Tag: Learning

FINDING FOCUS: Mentoring

Mentoring is God’s plan for passing along Christianity and the example of Jesus Christ himself.

This month, the blog will take a closer look at this important calling. As in the study book (no longer available for purchase), the study starts with a Portrait.

Mentoring is becoming a lost art. As you’ll see in the Bible study segment, we should be more serious about this focal point of Christianity.

What follows is my attempt to paint a portrait of one of the best examples of mentoring given in scripture. Because the details of the arrangement aren’t spelled out in scripture, plenty of license was taken in the fictionalizing of the account.

Air stagnates in the women’s section at the rear of the Ephesian synagogue. I open my mouth to join the recitation and nearly gag when the body odor of an elderly woman in front of me wafts my way. Lord, help me!
Yes, that is a prayer. I find myself uttering three- and four-word petitions all day long. And the gracious Lord I serve hears and answers.
In this moment, I don’t heave the contents of my stomach onto the women around me. Nor does a retching sound emerge in place of the scripture. God has answered again.
My tongue forms the ancient words from Deuteronomy. Feminine voices embrace me on every side, joining and blending with the deeper tones from our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons.
I tilt my head to the side, searching for my husband Aquila. My father is dead, my brother remains in Rome, uninterested in the Way, and the Lord has never blessed me with sons, only two daughters, both married.
Aquila is more than enough. We serve Jesus Christ together, just as we make tents together.
A male voice begins the first song of degrees. Other voices join in. I twitter out the high part my mother taught me so many decades past. The soprano notes complement the lower voices of both women and men.
A woman behind me joins on the high harmony. My heart leaps as I’m transported back to childhood, learning the part with my younger sister.
I turn my thoughts toward the Lord, voicing each word from my lips to his ears.
“The Lord is thy keeper,” we sing (Ps. 121:5). Praise Him for keeping us safe when Caesar evicted us from Rome.
“The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil” (Ps. 121:7). Yes, Lord, you have preserved Aquila and me too many times to recount.
“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1).
Tears clog my throat. King David, author of this psalm, wrote of the tabernacle, but I have never seen the temple in Jerusalem. I squeeze my eyes closed to ease the burning.
When the singing ends, several men pray aloud. Their voices make a tuneful backdrop to my own thanksgiving and supplication.
The rabbi reads from Isaiah. It is one of the three books outside of the Torah that this synagogue has available, along with sacred scrolls.
A stranger, dark skin naming his origin from parts to the south, perhaps even Egypt, stands and speaks. The tone of his voice is cultured, smooth like cream. His words are fine. He expounds on the passage from Isaiah’s prophecy before speaking of other prophecies.
I nearly topple over when the man mentions the teaching of John the Baptist. I straighten against the hard seat, nothing more than a plank of wood set atop cinder blocks.
He speaks of the Messiah. My heart thrums in my throat until his honeyed words are nearly drowned by the pounding. Does this man know of the Way?
Many members of the synagogue are believers, but others claim Jesus of Nazareth was not their Messiah. The topic is dangerous to discuss in this Jewish place of worship.
I couldn’t discern whether the young man knows the Way. His focus seems to be validating John as the forerunner, the prophet to make straight the path before Messiah.
A chorus of murmurs from the men interrupts his fine speech, keeps me from hearing what more he says.
Several other men stand to read or recite scripture. No one else expounds on the passages. After another hymn and prayer, the rabbi dismisses the gathering with the traditional Shalom blessing.
Outside the domed building, I breathe deeply, watching the men file out. Aquila comes, head bent close to Benjamin, one of the members of our house church. Aquila’s leanness makes him appear taller than the stout cobbler. They exchange nods before Aquila extends his hand to me.
