Social Pressures Christians Face

As I’ve been preparing for the upcoming school year, one of the units I will be teaching is titled “Social Pressures.”  In this unit we will be reading and researching different pressures that teenagers face today. For example,  the pressure parents put on their children to excel in sports, the pressure to look a certain way, the pressure to fit in, etc.  Planning this unit has caused me to think about the pressures I face from being a Christian. 

One pressure I face as a Christian being a teacher is the pressure to hide my faith. I don’t get to talk about God as much as I’d like to. God is so good though. He gives many opportunities to talk to students about the Lord.  A lot of times it’s because a student will bring it up. Or there’ll be a Biblical allusion in a piece of text we’re reading.  I keep a King James Version of the Bible on my desk. Along with a Spanish translation. (You never know!). Sometimes when I get a walk-through I wonder if they will ever tell me to put it away. And I think about what my reaction would be. Would I defend the Bible sitting on my desk?

Another pressure I face being a Christian is the pressure to “get with the times.”  It has to do with music.  The music I play in my classroom is by Christian artists.  However I make sure they don’t say God or Jesus I’m the, because I don’t want to get in trouble. But I do make sure they have a good positive message.  A lot of the students don’t know the songs. I’ve had students ask, “Can we listen to so-and-so?”  And I say no. Because the kids don’t understand the underlying meaning to a lot of lyrics nowadays:  drugs, alcohol, fornication. I’m a firm believer that music has a huge impact on the mind. I remember one instance while I was coaching soccer a few years ago. We were practicing and I had music going, and one of my own assistants laughed at me and said, “What kind of music is this?”  I refuse to be the reason why a teenager goes out and parties due to the persuasion of a song they hear in my classroom. 

A pressure I face as a Christian coach is parental pressure.  During basketball we pray before and after games, win or lose. We also pray at the end of practices.  We take a moment to honor and glorify God. I always ask for a volunteer to pray, and if no one does then I do. I get how nerve wrecking it can be to pray in front of others. In my mind we do this because I believe it opens the door to those personal conversations on bus rides or before school starts of being able to share the Gospel with a student in need. But I’m often nervous that a kid will go home and their parent will ask them about practice, and the child will mention that we prayed. And the parent get mad. Or my boss or another teacher will walk in during the middle of prayer and report me. (Yes, I have been talked to about this before.). I always make it a point before we pray though that they don’t have to, they can excuse themselves and no one will think any less of them. 

I guess the ultimate pressure I face as a follower of Christ is the pressure to conform to society.  You could say that everything kind of falls under this umbrella. Non-believers, the unsaved, or even the lukewarm, put pressure on us to take our belief of what God says and water it down. I cannot. I cannot be a cafeteria-Christian and pick and choose what I will believe from the Bible to fit my own personal lifestyle or the age we live in. God does not change. And neither does His Word. 

Everybody faces pressures from society. I get that.  Christians are hated, too. Only it’s not a shock to us because Jesus told us we would be. When a Christian uses the Bible to back up a belief, they’re considered to be a close-minded, Bible-thumping, conservative.  All of which I have been called.  For what I believe. But I won’t let the pressure of human words cause me to forsake the True Word.  

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Married Life (from a single’s perspective)

If I could give married people advice it would be this…. (You’ll find out if you keep reading!)

I’m 27, a few months shy of 28. A teacher. A coach. Living in Small Town USA. By myself. No family within a 7 hour radius. I wake up, get ready for work, teach all day. Coach after that. Church activities throughout the week. Come home.  Eat. Get ready for bed. And repeat. 

It might sound like I’m complaining, but if you read it again with a more positive tone and mindset, I’m actually bragging!  I’m living the dream!  (God’s will for me right now in my life. #NoDoubt!)

Where I’m at right now in my life, is such a growing and learning experience.  The majority of my friends I spend time with are married. (And when I say majority, I mean majority!  I maybe have one or two friends that I hang out with that are single.)

And I’m completely okay with that!  One thing I’m very aware of is the position of power and influence that I have being a teacher and a coach. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you know that I always talk about people watching us. As a teacher and coach my students and players are watching me. They’re watching how I live. They’re paying attention to how I talk. Things I say. My tone of voice. How I react in certain situations; the good and the bad. What I’m like outside of the classroom.  How I interact with others. They’re definitely watching. And listening. And I’ve grown to be uber aware of that. I don’t want teenagers to have a reason to not find me as a credible person when it comes to my faith and the way I live. Do I mess up at times?  Yup. Sure do. 

