Heard That.

“I don’t feel like you’re honoring my voice right now.”

It was directed at me from a 13-year-old. He felt like I wasn’t listening.

3 minutes before the bell was going to ring and I was sending them into Christmas break.

His words hit me, stung me, and ran through me all at once. I even found heartbreak and humor in his sentiment.

The humor coming from the reality that again, the bell was about the ring. The heartbreak that he felt like I was not listening to him. And the small joy that in return, he had been listening to me.

“We honor voice, ” I state.

“Your voice matters.”

“Peeps, if we are not going to honor each other’s voices and listen then why are we doing this?”

“Let’s remember to listen, wait, think, and then respond.”

I say it over and over like a worn out and somehow renewed mantra.

Listen. Wait. Think. Respond.

As an adult having conversations, I usually only do one well. Respond.

Ughhhh. #Fail.

Even in my teaching when I tell kids to listen, I’m waiting for my chance to respond. News Flash, J-Tinz. That’s not actually listening.

Enter our cafe conversations.

IMG_9485.JPGConversation-starting questions and stats such as,

“More people own a cell phone than a toothbrush.”

“Would life be better if we were all the same?”

“Has social media made us more or less social?”

Where they sit at the table and solve all the world’s problems.

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These kids make the United Nations leaders look like fools.

It all starts with listening.

We are in a world where people say, your voice matters as long as your voice sounds like mine. If you look like me, talk like me, believe exactly what I believe then I honor your voice. If not, then it doesn’t matter. I’m choosing to disregard it.

Regardless of your political stance, generation, race, background–we’ve all seen this and most likely, we are all more than a little guilty of it.

We have so much noise in our world and offer everyone little voice. We give them a slice of a voice. Or worse, no voice at all.

And then I say, “I hear you,” while speaking over you. And I’m sorry. Working on it with you.

Maybe together we can,

Listen.

Wait.

Think. 

(and then) Respond. 

Sunday Night Dinners.

Watching the onion sauteed with oil and garlic, prepped to add the sauce and seasoning. I tell the friends I’m making dinner for that “cooking Italian food makes me feel like I’m cooking with my ancestors.”

I’m only thinking of one. Nonna.

Sunday nights were especially sacred when Nonna was still with us. She made them that way.

The table set for 15. The tablecloths for special occasions only and the fancy dinnerware.

In the kitchen, Nonna would be cooking until the last minute. Stirring sauce with meatballs, adding time on the oven for the roast, mixing the salad, and laying out the bread. Enough food to feed a small army, we would always say. Often when I picture her, it’s working hard in the kitchen.

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Additionally, she had the most beautiful penmanship.

She taught my sister and me how to mix the meatballs, adding in the milk. “What?! You add milk?” We would ask, confused and amazed. She smiled. She walked us patiently through each step.

She hosted sleepovers with our cousin, Daniella and every time we made homemade pizza with fresh dough. The best.

We made biscottis, lasagna, gnocchi, pasta, Caprese salad, Italian wedding soup, and sauce. I learned it all from her first.

To create a garden you’re proud of.

To use your hands to knead out the difficult parts.

To make your life and work hard for it.

To fashion a lasting bond simply out of oil.

To delight in it all. She delighted in us, her family.

As I stir the sauce, I wish she were next to me. Stirring it too, reminding me what to add in. To see her beautiful, olive hands press, pour, and persist alongside me.

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Nonna was an angel to us all. We all knew it and believed it. She was strong and fierce when she needed to be, but mostly she was soft and pure. I think we all believe to our core she could do no wrong. Her life was a sacrifice of time, energy, and endless love. An outpouring of so much more than food despite that being her way of often showing the love. I can’t think of anyone besides my own mother who comes close.

For awhile after she passed, I think it was hard to get back into the kitchen and find joy like I used it. She would be happy to see me here and feeding friends & family alike.

Thank you, Nonna. For your recipes, your advice, your unending amount of grace while we learned, and sacrificial love in the kitchen & out.

Never doubt the impact you make in your life. Even if it’s while you’re cooking for your people. Especially while you’re cooking for your people. I know our Nonna made a lasting one on ours.

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Ti amo, Nonna.

