A Tale Of Three Teachers (Or, A Tribute to Vivian Fairnot)

5th Grade
5th Grade…

A Tale Of Three Teachers (Or, A Tribute to Vivian Fairnot)

Ms. H. did not like me. It was obvious.
I annoyed her.
My parents told me it was a “personality conflict”.
But when you are 8 it doesn’t really matter why your teacher dislikes you.
You just know that they do – and you shrivel a little – or a lot – inside.

Ms. M. was way less subtle about her disdain.
I not only annoyed her, she actively loathed me.
And it wasn’t in my imagination.
The last day of 4th grade she told me that I was the dumbest kid she had ever taught and that she was glad the year was over.
It didn’t help that she “told” me that at a loud volume in front of my class as the rest of the school was filing in for the final assembly.

I remember those two teachers vividly.
How much they disliked me.
How worthless they made me feel.

But then you had Mrs. Vivian Fairnot.
She gets her full name in this post because she deserves it.
We switched schools the year I went into 5th grade.
And she was my teacher.
What a difference she made in my life!

She liked me.
Enjoyed being my teacher.
Told me so.
And backed her words with actions.
She gave me responsibility.
Listened to my stories.
Laughed at my jokes.
Believed in me.
And basically loved me just as I was.

I didn’t change much at all between 4th and 5th grade.
But I became a different person because of my 5th grade year.
My whole outlook changed because of one teacher.
She wasn’t perfect.
But she loved well.
And for that I will always be grateful.

All three of those teachers influenced who I am today.
How I teach.
What I believe about children.
And why I do things the way I do.

I tell them the truth.
If I believe they can do better, I tell them.
If I believe they gave it their all, I tell them.
But either way, I tell them every day that I love them.
That I am glad they are my kids.
That I am happy God gave them to me.

I tell them to do their work independently – and sometimes to redo their work – because they are smarter than they think they are.
And I tell them to be respectful because I believe they have to ability to do so.
I tell them to love each other because God loves them and I love them.
And I tell them that they can do ALL things through Christ. Even math. Even loving each other. Even the things that feel impossible when you are 8, 9 and 10.

I tell them to ask for help when they need it.
But to push themselves to do better, too.

All of these things I learned from Mrs. Fairnot.
As well as other amazing teachers through the years.
But she stands out as the teacher who made the turning point happen for me.
She literally changed my life.

I never got a chance to thank her in person here on earth.
I found out that God called her home this week.
It makes me grateful once again for heaven.
Because one of the things I plan to do when I get there is to find her and thank her.

I don’t care if you are a teacher, a parent or simply a person who knows a child.
Please, please watch what you say to them.
And how you treat them.
The things you say and do speak volumes to them.
As well as what you don’t say and don’t do.
They may still hear your voice in their head 40 years after the fact.

One final thought – all three of those teachers taught in Christian schools.
All three claimed to know Christ.
But only one showed Him to me through her actions.

Do the kids in your world see Jesus in you?
Do they know He loves them because you do?
Oh, how I hope so!
Because Jesus loved the kids.
Made time and space for them.
Blessed them.
And warned the grown-ups – US – to not give them any reason to stumble.

May you be a blessing in the life of a child today!

And Mrs. Fairnot, thank you.

You always said, “Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.”
Your walk talked volumes into my life – and therefore into the lives of hundreds of children.
Well done, Teacher, well done.

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Lessons From My Classroom

It happens every day in my classroom.
And I am guessing that it probably happens every day in every classroom around the world.

Student: Teacher, I don’t know how to do this.
Teacher: Here, I will show you. (Demonstrates, has student practice.)
Student: Oh, I get it! Thanks.

30-minutes later, turns in paper with all incorrect answers.

Teacher: What happened? I thought you understood.
Student: Ummm…I thought my way was better. (Or some other excuse…)

Or this scenario:

Teacher: OK, class today you will do A, B and then C. Please tell me what you are going to do.
Students: We will do A, B, and then C.
Teacher: Great! Get to work.