But it got me thinking lately about being single and being around all my friends who are married. 

I’m a very observant person. I’m just like my students. I watch. I listen. I pay attention. I’m taking mental notes. On what?  you might ask. 

Married life.

Thankfully God has blessed me with many friendships in which case my married friends are setting an example. They’re modeling marriage for me, a Christian single.  I notice things:  like how a husband and wife talk to each other, in the good times and bad. Or how they treat their kids. The tone behind their words. Their actions. How they behave at churh. How they behave outside of church. Not just individually but as families, too. 

I understand every marriage is different.  And just like my students can tell which teachers are credible and which aren’t, Christian singles can tell when a marriage has a foundation of Christ. 

So if I could give married people advice it would be this:  Be aware that people are watching and listening, especially singles. I want a good example set for me!  I want something to look forward to!  Just like being a teacher and coach is a position of power and influence on young minds, being married is also a position of power and influence. 

Thankfully the Lord has blessed me with many many great examples of not just being married, but of marriage.

It really does help. 

Integrity

So there I was, standing outside by my classroom door between classes, greeting students as they entered.  When all of a sudden a young man (we’ll call him Student #2)  whom I wasn’t supposed to see until my last class at the end of the day, comes up to me, holding out his cell phone and says, “Here Ms. Dolen.  I feel bad that Student #1 got in trouble and you took his cell phone away.  I’m the reason his phone went off.”

I said, “Are you sure?”  He looked at me with hesitation, finally nodded, and walked away, leaving me with his iPhone.  (Brownie points right there!  Go Apple products!  But that’s beside the point.)

Flashback to the beginning of school that day:

It was the first class of the day.  The students were reading and all of a sudden I heard a cell phone go off.  Everyone kind of looked around.  And I asked the class, “Who’s was it?”  Normally I don’t have a problem with a student confessing and giving their cell phone to me.  But for some reason no one wanted to admit it.  I looked at everyone and said, “Well, we have about twenty minutes of class left and we’ll stay until I get that phone.”

All of the students grumbled.

I kid you not… three minutes later we all heard it again!  This time, the student right away took the phone out and handed it to me.  But he made sure to say, “It wasn’t mine the first time.”

Uh huh, suuuure.  I mean I guess it could’ve been someone else’s the first time… even though it was the exact same ring tone.  Haha.  But you know how kids are; he probably just didn’t want to get in trouble more for not owning up to it the first time.

After class, I gave the cell phone to the office, in which case the policy at our school is the parent has to come pick it up.

Now when I confiscated the phone, I saw on the screen a text message, with Student #2’s name on it.  He was the one who had texted my I-Block student.

So a few hours rolled by and I guess it got around that I had taken Student #1’s phone and turned it in.  Which brought us to Student #2 bringing me his cell phone, because he felt bad I took Student #1’s phone away.

Imagine that.  A seventh grader.  A 13 year old boy.  Having that much integrity.

My students surprise me all the time.  Like I’ve said before, I often feel like I learn just as much from them as they do from me.

Now the question that floats around in my mind is I wonder where he learned that integrity from?

His parents?  A teacher?  A coach?  Something he read?  Something he saw?  Whoever or whatever he learned it from, it’s just a reminder that young people are watching us.  And also, integrity still exists in this world.  And when we see it, it’s beautiful.

Conditional Love

At the high school I coach at, all the head coaches are currently doing a book study.   I don’t mind it.  I’m an English teacher.  So reading doesn’t bother me.  We’re reading a book titled InsideOut Coaching by Joe Ehrmann.  I recommend this book for coaches, teachers, and even parents.  It gives great insight.  A lot of what I’ve been reading so far has made me think about and even question my coaching and teaching.  (Which I’m pretty sure is the purpose of the book!)  As I was reading this week from Chapter 4, one thing the author said caught my attention and it has been on my mind the past few days.  Needless to say I must write about it:

Conditional love.

