Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Master

"No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and Money."  Matthew 6:24-25  I have never felt connected to this verse.  I didn't understand the frustration that comes from trying to serve two masters until now.  
I was so fresh out of college that I might as well have worn my graduation gown to the interview. I didn't know much.  In fact, I didn't know anything about the programs the district used to implement the Texas objectives.  But in a crowded room and sensing that my name was about to be scratched off the list, I made eye contact with the principal and said:  "You will never regret hiring me.  Thank you for the opportunity to interview for a position."  Three days later, I became a first grade teacher.  I knew from the very beginning what I wanted to accomplish.  I wanted a classroom full of readers and students, who when they left my classroom, never stopped wanting to learn.  
A lot has happened since then.  Benchmarks and tests were important 18 years ago, but now they have become a master. They believe each child is a number and that number better grow.  They want readers who can annotate a text and provide evidence to support their answer.  They want students to defend absolutes.  They don't ask if the child willingly picks up a book to read.  They don't ask if the child has a favorite author.  They don't ask to see the math problems a number-loving child writes in his math journal.  They don't ask how a child feels about coming to school.  Those things can't be quantified.  
As teachers, we constantly question how to please the master.  We wrestle with the costs the master requires and if we can pay the price.  Last year, I drove myself crazy trying to please that master.  I felt defeated and empty at the end of the year.  I took the summer to reflect and contemplate other career choices. But I decided to return to the classroom that has been my home for the last 15 years.  I told myself that I would honor the master, but I would see my students for who they were - the little girl celebrating her birthday, the boy who tells me he goes without lunch on the weekends, the students who clap when I finish reading a book to them.  I would not turn them into numbers on a spreadsheet. The last two weeks I have been giving benchmarks, grading them, and entering scores into a spreadsheet.  The master tells me that many of my students have failed so, therefore, I too have failed. 
I refuse to believe it.  My room is full of readers and students, who I hope and pray, will always love to learn.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

It's Possible

Dark, gloomy skies loomed overhead as eight gray lanes stretched ahead on our drive to church Sunday morning.  The stretch of I-70 through St. Charles could use a makeover.  I was looking around trying to find one redeeming factor, and all of a sudden I noticed a sharp green weed growing through a crack. Then tons of weeds sprouting up through drainage bars.  Mile after mile, slivers of green go unnoticed. I laughed to myself thinking isn't that just like God?    
In the middle of divorce, we think we won't love again. But we do.  In the middle of loss, we think we can never laugh again. But we do.  In the middle of job searching, we think we will never find one. But we do.  In the middle of gross injustices, we think peace will never come. But it will.  Our God is the God of the impossible.
Whatever circumstances you are in, whatever circumstances our city is in, whatever circumstances our friends across the ocean are in, our God can take our worst and turn into our best.  "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 29:11-14) 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Back in the Habit

I haven't written since Pa died. I can only write what is on my heart and that was where Pa was.  Grief is a personal experience, and I didn't want my feelings to hurt any of my family or share something that they would want held private. Then I got out of the habit, and no one seemed to miss it so I put it on a shelf.  
I have had an amazing 3 days attending Franklin Covey's 7 Habits of Successful People.  I've used their book, Leader in Me, in my classroom this past year. It's good stuff.  The training was looking at ourselves and how to apply the habits to our personal lives.  Now, I LOVE personality quizzes and self-reflection. I get that's not everyone's cup of tea and that's fine too.  But bear with me. Going through all of that self-reflection, I realized that I love to write.  It brings me clarity and peace.  I realized in the past that I wanted to encourage others with my writing and never realized that I was encouraging myself in the process. I need that in my life, and I am ok sharing that with you. :)    

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How much can a heart take?

The youngest son growing up on a Texas farm.

He serves with three of his brothers in the military.  One does not come home.

He meets a senior, who is 16, at the bus stop in west Texas.  He drives her heart straight to the church.  They're married.

They're the first to leave the farm for the big city - Kansas City with 2 children in tow.

Their third is born there.

He does the unthinkable for the times - cooks dinner and grocery shops.  If times are good, he brings home a Mr. Goodbar.

His wife is ambitious.  She wants to sell real estate.  He doesn't say no or tells her that women don't own their own businesses.  He does what it takes.