2-minutes later:

Student: Teacher, what am I supposed to do?

It happens every day in my heart.

Me: God, I don’t know how to handle this.
God: Here’s the answer in My Word. (Shows me repeatedly, reminding me of past lessons)
Me: Oh, I get it! Thanks!

30-minutes (or less) later, right back at fretting about the issue, making a plan, trying to solve it, trying to figure it out.

God: What happened? Why aren’t you trusting Me and My Word?
Me: Ummm…I thought my way was better…

Or this scenario:

God: OK, Kathy, here is the plan: Love Me first, then love the people I put in your path and as you love them, tell them about Me. That’s is all you have to do. I’ll take care of everything else.
Me: OK, God. I will love You first, then people and I’ll tell them about You. And let You handle everything else.
God: Great! Let’s go.

Two-minutes later:

Me: God, I’m taking back everything I just gave You. I think I can handle it better than You can. After all, do You really know what You’re doing? You are awfully slow. And besides, I just can’t see how You’re going to do it. And it really needs to be done. Feels super urgent to me. So I am going to sit over here and fret about these small things while the world dies and goes to hell with You. Hope that’s OK with You.

Of course, my answer isn’t verbalized quite like that.
It isn’t verbalized at all.
It shows up in my actions.
The rat-race of my brain, trying to figure it out, make a plan, get ahead of the circumstance, wonder what to do.
Instead of doing the three things He commanded:
Love God.
Love people.
Go tell.


At least three times a day I say, “Let me be the teacher, please.”
When a kid takes it upon himself to direct the class.
Tell another kid what to do.
Help me get their attention,
Tattle on someone else.

I have to remind them that I am the one in charge.
I have the plan for the day.
And while I am not perfect, I have more experience and wisdom than they do.

At least thirty times a day God has to say to me, “Let me be God, please.”
When I start to fret.
When I problem-solve instead of pray.
When I lean on my own understanding.
When I forget who is in charge.

He has to remind me that He has got this.
He has the plan for my life.
And He IS perfect, with the whole picture in mind.
He is for me and not against me.
He is my judge – but He is also my vindicator.
He is my provider and my protector.
He loves the people I love more than I do.
And He has the best plan for them, too.
HE is the Teacher.
The Master.
The Lord of All.
Sovereign over all.
The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Not me.

Every morning I greet my kids at the door with options:
Hug, handshake, high-five or fist bump.
Different ones choose different things.
Doesn’t really matter what they choose – in fact, a couple of them think it is great game to duck in the door without me “catching” them.

Every morning, God greets me with new mercies.
New hope.
Fresh messages from His Word.
A renewal of my mind.
A refreshment of my spirit.

Always available – when I take the time to stop at the door of the day and meet up with Him.
He just wants me to know that He loves me.
And that He’s got this.


Classroom lessons.
May I ever be a willing student.
Because He will ever be the best Teacher.

What Jesus Didn’t Say

It’s not what He said – it is what He didn’t say that reached out and grabbed me.
Jesus was preaching to a huge crowd, sitting on the side of a mountain.
He covers A LOT of territory in this “Sermon on the Mount” as we have named it. (Matthew 5-7)
But again, it wasn’t what He said.
It was what He didn’t say.

He starts off the section that grabbed me by talking about money and the heart.
The whole sermon is about the heart.
But in this particular section He is teaching about money.
He starts by cautioning against idolatry.
He says, “You can’t serve God and money. You must pick. One of them gets your full attention. The other one is a loser. You choose.”

He then goes on to address the automatic response of every idolater – our justification of why it is NOT idolatry at all.
We don’t have to say it – He knows our hearts. He knows we are thinking:
“Oh, Lord, I’m not serving money. I just NEED it to do everyday life! After all, I have eat and I need clothes. So no, it’s not an idol, Jesus. It is just very, very important. After all, I have to pay my bills and look after me, right? That’s called being responsible, right?”

