Our lasting hope, our consolation

My dear friend- buried Monday on a beautiful November afternoon. Snow softly falling as if to quell the pain. The hour prior, friends and family crowded into a small country church, four hundred strong to say last goodbyes. To sing and pay tribute to the woman they loved while honoring the God she adored. To bring humble offerings before the One who had held her through it all- knowing that same Dear One stood in God’s very presence even as we mourned. Her beloved family there, lining the rows. Clutching Kleenex in hand, heads bowed in sorrow even as they said final earthly goodbyes to a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt and kindred spirit. Not a dry eye in the place.

What if your blessings come through rain drops What if Your healing comes through tears What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

This life- it is never time enough for those of us who love. We always crave for more. More time, more moments, more memories, more laughter, more hugs, more touch. More opportunity. And when time is up and eternity claims the ones we hold the closest, we wonder: where is the good in all of this? How can good come from so much sorrow?

When friends betray us When darkness seems to win We know that pain reminds this heart That this is not, This is not our home It’s not our home

And this life- it is so hard. So much to bear. I talk to another precious woman, listening as she shares her story of a broken marriage, a baby lost and the hope of any other future babies gone with a medical complication not of her own doing. I talk to others, even as I think back over this past week’s events and wonder: how can we carry on? A colleague killed crossing the road, another three-car pile-up, a mother left to carry the burden of her sister’s accident, a father and mother-in-law struggling with the ravages of Parkinson’s. A father taken, a mother. Disease and death surround us at every turn. And that is just my story- my precious friends with their own stories of sadness to share. It is all too much. One doesn’t have to look very far to see the misery that this life brings. Our own dear family- both immediate and extended- a testament to this truth. So much suffering. So much pain. And I have to wonder, how is all the misery of this life able to become a blessing?

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace Comfort for family, protection while we sleep We pray for healing, for prosperity We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

We pray for the realization of all that we believe would give us joy: an end to cancer, an end to disease. An end to brokenness of any sort. We pray for restoration in marriage, for lengthy lives lived until the grey hairs crown our heads in glory. We pray for an end to all suffering. We pray for inner peace, familial peace, relational peace, world peace. An end to poverty, famine, war and pestilence. We pray for an end to our misery and trouble. We pray.

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love As if every promise from Your word is not enough

And we wonder: where is God? Where is God in all of this? I come across a beautiful message in my Facebook feed from this same dear friend whom I am mourning the loss, a note written to me six years earlier. Who would have known that this message would come back into my present reality and speak to me- as if they were words given to me in my time of sorrow from God Himself. Words offering comfort and hope.She writes:

Hi Lori, I know things are going to work out for all of you, time is a healer and GOD is all powerful, nothing happens without a reason…the healing can start…. Time will bring everything back to where it should be!! …you are a wonderful person, God is not finished with any of us yet, and he is doing a wonderful work in you, it may be a very DIFFICULT time right now, but look how close you have come to God in all of it!! GOD is using you in many ways, some you are not even aware of, HOW EXCITING!!! Just let go and let GOD, he is carrying you and he will never let you go. I was thinking of that song today, it is my favorite and my prayer when I am down, “Draw me close to you, never let me go” I pray that you feel so close to GOD, I love you guys, and am still praying for you all!! Good night my friend! and GOD BLESS YOU.

And all the while, You hear each spoken need Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

What if the heartache of this life was the pathway to understanding? What if the insight we gained, the perspective we were offered- was the open door? What if the purpose of all this pain and sorrow in life was not for it all to end, but for us to endure so as to find the beauty within the pain? What if beauty could truly come through ashes? Joy through mourning? What if every-day, private miracles were just as necessary as public sensations? What if the little moments of victory were our true pursuit? And what if the moments whereby inner strength was gained were as valuable as those moments we derived the sustaining ability necessary to climb physical mountains?

What if life was less about the mountain-top and more about the climb?

And all the while, You hear each desperate plea And long that we’d have faith to believe

I take a walk the day after, last goodbyes already having been spoken; and the brilliant sunset brings me to tears. It is not that I see my precious friend or even Heaven in this earthly vision so much as I see hope. It makes me long for another time, another place. I think of Heaven and Wendy and others who are there. I think of Jesus and I long for home. Long for an end to the aching of this life. A brand new beginning.

