Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Confession 73: A Different Kind of Politics

I've been getting more interested in the national health care debate now that it seems something is finally going to happen. Although I'm excited at the prospect of more working class Americans receiving health insurance benefits, and I'm thrilled that some limits will be put on insurance companies, I'm not happy with the way it's all come about--especially the 1 TRILLION dollar price-tag. The bargaining and bribing and additional spending for personal pet projects once again demonstrates the selfish nature of American politics with politicians out to get what's best for them, not the people they were hired to represent. Just once, I would like to see politicians forget about their own pride, agendas, and ambition and do something that would truly impact and better the lives of the poor ,the marginalized, the oppressed, the struggling. And lo and behold, in this season of miracles, I witnessed just such an event.

A few months ago, it was brought to the attention of our local state senator, Jack Goodman, that there were a number of families within his district that would not have enough resources to put a Christmas meal on the table. So, he decided to act. Working with local business, Senator Goodman created the Season of Hope campaign to provide a Christmas meal for families in need. Each family in need received a bag filled with enough food to feed 4-8 people. Included were canned vegetables, stuffing mix, gravy mix, fresh squash, fruit, a bag of potatoes, and a gift certificate for a meat purchase. Oh, and dessert. Our church participated in the project by becoming an assembly center. Last Tuesday evening, over forty volunteers gathered and put together over 400 bags of food in about 45 minutes. The food was delivered later in the week to each family who had signed up, and extra bags were created and distributed for anyone else who had need.

Senator Goodman did what every American politician should be doing. He listened to the needs of his constituents, he worked within the community he represents, and he truly made a difference in the lives of people in need. Not only that, this conservative politician just won the vote of a liberal "commie", as my husband would call me. :-) All in all, not a bad day's work.

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, December 18, 2009

Confession 72: Joyful, or Just Full?

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I have so many warm memories around the holiday that I have always been joyful for the season to arrive. Yet this year, I must confess that has not been the case. I don't know if my husband is wearing off on me (he truly hates Christmas) or if our culture has just so completely bastardized the holiday that any semblance of what it should be is gone. Full disclosure here would necessitate me saying that I've been a little depressed lately in some other areas and the semester is drawing to a close which means a grading frenzy has ensued. Also, the weather has been cold and dreary. Yet, even with that, there's something bigger going on in our culture when it comes to the de-Christ-mas season.

I've been doing a lot of soul searching lately, trying to find what it is about Christmas that I've always loved so much. The thing that comes back over and over again is the warmth. My parents were both educators, and as such had time off during the holidays. We spent that time together as a family, truly enjoying the experience of being together. Our grandparents were usually always with us for the holidays. We played cards, made cookies, watched Christmas movies. But the highlight for Christmas for me was our Christmas Eve tradition. Each year on Christmas Eve, our church has a silent candlelight service of the Lord's Supper. We would go together as a family and sit in the softly lit church. The only sounds were the pianist and organist playing Christmas hymns and the creak of the wooden floors as families came in. The church would be packed, whole families together, grown sons and daughters returning home. Looking around, you could see the contentment on each face. Sitting and looking at the altar, listening to the hymns proclaiming Christ's birth, staring at the golden trays containing the crackers and juice that symbolized the body and blood of Jesus, you couldn't help but contemplate the meaning of the celebration. As the deacons passed around the trays, the pastor, still silent, would lead the congregation in taking the crackers and juice, and you could hear the entire congregation act in one accord. Even my sister and I, before we were old enough to partake of the elements, would bring hard candy to eat at the appointed time so that we too could participate in this sacred act.

After worship, we stepped back out into the cold where we warmly greeted our fellow congregants. You could hear laughter tinkling through the night and calls of Merry Christmas echo down the street. Our family would pile back into the car, and we would head out to see the Christmas lights. We put Christmas music on and headed out of town to a little country drive-through light display. After getting mini candy canes from friendly faces in Santa hats, we drove back to town and through the neighborhoods of the community looking at the lights on display at people's houses. Once home, we would have a dinner of deli meat and cheese sandwiches, decorate cookies, watch a Christmas movie, and head for bed.

Every year, in the early morning hours, my sister would tiptoe into my room and snuggle into bed with me. As we waited for the sun to rise and my parents to wake, we'd spend the time talking and laughing. As girls we talked with breathless anticipation about what might be waiting for us under the Christmas tree. As young women we talked about our hopes and dreams. And as adults, we talk about our own families and experiences. It's our own sacred time that draws us back together as sisters.

Once Mom and Dad were finally up and ready to go, breakfast was in the oven, we went to the tree. But before anything else happened, my dad would read for us the Christmas story out of Luke. We'd listen to the familiar words anew, talk about how the significance of them had changed for us over the year, and remember that greatest gift of all. Only then did we descend upon our own gifts, handing out one at a time and giving everyone a turn to oooh and ahhh over each gift.

Our day would end with family friends, either going to a movie or eating leftover turkey and playing Trivial Pursuit. It was never anything fancy. But, in looking back, Christmas for me always began with the birth of Christ. It was an intentional focus on something beyond ourselves; beyond shopping, and baking, and decorating, and partying. It was simple, it was pure, it was holy. And that's what I'm missing this Christmas season. The simplicity of the message--God came to Earth, the purity of the message--God came to Earth as a newborn baby, the holiness of the message--God came to Earth to sacrifice himself so that we, his beloved creation, could live freely. I don't want to watch an endless parade of commercials blaring on about savings and gifts, and they'll love you forever if you buy this. I don't want my kids to go sit on the lap of some stranger in a red suit who listens to kids spill their hearts out about gifts he can't actually deliver on. I don't want to listen to "Jingle Bell Rock" and I don't want to rock around a Christmas tree. I want to sit again in the silence, to kneel at the manger, to peer into the face of a newborn and know that deep within those eyes lie the answers to all of the mysteries of the universe. I want to be filled with that love that has no bounds and to give that love to others. I don't want to end this season being full, but being filled. I want to truly say to everyone I meet, "Merry Christ-mas!"

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Confession 71: Crazy Dreams of Christmas Joy

I've been having a lot of crazy dreams lately. I'm not sure if it's the change in weather or what, but it's almost like I've been living some sort of surreal double-life. It takes me a few seconds in the morning to snap out of whatever dimension I've been in. I used to keep a dream journal and analyze all of my nightly mind-wanderings, but then I had kids and time became of the essence. Yet this dream from the other night has stayed with me, for I found a profound message within it.

In my dream, I rehearsing music for a praise band. There were three of us singing. Although I knew both of the other women, I can't remember who they were. There was a storm raging outside, and at one point one of the other women stopped practicing and went to look at the storm out the window. She quieted us and told us to listen. I began feeling anxious and asked her if she heard the tornado sirens going off.
"No," she responded. "This is what I heard the last time I saw an angel appear."
At that moment, the sheet music she had been using began to shimmer, and a beautiful white light came through as if a spotlight was shining from below. In that instant, we three fell to our knees, overcome with the sensation that we were in the presence of something holy. We each began to pray aloud, our voices joining together and culminating in the praise song we had previously been rhearsing. My heart was full to bursting with a joy that could only be shown through praise and thanksgiving.

As the song finished, the light faded, and rejoicing, we stepped outside. Traffic was stopped, people everywhere were smiling and greeting one another as friends. It seemed that everyone around us had experienced the same miraculous event. We were so excited to share our experiences that we ran off in different directions to spread the joy to all those we saw.

In thinking about this dream, I began to recall the Advent study we are doing at church; The Advent Conspiracy. The point of this study is that we, as Christians, must move past the commercialism and consumerism that has become Christmas, to experience afresh the wonder and joy of celebrating Christ's birth. The first tenet of the conspiracy is to worship fully. The authors look at Luke 2: 8-20 where the shepherds are greeted by the angels announcing the Savior's birth. The shepherds were a group of people who were marginalized from the rest of society. Yet after the appearance of the heavenly host, they went to the Mary and Joseph to worship Jesus. And after being in the presence of the Christ child, they joyfully ran to spread the news that the Messiah had come to the towns and villages around. They broke through the chains of class and station to spread a message of love and hope. They were joy-full.

In my dream, I was like the shepherds. I was so full of joy at the love of God that I wanted to go out and share it with everyone I met. I was sad when I woke up in the morning and realized it had all been a dream. But in reality, it wasn't. The joy of Christ's birth is there, everyday. There's a story of hope for today, for people who need to know love, to know joy, to know redemption. I want to be as excited about God when I'm awake as I am when I'm asleep. I want to stand up and tell people I meet, "Hey, God is here, now, and he wants to make a difference. He wants to change your life. He wants to set you free."

Christmas is about spreading joy. What a crazy dream!

Blessings and Peace,

Monday, November 30, 2009

Confession 70: The Mystery of the Every-Other-Day Shower Revealed

I love hot showers. Don't worry, this isn't going to get icky. I just love hot showers. Hot showers to me in the morning are what a strong cup of fresh-brewed coffee is to other people. Enveloped in steam, my brain begins to un-fog from sleep. I contemplate the day ahead, rejuvenate, think through lessons and conversations, contemplate theology, pray. I don't know what it is, but I do some of my best and most creative thinking in the shower. It must be all of the positive ions floating around. Regardless, for almost twenty years, I have greeted each new day with a hot shower. It has always puzzled me how other people can get up in the morning and go without a hot shower. And then I realized, THEY HAVE CHILDREN!!!

