Blackberry Winter

michelle-in-front-of-yonah

I stepped out into the cool morning.  “Brrrrr.  It’s chilly this morning.” I said under my breath.

“Blackberry Winter,” came a friend’s reply as she crossed the parking lot.

Two words which, anywhere else but rural Georgia, would need an explanation.  Here, no other words needed to be spoken.  A simple nod of acknowledgement and I was on my way.  As if to confirm the statement, the blackberry bushes along the roads on my way home held their faces up in full bloom. The 50-degree temperature settled in my bones.  Sure ‘nuff it was Blackberry Winter.

In case, you’re not from around here, Blackberry Winter is when spring days, which feel colder than a milkshake, come around just when you think it’s fixin’ to be summer.  For some reason, they sneak up on you like a cat ‘bout to pounce.  You’ve put your sweaters in the cedar chest thinkin’ you’re done with ‘em, when out of nowhere, bam! Winter again.  This happens each year right around the time the blackberries are in bloom.  Hence the term, Blackberry Winter.  Some ol’ timers may tell you that it helps ‘em grow like a weed, however, since they are already weeds it’s hard to tell if the cold snap is the culprit or if they would grow that fast anyway.  All I know is they tend to take over a place if you aren’t tendin’ to ‘em.  Before you know it those bushes will be bendin’ low under the weight of the berries.

When I was a young girl, I ‘member going berry picking in the pasture.  I pulled on my cowboy boots to protect my ankles from real live snakes in the grass.  I braided my hair into two pig tails to keep it from gettin’ tangled in the briars.  Slipping into a long sleeve shirt, I rolled the sleeves all the way down, even though it was hotter than Hades in the summertime.  I grabbed my bucket and off I went.  Startin’ on the outside of the patch and working my way in towards the middle, I grabbed only the sweetest berries.  They had to be plump, and all the way black, any red on them and they would make you pucker up to kiss your grandma.  The best way to find the ripe ones was to put on your tongue and press it to the roof of your mouth.  If the explosion of sweet juice was like fireworks inside your mouth, it was ready.  If the juice dripped down your chin you knew it would be totally worth the purple fingers and briar scratches that looked like you’d fought with a bobcat.  The gnats you consumed while picking, were an appetizer to the main event, which was blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

As I’m driving down the road in the drizzly cold, a smile like a Cheshire cat creeps onto my face at the thought that all this rain and cold are just getting the berries ready for summer. They say not to count your chickens before they hatch, but no one ever said not to count the blackberries before they ripen!

6 Ideas for Teacher Appreciation Week

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Teachers do not do what they do for the glory…or the money…or the respect…or the appreciation.  They do it because they want to make a difference in the lives of kids.  That said, a little appreciation goes a long way to making teachers feel valued.  Who doesn’t like to feel valued?  Teacher appreciation week typically falls just after testing week, which is arguably the most stressful week of the year.  They receive trinkets of all kinds, such as I love my teacher coffee cups, candy, flowers, gift cards to Starbucks, socks, lotions, and numerous other small tokens.  Sometimes the community comes together to provide treats in the front office or luncheons, all designed to encourage teachers in their desire to prepare the next generation.

While the week-long celebration is nice, it is not all these things that make teachers feel appreciated; it is the heart behind them.  If you want to know what makes the biggest impact on lifting teachers up, I am going to tell you.  It is your words of affirmation. They are more treasured than all the money spent on items which are relegated to a closet, shelf, cupboard, digested or passed along to the local nursing home. The words are the gifts that make their way into filing cabinets to be pulled out on difficult days, to remind teachers of why they do what they do.  Here are five ways to use your words to inspire a teacher.

  1. An Email– This alternative to snail mail is instant encouragement. You don’t have to wait for Teacher Appreciation Week either.  Any time you see your child grow you can jot it down and hit the send button.
  2. A handwritten note– These notes never lose their appeal. They are classic, and when a parent sends one in on no particular occasion it is even more special. My “Why I Teach” file is full of handwritten notes from both parents and students. I pull them out on rough days and they take me down memory lane and make me smile.
  3. A homemade card– When students make a homemade card it is one of the cutest things ever. When those cards have made up poems or notes it is even more special.  No need to correct the spelling either, the mistakes are part of the heartfelt charm.
  4. A text message– These are instant. They can be just a quick word of appreciation, or a report on something good your child has said or done.  I love when parents send me a quick text telling me about a former student’s accomplishment because it makes me feel as if something I did made a difference.  Just don’t blow up their phone every day…it’s OCCASIONAL use makes texting a great gift. (If teachers won’t give you their cell phone number, don’t be offended, just use the other five gifts on this list instead.)
  5. A letter– You may ask how this is different from a handwritten note…a letter isn’t written to the teacher. (though it can be) It is written to the principal about the teacher. Most teachers would LOVE it if the principal got a letter saying they are doing something RIGHT.  We are all familiar with the sinking feeling of the principal getting a complaint.  Letter writing that expresses appreciation for a specific teacher turns that around and builds up positivity.  You could also write a letter to the paper if there is a particularly exceptional teacher. Around here being in the paper  for something good is a wonderful thing.
  6. A tag on a gift– I certainly do not what to imply teachers don’t want gifts. 🙂 If you have it in your heart to buy a gift, have at it.  Just don’t forget to add some encouraging words on the tag to lift the teacher up.