We all hear the phrase “unconditional love” or “loving unconditionally”  tossed around here-and-there throughout our lives.  But in this one paragraph of Chapter 4, Ehrmann says something that has really put my brain in a scramble!  He says:

“We may see our children as extensions of our needs for validation, acceptance, and approval.  Their performance has the power to aggrandize or minimize us.  The social status of the parents of the star players increases; parents can beam; parents can be proud of their genetic product– a part of themselves out there performing well.  What’s worse, I see many parents subconsciously make their displays of love conditional by showing more approval and affirmation if their child performs better on the field and less approval after a bad game.”

This really made me think about my coaching and teaching. Even my life as a friend and as a daughter.   I’ve been guilty of subconsciously showing conditional love to my students and players based on their performance.  When in reality, my love and care for them shouldn’t be conditional.  We all have our days, I know.  But I’ll be the first person to admit that most times it’s by my body language and facial expressions that shows my conditional love.  One thing I’ve learned from this book so far is that these kinds of things have lasting impressions on our youth.  The disapproving looks.   The scoffing.  The cold shoulders and silent treatments.  Teenagers will grow up years from now and remember some of these moments of disapproval or conditional love that might still be burning in the backs of their minds.  Whether it’s from a teacher, coach, or even a parent.

I’m thankful as I grew up playing sports that my mom was never conditional towards me with her love based on how well I performed athletically or even academically.  My mother loved me no matter what.  Whether I had 2 points or 20 points.  Whether I stopped every single goal or got mercy-ruled.  She didn’t base her love for me by conditions.

And when I think about it, I’m reminded of the love My Heavenly Father has for me.  His love is unconditional.  I’m so glad He’s not up there wagging His finger at me, or giving me the silent treatment when I mess up in life.  Nope.  He still hears when I call.  He’s still there when I’m not.  He loves me the same on my worst days AND my best days.  His love does not change.  He’s the ultimate example of what love is and what love should look like.

So, if I’m being open and transparent (like I promised I would be back on my very first blog entry), that’s one thing I’m definitely going to focus on this semester:  I don’t want my students or players (or anyone else at that matter) to think I love and care about them only if they perform well; or that I’m only proud of them when they’re being successful.  I want my displays of body language, facial expressions, words, and reactions to match my heart.

It’s Time We Start Rising

Let me just preface this by saying I’m not a saint.  I probably have a log in my eye that needs to be pulled out before I start pulling out sticks in others’ eyes.  But I feel very passionate about what I’m going to talk about.

First of all I come from a family where I’m the only one who is saved.  Which today actually marks seven years of accepting the Lord as my Savior.  So thankful for my salvation.  And when I got saved I didn’t change immediately.  Actually I would say the most change I’ve undergone has been in the past few years since I started attending FBC.  I’m not who I want to be, but I’m definitely thankful I’m not who I was.

I’ve heard this said before, and I completely agree with it:  Salvation is free of charge but it’s not free of change.

If you’re truly saved, there should be a change that has taken place whether it’s in the way you live, the way you speak, the things you watch, what you listen to; pretty much every area of your life!

Again, let me just say, I am NOT a saint.

One thing I’ve learned, especially in the past year or so, is that I cannot compare myself to my friends, even my fellow Christian friends.  That’s one of the worst things I could do.  Because I know me.  And I know if I compare myself to my friends, I’ll start to make small compromises in my life. As a Christian I’ve had some of these thoughts below (not all of them!  PTL).  But I’m definitely guilty of thinking some of these things below:

“Well, so-and-so listens to this kind of music and they go to my church… so it’s okay that I do too.”

“Well, so-and-so cusses and they go to my church… so it’s okay that I do too.”

“Well, so-and-so watches inappropriate movies and they go to my church… so it’s okay that I do too.”

“Well, so-and-so smokes cigarettes and they go to my church… so it’s okay that I do too.”

God calls us to be DIFFERENT.  He doesn’t want us to be like the world, He wants us to be like His SON!  Jesus is the one we should be comparing our lives to.  We become so complacent and so “okay’ with living how others live, and accepting that as the norm.  When in reality, Jesus has set the standard, in which we all fall short, but by God’s grace we can get back up and try AGAIN!