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy What if trials of this life The rain, the storms, the hardest nights Are your mercies in disguise

And this is our lasting hope, our consolation: eternity. Forever is such a very long time.

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Insignificance: what of the invisible ones?

Recently, a classroom full of children waiting for transition between classes was doing what ‘a classroom full of children’ does naturally during classroom down-time: goofing around and making general mayhem. Thinking fast on her feet, my colleague- the interim teacher- picked up a whiteboard marker and put a word on the board, hoping to grab their attention:

INSIGNIFICANT.

She put down the marker, turned and faced the students and then asked: “Who feels this?”

The classroom immediately became silent so that you could hear a pin drop.

The numerous faces immediately turned serious and all goofing stopped. One by one the students took in the weight of that word. The meaning. And silently, almost every single one of them raised their hands in affirmation.

Almost every one of the kids in that classroom had felt, at one time or another, insignificant.

The disruptive ones.

The quiet ones.

The loud ones.

The disenfranchised ones.

The privileged ones.

The smart ones.

The academically challenged.

The financially stable.

The economically disadvantaged ones.

The impoverished.

Both the ones in name-brand clothing as well as the ones in someone else’s hand-me-downs.

The smart-alecks and the serious.

The class clowns and the introverts.

Every one. Every single one of them.

They all had felt at one point in time in their young lives, insignificant.

The teacher then erased two little letters found in front of the word. She took away ‘in’ and left the letters-

S-I-G-N-I-F-I-C-A-N-T.

She then turned and faced the classroom of children who were at this moment a captive audience.

And she asked them:

Who makes you feel significant?

Who is it that sees your heart? Sees your soul? Who loves you? Who gets you? Who understands? Who sees past your hoodie, your Reeboks, your faded jeans? Your greasy hair? Your amateur attempts at eye-shadow and lip-gloss? Who knows what goes on inside that head of yours? Who knows what you’re all about? Who digs you?

WHO KNOWS YOU ARE NOT INVISIBLE?

And hands went up slowly to share their story. Kids I know. Kids I care about. And I know this because one of those kids was my very own child. Hands went up all over the place. But not all of them.

Not all the hands went up. Not everybody felt significant.

How can this be?

For we believe, do we not: that every student needs to know they are significant.

As teachers, we experience a daily tug-of-war being played out. We are being asked and expected to increasingly go above and beyond the call. This pertaining to every aspect of our job: as it relates to curricular delivery, progress monitoring, assessment, reporting, evaluation, lesson planning and development, testing. The list of academically related expectations could certainly go on. Add to these demands the pull on our heartstrings to act as advocates interceding on behalf of our least advantaged kids. More than ever before, we teachers are acting in parental ways for the children that seemingly need our demonstrative care the most: feeding them, clothing them, looking after hygiene, interceding on their behalf for supports with both inside and outside agencies to the system- holding their hearts and hands gently and empathically when they need a physical sign of nurturing love.

We are being asked a lot.

And we are doing better with the children who desperately need our care, better than ever before. And so we should be. Teaching is a caring profession, first and foremost.

But in thinking about care and who fundamentally needs and requires that care, I have been challenged to think beyond the most critical areas of need to what and whom might also be needing our attention. Leading me to ask the question: what of the ones who fall in between? In other words, how are we enabling all children inside our schools and classrooms to feel significant, valued and seen inside our four walls?

What of the ones who are neither demanding nor critically in need of physical and academic supports, thus unable to grab our attention? What of the quiet, easy ones who are seemingly invisible to our teacher radar?

Please understand me. I firmly and unequivocally believe that we must fiercely, lovingly and carefully advocate for our students with the greatest critical needs, truly ‘seeing’ the behaviorally challenging students we’ve been given- the louder, disruptive ones- as deserving of our attention…so as to convey to them the TRUTH of their significance. These students must daily get affirmation of their significance so as to make that difference in their lives. And may we never neglect to do the same for the ones we know who need special adaptive supports in place so that they are given an equal chance.  So that they are seen as potential and possibility- these students too must be affirmed as significant and valued and worthy. But in addressing areas of urgent need, may we not fail to give that same care to the quieter, less vocal and demonstrative ones who just might feel they are invisible to our teacher radar.