Affirming words are something teachers are good at giving to students, and they tend to give out of their own abundance.  By affirming teachers, they have even more words to pour into your kids.  It’s a win-win.

Shafts of Light

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The light spills through my window.  It pours across the room illuminating the tops of candles as if they are lit.  It falls on the wall creating a secret golden window that leads to another world.  A world where light surrounds and permeates.  Where uncertainty is banished and heaviness is lifted.  A place I long for.

Outside my window shafts of light tumble through the trees.  The mist filters graceful beams through shades of green, which glow.  The arms of the trees reach for me, and beckon me to breathe in the light, only I don’t know how.

My chest is constricted.  Stomach in knots.  Sleep flees.  Exhaustion, my companion.  My only companion.  The one who understands, but does not relent.  Shafts of light beg me to pay attention.  Invite me into the secret world through the golden window.  Walls and doors all close.  The window is open.  Breathe the light.  If only I could ride shafts of light…

Testing Week

This post is a combination of my two regular series Pointers and Tidbits in celebration of testing week. Pointers for Parents and Tidbits for Teachers are regular SHORT inspirations to bring hope and encouragement as we set about educating our children.

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It is testing time.  The week we have all been dreading all year!  Seriously, the pressure of standardized testing is one of the most agreed upon topics in education.  It’s all too much.  While teachers and parents both understand the need to measure growth of students, none of us agree with HOW we are currently required to measure them.  Our cries for relief, or at least some common sense, fall on the deaf ears of those in leadership who make the decisions. Rather than rehash same old arguments and repeat the concerns to be blown away in the wind, I have made a list. There are some not-so-serious tips, and a few poignant pointers for all of us, parents AND teachers, who need to survive the weeks ahead.  Happy Testing!

  • Relax. Haha…just kidding.  It is not possible to relax, so do your best to hide your stress.  Stuff it if you have to.
  • Photograph. Show your students/children that a picture only shows one moment in time…just like a test.
  • Eat. On testing weeks, we feed the kids healthy meals in the morning and at lunch, while parents and teachers get candy, cookies, doughnuts as comfort foods.  Since you are stuffing your stress, you might as well stuff your mouth, too.
  • Explain. Discuss what it means to be a good citizen.  How to be kind.  How to be caring.  How to take responsibility and show respect. How to be a community that honors one another.  Tell them those things are more important than any test they will ever take.
  • Resist. The urge to fuss at kids who finish in 2 minutes is strong. Let’s face it, you really want to do much more than just fuss.  Those who don’t read, who don’t use scratch paper, or work out any problems, those who use their paper to doodle, who write in incomplete sentences, who cannot type, those who fall asleep.  RESIST.  Go back to number one…stuff it.
  • Remember. They are kids.  No matter what the powers that be believe, they are just kids who don’t fully understand that all of our futures rest on their performance.
  • Cry. In private of course.  You know how they are doing.  You know it is not all good. You know you will be in the office explaining the low scores in defense of yourself, your parenting/teaching, and the quality of the job you are doing. Get all the tears out BEFORE that meeting.
  • Chin up. If your child/student doesn’t do well, remember their results are not yours. Don’t let it define you. Or them. It is not an accurate measure of success.
  • Dance. Every. Single. Day. Of. Testing.  It shows everyone the test isn’t so important AND it lets the stress explode out of you in a positive way!!  Not to mention it makes the kids think you have gone crazy.  They LOVE this idea.
  • Pray. If you don’t believe in God, this is the week to start.  Pray for calm and peace.  Knowledge to flow and that no one would throw up during the test.
  • Drink. If nothing else works get a glass of wine, beer, hard liquor, water, or sweet tea…whatever your taste, drink to testing.  Cheers!

Repurposed

This is a continuation of a story I posted yesterday entitled Repurposed. To follow this post you first need to read part 1.   