I take it, amazed that it can be cool and warm all at once. I press my back against the wall of the synagogue, raise on my toes to speak directly into my husband’s ear.
The crowd leaving the worship service is quiet, but the street around us teems with commerce. It is Ephesus. The trading never ceases.
“Who was that man? The one who spoke of John?”
“Apollos, an Alexandrite Jew.”
“Does he follow the Way?”
Aquila shakes his head, a slight move. I stare into his rich, brown eyes and see the motion wasn’t a denial. He thinks the younger man might be a believer, but it is dangerous to assume this. Apollos hadn’t spoken openly of Jesus, like Paul the Apostle had done when he visited here a few months past.
“We should invite him to break bread with us.”
Aquila nods. He scans the trickle of worshipers still emerging from the synagogue. A royal blue cloak swirls at the doorway, and the dark-skinned man emerges. Behind him, the rabbi shakes his head vociferously. My stomach clenches at the sight of the synagogue leader’s stern visage.
My husband shuffles toward the two men, waiting a respectful distance apart. The rabbi looks at him expectantly, but Aquila nods toward the stranger. Apollos stands half a head taller than my husband. Their lips move, but the bustle of the city and my distance from them makes hearing the conversation impossible.
Soon, Aquila is nodding. Both of them step toward where I’m waiting, hands folded over my queasy stomach. Lord, don’t let this be a mistake.
Trivial conversation follows us through the crowded market and into the quieter trade district. I fall behind the men, trying to listen to snatches of their conversations.
Lord, protect us if this man is not sent from you. Grant us wisdom to teach him Your Perfect Way. Move in his heart. Touch our tongues and lips. You promised your Spirit’s aide.
I could not hear much from the men, but I know the Lord hears every syllable of my fervent prayers.
A faint odor of tanning hides greets us when Aquila swings open the door to our home. It is nearly impossible to keep the stench away when our trade requires us to handle cured hides and skins every day.
The men sit on the couches in the center court of our small shop. My feet glide soundlessly across the mosaic and into the storage room. I fetch a skin of new wine and three cups. I place some bread and olive spread onto a large platter beside the cups, and carry all of it to the men.
I pour wine for both men, meeting Aquila’s eyes when I hand him his drink, ducking my head when I pass a cup to our guest.
Aquila swallows before asking, “What do you know of John’s baptism?”
Apollos sips his beverage, reclines on the pillow-covered arm of his couch. “His immersion of believers in water prepared men and women to become part of something greater.”
They discuss this subject. I swallow a mouthful of drink, but the knot in my stomach won’t allow more than that. I continue to pray until I feel a nudge from the Spirit.
“What of Christ?” I say.
Both men turn to stare at me. My husband’s eyes widen. Apollos holds my gaze, sipping from his cup before setting it on his thigh.
“Has Messiah come?” The dark man’s eyebrows press together, creasing his wide forehead.
I keep my eyes pinned on our guest, but I still see the slight shake of Aquila’s head. The witness of Christ within me prods me to ignore the wordless warning from my spouse.
“Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. He called an assembly from the body of those baptized by John. We were baptized by Paul the Apostle in Corinth a few years past.”
“I heard rumors about this Jesus. Why do you say he was the Christ?”
Aquila and I take turns quoting prophecies of old which Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled. Prophecies everyone agrees spoke of the coming Messiah.
Aquila asks questions and nods at our explanations. His attendance on my words sends a flush to my cheeks. This man is a powerful orator. If he follows the Way, many people will turn from the path leading to eternal destruction.
Light fades. I bring a lamp from an inner room and light the wicks floating in pots encircling the terrace. A sense of peace envelopes me, a blanket of assurance as real as the curtain of darkness falling around us.
Today I have discovered another way Aquila and I can serve the Lord together. A young man will be saved from destruction. In turn, his persuasive speaking will convert many more to the Way.
Thank you, Lord.

