Just Look...

Just Look...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

We are People of Traditions

I apologize in advance if this sounds morbid or weird (this coming from the person who has her funeral directions written out and updates a letter to her husband and kids every year "just in case"), but I truly could die in 2013 and die happy. This Christmas has been the most memorable, FUN, special Christmas season I can ever remember having. And the coolest part is that it hasn't taken a ton of effort or felt like something I was obligated to do. Everything felt natural and exciting and relatively effortless, which is pretty awesome. We started some new traditions this year... Well, I think they are new traditions... they might just be a one-time thing, and that would be fine. But for this year they fit us perfectly and we had a ball doing them. In no particular order, below are our "first-times" for this Christmas:

1. Random Acts of Christmas Kindness
This is something I had seen on a blog and just loved, so I wanted to try it with the girls. Now in the interest of full disclosure, let me say that we missed several days and a few days we kind of cheated by counting things that we likely would have already done... and one day I counted going to a school play to support my students because I DID NOT feel like going to the play that day. But I did. And it was my RACK for the day. ;) Even still, it led to us doing things that we would not normally have done rather often and I hope it made things special for other people. A few of the things we did were give out Smoothie King cards to kids at Lee studying for finals (this was one of my favorites because it was a GORGEOUS day and it was so much fun to walk around campus, brightening the day of others), took snacks to the ICU waiting room at our hospital, taped quarters to buggies at Aldi, bought a snack for a cashier who checked us out at Target, took hot chocolate to teachers on morning duty, dropped a bag of tacos off to the fire dpt, donated to Soles for Souls, paid for the car behind us in line at a fast food restaurant, left a big tip, volunteered at a local organization to sort toys for a community Christmas, and others I'm not remembering. We made cards that we left or gave to the people when we did a RACK. I think the girls liked it as much as I did and I expect that it will become a new tradition. We learned some things, some things didn't work, etc, so we will be better at it next year, I think.

2. Cowboy/Cowgirl Gingerbread Christmas
I LOVE kids' parties. Love them. But other than birthdays, I seldom host them. This year I decided to have what was planned to be a Cowboy/Cowgirl Christmas Brunch but it had to be adapted to fit the kids' play practice schedule. We invited a small number of kids-- the cousins, Kelsey's friend from school, and two sibling sets from church (boys and girls)-- to come out to the house on a Saturday afternoon. Grandmother made gingerbread boys for me and the kids decorated them, then ate desserts, then spent the next hour riding Buck and running around the field. I am tremendously grateful that the weather cooperated and even more grateful that my kids have such wonderful people to spend time with and call their own. We are truly blessed by the people in our lives.

3. Pinterest Pajama Party
Speaking of LOVES-- I LOVE Pinterest... and my friends... and pajamas. :) This idea came about kind of out of nowhere and it was honestly one of my favorite things I have ever done. I just invited a bunch of girls from church and school and book club who love to craft to come over and bring a dish and a crafting project. We all wore pajamas, which made it that much more comfortable and fun, and we just had a ball. Several of my friends tease me because I supposedly have so many "best friends". (To that I must point out that I truly only refer to FOUR people who aren't family as my "best friends". And I really don't think that's an unusual amount.) But anyway, I realized at this Pinterest party that God has truly given me a network of girlfriends that I am so lucky to have. There were girls there who I would go to if I had parenting concerns, others I just love to laugh with, some who honestly are like accountability partners for me, girls I love to discuss a good book with, others who I don't hang out with as often but I know that they would always be there for me.... I realized how diverse my friends are and how lucky I am to have each and every one of them. And those four "best friends", only two of whom were present? I would give anything in this world for any one of them if she needed it.

4. Three Kings Party
Are you seeing a theme here? That maybe partying might be what makes me enjoy life? :) This event was incredibly cool for two reasons. Number one, I always say that I need to have couples over more often even though I seldom do. This was the night I did it this year. Number two, I wanted to theme the event AND I hoped to do something that would give back to someone else. I hit on the idea of calling it a "Three Kings Party", obviously referencing the Magi and the gifts they brought to Jesus. Since Claire's husband, Ryan, has deployed, I thought it would be neat to do something for him, so I asked what deployed soldiers needed. He mentioned books, cds, movies, and magazines, so I asked each couple to bring some. We ended up with STACKS of stuff (and more to come) to send them. Kraig and I so enjoyed getting to spend time with three of our favorite couples from church in a really comfortable, relaxed setting. (And I'm not gonna lie-- saying no kids was an EXCELLENT decision on my part.) ;) I think I want to continue this tradition every Christmas and pick a new cause each year.