A Story (Part 2) 

At dawn, The Father rushed to the workshop to see the completed work. He stopped in his tracks.  Never had he been so glad to see his son, who was carefully polishing the wood.  The Man embraced The Father in a bear hug.  The two stood there, until The Wind blew them apart with a gentle breeze.  They circled the finished work, admiring the sheen.

“I can see your reflection,” said The Father.

“That was the plan,” replied The Man.

Looking at the scars of The Man, The Father asked, “Was it worth it?”

“Absolutely.  Just look at the result! A masterpiece. It takes my breath away,” beamed The Man.

“Shall we send the invitations then?” asked The Father.

“Yes, Father.  Let’s prepare The Table!”

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With that, they carried The Table out into the garden among the trees and flowers. It stood within an open-air glass gazebo in the center of the garden. When the sunlight hit The Table, it nearly glowed.  The warm crimson color was rich and full and deep. It was ablaze with a luminous radiance that made The Man burst into laughter with great joyfulness.  The garden erupted in song as the birds danced on The Wind which encircled The Table. As a centerpiece, The Man set a loaf of bread torn into bite sized pieces, and a cup of wine.

“Where is the rest?  If there is to be a wedding, we need a feast!” proclaimed The Father.

The Man smiled and said, “Consider this the appetizer.  The main course is yet to come!”

bread and wine

Oh my Beloved,  Do not think you are worthless, set aside, and abandoned in the dark corners of your life. You cannot be hidden from me under a tarp in darkness.  On the contrary.  You are seen.  You are loved.  You have great purpose.  You do not belong in the barn, do not let The Owner convince you otherwise. (He is not really The Owner…his real name is The Deceiver, and he does not truly own anything! ) You are bought and paid for.  I bathe you in my word to remove the ilk that has covered you.  I disassemble you in order to see you better, sothe healing will be complete.  I scrub down through the layers peeling away each one, removing the old colors that were so unbecoming.  Beloved, there is no need to hide them with another layer, when I can remove them altogether.

The sanding of your life takes time. The roughness of the grit smooths out the gouges and scrapes, and it hurts.  Each successive rubbing feels less intense though, and the resulting dust is evidence of your progress in the process. What remains is a life which is raw and real, and covered in dust. I wash you in my word to remove the vestiges of the old wounds and scars. It feels refreshing to be clean, unencumbered and beautiful, but I am not finished.  You will be a masterpiece when I am done, because I always finish what I start.

I will cover you with a protective coating before I begin to reassemble your life.  The pounding seems harsh, I know.  It seems as if it will never end, and as the nails go in you feel as if you are being crucified…because you are. But without the nails you will fall apart.  Without the nails, you remain in pieces.  The nails are the key to holding you together.  I do not take this step lightly. Brokenness is never easy, but it is necessary. It causes me pain to think you might not understand the necessity of such work.  I sweat more with each nail inserted, but I want you to know each one is important to your purpose.  I do not add them frivolously or needlessly.

Once you are reassembled, The Father stains you with my blood.  I was happy to give it up for you, my love, so that all the richness of your life could be displayed.  You are worth every drop. The Father covers each piece one by one, saturating your life. The result is depth and fullness.  Restoration and renewal.  Hope and healing.  The Wind of the Spirit seals the work by breathing on you.  As The Wind blows, the sheen on your life increases.  Soon my reflection is clear in the finish, and it serves as an invitation to others around you.

Do you not believe I can repurpose your mess into beauty?  Give you beauty for ashes?  It is my specialty to locate messes and create masterpieces out of them.  Masterpieces which draw others to come and enter into communion, as well. Then communion gives birth to community and my bride grows in beauty.  Right now, you may doubt I can do this for you, or that I will.  You do not think yourself worthy of such artistry, but I disagree.  I know your worth, Beloved, even if you do not.  I say you are worth every drop of my blood, sweat, and tears.  You are worth the cross and the tomb.  You are worth resurrecting!

Resurrection is simply death… repurposed.      

Repurposed

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A Story (Part 1)

A Man arrived at an old barn in his faded jeans and flannel shirt.  His kind eyes were piercing.  His smile, quick to surface.  He had a purposeful gait, but was not in a hurry.  As he stepped into the barn, he waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light.  The Owner caught up to him, as he perused the junk within.

“May I help you find something, sir?” asked The Owner.

“No, thanks. I will know it when I see it,” replied The Man.