 

 

Why?

The best question to be asked about your job is,

“Why?”

“Why do you get up every day and do what you do?”

If I was sitting with you over coffee, I would ask you the same question. What is your, “why”? Is it your goals, your spouse, your kids, your dreams, actual love of your job?

For most everything we do, there is purpose and intention behind it. The way we organize our closets, our morning routines, our daily commutes. It all has a purpose behind it. So the same is true of our jobs and careers.

Watching the faces of my friends and family react when I say I teach 8th grade in a school with unique challenges is always fun for me. Even funnier when I actually share some of the stories.

Then when they reply, “Why 8th grade?”

I picture my, “why”, all 126 of them. Their smiles, questions, high fives, goofy remarks, or even the disrespectful ones all come to my mind. All the middle school things.

Honestly, there are days I forget why I do what I do, and the motivation to get out of my warm bed to hang out with fourteen-year-olds completely disappears. I don’t want to drive 45 minutes to deal with hormones and attitudes. Shocking, I know.

On Tuesday, I received these notes of them reminding me. I remember why I do what I do on the days I don’t want to do it.

 

“Thank you for listening to me.”

“PS-Thanks for making school interesting.”

“Not everyone likes history but you find a way for all to enjoy your class.”

“You inspire me as a Mexican female to let my voice be heard.” *cue the tears on this one*

And simply, “Thank you.”

On this Thanksgiving, here is what I want to say to you, 8th graders:

Thank you for challenging me every day. To think about the world through your eyes, and with your stories. To encourage me to stop, listen, wait, and then respond. To pause whatever meaningless task I’m doing to hear you out. Thank you for speaking your truth even if it is completely opposite of what your peer just said. Thank you for trusting me with your lives, and your vulnerability. For showing me every day how to be a better person and for making me laugh, hard. You all are far from perfect, you know you challenge me in many more ways than just making me a better person. But I love you still, and no I don’t think I will ever stop letting you know. You’re some of my all-time heroes. Thank you.

I’m so thankful on this Thanksgiving for them. My, “why”.

What’s your reason, “why’? Why you get up early and go to work. Or get up early and go to school. Or get up really, really early and parent. Why you just get up and do the darn thing.

Some of you, (especially those in the medical fields) do jobs I cannot imagine ever doing in my life, and yet there is a reason why. What beautiful things would your people have to say about you? What would they thank you for? I hope one day I get to hear yours. Your “why” and the receiving end of that. Why you’re the person and friend that you are. Why you care for the world around you. Why you fight the good fight every single day.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear reader, to you and all of your reasons why.

I actually really like lemons.

It’s true-I do.

You can use them for cooking or slice them up & throw them in some water. So versatile, those lemons.

I saw this sign while out and about, and it got me thinking about lemons and lemonade.

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#hipster

How sometimes the lemon can truly be sweet, and in my opinion, the lemonade is occasionally bitter. Or how in life, we think we want all the sweet but that is actually a pretty bitter way to live.

 

All sweet produces not only cavities or stomach aches but in life, entitlement or arrogance. Without the bitter, how do we savor the sweet? I believe to my very core that we need both.

There are some lovely books on this topic by truly talented authors. One is “Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet,” by Sara Hagerty and the other is “Bittersweet,” by Shauna Niequest. (Both linked below.)

You want to know what’s a scary prayer, “Lord, Your will be done.” Because we are out of control. We have zero control over God’s will and what He is going to do. When I think about the times in my life I have yielded to God’s will, He has done beautiful, sweet, praiseworthy things in my life. He has also allowed for some of the most difficult things in my life. I’m sure the same could be said for you.

Asking the Lord to do His will when my Nonna was sick with cancer, when I didn’t get the job I wanted, when I faced true rejection in relationships. Asking Him to do His will when I went to college, moved back to Columbus, starting to work at a middle school, and forming a new community. The bitter and the sweet.

The sovereignty of God is that He is consistently good and never ceases in being good. His way is always better than ours.

It’s not easy to remember that when the bad feels too bitter to bear. Loneliness, anxiety, unanswered prayers, waiting, and inevitable grief.

& then I am reminded again. The sweet is always sweeter after the bitter. The sunrise is always more beautiful after a few dark days.