5. Davis Minivan Express Night
We did this tonight and it was such fun! We put the girls to bed, then stocked the van with hot chocolate and popcorn. I started ringing a bell and yelling, "All Aboard!" When they appeared at the top of the steps, I told them to get a blanket and come to the van. We then drove around and looked at Christmas lights while sipping hot chocolate and munching on popcorn. It was such a simple thing but they loved it SO much and so did we. Emma kept saying, "Thank you for doing this! It's so much fun! Thank you!" I did have a moment on the way home when I realized that so many parents will never get to do this with their kids and it made me tear up. I then thought about the fact that I said I could die this year and die happy because I feel like we have made the most of Christmas... What if this were my last Christmas with one of them? Or with Kraig? Although the thought devastated me, it did remind me that THAT'S why it's so important to do these things... because you simply never know. Make all of the moments count.

That's all of the new traditions... Some of our other yearly traditions include our Elf on the Shelf (yeah, we're THOSE people), various family and church and school events, our shopping routine (Each year, we alternate girls and Kraig takes one shopping for me and the other one and I take one and shop for Kraig and the other. We go eat wherever she selects and just have a night alone with one child. It's so much fun and really special to us. I think this was year 4 or 5 for that.), decorating, watching "Elf" and "The Nativity Story", and other things I am not thinking of. For the past three years, some debilitating illness sweeping through the entire family over Christmas break has also been part of the tradition, but we are hoping this year will break that and thus far, it has. Fingers crossed.

I hope that we are creating a family culture in which our girls understand that we celebrate this season with gratitude for our Savior coming to this earth, not as the end, but as a beginning to an entire work of salvation... gratitude to Him for all that He has bless us with... and an opportunity to reach out to and bless others. I want them to see Christmas not as a time to think of all that they want, but a time to think of what they can give... to be more excited about giving gifts than receiving them. (Considering that they had such a hard time thinking of anything to ask for, either we have succeeded in this or we spoil them rotten the rest of the year....) ;)

So remember, all two blog readers out there... If I die this year, I will need you to direct people to this post (thus increasing my readership as well...) and tell them that I DIED HAPPY. :)

Monday, December 17, 2012

This Might Be the Last I Speak of This... Or Maybe Not

This whole tragedy has made me think a lot about grief. I have read some pretty powerful blog posts, some of which were pretty raw. And all of the ones I have read that have touched me so deeply have been posts by people who did not have any sort of personal connection to Connecticut, but are just mamas who are fixing hair in the mornings and playing trucks in the afternoons and waiting up late in the night, wondering what on earth they would do with all the extra time and the empty house and the broken heart and the pieces of a full life...

Our kids' Christmas program was yesterday morning at church. I did okay during praise and worship until the associate pastor mentioned "Christmas presents that won't ever be opened". Then I lost it a little. The worst, though, was when the back doors opened and the kids came flooding down the aisles. I sat there, in that moment and in many other moments throughout the (funny) program, with tears streaming down my face because there are twenty sets of parents who probably haven't yet thought ahead to the fact that they will never watch their kid in a program again because right now the pain is just too primal to even think of programs.

And I wondered if sharing the pain across the nation diminishes it at all... if the fact that mommies are blogging and crying and praying and mourning withe those Connecticut moms makes it any easier to bear...? The moment I heard about the tragedy on Friday, my thoughts rushed to two moms I know who have lost children to accidents. I don't know why I thought of them, other than because on Friday, twenty more moms joined that awful sorority that no one asks to be part of and everyone wishes their membership could be revoked. But in thinking of them, I wondered if grief is easier to bear when the load is shared... if losing a child in a mass tragedy and sharing the pain diminishes it at all? If knowing that the world is grieving with you makes your grief easier to handle or if it somehow compounds it? I don't know, and there is only one way TO know and I pray to God that I never have that reason to know....

