semper reformanda

Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD...
Who I Follow

Today marks one year since I finished student teaching. At that time, I was happy to be done, ready to graduate, and uncertain that I’d be able to handle the responsibilities of a full-time teacher. I wondered to an extent whether I’d deluded myself into thinking that God wanted me to be a teacher in the first place. But, what other job could my degree get me?

For the most part, this was nonsense. My grades and supervisor feedback were good. I’d already gone to an interview at a school in my area, and they were going to have me come in and teach a demonstration lesson. But, even so, I was plagued with insecurity and doubt.

Fortunately, that school—which eventually hired me—was not terribly interested in how I was feeling about teaching at the moment. Rather, they believed more in what they saw God doing in me than in what I thought about myself. And since being at my school, I’ve learned to trust more in His work among broken people than a ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude which promotes insincerity rather than integrity.

I work at a school that accepts my mess and rejoices in God’s work in my life. Convinced that I’d be found out as an imposter, my heart was put at ease the first day of faculty orientation when the headmaster told us, “You are all here because, in one way or another, you have expressed a desire to be sanctified.”

In that, I strive to be a better teacher than I was last week, last month, last year. But it’s a pursuit driven by joy rather than desperation. I am in a place where it is safe to try and fail and try again. Where I have incredibly supportive administration and colleagues and parents and students.

I think of myself as a “next year teacher” because I want to grow into the teacher that Christ wants me to be. Rather than allowing myself to be consumed with my failures, I look ahead and expect His good work in my heart. Even if I don’t grow in heart and mind and spirit as instantaneously as I sometimes desire, I have the hope that He who began a good work in me will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ (cf. Philippians 1:6).

However, this in no way means that I’m ready to ditch this first year. I’m excited for this summer as a time to transition and rejuvenate and prepare for September. But I love where God has me right now. I’m glad to figure out how to deal with restless children who sense the finish line approaching. I will miss their boisterous greetings and sweet smiles. I may even come to miss handing out missing work slips each Friday (hopefully not!).

In Christ, I can be grateful for my past, my present, and my future. I know that even if I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going, He certainly does.

God willing, I will be getting married three months from today.

In contemplating that throughout the day, I’ve experienced a wide range of reactions: excitement, longing, nausea, dread. The first two are normal and expected. The other two may be just as normal but are certainly not as celebrated.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to get married. God has done so much to sanctify Ben and I to the point where we can pick a date and start planning our eventual life together. I am so ready for all of that to happen.

With all of its joys and frustrations, engagement is a glorious state to dwell in—temporarily. Ben and I are at this crux in our lives between the life we’ve always known and this wonderful, terrifying, humbling, crazy, awesome thing called marriage. We get to see how God has prepared us as individuals to sacrifice a measure of our independence to serve Him together.

So, in anticipating marriage, I have this tangible picture of what it means to anticipate Christ. Right now, I don’t see Ben nearly as much as I would prefer. And even when we are together, there always comes that point when, yet again, we have to say goodbye. The logical part of my brain tells me that those goodbyes shouldn’t be getting harder. After all, we sure have practiced. But in reality, those goodbyes are yet another reminder that we weren’t designed to be apart from each other.

It’s the same with Christ. Sometimes, prayer doesn’t seem like quite enough. My Bible doesn’t seem like quite enough. And it’s not that those things are not sufficient. They are. But, just like the engagement period, they’re meant to be temporary. One day, Christ will return for His church. He will take her to Himself as a bride and begin the best marriage in all eternity.

But the one thing I’m realizing about marriage is that I’m not going to be able to get away with my habitual selfishness. Today, it was something along the lines of, “I’m going to have less than 12 Saturdays left where I can hide in a corner and read all day. Ben is such a jerk. Why would he take those from me?” Because, of course, that has to happen and Ben is marrying me specifically to take my books away. Exactly.

From there, it digressed to, “Abbie, that was selfish. With that kind of thinking, you’re going to be an awful wife. I don’t even know why you think you can do this. Do you have any idea what you’re getting Ben into?”

Sin is sneaky, isn’t it? I seized on this petty little thing as a platform to first villainize Ben and then sink into a puddle of insecurity. I cycled through that on and off throughout my day. At times, I decided that Ben’s existence offended me because he was somehow threatening my independence. On purpose. I couldn’t articulate why. But I felt the truth of it, okay? At other times, I flirted with the idea that it would be better for both of us if I wasn’t around. I knew that I couldn’t force myself to be the kind of wife that he deserves. So why be in the way of someone who could do a better job?

In the midst of this, I texted Ben to give him a general heads up about what was going on in my heart. He responded as the sweet, loving, dependable man I agreed to marry.

I was smitten. Yes, my heart was overwhelmed with love. But I also felt like a fireball launched from a catapult had just crashed into my chest. He simply told me that he was praying for me and asked me if there was anything I needed him to do. He didn’t say, “You’re dumb. Stop it” or “Not again…” He didn’t lash out with anything like, “It makes me feel awkward and unwanted when you start questioning the validity of our relationship.” He showed love without reproach.