You can still join the LIVE study in my Facebook Group by clicking here. That’s where you can download a FREE copy of the book and interact with others who are interesting in finding their God-given focus for life.

***This excerpt was first published in 2016 in the first edition of FINDING FOCUS THROUGH THE LENS OF GOD’S WORD, copyright belongs to Sharon Hughson

A Test by any other Name

Assessments. I’m not sure we had these back when I was a kid. I mean, we had them but everyone called them tests.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel the new name (in use in the education system for a couple decades now) more accurately reflects the purpose of these “tests.” As an English major, concise and clear language appeals to me.

However, I suspect that was NOT the reasoning behind the change.

There’s this black hole called test anxiety. Therefore, if we don’t mention tests, the anxiety will be alleviated.

I’ve seen this hungry beast (test anxiety) in action. People forget everything they studied. Draw a blank after reading every question. Nervous fingers click the pen: out, in, out, in, out. Fingernails, erasers, collars become fodder for repetitive chewing.

It’s crazy. Once you finish your education, how often do you face tests? Okay, that will depend on your profession, but those with test phobias aren’t likely to even go there.

As an educator, assessments can be a valuable tool. They assess (thus the name) what a student knows before a unit of study and what they learned after one. Provided they don’t suffer from the dread of examinations.

Because, let’s face it, the name change isn’t fooling teenagers. Maybe the younger kids can be trained away from test anxiety with an array of assessments levied rather than sitting for tests.

Many secondary schools have begun basing grades exclusively on assessment scores. While I understand the mentality behind this ( they shouldn’t pass Algebra if they haven’t learned 60 percent of the objectives), it invites teenagers to fail.

Teenagers are generally opportunists, seeking the easiest way to get where they’re going. Why do you think all the video games have cheat guides and cheat codes? This isn’t a claim that teenagers cheat on test—I mean assessments—but that they will shirk the assignments leading to the assessment because “they don’t count toward the grade.”

Yes, I’ve actually had students tell me they weren’t doing the work I assigned because it wasn’t going to be graded.


“But it prepares you for the assessment, which is your grade.” I’m using a reasonable tone of voice as I say this.

Shrugs. “I know how to do it.”

“Then why not do it. Practice makes perfect. It can only help.”

Sometimes an argument ensues. Other times, the response is another shrug.

As a substitute teacher, what can I do?

“The expectation is that you’ll spend class time working on this.” Yes, I admit, the teacher voice is starting to leak out by this point.
Because the majority of teenagers don’t care about an absent teacher’s expectations. Even if they know you’re going to let the teacher know that they didn’t work on the assignment.

Nine chances out of ten, the student wouldn’t be any more productive for the regular teacher.

Which makes me wonder: what are they learning about following guidelines? Will they have a better work ethic for an employer since they’re working for a paycheck?

Is there a better way to encourage students to apply themselves to the assigned tasks? Many aren’t even concerned about their grades.

All of this came to mind today while a classroom full of freshmen took an assessment in their English/language arts class.
What are your thoughts on tests versus assessments? What should “count” toward high school grades? (Maybe we should do away with them altogether, but then colleges will have to change their admission standards.) What’s your brilliant idea for encouraging students to learn?

A Word to the Wise–or the Wanna-Be Wise

Years ago, a pastor suggested reading through the Book of Proverbs every month. One chapter per day, 31 chapters in the book, seemed like a reasonable idea. Especially if you’re looking to be wise.

Wisdom isn’t a highly sought after commodity in many circles. People are content to “know enough” to do their jobs, take care of their family and have a good time.

We know I’m a recovering Type A perfectionist, so the thought of NOT being wise rubs me the wrong way. I mean, if it’s as simple as reading a chapter from the Bible every day, why not?

Nothing is ever that simple.

This month, I’m encouraging myself to reinstate this practice that has fallen into a slump lately. After all, there are YouVersion reading plans, so why do the same old, same old? (This month, why not do both? That’s my plan.)

Because God’s Word is a living book. Every month a different verse will stand out or stomp my toes.

I haven’t attained wisdom status yet. (I know that shocks all of you.)

So, I’m sharing the first week of daily reading memes here. Maybe you’re looking for some wisdom in a world gone crazy with blame and accusation. Why not give A Proverb a Day a test drive?

I know I’m a day behind for the week, but bear with me.

Monday: Read Proverbs chapter 2

Tuesday: Read Proverbs chapter 3

Wednesday: Read Proverbs chapter 4

Thursday: Read Proverbs chapter 5

Friday: Read Proverbs chapter 6

Saturday: Read Proverbs chapter 7

Look at that! One week of considering words of wisdom is in the bank. Don’t you feel wiser already?

What is your definition of wisdom? How do you cultivate it in your life?

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Setting Goals You Can Reach

Last week, I wrote about how small goals got me published. And I talked about the three-step process I used to attain that goal. But does that help you set goals you can reach?

Because if you can’t set reachable goals, you’re never going to move from where you are now to where you want to be.

