Uncle Jim

jim-in-chairSome men leave this life with much fanfare, while others quietly make their exit.  Jim Wages would be the latter, an unpretentious man, who lived his life in the most genuine of ways.  Jim never desired the spotlight, he lived simply, put his hands to hard work, and his heart to family. He was a man who believed actions spoke louder than words…unless there was a Georgia game on, and then his words could be heard ringing out for all to hear! Rather than do a lot of talking, he preferred to be on the move, never sitting still for very long.  His desire to be outside would lead one to believe he was created to live in a tent, and if he could have he would have.  The love for the outdoors, fishing, and camping lit up his face like the sun.  Anyone would tell you that near the end, his fancy outdoor scooter, with what looked like tank treads, extended his life, just by allowing him the ability to get outside again. Even at family gatherings, he was known to visit for the obligatory amount of time and then he was gone.  Sitting around just wasn’t in his nature.

The faith in God that rescued him, was on display for others to see.  He was generous with his love, poured out not only to family, but to the many kids he taught in Sunday school for years. It was an actionable love, that moved not as much with words, but more with doing.  His prayers were more like sermons, and were heartfelt in their desire to make Christ known to all within earshot. He made up for his quiet ways in the prayerful moments, which were the times his words flowed freely. To talk with him about his faith caused him to choke up with gratitude to God, but he would much rather show you than tell you.  He never demanded you notice his actions.  He simply and humbly walked them out without fanfare. Though he wouldn’t want you to know it, there was a tender heart beating within his chest.  He may have seemed tough on the outside, but we all knew differently.

He had a love for kids of all ages.  Whether it was his own two boys traipsing through the woods, his many nieces and nephews and eventually grandchildren going for sleep overs, or his Sunday school kids grabbing for pixie sticks, he had a way with children.  He knew the importance of role models, though he would have never considered himself one.  There was something about showing kids they were valuable that meant the world to him.  He invested his time and it made a difference.

family-thanksgivingThough he was a man of few words, do not think he had none.  His opinions were often voiced…loudly.  And his thoughts were not at all hidden.  He had strong convictions, as well as a wicked sense of humor.  His jovial side came out at family dinners, where there was always a competition between he and his brothers Danny and Tommy, for who could make the most trips through the food line.  He laughed often and the twinkle in his eye was always a signal that he was up to something.  While he and Louise were probably tied in the contest for most spunk, he edged her out in stubbornness. Hard headed does not begin to describe Jim when he sunk his heels in on an issue.  There was no swaying him and it was best not to try.  It is one of the things that made him a successful business owner…not bending on quality.  When wiring houses, drawing a hard line is an important quality to have.

jim-and-brendaNo one knew Jim better than his bride Brenda.  The two of them went together like honey and butter.  She was the sweet to his salty.  She the calm to his storm.  The words he doled out sparingly, she poured out freely.  His strong opinions were softened by her gentleness.  As a couple, they were balanced.  The ups and downs of life did not pass them by, but they always managed to get through because they were together. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Jim’s heart expanded, and with the marriages of his sons he gained the daughters he never had.  The family grew with the addition of two grandchildren, whom he adored.  His care for his family never waned.  Even as his heart was weakening, he continued to desire the best for the rest of us. His presence will be missed and cause a hole around the family table, but just think of the joy in heaven as he and Louise are reunited.  Heaven will never be the same with those two together again!

 

Common Core

Pointers for Parents are regular inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to parents. I hope to build a bridge between parents and teachers as it pertains to the education of children and how we can work together for the betterment of our kids.

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They’ve been around for a while now…the Common Core Standards…and they’ve received quite a bit of negative publicity. That is understandable, because they are so completely different than the way most of us learned when we were in school.  The math has particularly gotten a bad rap.  I mean who does multiplication like that, and why can’t we just teach kids the facts by drilling them?  Let’s not even get started on the way they teach division!  At every level, and in every subject, it seems this new way of doing things is foreign to most of us as parents.  It makes it difficult to help with homework.  It makes it difficult to know what the teacher wants on projects and papers. Many parents have washed their hands of even trying to help their kids, since they don’t know what is expected.  Others have taken up arms to battle the standards, hoping to go back to the “good ole days” when you just learned the facts.  Still others have bought into the conspiracy theory that the schools are trying to brainwash our kids.  I want to take a minute to explain how we got these standards in the first place.