The reason why Ben can respond the way he did is because, in committing to marry me in three months, he’s committing to love me as Christ loved His church. He knows that I’m a mess. And he somehow sees it as not just a duty but a joy to tackle that mess with me.

In dying for hopeless sinners, Christ took our sin on Himself. He made our mess His responsibility. And, “for the joy set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV). As a result, we get Jesus’ righteousness and a restored relationship with God.

I might be frustrated because I can’t snap my fingers and fix my selfishness. I might panic because I know that I won’t be able to be a perfect wife. But I’m not supposed to fix those things. If I could, then I would rest in the pride of my own effort. Rather, I am called to submit in all willingness and humility to God because He’s the only one that can change my heart.

When Ben and I say “I do” in three months, we are making a commitment to love and serve each other. But we in no way can make that commitment on our own strength or willpower. Rather, the confidence behind those words will come from knowing that the Spirit of God in us is working to conform us to the image of Christ as we seek to do everything—even marriage—to the glory of God.

A few times a week, I’m forced to field the question, “Miss Fehr, why are you a vegetarian?” By God’s grace, I have wonderful students who ask it in a respectful, genuinely curious way. One of my classes even gave me advice for how to celebrate my Veg Day, their name for my one year anniversary of becoming a vegetarian (Tuesday).

But what am I supposed to tell them?

…That I’m a vegetarian for the sake of the environment?
Cattle grazing is one of the biggest incentives for rainforest destruction worldwide. As countries develop, they ape the meat-heavy American diet in an effort to live up to their new affluence. So, 30% of the world’s habitable land is used for raising food animals. Over ten billion animals are slaughtered in the U.S. alone to meet the insatiable demand for chicken breasts, pork chops, and steak. Additionally, industrial agriculture is responsible for 14% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Much of this comes from cows, who naturally emit methane through belching.

One way that people have tried to cope with both the demand for meat and grazing land is to pack animals in factory farms, otherwise known as CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations). The goal of the CAFO is to fatten an animal as quickly as possible so that it may be killed for human consumption. Some CAFOs house more than 125,000 animals in one place. Such large numbers of animals eat great masses of food and produce equally great masses of waste. This waste is usually toxic and is pumped to sites called manure lagoons, where it commonly seeps into the water table and pollutes the surrounding area.

…That I’m a vegetarian for the sake of my health?
Over 99% of meat sold in the United States comes from factory farming operations. In order to maximize output, animals are shoved into cramped environments and fed hormones and masses of animal feed to minimize the time it takes to achieve slaughter-ready weight. However, most animals cannot live healthily in such an environment, and disease is rampant. To cope with this, animals are given large doses of antibiotics to stave off the ever-evolving pathogens that threaten to wipe out entire farm populations. This has increased to such an extent that today more antibiotics are given to animals than to people.

And then we eat them. Those genetically-engineered, hormone-fed, antibiotic-dosed animals.

Beyond that, American consumption of meat has nearly doubled within the last fifty years. Meat has gone from a specialty to a staple. In fact, the average American eats almost 50% more than his or her daily recommended allotment for meat. Between that and processed convenience foods, it’s no wonder that obesity in the United States is often likened to an epidemic.

…That I’m a vegetarian for the sake of social justice?
Yet while Americans are gorging themselves, 12.5% of the world’s population is considered undernourished. It takes over 13 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. And it takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat, as opposed to the 25 gallons it takes to produce one pound of grain. Thus, it isn’t far-fetched to say that if just 10% of the meat-eating population became vegetarian, we would have enough food to feed the entire world.

Additionally, the meat industry is responsible for the most job-related accidents of any profession. Most slaughterhouses process about 400 animals per hour, forcing a literally breakneck speed. With long shifts and dangerous conditions, workers suffer horrible cuts and gashes, in addition to a variety of repetitive stress injuries. However, meat industry workers are typically low-income minority people. So, they often have little resources with which to speak out or break free from their position.

…That I’m a vegetarian for the sake of the Gospel?
In the midst of all these facts and figures, the biggest question I need to answer for myself is, “How does the Gospel affect what I eat?” It seems like a strange question, but it comes from understanding that God’s desire for me and my sanctification goes far beyond saving my soul. Rather, He demands that I live my entire life—both in its length and its depth—for His glory.

For me, that means no meat. Ideally, I’d eat primarily vegan, but that isn’t practical for me right now. But in understanding that Christ has come to redeem all of creation, I seek to steward it wisely as I also endeavor to love my neighbor as myself. I want those principles to guide my habits and my spending and my eating.

So far, I haven’t said any of these things to my students. I believe that it’s the parents’ responsibility to raise their children well in the sight of God. This means that they have a greater authority over their kids than I ever could. While I would like to answer this question in its fullness, I defer instead to that authority. I have no desire to foment familial conflict. That may seem like a compromise, but I think it merely acknowledges how complicated this issue can be. I’m allowed to hold firm, well-reasoned beliefs without needing to convert everyone to my cause. I reserve that sort of fervor for the Gospel itself and humbly acknowledge that food ethics, while important and intertwined, is a secondary concern.

Even so: How does the Gospel affect what you eat?