Teenage Jesus

Boy

Have you ever wondered about the life of Jesus as a teenager? Who were his friends? Did Mary and Joseph worry if he stayed out after dark? Was he charismatic like a star quarterback, like everyone’s friend, the class favorite? Did he have awkward moments? Did he feel insecure? Was he bullied in the shadowy corners of the temple? Did a brute of a boy hassle him or a mean girl spread rumors? For what was he envied? Did he ever run home crying? Did he fight back before he learned how to turn the other cheek? Were the people who criticized his ministry some of the same people who, in youth, gave him a hard time in the neighborhood?

Through Jesus, God came to earth to know exactly what it is like to be us and to save us from ourselves. Let him be the hurt teenager you were, the wounded adult you became. Remember, “There was not one person who was reluctant to approach him for fear of being rejected.” Walk the bridge he built for you. Run into his arms.

Suggested reading: God Came Near by Max Lucado

How to get a Bully to Apologize

For

A few years after college, one of the meanest girls from high school apologized to me. Throughout school, she said sorry because adults asked her. Maybe she regretted her mistakes, but her apologies never took effect because she continued her actions. It wasn’t until now her words carried weight because she appeared to recognize the difference between mistakes and choices.

What else motivated her? Distance, timing and her life experiences played a factor. I also believe I made it easier for her to say sorry. When I surrendered my desire for apologies to God, he gifted me peace. I no longer reacted to my bullies, and I became approachable.

Now, as she requested my attention, I simply looked her in the eye, listened, and received whatever she expressed. She was straightforward. She didn’t use words like “but” or “if.” She took complete ownership of her actions and complimented my efforts to help other girls. She allowed me to accept or reject her apology. I accepted and apologized to her for my reactions. It was one of the best things to come from my being bullied. It was proof my forgiveness was real, my bullies could change, and I could think differently of them.

How do you get a bully to apologize? It isn’t easy for people to say sorry. Do you make it harder? Would you want to apologize to you? Accept the possibility that you may never receive an apology. Relinquish control to God. He will clear space in your heart and mind to walk in peace. You never know, your growth might make way for your bully to apologize one day too.

The Story of the Dome Light

door_knocker

Larry lived alone, two doors down from us in our complex. He was quiet but friendly. I didn’t know much about him other than he had elderly parents who visited occasionally and that he worked for a major car manufacturer. I could count on seeing him outside on a sunny day, detailing his sporty coupe. His car was his baby. So, I found it out of the ordinary when he kept leaving his dome light on over the course of a week. Concerned it would run down his battery, I knocked on his door to tell him, but he never answered.

A few days later, my husband and I were settling in for the evening when we heard a loud, indistinguishable noise. Next door, between us and Larry, lived an unruly teenager. “What is that kid doing now?” I asked. Something about that noise left me unsettled and inclined to keep looking out our windows. My husband thought I might be paranoid until he saw S.W.A.T. officers using his vehicle as a shield, cautiously approaching Larry’s door with their guns drawn. Larry had barricaded himself in his loft and supposedly had hostages. “No, not Larry,” I thought. “He wouldn’t hurt anyone.” But he had. The last time I ever saw him was the last time we would ever see Larry again.

To the day we moved, I couldn’t bear looking at his place. It had been renovated and rented quickly, but it was still upsetting to think I had stood on his doorstep just days before he ended his life, wanting to help but couldn’t. I believe that dim dome light was one of his final flares for help.

Are you sending subtle signals for help but still believe no one cares and no one notices? I can assure you Jesus is always in your corner. He’s in the neighbor two doors down. He’s in the co-worker you see five days a week. He’s in the pastor at the church you pass every day on your way home. And he’s with you in your most troubled moments. Jesus has already fought for your life and won, but when he knocks on the door of your heart, will you answer?

Chasing Rejection

uninvited

On my way home from a holiday cookout I helped host, my thoughts turn to rejection. I swear I’m passing more parties than usual. Home after home includes family and friends gathered around bonfires, pig roasts, and cornhole. The Amish (who, to my knowledge, don’t even observe our federal holiday) even had more company than I could round up. While I treasured time spent with the few who attended my party, overall turnout had been low. Fail (again). Nearly everyone had somewhere else to go and something else to do, which seemed to be the story of my life almost every time I extended an invitation.

For a few seconds, I tried to throw my resentment onto God. You just don’t want me to have friends, I thought for the bazillionth time. Then I tried to pass my rejection off onto the people at the parties. It’s because I don’t have kids. Kids motivate people to gather. They attract people to one another. And probably because I don’t drink beer. Half of those people probably don’t even like each other. They’re probably just bored in a small town.

Really Tami? said the Voice of reason.

Alright, then. No one ever shows because my only true friends have fur and whiskers.

You know that’s not it. 