Saturday, December 15, 2012

But for the Grace of God, Go I

Yesterday was a day that most Americans will never forget. In number, it doesn't come close to 9/11 or even the earlier Oklahoma City bombing... but in the loss of innocence and security, it feels much the same. I couldn't tear myself away from the coverage on my planning period yesterday, or even fourth period. All I could think about was the following quote:

"Once you bring life into the world, you must protect it. We must protect it by changing the world." ~Elie Wiesel

Fought tears all afternoon, then walked out of the school and wept for the sense of security that has been lost for so many, not to mention the devastation of those parents and teachers who are left behind. The only way to protect our children is to change the world they will inhabit. And the only way to change it is with the love of Christ and the power of good. I spent the afternoon praying and weeping for the people of Connecticut and holding onto my two just a little harder...

At some point in the afternoon, I got in the car to see this hanging on my basket. 

Emma made it for me and must have tied it on Friday morning. I cannot imagine how the daily reminders like this one will hurt those grieving parents so. 

Emma's bedtime prayer last night meant so much more than it would have on any other night: "Thank you for blessing us with another day."
Yes. Because "but for the grace of God, go I." I could be one of those teachers or I could be one of those parents... at any point. I couldn't shake that heaviness last night. I'm sure everyone felt it, but I assume parents and teachers (and I guess those of us who are both feel it even more) are feeling weighed down with empathetic grief... What darkness... Planning to hunker down in prayer these next few days and cover our town for protection and these families for comfort.

Earlier this week, a former student of mine, Paige Smith, posted a link to a music video of a song by Gavin DeGraw called "Soldier" and I LOVED it. I shared it with several other teachers. Obviously we had no idea what was to come. As the stories of heroism emerge (the principal, asst principal, and guidance counselor who went straight into danger, Noemi Guyton's cousin who shielded her kids from the gunman-- educators who all lost their lives, then the other teachers who survived but put their children's calm above their own), I just can't help but consider how BADLY the education world gets treated and talked about (and blamed) so much of the time, yet in moments of crisis, these are the people you are trusting your dearest treasures to... This happened to come up in Holocaust Lit this past month and I told them, "When I'm here, I'm yours. I wouldn't be able to put Emma and Kelsey's mom's safety above yours because when I'm here, I'm YOUR teacher first and their mom second." I have no doubt that every single teacher and administrator and SRO I know feels the exact same way. There are lots of people in our country who are soldiers every day and educators are no exception. Yesterday, they were on the front lines. And there were terrible casualties, but also tremendous love and sacrifice. Take care of your kids' teachers. Love on them because they are loving on your babies when you aren't there to do it.

I sent a few text messages and emails today... Some of appreciation to administrators and SRO's that should have been sent long before now (and should be sent frequently)... Some of love to family members and friends near and far... I have never felt such a physical desire to hug my far away nieces and nephews like I did last night when a blogger I follow posted that her nephew was in that school and she was waiting on text updates from her SIL. Her SIL had her two daughters but had heard nothing from her son. Around 6 PM last night, she posted, "He's gone. Please pray for our family." I just thought of how much it would hurt to be hours away from my brothers and sisters-in-law if something tragic happened... to only have the phone as my link to them... I've been more cognizant of my treatment of my own babies today... more loving toward them. But do you know the saddest part? These feelings of being intentional and cherishing the moments and not taking a second for granted... they will probably fade even before the crime tape is removed from the school. We, as human beings, cannot shake that inherent belief that "it can't happen to us". Something like this will happen and we will be reminded of our mortality and the mortality of those around us for a few days or, in very serious cases like this one, weeks, then it's over. Back to life as usual. I pray that isn't the case even as I know it will be.

We went ahead with our Cowboy/Cowgirl Gingerbread Christmas today, just as we went ahead with our Davis/Riddle Christmas last night, even though I'm not sure anyone really felt very merry last night. Today I watched them run around the field all afternoon, so full of energy and life and excitement. I can't imagine that today in one town, there is a loss of youthful innocence, and in 20 homes there is a vacuum of life and joy. 
I'm not even sure what one is supposed to write or say in situations like this. I've had lots of thoughts, some holy and some not so holy. In times like these, though, I always harken back to a  quote from a Jewish rabbi who was asked, "How can you believe there is a God if things like the Holocaust happen?" His answer was that the Holocaust is an example of what would be the norm in the world, rather than the exception, if there was no God. 