In our current technological world, businesses were having difficulty hiring employees who could think.  What I mean by that is that many of the jobs today require a different kind of thinking than used to be needed. The job market has changed and become more about problem solving, analyzing, and using information to complete different types of tasks.  Because of this change, schools needed to change the level of questions our students are being asked.  In order to do this, the standards changed. I would agree that many standards are not developmentally appropriate for the ages at which they are taught.  However, I understand the idea behind the changes even if I don’t always agree with them.  For years, teachers have used Bloom’s Taxonomy for defining the levels of questions they use.  The new standards are requiring higher levels of questions…that is their goal.  Therefore, you will see more instruction where they have to first, learn the basics, and then take what they know and use it in other kinds of tasks in multiple ways.  Before common core, only the “gifted” kids were taught the higher levels, now every student is expected to be taught this way.

Whether you agree or not, it is helpful to at least understand what these levels are. Here’s a list, and I added a question from each level so you can see how they get harder and require different types of thinking as they go up. The questions are based on an article about social media use in schools, but the levels can be applied to any subject area, these are just examples.

Knowledge– asks you for basic facts or information that is found in the article.

 How many students use social media in our schools?

Comprehension– asks you questions to determine if you understand the material.

 Explain the problem of social media use among students in schools?

Application– asks you to put something into operation based on what you understand of the knowledge of some circumstance.

  Can you make a schedule for social media use in groups of your peers?

Analysis-asks you to examine methodically and in detail information for the purposes of explanation and interpretation.

 In what specific way is social media different from passing notes in former generations?

Synthesis– asks you to compare or contrast a combination of ideas and make a conclusion.

Is there a better solution to the complexities of social media use among students than what we are doing now?

Evaluation– asks you to assess or judge the information.

What are the outcomes of social media use in the future if it continues as it is now?

All controversy aside, I believe all parents want their kids to be able to think at higher levels.  In the current job market, it is a necessity. My goal is to help parents to help their kids. The ultimate goal of Common Core is to grow kids into this new way of thinking things through so they can use factual knowledge in a variety of other ways.  Even if we disagree with the methods, I think we can get on board with the premise that we want our kids to be successful in the future.

(This material was taken from a Study Skills course M&M Educational Solutions offers students.)

Surviving Christmas

Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to teachers in all settings.  I hope to give you a shot in the arm and remind you why you chose this career in the first place.

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During holidays students are wound tighter than usual.  The anticipation of Christmas takes precedence over all other pursuits.  Christmas lists dance in their heads, future travels to see family cause excitement to bubble up and out, and purchasing presents reminds them of their own pile under the tree.  Is it any wonder they have trouble focusing on their studies?  Then there are the increased discipline referrals.  With the heightened emotions and anticipation there can’t help but be more outbursts as kids lose the ability to reign it in.  Self-control is fleeting, especially for those students who come from poverty.  They know there will not be presents under the tree…if they even have a tree. It is easier to have outbursts than it is to recognize the pain underneath the fury.  The gap between those children who have so much and those who have nothing seems wider during these days.  Put them all together in a classroom and it makes for an interesting couple of weeks for teachers.  Survival is the main order of business.  Attempting to teach in such an environment is not for the faint of heart. It would be easier just to write off these days as the Christmas gap.  But that would be the easy way.

Instead, creativity is the order of the day.  Tying content to Christmas is the only chance teachers have to make an impact.  The days are not wasted that way, they are transformed into learning opportunities incognito.  How? It requires stretching outside your comfort zone. And more importantly it requires flexibility.  My favorite saying to the children is “Flexibility is the key to learning!” You can use it anytime in the year, but these weeks it is truly a motto to live by. When you have concerts to go to, or Santa’s workshop, or any number of other seasonal interruptions to the instructional day, the key is not getting bent out of shape…just go with it.  Create lessons that are easily interruptible and quick to pick back up, when you get back from wherever it is you have to go.  It is also important to remember what you are doing is making a difference in the lives of the kids you teach.  Truly.  Do not forget that little fact in the hustle and bustle of the holidays.  You may be the only Christmas some kids have.  A smile and a hug can go a long way to soothe and calm the spirit of a child in turmoil.  Including them in activities makes them feel welcome in ways they may not have known before.  You are the key to building a classroom family that includes all the treasures who have arrived in your classroom for this year.  After all, family is what Christmas is all about.