Then I’m just off-putting. No one likes me enough to spend more than an hour with me. What is it?! I constantly rack my brain over it. If there’s something I can improve upon, I will. It’s probably my strength. People don’t like that. If only they would let me show them my vulnerability. Wait, I’ve shown my vulnerability. I reach out to a ton of people and express my heart.

No matter what I do, connection always seems just out of reach, and I end up perpetually hurt and rejected. Why did I always end up consumed by this thought, back in the same conversation in which I refused God’s help?

I know my worth is not determined by relationships or by throwing a well-attended party. My value is in the Lord. He loves me unconditionally. He will never fail me or abandon me (Hebrews 13:5). Only He can complete the pieces of me that the world leaves empty. I know these things. These truths seemed so near, but why had I ventured so far away from them by buying into the belief that I am destined for rejection? I knew good-and-well I was dipping my toe back into the same spiral, only hours after reading Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Uninvited. I learned so much from it, then–BAM–distraction through unrealistic comparisons about why people hadn’t attended my party but were going to everyone else’s parties.

That’s how the lie of rejection works in my life. It’s one of Satan’s tools to separate me from God’s truth. The lie seems small and harmless at first. I minimize it by telling myself, “I’m allowed to feel down. I have a reason.” It’s perfectly natural to feel this way, right? That’s what the world tells me. And if I believe it, I float off into a funk and neglect God’s Word, even when it’s smack dab in front of me. But I’m not meant to wallow in self-pity and victimization. Instead, I knew this was the exact opportunity I needed to demolish old thoughts and patterns.

“What we see will violate what we know unless what we know dictates what we see.”¹ 

Until last week, I prayed, “God, please lead me to the relationships in which you want me to engage. Show me the people I can help or bring to me those who need my help. Whether those people are complete strangers, people with whom I’m already associated, or even people from the past with whom you want me to reconnect.” Seemed like a fine little prayer on the surface. Sometimes I saw it answered, perhaps by a stranger who would become an acquaintance or when an old friend requested me on Facebook. But the answers were superficial and hardly satisfied my intimate desire to connect to others. So, earlier this week, as I sat down to edit my writing, the Holy Spirit enlightened me.

Ditch that prayer, I heard. Stop chasing your need for relationships. Be with me. I am enough.

I was stuck in my writing because my writing is my thinking. What holds our attention most is what we truly worship, and I was worshipping rejection. The realization was repulsive. At that moment, I rejected rejection. I surrendered my chase. I opened my depth, where resides my deepest need for belonging, and I felt God take my emptiness and fill it.

“Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)

Immediately, I turned my thoughts to His love and let His truth prevail as the loudest voice over my hurt. One more small but powerful piece of the past relinquished to the Almighty. Rejection is no longer my idol nor my battle.

Have you allowed rejection to steal the best of who you are by reinforcing the worst of what has been said to you?² Are you chasing a love that only God can provide? Surrender to the Lord. Be with Him. He is enough.

 


  1. TerKeurst, Lysa. Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016. p. 58.
  2. TerKeurst, Lysa. Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016. p. 8.

Look for the Good

Good

I used to view the world as one, big bully. People had rejected and failed me. Therefore, I believed people would continue to treat me this way. What I listened and looked for, I heard and saw–insults, bad news, rude drivers, and the friend who seemed to have time for everyone except me. Focusing on the negative inclined me to make statements like, “People suck,” “people are mean,” “people are idiots,” and “I don’t enjoy being around people.” When I didn’t feel loved and respected by others, it was easy to be hard on them. Because my conversations frequently included these kinds of generalizations and complaints, I only attracted more negativity, contaminated others, and built my beliefs opposite of what I desired. I could hardly stand to listen to myself, so I changed what I didn’t like.

Seeing good in people isn’t always easy. It may feel downright unnatural. We don’t have to deny that the world is messed up. We can, however, choose to think oppositely in order to achieve different results in our personal environments. It takes practice, but it can be accomplished. When we stop accepting our negativity, we free ourselves to demonstrate and verbalize grace toward others and start looking for “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). More often than not, goodness attracts goodness. It’s out there; I promise you because I look for it and live it. Now, I see more people pushing each others’ grocery carts back to the corral, more courteous drivers, more smiles and “hellos,” high-fives, hugs, and help. If I can’t seem to find the good I’m looking for, I create it myself. Looking for the good doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to crazy drivers, rude people, hate, or important issues. But believing people are hopeless never got me anywhere but discouraged, lonely, and limited. Believing in the good in people contributes to the change I wish to be and see in the world. It refocuses my vision on the power of the Lord and his ability to work through human beings to bring out the best in each other.

What is one negative thought, word, or phrase you use frequently? What is an opposite word or phrase that will replace it? Start today.

In what ways can you contribute to “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”?