During this month, I’ve been working through a weekly course by Kimberly Job. It’s helping me plan my writing and personal goals for 2017.

2017 is the year…

  • I sign a traditional publishing contract for a novel
  • I pitch my nonfiction book proposal at a conference
  • I get my first 1000 subscribers to my mailing list
  • I publish my third Bible study book

And all of these things are going to happen because I’m working step-by-step plans for each and every one of them.

These aren’t small goals. My post last week suggested starting small, so if you’re new to the whole “reaching goals” mentality, please read that post.

Starting small will keep you from giving up. I promise.

But if you’re ready to tackle something bigger, read on.

Evaluation

This is the most important step in setting goals.

Unfortunately, it’s also the one people tend to rush or ignore.

No wonder they aren’t reaching their goals.

Kimberly Job of Sublime Reflection spurred me to evaluate myself more deeply than I have in other years. She offered a free four-week course and the first week was all about this step.

You can check out that course here.

Here are the categories she uses in this process:

  • Memories and accomplishments
  • Self and relationships
  • Struggles and challenges
  • Lessons learned

Before you set out to make any goals, take time to journal through 2016 in each of these areas. You might be surprised what you discover about your successes.

Also, this reflection should focus your thoughts on what is possible and what doesn’t work. Both of these things are important to know before you can establish attainable goals.

Brainstorming

The Sublime Reflection course spends the entire second week on brainstorming.

If you’re not a fan of brainstorming, I know you screwed your face into a wrinkle-causing grimace.

Stop!

The way the course breaks your life into ten segments and has you generate ideas specific to those makes the process run smoothly.

My favorite part was coloring the Wheel of Balance. It also showed me which areas of my life needed my attention.

Wouldn’t you like to know where to focus your attention in 2017?

Why set another goal of “exercising more” if that’s really not what you need to do in order to reach the bottom line you want?

And what does “exercise more” even mean? You’ll need to make your goals narrow and specific in order to know if you’ve reached them.

Here are the ten areas of life according to Ms. Job:

  • Marriage/relationship
  • Family & friends
  • Fun
  • Spirituality
  • Finances
  • Giving
  • Personal development
  • Physical environment
  • Health & fitness
  • Career

Can you guess which areas received the lowest rank in my world? What tops your list?

After I discovered my three very weak and two additional not-strong categories, I brainstormed a list of things I would like to accomplish in each area. Job encouraged us to list at least five in every category…and to leave the lid off.

Yes, if there were no constraints, what would you like to do with your career? Or your physical environment?

The thing about letting out the crazy dreams during brainstorming is that sometimes we realize they might not be so crazy after all. Not if we can figure out how to build a series of baby steps to reach them.

Nailing it Down

You can’t do it all.

Thinking you can will lead to failure. Sure, it might give you a false sense of accomplishment for a few weeks or months.

Then the stress will blindside you. And the urge to pack up your pencils and bury yourself beneath the covers will rear up.

This is why I have limited myself to ONE goal in each of the four areas of my life. (These areas are spiritual, physical, relational and career.)

If I set the goal too low, I can always add another goal once the first is reached. But I’ll be able to check off a box.

“I reached that goal this year.”

It feels great to make that mark.

The important thing about your goals is to make them specific.

For example, my career goal is not “sign a publishing contract.” That’s pretty broad.

Instead, it looks like this:

Sign a contract for ELEPHANT IN THE TEAROOM with a major publishing house

If I sell the book to a small press, I won’t have reached this goal. Of course, I might decide that’s a fair compromise and don’t need to consider that a failure.

But setting a specific goal will make me work furiously on the rewrites and edits for this manuscript so I can start querying agencies in February or March. Because it will take six to nine months to get a response once they ask for the full manuscript.

Goals Require Plans

Each one of the goals you set for 2017 requires it’s own plan of action.

People don’t get published on accident.

People don’t lose weight without working at it (unless they’re ill and then that’s not a good thing).

Your life will not get better if you don’t take steps toward making it better.

I talked about creating a plan last week. Check out that post or follow the links to other wise planners below.

4 Tips

Setting Goals

Action 16

What’s the best goal-setting advice you’ve ever received?