When you have two toddlers running around the house, you don't even get to pee in privacy, let alone take a contemplative shower. I've found that children come with some sort of built-in Mommy radar that alerts them whenever you get out of bed. I can't tell you how many times I've turned the shower on to warm up, only to have to turn it off again thirty seconds later because someone is calling, "Mama! Mama! Mahhhhmahhh!" Hot showers have become a true luxury for me, for even when I manage to get into the shower and wash, it is interspersed with yells into the bathroom of: "Garrett, get out of the dog's crate!", "Stephen, put that down!", "Get your brother out of the toilet!", "Bring those towels back, dog!" Then there's the trick of shaving your legs with one hand while holding the shower door closed with the other to prevent your 1 and1/2 year old from letting the puppy in and saying hello. My water refuge has become anything but.

So where does that leave me? Like so many other parents of toddlers, the coffee maker has become my new best friend. I stick to decaf, mostly, but am absolutely addicted to CoffeeMate. While it doesn't surround me with positive ions, my morning cup of coffee steams my face, allows me to breathe deeply of pleasing aromas, and clears my head of the previous night's sleep. All in all, not a completely bad trade-off. And, I still have my hair straightener. Thank God for the Chi and Bath and Body body mist!! Yet the most wonderful part of giving up my morning shower ritual--3o extra minutes of sleep!!

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Confession 69: The Hunting Season Has Begun

Our family celebrated the hunting season this year in two very different ways. Chris and his father took some guns out into a cow pasture and shot at a deer. The deer survived, which should make PETA happy, but I was secretly hoping for a freezer full of deer meat for the winter. It was the first time Chris and his dad had the opportunity to hunt in 15 years. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate so they only had the one shot. But, it's the experience that counts, right?

In the meantime, they boys, Chris' mom and I went to Joplin to do some hunting of our own. We hit a Target and came away with some good stuff, but it wasn't quite a bullseye. So, we tried our luck at Toys R' Us and came away with the kill. With one shot we got Christmas outfits and dress shoes for the boys and a new stroller for Stephen. All in all, it was a very successful trip. We feasted afterward on soup, salad and breadsticks at the Olive Garden--the quintessential meal for all dedicated hunters!!

One of the beautiful aspects of this holiday shopping season for me is that I'm not really doing any of it. Our family decided this year that instead of investing in stuff, we were going to invest in time. We've rented a condo in Branson for a few days around New Year's Eve in lieu of buying Christmas gifts for one another. My parents, my sister and her husband, Chris' parents and his brother will all be gathering for the occasion. I'm really excited. I think it will be a nice getaway in the midst of what always becomes a crazy season.

Don't get me wrong, I love gifts, both giving and getting. But, they need to be given for the right reasons, not because retailers need to make a profit. Chris was reading a new book by pastor Mike Slaughter in which Slaughter states, "Christmas is about Jesus' birthday. It's not about yours." We've lost that as a culture somewhere along the line. And I would like for my children to grow up with a different perspective. I would like to grow into a different perspective. So forget gifts this year. Instead, celebrate life. That's what it's all about anyway. So happy hunting in your quest for Christmas meaning.

As always,
Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Confession 68: Just Another Day...

I stepped in dog poop with my bare foot this morning. It was gross. Really gross. But the plus was that I figured it couldn't get much worse than that throughout the day. And, other skidding into work two minutes before the first tardy bell, it really hasn't been that bad. Stephen woke up around five something this morning. We were sleeping in the recliner, which was fine because I've had a cough for a week now that I can't get rid of. He played for awhile, crawling on and off the recliner, then when Chris came out to tell me my alarm was going off Stephen decided it was time to sleep. So, he grabbed his blanket, climbed up onto the recliner, laid down, and fell back to sleep. Classic Stephen.

I was thinking as I was pulling into the parking lot at school this morning, "This is my life. This--rushing Garrett out the door in the morning with a cup of coffee in one hand and a can of soup in the other, flying into school in the nick of time, scrambling to wrap my head around what I need to teach through three subjects, flying out of school with who knows what, rushing Garrett back into the car, and heading toward home where there's snack, dinner, bath, jammies, and bed. This is my life." And you know what? I love it. I love it!! This is what it's supposed to be about. There's no big thing to do, no greatness to be achieved (thank you Beth Moore). There's just me taking God's hand and walking through the day.

That's not to say that there's no purpose in life. There's tremendous purpose in life. There's a kingdom to be built, and all that we do should be focused on building it. But we build it everyday, in our everyday encounters, our everyday conversations, our everyday actions and routines. We build it when we say hello with a smile to people we greet in the morning. We build it when we give an encouraging hug or word to someone who might need it. We build it when we pray with our children before meals. We build it when we give someone else the right of way. We build it when we say "thank you" and mean it. We build it when we say, "I understand what you're going through". We build it when we laugh with others. We build it when we cry with others. We build it when we say, even in the midst of a foot covered in dog poop, "Thank you God, so much, for this day."

This is just another day, and I couldn't ask for more.

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Confession 67: Appreciation

At the beginning of this school year, all of the teachers in our district were given a copy of the book, How Full Is Your Bucket?. The purpose of this was to foster a community of positive encouragement and appreciation. We, as a faculty, are continuously called to build up our colleagues and our students by offering praise and recognition for work well done. I've realized recently that I have gotten behind in the area of bucket filling, in one area probably more than others. After the busy-ness of the day, I often fail to truly appreciate my husband. And there is a lot to appreciate.

Chris is a wonderful husband. He takes care of so much around the house and I hardly ever stop to even say, "thank you." Chris eats lunch at home most days to save money, let the dogs out, and clean up the kitchen. He also does most of the cooking, laundry and takes out the trash. On top of that, it is his responsibility to get Stephen (prior to this year both Garrett and Stephen) ready in the morning and out the door to the sitters, picking him back up on his way home from work. A full day's work, I might add. Then he gets me, his lovely wife, sauntering in the door after school, scattering all of her stuff throughout the house as she makes a path to the bedroom to change, asking "What do you want for dinner"? by way of a "Hi, it's nice to see you. How was your day?"

After making dinner, Chris will often clean up as well while I go play with the boys and get them dressed for bed. Chris then gets the job of putting at least one of the boys to sleep, since Stephen will not go to sleep for me and Garrett is 50-50. Then, once the boys are in bed, he waters the animals, takes the dogs out, makes sure they're fed, and goes to bed with only half of the covers because I take them all.

And that's just a normal day! There are times when Chris does even more than that. For instance, a few weeks ago I fell asleep on the couch while making cookies for a snack day at work. Instead of waking me up, Chris finished baking the cookies, took them out of the oven, put them into a container, and brought me my medicine with a glass of water. This past week, when I wasn't feeling well, Chris sent me to bed at 7:30, cleaned up dinner, took care of the animals , and put both the boys to bed on his own. He also got up in the middle of the night with Stephen and took him to sleep in the spare room so I could get some rest.

I have a truly wonderful husband. Why he continues to put up with me I have no idea. But I'm very grateful that he does. I know Chris isn't perfect, no one is. But he gives 110% of himself always. He deserves a little recognition now and then. So, thank you Chris. I love you!!

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Confession 66: God Does Not Throw Pity Parties

I was driving to work this morning. It was raining, again. It was dark. It was Thursday. Stephen was up in the middle of the night playing, again. The end result of which he was tired and cranky this morning. Between the two boys and myself, I'm not sure there was one moment before I left the house this morning where someone was not throwing a fit. On top of it, I've developed an obnoxious head cold which has left me even more run down, cranky and achy. So, on my dreary, wet, cold drive to work this morning, I decided to have a nice little pity party. I was mad and frustrated with everything, feeling overwhelmed. I was about to yell out to God, "I'm too tired for this!" when I heard a song playing on my morning radio station (90.7 K-Love "pahwsitive" Christian Music"). It was a Mark Schultz song about a mother praying over a son who is seriously ill. The DJ came on afterward to say that the song was written for some friends of Schultz's whose son had been battling cancer but was now in remission.

Let me tell you, I felt that God was whacking me over the head with that one. "Hey, Pity-Party-Patty--snap out of it!! There will be no pity parties on my watch! Get it together, girl. We've got a full day ahead. And don't talk to me about being tired. You don't even know tired yet! Be thankful you got to play with your son, even if it was at 3 A.M. Your children are gifts. Enjoy them. And why are you getting stressed out anyway? Don't you know by now that I've got you covered? Forget tired. Forget frustrated. Forget rising blood pressure. Focus on me. I've walked the path ahead of you. Trust me, I know where we're going. "

After that, I managed to get out of my head for a little while and really focus on the world around me. I focused on Garrett, talking to me continuously about riding to school in Stephen's car seat. I focused on my lessons, and on the students I would be interacting with shortly. I focused on the music, praising God for the rainy, dreary day to live.

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Confession 64: To Shakespeare or Not To Shakespeare?

