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.)

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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.

How Do I Fight?

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I believe there are two worlds.  The natural one and the supernatural one. The natural one is what I see with my eyes and experience with my senses.  I live here, in this place where I interact with others and the natural environment.  Day to day decisions, my thought patterns, and my feelings, all make up the natural world in which I live.  My soul either thrives here or shrivels up depending upon the things that happen to me.  I am comfortable with this world because it is familiar to me.  It is not always consistent, but it is predictably unpredictable which makes change the norm.  I live here and have spent my life walking through this world and trying my best to manage things so that I have the best outcome possible for myself and my family.  It is what I do. There are differences of opinion on what that looks like for each person which cause division among us.  What I believe is best for me, may not be what you believe is best for you. The discord that results shows up in our political system which is known for its constant struggle.  I participate in it because I want control of my surroundings.

There are many people who don’t believe in the supernatural world, but I am not one of them.  I have seen and felt too many unexplainable things in my lifetime to say the physical world is all we have.  The supernatural is unexplained by scientific understanding and operates beyond natural laws. It is the spiritual realm.  It is where my spirit interacts with God.  It is not something I can touch or feel, but it is more who I am.  It seems mystical to some, yet I sometimes feel it is more real than reality.  An unseen God.  A Spirit who leads.  A Son who lived in both worlds to show us it can be done.  All of that seems quite unbelievable, and yet I believe it. Different people have their own versions of this supernatural world and the differences of opinion cause great strife. Men have set up religious systems to try to explain this spiritual place, and the passionate arguments between them have led to unending conflicts about what peace looks like and who God is. Once again, controlling my life is the goal, and I reach for any system that will allow me the illusion that I can alter things which happen along the way.

If life has taught me nothing else it is that control is unattainable, and therefore should not be the goal…in either world.  Instead of control, love is the objective. Not seeking it for myself, but giving it away.  This requires some countercultural thinking.  In the natural world, I am fighting politically for what I deem to be the truth.  Ultimately, I believe that my way is the best way for everyone. When put like that, it becomes a bit clearer the arrogance of my position. Pride is a supernatural foe which operates in the natural world.  Its goal is to keep me fighting you. To do so, it makes me think it is imperative that you take the same position as me.  No matter what, I will not lay down what I believe as a matter of principle. I stand on my truth and dig my heals in. I am ready for a big battle.

humility.jpg But what if I am using the wrong weapon?  What if, instead of using my pride I choose humility? What if I take a modest or low view of my own importance?  In this day and time, I do not hear many speeches on meekness.  I hear a lot about boldness, about taking things, about charging into battle.  Humility is the opposite.  In the supernatural world I believe in, the way up is down.  I look to the example of Jesus who bridged the worlds.  Servanthood was his mantra.  Laying down his life for his enemies, was his way.  He was meek, and in his meekness lay his strength.  He endured injury with patience and did not speak a word on his own behalf.  He did not harbor resentment against those opposed to him. He submitted himself to the will of his father, but also to the will of men. He allowed them to take him, when he could have taken control at any time.  Why would he do such a thing?  He knew that love would win. He knew that the supernatural weapon of humility would be the most powerful force with which to obtain his objective, which was not control but love.  Pride is a supernatural force which takes up residence in my heart.  It is an enemy of my soul in the natural world, but it also quenches my spirit.  It prevents my spirit from communion with God’s spirit in the intimate way he desires.  Humility is the way to vanquish pride.  Once it is put to death, my thoughts and ideas become of little importance to me. All that matters is expressing supernatural love.

dinner partyThere is another powerful weapon which is often overlooked in the battle between the natural and supernatural worlds.  It is hospitality.  The friendly generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers, may seem an odd weapon of choice when trying to battle pride.  Yet, I believe it is effective because it is in the natural world but has a supernatural result.  To me, having a party seems an odd way to fight.  Inviting in strangers and even enemies, seems the opposite of what I think.  In the natural world, there would be no reason to talk to those who want nothing but to control or harm me.  However, in the upside-down spiritual kingdom, being hospitable is one of the most powerful weapons used.  I believe it is because when I share a meal with someone they become human to me.  My eyes are opened to see them as a person with needs, just like mine.  When I share space with them I open my heart a bit and that drives the nails into my pride.  I listen and laugh and share and reason with them.  I pour into their spirit and they pour into mine.  We become like one another and from there the differences between us diminish.  The care for one another increases.  Compassion is born.  The love shown impacts not only this world, but also the spirit world because our spirits are lifted up.  Do not underestimate the power of kindness.  Do not dismiss the influence of inviting someone into your life.  A simple meal can change viewpoints, and open eyes.  It can save lives.  Jesus ate with sinners, not so he could preach to them or somehow make them his project.  He did it because he loved them.  He wanted to manifest God’s heart.  It was a natural way to communicate a supernatural love.  Over a meal, at a party, while at a wedding, in an upper room, around a table…hospitality expressed. Love personified.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have supernatural power to demolish strongholds. 2 Cor.10:4

