Just Look...

Just Look...

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Year of the Beautiful

Here we are again, at the end of another year. I have always been a big fan of New Year's Eve (and New Year's Day) because I love an opportunity for reflection and I love a good, clean slate. I am in a very different place tonight than I was exactly one year ago when I wrote this post. This year, I am saying goodbye to a very different year than what 2013 was. This past year has brought some huge events to me and my family. All good things, all good things. ;) (And I would say 2014 was also the year of "Frozen"!)

This year has been a year of major travel for our family. March brought my yearly Model UN trip to DC, a rather spontaneous and very special trip to Amish Country with my mom, dad, and daughters. I cherish any time I can spend with my parents and this trip is one that we will remember forever. In May, on a whirlwind trip, I visited New York City for the first time ever. That was the first trip we have taken with the adults in my family and no children (we did miss Josh, of course) and it was SO much fun to get to just be grownups on a trip with my mom, dad, sister, and Kraig. We did our usual Bear Paw vacation this summer, then July found Kraig, Emma, and I on the mission trip to Cambodia and what a fabulous trip it was! I loved getting to watch Kraig and Emma fall in love with the country and the people I fell in love with a year before. Finally, and perhaps most unexpectedly, was our family trip to ISRAEL in October. Never, ever in my wildest dreams would I have expected to visit Israel. It was the trip of a lifetime and I am so beyond grateful that the four of us got to experience it together!

Professionally, I have never had a year as wonderful as 2014. My classes last spring and this fall were absolute PERFECTION. I adore the kids who graced my classroom with their presence. My coworkers proved yet again this spring how utterly amazing they are, and I fell even more madly in love with Cleveland High School and all that entails.

2014 was a year of emphasis on family for me. I have tons of friends and love them all very deeply, but I wasn't as involved in social events as I have been in the past. Any time I had to spare, I craved spending it with my three people and my extended family. And the more time I spent with them, the more time I wanted. I love the glimpses I have seen of the teenagers and adults Emma and Kelsey are going to be in the future. Emma has been such a joy this first semester of middle school and I love the new ways we interact with each other. This is the first year I have taken her to school and that time together is so special. My mom is now retired and has been the most invaluable person to us all, picking up when needed, making snacks for school stuff, dropping off things to our school that my sister or I forgot (yes, just like we are twelve again). ;)

Probably the biggest development in our family story is the start of our business, For Such a Time, in March of this year. We were doing all sorts of fundraising ventures for our mission trip and ended up hitting on a few things that we really enjoyed, creatively. We decided to make a business of it in the hopes of funding that trip and future travel and mission endeavors. We named it "For Such a Time" because our hope is that we will be available in all of the moments God calls us, "for such a time as this". (Esther 4:14) Our decision from the start with this business was to send a percentage of the profit each month to various missions, missionaries, and causes. We both felt led, after our Cambodia trip, to regularly support one of the missionaries there. We also added another child sponsorship (through Operation Compassion) in addition to Phirom, the boy we have sponsored in Cambodia since my trip there in the summer of 2013. We have given to various causes and missions each month, whatever the Lord lays on our hearts. The insane success and explosion of this business is a testament, not to us or our work, but to the Lord and the way He will use anyone who allows Him to work in them.

Obviously I can't write a reflection of 2014 without including that time I was on national television. :) Other than getting two incredible trips out of it, I think the most amazing part was the ridiculously beautiful outpouring of support and kindness from every single person with whom I interacted. It sounds really morbid to put it this way, but I remember telling someone at the time that I felt like I got to hear all the things I would hear at my funeral without actually dying. ;) I always hate that people aren't around to hear all the nice things people say about them and I got to do that! The fb posts, texts, comments, fb messages, tweets, media coverage, etc... it was a beautiful and glorious experience and one I wouldn't trade for the WORLD.