Before reading further, I need to warn you that I am about to commit English heresy. If you're a traditionalist when it comes to the English canon you should probably stop reading now. I've been thinking recently, as we approach our Shakespeare unit in English IV, that I don't want to read an entire Shakespearean play with my Seniors. (WHAT!?) You heard me right. I'm considering reading one or two scenes and then just watching a film. (So this is what's wrong with the American educational system these days!!) There is much sound reasoning behind this thought. Let me break it down.

1. The language barrier: American English is so far removed from Shakespearean English that it is truly like reading in another language for the students. I don't know if we're evolving or devolving, but the kids just do not get the language. Therefore, they can't move on to comprehension of the text.

2. The relevance issue: Any student of English literature knows that the plot lines and characters in Shakespearean plays can transcend any time or generation. But, the kids don't get that. They think, "Oh, another old, dead white guy. Who cares?" My students want to read about characters who are like them and situations they are going through now. They want new and contemporary. And they don't want people speaking in rhymes!

3. The skills issue: The point of teaching English is to help students analyze, evaluate, problem-solve, reason, and write effectively. Do they really have to read Shakespeare in order to do those things? There are plenty of contemporary pieces of writing they can read, comprehend, enjoy and use to build these skills. Knowing Shakespeare is not going to make a phenomenal difference in their lives.

I know what you're thinking, "It's Shakespeare! They have to know Shakespeare! He's everywhere!" While it's true that there are many Shakespearean references and allusions built into contemporary media and artistic endeavors, the question is whether or not our kids need to understand those references and allusions to appreciate the media or artwork. Is it necessary to the growth of their persons? And, as much as I personally love Shakespeare, I would say (begrudgingly) no.

Here's the other plus for me. If we only read an excerpt from a play, we can cover more than one. We can hit Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet. They're getting more than they would from a unit in which they would read an entire play. And, I don't have to hear them whine and complain.

To Shakespeare, or not to Shakespeare? That is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Senior whining , or to take arms against the sea of rebellion, and by watching film, end them?

It is a question for the ages:-) Let me know what you think!

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Confession 63: Back To Work

Chris and I came back from an amazing trip yesterday to be greeted again by business, chaos, and discontent. Thank God I am going through Beth Moore's Esther study right now because she is speaking right to me!! I had a moment last night when I thought, again, "I'm done with this crap!! Where is God and why, WHY, isn't he doing more!?" Granted, I was sleep-deprived and beginning to feel a little overwhelmed as I tried to get my head around lessons for today, organize my parent-teacher conferences, and deal with a tired boy. I kept remembering what we've already gone over in Esther, that when God seems farthest away, he's working on something big. Something big is happening. God is creating a new spirit within our church congregation. We had a great service of confession and healing yesterday. My mom noticed how much friendlier and open people seemed. So, God is working. But even with that, there is still discontent. There are still people hanging on to hurt and anger, still harping and arguing, still fighting and hurting. And I'm just so tired of it.

I'm also tired of my Senior's attitudes at school. I love these kids. I've had some of them in class for three years. But they're getting so gripey and lazy and snippy. I totally lost it and yelled at them this morning when they were complaining about a performance assignment they had to do we'd been working on for a week and a half. I made it up to them, but only after telling them to grow up, that they were Seniors and they had the attitude of Freshmen. Seriously, a person can only take so much!!

But, I love them. And I love our church. And a friend of mine is making coffee so I'm going to go grab a cup before English III. Hopefully, my Juniors will not have to experience the "wrath of SSS"!

Blessings and Peace,

Confession 63: U2 Rocks!!

Chris and I returned home yesterday from a whirlwind trip to Norman, OK for the U2 concert and boy, was it worth it! What an awesome concert! I can't even begin to describe the stage set-up, but it was as wide as a football stadium and about eighty feet tall. There's a reason the band is only playing open stadiums! Even with the big set, humongous video screen, and 50,000 people, the concert seemed very intimate. The band had the ability to reach out and connect with everyone in the audience. Bono spoke as if he were speaking to a handful of people in his living room. The music flowed continuously for two hours. It was amazing, phenomenal, and inspiring. Two things I realized while at the concert: 1) Bono truly has a nice singing voice--very smooth, 2) The Edge is a truly gifted guitarist. As my husband said, "he rocked it out"!

I've been to good concerts before, but I can't think of one that has topped this. It was just a great musical experience. The band came to play, and that's pretty much all they did. There wasn't a lot of showmanship, just four guys and their instruments having fun playing a gig--great, Great, GREAT.

The other great part of the trip was sharing it with our friends Bill and Jennifer. We had great conversation on our long car ride. We covered everything from kids to work, theology to food and the snippiness of "Helga" the Garmin's attitude--sometimes within the same thirty-second interval! It made me realize the importance of having quality time with other adults away from kids!! In a nutshell, we went on a road trip. And it was fun.

Blessings and Peace,

Monday, September 21, 2009

"To Autumn"

Fall is by far my favorite season. I love the crispness in the air, the slight tingle in my cheeks as I walk outside, the deep smell of the earth as its goods are harvested, the woody scent of firesides. I love the vibrant colors--deep reds, bright yellows, russet oranges all accented by the golden light that filters through the trees. I love the sounds--the crunch of the leaves under my feet, the coaches whistle and plays called at football games, the drum beats and horn blasts of the marching band practicing in the early morning. Some associate Fall with dying, but I see it more as a beginning. A new school year, the advent of the holiday season, a time to rest, reflect and draw closer to those around us.

In honor of the first day of Fall, I'd like to leave you with one of my favorite Fall poems, "To Autumn" by Keats. I think he says it much better than I ever can.

Blessings and Peace,

47. To Autumn

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, 5
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease, 10
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; 15
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook; 20
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, 25
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; 30
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Confession 61: Splendor and Majesty

As I was working through my bible study this morning, the focus was on splendor and majesty. It began in first chapter of Esther with a focus on worldly splendor and majesty then finished with Psalm 94, where the greatest splendor and majesty are attributed to God. I thought about that, how God created, actually created, the most wondrous sites on the planet. I thought about the sky at night, what a wondrous sight it is. You understand true majesty when you gaze up at the heavens on a cloudless star-filled night.

When Garrett and I left the house this morning, the first song we heard on the radio was Steven Curtis Chapman's "Yours", a beautiful song about how everything and every person on the planet belongs to God, both in life and death. I remembered, as we continued our early morning commute, how sad I was initially that I no longer had the cityscape to look at on my drive to work. I missed the structures of the city, the bridges and overpasses, the lanes of traffic, the billboards and graffiti. I missed the reflection of the morning sunlight off the streetlamps and the dew glistening on the streets. I especially missed the buildings, the majestic and splendid works of art human beings had created to fill the city sky. They seemed powerful and important and filled me with energy as I rushed into work knowing that I was part of this vast, thriving metropolis.

Yet, as I looked at the newborn sunlight caressing the green fields spread out like blankets on either side of me this morning, I realized that this is true majesty. The golden light, the nearly empty two-lane roads, the cows munching and the horses snuggling, the dappled light through the trees, all filled me with a sense of peace I'd never had driving in the city. I was reminded that nothing man can make can compare to the awesome splendor of God's own creation. I'm so blessed to live in an area where I can truly see an abundance of God's majesty and beauty.

Enjoy the day!

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Confession 60: What's the Point?

This is a question I ask my students all the time. What's the point of this text? What's the point of your essay? What's the point of your statement? What's the point of your question? What's the point of you taking this class? I get so caught up in asking others what the point is for them, that I forget to ask the most essential point question of myself: What's the point of me?

I've just started a new Beth Moore bible study over the book of Esther that I think will shed some light on that. We've only had one session thus far, but by the time Beth was finished speaking, the margins of my notebook were cram packed. It was as if God was just flooding me with thoughts and ideas. I've always loved the book of Esther. What girl wouldn't? It's the ultimate princess story, a fairy tale carved into the pages of scripture. What impressed me most during this first session was the focus on purpose, our individual destinies. God has shaped each one of us for a purpose, given us unique gifts, experiences, and perspectives to help achieve that purpose. If we're focused, listening, watching and waiting with, as Beth states, "anxious anticipation", God will do amazing things through us. Yet, as I reflect on my own personal experiences as a Christian, I worry that my faith walk is a series of missed opportunities. I know I have gifts and talents I am not using for the betterment of God's kingdom. I have not reached out to others to show them the love of Christ. I have missed opportunities to share my own faith and I can't remember the last time I genuinely invited someone to share in the experience of God through worship.

It's not comfortable, stepping out on faith and in faith to introduce others to God. I feel unworthy, ill-equipped, anxious. I find myself telling God, "You better find someone else." And he will, which means that I will miss out on deepening my relationship with him. I can miss out on my destiny, my purpose, and that thought freaks me out.

The book of Esther shows us how to push through our doubts, our fears, our insecurities and low self-esteem to see how God wants and will do wondrous things through the most common and messed-up creatures on earth--us! So, I'm prepared to be shaken, not stirred. I want to see God act in my life and the lives of others. I'm ready to stand up and say, "Hey, that's my God working through this situation and that's the point!"