Goodbye Cloudwood

IMG_0167.jpgI have often heard that when a loved one is dying that they sometimes need permission from their loved ones before they breathe their last. Even if they are ready to go, they seem to sense when family members are not yet able to release them.  I had this crazy idea that our family farm, Cloudwood, needed my permission before it could go to another owner, so I wrote a letter.  It sold the next week.  It is significant that our last holiday to celebrate there was Thanksgiving, because we are all ever so thankful for the 40+ years of joy this property has brought our family and friends. We all put on our best brave smiles today and tried to hold back the tears. We were mostly successful, until the final goodbyes. We lost a family member whose lifeblood flows in our veins, and just as with any grief, the sense of loss is tremendous but the memories are sweet.  We spent the day reminiscing and picture taking to capture one last family celebration upon the mountain we have loved since the moment we stepped foot upon it.  In the end, no one wanted to leave, and the last gaze of the view as we drove down the driveway brought the ugly cries up and out.  Weeping for our loved one and all that we will miss, but as with all loss, we know that the price of love is pain.  Great pain, means we have been blessed with great love.    

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Dear Cloudwood Farm,

I have managed to avoid writing this letter for some time now, but it feels as if the tide is shifting and the final goodbye is eminent. There are some things I need to say before that day arrives.

I remember when you first came into our family.  I was 6 years old, and mom stood at a pay phone for what seemed an eternity, because dad called and said, “I bought a mountain.”  From the moment he drove up the driveway, you had whispered to him that this was the place he had been looking for.  It didn’t matter that mom and the kids were out of town, he knew and so he took the leap.  When we returned home, he brought us to see you and we were instantly enamored with your beauty.  The old farm house had such charm, and a rich history to boot.  Of course as a 6-year-old, I didn’t care about such things.  I was more interested in the tree swing, the castle of rhododendron bushes, the donut shrub in the front yard, the pond in the pasture and the endless supply of trees to climb.

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In no time at all you became our family respite. You were our escape from city life. During the week we went 90 to nothing, but on the weekends you welcomed us with open arms.  I remember putting together jigsaw puzzles with Pop, knitting (or trying to) with Betty, and cooking with Memommie.  I remember the little half room upstairs and how I thought it was unfair my little sister got to have it.  I remember being scared of the attic room, and feeling warm and snug in front of the fireplace.  I remember the creaky wooden floors that squeaked and groaned under our feet. I remember the old antique pie safe that held all our homemade wooden toys. I remember there was a bag of birdseed in the basement.

I also remember the night we got the call that the house burned to the ground.  I remember the tears as mom and dad left the city to find nothing left of our mountain place. They told us that it was important to remember things from the house…to tell them everything we could think of.  That is why my memory of that old house is still so vivid after nearly 50 years.  But you may have noticed that none of those memories include stuff.  They are all of people and feelings of the place, not the items within it.  I don’t know that remembering my wooden toys and a bag of birdseed was much help in the rebuilding process, but I am glad I thought so long and hard, because now I can still pull up the images in my mind.

After the fire, we stayed in your caretaker’s house at the bottom of the hill. We still came to see you often as we dug through the rubble from the house trying to salvage any piece of history we could.  To this day I think I love scavenger hunts because of those post-fire weekends.  Melinda and I found items and created a fire museum in the Rhododendron bushes.  Old skeleton keys, pieces of dishes, old timey irons, we laid them out on big rocks as a memorial to the house.  It was our childlike way of processing the loss.

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Though the house was gone, your land was abundant in its welcome of us.  You were always so generous with your caring.  We made trails through the woods.  Dad and I logged all the wildflowers I could find, in my journal…which I still have by the way. We gathered bird nests, only once they were unoccupied of course, for a collection, along with rocks of all shapes and sizes.  There were always adventures to be had and treasures to be found.  Thank you for that.

Once the new house was built, the fun continued.  By this time, we were old enough to bring our friends along in large and small numbers.  We played for hours in the little storage closets in the dormers, creating a play house club.  One for the girls’side and the other for the boys…who were always harassing us.  And oh, the winters!  Everyone else runs from the snow and we run to it…creating snow angels, and snowball fights by the hundreds on your hills and pastures. The gathering of all manner of children to sled with their dads on the driveway, and warm their frozen fingers and toes by the fire.  Warm cocoa, hot cider were always at the ready and the marshmallow jar by the fire with sticks for roasting, was as much a part of the hearth as the log poker.