But I love what Jesus does next.
He puts the responsibility squarely on GOD’S shoulders.
Sure – money is a tool.
And yes, it needs to be stewarded well.
But I am not my provider.
I am not my source.
And I am not even my own resource.

Jesus addresses this smokescreen that we all love to use.
“If I don’t look out for me, who will?”
“I have to be a good steward so I have to worry about these things.”
“God helps those who help themselves!”

Paraphrasing here, He says, “Look, folks, at how God provides for things that don’t last, things that aren’t eternal. He makes sure the birds eat and the flowers are glorious – and they are extremely temporary things! But you – YOU are eternal. Made in the image of God. His kid. He is your DAD. If your Dad takes care of the inconsequential things so well, how much more is He going to provide for you, His beloved child?”

And then He gives the formula for success, the way to deal with ALL idols, including money:
“Make God’s priorities your priorities and He will take care of the rest.”

Put everything in life through the filter of the Kingdom.

Does this promote the Kingdom of Heaven or the kingdom of me?
Does this action (reaction, response, post, photograph, outfit, words, media choice, work ethic, relationship, career, e-mail, tone of voice, body language, etc.) promote God or promote me?
Do I care about the things God cares about?
Do I even know what He cares about or thinks about an issue?
Do I value His Word over anyone else’s?
Do I turn to Him in a crisis?
Or, better yet, do I turn to Him FIRST in a crisis? Or He is an add-on in my life? “Oh, this is a bad one! I better pray about it.”

If I am using that filter, the lens of Kingdom glasses to view every part of my world, then I am seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness.

And no, not in a legalistic way.
Of course, I mess up.
Of course, I put myself first at times.
Of course, I blow it.

But even that can be dealt with in a Kingdom-seeking way or a self-seeking way.
When I mess up, what do I do then?
Do I keep short accounts with God?
Am I sensitive to His prompting?
Do I humbly bow or loudly protest when the Spirit nudges me?

Because here’s the thing:
If I am really seeking first His Kingdom, looking at all of life through the lens of Kingdom glasses, I don’t have the time or energy to worry about the other stuff.

And that is good.
Because I love what He did NOT say.

He did not say, “Seek first the Kingdom. And then make a plan. Figure it out. Solve the problem. You got this!”

He did not say, “Seek first the Kingdom. But then be sure to name and claim what you want so I can act.”

He did not say, “Seek first the Kingdom. But then pace the floor, wondering how I will provide.”

He did not say, “Seek first the Kingdom and if I find that you meet qualifications, I will consider supplying your needs.”

He simply said, “Seek first the Kingdom. And then don’t worry. I’ve got this. Your life is hard enough without you trying to do my job.”

I know really, really well that all of this is easier said than done.
It is a battle.
But the battle is not to supply my own needs. Because I can’t.

The battle is to keep those Kingdom glasses firmly planted on my face.
The enemy wants my focus to be on everything else.
He wants me to say God is my provider but then act like I am.
He wants me to not pray but to worry instead.
He wants me to put my needs ahead of yours so that neither of us are blessed.

But “greater is He that is in me than he who is in the world.”
By His grace, those glasses can stay firmly planted.
By His grace, I can look at His face instead of the wind and waves.
By His grace, I can remember His character even when I cannot see His hand at work.
By His grace, I can let go of worry and relax under His care.

By His grace, I can “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness”, knowing for sure that “all these things will be added unto me”.

I Love It Here. I Hate It Here.

 

I love it here.
Because there is a lot to love.
Beautiful scenery.
Fabulous people.
Meaningful work.
I never want to leave.

I hate it here.
There is injustice that runs rampant.
I struggle with communication.
There are people who pluck my last nerve.
And the amount of work to do is completely overwhelming.
I am ready to go home.

Do you think I am talking about Guatemala?
That would make sense.
I am literally living with a foot in two worlds, here and the U.S.
I have people I love in both places.
Obligations in both places.
Joys in both.
And frustrations in both.

But I’m not talking about Guatemala and the U.S.
I mean this world and the one to come.
This earthly life, which C.S. Lewis called “the title page”, and the one to come, the rest of the never-ending story of eternity with God.