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cool New Blog

A friend from Kansas City has just started a new blog called "Godsy Girl". Check it out! She's an awesome writer.


Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Confession 58: A Lesson on Grace and Other Assundry Stuff

So, I have to send a thank-you to my friend Meg for introducing me to the "cutest blogger on the block" website. There are tons of free downloads you can add to your blog for a mini-makeover. It's so cool! I had to resist all of the Fall designs since, technically, we aren't there yet. So, I settled for "school-girl charm" since the school year has officially begun and my husband will like it because he's a guy and thinks anything that resembles a school-girl uniform is "hot":)

The school year is well underway here in SW Missouri. It's hard to believe that we'll have almost three weeks of school under our belts before Labor Day!! Does anyone else remember the time when school began after LD and ended before Memorial Day? Ah well... it keeps me busy!

School is off to a great start! Well, my mentoring students are doing nothing at the moment, but they're my D and F students so there quite accustomed to that. I can only do so much to get them to get their work done and into their teachers, so if they want to waste this time, I'm not going to stop them. At some point they're going to have to make a conscious choice to DO SOMETHING! It will probably occur next year when they realize that they can actually graduate but need to get their butts in gear to make it happen. Then I will move from nagging them to death to patting them on their backs and telling them, "you can do it!".

I'm trying to educate and cultivate my juniors at the moment. We're watching part of the PBS documentary The New Americans. They get a first-hand look at the experiences of Dominican baseball players, a Palestinian bride, and Nigerian refugees. A lot of it is subtitled, but they're handling it surprisingly well. Anytime they can watch TV in class, they consider it to be a worthwhile lesson:)

Speaking of lessons, Chris gave Garrett an amazing lesson in grace the other day. I was super impressed. I must confess that I don't always give my husband all the credit he deserves in the parenting process. Like many mothers, I just assume that since I carried and gave birth to the children, I automatically know what's best for them. One of Chris's common sayings to me is: "I am his father, you know!" He's actually an amazing father. He's always there for the boys, gets them ready and to the sitter's every morning, gets them to sleep at night and engages in instructive discipline. Which leads me back to my original story-- a lesson in grace.

Garrett was being a major pain in the rear last Sunday. He threw temper tantrum after temper tantrum. On one such occasion, he got overly zealous and slammed a bathroom door in his little brother's face, knocking his brother to the ground. He was immediately sent to time out and went, literally, kicking and screaming. Chris went through the time-out drill with him-- hands in lap, feet on floor, face front, no talking. Instead of complying, however, Garrett started screaming at Chris, "No! No! No!" At one point he even yelled, "Shut up!", which he's never done before (thank you Shrek) I'd had it. I came marching into the living room and told Garrett to knock it off. I also told him that Daddy and little brother were going for a walk to the park to play and he was staying home with Mommy and going to bed if his attitude didn't change.

Our routine with time-out is that before Garrett can actually get out of time-out, he has to tell Mommy and Daddy why he's there and apologize for the behavior. Chris called Garrett to him and placed Garrett on his knee. He asked Garrett what he'd done wrong. Garrett told him. Chris then asked Garrett if he deserved to go to the park. Initially, Garrett thought yes, but after a review of the aforementioned behavior, decided that he indeed did not deserve to go to the park. However, and this is the truly brilliant part, Chris told Garrett: "No, Garrett, you don't deserve to go to the park. But you know what? Daddy loves you, so you're going to get to go."

What an amazing lesson is that?! Of course, Garrett's only three so some of the finer theological principles are going to be lost on him, but what a great little seed planted. I'm so proud of Chris and his thoughtfulness as a parent. He taught me a lesson too.

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Confession 57: God Really Knows His Stuff

Well, another first day of school is under my belt and, aside from a projector not having power, all went well. I awoke this morning with my usual pre-school jitters. It doesn't matter how long I've been teaching, I always approach the first day of school with lots of excitement and a bit of fear as well. I took some time for a morning devotional, and it was so perfect I just smiled and thanked God then and there for the words.

The devotional was entitled "Good Enough?" and spoke to the insecurities all of us feel, especially on the first day of school. Will my lessons go smoothly? Do I have enough prepared? Will my students like me? Will my principal be impressed? Will my colleagues respect me? Am I a good enough teacher? Is she better than me? The devotional reminded me that, despite what I or others think, God has made me "good enough" for the tasks he has given me. There was scripture that went with it, but what kept going through my mind was that I "am fearfully and wonderfully made". I just need to be myself and use the gifts God has given me.

The prayer that closed the devotional was the perfect prayer for my day. It was exactly what I had wanted to put into words. Thank you for loving me enough to make me good enough, and help me to show your unconditional love to others.

We've been talking about "bucket filling" to start the school year and all of the faculty and staff in the district have been given the book "How Full Is Your Bucket" by Tom Rath. It was written in coordination with his grandfather who was dying of cancer and had spent a lifetime researching positive psychology. Basically, the theory goes that we all carry with us an invisible bucket and invisible dipper. We can choose to fill the buckets of others and thereby enrich the lives of those we come into contact with as well as our own, or, we can be bucket dippers and spread around us an environment of negativity and apathy. Naturally, our superintendent would prefer us to be bucket fillers. I'm pretty confident that God feels the same!!

So, God doesn't just know his stuff, he knows us and has created us to reflect his love to others.

Have you filled someone's bucket today?

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, August 14, 2009

Confession 56: It's Good to Be a Working Mom

Well, after a summer hiatus, I'm back at work--and I love it!! Don't get me wrong, the summer at home with my boys was great. We had a blast, and I loved spending time with them, playing, swimming, watching movies, taking trips, but it's good to be back in my own space doing something I love. My hat goes off to all of the stay-at-home mom's out there. It is a really tough job with terrible pay but, I would venture, huge benefits. I am just not cut out for that line of work.

So, the boys are back at the sitter's and I'm in my classroom getting lessons together. I'm doing more standards-based grading this year, which means that you only grade assessments which truly show mastery of objectives. It's a lot of work to get together, but it will mean much less time spent grading in the long run.

I've recently realized that there's a quiet revolution in education taking place, and it's not sponsored by the government. Educators are working to take back their profession, to raise the level of expectations, and truly try and prepare our kids for the world they will live in, not the world we came out of. It's good. There's a lot of good stuff going on. Our district just invested $500,000 in new technology upgrades. We have a district website now on which each teacher has a class webpage. I'm going to attempt to create class blogs for my pages, as well as links to useful resources, etc... I've learned I am a digital immigrant teaching to digital natives. It'll be slow going, but I'll get there!

Well, it's 3 o'clock. Time for me to pack up and hit the road.

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Confession 55: When Pastor's Stumble

One of the realities of being a pastoral family is that you live your life in public. It's not like being a superstar, there are no paparazzi chasing you through the streets, but people are aware of what you do and what you don't do. The problem with this is that pastors are human and, from time to time, they stumble. This past week, it came to light that a good pastor friend of ours had stumbled. He and another pastor were revealed to be having an affair. Unfortunately, the affair and repercussions have become widely publicized and will be a disciplinary hearing in which he may (although hopefully not) lose his orders.

Chris and I were both beyond shocked at this knowledge. My first instinct was to call the pastors wife, who is also a good friend, and offer her support. My second instinct was to contact this pastor and say, "What happened!?" I can't even begin to understand how this happily married man with a bright future ahead of him could risk everything by engaging in this relationship, and I am heartbroken for his wife and his ministry. However, his wife is committing to try and reconcile their relationship and put the pieces of their marriage back together. God is truly with her, for she states that she has been able to show her husband God's mercy and grace in ways that he has never experienced before. This is so contrary to how we're taught to act in society when we have been hurt or wronged, and I greatly admire her strength and godliness.

I cannot help but think back to the story of David in this situation. David was "a man after God's own heart". He was the chosen one, the true king of Israel. Through David came the line of people who bore Jesus into the world. God favored David, and David loved God. However, even David could not avoid the fall into temptation and sin. David lusted after Bathsheba, took her despite the fact that she was the wife of someone else, bore a child with her, and murdered her husband. When confronted with his sins, David made a full confession. He tore his clothes, prostrated himself at the feet of the altar, and prayed God's forgiveness. God, in his infinite mercy and love, forgave David. In the end, David remained faithful to God and was given a place of honor in biblical history. He was a strong king, both wise and compassionate. And, he put God first. That is not to say that there were not consequences to his actions. David and Bathsheba lost the child they had conceived (although they later gave birth to Solomon) and the family was plagued with bitter family feuds which resulted in the loss of one of David's other sons. Yet, in spite of his human frailness, David was redeemed.

I believe that there is redemption for our friend. I believe, and have seen in others, relationships grow stronger through situations like this. I also believe that our friend can be a better pastor through this. If God is within you, you cannot walk through fire and not be refined. My prayer is that he and his wife will find healing, that he will continue in ministry, and that he will use this situation to effectively minister to others.

The reality is that pastors are human, they all stumble. At one point, your pastor will fail or disappoint you. The question is, can you show him or her God's grace and mercy in their hour of need, as they try always to show it to others? As Christians and members of a Christian community, we are called to uphold our leaders. This means holding them to high standards, yes, keeping them accountable in their work, yes, but it also means demonstrating Christ's love and grace to them, as we are called to demonstrate it to each other.