If you know the music you listen to isn’t pleasing to God, then stop it.  So you’ve fallen short?  Well get up and try again.  Quit making it okay by comparing yourself to others.  If you know the words you say or how you say them isn’t pleasing to God, then stop it.  Get up and try again. So your friends are the ones cussing and you can’t help but be like them when you’re around them?  Then they’re just going to continue to think it’s okay because you haven’t set a standard either!  It’s probably some never ending cycle.  If you want to change, someone is going to have to break that cycle!

Again, let me just reiterate that I am just as big of a sinner as anyone else.

It scares me as a teacher and as a coach, goodness, even as a friend, I see some of the things teenagers do and some of the things they say and in my mind I’m just like:  “Man, I know they have a younger sibling, if they’re not careful their little sibling has a high chance of doing and saying the same things.”  I imagine the same to be true with adults and parents.  I don’t have kids, but I know one thing is for sure, I’m just their TEACHER and they’re watching me and I know they’re listening to me, and they’re paying attention to how I react.  So if they do those things I honestly shouldn’t be surprised!  I can only imagine how much more a child is watching and listening to their parent.

As Christians, we need to stop comparing our selves to our friends, even our Christian friends and start comparing ourselves to Jesus.   We are going to fall short, but we don’t have to stop there.  Jesus has set the standard.  So the questions we need to ask ourselves are:

  1. Where in my life do I need to make a change?
  2. If I know I need to make a change, why HAVEN’T I made that change yet?
  3. Are there any people or things in the way of me successfully making this change?
  4. What steps can I take to see this change through?

Remember, we can’t sit back and wait for our friends to change so that we can change.  Someone has to step up.  Jesus has set the bar.  It’s time we start rising.

Balancing Act

Have you ever heard the expression about a person “wearing a lot of hats”?  I think we’re all competent enough to know that it is figurative.  (That’s the English teacher in me.). The older I get the more responsibilities I feel like I have; the more “hats” I have to wear.  This past year, 2014, I’ve realized that life is all one big balancing act.  I know I’m not the only one who has a lot going on, but I realized this past year I was wearing a lot of hats:  teacher, co-worker, coach, youth worker, PLC leader, daughter, sister, friend, and follower of Christ.

When you wear so many hats, life can get out of whack if you don’t handle it properly.

Many people get overwhelmed easily.  I feel like I handle stresses and pressures differently than most.  It takes a lot for me to reach my breaking point when it comes to stress, duties, and everyday tasks of life.  I’m not superhuman though; I do break every once in awhile!  But the past six months or so I’ve found the perfect balancing act.

So how have I managed to not collapse?  Honestly, putting prayer and the Word at the center of it all.

Before every new year I come up with 5 goals, I don’t call them resolutions (not sure why).  I figure calling them goals keeps me on track a bit more.  I came up with a goal for each of these five categories, these were my 2014 Goals:

  • A spiritual goal:  (to get closer to Jesus by praying EVERY day)
  • A goal for my soul (my mind, will, or emotions) (memorize scripture that has to do with my emotions, particularly anger)
  • A physical goal (squat 45s by the end of soccer season)
  • A goal that has to do with my family (get closer to my family by calling them once a month)
  • A financial goal (pay off my credit card before the last day of school)

Without my first goal, about praying EVERY day, I would not have been able to wear all of those hats or even accomplish my other goals.  And ALL of the glory DEFINITELY goes to God.

I’m thankful for the “hats” He gave me to wear in 2014.  I’m thankful He provided a way for me to wear all of them comfortably, all at the same time.  I do have my 2015 goals picked out and I’ve been praying about them… I won’t share them yet, not until the new year has started…

But writing this post, I wonder if God has a change of “wardrobe: for me in 2015?  Maybe He has more “hats” to add to my collection?  Maybe some of my “hats” will “go out of style”?

Only time will tell!  Looking forward to the New year!

14-in-1s: Second Chances (Part 1)

When I played basketball in high school my coach would make us do what’s called “14-in-1s”.  It’s a form of conditioning.  You line up on the sideline of the court with a partner behind you to count.  One minute is put up on the clock.  When the whistle blows, you have one minute to sprint to the other side and back… 14 times.  Hence why they’re called “14-in-1s”.

Well, I couldn’t break tradition.  I make my 8th grade basketball girls do this every day.  The first group goes.  Then when the buzzer goes off, the second group goes.

There is an incentive though.  If you make it… you don’t have to do it again.  Unfortunately, if you don’t make it then you have to do it one more time.