The other blessing that has come from that experience is the platform I have been given and the ways God has worked in me. I am terrified. TERRIFIED. TERRIFIED of public speaking. I have no idea how I am a teacher because speaking to any group that is not my own students in my own classroom absolutely horrifies me. Slowly, over time, God has been easing that fear. I have taught a few adult classes at church and have done some speaking on Holocaust-related topics. But this, this was on an entirely different level, in a whole other realm.... And with it, after it, came opportunities to speak to reporters and on the radio and to civic groups. And each time, there was an unnatural calm. Not just a calm, but an adrenaline rush and enjoyment of the chance to do so. I believe very strongly that God has something ahead for me to do that is going to depend on my ability to speak and that He used this process to jumpstart my willingness to do so. :)

This year was a glorious space in which I learned to depend wholly on God, got to watch His hand in my life and see Him guide my steps. I grew closer to Him in ways that I didn't even really know existed and truly committed myself to His plan. It's a year that I can't imagine ever being topped, but I look forward to 2015 and whatever the future holds for me and mine. One of my favorite quotes is Frederick Buechner's “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.”  This was truly a year of the beautiful. And I'm not afraid of the future.

Monday, July 21, 2014

These are the Faces

A friend posted tonight about the dire circumstances in Ukraine. She has friends there who are in hiding for their own safety or are displaced to other regions who have told her of the chaos there, the killing of the innocent in the streets, the lack of food and water.

Earlier today, another friend posted about anti-Semitic demonstrations including cries of "Send the Jews back to Birkenau" and Jews being barricaded in a synagogue by an angry mob outside.

Investigators are still picking through the wreckage of a passenger airliner not at all unlike the one I was on one week ago today.

Children playing soccer in Gaza have been killed in a battle they didn't choose.

Christian families are fleeing Iraq after being told they must convert or be killed.

Circumstances in many Central American countries are so dire that parents are sending their children unaccompanied to seek asylum in the United States. The pictures of those children sleeping in holding cells, piled together like puppies, are heart-wrenching.

It seems like absolutely at every turn, there is tragedy, trauma, and the victimization of the innocent. Perhaps even more frightening?

We've seen it all before. 

About ten days ago, I had a moment I will never forget. We spend our first day in Cambodia on cultural awareness, which includes visiting a memorial to the victims of the Cambodian genocide of the 1970's. At the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, there are rows upon rows upon rows of photographs of the victims who passed through the walls of that detention center. Most of them were taken on to the Killing Fields where they were brutally slaughtered and left in shallow graves.

Several days later, I was in a tiny Phnom Penh classroom with very little air circulation, sweat dripping from my face as I tied hundreds of braided headbands made from tshirt scraps onto beautiful raven-haired children. I remember stooping down at one tiny table, tying a headband onto a beaming little boy. I glanced up and locked eyes with the boy sitting beside him. He smiled shyly and it hit me:

These were the faces of that genocide. 

Little boys just like these were tortured and murdered at TS-21 and the Killing Fields just outside that city. And as a further tragedy, some of the ones holding the guns and knives were children not much older than these who had been forcibly recruited into Pol Pot's army of murderers.

I just looked into his deep, brown eyes and thanked God that he was here, in 2014, instead of there, in 1976. But who's to say that at some point, those scenes won't be repeated in Cambodia and he won't be part of them? Who would ever imagine that in 2014, cries of "Send the Jews back to Birkenau!" would fill modern streets? Who would believe that the words of Nazi Germany in 1937, "Turn over all valuables and goods, you may leave only with the clothes on your back, " would be repeated in Iraq in 2014 to Christian families in Mosul?

Man has such a deep capacity for evil. Societies are so frail. Governments are so fragile. The messages that have come out of the past week are so appalling. And if you think about it too much, it will debilitate you. It will haunt you. It will cause you to stay up long past the hour in which you should sleep, worrying, wondering what can be done.