I love the show, “This Is Us” for many reasons, probably enough reasons for another blog post, but this clip talks about the bitter and sweet of life. (Specifically around 3:20).

What bitter things are in your life right now, where God and you are taking them to slightly resemble lemonade? Is it work related? Family related? Friends? Significant other related? Or maybe all of the above related?

I don’t know about you, but for me sometimes it’s all of the above. The bitter sting of singleness, of “will I get to be a mom?”, of disappointments and dreams not yet achieved. Sometimes it’s being bitter with myself and that the person I want to be around least in the day is me. I can only fill in the blanks of your own bitter, and the pains in your life that no matter how hard you try to make them sweet-they just aren’t.

No amount of “everything happens for a reason” can settle that kind of hurt in your life.

This is the part where words fall short. Where I can’t spin this into crap and call it comfort. Because we all know life can be overwhelmingly bitter, and honestly just sour.

What I can encourage you in only, is keep seeking the good. Keep looking for the glimpses of it. Dig through the dirt as long as it takes to find a little gold. It’s not ignoring the bad and pretending it’s all good–no, it’s seeking the good amidst the bad. God always brings redemption into a story somehow.

Maybe after all, the lemons can begin to taste oh-so sweet.

 

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequest 

Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet by Sara Hagerty

I’m fluent in Spanglish.

Have you ever seen the movie, “Spanglish”?

It’s currently on Netflix and if you have not seen it, I highly recommend it.

The movie is about a girl applying to college and she writes an essay to Princeton about her mom, whom she considers being the most influential person she knows. The story follows her mom, a woman who doesn’t know English figuring out living in America with her young daughter on top of working for a wealthy, white family. The Clasky’s.

The movie is funny, heart-wrenching, intuitive, and truly endearing from start to finish.

There’s a parallel and battle of two worlds.

Rich and poor.

Slender fit and curvy strong.

American and Mexican.

Sure those differences are evident. But it goes even deeper. Much, much deeper.

The differences of two daughters in the movie and the mothers who are raising them. On one hand, you have the American woman (Deborah Clasky, played by Tea Leoni) who belittles her daughter, excludes her, chastises, and disconnects from her. And then you have the Mexican woman (Flor Moreno, played by Paz Vega) who empowers her daughter, uplifts her, fights for her, and passionately protects her.

There are so many parts of the movie that are difficult to watch and times you want to scream, mostly at the American woman! Like, girlfriend is cray cray. Lol. There are also times that Flor is in the wrong, too. Neither is perfect and both are trying to do what they feel is right for themselves and their families. Both Deborah and Flor deeply love their people.

However, Flor is the one I walk away from the film consistently wanting to be more like.

And guess what?  She doesn’t speak English. She is a single mother. She barely has enough money to make rent.

Want to know what else this incredible movie character is?

She is an illegal immigrant.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but illegal immigrants have been mentioned on the news one or maybe two times in the last few months. In response, we as a nation have a lot of words on the subject. We all have those friends on Facebook with nasty responses who say things like, “What about those of us paying taxes, don’t we matter?” Well yes, thank you for your taxes, but please also thank the countless undocumented workers who pay billions in taxes each year. And do not even get me started on those who think it’s okay to separate children from their parents at the border. Or do get me started, at your own risk.

I am not here to categorize any people group. I’m not even here to say that every single person coming to America is a good person, that would clearly be naive.

What I hope you hear is that this fictional story of a woman named Flor is much like the many Mexicans dreaming of a better life here in the states.

How many Mexican mamas simply want the best for their babies? How many are finding decent schools for their children to go to? How many are trying to flee domestic violence? How many want to make an honest living, and do everything the right or best way possible?

And yet how many of them live in deep fear? How many worry night after night about staying or going? They see the news too and are terrified. Just listen to our Hispanic friends as they say, “My family and I always have it in our minds that if we leave the house, they’ll grab us again.”-(Eric Ramirez from Guatemala)

So if you have not yet seen this movie, please watch it. Watch it for the laughs, the tears, the sweetness of it, and the message. For the entangling of culture & language. Of the strength, compassion, integrity, fire, and love of one Mexican woman, mother/daughter bonds and be encouraged.  Let us be the ones who seek to fight for this kind of woman and her babies.