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In the summer, the nearby rivers made creek-walking adventures, swimming holes, and fishing spots. Super Jeep took us on the highways and byways of all the surrounding area, and a few off-the-beaten-path places. We rafted the waters of nearby rivers.  We trail rode the horses through your forests, beside your bubbling brooks, through the apple trees, and round and round the house.   Friends by the bus load arrived at your wonderland to discover that nature is not at all silent, and that God is closer in the mountains.  There was a spiritual connection to him there, on the front porch.  The stars overhead inspired so many young minds and hearts to look towards the creator.  Your creator.  And ours.  Maybe that is what joined us so.  Our common creator, who formed us, it seems, to enjoy one another so as to bring him pleasure. The rocks and hills and trees will cry out in worship if we do not…and you knew that verse well, because you were always crying out.

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Our own children were the next generation to hear your songs of worship.  They found the love of family on your mountain top.  Falling stars left them in awe…and we smiled at your ability to capture them as well as you had us. Football in the front yard joined cousins’ hearts, as did sledding on bright orange disks that gave them the ability to fly. The Grandkid Olympics each January 1st, was a time for mom and dad to combine their love of place with their love of the next generation…making memories that will last a lifetime. Being together, with you and each other was a marvelous mystery that was passed from generation to generation. A legacy.  Scavenger hunts to the pasture brought forth your hidden treasures that ended up in bedrooms and on walls to remind them of their time with you.  The reading tree became a symbol of all that you represented to them.  A place to put down roots, while still reaching for the sky.  A place of quiet in the midst of a world of noise.  A place to explore other worlds through words, all from the safety of home.  Home in the deepest sense of the word.  Home is where the family is, as well as the heart.  The connection and the love of the land is what made all of that possible.

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I love you Cloudwood.  It is hard for me to imagine you not being a part of our family.  In reality, it is not possible.  You will always be with us in heart and spirit, and we with you.  I release you now, to spread your enchantment to others who need to connect with their creator through you.  Call the ones who are next in your never ending family.  Continue to sing your worship song and cry out your praises.  We will hear it.  We will love you always and will never forget the sacred place that God used to fuse our hearts to his.

Much love,

Michelle

(The star gazing, mountain climbing, tree loving, tomboy of a girl who became who she is because of you.)

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Cure for the Blues

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There is something about thankfulness.  It has the power to change thought patterns.  It gives birth to hope.  It banishes despair, and opens eyes to see life.  A holiday that has gratefulness as its centerpiece is a refreshing change from our daily negativity and complaining.  Not that we always realize we are being negative.  Sometimes it just takes us over, like a sickness, seemingly without our consent.  The next thing we know, we are wallowing in self-pity and cannot see anything other than dis-appointment, dis-illusionment, and dis-couragement. All the dis-es gang up on us, attacking and causing us to feel alone.  Dis-content follows.  We wonder how we ever got here and what we can do to rid ourselves of this “dis-ease.”

I have the prescription.  When you are frustrated, take a dose of thankfulness.  If you are unsatisfied, take another.  If you are down and out, fearful, and sad, triple the dosage.  Make note, in order for this medicine to work you must take it in its entirety, three times a day, until your symptoms are all gone. Not sure how to start?  It’s pretty easy really.  All you need is paper, pencil, and a desire to get better. Then, make a list.  It might seem hard at first because the dis-ease has infected your mind.  However, as you continue treatment, you will find it will loosen its grip and you will once again feel like your old self.  It is very important that you do not mix this medication with things that can counteract it, like watching the news, or listening to those complaining around you.  It will still work, just not as quickly or effectively as if you cut out negativity cold turkey.  To feel better, you must start treatment right away before the dis-ease takes over completely and becomes a chronic condition.  I can’t think of a better day to begin than Thanksgiving.  If you are having trouble getting started, here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order.  Feel free to borrow them until your own medicine takes effect.