I love it here. I love my life.
God has created amazing beauty and intricate details that delight my eyes and my soul.
He has given me people to be “my people”, to love and be loved.
And He has endowed me – and all Christ-followers – with the most meaningful work of all: being mirrors of His reflected glory for a world living in darkness.

But I also hate it here.
I hate sin.
And I hate its results.
Sickness. Death.
Disagreements.
Disappointments.
Bad communication.
Or no communication at all.
Injustice.
Darkness.
Hatred.
Wickedness.
And the list goes on.

This, my friends, is what is known as living between “the now and the not-yet”.
And it is a wonderfully terrible place to be.
Longing for home.
And yet enjoying the good things God has given us here.

Crying out for His justice to reign.
And yet reveling in the personal mercies He lavishes on us daily.

Doing our best to get the job done.
To love God. Love people. And tell them He loves them.
In spite of ourselves and the fact that He left the task with sinners like us.

Living overseas will always highlight this Truth in my life, this sense of living in between two worlds.
Having friends and loved ones scattered across the globe also makes it so real.
I live with my heart in many worlds, tied to many people. There are chunks of my heart, some large and some small, in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Japan, The U.S., Guatemala, Cambodia, Suriname and Germany.

And living with a heart broken in pieces is a tension, a heartache, a never-ending tug.
But it is worth it because it reminds me of the other, more real, more eternal tug that I need to feel every day.
I need to be reminded each day that this world is not my home.
I have not arrived.
I am living between the now and the not-yet.

It is easy to forget that.
To let all that my five senses take in define the words “world” and “real” and “important” instead of letting those words be defined by God.
To let the clocks and timelines of this life feel like all there is.

But this is not real life.
This is not the most important stuff.
I am not made for this world.
I am made for the next.

When I forget that fact, I lose all sense of urgency.
I forget that the people around me NEED me to tell them about the love of Jesus so that they can be with us in eternity.
I forget that all I invest, whether it is time, treasure, or talent, needs to be invested in those things that are eternal, not temporal.
And most of all, I forget to love as He loves.
I forget all that, lose all that, every time I forget that in this life, regardless of my earthly geography, I am a foreigner in a strange land, just passing through.

My time in Guatemala is short in the grand scheme of things.
And my time on this earth is even shorter in light of eternity.
So, what will I do?
Will I live in the tension, remembering to live in the reality of the now and the not-yet?
Or will I let busyness and fun and important tasks and to-do lists cause spiritual amnesia to creep in, causing me to forget all that is important, all that is real, all that is urgent?

It is a day-by-day decision.
I have made the right one most of the day today.
Prayerfully, I will make the right one for even longer tomorrow.
And the day after that.
And so on.

How about you?

When I Grow Up…

When I grow up, I want to believe without seeing. I want to live in joyful anticipation of what You will do, even when I have no idea of how You are going to work things out.

When I grow up, I want to immediately trust Your heart when hard things come instead of immediately praying to see Your hand change my circumstances.

When I grow up, I want to face each trial with an immediate, sincere and hearty, “Thank You!”, even if I have to do it through tears.

When I grow up, I want to see people as You see them FIRST, without You having to kick me in the pants to remind me of Your love for them. ALL of them.

When I grow up, I want to think before I speak every single time. Not just when I am well-rested and stress-free – but in every circumstance, with every word.

When I grow up, I want my default response to everything that comes my way to be a song of praise.

When I grow up, I want to only care about what You think about anything – from what I am doing to what I am wearing to what I am eating to what I am thinking. ALL of it.

When I grow up, I want stress to drive me to Your arms, not to the bag of cookies.

When I grow up, I want to sparkle with reflected glory because I am a consistently shiny mirror of Who You are.

When I grow up, I want to leave the future in Your hands, remembering always that I have NO control but can trust the One Who always does.

And when I am ALL grown up, I want to hear You say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share in Your Father’s happiness.”

