In the 8th grade, I attended the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Making it into the school was a huge honor, and I had earned it on my own accord. Still, the new opportunity did not penetrate the constant fog of despair that plagued me. I had long since determined I was a rough sketch without meaning or purpose. I could not yet see the creative path God had designed for me at the young age of thirteen. Having already accepted my own understanding of the world as absolute truth, I would have never changed my opinion without some sort of intervention.
Gratefully, God places people along our path to shake up our false beliefs. The Apostle Paul refers to them as "planters and waterers." Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6, ESV, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." These important people show us that we are loved and are chosen for God's great design. And, no matter what has tainted our history or caused brokenness, we are useful to God.
The first challenge to my attitude toward myself came in the form of a longterm substitute teacher. Our creative writing teacher was out for the semester due to health reasons. The substitute, Marie, was "unique," to say the least. When she assigned our writing, Marie sat at her desk and also wrote for the prompt provided. Marie brought her guitar to class and played for us during our free-writes. She didn't teach the standard curriculum, and Marie didn't talk like the other teachers. Instead, she was real, personal, and shared her life with us. Rarely did Marie teach from the front of the class. Instead, she pulled up a chair and leaned in to hear us share our work. As students, we felt valued and supported.
This nurturing way of teaching confused me. Prior to Marie's arrival, I had learned how to live within a certain school formula. If I acted like others expected of me and did just enough to get by, I would make it through school. I attempted to protect myself by remaining in the background of relationships, work, church, or school. However, God had designed me to embrace life to the fullest (John 10:10) and no matter how hard I tried to repress that part of me, it came through in my written stories. As I grew up, I felt a constant pull towards the creative, catching the quirks and nuances of story structure. Yet I continued to be uninvested.
In a crucial moment, Marie didn't just challenge the presumptions about myself. On the contrary, she penetrated the barrier of my fear of being seen by others. "Your writing is good, but there is nothing of you in it," Marie coached. We were studying poetry, and while I loved the unique writing styles of the poets, I kept my own writing distant and abstract. Then the light turned on, and I finally put myself in the writing. What followed was my first attempt at writing about myself:
“Visions Through Waters” (9th Grade)
Visions through waters
Reflecting from my eyes
Splashing into the pool
Of life, like tears
Wrinkling the shimmering
Of the perfect life
Changing it into only hope.
The leaves drop The dew like seeds Growing and adding to the Reflection.
Finally, the rain ends And the light shimmers Through the trees of life.
My life is renewed.
What Marie set in motion continues to come forth in my writing. I utilize the vulnerable parts of me to help others to work through depression and reconnect with the world. The seeds Marie planted in me, God grew into ministry. I now experience love, peace, healing, hope, answers, and joy, and they far exceed my negative experiences. Hope is now an intricate foundation built into my day to day life. Faith has become as concrete for me as the ground I walk on, and all because someone challenged me to see my God designed self.
As I have grown and healed, my understanding now includes God's faithfulness. I take in His view of the world through scripture, nature, relationships, and my experiences. He continues to reveal my purpose through all of life's experiences. I am still learning NOT to lean on my own understanding, but to acknowledge God in all ways (Proverbs 3:5). I no longer go it alone. I embrace others whom God sends to plant truth in my life. These people help me to draw closer to God. Some planted, some watered, but God continues to allow me to grow.
Do you have planters and waterers in your life? At first, their words of challenge or encouragement may be hard to hear, but when we listen through God's words, it allows us to grow and mature. Identify your current understanding. Does it match God's understanding, as described in scripture? And if you are the planter and waterer, are you helping others to recognize their identity in Christ? Is there a course you can take or a group you can join that stretches your perspective on life? (Join a hiking group, photography, writing, etc.) Begin to invite others to build into you and you into them. Consider ways you can reach out to your neighbors who may struggle to look at themselves as God sees them. Plant seeds of truth. Then, trust that God is faithful to complete what He already had in mind for that person, even if you don't get to see the final fruits.
Lord, I start here. I confess that my own understanding keeps leading me the wrong way. Thank you for placing men and women in my life that point to You as the way, truth, and life. Help me to listen and to speak hope into the lives of those I am lead to plant and water. Amen
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