He continued his quest, stopping to look at each piece as if it were the only one.  He slid his hands across desks to feel the grain of the wood.  He pulled the drawers of dressers out to see if they were stuck.  Wardrobes were opened and closed and opened again.  His eyes scoured the wood for imperfections, but also for character.  He made mental note of scratches and chips as well as the richness of the grain.

The Owner of the barn grew uncomfortable with The Man’s attention to detail.  It was obvious he knew furniture, and even more so that he was familiar with each type of wood. The Man rubbed an old trunk with a cloth he had in his pocket, as if to polish it, when The Owner spoke up with a sneer.

“Sir, I must insist that you not do that.  It makes the old furniture look new and folks come here for antiques.  Now, what can I help you find?”

“I am merely looking at the potential of each piece by removing the grime and dirt,” answered The Man.

“Ah, so you refinish furniture then?  I have just the piece for you, sir.  What about this old dresser here? Isn’t she a beaut? Of course, being in a barn with the humidity the drawers are stuck closed, but they would do better if it were inside,” said The Owner.

The Man gazed at the piece.  He noted the wood and the sticky drawers.  The hardware was missing, so there was no way to get into them. He smiled at the smooth talking Owner.

“Not refinishing exactly, I prefer to think of it as repurposing…taking an old beat up piece and giving it a new purpose,” then he continued, “It would take more than moving this inside to get the drawers to open.  This is quite a project.”

“Is it beyond your ability, sir?  I am sorry.  I have some easier items to deal with which do not require such work.  I pegged you as a carpenter with great skill by the way you were looking at each piece.” Moving deeper into the barn, The Owner pointed out a bookshelf against the back wall.  Brushing the cobwebs from it, he told The Man, “This requires a simple sanding and a coat of paint.”

“How would you know?  You do not repurpose furniture; you merely sit it in here to decay.  And why would I paint that beautiful wood?” asked The Man.

“Well, sir that just shows what you know,” The irritated Owner said.  “This shelf has scrapes and scratches in it which need to be covered over.  Paint is the way to make it look like new. You can see I am right by the layers already on it. Obviously, I am not the only one who paints to improve a piece.”

The Man just shook his head, refusing to argue with The Owner. Instead he replied, “No. This is not the piece I am looking for today.”

His eyes caught a glimpse of a shadow in the corner of the barn, but as he moved towards it, The Owner jumped in front of him and said, “Sir, allow me to show you another piece.”

Undeterred, The Man continued to move towards the shadow, his piercing eyes fixed upon it.  The Owner chattered incessantly, trying every technique to dissuade him from his path.  Once standing in the shadow, The Man saw the item was covered with a tarp.

“What is under this tarp?” he asked.

“Nothing sir.  I have many more items for you to look at.  A man such as yourself cannot be bothered with a project such as that.  It is too much for you,” The Owner stated.

“I beg to differ, there is no project that is too much for me,” said The Man. As he pulled back the tarp, dust flew in a million directions.  “This is the piece I have been seeking.  It is perfect for what I need.”

Incredulous, The Owner replied, “Sir, how can that be?  It is just a pile of wood. It is completely undone. Nothing much to look at, and even less useful.”

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“In its present condition it is true.  But I see beyond the mess.  This is exactly what I am looking for.  I’ll take it!” proclaimed The Man.

“But wouldn’t you like something better suited for you?  This is so much work.  It will take all of your efforts to repurpose this one,” whined The Owner.

“I determine what I am willing to give, not you!  I will do whatever is necessary to complete this project.”  The Man picked up the shabby pieces of wood.  He headed towards the door, but The Owner blocked his way.

“Sir, I cannot let you have that piece.”

“Step aside.  This piece belongs to me.  I do not care the condition, or the amount of work required.  I will be taking it with me.  It is already paid for, as is every piece in this barn.  Do not stand in my way, or you will regret it,” The Man said, with fire in his eyes.

Swallowing hard, The Owner stepped aside as The Man carried the wood into the blinding light of the day.  He dared not step out into the light, instead he stepped back into the dim barn, sliding the door closed with a bang.

When The Man got the piece to his workshop he opened the doors and windows to let in the fresh air and sunshine.  He began to look over each section of wood.  It was true that the piece was a mess.  The dust alone was enough to make the shafts of light dance, as it floated down to the floor.  Pulling each plank of lumber into his hands, the man carefully examined it for blemishes. He was not intimidated by what he found. He took a washcloth with warm water and began rubbing.  When the water in the bucket got too dirty, he simply refilled it with fresh and continued bathing.  Once he finished, he stood back to determine just how to proceed.  The wood had layers and layers of paint that was chipped and scratched.  It was in rough shape.