Please pray for your pastors today. Pray for their families. We, likewise, will be praying for you.

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Confession 54: Yea Poop! (and other such expressions I never thought I'd say)

Having children completely changes your life. Everybody knows that. All of a sudden, (although not really--you've had almost a year to prepare, right?) you become responsible, absolutely completely responsible, for another person, another life. Everything you once were gets shoved aside as you shift your focus onto growing and sustaining the life of this little person cradled in your arms. Your child becomes your focus, and you find yourself doing things you never thought you were capable of. Breast-feeding, pulling continuous all-nighters, cleaning up explosive poop, pulling buggers from noses. Most people expect this in some way shape or form when they have children. What they do not expect, what I did not expect, were the absolute changes in vocabulary.

I am an English teacher, so language is important to me. Whenever I sit down to blog, it takes me at least 45 minutes to get through a post. I have to choose my words carefully, edit, revise. I can't even write in a journal without thinking about how I'm going to phrase my thoughts! So, when I find myself chanting, "Go Garrett, go Garrett, make some stinks, in the potty!" I realize I've come to the parenting point of no return. I mean, I have a Master's degree for crying out loud! I can discuss eschatology and the hermenutical circle. I can deconstruct a Robert Frost poem ("Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Day is not about the beauty of nature, by the way) or provide an in-depth literary analysis of Pride and Prejudice. I despise text messaging because it's so grammatically incorrect and I absolutely refuse to put in writing, "how ru?". Yet, all of that seems to be thrown out the window when it comes to my children. Instead of discussing the symbolic nature of Poe, I discuss the symbolic nature of Lightning McQueen.
"Is that Lightning McQueen?"
"Yes, Garrett. That is Lightning McQueen."
"What's Lighning McQueen doing?"
"He's racing."
"Is he racing?"
"Yes, Garrett. He's racing."

Instead of discussing the principles of the Trinity, I discuss the principles of toddlers.
"Garrett, I swear if you're playing in that toilet again I'm going to spank your bottom!"
"We're not going outside until you put some pants on!"
"Did you color on the bathtub? Are you supposed to color on the bathtub? What are you supposed to color on? Is this paper? Then should you color on it?"
"Stephen, don't eat the cat food!"
"Stephen, don't eat the dirt!"
"Stephen, don't eat your poop!"

And finally, instead of speaking with eloquence and thoughtfulness, I speak in raspberries.
"Hey Stephen, how's it going there under the table? Finding any good crumbs to munch on?"
"Oh, really? Well, phlblblblblblbbl to you to, Bones."

Yes, having children definitely changes you in many surprising ways. And as they grow and mature and become their own individuals, you don't ever return to the person you once were. And although your teenage children might see you as a dithering, batty, out-of-touch, nosy nuisance, you'll see that you've raised a thoughtful, eloquent, independent young man or woman and that you've grown in ways you never thought possible. Thank God for our children!

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, May 15, 2009

Confession 53: I Like Warm Fuzzy Day

Yesterday was "Warm Fuzzy Day" at school, a day in which both teachers and students are given necklaces on which a ball of bright yarn strings are attached. Throughout the day, people exchange these strings of yarn for hugs. The kids love it. PDA is acceptable for one day of the year and it gives them an excuse not to learn. Most teachers hate "Warm Fuzzy Day" for the same reasons. I, however, thoroughly enjoy it. Maybe I'm just an emotionally needy person, but I enjoy a day devoted to hugs. It's only once a year, after all, and as high school teachers, we don't really get the opportunity very often to show affection to our students. It's a one-time opportunity to put your arms around your students and say, "You know what, you're a good kid." They need to hear that, and we need to say it.

I've embraced "Warm Fuzzy Day", so much so that I'm actually thinking of recommending to my Congressional representatives that it should become a national holiday. Can you imagine? Think about it. Think about walking into a restaurant and having the hostess give you a welcoming hug saying, "I'm so glad you're here." Think about actually placing the tip in your server's hand, then pulling him in for a hug and saying, "Thanks so much for all of your service this evening." Think about the overly harried woman zooming through the aisles of the grocery store with a screaming child in the cart, a list in one hand, caffeine in the other. Picture yourself pulling your cart alongside her as she frantically scans the meat at the deli counter, placing your arm around her shoulder, smiling, and saying, "You have such a beautiful child." Or, picture the older woman, her shoulders stooped over her grocery cart, shuffling slowly through the aisles, her list grasped tightly in her weathered hand. Her cart is mostly empty, save for a box of Folger's Singles and a box of vanilla wafers. Imagine yourself going up to her as she reaches up for a loaf of whole-wheat bread, pulling the bread down for her, smiling, saying, "That sweater really brings out the blue in your eyes." And give her slight frame a gentle squeeze.

The world would be much different, I think, if we had a national "Warm Fuzzy Day." Instead of cursing other drivers on the road, we could smile and wave. Instead of honking in impatience, we could honk in joy, smiling and waving madly to our fellow travelers. We could hold doors open for people again, ask "How are you?" and genuinely want an honest response, compliment one another on jobs well done. On "Warm Fuzzy Day" hurt feelings would be put aside, anger would be let go of, and adversaries would come together for a warm embrace saying, "It's really good to see you today."

Yes, I am a fan of "Warm Fuzzy Day". It's only one day, after all. How hard can it be to show only kindness for one day?

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Confession 52: National Day of Prayer

As today is the official National Day of Prayer, I thought I would commemorate it by praying through my blog. When I pray, I just talk, so if it doesn't always make sense, I'm sorry. God gets it.

Dear God,

Thank you so much for this day. Thank you for the sunshine that was out this morning and the warmth and lightness it brought to the day. Thank you that I was able to get out of bed this morning and thank you that I have a job I love to go to, even if I'm half-asleep when I begin!

Lord God, thank you that I got to spend some time with my boys this morning. Thank you for the joy that they bring to my life. I pray that your Spirit would be with them this day, that you would guide and direct the steps that they take. I pray that you would help Chris and I to raise them in your light, that they would come to know you and choose to follow you. I pray that they would know love and peace, compassion and mercy, and that they would show these things to others in need.

I thank you also for Chris, for bringing him into my life. I thank you for his compassion, his honesty, his thoughtfulness, and the strength that he brings to me. I thank you that he is a wonderful father and husband. You made us to be partners in this life, and I thank you that I get to share the journey with him. I pray your blessings upon him today, that he would feel your presence. I pray that you would give him wisdom and understanding as he works, and that you would give him clarity of purpose and vision. I pray that you would minister to him as he ministers to those in need.

Lord God, I thank you too for my family and friends. You have blessed me with an abundance of love and support. Thank you for my sister, for her friendship, for her strength and courage and passion. Please be with her this day. Give her peace in her job and security for the future. Help her see the direction in which you want her to go.

Thank you for my parents, for their truly unconditional love and support. Thank you for their always being there. Thank you for the gifts they've given me and help me to be for my boys what they have been to me.

Lord, I thank you for all of my friends. We've shared so many journeys and walked down so many roads. You know the desires of each of their hearts, you know where they're hurting and where they're questioning. I pray that you would be with each of them today, that they would feel your presence, that they would hear your voice, and that they would know that they are completely and ultimately loved.

Lord God, I know I am horribly imperfect and that I fail you every day. I pray that you would forgive me my sins. Forgive me my selfishness and self-centeredness. Forgive me my judgmental and critical nature. Forgive me for not looking beyond myself and my own needs to see the needs of others. Forgive me for wasting time, for being lazy. Forgive me my impatience, especially with Chris and the boys, and forgive me my lack of discipline, especially with food! Help me to be the person you've made me to be. Let your light shine through me to others I meet along the way so that they may encounter you.

Lord, we live in a crazy world, and it seems to get crazier every day. It's hard to see your presence at times. Please be with those who are truly suffering. Be with those who have lost loved ones, who are grieving this day. Continue to be with the Meyer family as they work through the loss of their son. Be with those who are suffering abuse. Please lead them to safety. Be with those who hunger, let them be fed. And be with those who are homeless. Let them find shelter. Be with those who live in war-torn nations. Let them know peace. Please be with the children of this world. Protect them and keep them from harm. Let them know love, let them know kindness, let them have faith, and let them grow up and change this world to be your kingdom. Be with the leaders of the world. Grant them wisdom as they lead. Help them to make decisions that will further your work, Lord. Speak to them and help them listen to you.

Be with me through this day. Guide and direct all that I do: my actions, my thoughts, my words. Let them bring glory to you. Help me to be an effective teacher, a good friend, a loving wife and mother.

Thank you again for this day and all of the opportunity it brings. Help me not to waste it. I love you and praise you, Lord God!