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Dear Teenager: Your Dress Code isn’t about Sexism – Part 2

This is part three of a series of rants inspired by this lovely meme:

Is this really about treating girls like sex objects?
Is this really about treating girls like sex objects?

Maybe you’re bored with discussing school dress codes and sexism. Believe me, it was tedious to be confronted with it day in and day out when I worked for the school district.

Why can’t the kids just follow the rules?

Because they’re teenagers, and that means they push every boundary, looking for inconsistencies to exploit. It helps them form their own worldview.

And the physiology of this age group is mostly what I’ll address today, as I approach the teenage boy ogling the girl in a dress that reveals more than it conceals.

Dear Teenage Boy-

Do you know why we’re meeting today? No?

Let’s talk about first period. What happened in there that might have prompted me to call you down to the office?

You’re right. She was uncomfortable with you staring at her chest. It was highly inappropriate.

Again, you’re right. She shouldn’t have worn that dress, but not for the reason you said. Let me direct your attention to the Student Handbook. (See the reference here)

The same physiology that makes girls burst into tears over the slightest thing, makes you unable to look away from visual stimulation. In fact, men are visual creatures, attracted by what they see.

That’s the reason we have these rules. We understand that you’re hard-wired to pay attention to what you see. We’re trying to keep you from seeing things that would distract you from learning.

That’s why you’re here at school, you know, to learn. And one thing we want to teach you is to respect other people.

That’s not our job? You’re probably right. But if no one else is going to do it, then we’ll take up the banner.

Back to how to treat people with respect. In the future, what might be the right response in a situation like this?

Now, get back to class. I don’t want to take up too much of the in-class instructional time with this meeting.

Sincerely,

Your School Administrator

******

No shame and no blame placed on either student in these encounters. Facts – the written rules – were presented.

Will that boy stop having sexual thoughts when he sees girls? Doubtful. That’s part of his physiology.

Should he learn to control his reactions? Yes, but that comes with maturity. And isn’t a guaranteed outcome. I’ve had full-grown, gray-haired men give me the heebie-jeebies by staring too long.

Did the school reinforce his misconception that women are sex objects? (Can we say for certain he thinks that?) I don’t think so.

And every school administrator I know addresses these things as quickly as possible so students can get back where they belong. In the classroom.

Plenty of students think school is all about socializing with their friends. That’s why they don’t take the rules seriously. Or show up late to class. Or forget about doing homework.

The real concern that should be spurred by the meme above is that school has become another platform for protest. Is that really in the best interest of those young people who need to learn to read, write and balance their checkbooks?

Yes, this is the end of my lengthy soapbox discussion of dress codes NOT being about sexism.

What else might you say to this young man? To the school?

Thank you for humoring my long-winded diatribe. I hope it was a little bit entertaining or thought-provoking.

Still Learning at Every Age

This is borrowed from Carla Foote the blog manager for Weekly Refill.

“Apparently when Michelangelo (painter, sculptor, architect, poet – original Renaissance man) was 87 years old he said, “Ancora imparo” – I am still learning.

Reasons to stop learning (most of us won’t articulate these, but they are in the back of our minds when we step back rather than forward towards a learning opportunity):

  • Fear – of what others will think, of looking stupid, of being wrong, of not being able to accomplish whatever we want to learn
  • Time – to accomplish something new, we need to set aside time, make it a priority and stop doing activities that are less meaningful
  • Settling – the comfort and safety of the known can cause us to settle for staying stuck, rather than trying new things
  • Lack of      imagination – we have never pictured ourselves doing the new thing – being a lifeguard, writing a book, climbing a mountain, speaking in front of a crowd, telling our story

Reasons to keep on learning:

  • Stretching – it’s as good for our minds as it is for our muscles
  • Stewarding – we have gifts and influence we can invest for the kingdom, in every season of life
  • Serving – the lifeguard learns so she can save a life – I learn so I can serve my community in some way”

What are the reasons you give for either backing away from new experiences or embracing them with gusto?

As a middle-aged college student, I’ve obviously decided that I have more to learn. In fact, when I graduate next month *cheesy grin* I will still want to keep learning.

If I stop learning, I believe I’ll shrivel up and die. My brain craves new information and experiences. I don’t want to ever say, “I’m too old for that.”

This old dog is happy to learn new tricks.