To learn the language.

To share in meals.

To educate them.

To assist them.

To protect them.

To equip them.

To welcome them.

 

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-The New Colossus, Statue of Liberty poem, English.

 

“Dadme tus cansados, tus pobres,
Tus masas amontonadas gimiendo por respirar libres,
Los despreciados de tus congestionadas costas.
Enviadme a estos, los desposeidos, basura de la tempestad.
Levanto mi lámpara al lado de la puerta dorada!”
-The New Colossus, Spanish.

 

Seriously Funny.

The world has been pretty dang serious as of late.

We know this. We are aware that things are not good in the world, and no it’s not because it’s 2018. It’s not a date on the calendar’s fault, it’s humanity’s fault.

And it’s not the first time in history that this is the case.  Believe me, I’m a history teacher.

However, we are in an age of being hyper-aware. Information and news are constantly at our fingertips. Even as an event is taking place, we have footage of the incident.

Before I can tell my students about something that occurred they blurt out, “Miss Stewart did you hear about what Kanye West said? Did you hear about North Korea and South Korea?” (Little unknown fact: 8th graders talk A LOT about North Korea.)

And shortly after 17 students lost their lives in Parkland, FL, my own students watched horrible, traumatic videos filmed by survivors. Videos that even contained footage of those shot lying on the floor.

Deafening shots. Violent screams. Family members and friends are gone.

For so many days after, I could only talk to my students about the events.  I couldn’t begin to process with adults. All I wanted to do was sit with my students, cry with them, encourage them, and try to promise them that we will seek towards a better world. That we love them, and we will protect them.

With all this, I’ve come to see we need two things: a big hug & a good laugh.

Why aren’t we laughing more? Why is life so serious all. the. time.

Certainly, at times, it needs to be. We have to be serious and have those tough conversations. We need to discuss school shootings, gun policies, immigration, racism, women’s rights, the environment, and so on. Of course. Those conversations are so unbelievably important.

But doesn’t life also need to be funny at times? Don’t we need laughter? Now more than ever we need good humor as much as we need air.

8th graders are seriously funny. They can be leaders of political justice one minute and make a joke about certain bodily functions the next. Oh, the joys.

Yes, I cried in front of my students when they have asked me what I would do if someone came into our classroom with the intention of hurting them. And also yes, we have laughed. Every day. Every class period, we have laughed at one point or another.

 

 

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What in life can’t be fixed without laughter + some ice cream?!

 

Like with the kid who says he often massages his grandmother’s cankles.

 

Or the boy who loves going over the starters each day and pretending he’s the teacher.

When my co-teacher starts singing Celine Dion. 

Ya know, all the best of life. We need this. We need the funny and the serious. We need tears in our eyes and bending over in laughter. We need the current event stories and the ridiculous Snapchat filters.il_340x270.1032200476_fcv4

We need to seek goodness and create goodness. Let’s take a note from middle schoolers, and start being funny.

Seriously.

 

 

 

 

To Cultivate.

Cultivate.

 

cul.ti.vate. (verb)   

1. prepare and use (land) for gardening.           

2. try to acquire or develop (quality, sentiment, or skill)

 

This word has come up a couple of times lately.

Cultivating contentment. Cultivating patience. Cultivating kindness.

I want to focus more on the development of a quality over practical gardening tips. If you’ve seen anything I have planted, you would understand why.

My best friend Holly gave me a sign that says, “Cultivate kindness,” with the verse Proverbs 3:3. An encouragement to be kind and help develop kindness in others.

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It’s not difficult to be a nice person. To smile at folks and ask them about their day. It’s much more difficult to have a heart of empathy and kindness. A heart that is tender to all people, regardless of how they act or how they treat you.

I love the show The Bachelor. It’s free of drama, and full of women looking out for other women. Super empowering stuff.

Well, we all know for a fact that’s not true, but this week’s episode has been receiving major attention because on (cue Chris Harrison’s voice) the most dramatic episode of The Bachelor yet, one woman put a stop to all the madness.

She decided to choose kindness over cruelty. Empathy over criticism.