I don’t know about you, but pride is a stronghold in my life I would like to see demolished.  I would rather BE in the spiritual world, than DO in the natural one.  I would rather relinquish my attempts to control, and pick up the contentment of the Lord no matter the circumstances. My desire is to follow his example, yet I have been battling using pride as a weapon.  How crazy is that?  I choose to lay down pride and pick up two weapons that are far more powerful.  It may be counterintuitive, but the best way to deal with politics and religion is to change objectives.   For the objective of sharing love, humility and hospitality are my weapons of choice.

Wedding Preparations

michelle-in-front-of-yonahI am at wedding central. My lovely niece Sarah marries the love of her life on Saturday, so the army of helping hands has been called in.  I arrive at the house to buckets of flowers and the smell of a florist shop. There are Rubbermaid tubs stacked all around, with labels like “cake table,” “bride’s room”, and “reception” on them.  The counter is covered with a maze of Post-it-note lists. In moments, we have created a cookie-bag-stuffing assembly line, and in short order conversation fills the air of hope and the future.  There is just something uplifting about the new beginnings that weddings bring. Checking things off each different list continues. Table layouts are next up with each one discussed and packed, in even more labeled boxes.

The main event of this day begins slowly at first, but with the arrival of the grandmas, grandpas, and aunt, floral arrangements begin to multiply like rabbits.  Starting as buckets full of flowers, each stem is carefully chosen, cut, and placed with loving care into an arrangement.  Three generations of family are humming around like bees in a hive.  As we work, three generations of wedding stories are told.

The bride, who is wise beyond her years, states, “I think I will appreciate and enjoy these flowers more since I helped make them.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t care as much because someone else would have just brought them in and set them up.”

A discussion follows of how weddings used to be events which involved family and friends all coming together to help the couple get a good start. There is much laughter and picture taking as the table fills up with each new floral creation. An atmosphere of love and warmth, permeates the room.  Everyone has a job and in no time, all of them are complete. Boxes are loaded into a plethora of cars going to a plethora of places, and whisked away to await the big day.  I am taken by the ease with which it all comes together.  The old proverb that ‘many hands make light work’ is proven true on this day, but it should also say many hands make ‘fun’ work, as well.

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Preparation for a wedding has gone to a whole new level since my day.  It has become a billion-dollar industry that leaves pockets empty as it promises a fairy tale ending.  The wedding itself is seen as the goal, without much thought to the marriage.  It is refreshing to see my niece and her fiancé have not taken the bait of “the bigger the better,” but have opted for simple elegance.  So many of these events are over the top, which leaves couples in debt and wondering what to do once the wedding is over.  It starts things off in an unhealthy way from the beginning, because the focus is in the wrong place.  The alternative is to cohabitate rather than to marry.  It is cheaper and more practical, and not nearly as permanent.  I totally understand why many couples are choosing that route, because after all, ‘it is just a piece of paper.’ Weddings are not thought of as sacred much these days. They are more of a cultural tradition, or a requirement to get a legal status.

Call me old fashioned, but there is something about a wedding that is more than just a ceremony. It is the joining of hearts with love and commitment; taking vows before friends, family, and God.  It is a sacred act, and the foundation of relationship.  It is a joyful occasion worth celebrating.  The birth of hope, which then grows into trust, which results in being fully known just as you are.  You can’t get that with just a piece of paper, or with a venue full of flowers.  It requires a supernatural intervention that comes when invited, and stays long after the I-dos are said. The wedding is the beginning of an adventure, not the end.

sarahs flowersI don’t think it is trivial that the gospel is compared to a wedding.  The bride of Christ is pursued, chosen, and invited into the mystery of supernatural love. She is adored by her groom.  She does not need the perfect venue or flowers. She doesn’t need a cathedral.  She rests in the simplicity of his love for her.  She gazes into his eyes and she has no doubt that she will be loved forever.  He assures her of that by his sacrifice.  He is unwavering.  He is steadfast.  All that is required is the union.  The scared vows.  The commitment to trust. The love to be received.  There is a wedding feast scheduled.  It is the beginning of a great adventure.  It is the fullness of joy.

Our weddings are but mirrors of the spiritual truth.  It is why we come together as family to create floral arrangements.  It is why we fly across the country to attend weddings in the first place.  We make the trip to bear witness to the union. To see hope born.  We are drawn to it, because we long for it. This joining of souls is a sacred act of love on which relationship and belonging are built.  The preparations are meaningful and fun, because they set the stage for deep love to be on display.  The intertwining of two lives becoming one can only be accomplished with supernatural joining the two strand cord and making it three.  The preparation is complete.  The waiting time is here.  Tomorrow is the day for love to be made known.