Who just might feel they are invisible.  Period.

I will be the first to say that quiet and introverted doesn’t necessarily mean anything is going wrong.  Neither does loud and crazy. But these personality traits are not also meant to exhibit a unchallenged sense that everything is okay. Sometimes quiet can be as much a cry for attention as a scream. Each student needs us.  Every student needs to know they are valued and seen as significant.  Even the quiet ones.

Fundamentally, what this blog is about is care. Care is what matters to me. Knowing that ALL my students believe in their worth as a human being. Knowing that they ALL understand their significance. Knowing that they ALL come to believe in their inherent value as individuals and members of the wider community. This is what matters. I want every one of my students to know that I SEE THEM.

 I want every one of them to know that I see them.

And encouraging me in this endeavor is what I am seeing out there, beyond my classroom. I am seeing that there are conversations taking place in other classrooms, in staff rooms, in private corners of our schools. There are conversations happening on-line and in virtual chat-rooms, in communities of sharing and through social media. Conversations being initiated through the news media, both written and spoken word. There is more dialogue than ever before about teaching as a caring profession and what that means.

It is time to fully face the fact that teachers are more than educators with an academic mandate. We are equally care-givers. Nurturing guides. Empathic listeners. Compassionate educators. And while we have done a very good job of teaching to the academic requirements of our job, along with reaching out to the populations of students in our classrooms that have great behavioral and physical needs, may we never fail to merely give this care which we bring to our profession only to one or two segments of our school population. We must give care and attention to all of our students.  We must see and value ALL our students as worthy of knowing their incredible consequence and place in this world.

Each one is significant. Each one must be seen.

This is our calling.

What I do

I have been feeling it again.  That sensation of exhaustion that washes over you, day in and day out.  Late this afternoon, after a final word with the vice-principal before leaving for the day, I placed my hand over the center of my abdomen and felt a sharp, persistent pain.  Something cutting. Felt like I was being pulled from the inside out.

I left for home, and once supper was on and the house cleanliness status went from ‘disaster zone’ to just ‘normal messy’, I left for a walk.  But again, exhaustion seemed to overcome me: this time, accompanied by shoulders aching from the day’s (and night’s) stress and tension.

I pushed past the pain and tried to extend my steps to make up for the pull I felt. Focus.  Step, step. It’s what I do. I won’t give in.

And truth be told, it’s what we all do: push past the feelings and carry on in spite of them, wondering how we will have the strength to take another step.  But taking that next step anyway.

And as I walked, I let my mind wander to the day’s events.  Wondering what had I even accomplished.  What did I ever do today to make a difference?

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Earlier, I am sitting at my chair filing papers while children play happily around me.  A little voice pipes up: “Mrs. Gard…I have something to tell you.”

I wait for the words, not quite knowing what to expect.

“I love you,” he says.

I am immediately so touched.  He loves me?  But why?

What it is I have ever done to deserve such precious words?

And don’t we sometimes wonder about such things: wonder whether what do we as teachers is enough to merit such beneficial love?

And in thinking about children and what they desire, I am reminded again and again: it isn’t what we do- it’s who we are.

That’s the difference.

And although we might be the very best at planning and orchestrating amazing lessons.  The very best at making our classrooms a place for discovery and exploration.  The epitome of professionalism.   Or not quite this ideal.

It’s really not our ‘stuff’ that makes the difference.

It’s who we are to them that matters.

***************************************************************

So what did I do today?

I smiled at the door- even when inside I was still reeling from last night’s news.

I crouched down low so that they could see my face.

I talked gently and repeated myself when necessary.

I greeted that child who was lonely, helped another who just needed my love.

I zipped zippers and put on gloves.

Talked and chatted.

But still I wonder.  What did I do today?

So what did I do today?

Well, I hid tears as quickly as they fell so that little eyes wouldn’t see and wonder.