I am thankful for…

  • Family. Seems obvious, but not everyone has a family that is loving and caring.  I am a teacher, and I have seen some pretty horrible family situations.
  • Friends. Another obvious one, unless you don’t have any.
  • Faith. I can worship.  Any time. All it takes is looking up and setting my heart towards God. How beautifully easy is that?
  • Food. If you have it, you are better off than a significant percentage of the world.
  • Shelter. (I thought about keeping the alliteration going, but not everyone lives on a farm.) A roof over my head, a bed to lie down in, protection from the elements. Again, the homeless of the world would love to have the security of shelter.
  • Pets. They give love unconditionally. (except for cats, they have conditions) Even so, pets require us to have compassion. Never a bad thing.
  • Mail. Seems silly, but getting mail, real or virtual, means someone cares about you. (Bills are not mail.  Mail is made up of invitations, letters, and notes, or posts, private messages, and tweets.)
  •   Books. The whole world can sit on my shelves. What a miracle.
  • Music. It exposes and explains my heart to me. It sings and plays my feelings. It comforts and keeps me company.
  • Front porches. Even if you don’t have your own, if you have sat on one, you know the magic.  Front porches are for slowing down your pace, and they are almost as effective as thankfulness at sewing contentment.
  • Hikes. For me, my soul sings when I am hiking. It communes with God and for that I am beyond grateful.
  • Birdsongs. When I was a teenager I would have never included this on my list, but now if the birds wake me up singing, it means I am alive for another day.
  • Candles. The scented kind that smell up the whole house.  And the ones on birthday cakes that mean I have lived another year.
  • Paint. Colors that put my feelings on paper so I can SEE them.  What a marvelous thing.
  • Grocery stores. If not for them, I would be hunting in the woods trying to kill something and avoid poisonous plants.  Not my cup of tea.
  • Long conversations. Communicating, the ability to talk, think, and reason together is a blessing. Connection with others makes me a better person.
  • Christmas. Ornaments.  Lights. Decorations.  All things Christmas make me smile.  Jesus really is a gift to be thankful for.
  • Bonfires. Similar to front porches, only with many friends.
  • Pillows.  I get to rest my head on a cloud at night.  I am so pampered.
  • Squirrels. The one outside my window, asked me to put him on my list.  He is collecting acorns and his fluffy tail is quite splendid.
  • Quilts. So it’s a bit chilly in my writing chair today, the quilt is cozy and keeps my feet warm as I write.  What’s not to like about that?
  • Hawks.  They are majestic and regal sitting on the powerlines overlooking their domain.  Their screech is the call that all is well.
  • Mountains. I couldn’t live without them.  They are the old ones…wise and so willing to share their wisdom.
  • Dishwashers. I have been without one. Never want to do without again.
  • Photographs. Capturing images.  Cataloging memories.  Looking back over them brings a warm fuzzy feeling.
  • Bugs. I don’t like them, but they are important, so I choose to be thankful.
  • Maps. They take me places.
  • Lists. They remind me of things. To be done.  To remember.  To pick up.  To be thankful for.

I could…and will go on…until I am completely cured, always looking, throughout my days, for things to add.  I might just have to continue this treatment indefinitely…

A Prayer for Rain

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Father God,

I come to lift up my voice to join with others who are crying out for rain.  The land is parched. Fires are gobbling it up, leaving behind devastation and barren, charred remains.  Toxic smoke chokes out life. It burns our eyes and claws our throats. The trees cry out for rescue from the destruction. The rivers are dry.  The mountains are being consumed like kindling.

 Oh God, please send rain. 

The fires are spreading wildly.  Our firefighters are risking their lives to stop them.  Protect them.  Guide their work.  Give them wisdom and strategy.  Bring them home to their families for the holidays.

Open the sky and pour out life giving water. Stir up the clouds to overflowing. Hold back the wind and the heat until the fires are extinguished.  I pray for the law enforcement officials trying to catch those setting the fires.  Give them leads.  Help the to find the perpetrators and to stop them.  Snuff out the sparks that blow and become flames.

I pray the lakes and ponds will hold water for use in the fight.  That the pilots of the helicopters would be able to continue their surveillance and their critical role in dousing the flames.  Give all who are fighting the fires the energy to continue on.

But most of all I ask for rain, a long, steady, heavy rain that saturates the ground.  That goes deep into the earth to snuff out even the coals buried in the ashes. That seeps into every crevasse, every valley, every dry creek bed.  I pray for rolling water that bubbles up from the underground springs and irrigates the valleys, returning life and breath to the land.