I don't know, other than prayer, what I can do for this hurting world from here. But I do know that I've been entrusted with a little corner of it, and it's my responsibility to do whatever I can in my little corner to make things easier for someone else. So, on days like yesterday and today when some efforts seem too much, when I really consider how easy it would be to let it all go, to quit scrambling and pushing and holding on, I will think about that little face on the other side of the world. I will remember that, though I can't fix anything, I can keep on with the efforts I am involved with here to try and provide a small measure of encouragement for some in my corner. I can't stop bullets or missiles or violence. But I can help provide some laughter in the lives of some foster kids for a week in the summer. And so I'll send some more emails and I'll design another shirt and I'll pester my facebook friends some more and together we will raise a portion of funds for that week in 2015. And maybe by then, this world will have calmed down and healed a little bit.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Broken Cistern, Empty Summer

I make no bones about the fact that I love my job. I feel called to it. I also am the first to say that I love, love, love summer and guard my summers fiercely. I will give hours upon extra hours to my job during the school year-- weekends, overnight trips, prom, attending games and plays and concerts at night-- but I committed to myself when my girls were born that summers were preserved. I set them aside for family, for ministry, for hobbies, and for rest.

That being said, this summer has felt... empty. I know how that sounds coming from a person who just returned from a ten day trip to Cambodia, who has vacationed with family and been swimming with friends and worked a camp for foster kids and made a million tshirts. But no matter how it sounds, it's truth. I have felt very removed emotionally from everything I have been part of this summer. I have felt isolated in giant crowds of people. I've done a great job of going through the motions and have done all the things I was supposed to want to do. I've tried to play the part. But as this summer winds down, I have to say that the whole thing felt like wearing makeup. It was itchy and uncomfortable and I couldn't take a deep breath all summer. Nothing felt real. And that terrifies me.

I'm not certain at what point along the way I lost me. And I'm not sure where to find me. And the scariest part of all of this is that the thought of entering the classroom in August makes me a nervous wreck. Because do you know who can sense inauthenticity faster than anyone else? Teenagers. I think the giant disadvantage to loving a job as much as I do is how obvious it would be if I stopped. This past year was a major roller coaster and it ended on the highest of the high. The problem is, that's a long way to fall. And the landing would be a hard one.

I dug around in my Bible for a while this afternoon because there's a little teaser floating around in my brain (and I feel like it's from a Beth Moore talk) about deserts and streams and parched lands. Parched is a pretty good interpretation of the way I feel. I never did find exactly what my brain is holding onto, but I did find a far more sobering verse and explanation... Jeremiah 2:13. It's specifically about the idolatry of Israel and the turning away of God's people from Him. While I wouldn't put myself in as desperate a state as that, the idea of a broken cistern that can't hold water is one that fits. I did some more research on cisterns in Bible times and the comparison here to a cistern built by human hands instead of relying on the source of living water-- Him.

Now that... that might fit. I think religious people fall into two categories-- those who find it easy to depend on God in good times and more difficult in hard times, and those who prefer to handle the good times themselves and trust Him in the hard ones. I sit firmly in the second camp. I handle calamity pretty well. I'm the calm one in emergencies, the one who typically oozes faith in trying times. The easy life, the good times? They make me a little numb. I build my little cisterns and wait to collect the rains, then either the rains don't come or my cisterns don't hold. I think that's where I am right now. I'm sitting on the edge of the river (the one everyone else seems to be surfing and sailing and diving and splashing and having a grand old time in, mind you), trying to fill my little broken cistern all on my own. The other pathetic part is how long it took me to even realize I was so parched... I avoided and ignored and explained away the signs for weeks and even months before I finally attempted to pour water into it, only to have it trickle out.

So now....

It's time.
It's time to dive in and swim deep, quit sitting on the edge, watching everyone else, quit splashing droplets into the broken cistern I built with my human attempts at grace and fulfillment. It's time to sink in the Living Water, gulping it in as I go. It's time to let Him be God so I can remember how to be me.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Harvest

I should be in bed. I mean, who stays up until four hours before the alarm clock goes off, doing unnecessary things like blogging? Especially when the blogging has not been important in the past three months?

I guess I just feel like I can't leave without at least making a post of gratitude about this trip.