In Jesus' Name I Pray,

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Confession 51: Tipping the Scales

I should be on my way home to exercise right now, but I just don't want to. It's been raining for a week and a half and I'm tired and am enjoying the quiet of my empty classroom. I've been fighting the Battle of the Bulge again, but my heart just isn't in it. After having Stephen I joined Weight Watchers and lost almost fifteen pounds. I was nursing, so I got tons of points and it was, really, pretty easy. I quit Weight Watchers after I stopped nursing and lost all of my extra points. I thought I could go it on my own and save $20 or so a month. I was exercising regularly and doing okay, until Spring hit. Spring is always a busy season. Warmth returns and people go crazy planning events. It's also the end of the school year in which we teachers try to ram everything we haven't gotten to over the past eight months into our student's with one fell swoop.

I've also had to accept the fact recently that I am an emotional eater. It doesn't really matter what emotion I'm feeling, I eat my way through it. Call me an equal opportunity eater! So, the pounds are slowly coming back on. To top it off, several of my friends are having great weight loss success this spring, and although I'm very happy for them, it leaves me feeling a bit demoralized and strangely rebellious. Some latent jealousy creeps up and I decide to strike back at healthy people everywhere by eating a few cupcakes. Where is the logic in this?!

My husband, with his keen pastoral sensibilities, told me that I wasn't going to lose weight by wishing it away and that I basically had three options: 1) eat less and healthier, 2) exercise more and eat what you want in moderation, 3) accept your weight and stop complaining. I've sort of started a combination of all three, which I think isn't really the point. I don't know why God couldn't have created our bodies to run on chocolate instead of fiber. Carbohydrates could have served us much better than vitamins, right?

Oh well... so much for wishful thinking. I guess I'll go home and make a salad and chase the kids around the house for awhile. That's got to count for something, right?

Blessings and Peace,

Monday, April 27, 2009

Confession 50: Becoming THAT Parent

Okay, it's official. I have become that parent. You know that parent. The one whose kids you hear clear across the restaurant or, better yet, the one whose kids are running through the restaurant screaming in delight as you give chase. The one whose kids get into a wrestling match under the coffee table of someone else's house. The one whose kids "explore" other people's homes and stores with their hands, bringing things out of rooms or pulling items into carts. The one whose kids grab everything edible within reach, without asking before they sink their little fingers into someone else's food or beverage. You know that parent: you'd really like her company if it wasn't for her kids.

Before having children, let me rephrase that, before I had my children, I always used to look down my nose at that parent. I thought to myself, why can't this parent control his/her kids? Why are these people just letting their kids run wild? And my favorite, "When I have children, they're not going to act like that." Ha! I have since learned that those thoughts signal the kiss of death.

I realize now that I have my own wild things what it feels like to be on the other side of that parent. And I have to admit, I think my preconceived notions were all wrong. It's not a parental control issue, it's a boundary issue. That parent realizes you have to choose your battles carefully when dealing with an active almost three year old boy and his 11 month old little brother. Compromise is a key strategic move. Yes, you may throw the little plastic balls in the house as long as you're not aiming at anyone, any animal, or toward a window. Basically, throw it to someone to play catch with or toss it up in the air. Or, there's this: the cabinets under the china hutch are off limits, but you may, however, play with the items in the kitchen cabinets that are not locked. This involves Tupperware being scattered throughout the house, but it is a compromise, after all. All water is off limits, especially that which resides in the animal's bowl and the toilet. An exception is the master bath tub faucet which may be turned on and played with while Mommy and Daddy are taking a shower or using the facilities. You get the gist.

The real struggles for that parent come in taking the children out of the home and into the public. "The Public" is to that parent what "The Colosseum" was to the early Christians: terrifying, painful, humiliating. Those children sense the fear and anxiety emanating from that parent and use it to their full advantage. Fun family outings turn into the Battle of Bull Run and those children go home feeling contrite and disagreeable while that parent, in her humiliation, profusely apologizes to all innocent bystanders and cleans up the collateral damage, all the while silently committing to hire a babysitter for the next time in the frailest of hope that there will be a next time.

However, when that parent cuddles up next to those children as she puts them to bed, she realizes just how lucky she is to have them. And they, in wrapping their little arms around her shoulders and nuzzling into her neck, realize just how grateful they are to have her.

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, April 17, 2009

Confession 49: Spring has Sprung

It should come as no shock to most of those who know me that I am not a disciplinarian. My husband is, in fact, emphatically nodding his head as he reads this. As a high school teacher, I do my best to demonstrate to my students the behavior I would like them to display. I try and be friendly with them, to not blow things out of proportion, to avoid power games and demonstrate respectful speech and attitude. However, as Spring has fully arrived in our little corner of the globe, Prom weekend has finally come, and the end of the school year is almost in sight, I have lost my patience with my students who, quite frankly, have plumb lost their minds. Snippy attitudes have emerged out of nowhere, effort is plummeting and concentration is non-existent. We have a full five weeks until Finals begin and I still have a two units, one of which is a novel, to get through. Saying that this is the time to buckle down is an understatement. There is no room in my schedule for attitude and disruptive behavior, which could explain my outbursts in class the past few days.

It all began yesterday with my third-hour juniors. My third hour kids can best be likened to a classroom full of slugs. None of them is very ambitious. School is something they show up to every day (every day) but not something they actively engage in. At the moment, we're in the middle of a major project, a multi-genre research paper, which will be the bulk of their fourth quarter grade. We've been working on this project for a month now and are almost to the finish line. I decided that it was time to tackle the dreaded "Works Cited Page". I don't know how many of you have written an essay lately, but the rules and guidelines around citation have become a major pain in the butt. It's a tedious process to go through and I was trying to highlight some key information for my students. Half of my third hour class decided this would provide an opportunity for them to catch up on some much-needed rest. Needless to say, this didn't sit so well with me. So when my fourth hour students came in and started up with their "Why do we have to do this--it's so beneath me" attitude, I just couldn't stop myself from saying to them, "How about you all just shut up and take the notes?" Normally, I would never use this phrase in my class, but desperate times call for desperate measures. They perked up after that and paid attention through both yesterday's and today's notes.

But my volcanic explosion came today during my 7th hour class. I have 14 students in my 7th hour, 10 of which are boys. For those of you experienced with teenage boys, I don't need to say anymore. We were a day behind in lessons because of an assembly yesterday, so I wanted to quickly cover the information on works cited pages and move into a discussion of word usage and verb tense. Riveting, I know, but important information for them. First came the question of whether or not I was going to check their notes, because if not, they weren't going to take them. Then, I had to stop what I was doing to tell two boys to, essentially, shut up and pay attention. Finally, one of my students told me that Microsoft Word would automatically form a works cited page for them in the MLA format and that she wasn't taking notes over this. Several others agreed. My blood pressure hit the roof and busted into the sky. I stopped teaching, sat down at my desk, and told them I didn't care what they did for the rest of the hour. If they were so smart, they didn't need me and could figure out how to do a works cited page on their own. A handful of students approached me individually and asked me to show them how to make one, which I did, but the rest just started chatting as if nothing had ever happened. Of course, this infuriated me even more and when I mentioned it one of my girls asked, "What do you want us to do? You told us to sit here the rest of the hour and wouldn't give us the information..." I had to stop myself from screaming, "I want you to freaking care!!"

I love teaching, and I love teaching in the district in which I work. Overall, our kids are wonderful and I have few problems. I just can't handle the absolute apathy at times. I know, as an educator, it's my responsibility to make learning relevant to them. But, they have a responsibility to actively engage in the process as well. And I cannot abide disrespectful attitudes, especially when I feel that I go out of my way to treat my students with respect. At least Monday is a new day. Prom will be over, it will have rained all weekend, and we'll start the week with a reading day. We'll forget our bad behaviors of the past few days and move forward. Heck, I might even show my seventh hour how to write a proper works cited page. If nothing else, I can chock it all up to a bad case of Spring Fever!

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Confession 48: Baby's New 'Do

Our baby got his first hair-cut yesterday. It was a bittersweet moment. It all happened in a moment of spontaneity on my part. I had given T-Bone a bath and was towel-drying his hair. Bone came out with a full head of hair, and it has only grown since. Unlike some babies, he doesn't have a head of thick curls, just long strands that hang down and around his face. So I decided, on a whim, that it was time for a trim.

I grabbed Chris' goatee trimmers, dug out a comb from a random bathroom drawer, and secured Bone in his high chair. The moment had come. Chris was out praying at a city council meeting and would be home shortly. Since I wanted to tackle the hair while it was still wet, I went ahead and made the first cut. The silky strands fell smoothly through my fingers into my open palm. There was no going back now. It took several minutes for me to work my way around T-Bone's head. I had to sacrifice my comb in order to keep him happy. Needless to say, his daddy was a bit shocked when he walked in the door and saw his newly shorn boy. Although he was a bit disappointed, he wasn't angry and conceded that although he wasn't ready to get rid of "the mop head", the new 'do was fairly cute. Chris then got the hair clippers and rounded out my choppy (literally) work.

After it was all said and done, we were left with a chubby cheeked baby boy whose expressive face we could see much more of. Although I'm a little sad in the end (the mop hair was pretty cute) I feel good about the change, and Bone wears the new 'do very well. I'm also proud of Chris and I that we were able to manage the cut on our own. The whole process sort of illuminated the areas in which Chris and I excel. I jumped right in and started chopping, and Chris came along and worked through the details.