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Lord, I am also aware of the spiritual parallels between the fires in our mountains, and the flames of anger ravishing our country.  There is turmoil, and devastation leaving pain in its wake.  The divide is growing like wildfire.

Holy Spirit, please reign down.

Cover us. Snuff out the flames with your peace. You are the comforter, please comfort us now.  I pray for protection of those trying to bring calm into the tumultuous times.  Guide their work.  Give them wisdom and strategy.  Bring all those in the streets home for the holidays.

Pour out your life giving unity.  Open minds and hearts as only you can do.  Stir up compassion and empathy to overflowing.  Hold back the continued sparks and the wind of words that blow on them.  Heal the hate that flows out, and replace it with forgiveness.  I pray the living water of life would flow out from your people, and that the counterfeits and Pharisees would be silent. I ask that those starting the fires with their words would be stopped.  That the sparks would be doused and that hearts would be softened.

Most of all I ask for a long, steady reign. That saturates our land and goes deep into the fabric of our country.  So that even the bitter roots would be pulled out and resentment would dissipate, disappearing into the healing peace that flows down from your reign. I pray your blanket of reconciliation would seep into every city and town, every highway and byway.  I pray for joy to bubble up and flow out returning life and hope to our land.  I pray that we would not listen to the political voices, or the religious ones, or even our own wounded  angry ones…but that we would hear only your voice.  The voice who quenches fires and speaks a balm over all of creation.  Help us to hear, and to receive your healing.  Please soak us with your love oh, God.

I pray in the name of Jesus, who has rescued me from my own self-inflicted fires more times than I can count.

Amen.

Holiday School

Pointers for Parents are regular inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to parents. I hope to build a bridge between parents and teachers as it pertains to the education of children and how we can work together for the betterment of our kids.

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When the holidays roll around each year, you can hear the children cheer.  Even if you are not a school employee (who is secretly cheering too) you can tell by the countenance on your child’s face that the break is coming. Their eyes are brighter.  Their smiles come faster. Laughter can be heard, even in the mornings.  It is amazing how much happier they are to get on that bus when they know they only have a couple of days until a break.  I know these feelings, because teachers feel them too and parents cherish the idea of sleeping in.  No rushing through the morning routine. No homework wars. No extracurricular activities. Time to be together as a family awaits. Looking forward to time off is a natural human thing to do…a good thing.  However, if you have a struggling student, time off can mean lessons lost. The last thing anyone wants is for their child to drop behind over the holidays.  Do not fear. I am not going to tell you to fill your days with school work, but I am going to give you some secret ways to work some academic material into your holidays.

  • Show them reading. When you are cooking a recipe, get them to read it to you.  When you are making a shopping list, call out the words and let them write it. When you are at the mall, let them find the store you want on the map.  Shhhh, they won’t even know they are reading.
  • Show them math. On that recipe, let them do the measuring and mixing.  The teacher who is working on fractions will be forever grateful.  Give them a shopping budget and let them figure out how much to spend on each gift. When they pay, let them figure out if they got the correct change.
  • Make holiday memories. Find your favorite Thanksgiving/Christmas stories and read TO them.  I don’t care how old they are, they secretly want to be read to.  You can do the voices of the characters, or have them be one of the characters and read those parts.  Either way they will get warm and fuzzies just being with you.
  • Let them build. If you have any gifts that need putting together, let them help. This may make it take a bit longer, but it will teach them how important it is to follow directions.  They have to read and then apply what they read to get the item built correctly.  Pretty good life lesson, don’t you think?
  • Create cards. Holiday cards are fun to make. A little glue, a little glitter, and a masterpiece is born.  Homemade cards are more meaningful, especially if they have a handwritten note inside. Shhhhh.  Don’t tell them this teaches handwriting, spelling, and idea generation.  They don’t need to know.  ;)

I am sure there are many more ways to integrate schoolwork into the holidays than I have listed here, but you get the idea. Bring those lessons home for the holidays.

Heartsick

 

Hopelessness-a state of being without hope.