He is a man of few words. But when he speaks, everyone listens.

He lets his oldest granddaughter believe he moonlights as Jim Davis, Garfield author.  She tells her whole third grade class that she's related to Garfield.

A smoker since the military.  He quits cold turkey.  The youngest granddaughter finally did what the others could not - convince him to quit.

He is told to get his house in order.  He has cancer.  26 years later, he laughs.

The family has never seen him cry until his first great granddaughter dies.

His wife loses her memory.  He spends every day telling her how to do the simplest things and answers her questions over and over...

Now, he tells his stories all the time...Get comfortable.  You will be listening for a while.

So when the VA doctor tells my parents that he doesn't know how much a heart can hold, I know he speaks the truth.  He just doesn't know the size of my Pa's heart. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Half Way There

Nine years ago, I never pictured this sweet little baby having an attitude or always trying to become a third person in a grown-up conversation.  God is smart that way.

Now, I want to remember year 8 for a lot of reasons.  

Sadly, this is the first year that a peer has said something ugly to him. Most moms would want to forget that, but I want to remember his shock that ugliness exists.  And I'm grateful that he made it this far before he realized ugliness could be aimed at him. 

I want to remember stopping at Wendy's after Macy's dance class, I am finishing getting the order and Parker volunteered to get the table.  With all of four customers there, I was amazed at the urgency he had.  He picks a table next to a grandma and her daughter.  I hear him greet them and carry on a whole conversation.  I am worried that he might be intruding on their privacy and a little concerned that he doesn't have any fear talking to strangers.  When I come over, the lady compliments me on what a nice son I have - how nice to see a young man who so friendly and polite, she says.

I also want to remember that this is the first year Parker played basketball.  My favorite game was not Parker's last game when he scored his first points.  It's two games before that when Parker was defending a boy who made him look small.  Parker is in the 85th percentile for his height so you can imagine how big that boy was.  But Parker didn't act intimidated - he stayed on him with his arms high and the big boy never scored. After the game, Parker revealed that when they lined up, the big boy told him he might as well quit.  Parker replied "Never!"  Tony and I high- fived him and told him he was exactly right.  He never gives up even when facing a Goliath.  

I want to remember that this is the year that Parker started talking about wanting to be baptized.  The best conversation we had was when we were driving home from school and Parker wanted to know why we didn't observe Lent.  I was explaining (to the best of my humble ability) that the Bible doesn't command us to celebrate Lent and how it is a tradition for several faiths.  He then jokingly listed things he would be happy to give up - homework, brushing his teeth, and so forth.  I then told him for people who believe, Lent is every day.  "We give up we want and try to do what God wants.  Getting baptized means that you are making a public commitment that you love God and will live a unselfish life.  At 8, you haven't had many opportunities to be selfish, but as you get older, there will be plenty."  Parker came up with a few examples and then I pointed out that when he's in high school at a party, someone will offer him a beer.  "The selfish thing would be to take it so you can fit in.  You might even get in a car later - another selfish act that could hurt you and someone else.  Being unselfish is never easy.  But the Bible tells us it is better to never have made the commitment than to make the commitment and return to being selfish.  Do Daddy and I sometimes  do the selfish thing? Yes, but it makes us sick instead of happy.  So we have to ask for forgiveness and try to do better."  By then, we were home and Parker was happy to come inside and veg out for a little while.  A few days later, we are driving home from school again and Parker tells me, "Mom, I did an unselfish thing today."  "Really?  What was it?"  In my mind, I'm trying to guess at what small thing he did.  "I left the cool table at lunch and I went to the uncool table.  I sat next to _________ who no one likes and everyone makes fun of and he is always sitting by himself at lunch."  Simultaneously, I am thinking that since when did third grade have cool tables/uncool tables?  He was really listening!!!! What happened then?  The last question I asked.  "A couple of boys started yelling at me and asking what was I doing setting next to ___________.  I told them he was my friend too." "Then what?"  A couple of the other kids got up and sat down next to me. So Mom, that's what I am giving up - the cool table."  Blinking back tears, I told him, "I am so proud of you!"