“It’s going to have to come off,” he said to no one in particular.  He knew to pull out the true beauty of the wood he would have to strip it all the way down until it was completely unfinished.  He began the work of stripping all the old layers off.  It was an arduous process which took days to complete, but he was not once discouraged.  He even hummed as he worked, because he knew what it would look like in the end. The scraping created a bigger mess than it was the beginning.  Each layer seemed to cling to the wood, refusing to let go.  Each time, he used force to scrape away the dross.  His hands blistered, but he continued in his pursuit.

Once the layers were gone, he smiled and whispered, “That’s much better.  Now you can breathe again.”

“Talking to your wood, again?” asked a voice.

“Ha ha, yes, Father, you caught me talking to the wood, again,” said The Man.

“This piece has kept you busy, but I think it is going to be worth the effort, don’t you agree?” asked The Father.

“Yes, I do believe it will be worth it, in the end,” smiled The Man.

The father gazed at his son and looked deeply into his eyes.  “You’re sure you want to finish it?”

“I have never been more sure, Father,” stated The Man.

“Good.  Let’s get on with it then.  Let the sanding begin!”

The two of them began, The Man using everything The Father had taught him. The Father was happy to be working together on this project. The rough paper created dust as it scratched and ground the wood into powder. The two worked together side by side, for hours on this piece. The Man ignored the splinters which found their way into his hands. He continued to work into the night, refusing sleep.  The Father smiled gently as he left The Man to finish his work.

Each board was handled separately three or more times, from rough to fine, until it was smooth as silk.   Another bath to wash off the dust, and it was ready for the next step.  The first coat of stain was wiped on with great care. Lovingly even.  Each piece was checked and rechecked for complete coverage. Even though The Man was exhausted from his work, he still paid very close attention to details, while humming a slow haunting tune to himself.

As he reassembled the piece carefully, his hands were bleeding.  Each plank was like the piece of a puzzle and had to be put in a particular place.  Each nail was pounded in a specific way. Drops of sweat covered his face while he worked.  It was a grueling process, and a stranger might have wondered if the pounding was ruining the work.  However, there was no stranger watching; The Man was all alone. He knew, without the nails the whole thing would fall apart.  No, the pounding of the nails was essential to the finished work. Finally, when it was ready for the final coat of stain he stood back, smiled, and cut off the light.

In the morning, The Father came into the workshop.  Alone.  He carried a bucket of stain with him.  He opened the workshop door with a solemn look upon his face.  He gently rubbed his hand over the work of his son and a soft smile curled his lips slightly.

“That boy.  He sure knew what he was doing.  This is going to be spectacular.  His best work yet.” he said to no one in particular.

The Father dipped a cloth into the stain, and allowed it to become saturated.  He placed it on the piece, and the crimson tint soaked into the wood like a sponge.  Each dip into the bucket brought a deeper red color which he rubbed into each board.  As he worked, The Father grew more and more sorrowful.  Before long, his tears were mixing with the stain as he cried.  The circular rubbing motion spread the tear-filled red tinge to every grain in the wood, it covered every pound mark and every nick.  Everyplace he put his hand was filled with crimson, and he continued to work until the entire piece was completely covered and the bucket was empty.  Poured out.  The Father stood back and wept.  The beauty was unsurpassed.  The Man was a master craftsman who had created a masterpiece.  The Father was in awe.  At dusk, he opened the doors and windows wide so The Wind could come in and seal the stain.

When darkness fell, it was finished.

I Am in Remission!

michelle-in-front-of-yonahRemission.  In Cancerland, it is a wonderful word.  A word which is coveted by every person in the chemo room, doctor’s office, hospital, or lab. It is every patient’s goal to hear that word, and every doctor’s desire to say it.  It means the diminution of the disease…the cancellation of cancer.  The origin of the word comes from the Latin remit; to send back or restore. Pardon me, but I like to imagine sending cancer back to hell from whence it came. For me, seeing life restored, after this dreaded disease tries to steal it, is a beautiful thing. Skin begins to glow again. The blood counts rise, resulting in energy and effortless breathing.  Hair returns in baby-like softness creating fluffy wavy curls.  The eyes lose their hollowed out appearance and regain sparkle. Bruises from the abuse of this disease, fade away.