When I am ALL grown up, I will thank the heroes who have gone before, the ones who helped me to grow. King David and Amy Carmichael, Dwight L. Moody and Queen Esther, Peter the Apostle and Dr. Tony Evans – and so many more.

When I am ALL grown up, I will be done wrestling with “the good I want to do but do not do” and will instead rest in Your arms.

When I’m grown up…

Cozy vs. Costly

I find myself at war with myself.
Two desires, locked in mortal combat most of the time.
I want to be comfortable.
And I want to grow.

Those two things are usually mutually exclusive.

The seed has to die before it can sprout.
I need to lay down my life in order to live.
I need to put YOUR agenda ahead of my own in order to really be fulfilled.
I need to love Your people and put their needs ahead of my own in order to really love You.

I don’t like trials.
Or discomfort.
Or being stretched.
I don’t like being corrected.
Or having steep learning curves.
I don’t like feeling foolish.
Taking risks.

It is so much easier to stay in my coziness.
My comfort zone.
My familiar space.

And even here, even now, living cross-culturally in the midst of so many unknowns, I can quickly carve out a familiar, safe, cozy space in my heart.
A comfort zone.
And I can totally stay tucked up in it.
Not risking.
And not growing.

But that is not living
That is not real LIFE.
Not the abundant life You promised.

Because doing that allows me to fully rely on ME.
When I am fully comfortable and fully able, I don’t need You.
When I take no risks, I need no protection.
When I can supply all the things, I need no provider.
When I turn away from the fight, I need no armor.
When I rely on my own strength, I need no supernatural power.
When I walk only in the familiar, I need no Good Shepherd to guide me.
When I hunker down and focus on me, I need no supernatural vision.
When I love only me, I need no healer, no wisdom, no comforter and none of Your love to flow through me.

When I make Comfortable my goal, I am my own god.
When I make Happiness my criteria, I am the center of the world.
When I make Protection my ultimate desire, I miss out on ALL the adventure of following You.

Because You are not about my Safety.
Or my Pleasure.
You are not about my Comfort.
Or my Feelings.

You are all about my heart.
My character.
My growth.
And mostly, You are about me being a reflection of You to a lost and dying world.

You are about me shining, not with my own light but with Your light, the Light of the World.
You are about me showing the world the evidence of Who You are – because what is happening in my life is not possible without You.
You are about taking a cracked vessel and shining through it.
You are about my weakness showing Your strength.
You are about showing hope to the world because they see You – Living Hope – in me.

None of that is comfortable.
None of that is about You making me happy.
None of that is about my pleasure.

But ALL of that is the way to true joy.
The excitement of seeing You at work.
The knowledge that You can take my feeble efforts and multiply them.
The soul-deep understanding that Your love is ALL I need to see me through.
That my circumstances will ebb and flow.
That sometimes I will be comfortable – and often I will not be.

But that You are always, always with me.
Comfortable or terrified.
Safe or at risk.
Happy or sad.
Feeling good or feeling bad.
Relaxed or stretched taut.

You are always there.
And you are always calling me deeper.
Always asking me to be a seeker of Your heart.
Always ready to take me on the next adventure.
With the reward of Your smile.
The warmth of Your “Well done.”
The knowledge that You are exalted.
And the blessing of seeing Your Kingdom advance in my corner of the world.

You will still love me even if I decide to snuggle down into my comfort zone.
That is never the issue.
Your love never changes. And is never dependent on my choices.

But I will miss out every time I choose cozy over costly.
When I value the blessings over the Bless-er.
When I seek Your hand instead of Your heart.
And when I choose relaxing rather than risking obedience.

So do what You want, Abba.
Your ways are best.
I don’t want to miss the miracles You have planned because of my fear.
I don’t want to lose out on the chance to walk on water because I am standing in my way.
I don’t want forego being a part of Your Kingdom advancing because I don’t actually trust You to know what You are doing.

So have Your way.
However. Whenever. Wherever. Whoever. Whatever.
Have Your way.
A new day.
A new adventure in following You!