One thing I have noticed and, just to be frank, been pretty offended by, have been lots of posts I have read about how "this is what happens when you take God out of schools". In addition to the SICK implication in that statement that God exacted some sort of vengeance on American in the form of the murder of innocent six year olds, there is also the fallacy of the fact that whether prayer is allowed in schools or not, evil has been in the world since the very beginning and will be until the very end. Evil people do harmful things. Posting the Ten Commandments will not change that. But from a more personal perspective, God will be in schools as long as Christian educators and Christian students are. Those teachers who died to save students? God was the reason at least one of them, and probably more, made that choice. "Greater love hath no man..."

I know this was scattered. Truthfully, that's how my mind and heart feel. Scattered and broken. I never would have dreamed that this would have affected me as strongly as it has, but from reading social media and blogs, it appears that I am in the majority on this one. I needed to get my thoughts down or they were going to smother me. I pray tonight for comfort and peace where there is only chaos and emptiness, for redemption and understanding where there had been only hatred and ill will, and for empathy and intention where there had been apathy and busyness. In Him...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Should Have Known I Didn't Have Enough Self-Control

Well, shoot. That whole blogging thing lasted... what, two posts? Oh well. I think my problem is still that I have no clue what sort of blog I want this to BE. Part diary/part analysis/part diy/part call to action/part humor? Oh well. No matter what sort of blog it is or what my purpose in writing is going to be, I can't let our Thanksgiving week pass without SOME sort of reflection...

After much consideration and debate over location, Kraig and I decided to try a cruise with the girls for the week of Thanksgiving. I will say that we can now affirm with absolute certainty that it was a wonderful choice! We elected not to tell them where we were going (mostly because Kelsey and her planning and questions would drive a sane man crazy) or even THAT they were going. We told them that we were going to DC and they were staying with Granna. We drove to Atl, ate with the Mynes, then stayed in the airport hotel. The next AM, they thought Granna and Grandad were coming to get them. At the last minute, they got "stuck in traffic" and the girls had to get on the plane with us. Kraig thought ahead and told them we had to "change planes" and take a cab to another airport, so that explained the leaving of the Miami airport. We did have a moment when Miss Geography questioned why a plane headed to DC would stop in Miami, but we explained that airlines do strange things. We had some hilarious conversation when we passed the cruise ships (which I got on video), then wound up telling them in the line to check our bags. They were THRILLED and it was truly a week to remember.

They were so sweet to each other and good for us and it just reminded me all over again how blessed we are to have these girls and each other. We did two incredible excursions (ziplining and waterfall climbing in Jamaica and swimming with dolphins and stingrays in the Caymans) and at that point, I was reminded how thrilled I am to have an adventurous family. I was completely cut off from all communication with others (texting, phone calls, fb, twitter, ig) and through THAT experience, I was reminded how addicted I am to those things and how I NEED to unplug occasionally and just BE. We came home on Thanksgiving Day and I just reflected on what a blessed life I lead...

I have three people who make my days so joyful, parents who would truly give their lives for us, a sister and brother-in-law who now are just TWO MILES AWAY, in-laws I would have chosen as mine if given a choice, an extended family who have shaped who I am in so many ways, the best friends I could ever hope to find anywhere in this world, a church family that knows how to love Him and love FOR Him, a job that feels way more like fun than work on most given days, a network of colleagues/former colleagues/students' parents/former students whom I have decided would be my key to surviving some sort of apocalyptic event ;) , and a Savior who somehow trusts me to use all I've been given for Him and His glory. Truly, I am blessed.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

First World Tragedy

So my calender AND to do list/reminders on my phone crashed today. And by "crashed", I mean that I tried to "fix" something I knew nothing about (while driving) and clicked something dumb like "yes" on the question "are you sure you want to delete all calender appointments, reminders, and notes?". So, total user error. Or idiot mistakes. Whatever the case, it's all gone. And for someone who makes lists like a crazy person and lives by her calender-- well, you could say I am royally screwed.