After watching a Duck Dynasty episode, where Si finds "the sweet spot" at the pizza place, Parker picks to go to Chucky Cheese with his grandparents for his family fun birthday activity.  He quickly finds his own "sweet spot" and with laser-like focus amasses a ton of of tickets - over a thousand.  He goes to the prize counter while the rest of us help Macy spend her tokens. I keep glancing up to check up on him and think we could be here forever before he spends all those.  A couple of minutes later, he walks up to me with one item in his hand.  "Whatcha get?"  He flashes me a girls' set of play jewelry and a headband.  "I got this for Macy.  She doesn't have a prayer of getting 1,000 tickets."  Then he walks over to her, and I hear Macy say " YOU got this for ME?  Thank you, Parker!  You're the best brother ever!" I always want to remember how he surprises me with his unselfishness and the joy I heard in Macy's voice.

Nine years of hearing the sound of thunder as he comes down the stairs, stepping on Lego pieces, asking him if he brushed his teeth.  All these things that we may get frustrated by, I know we will be wishing for when he is grown.   

Monday, March 4, 2013

Prayers of My Past

In 2002, the first prayer was for life.  Not mine.  But for Lauran's.  Let the doctor's be able to fix what is wrong and let her live a long life.  Through her 53 days of life, I finally understood two scriptures - to pray without ceasing and to pray without words.  I also came to understand that I didn't change God's will through prayer, He changes mine.

In 2003, the prayer was to see first the beauty of my life rather than the pain of my life.  I watched myself celebrate every holiday, do mundane things, and marvel at mothers who casually walked through the mall with their babies in their stroller.  I prayed for God to let me live a vibrant life instead of a shadow of a life.
Help me live the kind of life I would have wanted Lauran to have.

In 2004, I prayed for faith.  We were one month away from having a baby boy.  Help me believe that the doctors are right.  He's healthy. There's nothing wrong.  Help me believe this gift of a healthy baby could be ours.

In 2005, 2006, and 2007, I have prayed with exaltation.  How blessed are we to have a beautiful, healthy baby growing and growing.  The desire of my heart fulfilled.  How GREAT are you God!

In 2008, I prayed for deliverance.  I'm in the first trimester and find myself more scared than ever before.  I have tasted the sweetness of life, and I am shamefully scared that I will have to face the bitterness again.

In 2009, my prayer of thanksgiving overwhelms me.  We may face other trials,  but nothing compares to the trial of loss.  And I know, without a doubt, God will not abandon us.

And so the prayers go in 2010, 2011, and 2012. In every past prayer, and today's, and I imagine, every future prayer, God knows I miss her.

So on this day, I say a prayer of gratitude that sometimes I am given a glimpse of the bigger picture.  Throughout these 11 years, I've watched others bear the loss of a child. Yet through their heartache, they have remained married.  Some have borne healthy children. Some have adopted children.  Some lovingly serve children.  In their lives, I see such grace and beauty.  So today, my prayer is for those mothers.  I am so thankful that they have been given the desires of their heart and that they allowed me to bear witness.  I thank God for them and for babies present and babies past.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

With a little grace

I went into work this morning at 7:15 and left at 9 at night.  I am sitting on the couch without one ounce of energy.  It was a rough day - students needing more from me than reading, writing, and arithmetic.  I have a young lady in my room who is fresh out of college, and I look at her every day and wonder what in her schooling prepared her for the real world.  Professors can talk about theory.  Professional development can offer up even more strategies.  
But no one can really answer why children are struggling.  Academics are not always the challenge. It certainly wasn't today.  People can often excuse behavior with a label.  The longer I teach, the more aware I become that children, regardless of intelligence or socioeconomic status, have no idea how to treat one another.  They can be so quick to point out the faults of others, but can offer up a multitude of excuses for their own behavior. I am standing in the hallway feeling sickened by their double standards and ask if anyone knows what grace is.  None of them did.  Grace, I tell them, is giving one another a break even when they don't think their classmate deserves one.  I turned to one boy and I asked, "Do I give you a consequence every time you blurt out?"  He sadly shook his head no.  I turned to another one and asked "Do I refuse to repeat the directions for a fourth time because you didn't listen to the first three times?" He shook his head no.  "That's what grace is.  Choosing to give someone a break even when they are on your last nerve.  Show each other some grace, please." 
I foolishly thought when I was that young girl fresh from college that I would change the world.  I know now that the world was too lofty a goal.  I'm just trying to change one child at a time with a little grace.