I made assessments feel like games and stories come alive.

Walked a little one to the bathroom in the middle of a lesson so that she wouldn’t feel scared to go alone in the hall.

I located lunches that were lost, stowed toys that were distracting and sorted dozens of wiki sticks back into their spots.

And at the end of it all I still asked myself:

What did I do today?

*******************************************************************

Teachers, we need to give ourselves permission to be human.  To make mistakes.  To feel pain.  To be a real live person with ISSUES and STRUGGLES and HEARTACHES and SORROW.  We don’t completely check our lives at the door when we come to school.  Yes, we must be professional, but we also have to be real.

So here’s what I also did today at school.

I got through a day that was difficult and I survived.

And in spite of my failings and in spite of all the circumstances of life that pull me from every direction, my students still love me.

They love me.  They care for me.  And I for them.

And because of this, I could do all this today.  I can do what I do,…both today, tomorrow and every day after that.

Because of them, I can do what I do.

Dear Teacher

Pinterest quotes

Dear Teacher:

You called after me today, chasing me in circles after I had taken J.’s shoe and threw it in the mud puddle.  I wouldn’t come to you.  I ran away.  You followed me around and around the playground while I stomped my feet on silent ground.  As if by stomping there might be a noise to match my feelings.

I was frustrated.  Angry.  Tired and lonely.  And I didn’t want to hear someone tell me for the bazillionth time all that I had done wrong.  How I had been a bully.

The truth is: I know.  I know I am a bully.  I know what I did was wrong.  I know all that stuff.  I just wish the world knew the rest of the story.  The stuff I keep locked away inside my head.

Stuff about me- that are secrets.

That I feel alone most of the time.

That I have a hard time making friends.

That I am lonely and scared when it comes to free time. ‘Cause I sometimes don’t know what to do.  Where to go and who to turn to.

That sometimes I do things I don’t want to do.  And I don’t understand why.

That I wish people liked me more.

And I wish I could just run and play, like all the rest of them.

But I can’t.  Because I’m different.

You finally caught up to me.  You smiled and crouched down at my level.  You voice was soothing and calm. You didn’t even look angry.  But I was still afraid even though I tried to trust your words of hope anyway.

I told you then- when you reached for me by the swings- told you that I hated myself.  Told you that I know I am mean, know I am a bully.  And I couldn’t stop telling you ALL THE WORDS about myself.  Because those words are inside my head yelling at me, demanding to come out.

When you tell yourself something for long enough, you start to believe it. Start to think it is the really, trully-est truth.

The truth that I am stupid.

That I am mean.

That I am not good.  Not kind.  Not a nice person.

That truth.

And after I told it, you looked at me with your serious eyes and said, “No you are not.”  You are not all those things.

You are great- you are smart and wonderfully good.  You are more than what you think you are.

And you showed me with your eyes that you believed this other truth more than the one I was telling you.  Believed that I was more than what I thought of myself. I was BETTER.

And even though I wanted to stay by that swing forever and never let it go, you convinced me to turn around and face my fears.  To walk in that door and listen to the voice of truth telling me I was MORE.

And we walked into the school together.

And I carried on even when I thought I couldn’t.

And Teacher, even though the world isn’t perfect and sometimes I only see the truths that are angry and twisted, I will never forget the truth you made me believe in that moment.

Because you took the time.

Because you cared.

Thank you, Teacher, for believing in me even when I couldn’t.

Sincerely,

That Student on the Playground

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lori-gard/caring-teachers_b_6104014.html

Something to be proud of

I admire the plump, white sugar cookies from afar and silently think back to the night before when I had made some cookies myself, along with my two daughters. Hoping against hope that this batch might be the ones, I could barely scrape them off the cookie tray after they came from the oven. They were literally a big, hot mess. I am stubborn enough that I scraped the entire dish into a mixing bowl, determined to reinvent them the next night as an ice cream sundae topping. I am nothing if not resourceful. Of course, they are still sitting there somewhere on the shelf- waiting for the next stop.  The garbage can.

But back to those sugar cookies. I couldn’t help but feel a little envious as I admired those delicious looking, perfectly formed culinary taste sensations.  If only I could make something akin to those.