And as for the blogging silence over the past three months... is it weird to say that I am fresh out of words? I haven't posted to social media with nearly the regularity I had been either. I think I am an introvert at heart (though I hide it REALLY well) and when things happen that take lots of interactions, lots of words, like the LIVE thing, I kind of go silent for a while afterward.

But back to the trip...

I am so very grateful for this opportunity again. This year it means so much more to me because I know the names and faces of the children we will encounter, the workers I respect so much, and the team we have assembled. I look forward so much to seeing Phirom, the boy our family decided to sponsor once I returned home. I felt an immediate connection to him from the very first moment we arrived and it's been really special to introduce the girls and Kraig to him over the past year through his sweet letters and correspondence. I can't wait to take him a few gifts and the letters we have each written to him. I can't wait for that feeling I get from travel where my senses are sharpened and the colors are so bright and vivid. I look forward to watching Emma and Kraig experience another country for the very first time. I am excited to see the integrated farm that we didn't get to see last time, to see the progress in Andong where PCL is building a city. I can't wait to see the faces in the orphanages in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, to visit the market and Ankor Wat. I am excited for the moments of connection in the children's camps, for the knowledge the children will gain and the fun we will all have.

I am in awe of the power of God and the generosity of our friends and family. I didn't send a single letter out this year, but He must have. We worked our tails off making apple butter, cake pops, and tshirts, tshirts, tshirts, but He sent the customers. Our family raised $9000 in just under 9 months and it is honestly a miracle.

The blessing will be in the harvest, friends. And I can't wait to see it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

These Things I've Learned...

These Things I’ve Learned...

One month ago yesterday, I unknowingly buckled up on a roller coaster the likes of which I had never imagined. As a teacher/learner, I can’t help but reflect on the many things I learned throughout the process. 

1.  Always take your school picture (or really any picture, I suppose) seriously. You absolutely never know when it will be plastered across every form of social media and national television. A sidenote to this is that it IS actually possible to grow tired of the sight of your own face. :) And if I grew weary of it, I can only imagine everyone else, haha!

2.  Roots. Just keep them colored at all times. Related to #1, you simply never know when you will be catapulted into the limelight and YOUR hairdresser may not be nearly as willing or generous as mine was to miraculously squeeze you into a 30 min slot the day before a film crew comes to your school.

3.  Be happy for people. I’ll never forget the day of the first announcement, a good friend of mine said to me, “I honestly think I am as excited as I would be if it were me! I am absolutely GIDDY!” It’s just so much more fun to be happy with people, to take the ride alongside them, to share in the joy. Without going into detail, I did have a major counter-example of this and I think that relationship has probably taught me more than anything else could have. When you’re petty and bitter and just plain MEAN, it only makes you look horrible to everyone else. One day things on the one front with that person were really horrible and we had church that night. Emma and Kelsey were with me when people just swarmed me, so excited and hugging and wanting details and expressing such joy. It provided such an incredible teaching opportunity for the girls because, as we left, I pointed out the difference in the two moments of that day. I asked them who they thought felt better right then, the people who were rejoicing WITH me or the one who was resentful OF me. Bitterness will tear you apart inside. It eats you up, it’s your constant companion, it’s that itchy feeling in your chest and the weight in your heart. Get swept up in the good things that happen to others. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where you end and they start!

4.  Just lose the weight now. Don’t put it off until it’s more convenient or life slows down or you feel like it. Those things actually never happen. But do you know what CAN happen in two weeks? You can go from the front of a classroom to the studio of the top morning show, viewed by millions on national television. Do you know what CAN’T happen in two weeks? Weight loss. Just do it now.