A Back to School Prayer

 

B2S Prayer

Please join me in a back to school prayer.

Lord,

I praise you for the gift of knowledge and the freedom to learn. As students return to school and enter college, I pray for their safety. Protect the lives and minds of our youth. May they grow in authenticity and character and live boldly as they discover the paths you have laid out before them. Together, with their parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors, help them expand their thinking beyond the walls of school. Give them the courage to stand up for the bullied and, as painful as it may be, help them also to show love toward bullies.

I lift up parents. Provide them comfort while their kids are away at school and guidance as they help their children navigate new learning and social experiences.

I pray for the administrators and teachers as they set the tone for the year and dedicate time and care to their students. Sustain their commitment and energy throughout the year. May they be encouraged often and reminded of their impact when paperwork and protocol become overwhelming.

Thank you for all of the people who work behind the scenes to keep schools organized, clean, and operational, for those who cook food, drive buses, and volunteer their time. I pray a blessing upon communities everywhere as they gather to build-up our youth for the future.

God, I also pray for the kids who dread returning to school. Protect their hearts. Diminish their stress and anxiety. Remind them of their strengths and uniqueness and that there are always people to go to for help and understanding. Instill within them the confidence that life is worth living, and their value is found in you, Lord.

I pray all of this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Love Thy Neighbor

 

Goodies

This morning, our neighbors left these gifts on our front porch. They have a beautiful garden and raise bees. Every year they share their bounty with us. They are ideal neighbors, and we are grateful for the kindness they have extended in many different ways – everything from inviting us to church to occasionally taking care of our pets and allowing us to borrow tools. They truly epitomize the commandment, “Love thy neighbor” (Mark 12:31).

When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he wasn’t only referring to the people next door. He meant all people. The commandment is second in importance only behind “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Loving God means we must also love people. And what a challenge that can sometimes be!

Once, I loved others so effortlessly, but when I was bullied, I lost trust in people. As a result, I self-protected by isolating myself, often saying things like, “I love people, but I don’t like people,” “people suck,” “girls are mean,” and, “I love animals more than people.”

Have you ever found yourself saying the same kinds of things? From where do those thoughts stem? Do you desire to honor God in the highest through your thoughts and actions?  I have heard these kinds of comments from many others who have also been hurt and bullied. I totally understand if it’s easier to converse with your dog or to wrap yourself in the walls of your quiet home than it is for you to deal with difficult people. Mean people are everywhere. It is Satan’s aim to use them to overwhelm our minds, separate us, harden our hearts, and doubt goodness in others. Many of us fall into his trap. That’s why we need to be reminded that there are also friendly, helpful people everywhere, and we can experience them when we set our eyes on “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

Loving others isn’t always easy. It requires intentional choice, commitment, patience, effort, and forgiveness, and it is a reminder to work harder on growing our character than anyone else’s. Regardless of others’ callousness or kindness, when we strive to serve people how Jesus served people, when we value people as we desire to be valued, we honor him when we honor them. And although we are to love people without expecting anything in return, it’s nice how God shows us love is worth the work. For me, it often comes after I’ve stepped outside of my relational comforts, and this time, love circled back around and ended up on my front porch in the form of homegrown produce. It’s always uplifting to receive a message that tells us someone cares.

We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). What seeds of love can you plant and share today?

Dirty

Stronger Than Bullying

I was born to move. The first time I stood, I danced. I grew up fully utilizing our country acreage to ride my bike, swing from grapevines, roll down hills, and swim. When I was nine years old, I began playing basketball. Throughout adolescence, it became my primary focus. I simply loved the game and never tired of it, that is, until the bitter ending of my high school career.

As a freshman in college, my perspective of team dynamics and my identity as a player had changed. It was then that I gave up ball to pursue a higher calling for my life, but I never threw in the towel on fitness. My drive for physical and mental achievement remained ignited. My discipline transferred from the basketball court to the weight room, where strength and performance training became my emotional outlet, my escape from unpleasant memories, and my confidence booster. I learned I could release negative feelings, the echo of someone’s harsh words, or my mistakes through a single rep, heavier weight, increased intensity, or a sprint. Afterward, my body always felt lighter, and my burdens lifted. I exercised this way for several years, but I started developing an unhealthy pattern of associating angry, negative thoughts with exercise. As long as I continued to workout driven by memories of bullying, I would only produce short-term, unfulfilling results. I preferred exercise represent happiness, strength, and triumph for the long-run. So I made some changes that still serve me well today. I share them with you in hopes they might benefit you too.

Consider the purpose of exercising, not only the fact that it helps relieve stress and lower your blood pressure but how fitness can serve as a tool for you to become stronger than bullying.