It wasn’t until later on when we were heading out the door for home when I admitted to her- that I could never do what she does. I just can’t make cookies. In the 18 years I’ve been married and had my own home, I don’t know if there ever was a time that my cookies turned out. Funny how something so trifling could make you feel so small.

And that’s all I was thinking about right then. How I wished I could make cookies well- wished I could bake well- as I was just so sick and tired of the flat mess I am use to turning out each and every time I decide to cook.

And in that split second at the door, while I was thinking how much I wished I was better at baking, wished I was more like her. She turned and said something to me that made me think, stopped my envious thought process right in its tracks. She said this: We all have our “something” that we do- and you are doing that something each and every day.  That’s what she said.

We all have our something.  And even though she never added the following words to our conversation, I’d like to tack them on for good measure.  Because the sentiment was certainly there.

Be proud of your something.  Be thankful for it.

And I have since started to think about the ‘somethings’ we admire in other people that we wish we ourselves had. Started to think about how that thinking and wishing and, let’s just say it: that envy- gets our hearts off track. Takes our focus off what we know we are doing well and messes with our minds. Because we all have our something that we do that makes us special. All have our something that makes us unique.  That makes us special, and amazing and perfectly US.

But how often do we look at someone else’s’ something and WANT IT.

Think their something must be better than those God-given qualities we’ve been given.

And the truth is- that something we want- that something someone else has… IS special and wonderful and brilliant and unique- for the very fact that there is an amazing human being doing whatever it is we are admiring as worthwhile and beautiful and interesting and smart.

My friend IS amazing at baking.  I am totally in awe when I taste her food.  I think her gift is just amazing.

But that’s what she thinks about me too.  That’s exactly what all our truest friends think when they think about us.  That the qualities we have that are admirable and worthy are AMAZING. They even might go so far as thinking: “that woman- she’s amazing. She can do____- something I know nothing about.  Wow, to only be her…” But be sure: if you are looking at someone else admiringly, you can be sure that there are moments where someone is looking right back at you doing the very same things. Seeing in you what it is YOU do best and admiring you for it.

Because all have our ‘something’. Let’s be proud of it- and by golly, let’s own it.

I was thinking, after I had this wonderful encounter, how very much we need to be real with one another and level with each other. Maybe it is time we told each other:

“You know what? I am struggling because I look at you and you do ____ so well. I just feel I don’t measure up.”  Because I think the door would then be open for real, honest discussion about why we want what we don’t have and why we have such a hard time appreciating what we do have.

I have wanted a few things lately- qualities that I admire in other women which I should have celebrated as being wonderful and unique to them, rather than envying and wanting something I cannot have.  We are all different for a reason, so why not celebrate what others DO have.  It is so much nicer than feeling jealous.

Okay. So, I am a woman who can’t make cookies, who has a home that looks like a cyclone flew through it, along with a host of other flaws that would fill a book; but I still believe I have ‘something’. Something to be proud of.  Something worth celebrating. So I am proud to share with all of you that my something is: that I am able to authentically express my heart through writing.

It’s my something.  My little gift.

And I even though I don’t have it all, I have something.

And that is ‘something’ to celebrate.

Every Student Needs a Champion

Something has been irking me for a while- gnawing away at my soul like it is a bone. Maybe it’s a sense. Certainly it is something I have tried to understand- this sense, this feeling. I have tried to figure out where it is coming from. And I think I wasn’t able to understand it completely until I watched Rita Pierson’s 2013 discussion on Ted Talks about teachers and students. A topic I hold close to my heart.

Watching her- I just knew what it was I believed in my heart.

Have you ever been there? Ever known deep down inside that something is philosophically not resonating but been unable to articulate it? That’s how I have felt about certain school reforms I have seen come and go and then come around again- certain propensities our schools have toward standardized testing and adhering to core curriculum concepts. We focus on the MIND as if that was all that mattered. As if the brain is the only part that made a human worthy. Yes, that’s how I have been feeling: confused about why these and other educational trends to institutionalize schools even more than they already are institutions bother me so much. That is, until today. But I now can see clearly. I know what it is I believe. And that is above all, I believe that for student success to become a reality, every student needs a champion that believes in them as a being- not just a cerebral brain.