This is the first of thousands of haircuts T-Bone will have throughout his life. However, no matter how much hair we remove from his head, he will always be our "sweet baby boy".

Blessings and Peace,

Confession 47: "Tea Party" or "Patriot's Day"?

Today is tax day, a black letter day in our household. As a pastor, my husband gets taxed in all sorts of crazy manners that I can't even begin to understand. It makes no sense to me how the combined annual income of a high school teacher and United Methodist pastor can result in us owing the state over $1ooo, but there you have it. I suppose there's a reason I teach English and not math!

Anyway, I was reading on CNN.com today that there is a controversy brewing between liberals and conservatives over the nature of government spending (shocking!). Apparently, Republicans are staging "tea party" protests to President Obama's stimulus package throughout the nation today, calling on Americans to vocally oppose the government's bailout of banks, auto companies, and mortgage companies. This, apparently, has prompted one Democratic CNN analyst to declare today instead "Patriot's Day", as this is the "one day a year the government asks us to sacrifice for the greater good." (Give me a break!) This has all fueled a small debate within my inner being because, unbelievably, I find myself leaning more toward the affinity of "Tea Party" day. Don't get me wrong, I am a big supporter (as in I bought a campaign button, not supporter as in I donated half a year's pay to the campaign) of President Obama. I think he has a very strong and noble agenda and think there is a lot of potential to move this country forward. However, I have never been a proponent of the "bailout package". I think the bailout, or stimulus plan is fiscally irresponsible and only reinforces the negative behavior we as Americans, both corporations and individuals, have been engaged in over the past fifteen plus years. Irresponsible spending has led to this recession, and irresponsible spending is not the way out of it. Why should the government spend money it doesn't have to bail out companies that have overspent or made bad investments? There is no other area in life where this economic philosophy makes sense. I mean, as much as I would love to pay off my sister's credit card debt for her, I am not going to cash out my retirement plan to do so. Nor am I going to borrow the money and create more debt for myself to bail her out. (Personal note: My sister would never ask me to pay off her debt for her, it's just a hypothetical example.) There's a simple principle to getting out of and avoiding debt: if you don't have the money for something, don't spend it!

One of our biggest problems as Americans is that we've created a culture of entitlement. If we want something, we think we should be able to get it, regardless of expense. We feel like we've earned the right to luxury vehicles and $300,000 "starter" homes after working for five years, not the twenty years our parents put in before saving up for those things. Economically speaking, we've made our own bed, and now we have to strip off the sheets and start over.

As for the notion of "Patriots Day" being an opportunity for Americans to sacrifice for the greater good of the country, while a noble sentiment in theory, my personal response would have to be... PUH-LEESE! Again, don't get me wrong, I understand the importance of paying taxes, but what are they really going to? Corporate execs who have proven numerous times they are completely irresponsible spenders? Auto makers who have refused to be forward thinking in their development of vehicles? Mortgage companies that have manipulated individuals into making poor investments? Paying salaries of congressional members who are more concerned with their stature and wheeling and dealing with lobbyists than listening to their constituents? I realize that theoretically my taxes help pay my salary, but in reality the most I've gotten for my tax dollars that I have seen is a year's worth of Parents as Teachers visits.

I know I am speaking through an overabundance of cynicism, and I do not want to be a cynical person. I think paying taxes is a civic responsibility, but I work hard for that money, and I would like to see it go to worthwhile projects. I want my taxes to go toward establishing health-care for all uninsured children. I want my taxes to go toward enriching technology in public schools. I want my tax dollars to go toward families of fire fighters, police officers, and soldiers lost in the line of duty. I want my tax dollars to go toward bringing art and culture to children who will otherwise have little experience with either. I want my tax dollars to fund research for a cure to cancer. I want my tax dollars to go toward programs that help end poverty and hunger. I want my tax dollars to be better represented. I don't think that's too much to ask from a government that was born on the principles of freedom and democracy.

Blessings and Peace,

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Confession 46: I Don't Say the Pledge of Allegiance

My students are working on a multi-genre research project at the moment in which they have to research the life of a prominent American, create several pieces in different genres which reflect the values and beliefs of that individual, and then create several other pieces which reflect their own ideas around the concept of the American Dream. I've put together a sample project for them, and one of the genres I chose to express myself in was a blog entry. So, I thought I'd go ahead and post it.

Here it is:

I am not a patriot. Don't get me wrong, I love the United States and am grateful for the life I live within its confines. I appreciate the freedom I have and am thankful every day for the men and women who have worked to secure that freedom. However, it is precisely because I value the freedom and ideals this country was built upon that I cannot call myself a patriot. In recent years, I have seen the term patriot become synonymous with zealot and patriotism synonymous with nationalism. One of the biggest issues I have is that the state of Missouri requires all public schools to engage in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on a weekly basis. I never do this in my classroom, and although that could be considered a form of insubordination, I believe that in refusing to say the Pledge I am upholding the rights of American citizens. How can a government supposedly founded on liberty make a law requiring its citizens to verbally pay homage to it? This, I believe, is oxymoronic.

There are two other reasons I refuse to say the Pledge. First, I believe that God comes before country. As a Christian, my allegiance is to God and my purpose is to further the kingdom on earth, not to further the doctrines of the United States. Second, I cannot in good conscious pledge myself to something which our government does not uphold. Take a moment to look consider the Pledge:
I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the Republic for which it stands
One nation, under God, indivisible
With liberty and justice for all
Although we may at one point have been one nation under God, statistically and culturally speaking, we are no longer that nation. Although the majority of Americans still profess to a Christian faith, our numbers present in weekly worship throughout the country would beg to differ. More than that, we have become a multi-faith nation, with many Americans professing no faith at all.

As for indivisibility, anyone looking at the election map on CNN during the past presidential campaign can see that we are clearly, color-coatedly, a nation divided. We do not all hold to the same beliefs and principles, nor should we. That's the beauty of being an American!

Finally, and probably most importantly, is the concept of liberty and justice for all. If that is the case, why are the majority of people tried in our court systems lower-income and/or non-white? Why do African-Americans still pay more on average for home mortgages than Euro-Americans? Why do athletes and celebrities get away with murder, literally, and I get pulled over for running a stop sign?

The Pledge of Allegiance is noble in theory, but silly in practice. I love my country, that's why I live here. That's the reason I teach in the public school system, that's the reason I vote on election day, that's the reason I give money to the Veteran's Association. If you want to judge my patriotism, look at my actions, don't mandate my speech.

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Confession 45: Atonement

I just finished reading a really fabulous book by Geraldine Brooks called Year of Wonders. It's a novel of the plague in England in 1665-1666. The book takes place in a village and is narrated by a young widow named Anna. When plague is discovered in this village the villagers, under direction of their charismatic young pastor, covenant to seal themselves within the village so as to avoid the spread of the disease to others. Needless to say, death runs rampant. Toward the end of the book, Anna is allowed some fleeting moments of beauty, only to have them smashed by a revelation that changes all she believes to be true. In the course of this revelation, some thoughts emerge about atonement, which is a theme that runs underneath throughout the course of the book.

That said, the next book I checked out from the library was Atonement by Ian McEwen. I haven't started it yet, but I've heard great things about it. And, of course, the main premise is on the nature of atonement and whether or not we can truly atone for our sins.

I was thinking last night that the theme of atonement has been with me through the past few novels I've read. It began with the novel Tamar by Mal Peet, a wonderful story of the Dutch Resistance in WWII. A mystery unfolds throughout the book in which another shocking revelation is revealed and a character seeks atonement. I've also read Jodi Piccoult's Change of Heart, in which a killer wants to donate his heart to save the child of the woman whose husband and older child he was convicted of killing. There is some question as to the legality of him donating his heart when he is sentenced to be executed by lethal injection, and a discussion of atonement ensues.

In the Christian faith, we don't talk a great deal about atonement. We have no Yom Kippur in which we corporately make restitution for our sins. We confess, yes, but rarely do we go from confession to penance. And I wonder, should atonement be part of our practice? Should we seek, in some way, to make amends for the sins we've committed? In truth, I don't think we can, and that would be for me the major flaw in atonement theory. We are human beings. It is in our nature to sin--"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". We are incapable on our own of moving beyond our sin. We have tried. The Old Testament is full of individuals and nations seeking to atone for the sins they've committed. And they failed, every time. How many times did God have to redeem Israel? How many times did Israel fall away from God? God could not reconcile humanity to him through people's actions because people are sinful by nature. Therefore, God had to find another way.

Enter Jesus. God knew the only way to redeem humanity and to reconcile himself with his creation was to make the atonement for sin himself. Therefore, he sent Jesus, his son and a part of himself, to be the atonement for all of humanity's sins--"For God so loved the world that he gave his only son..." We cannot atone for our sins. There is no penance we can do that will make things better, but God can make us right again. God can provide reconciliation and closure. God had made our atonement for us. However, I don't think we just get a free pass when we sin. There are consequences to all actions, both positive and negative. I think, in a way, these consequences are our penance. We are forced to live with the consequences of our actions, yet, I believe that God can make good out of even the worst of these.