There is something rising up.  It is crying out with a loud voice.  It is the sound of pain.  It is the expression of deep wounds that are festering.  It is brokenness, manifested by anger.  If hope deferred makes the heart sick, then our country is heartsick.  We are finding that if you put hope in a government, you will be disappointed.  If you rely on people, they will let you down.  If your heart looks to another source for rescue, it will be broken.  Every time. Grief over the loss of hope is torturous.  It brings sorrow, torment, and distress. The pot of anguish simmers and then boils over, spilling out into the streets.  It is a lament over the failure of men, and if that is the only hope you have, it is devastating.

In the midst of gut wrenching pain, there is name calling.  From every direction. Every social media post, every conversation is filled with poisonous words spoken over the “other side.” Pride has even taken hold of the bride of Christ. She is splintered within herself.  She will not bow in humility.  She does not see the damage she is doing with her words.  She cannot feel the heart of God breaking at her actions.  She only wants to make herself heard.  She has aligned herself with BOTH conservative and liberal. The arrogance that spews from her is masquerading as caring, but it is only words.  Arguments. Pointing of the finger. Accusations. None of it is bearing fruit.  None of it.  There is only division.  Confusion. Self-righteousness.  Who does this most resemble?  Not God.

When someone is trapped, or wounded, God does not heap insults. He does not try to humiliate those who oppose him, he tries to woo them.  He does not criticize or demean.  At least he didn’t for me.  He has never been harsh with me.  Even when I was lashing out. He is gentle with wounded hearts and with stubborn ones. I have had them both. He knows to heal them they must first be open to him.  For that to happen, there must be trust.  He has spent the past 2,000 years proving himself trustworthy.  Yet, humans are still suspicious.  They still do not fully embrace his sacrifice.

Without evidence, skepticism runs high.  The Pharisees still exist and they get all the press.  Front and center, they point out how unrighteous or idiotic or foolish or unwise everyone else is, and how they are the ones with the truth, as if they know better than others.  Their eyes are blind to the fact that the mind of a Pharisee lives in ALL of us.  Yes, I said all.  I should know, I am one of them.

There are so many deep wounds in our country that we are in self protect mode. We are defensive as a people.  Instead of protecting and covering one another, we are pulling scabs off of those we consider our enemies and poking the wounds with sticks.  In the meantime, believers are unaware that we are the evidence the world is looking for.  We are the proof, or not, that God is trustworthy with broken hearts.  At this point, I would say there isn’t much evidence, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that he can be trusted with the pain that has taken hold of our country.  The hope everyone is looking for in the government lives within us, hidden under layers of self-righteousness.  It cannot shine out as a beacon until we bow our knees and lay our hearts open for surgery.  We need a self-ectomy.  Only then will our eyes be open to see the pain around us that so desperately needs healing.

I look in the mirror and wonder if I was called to the witness stand to testify of the hope of Christ and if my words were used as evidence, would he be found guilty or innocent?  Would my testimony let him go free or crucify him?  I cannot say for sure, but I think the verdict would not be in his favor.  My mouth does not always speak life.  Sometimes I utter fearful words, or hurtful ones, or no words at all.  It grieves me to recognize my heart is still so far from his.  In this difficult time in our country, where hope is needed more than ever, I don’t want to be one who adds fuel to the hopelessness.  Once again, I have a log in my own eye. Once again, I bow my knee. Once again, I need his grace.  Once again, he offers it freely.  Once again, hope rises. Now to give it away…

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Historic Events

Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement to teachers in all settings.  I hope to give you a shot in the arm and remind you why you chose this career in the first place.

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On the heels of a historic event, life goes on.  After Pearl Harbor, life went on.  After WWII ended, life went on.  After 911, life went on.  Whether it is a tragedy or a triumph, life goes on…and you have to teach. It has been so for generations. The question is how to go into your classroom, face your students, and bring some perspective about whatever it is that just changed life as we know it. No matter your opinion, no matter your viewpoint, you teach.  You try to be neutral, and to present the facts without bias.  It is hard to do.  It requires separating your own personal view from the reality of historic circumstances.  Teachers are called upon to be a voice of reason in a sometimes-very-unreasonable-hard-to-understand world.

The delicacy of this kind of teaching isn’t covered in the standards. It isn’t part of what you learn in “teacher school.” No.  This is responsive teaching.  Getting a feel for your students’ emotional state, both good and bad.  It is responding to them in a way that makes them feel safe.  It is easing fears, while helping them to sort through their thoughts. It is protecting them from each other. There are bound to be multiple responses to the historic election results.  Some will be overjoyed.  Others will be devastated.  Each of those responses is valid, because students are valuable and their opinions matter.  Navigating the classroom discussion is tricky.  Some will do it well, others will avoid it altogether.