Is this earth-shattering news? Something we’ve not heard before? A new revelation?

Not really. We’ve always known that students need someone to appreciate their worth- body, soul and mind. That they need someone to look up to/learn alongside who will fight for them, believe in them, vouch for them and care for them. All of them- not just the academic parts. But I wonder if we were truly to stop and ask ourselves- what is it students need most of all…what would our answer be?

Would it only concern that grey matter in their head?

Do students need most- capable, effective instructors who can deliver the goods- inputting them neatly into the empty receptacle of the brain?

Do students need experts in science? Math? Languages? Art? And music?

Do they need great orators who can entertain with stories and interesting trivia?

Or do they need talented curriculum guides to make study easy and exciting?

Or is it an organized, crafty designer to make the class room inviting and warm that they need?

A content specialist?

A well-educated scholar?

A parent, friend or a magician?

A babysitter?

What, of all these and many other positive and negative teacher attributes, do students then really need so as to find success inside the classroom and beyond? What is the one extrinsic factor that defines clearly the success of a student- the whole student?

It’s simpler than you might think. Students need more than anything teachers that care.

They need teachers that are willing to care enough to be a champion of the students- believing in them against the odds. Students need teachers that care about their intellect- but equally alongside that grey matter that contributes to the whole, students need teachers that care about their emotional development, social development, creative capacity, cognitive understanding and physical ability. Who care about their hearts.

This is not to say that teachers cannot care about the mind. Students need teachers who care enough about them as students to infuse passion into their science programs- their math classes and beyond. Need capable, effective instructors who can live out their calling. Students need teachers who love their content area, but they need even more than this effective teachers who don’t make subject material such a focus that the kids sitting there in front of them fade into the background. Need teachers who don’t make kids play second fiddle to the content. Students need teachers who know the curriculum in such a way that they can make it fit the students’ learning- along with needing teachers who are specialists in their area of interest and thus passionate enough to care that their students learn about the world around them. But do not underestimate that these teachers care only about the mind. These teachers are more than just skill and drill. Their curriculum is the heart.

It’s what students want. What students need most- teachers who care.

Students need teachers that care enough about them to ask questions, offer suggestions, take an interest, get to know them, nudge them, listen to them, move them, inspire them.

And students need teachers who believe in themselves enough to also see that their adult minds are also growing and developing too- because teachers never stop learning. It is our students sometimes that remind us of the importance of curiosity, wonder and imagination.

For within all of the various teacher types, when observed as already being effective and dynamic, there is one more thing they share in common: care. They are all defined by and characterized by the ability to compassionately, empahically care.

And that’s exactly what students need- what they want and remember most about the teachers who teach them.

That they care.

Because teachers who care about their subject, course material and content area also tend to care about what really matters most- the people they teach.  (At least they can and they should!).

What it really comes down to is this: students don’t want teachers to see them as hollow receptacles for knowledge, as empty buckets needing to be filled.  As problems and burdens and inconveniences and annoyances. They want us to see them as human beings. As people with potential and possibility. As capable and able to do the impossible.

And at the end of the day, what students want to see in us their teachers is a man or woman who is their champion.

Because every student deserves a champion.  Every single one of them.

This messy, complicated life? {It’s worth it…}

She starts to talk, but her voice cracks. Tears are falling, even though I can’t see them over the phone-line. They’re there. Welling up in her eyes, free flowing down her cheeks. Splashing onto her hands and fingers- her chin trembling.

And even though I can’t see her- I know all about it, know that she is struggling. Struggling with accepting this. Struggling with understanding this. Struggling with living all this- putting one foot in front of the other. She is struggling with showing up each and every day to her lived reality.
Because showing up and facing this hard life that doggedly pursues us, day in and day out is one of the biggest obstacles we must overcome.

Life is hard.

She and I both know it. In fact, we all know it. And don’t we all just wish we could fix it up and take away all the messy? Take away all the trouble and pain and struggle and heartache we and our loved ones must endure? We just wish it would all vanish, leaving us with happiness and joy and peace as a trade-off. Because everywhere we look, it’s there.