The girls are given a second chance.

As the girls run their hearts out in the 14-in-1s, it hurts me to watch when the whole team doesn’t make it.  There’s a few stragglers.

This season, God has really opened my eyes when they’re running their 14-in-1s.  It makes me think of all the chances God gives me to get things right.  I’m so glad He doesn’t just give me two chances!  I’ve failed, failed… and failed some more.  As a teacher, as a coach, as a friend, as a daughter, as a Christian.  I’ve missed the mark.  I’m not afraid to admit it.

The thing about the 14-in-1s is if you don’t make it the first time, you won’t make it the second time.  Your body is so tired from working so hard for that first minute, and one minute’s rest in between while the other group goes, is not enough.

I’m thankful the Lord gives us so many chances!  However, we can’t lean on that; we have to learn to give our best the first time.  Be obedient the first time.  Do it right the first time.  Try our hardest the first time.  Yes God gives us chances.  But if we stay stuck where we’re at, eventually we won’t even recognize the opportunities as chances anymore.  We’ll continue to miss the mark and overlook those opportunities, and that could even affect the lives of others!

It hurts me to watch the girls who don’t make their 14-in-1s the first time, to have to do it again.

I can only imagine how much it hurts God to continually see us miss the mark when we know exactly what to do and how to do it. Whether it’s with disobedience, sin, temptation, lack of Bible reading, or time in prayer, etc.  He’s given us the tools:  The Bible, the Holy Spirit, a great Pastor, and even encouraging friends who are in the race with us (which I’ll talk about in part 2 of this the next time)…

I’m thankful for God’s mercy, forgiveness, love, and grace…  But my advice to you tonight is don’t rely on getting a second or third or fourth chances. We never know when our chances will run out.

Warnings are There to Protect Us

We’re given warnings all of the time in life:

  • When you get pulled over.  Instead of the police officer giving a ticket, he extends mercy and gives you a warning instead!
  • In my classroom.  I always give a warning when a student misbehaves, and I also let them know what will happen if they continue with that behavior.
  • On a McDonald’s coffee cup.  It flat out says, “Caution:  I’m Hot”.  A warning with a hint of humor!

A warning is a warning because it means that if you do this… then this will happen.  So what happens if you choose to ignore the warning?  Yes, it is a choice.   If you get pulled over and ignore the warning, you’re going to get a ticket next time.  If you ignore the warning a teacher gives you, the next time you’ll probably get a detention.  If you try to chug a nonfat Caramel Mocha (personal fave!) from McDonald’s without letting it cool off, you’re going to burn your tongue.  And probably talk like you have a speech impediment for the rest of the day.

Warnings are meant to protect us from bad things that could happen.

There’s other types of warnings, too.  God uses people, His Word, the Holy Spirit, circumstances, and many other things to warn us as we go about our daily lives.

I’ve recently had to deal with a consequence because I didn’t pay attention to the warnings.  A friend told me:  “Hindsight is 20/20”.  So true. The warnings were there.  Plain sight.  I just didn’t take heed, didn’t think anything about it.

I honestly have no one to blame but myself. And I’ll tell you why:  The exact same thing I’d been praying about (it’s right there on my prayer list!) is the same thing I’m having to deal with a consequence for.  I was praying for something and then doing the opposite of it!  #Dumb!  If you’re someone who prays or keeps a prayer list, I have a warning for you based on my recent experience:  Don’t pray for something and then do the opposite of what you just prayed for.  It’s hypocritical.  I’m super embarrassed and ashamed.  Secondly, God will do His part but you have to do your part, too.

We can pray for things to change but we have to do our part as well.  For example, if you’re someone who’s addicted to alcohol, you’re not going to overcome it by going out to parties and bars, no matter how strong you think you are!

The warnings are thereFor a reason.  In many different forms.  We have to:

  1. Choose to listen
  2. Choose to obey
  3. Choose to change

Warnings are there to protect us. Take heed.  God loves us.