Bigger than the physical changes are the mental/emotional ones.  The survival-mode-mentality fades, as the hope in the future is restored.  Gratefulness is the emotion of choice, and it bubbles up through tears and laughter at the same time. Every small detail of life is noticed and appreciated.  Colors are brighter, faces more detailed, trees more beautiful, family more loved, the sun shines brighter, and every single thing seems to be pulsing with life.  It is a fabulous feeling to be a part of the heartbeat again, instead of feeling life ebb away daily.  Healing, health, wholeness all collude together to bring hope and happiness.  All this because of one word.  Remission. What a glorious term.  To say ‘I am in remission’ is to say ‘death did not take me, I am alive!’  It is a defiant word which is said with heartfelt conviction and all the hope of the future behind it, while standing tall and breathing deeply of life. It is a proclamation that requires an exclamation point!

I am sure my understanding and experience of that word and the emotion intertwined within it are the reasons it jumped off the page at me this week as I was reading in Matthew 26.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sin.  But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:28

Wait.  What?  Remission of sin?  The diminution of the death-causing disease, the cancelation of the cancer of sin. When Jesus remitted sin, he sent it back to hell from whence it came.  He restored life.  This passage is about his last meal with his friends and he knew it.  He knew the bread he broke and the cup he poured, represented his body and blood which were about to be riddled with sin-disease.  He knew the pain that would come just hours after this meal.  He knew the life would drain from him, because sin-disease would ruthlessly steal it, pull out his hair, drain his blood, zap his energy, rip his skin apart, bruise his body, and ultimately stop the life flow.  He would no longer feel the pulse, and life would ebb out of him until it stopped his heart. (He also knew it would not stop his resurrection or ours, but that is next week’s blog.)

JESUS-EYES-Ed-Unitsky

He painted the picture for them, even though they were unaware.  Bread made from crushed wheat, wine made from crushed grapes. Ingested, or I should say, infused. To fill or pervade; to soak in healing properties. Jesus became the chemo.  His body and blood the medicine, to rid us of the sin-disease that was killing us. He submitted himself to sin in order to bring us the antidote.  He is the cure that brings our glorious remission.  When we submit to this infusion of his life, everything is brighter.  Hope is fanned into full flame.  Life pulses into us through gratefulness…to be free from disease, to be whole, to be healed.  Tears fill our eyes even as we laugh with joy at our great fortune.  What was killing us, riddling our lives with death and stealing from us, has been reversed and sent back.  We are restored to health because the disease has been cancelled. Forgiveness is ours and so too, freedom from death.  We stand, breathe deeply of life and proclaim “Because of Jesus, death did not take me and I am alive.”  We are infused with his crushed body and blood which results in our healing. Our heart cries out for all the world to hear, “I am in remission!!”

Lessons in the Storm

michelle-in-front-of-yonahThe storm rages.  The thunder rolls, bounces off the mountains, and returns like a boomerang.  The ground is moving. My usual porch writing spot does not feel safe, so I withdraw into the house.  The walls tremble and shake at the vibrations. Pictures rattle. Even as a lover of thunderstorms, I am on edge with the intimacy of this storm.  When they get this close, my stomach ties itself into knots with the memory of the destruction one lightning strike can do. In minutes, life as I know it can be undone.  Burned up.  Flooded.  Damaged beyond repair.

I push those thoughts away.  They lead nowhere.

Instead, I settle in by the window to watch the storm.  The trees blow and appear to be dancing to some unheard beat.  The rain is steadily creating puddles in the grass so that after the storm, the birds can more easily retrieve the worms. The thunder rolls away after a few anxious moments and the wind dies down momentarily.  The rain is steadfast as it slides off the trees which creates the hissing and pattering sounds I dearly love.  The trees are partially dressed, just changing into their green gowns for spring.  The leaves unfurl and turn their faces up to receive the gift of water from the heavens. They open themselves up fully as they drink.  I can almost see them expanding as I watch.  The newborn leaves, which appear to be so fragile, are in actuality quite strong.  They play in the storm as if it were a gentle shower.  I would never know from watching them there was any danger at all.  I want to be like the baby leaves; open to receive gifts from heaven provided to me in the midst of the tempest and trusting the storm will not destroy me.

The next round of thunder arrives to taunt me and laugh at my silly notion that there can be peace in the storm. It rumbles and shakes.  It knows the power all its loudness has over my heart. The rain picks up into a downpour and with the deluge comes the wind, back to display its power with the swirling and bending of trees.  The lights flicker as if to bow to the pressure of apprehension which is rising once again.  The storm is forcing itself on the mountains, creating a battle-like volley of sound.  What I realize is the back and forth noise isn’t back and forth at all, it is all coming from one source.  The echo is what makes it feel as if there is a battle.  In reality, there is no war, only thunder puffing itself up to be heard. The infant leaves know this.  They are not afraid of the bully.  The birds know it too, and they wait for the thunder to blow itself out.  It seems to me that all of nature knows and patiently waits for a new day.  Am I the only creature who does not know the truth, which is that storms come and go in cycles?  Or do I simply forget that after the destruction comes resurrection?  Always.