I discovered this for myself by dedicating my workouts to God, to my family, or to someone I know or imagine who isn’t able to do what the Lord has abled me to do. For me, exercise goes far beyond proving others wrong, the world’s standard of attractiveness, or even any physiological benefit. It represents the Spirit of the Lord within me and gaining a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Before I start each workout, I choose to make the most of the next hour. I take ownership of a positive attitude, turn on upbeat, lyrically inspiring music, and visualize how I will perform and finish.

Throughout, I incorporate meditation and prayer. When my muscles are burning, and I start to feel weak, I close my eyes and breathe in the power of the Holy Spirit. I envision Jesus on the Cross and repeatedly tell myself things like, “He died for me. Surely, I can hold this wall-sit for another 20 seconds.” He helps me complete each rep, set, step, and stride—proof that I can break through my self-imposed limitations. I can better control my body by allowing God to control my heart and mind, especially when I face challenges.

Wall Sit

When I consider all of the moments I could quit or fail, I realize the only reason I keep going is that his strength is within me. Because of this, I carry my energy and victories throughout the rest of my day and utilize them as a source of encouragement for others. Through exercise, God has shown me not only am I stronger than the experiences that try to knock me down but also that I am more than capable of lifting life’s weights and clearing life’s hurdles. Movement was a gift he gave me from the very beginning, and, in developing that gift through the years, it has become one of the areas I feel most connected to him and most capable of helping others.

Regardless of your fitness or athletic background, you too can use exercise to build resiliency and gain peace, self-confidence, and strength. In what ways can exercise serve purpose for you, support your wellbeing, and enhance your faith?

Shame Has No Value

As strong and resilient as I feel most of the time, all it takes is one insensitive remark or some overly sarcastic comment toward me, and suddenly I feel like I’m 17 again. Like I’m standing in one of those shadowy hallways, facing the covert digs of mean girls and the rejection of my peers, wanting nothing more than to run home, lock myself in my bedroom, and bury myself in the empathy of Elmo. My mind doesn’t go there only because the present moment hurt. It goes there because it’s triggered by the shame of my youth, the devil’s occasional yet overwhelming reminder that my past failures forever brand me unworthy of love, acceptance, and belonging.

As a senior in high school, I physically retaliated against one of my bullies. At the time, I only wanted to be heard and protected. I felt my actions were justified until my guilt surfaced and I was served with a five-day, out-of-school suspension. Eventually, I accepted responsibility for my mistake and decided I would learn from it and change my behavior in the future. But no matter how well I overcame my guilt, I spent the rest of the year navigating the responses of my disappointed peers. Understandably,  I had failed them. They had every right to disagree with my actions. However, it wasn’t my retaliation they held over my head but my strengths and successes. Their ongoing lack of empathy and unforgiveness only helped shift my thoughts from, “I don’t deserve all of this” (humiliation) to “something is wrong with me” (shame). It was the turning point that forever changed how I interacted with people and thought of myself as a learner. I entered adulthood convinced I was socially repulsive and destined to fail in friendship. From there, whenever I felt the least bit rejected, my shame sent me into isolation.

Self-protection was comfortable, but it is not how I was meant to live. God intended for me to succeed in relationships, but how would I ever shake shame and find my way back to the kinds of connections I so greatly desired?

It is a question I see more young people facing today, many of which answer without even examining how shame is overtaking them. Instead, they submit to their hurt, disengage with others and hide behind the comfort of their phones, social media, or some other accessible outlet. If that’s you, have hope. There is a way out if you are willing. Hand over your hurt to Jesus. More than anyone, he knows what it feels like to be rejected and marginalized, yet he assigned no value to shame (Hebrews 12:2). If Jesus treated shame as an outcast, why should you and I welcome it? By focusing upon his shame, our shame loses power. In him, we will never be disgraced (Psalm 34:5). In him, we will forget the shame of our youth (Isaiah 54:4).

Suggested reading: Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection by Edward T. Welch

Be Blessed by Bullying

Forever

You might wonder why I’m so confident you can discover blessings in bullying. I don’t know you and may never know your story or pain. However, there is someone who does—Jesus, King of the outcasts. If I did not know him, I doubt I would be writing this post. He saved my life, comforted and friended me, and filled me with the purpose of serving others. He is “my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7). He is the answer to all problems. He is for you as much as he is for me. He is for anyone with a desire for healing who wants to make sense of their experience and the world. He was mocked, outcast, betrayed, and tortured so you could know him intimately and be saved by him. I encourage you to present your story and life to him and receive the promises of acceptance, forgiveness, assurance, and eternal life. (Romans 10:9; John 6:37-40, 16:24). God will heal your broken heart, bind up your wounds, and provide you peace that surpasses understanding (Psalm 147:3; Philippians 4:7). When the joy of the Lord becomes your strength (Nehemiah 8:10), your story becomes your blessing.