And people loved it.

The most difficult woman of this current season has been a gal named Krystal and she has a tough background story, to say the least. She is clearly a woman who has experienced deep pain.

Then, there’s Kendall, who to be fair is quirky and at times a little strange. When faced with what could be an incredibly confrontational moment after Krystal was talking smack about her, Kendall turned it into something else entirely.

She said this:Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 7.39.04 PM.png

Full article here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/jenniferabidor/people-are-calling-this-the-most-empowering-moment-in?utm_term=.asbzbBMya#.euwAkWO8V

This is what happens when kindness is cultivated. When women empower and lift each other up instead of tearing one another down.

There’s so much I would like to see cultivated in myself. Kindness, patience, humility, intentionality, contentment, grace, and on and on.

However, this gives me hope for the future of not just reality TV but where we are going as humans. When faced with adversity, we move forward. We use it as an opportunity to grow, to ask the tough questions, to say, ‘you have been unbelievably hurtful to me. I don’t completely understand where you’re coming from, but I do care about you.” Sooo difficult to do. So necessary to do.

I’m challenging us all this weekend to be more like Kendall from The Bachelor (lol, yeah I just wrote that down) and ultimately more like Proverbs 3:3, which reads, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”

Maybe it is a little like gardening. This work of cultivating.

May we plant a seed of hope for a kinder future. 

May we anchor our roots in our faith.

 May we be nourished by the richness of God’s Word.   

May we keep ourselves looking up to the Son, the Son of God.

& May we grow in truth and love with each passing day.            

 

May we be the cultivators of change. May we be the cultivators of kindness.

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“This week sucked.”

I said that not once, not twice, but one million times this past week.

It’s really hard to be honest with people and tell them you had a crappy week when you really just want to say, “It’s all good in the hood!”

I would rather half smile and mutter something about being fine.

Even on these blog posts, I would like to share the humor and insight and not about the days where middle schoolers make me want to pull my hair out. Strand by strand.

I would rather tell you the funny story about the student in my 4th-period class over alllll the ones that make me sound like world’s worst teacher.

I would rather tell you the good things I ate this week over the chocolate binge that occurred most days last week.

I would rather tell you about ridiculous dating stories over the countless times I’ve felt rejected or ignored.

 

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Or I would rather post a cuter selfie like this. #Expectation

 

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Versus the one that looks like this. #Reality

 

Vulnerability is hard for me. Vulnerability is hard for our society.

 

The fear of saying for example,

“My life is nowhere near perfect.”

“My anxiety is crippling.”

“I am not sure how I will pay my bills this month.”

“This great guy I really liked suddenly decided he didn’t want to talk to me anymore.”

What would I be met with if I faced these things head on? If I put on my big girl pants and had the hard conversations with loved friends.

Because how many times have the words, “Me too.”, changed your life?

There was a whole #MeToo movement that changed the lives of millions of women. The ones who never knew they could speak out about that awful night or those horrific memories.

I have to be honest with people in my life, just like I have to have caffeine in the morning.

There are probably many things in your life that are making your week feel less than hunky dory and I would say, let’s not sit in it but let’s press into it. To be able to admit we are worn down, to be able to break into the candy drawer without judgment, to be able to cry to our co-worker + friend.

And even me attempting to end this post right now, I want it to have a neat bow at the end where I encourage the five faithful readers in my life and remind you that you have the freedom to be authentically and powerfully yourself. That you can feel (insert negative emotion here) if you need to for a little while and sometimes even longer. In fact, there is a community of women, including me, who feel it with you and who are in it with you.

So the next time you tell me or a friend that your week simply sucked, you may be met with a,

“Mine too.”

 

 

BUNCO Beauties.

Last Thursday we had a fundraiser for Young Lives, a ministry dedicated to helping teen moms and their babies find community and hope. To see families changed for generations to come.

The fundraiser was a BUNCO night to raise money for a camp that would allow these young moms + babies to get away for a week and experience God in a new way.

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Now if you are anything like me, you might be sitting there thinking “What in the world is bunco?!”

Bunco, is a good time. That’s what bunco is.