Josiah: Lessons From The Classroom Down The Hall

His name is Josiah.
He is a bright little boy with a charismatic smile and a charming personality.
Academically, he is solid.
But, frankly, the boy is an airhead when it comes to the practicalities of life.
I joke that this dark-haired, dark-eyed 8-year old is the “blondest” kid in my class.
His situational awareness usually leaves a lot to be desired.

But not this past week.
We were in the middle of reading group when he interrupted me.
“Ms. Purves, Mrs. Goshinmon is calling for the 3rd graders.”
When I stopped to listen, sure enough, he was right.
From down the hall, Mrs. Goshinmon, our elementary coordinator, was calling that it was time for the 3rd graders to head to Spanish class. (Josiah is not the only airhead in this story. Sigh. I am both naturally and chemically blonde…)

So this kiddo who normally has a hard time navigating oral instructions and is often “lost” was the one who heard her voice from far away and called my attention to it.

Do you know why?

Because Mrs. Goshinmon is not only the coordinator for his elementary school.
She is also his Grandmother.
And he knows her voice.
Loves her voice.
And is attuned to it in a way that I am not.

And this whole situation made me think about Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
He said about himself that, “he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out [to pasture]. When he has brought all his own sheep outside, he walks on ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice and recognize his call.”
He went on to say, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know [without any doubt those who are] My own and My own know Me [and have a deep, personal relationship with Me].” (John 10)

Josiah heard his Grandmother’s voice long before I did.
And, not only did he hear it, he knew that he needed to respond. That I needed to respond.
So he took the risk of interrupting the class to tell me to take heed of the one calling out for us.

I need to be in tune with the Good Shepherd in the same way that Josiah is in tune with his Grandmother’s voice.
Because we both have the same reason to listen.
Josiah heard his Grandmother because he loves her.
He knows her.
Knows that she has his best interest at heart.
And that her voice is one to be heeded.
Not just because not listening may bring consequences – but because she has proven her love for him over and over again.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has proven time and time again that He is worth heeding.
He loved me enough to die for me long before I was born.
He cared enough to call me to Himself from a very young age.
He has walked with me through every storm, in every sunny place, and even in the darkest valleys.
He gives me the strength I need for every moment of every day.
Why would I not listen to Him?

But here’s the thing – Josiah knows his Grandmother’s voice so well because he spends time with her. They have an ongoing relationship, not just a passing acquaintance.

And we need to have the same with the Good Shepherd.
So often Christ-followers know Him in a passing way.
But He longs for intimate fellowship with you.
He longs for you to know His voice.
To hear it and obey it.
Not for His sake – but for yours.

He longs to spend time with you.
He longs to hear you speaking to Him about everything.
And He longs to speak back to you through His Word, through the voices of His servants, through praise music and even in the stillness.

But you have to take the time to listen.
You have to make the time to quiet your heart before Him.
To get to know HIS voice.
And to hear it above the wind of your circumstances, in spite of the lies the enemy whispers and through the clutter of culture.
That takes time.
Commitment.
Relationship-building.
And sacrifice.

But it is so worth it!
To be so attuned to His voice that you can hear it down the hall, around the corner, and over the voice of everything else happening around you – that is priceless.
Because what is on the line is bigger than being late for Spanish class.
He longs to be an “ever present help in time of need.” For you to “come boldly to the throne of grace.” For you to “ask whatever you will” and for him to give you “peace beyond your understanding.” He has “resurrection power” ready to dispense and the “words of life” to fill you. He is “living water” and the “bread from heaven.” He is “light for your path” and the “strong tower” for you to run to for safety.

But it is up to you.
He is calling.
He longs to be your Good Shepherd and “daily carry you in His arms”.

But are you listening?
Do you know HIS voice?
Be still today in His presence.
He’d love for you to know it – and Him – much better.

May we all be like Josiah with his Grandmother. In tune. Attuned. Listening to the voice of the One who knows us best and loves us anyway.