5.  Your weight? It totally doesn’t matter at all. I have never been one to put much stock into physical appearance. (My mom can tell you how many times she cringes at the wrinkles in my clothes and offers gently to, “iron your stuff if you want to bring it to me”.) That being said, the weight gain that has come with age (and the gray hair) is a constant irritation to me, something I probably struggle more with in my heart than I ever let on or ever would show. I do feel insecure about it and I do look at myself and wish things were different. But when I look at pictures and videos from the show, I don’t see my size at all. I see pure, unadulterated EXCITEMENT AND JOY. I see a person who is experiencing things that she never imagined or deserved. I see someone who is being blessed in ways she never thought possible. I see someone whose most unattainable dream, a trip to Israel, is being granted not once but TWICE in the upcoming year. I see a person so incredibly fulfilled by her lifework, her calling, and the people in her life. I see the girl who never planned to be a teacher but would never want to do another job. I see someone who has read more notes and cards and facebook posts and messages and texts and tweets and articles of support in two weeks than in her entire life and guess what none of them referenced? Dress size. It simply does not matter one WHIT. You are the love you show to others, the energy you put into living, the effort you give your job, the call you answer daily... you are NOT your weight. 

6.  Express yourself. I try really hard to always tell people how I feel, that I am proud of them, that I love them, etc. However, I know there are many times I fail and the people in my life don’t know that just having them in my life makes my heart do backflips. I never thought I was a person whose love language was words of affirmation. In fact, I have often said that I don’t need compliments or praise at all. The ways in which my very soul lapped up the words given to me by the people in my life, sucked them down as if it was dying in a desert, showed me that apparently everyone enjoys words of affirmation. The human spirit needs to hear that sometimes. I need to be more conscientious of being the one to offer that to others.

7.  If I ever need to reinvent myself or impress people-- MAKEUP. I promise, I think I heard more commentary on the makeup they put on my face for that show than I have about legitimate social issues plaguing our world. I have decided there is nothing we Americans like more than a good made up face. Even Hamlet knew the score--“God gives you one face and you make yourselves another”.

 8.  KNOW yourself. I have been asked two questions over and over and over in the past month. 1. Why did I become a teacher? 2. Why do I teach the Holocaust? Thankfully, I had a ready answer for both. I do spend a lot of time self-reflecting and I guess it pays off. I also have been able to gain something of a platform and an audience through all of this that I hope will also lead to awareness and interest in the two organizations dearest to my heart, Royal Family Kids (ministry through summer camp and fall retreat that my church does for kids and middle schoolers in foster care) and People for Care and Learning (specifically their orphanages and Build a City projects in Cambodia). 

9.  That God of mine-- He ROCKS. I can’t even start to detail all of the ways He has orchestrated the tiny pieces of this story. Let me just say that His Hand was present in this event long before it became an actual event, before Kelly put hand to paper, before Kelly and Michael became co-hosts. 

10.   Social media is POWERFUL. And the people in my circle are utterly amazing. I have seen twice this school year the way that social media provides the vehicle and people provide the support network. I was overwhelmed in August when Grandmother had her stroke at the people who reached out to our family, many of them from far away and whom I had not talked to in years, often via social media. I was overwhelmed again this month at the people who shared the link, posted about it, had family members voting and posting, etc. For someone in a town the size of Cleveland to make it to the Top 5 in an ONLINE VOTING CONTEST is absolutely miraculous. But Cleveland, while it may be a small town, has a giant heart and arms that reach an awfully long way. They don’t call us the “City with Spirit” for nothing! :)

***This is not exactly something I learned, but it is worth noting. This 2013-2014 school year? It was HARD. It was probably the most difficult I have experienced in a very long time. I think part of the difficulty stemmed from the fact that Grandmother had the stroke in August, right at the beginning of school, and so we were dealing with the aftermath of that event for the rest of the year. I know that I was personally distracted and anxious, which I am certain affected my school being. But it just makes me smile to think back on this year because it started out so high, with the induction into the CHS Alumni Hall of Fame, plummeted rather quickly with some unexpected scheduling situations and a difficult semester, then basically settled into a roller coaster pattern for the remainder of the school year. There were some incredible days when I hated the thought of only doing this for 17 more years. There were some really challenging days when I wasn’t certain I had it in me to return the following day. And then there was the end, complete with its crazy highs and blurs of surrealism and joie de vivre. I am so grateful that God allowed me to end on this note. I wouldn’t trade one second of the process, including the very end. I am just so incredibly blessed.

