurtured.  Being pretty hard-nosed was part of her strategy of separating those who were truly sick from those who were aspiring hypochondriacs. Let’s just say we didn’t get off to a good start.

A few years later, I met her son after marching band practice. He was a tall, dark, and handsome senior drummer who was interested in this petite freshman trombone player. The night of our first date was my first interaction with Marty’s Mom since fifth grade. On that October evening, my family was out of town, and I forgot my key inside the house. I went to my great-grandmother’s house down the street to get ready. Realizing that Marty wouldn’t know where to pick me up, I gave him a call. I was mortified when my old school nurse answered the phone! Girls didn’t call guys back then.

Eventually, she invited me for dinner and to help decorate their Christmas tree. It was their family tradition to cut down a fresh tree and hang ornaments while listening to Christmas carols. This was foreign to me, since my mother always decorated our silver and blue tree. Marty’s Mom cherished family time and passed on the legacy to her son and his younger sister. I began to see past the school nurse façade and have an insight into her love of family. She jokingly asked Marty about me that night, “Why’d you have to pick the runt of the litter?”                  

Far from being on the cover of Southern Living, Marty’s Mom’s home was actually a cozy two-bedroom, one-bath rent house, where the table was in the kitchen so the dining room could be used as her bedroom. She just loved having her kids at home, even if it meant allowing us to glue Astroturf to the floor of Marty’s flat-bottom boat in her modest living room. I was always welcomed in her home, and it became a refuge for me, since my home life was so unpredictable.

I hadn’t been on many family vacations, so I was beside myself when Marty’s Mom asked me to join them on a trip to Colorado the next summer. Her gracious offer was based on advice from his father, since Marty didn’t want to be away from me for a week. It was wonderful to learn some of his mother’s traveling traditions, like eating roadside picnic lunches, feasting on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with cherry Kool-Aid, and having a breakfast of Chips Ahoy cookies dipped in milk.  Though she was a single mom without a lot of money, she sure made this trip feel like a dream family vacation to me.

Marty and I were engaged in January of my senior year in high school. His mother was part of the planning from the beginning, helping me choose a china pattern and start my recipe collection. I remember Marty’s Mom giving me a book called Letters to Karen, which was written for a future daughter-in-love. That’s what she called me. She helped us find our first rent house and got us started financially until we could get our own credit cards.  I remember her keeping a running tab of what we had charged and what we had paid on the side of the refrigerator. She was generous, but taught us responsibility.

Once grandchildren arrived, lots of love and plenty of time gave her the means to be a Nana extraordinaire. Being a firm believer that our marriage should always come first, she made the trip to our home, from one to eventually three hours away, so we had date nights and time alone. Every summer, she would keep our kids for a week for swimming lessons and a week for her church’s Bible school. They loved being treated like royalty, with a Nana who fixed their favorite meals; even counting the Brussel sprouts to be sure they were equal. Nana was her name and spoiling all of us was her game.

Nana shopped all year for the perfect Christmas and birthday presents. She delighted in secretly gathering lots of little items for our Christmas stockings and Easter baskets, as well. She enjoyed surprising us with “love gifts” of whatever she thought we might love or find useful, delivered in person or through the mail. When visiting, she brought supper for that night and two frozen meals for the future. Promptly, she would change a diaper, empty a dishwasher, or fold a load of multiplying laundry.

Of all the things Nana did for me through the 40+ years I knew her, the best one occurred when I was 29 and a stay-at-home mother of two toddlers. My life had become unmanageable because of my reactions to hurtful childhood memories that had resurfaced. One day while visiting us, she gave me a book by Lloyd Ogilvie, Enjoying God. Ogilvie had spoken at their church, and she felt his message would help me in my despair. By chapter three, I had my answer…”You are loved, now.” God used Nana to let me know, and I’m eternally grateful.

My mother-in-love passed away into the gracious, loving arms of her Savior in December 2014. We miss her every day. She put raising her children ahead of pursuing her own happiness and sometimes felt so lonely because of her choices. Sometimes she was even bitter and resentful about her life.  She wasn’t perfect and could be very critical at times. Despite these flaws, she did one thing with reckless abandon. She loved. She loved her God, her children, her grandchildren, her church, and her friends. She loved sacrificially. She showed us through her life that love never fails.
                            


 

No Longer a “Bubble Girl”

What was meant to be my protection actually numbed me from experiencing any feelings at all. This “bubble girl” had an unpenatrable outside barrier that kept me “safe” from being harmed by anyone, but it isolated me from true relationships.

Why did I finally feel the need to break free from the bondage of never letting people get too close…to see the real me…to trust again? 

It was so lonely in that bubble. I seemed too good to be true to those who thought they knew me. Friends and family didn’t think they could be real with me, since I had this facade of perfection. Who can trust their deepest struggles with one who acts like she has none?

My bubble was control. If I could control my feelings, my influences, my circumstances, I’d never be hurt again. As I am learning, this type of response is typical for one growing up in an alcoholic home. Control feels safe, but it’s really a prison of ones own making. Like John Travolta’s character in the 1976 movie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, I needed to shield myself from harm, even if it meant isolation.

                                                                               
To protect myself, I tried to please everyone. Sometimes, that meant being so cautious that I wouldn’t speak truth, even if it would have been helpful. My automatic response was to keep peace at all costs. Part of that cost was striving imperfectly at perfection and failing miserably. Another hefty payment was paid by those closest to me, since they didn’t feel comfortable being vulnerable with one who seemed to have it all together. 