Happy Wedding Day Sarah and Ryan!

Close Your Door and Teach

old desk.jpgTidbits 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.

Teachers have many jobs beyond teaching, and supposedly those other jobs help you become a better educator.  Data collection has its place, but I am not sure I agree it makes my lessons better.  Mandates from the government are important to follow, because they help you keep your job, but they don’t help you help Johnny learn to read.  Testing is a thing, but it shouldn’t be the only thing.  Committees, grade levels, professional learning, staff development are all required, but none of them can replace having a hunch that a student is acting out because they would rather be the trouble maker than the kid who doesn’t know how to read. Ultimately, your intuition is your most important feature.  It cannot be taught or forced or bullied or measured out of you.  You get it from experience.  It is that simple.  All of these other “jobs” take away the time it takes to gain the experience you need.

So how are teachers to improve their practice? Close your door and teach.  I am not saying don’t do the things required of you. You will lose your job if you don’t show up for all the meetings.  I am saying put less importance on anything that is not actual teaching. Close your door and teach.  Do what you know to do.  Collaborate with your students. They are the ones who matter.  Plan with them what they want to do to learn the material.  Close your door and teach.  Avoid teacher drama.  Close your door and teach.  Walk away from administrative bullying.  Close your door and teach.  Adjust to the latest in a long line of standard changes.  Close your door and teach.  Rid yourself of anxiety and angst about possible changes politically. Close your door and teach.  It takes discipline to walk away from pressure packed meetings that tell you how to do your job, which is contrary to what you know.  It requires laser focus to put ‘things that are not helpful’ into the correct perspective and recognize how much they take you away from actual teaching. Close your door and teach.  It takes guts to teach your students developmentally appropriate lessons. Close your door and teach. You know what works.  You know what doesn’t.  You know who to go to when you need help.  Close your door and teach.

True North

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A star peers through my window as I drive.  It is luminous, and for the past few nights it has been capturing my notice…almost calling me to pay attention.  Whispering a message through its repeated appearances throughout the countryside, I pull over to listen. I gaze at the seemingly stationary star, and as I do, I think about the old world ships which navigated uncharted oceans by starlight.  While there were no maps for the sea, the sky was charted in great detail.  With the North Star as a guide to true north, all the other directions were easily discernable.  Find Polaris, and you could find your way.  When the captains needed direction, they looked up.

Sitting under the tutelage of my star instructor, I get the message as clearly as the night sky. When my world is off balance or when things are unclear, I need to find my true north.  If I fix my eyes on the stresses and uncertainties of my life, I will get lost in the darkness.  There is a vast sea all around me that is not marked and the only way to navigate it is to look up, and keep my eyes on the one who knows me better than I know myself…the one who created the star he uses to instruct.  Suddenly, I find courage that hadn’t been there moments before.  It rises up, like the heavenly hosts above me as I gaze into the night sky.  I realize I cannot lose my way when I depend on him and therefore, I commit to fix my eyes on the Lord, who is my true north.

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It occurs to me then that I am not the only one who needs this reminder.  Our world is divided.  Our friends and families are tearing one another apart.  There is chaos. Negativity oozes off of screens and into the streets. Disrespect has a stronghold.  It seems a storm is brewing and the future is uncertain.  The swells are growing bigger on the ocean and we have lost our way.  We have forgotten that the sea is uncharted, but the map we need has been provided. We have only to look up to the heavens to find our bearings and remember where we are. One star of hope directs us. He is the unchanging one…the one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  As long as we can see him, the waves can churn and crash all around us, but we will not lose our way.  We can fix our eyes on him and find the courage we need to get us through the storms and darkness. The Ancient of Days is not movable by the whims of men.  The rest of creation revolves around his stability and faithfulness.  Sometimes the winds blow hard, and other times the sea is like glass.  He is not surprised by either, nor is he moved from his throne in the heavens. He has not forgotten or abandoned us.  We need only look up at our star instructor to remember how to find our true north.  From there, courage leads us home.

Teaching Respect

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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.

Respect seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur in recent years. In all areas of our society, there is less and less of it as people clamor to have their own voices heard. These voices are getting louder and louder at the expense of common courtesy. Ears seem to be stopped up and consideration for what others think and feel is at an all-time low. This concerns me as both a parent and a teacher because our children are watching.  My question is what are they learning?