Lessons in the storm.

Spring Break

Pointers for Parents are regular SHORT 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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Spring Break.  Those two words just have a lilt to them, don’t they?  They roll off the tongue in kind of a bubbly, sing song voice.  They are the two words every parent, teacher, and child can agree on.  The giddiness that floods the heart when they are heard, or even thought about, is uncontainable.  Of all the breaks in the school year, Spring Break is probably the most anticipated of all of them.  No feast to cook for the relatives.  No gifts to buy.  Nothing but rest.  Whether you are going on a vacation to a tropical place or staying home, it is a week of time just to be together with family.  The pep in your step just from the anticipation of sleeping in is visible to all with whom you come into contact.  The smile on your face is contagious because of the freedom that is coming your way.  Freedom from homework assignments.  Freedom from lessons.  Freedom from schedules.  Freedom from extra-curricular activities. Freedom from practices, games, and rehearsals.  Freedom to picnic or camp.  To hike or shop.  To swim, or ski.  It is a holiday for fun.

I am aware that not every parent gets to join in the fun.  Some still have to work, and there are kids who go to daycare for the week, or grandma’s house.  There are some parents who have to juggle more because of the break. For others sleeping in is still only a dream. However, the freedom is still real.  No coming home to fight over homework.  No calendar of events to keep.  Mostly, you get to see your kids in a relaxed state, and in these days of cram packed schedules it is a joy to see them simply play.

The only shadow that falls over this blissful week is the coming of the most hated week of the school year.  Testing week. At the end of this fabulous holiday is a week or two of reviewing every standard taught throughout the year, and a few that haven’t been taught yet.  It is the time when parents, teachers, and kids ratchet up the anxiety that Spring Break all but removed. The regression and forgetfulness that happen in one week are shocking.  This creates panic as students return with blank stares in classrooms across the country. Here are a couple of simple suggestions to prevent a total loss over the break.

  • Read with your kids. I don’t mean crack the whip and force it, just take books to the beach for FUN.  Reading is supposed to be enjoyable, what better way to make it so than finding a good book and reading together.  No pressure of writing a response.  No test to prepare for.  No analysis to do.  Just read.
  • Practice real world math. Include kids in on the economics of your vacation.  Let them calculate the cost of food.  Have them decide what activities are the most economical. Let them see why you are not able to go on an exotic trip, or show them the reasons you are. Money management is a real thing.  It has to be done so why not take this as an opportunity to show them how.
  • Go to a museum. There are museums of every kind in nearly every city.  Find one where you are and go to it.  Read the displays for reading practice. (Shhhh, don’t tell them that is what they are doing.)  Look at exhibits for science, social studies, or art information. Even if you don’t go on a trip, there are local exhibits to see and usually the admission price is pretty reasonable at museums.  Interact with others and each other.  It is fun.
  • Go to an aquarium. They are a bit more expensive than museums, but the connections kids make with the sea creatures are worth it. There’s more reading and the shows they offer share what is involved in keeping, caring for, and training the animals.  It is entertaining for the whole family.
  • Go for a hike. Parks are cheaper than most other kinds of activities.  They have interpretive trails which come with paper guides that explain each station. (More reading.)  Learning about the habitats of animals and environments gets in some interesting science, and hiking is good for the body.  Win-win.
  • Go shopping. Shopping is another chance to practice economics.  Give your child a set amount and help them manage it.  Whether you are buying souvenirs or school clothes, shopping is an opportunity for them to see where your hard earned money goes and to learn that you don’t get everything you want.  Decisions must be made and priorities set.  Life skills come in the form of a trip through a store.

You get the idea.  Spring Break is supposed to be fun, and acquiring knowledge can be embedded into your holiday if you are intentional.  If you do it right, they will never even know they are learning.   🙂

How Do You Prepare for a PVT?

IMG_9778“Mom, you are going to have to prepare yourself.  Time isn’t the same in other countries.  You have to take off your American-time-consciousness and your need for control of your schedule in order to just go with it.”