The key is to see the event through the eyes of a child.  What would you feel if you were him/her?  What would be your concerns?  What would you be excited about?  If you were of Hispanic descent, you would react differently than a military kid.  In this situation, consider what the kids are hearing at home.  They are likely getting one side or the other.  They have been seeing adults agitated and extremely verbal for months.  This behavior has undoubtedly caused them to have opinions and questions.  It has made them think.  There are very few safe places for them to discuss their thoughts.  Your classroom should be one of them…a place to feel their words are worth something, a place to know they have a voice and that they will not be ridiculed if they use it, a place to know they are loved…no matter what their views.

Teaching on these kinds of days is difficult.  It has always been, and will always be.  Yet, it is one of the reasons you do this job; to ensure that future generations know what freedom of speech looks like.  You represent sanity and reason. You have wisdom.  God bless you as you do this marvelously hard job of teaching children how to love to one another in positive ways. How to get along, without putting one another down for believing in one way or another, and how to move forward despite their differences.  I have always thought that classrooms are microcosms of society, and on the day after a historic election, they could be a volatile places if it wasn’t for you, the teacher, bringing the peace.

An Election Prayer

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Father God,

I come to you on my knees.  I thank you for who you are.  The God that breathes stars into existence. The God who says ‘let there be light’ and the universe is formed, and continues to expand, because you never said for it to stop.  The God who formed planets, and designed galaxies.  The God who created the sea, the land, and all the creatures who inhabit the Earth.  Your mind is beyond my comprehension.  Your creative power overwhelming.  I am too small to grasp all that you are.  I cannot scratch the surface of your ability to be love.  I am but a speck of dust, a speck who you love…fiercely.  For that I am ever so grateful.  I am humbled that you call me by name when there are, literally, trillions of other names you call as well.  It is too much for me to comprehend.

Help me to remember just who you are and how enormous your reach.  I thank you for all the glory you display. In all the galaxies, and systems, Earth is a tiny blue dot…a grain of sand.  That this seemingly insignificant place has your attention, is beyond me.  How I have captured your heart is astounding.  The fact that the creator of the universe made himself small in order to be with me is mind-blowing.

When I think of all of this, so much of what I worry over seems insignificant.  The things that cloud my mind are but mist that dissipates when I look at the reality of you.  As if you do not know or care about these peace-stealing thoughts.  My concerns about the future are important to you, because they are important to me.  Yet, you do not worry or fret.  You know the outcomes and the seasons.  Help me to trust in your sovereignty.  As this election comes and goes like so many others have done, in so many places around the world, help me to know you are not caught off guard. All rulers rise and fall by your hand alone.  Your plans are perfect, even when those of us you created are not.  Your ways are not my ways, and what I see is far far from what you know to be true.

You were before time and you will be after it. You live above the confines of my small mindedness.  Seasons stretch out before me and seem so very long, yet, to you they are but the blink of an eye. Give me an eternal perspective, so that I do not focus on the short-term-smallness of the place our country is in at this moment.  Give me eyes to see bigger than that.  Do not allow me to get bogged down in the details of mud-slinging, or even whatever comes after mud-slinging.  Instead, help me to join my heart to yours in loving those you love, which is all of us.  Give me eyes to see your marvelous creation, beyond space and time, and into the hearts of men. Into my own heart.  Not the darkness there, but the hope that shines within me through Christ.  Let that hope be a beacon rather than a glaring harsh spotlight.  Give me grace to walk in the love I see you exhibit.  Remove all bitterness and frustration from my heart, and the coarse chatter from my lips.  Replace it with your words of life.  Help me to speak them, to be a part of healing our land, instead of tearing it down.  Lift up my head, pull me out of the pit, set me on a mountain top, where thoughts are clean and pure, where words are encouraging and bring life to all those around me.

I lay the results of this election at your feet. God help us.  I open my hands and surrender to your plans.  I put my future in your hands.  I ask for mercy for our country, and for grace to walk in the path before us.  I pray the hope that is within us will be fanned into flame that would spread far and wide and exhibit your glory.

In Jesus name,

Amen

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