The word respect is defined in this way: courteous or considerate treatment of others due to personal worth.  If you break the word down into its parts, the re- means to do again, and –spect means to look at.  In Latin, it means to look at again. In regards to other people, it means to contemplate, or consider other views in a way that is courteous and considerate. It is not what we are witnessing at this time in history.

So how can parents teach their children to be respectful in a day when it is not the “in” thing to do? Here are a few ideas.

  • Show respect. This may seem pretty basic, but children learn by watching you.  Of all the people in their lives YOU as the parent have the most influence on their behavior.  If you are respectful, they will be too.
  • Do not yell at the TV. I know, I know…this may seem like an impossible thing, but you can do it.  Really you can.  Instead of venting your frustrations loudly, try having a conversation with your child that is respectful of those you oppose.
  • Have discussions. It is hard to be respectful if you have no idea what the word means.  So have discussions and talk about respect, what it is, and what it is not.  Do not depend on other people in your child’s life to teach them this important life skill. Show them how to identify it.  Show them how to practice it.
  • Ask questions. Each day, check in with your child.  How were you respectful today?  Did you witness or participate in any disrespectful behavior?  How could you have done it differently to still express yourself but in a way that does not put down others who are different than you? What do you do when you see disrespect at school or in the community?  How can you turn things around?
  • Pay attention.  When you are on the phone, pay attention to the conversation your children are hearing.  They are always listening.  This does not mean you have to pretend to agree with everything all the time, but it does mean you need to demonstrate what healthy debate and disagreement looks like. Your interactions with the people throughout your day are their examples.  Your talk around the dinner table sets the standard.  You are their role model, make yourself a good one. Otherwise, they will find one you may not like.

Respect should not be a difficult subject to teach our children, yet it seems to be in short supply. We need to be intentional in our efforts.  It does not start at the White House, or at school, or on the television.  It starts at home.  It is time to look again… at respect.

An Interlude

IMG_3519.jpgFrom my first footfall, the tension I had been carrying in my shoulders started to evaporate.  As my steps continued across the bridge, the water rushing underneath transported my cares away from me like white water over the rocks.  I paused to breathe it in.  Fresh air caressed my lungs, and the slight breeze tousled my hair as if to welcome me home.  The sun shone down, filtered through the bare branches of winter trees, who seemed a bit confused by this 70 degree February weather. A few buds were evident on otherwise stark skeletons.

Muscle memory took my legs over rocks and roots, and once it kicked in, my mind began to clear of the incessant worry that has taken up residence in the past month.  The crows overhead laughed together as my countenance began to change.  It was as if they could read my mind and were overjoyed to see the smile appear at the corners of my mouth.  A red cardinal crossed the path in front of me in pursuit of his wife.  She stayed just enough ahead of him to keep him interested, and the two chattered like an old married couple might do. On the lake there were diamonds flung across the surface, dazzling in the late afternoon sun, and a family of mallards was calmly making their way across the water.  The v rippling behind them cut through the glassy shimmer, giving away that their legs under the surface were working furiously, even as they appeared to glide smoothly on the top.

Soon I was in my usual rhythm making note of all the changes since last I walked the lake.  Like a reunion with a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in a while, I noticed newly downed trees, fresh gravel, and underbrush that has been cut back over the winter.  I thought, “Wow.  You look different! How long has it been since we have seen one another?”  In response the wind whispered, “Too long.”  And the wind was right.  It has probably been months since I last had a good trip around the lake, and it shows in the load I have been carrying, but with each step it got lighter. Half way around and I was practically skipping.  My heartrate increased with the exertion.  My heart was applauding and thanking me for this long overdue interlude from daily stresses. It continued its ovation until I stopped at the end, for a rest on a picnic table.

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By the time I made it there, my body was weary but stress free, my mind was empty of the “what ifs” that plague it in hard times, and I was at peace.  This allowed me to lie back and listen to the forest like hearing a great song on the radio or a classical symphony…only better.  The concrete table was cool on my overheated back.  The pine trees above me looked like pinwheels with branches that stuck out in a circular pattern. The sun was starting its descent which made the breeze a bit chilly, and that made my cool down go quickly. If I had started earlier in the day this would have been a nap, instead I soaked in the beauty until I got too chilled to stay any longer.

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Why is it that when things get difficult the first thing I cut out of my life is the thing that helps me most?  I will never understand how rapidly I forget the benefits of hiking when I am stressed.  I know that time is the real reason.  In seasons of stress, the urgent takes precedence and there is nothing that can change that really. You do what you have to do. However, now that things are a small bit settled, there is nothing stopping me.  Closing my eyes, I could hear the babbling brook calling me to come and stick my feet in, before my departure back to real life.  “It’s February.  When will you ever get to creek-walk in February?” it called.  I smiled and said, “Another time. Maybe, when I come back… tomorrow.”

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