The Greatest Victory of All

bballI hate losing.  We had our first basketball game tonight and I can’t believe I’m admitting this on social media but… we lost 42-3.  That is not a typo.  I’m super competitive, whether I’m coaching or playing.  I don’t even like losing in a game we play in my class called “Mum Ball”.  I hate losing but I’m thankful the Lord has given me a vision over the past few years:  There really is more to coaching sports than winning. No, I’m not just saying that because I don’t win much. It’s not something “losers” say.  Even if I was a coach who had continuous winning seasons I would say the same thing.  Victories can be off the court, too.  As a coach, it’s one of my responsibilities to encourage these off-the-court victories.  Coach John Wooden puts it this way in one of his books:

“A leader, particularly a teacher or coach, has a most powerful influence on those he or she leads, perhaps more than anyone outside of the family.  Therefore, it is the obligation of that leader, teacher, or coach to treat such responsibility as a grave concern.  I consider it a sacred trust:  helping to model character, instill productive principles and values, and provide a positive example to those under my supervision.  Furthermore, it is a privilege to have that responsibility, opportunity, and obligation, one that should never be taken lightly.”

At the end of the day, there are bigger things the players need to be learning; things that are more important than dribbling or shooting a basketball correctly. There are souls at stake and lives that need to be changed and influenced in the right way.

I’ve been coaching middle school basketball for five years now.  And we’ve only ever won two games.  Yes, two.  Both of those were last season.  So I’ve seen plenty of losing seasons.  A lot of times people feel bad for me because of how much we lose.  Would I like to win?  Of course!!!  Losing does bother me.  But I’m thankful I know how to “lose properly”.  I usually need a couple of hours, just for me to process everything, a time of reflection…

I’ve grown to realize that there are bigger battles being fought: The fight for lost souls.  I’m very aware of the position I’m in and the opportunities God has given me.  I try to model Christ-like love for athletes.  Of course I fail at times… more times than I’d care to admit.  And if my flesh is being honest, it gets hard.  I have to constantly be conscious and purposeful about words I’m saying, things I’m doing, and even body language and facial expressions.

God cares more about the lives and souls of these young ladies than the wins and losses.   You can win all the games you want to but if you don’t have Christ… then what?  You can be the best player on the team but if you don’t have Christ… then what?  You can have all the skills in the world but if you don’t have Christ… then what?

I’m thankful God doesn’t look at my win-loss record in basketball or soccer!  When we leave this earth and go to one of two places, my win-loss record isn’t going to count for anything.  It’s meaningless.  There really is more to life than winning:  A relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior; the greatest victory of all.

So yes we lost 42-3 today (cringe).  But the big questions is, did I make a positive impact on my players for the cause of Christ?    As a leader I have a responsibility to live and speak in such a way that my players can see the ultimate prize in life:  Jesus.

Did they see the prize today?  Hmmm… I can always do better.  I’ll have to think about it in my reflection time, but I’ll definitely find out when I get to heaven!

Well, until next time…

…And Bless the Coaches for Their Time

Eighth grade basketball has started which means I’ve been super busy.  I feel my plate starting to overflow with life’s daily tasks. But one thing we make sure of as a team, is at the end of every single practice, to pray. It’s not forced. If they don’t want to be a part of it they don’t have to. I’m thankful everyone is though.

I love when new people step up and say they want to pray. And then a lot of times I hear a whisper from them before they start that says, “I’ve never done this before” or “I’m not good at this” or “I don’t know what to say.”  It makes me glad that a 14 year old girl has the courage to pray for her basketball team of 24 people out loud. That can be quite nerve wrecking especially if they don’t have much experience praying or public speaking.

But there’s this one young lady I coach.  There’s just something about her, every time she prays… She’s the one who when I say, “Can I get someone to lead us in prayer please?”… She’s the one that if no one says they will, and there’s that awkward silence, she always steps up to the plate. And when she prays, she always says, “… and bless the coaches for their time.”

Wow.  A fourteen year old girl asks God to bless her coaches!  That blows me away.  It really helps.  It’s encouraging.  It’s the perfect way to end practice.  Especially after long, difficult days in the classroom and on the court.  A lot of times with coaching, it can be overwhelming and time crunching.   We have to find a balance between God, ourselves, our job, our friends, and our family.  Hearing a middle school girl pray that God would bless our time is just what I need to hear sometimes.  It pushes me forward.  It makes me want to be a better coach and person at that.  I’m so impressed with the players’ courage, especially at this age group.

Sometimes the players aren’t the only ones learning.