I also think it's important to make a difference between atonement and restitution. While God offers us ultimate forgiveness of our sins, I believe that we must seek out ways to make restitution to those we have sinned against. If we've knowingly hurt someone, we should make amends for that. I believe God wants us to be reconciled not only to him, but to each other as well. So while we can't atone for our sins, we can try to mend the hurts they have caused.

Ultimately, God is a God of forgiveness. He wants to be in relationship with us, and forgiveness is a huge part of that relationship. If we are unconditionally forgiven from our sins, then we must unconditionally forgive. As Shakespeare would say, "Aye, there's the rub." There's a big WORK IN PROGRESS sign plastered across my heart on this one. It's not that I'm incapable of forgiving, it's just that I find it a difficult thing to do when people are still hurting me or those I care about and love.

I know I have my own sins to be forgiven for (just for kicks sometime you should ask God to reveal your sins to you during prayer--it's very enlightening) and I am grateful that I don't have to atone for them. I would never get there! But God is so good, he loves me anyway. Now I need to pass that love on to others.

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Confession 44: God is good all the time?

I attended a funeral yesterday for a little boy who was one month older than Garrett. He would have been three the beginning of May. Needless to say, it was a difficult day. Although I have known parents who have lost young children, I have never been witness to the loss itself. Throughout the service I kept looking over at the casket and thinking, they just shouldn't make them this size.

The service itself was beautiful. The family had put together a slide show of pictures to different songs. Although there were tears throughout the viewing, there were many smiles as well, for who can't help but smile at a child's big open-mouthed grin while covered in food, or that mischievous smile while wrestling with a sibling. The mother's best friend gave a beautiful sermon (although she would probably call it a speech) that was so perfect I thought the service could end right there. She spoke of the beauty of children, the beauty of this child, the miracle of his life and the great impact he had on others in his short time on Earth. She asked everyone in the congregation to consider how their lives had been altered by this child, and then declared that was the purpose of his life.

This little boy touched so many lives, so much so that his surgeon even sent the family an e-mail telling them of his grief in their loss. The hardest part of the day was watching his mother sob throughout the service. Her grief came in waves, and every picture and every story seemed like a punch in her middle causing her to fold her body around the stomach that once held and nurtured this small child. No parent should have to endure such grief.

Experiencing the loss of a child, even one that is not your own, causes a crack in the foundation of the world as you have known it. To bear witness to such pain is a reminder of the broken nature of the world in which we live. It is a reminder that life is fragile and that the world is indeed unjust. I do not believe it is ever God's plan that a child should suffer and die. I do not believe that a loving and compassionate God, a God who is Creator and Parent of all life would purposefully cause anyone such grief. Yet, I believe that God is present in the suffering. I believe that God has redeemed this child, and that this child is at peace, resting in his Creator's arms. I also believe that God is grieving with these parents, that God will take their grief as his own. And I believe that God will place his comforting touch upon their lives so that they may move beyond this present agony to a place of peace where they can continue to live until that day when they are able to hold their child once more.

One of the speakers at the service yesterday said that it was not our place to question "why" in such circumstances. But I don't agree with that. God and I have always had open dialogue, and I believe you can ask him anything. However, asking why might not get you very far. This past week I heard a new song by Steven Curtis Chapman who last year lost his own young daughter in a tragic accident. In this song, he writes about that experience and how it caused him to question everything he believed. In the end, he realized that everything we are and everything we have ultimately belongs to God, and what comes from God will one day return back to God. "It is yours, God, yours..."

In the end, I find I must still believe in the goodness of God. God is faithful, and he will continue to be so. He will provide strength and comfort for this family, and he will take good care of their son. And, if we let him, God can work wonders through this journey. You see, God's goodness is so great, that he can work good out of any situation. I have seen countless people who have gone through hellacious experiences give themselves over to God and be transformed, working through their grief and pain to be a light for others in need. It is my prayer that God will do the same in the lives of this family, and in the lives of all of us who know them, love them, and grieve with them. Although there is sorrow in the evening, there will be joy and dancing in the morn.

Blessings and Peace,

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Confession 43: Shameless Ploy For Free Stuff

Recently, a friend of mine mentioned a product on her blog and was contacted by the inventor of the product and given a free product as a thank-you for the mention. The product was a "Miracle Blanket", a special swaddling blanket designed to keep snug even the most elusive of infant escape artists so that they (and their parents) can get a decent night's rest. We used a "Miracle Blanket" with both of our boys, having heard of it from another mother I struck up a conversation with at The Cheesecake Factory one night. It was truly a miracle for us, especially with Garrett. It was the only way we could get him to sleep. I'm wishing they made a similar product for toddlers, but I believe that might be a straight jacket. Anyway, my husband and I are so impressed with the "Miracle Blanket" we've decided it will from now on be our baby gift for first time parents. (I'm absolutely serious about this.)

Therefore, I've since decided in this time of recession that I'm not above lending my blog space in a shameless ploy to obtain free products. That said, here are a list of several of my faves.

1. "Ghirardelli" chocolate chips. Everyone knows that Ghirardelli chocolate is some of the best in the world, yet their chocolate chips are out of this world!! They are made with 60% cacao, delectably bittersweet, and twice the size of the average chocolate chip. They are flatter than the average chocolate chip as well. That, combined with the size, means a smooth chocolate infusion is in order when baked. I use them all the time. In fact, when I made chocolate chip cookies with them, it was like there was a layer of chocolate sandwiched between the dough. Yum!

2. "Mudd" shoes. Cute and comfortable and reasonably priced. Need I say more? One of the signatures of a "Mudd" shoe is its rounded toe, which means more room for your feet to spread out. They are the only heels I will wear. I'm on my feet a lot throughout the day and I will wear my "Mudd" heels several days in a row. That's saying something! They are cushioned inside and hold up remarkably well. And, they are cute and flirtsy, yet classy at the same time. They're truly great shoes. I know, I have four pair.

3. "Burt's Bees" lip balm. My lips get chapped all the time. It doesn't help that I pick at them and pull off all the dead skin. I've used Chapstick ever since I can remember, but was given a Burt's Bees lip balm stick as a gift several years ago and have never gone back. This stuff is amazing! I put it on chapped lips at night and wake up to give my husband a soft smooth kiss on the cheek. The peppermint is my favorite, although the new pomengranate has a very nice scent. But, I miss the tingly sensation of the peppermint. The plus with "Burt's Bees" is that it is an all-natural product and doesn't feel greasy at all. It also lasts forever, so even though you're paying a bit more than you would for a tube of Chapstick, it lasts twice as long.

4. "Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Permanent Markers". I literally never leave home without one of these. They're in my purse, in our kitchen, in our living room, and in my desk at school. In general, I love office supplies, but these are at the top for me. They come in a wide variety of colors, both bold and pastel, don't smear, smudge or (generally) bleed through papers. As a high school English teacher, I go through a ton of these throughout the course of the school year. They're perfect for grading papers and, I hope, add a little spunk to my comments. I also use them to make grocery lists, write checks, sign receipts, and send notes. "Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Permanent Markers" are definitely worth the investment.

5. "Everyday With Rachel Ray" This magazine, for lack of a better expression, is the bomb-diggoty!! I read this baby from cover to cover every month. It is chock-full of original, low-maintenance recipes designed specifically for people who want good food and quality time. Most of the recipes stem from ingredients common to many kitchen pantries, and the editors are great at taking a few ingredients and using them throughout several different recipes. Everyday With Rachel Ray has helped me become less afraid in the kitchen. I used to hate cooking and typically stuck with the same four or five meals. Not so anymore! My hubby still does a lot of the cooking (and, he reads the magazine too!) but I'm pitching in much more than I used too, and loving every minute of it. Everyday With Rachel Ray also has some fun style and travel sections, as well as great kitchen tips. Plus, the editors are very in-tune with their customer base and reader feedback is put to use in every issue. This magazine is truly for any cook, or non-cook as the case might be. At $20.00 a year, you can't beat it for the amount of use it will get.

6. "Nick and Jake's" famous Sunday brunch. If you are ever in the Kansas City, Missouri area on a Sunday afternoon you must, must stop by "Nick and Jake's" and try their Sunday brunch. It is the best breakfast I have ever eaten!! My husband and I stopped back in last weekend for the first time since we'd moved almost two years ago. It was just as wonderful as I'd remembered! First, they have French toast sticks. Where else are you going to find homemade French toast sticks?! They melt in your mouth they're so good. I should know, I ate about six of them!! They also have these rich and creamy cheesy-jalapeno grits. I do not like grits, generally speaking, but I could eat a plate full of these. They also have a fabulous Greek salad with feta cheese and kalamati olives. I typically start with a plateful of that and the cheesy grits then head for the French toast sticks and homemade mac and cheese. If, at the end of all that, you're still hungry, they have two tables of homemade dessert, including fresh cinnamon rolls and bread pudding. You might fall into a carb induced coma at the end of the meal, but it's so worth it!! "Nick and Jake's"--give it a go. You won't regret the trip!

Okay, that's enough pandering for one day. I need to get back to teaching, which is what I'm actually paid to do. Give these products a try and let me know what you think.

Blessings and Peace,

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2