After I panicked, then cried, then clicked everything on the phone I knew to click (and a lot that probably didn't), then social media called for help, I gave in to the inevitable, which is that I will not be a single place I need to be for the foreseeable future. After some time to calm and reflect, I decided that might not be a bad thing. Maybe this is some cosmic call for calm in my life... maybe I needed an excuse to miss a few things... rather more sinister, maybe I am going to die on this cruise and this is some sort of symbolic foreshadowing... Whatever the case, it's all gone and over.

And I was reminded again, as I am every. single. time. technology fails (understanding that in this case, the "failure" was with the user), that pen and paper always work. They don't lose battery life, they don't have connection errors, they don't let idiots tell them to delete themselves. However, that's not the route I take. And that's why I sit here tonight, drying my tears, praying that some miracle happens to this phone and everything comes back.

Because if it doesn't, I have no clue where I am supposed to be tomorrow. Or what I was supposed to remember to pack. And if you were on my Christmas list.... well, sorry about that. There's always next year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sometimes, It Takes a Verbal Slap in the Form of a Whisper

I have a confession to make. I love to eavesdrop. On people in general, really, but especially on my seven and nine year olds. The eavesdropping is made quite simple in our house in that we still have baby monitors hooked up. (Do not judge us. Their rooms are a long way from ours and if they got sick in the night, we would never hear them. Plus, if they continue to forget the monitors are there, they are going to come in very handy during their teenage years.... when we will also be installing video monitors in our driveway, their cars, and our family room.)

The thing is, though, sometimes you hear things that you really don't want or need to hear. Case in point: Two nights ago, I overheard Emma tell Kraig after he helped her with math homework, "Whew! Thank goodness you aren't an English teacher like Mommy! I'd be SUNK!" Well....  Et tu, little Brute?!?!?!

Recently I heard the girls talking to each other about their Kindergarten years. (As in, they both had one. Not as in they were in Kindergarten longer than a year. Just wanted to clarify.) Kelsey was raving about some Thanksgiving activity they did and how amazing it was and Emma stopped her by saying, "No offense, but you were pretty easily excited in Kindergarten. I mean, you thought EVERYTHING was a giant deal!"

That comment stopped me in my tracks. Isn't it so true? Not just with school, but with everything... from education to a Christian walk to parenting to a career to marriage to a hobby or passion... everything. We start off and we are SO. EXCITED. Everything is a big deal, we are optimistic about everything, we delight in the banal circumstances of every situation. As time goes on, we lose it. We get cynical. We get jaded. We get TIRED. And those little things aren't so exciting anymore. In fact, they become fodder for complaints and sources of exhaustion.

I wonder why that is? More importantly, I wonder how we can maintain the joy. Not necessarily the level of excitement, because that would get old really quickly. But at least the steady delight in doing something we are meant to do and doing it well. I'm better in some of those categories than others. And I think there are seasons in all things and so sometimes we will just hit a low season. But whatever the cause, whatever the case, I believe a choice and conscious effort to maintain joy will pay off great dividends in our futures.

I heard a great speaker named Angela Thomas whose lecture was titled "Choose Joy". It makes good sense. It's a lot harder when I'm tired and discouraged and just so stinking tired of doing the same thing over and over and feeling like I never get any results.... But maybe on those days, it's even more important. Because if you make it a habit of choosing joy, you are bound to get a reaction. And maybe it will be just the reaction you need to push you back into the season of delight, the season of "first love" with that career or class or family member or hobby.

And I'm going to need a little of that because the most recent conversation I eavesdropped on through the monitor was Emma telling Kelsey that she is always afraid to go into the closet to get anything because she's afraid the doorknob will stink and she won't be able to get out.
Kelsey's response: I know. That's why I hide food everywhere.

Choose joy.

Friday, November 9, 2012


        Today was one of those (good) emotionally crazy sort of days. From something that happened this morning to the Veteran's Day program (I am a sucker for all things America anyway, but knowing that Claire's husband, Ryan, will deploy in a matter of weeks made this day all the more meaningful to me) to seeing "Argo" tonight, it's been a day of deep emotion.