Unfortunately, everyone loses when I choose to remain in my bubble. I know I’m a fraud. My feelings, good and bad just get stuffed, so I’m not really living. My friends and family feel alienated and try to shield me from their shortcomings. And where is God in this equation?

Trust is a big deal to me. I guess it’s because of the trauma I faced as a child, and I felt abandoned and alone in my shame. I didn’t even feel I could trust God. Relationships are based on trust, and it just didn’t seem like it was worth the risk to be let down once again.

God didn’t relent on His pursuit of me, though. He sent me a man to show me that someone could know the real me, the imperfect me, and still love and take care of me. He sent me a daughter and son who whittled away at my false image of perfection and gave me an understanding of what unconditional love means. And, when I was at the end of myself, God swooped in to rescue me from that ridiculous bubble I had constructed and covered me in the shadow of His wings. 

Because of God’s unfailing love, I can be real. I can admit my mistakes and talk about my painful past without being driven to despair. I can be free to love. I can be approachable. I can give hope to others who are trapped in their own bubbles.

Oh, every now and then, I am tempted to lock myself away in that deceiving bubble that promises safety. It’s still difficult to do or say something that might “rock the boat.” When it’s too painful or frightening to deal with a new situation or resurrected memory, I must resist that urge to withdraw and let God redeem yet another crisis for His glory. Praise God, I’m no longer a “bubble girl!”

#livefreeThursday

Can’t Wait to Meet You!

  
Here we are…waiting for your arrival next week, Baby Girl! You’re gonna be born into a family who loves you before we know you. But you are already known…

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalms 139:16 NLT

Your Mommy and Daddy have such grand plans for you! Your grandparents on both sides have grandsons and eagerly anticipate spoiling our first granddaughter! Lots of pink and ponies and bows and ruffles and dolls and bling for you! Your Mommy, my daughter-in-love, will nurture you, as she has while she has carried you. And your Daddy, my son, will protect you and keep you under lock and key if necessary. Even with all of our grand aspirations for you, Someone has perfect plans and unfailing love for you…One who will never leave or forsake you.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! Psalms 139:17-18 NLT

You see, little one, the Creator of the universe is the only One who won’t have some unrealistic expectations of you. He is the One who will validate you by His unconditional love. He is the only One who won’t let you down. As much as you are loved and cared for by your Mommy and Daddy and the rest of your family, your true worth can only be determined by the One who gave you life. 

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous– how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. Psalms 139:14-15

As the moments count down until you make your debut, I marvel at the miracle of God putting your parents together and giving them you. I pray that you will not only know how much you are loved and treasured by your earthly family, you will know the immeasurable love of your Heavenly Father and rest in that truth. 

Oma can’t wait to meet you!

#validate #livefreeThursday #livefree

I Married My First Date

It was a steamy August afternoon when I spotted the tall handsome senior drummer the first day of marching band practice. One of my giddy fellow freshman girlfriends pointed him out to me, since she had a crush on him. Of course, he had no idea any of us wide-eyed ninth graders existed as he strutted on the field a head above all the rest of the band. The summer sun had kissed him in the color of bronze, and his long locks of brown still celebrated a break from the school dress code. Wow, I thought, how could my friend ever think he would notice an awkward fourteen year old admirer?

I almost wasn’t part of the high school marching band. During the last week of eighth grade, I was corralled by the band directors who begged me to stay in band the next year. Incredibly, I wasn’t very good at playing the trombone, which shows they really needed me. Lugging around that cumbersome case and tripping over it in my tiny bedroom had grown old. Though I was reluctant at first, I agreed to join the band without even trying out for a spot. Little did I know how much that one spur of the moment decision would affect the rest of my life.

As it turns out, that leader of the band did notice an awkward freshman young lady, but it wasn’t my friend. It was a very odd type of first meeting, where I marched my little self up to him to basically tattle on a freshman boy who was talking disrespectfully about him. For whatever reason, he found my spunky nature attractive. We became friends and eventually fell head over heels in love. Now, almost forty years later, we are still smitten with each other, have two wonderful grown children, and one precious grandson. Both of us know this is not the normal outcome of young love, especially when both of us were from broken homes. Though we are equally hard headed and neither one of us gives up easily, we depend on God’s grace and mercy to sustain us through life’s challenges.

Now I will tell the real love story of how I married my first date. A loving, omniscient God was behind the scenes weaving together the tapestry of our lives, without us realizing He was at work to make all things work together for good. If our parents hadn’t divorced and our mothers hadn’t ended up in the same city, we never would have met. Think of the odds of our mothers working at the same hospital before his mother ended up as my school nurse. On weekends when we visited our fathers while we were elementary students, we unknowingly rode the same bus to Houston. Perhaps, our fathers stood next to each other as strangers to greet us in the bus station, having no idea they would meet again at our wedding. How can this be?

God says He orders our steps and has recorded all our days. His providence overshadows everything we think we control. I really can’t adequately explain how it works, but one thing I do know is that God is in control. I am convinced He put my husband and me together that afternoon in the band hall, when I thought I was being so smart (more of a know it all) and he thought I was cute. He did that for us to accomplish His purpose in us, even though we weren’t particularly special, popular, or obedient. Guess what? He’ll do the same thing for you! He will work things, even really rotten things, together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). What an amazing God we serve!

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