Heart-ache.

It’s there. In our conversations. In our homes and our families. In our schools, and workplaces and communities. In our nation and scattered heavily throughout our world. Pain and heartache are there every time we turn on the news, turn on the television. This world is so full of trouble- it’s depressing. It’s certainly one of the surest things we can count on in this life.

And wouldn’t life be so much better without it there- without all that misery?
Because life would be so much better if it were perfect. And sometimes we look around and we compare ourselves and our lives to others. Maybe it’s simply comparing ourselves to what we see as the ideal. Maybe it is someone elses marriage. Or their seemingly perfectly-kept home. Or maybe it’s their children that we see as so amazing- and what we wouldn’t give to have our children behave/perform/act in the very same ways.

Maybe it’s another person’s career we’re after or their success in life we want. Maybe it comes down to money and health and overall happiness. We crave for what we do not have. Maybe it’s just everything at times- because things just look so bleak in our own lives. We look around and take stock of our troubled, pain-filled lives- finding they always fall short of where we’d like them to be.

Our lives are hard.

Maybe we might look around and see something we don’t have in our lives and think “if I only had that one thing”- that missing ingredient (which, if we had it, then would make everything just as it should be). Maybe it is something we see as missing within us, some imperfection:

Our struggle with weight.
Our frustration with appearance.
Our un-acceptance of our God-given personality.

Or maybe what eludes us is closer to home.

Our difficult relationships with significant others.
Our parenting mistakes.
Our chaotic households.

And when these things we hold near and dear to our hearts are in turmoil, doesn’t everything else seem to be affected? The whole world appears to be in disarray. Our lives are so colored by the success of what is going on inside our own minds. If we are not at peace within, there seemingly is no peace.

And when we live in such a state of personal discontentment, we look out and see the larger world around us and believe there is absolutely no hope.
How can there be when life is so full of pain? So full of struggle?

And so, that is exactly what discouragement and despair and disappointment can do to us. They restrain us, detain us- hold us in bondage. They pin us down, hold us back. Lock us up and leave us in darkness. For despair would have us to forget the joy and the sweet beauty that pain in its hardship can bring.

For what caterpillar in its simplicity could ever imagine that out of the pitiful ugly would come beautiful wings?

What soldier could ever explain the surrender of leaving all so as to serve a greater cause? It is a sacrifice made so that peace might come. All that hardship and sorrow and painful separation from family done so as to bring peace and freedom to the many.

What mother can ever forget the joy of delivering her precious children into this world? A journey taken for both mother and child that calls for great sacrifice and huge cost. It is hard, messy, difficult work to be born- to give birth, but what joy and precious beauty is brought because of it?

And for all of us. We forget that we are being made beautiful in time as well. Our lives count for something bigger- this is not all there is. Our pain is making us stronger. Our hardship causes us to grow more deeply in compassion. Our struggle helps us to become more empathic. And in sharing our heartaches, we help others to know that they are not alone.

We never are- for He is always with us.

And sometimes we forget to acknowledge that we’re in this life together. We are in this with other people. In this life with a God that loves us- who is always rooting for us, wanting us to win. We are in this life with a God who doesn’t expect perfection- He just asks that we show up to the imperfect, messy lives He’s given us to live and give them our all. Give it “mostly enough.” And might we all remember- not one of us humans is doing this life up perfectly. Because there is no perfect in the here and now. No such thing as flawless in this life.

Perfection is an ugly myth- it is a lie.

But for those who believe in the fullness of time, we know that someday we will have that which slips through our fingers today. Someday we will know and understand. Someday it will all be clear. And we hold fast to the hope that there is more to living life than merely surviving the messy present. More to it all than merely enduring the day to day heartache. For this world is not our home- He has set eternity in our hearts.

The story isn’t over.

And all the pain and trouble and heartache of this life are here to grow our hearts in understanding- grow our hearts in love. One toward another. So that we can come to realize: life is worth the living- worth doing it together.

It’s worth it all in spite of all the trouble we must face as we go through.

We are not alone.