      This morning I had a beautiful opportunity. See, I am one of the lucky ones. I get to go to a job every day that doesn't even feel like a JOB. It feels like JOY. And some days, that joy turns into all out awe and wonder. One of those days was today. My Holocaust Lit class picks a Memorial Project every year. This year, after brainstorming, we honed in on three different groups-- an artistic project focusing on the fact that it could have been you, or me, or anyone; a children's play that they are going to perform at local elementary schools; and a benefit/memorial 5K. To be truthful, I had hoped they would drop the idea of the 5K. I do enough 5K's in a year. ;) However, they did not, and the more they talked, the more excited they became. The more excited they became, the more excited I became. They started to brainstorm groups to send their money to and really had wanted to focus on genocide. As the conversation and dreaming and brainstorming continued, they hit on the idea of picking a city, which reminded me of the Build a City project that PCL are doing. I pulled up the video and they got even more excited. The guy came today from the organization to talk to them about everything. As he talked, my heart was even more stirred.

     God's been doing some crazy stuff inside me lately... crazy stuff like drawing me to live like He has called His people to live. (Novel, huh? Even radical. What? Follow the pattern set forth in His word??? Surely not.) But yes. I feel like I have always had a heart for missions and for people, but have found pretty simple ways to do that work. Turns out God might just want a little more from me than that-- some sort of sold-out lifestyle. Anyway, I sat this morning and listened to him talk about life in Andong, Cambodia. And more than that, I watched my students' faces as he talked. I could see their passion shining...their empathy, excitement, that limitless faith and optimism they still have that they can really do ANYTHING. (Wonder what age we lose that?) I looked at one who wants to be a children's pastor.... one who wants to go into mission work... another who has already done several mission trips and wants to do more... one who I know is struggling like I am to know what exactly the lifestyle IS that He wants for us...

And that was the moment when I knew that I was looking way too hard at the "colors of life" because I was about ten seconds away from the ugly cry.

     I hear people talk all the time about the future of our society. That things are going downhill fast. That this generation doesn't care about things the way previous generations did.

I beg to differ.

Because I know of at least one group of kids who are going to change the world. And they are starting with a city in Cambodia.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lessons for my Daughters...

I have toyed with the idea of fully committing to the blogging thing (and making this blog public) for a while now, and I finally decided today that the time has come. It's all in... 
The following is my facebook post from last night, election night. I have added a few things and cleaned up some others, but it's basically exactly the same post.

Obviously emotions are running high, and maybe that's partly a good thing. As someone who teaches against apathy, seeing people who are actively involved in the democratic process greatly encourages me. My daughters will awaken tomorrow morning and they will be sorely disappointed. However, here are the things I want them to learn from today:

1. We GET to have a say. As disappointing as the result
s are at times, at least there ARE results. I can live with my guy losing (although there was no one in this election I could call "my guy") as long as I had a chance of him winning. 

2. The beauty is in the process. We will all wake up tomorrow and carry on with life. If power had shifted, it would do so peaceably in January. This country and our process is a beautiful thing and no ignorant talk of "I'll just move to____" will ever come out of my mouth... Not when so many would give up so much to get here. Not when so many HAVE given up so much for ME to be here.

3. No matter what side of the issues you fall on, every "issue" represents PEOPLE. We must always stand for just treatment of PEOPLE. And the bashing and hate will not advance any cause or glorify any person. We respect the office and therefore will not speak ill of the man. I sincerely hope my daughters will not hear people they respect and look up to (especially those who are Christian role models to them) setting forth a terrible example of disrespect of another human. We may not agree at all with policy, but that's not an excuse to bash a fellow man. 

4. Our hope is not of this world. No president can save us and by that same token, no president can destroy us. We will pray together for our President's second term and for him and his family and we will continue our prayers for America. We heard a statement today that "God has left America." I was able to take that opportunity to explain to Emma and Kelsey that God doesn't live in the White House. For that matter, He doesn't live in this country. He lives in the hearts of His people, and as long as there is even one of His people in America, God is in America. 

Don't worry-- this won't be a political blog. In fact, I have little to no idea WHAT kind of blog it will be. Or if anyone will ever read it. But I couldn't let this historic day pass (and I feel that ALL elections days are "historic days") without making those points. I am proud of this country and I am proud to be part of it. We may do a lot of things wrong in America, but there is no place on earth I would rather be.