Essentially the game is played with three dice, two sets of partners, and some paper. Easy peasy. During each set, you have to roll specific numbers and if you do roll that number, you keep going. Through the set, you keep points on your scorecard. While I felt as though I lacked skill during the game, it’s truly a game of probability and luck.

However, these women rolled up their sleeves and let the trash talk begin. I’m looking at you, Ethyl. You know what you did.

I mean Ethyl wasn’t really there, but the fierce competition was.

Along with the sassy, was the sweets. Mexican wedding cookies, brownies, and even a hot chocolate bar. (Our cuisine committee is no joke!)

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The sweetest being the cause bringing us all there. Sixty women in one space all in the anticipation of young lives being changed. The teen moms, their precious littles, and their families changed forever. That is the absolute most beautiful thing. The laughter as we took in the fellowship. The tears wiped away as others realized the weight of the mission.

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The women in my community graciously give their time and money to be apart of the redemptive stories happening in other young women’s lives right now. It simply amazes me.

I could go on and on about the night and the amazing, silly, courageous women who I saw with all night. But instead, let me say this-there are teen moms out there who are desperate and ready for nights like these. Nights where we commune, eat, laugh, and love.  They are at the end of their ropes to get diapers and formula, anxiously searching for joy and rest.

And I think about the young mom I sat with at dinner last night who said she is making big changes for her family, present and future because she has seen the glimpses of support, community, and hope for a different life.

Then, for the woman who spoke into my soul as she left the fundraiser and said, “You know, I too was a teen mom.”

 

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So many beautiful hearts gathered for one purpose.

 

That is why we BUNCO. That is why we love teen moms.

 

Stay Lit.

They say the best cure for insecurity is hanging out with middle schoolers.

Well, actually they don’t say that.

And maybe last year I would have joined the crowd and said if you have self-esteem issues do not hang out with 13-year-olds for a living.

This year, I say do it. Your confidence will be held up to every test, and some days it will fail. Miserably.

Like when the 8th grader squints their eyes and goes, “What is on your face?” Did I forget to wash off the zit cream from last night? Dried drool from my retainers? (Gosh, I’m such a babe, you guys.) Oh no, that’s right I stabbed myself in the eye with my mascara wand. “It’s mascara!” I reply. Crisis averted.

Or “Woah, Miss Stewart you look nice today! Like really nice!” As opposed to other days? Do I normally show up here looking like I’ve been run over? Please don’t answer that.

If I let my confidence, esteem, or any kind of affirmation be based on middle schoolers opinions, it will always be fleeting. Now don’t get me wrong, they are truth tellers so if they say I’m looking good or my outfit is on point, then I am looking good. I don’t question it.

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Just out here slowly losing all my street cred. 

 

However, I can’t depend on it or hope for it.

When in history has trying to gain the approval of middle schoolers worked out for us? Did it work for you or I in middle school? Probably not. Definitely not for me. And yet here we are, as grown adults trying to gain the approval of other adults. We try to gain more Instagram followers, likes, comments, retweets, and so on. What in the world? What are we even doing right now?

We simply got older, we didn’t actually grow up. We have barely moved on from middle school.

We have to realize that affirmation can never be found from another person, it can only be found in God. That’s it.

Your self-worth has never been truly measured by what your spouse thinks of you, your kids, your mailman, your barista, and certainly not a middle schooler! Those little boogers change their opinions daily.

For example:

“Wow, that’s lit.”

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Two weeks later:

Anyone says “lit.”

“Did you really just say ‘lit?’. You’re corny.” 

So let’s stop being middle schoolers about it and see what awesome folks we are. Let’s see the people we are as God sees us. The most authentic, most beautiful versions of ourselves.

The Bible says in Ephesians 4:14, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”

When we’re trying to stay up with trends or hottest styles, we are worse than middle schoolers-we are like infants! (You know how those babies love their trends. #BabyFashionista). The point is, let’s have our affirmation come from Christ. Let’s have our beauty illuminate out of the place where we find that affirmation.

Because when we are not blown by the wind and the waves, not trying to keep up on social media, we become something else entirely.

Rooted. Established. Unwavering. 

 

And yes, most importantly when we find our affirmation in Christ we will truly be…lit.

Stay lit, friends.