No truer words have ever been spoken.  You see, my daughter knows me. She knows I like to be in control.  I am a teacher; therefore, I am a plan-my-life-down-to-the-minute-and-take-charge kind of girl.  I have been doing it for so long it is natural for me to eat lunch in 17 1/2 minutes, no matter where I am.  If I am to arrive at 10:00, I will be there at 9:58.  I am conditioned to show up early because, in a school, if you are two minutes late to any place, you have disrupted the schedule of the entire building.

kids leaning out of busI plan things weeks in advance.  Field trips require buses to be reserved, lunches to be ordered, tickets to be bought, permission trips to be signed, and all of these things have to be done efficiently or disaster happens. I have been on numerous field-trips-from-hell with an entire grade level of third graders.  Once we were going to the Puppetry Arts Center in Atlanta, two hours from us, when a bus broke down on the side of the road, we went to the wrong Arts Center, and we got lost.  We missed the puppet show and had to eat lunch on the busses on the way home. Another time, we were at a nursing home and our students had an assignment to write the stories of older folks.  I had asked for the most coherent residents to be in the dining area so our kids could conduct their interviews. Instead, they pulled ALL residents into the hallways and released the kids to “go talk to someone.”  It was a teacher’s worst nightmare.  After one code blue, we left the trip hours earlier than planned to avoid traumatizing the kids any further. (And FYI, the code blue was NOT me.)

I think you get the picture, I have an aversion to unscheduled, poorly planned activities. Okay, okay I admit it…I am a control freak. Because of these types of experiences, I am a queen of time management and I kind of expect everyone else to be too.  If I get stuck in traffic, oh my!  If my precious schedule is compromised, horrors!! I begin to cut things off the list to get back on track.  What, you don’t keep a running list in your head of your schedule at all times? I do. I don’t even realize I am doing it, but my family knows it’s there. I think managing a household with four small children is where it all started, but if I am honest, I know I have always been this way.  I have also found, in America, my time sensitivities are cultivated by the culture. Which is why my daughter warned me before my arrival in Thailand. She knew it would be a struggle for me to let go of who I am. She also knew for me to truly enjoy the trip, I would have to do just that.  Because of her words to me, I made a conscious decision to let go of time and to let go of the need to know the schedule.  I decided instead to relax.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Just take off my American need to know and control. Go with the flow. I have to tell you it was not as easy as it sounds.  Yet, I immediately saw the reasons for it.

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There is this thing called a language barrier which requires more time than usual to navigate.  Also, foreign currency requires doing math, in your head, on the fly, just to do the simplest of things.  Then there is the fact that you don’t know the city, which requires you to ask directions.  Did I mention the language barrier?  When you know NOTHING about the culture, EVERYTHING takes longer.  In America everyone else knows about time pressure, but in Thailand (and most other countries, I am told) there is NO time pressure.  It is quite difficult to hurry when no one else is in a hurry. It is a lesson in frustration if you cannot drop your expectations and judgements.  And planning ahead of time?  Non-existent. You can arrange to have transportation set up, and they might show up on time, but it is more likely that they will come “after breakfast time” which could be anywhere from 8:00-10:00.   I was amazed at the skill of our logistics guy to adapt our plans as these types of things came up.  Remember, I have experience counting heads to make sure my entire group arrives, so I know the anxiety that happens when an unforeseen wrench gets thrown in and you have to improvise.  Not an easy task. Especially with a large group.  Add to that the fact, the people you are managing are adults with expectations as to how things should go, who do not fully understand the lack of time pressure, and you have a recipe for disaster with questions like this one.

“Shouldn’t AIM be able to control all variables in a foreign country, like language barriers, bus schedules, traffic, markets, currency exchanges, guides, available ingredients for food, weather, temperature, and time, to have a written schedule for us that includes each day of ministry, meals, free time and exactly what we will doing and where?”

In case you were wondering, the answer on that one is no. 🙂  My recommendation to parents going on PVT, is the same one my daughter gave me.  Just go with it. Expect the unexpected.  Let others worry about scheduling and timing.  Be in the moment.  Enjoy time with your racer whether it is doing ministry, exploring the area, or waiting on a bus.  Let go of your need to plan, and trust that every interaction is ordained by God.  Be looking for the people he puts in your path, even if the path isn’t smooth and straight. Allow your Racer to guide you.  Let them lead.  It seems odd to take the back seat to your children, but being so far out of your comfort zone will require you to lean on them, rather than the other way around. They have been doing this for a while now.  You will be amazed at how well they have adapted to the uncertainty and the day to day challenges of international travel.  Let them show you their world without imposing your own structures on it.  You are there, with them, in their element…soak in it.  How many parents get the chance to get instruction while in the field on how to be a missionary, from their kids?  Not many.  Do not let this opportunity be stolen from you by frustration with things beyond your control.  Be flexible.  When things unexpectedly change, Racers laugh and say “Welcome to the World Race.” By the time the week is over, if you embrace the experiences as they come, you will understand and be laughing too.  What do you expect? It’s the World Race.