Monday, May 19, 2014

My "Night Before the Big Announcement" Post

So I have composed this in my head for days.... :)
This past (almost) month has been a month that I would never have imagined experiencing in my entire life. It has completely blown my mind and I have told so many people this, but I want to say it publicly--
Car or not tomorrow, I have already won.
I won the day I got the job at Cleveland High School, the school I have loved for so long. In fact, my interview was almost exactly 13 years ago to the day.
I have won for 13 years with the intelligent, articulate, loving, and wonderful students in my classroom, students who come by and send messages and keep in touch YEARS after they leave.
I have won by getting to work with colleagues and for administrators who are complete professionals, loving people, and forever friends.
I have won by being part of a school system that values "every child, every day", that puts educational standards above politics, and that is led by an administration that cares about people.
I won on November 23, 1977, by being born into a town like Cleveland, TN. Y'all, we are so blessed in this town. What a bunch of people who love each other and know what community means.
I won the JACKPOT with my family, immediate and extended. These people love me in all circumstances and cheer me on and support me in everything. They have shown me what true love means.
I won in the friend realm-- oh, I won more than any person deserves to win. Some people make fun of me for saying I have so many "best friends" but it's so true.
I won in 2007 when I became part of a group of teachers who have become like family, who hold Holocaust education to the level that I do, as part of the TN Holocaust Commission Teacher Fellows.
I won when I fell madly in love with Jesus and committed to let Him lead my steps. He has directed my paths and blessed me with callings and a love for life and people that could only come from Him. I know some people question the fact that my students said that I make them all feel like I love them, that it's not possible to love them all. My response to that is that it isn't me. I pray every single semester that God will love them all THROUGH me. It's Him in me.

So thank you. Thank you for voting and sharing and sending me messages of support and being my people. My life IS the people in it. I have SO loved every moment of this entire experience. I would LOVE to be driving a new car tomorrow, but I am feeling so very blessed. I am so thankful to Kelly for her sweet letter and all of you who have done so much in this process!!! I will say, gut feeling for the past three days... I don't think it's me. Not just saying that for people to say they disagree, but in all honesty-- gut says no. (And my gut is almost ALWAYS right, ESPECIALLY in regard to snow days!!!) ;) Haha! We shall see tomorrow!!! Thanks again!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

LIVE from NEW YORK.......

To continue where I left off on my previous post...

The next half day of filming went just as beautifully as the first. I remain so impressed by Joni and Ben, producer and cameraman, and our students and my colleagues. The remainder of that week and the first three days of the next were a whirlwind of senior goodbyes, card writing, grading, exams, treats, final grades, classroom straightening, AP testing, etc. I floated around on a little tiny cloud that felt very paradoxical because I was so happy, yet also so sad at the same time (end of the year goodbyes). The local news came and interviewed, I had interviews with newspaper reporters, it was just a blur of activity.

Then came graduation... that yearly event that breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces. This year was quadruply hard because of the goodbye to my Connections group. The thought of those kids who walked into my classroom as scared, anxious, excited, bold, cocky, sweet kids on the first day of their freshman year then spent every Tuesday and Thursday with me for the next four years .... the thought of them leaving, the sight of them in caps and gowns, the last hugs and nods for me as they crossed the stage... somehow it made me burst with pride while also want to weep.

But we did it. We sent the class of 2014, that enigmatic class that blazed its own trail from the moment they arrived (sometimes to the detriment of those around them and sometimes with us cheering them on), hurtling headlong into the future. I thought I was coming out ok. Then after saying goodbye to Emma and Kelsey for our trip, staying up late to pack, and finally getting in bed sometime around midnight, the emotion hit and I sobbed for the next hour. Kraig asked me this AM, "What were you crying about last night?" I said, "GRADUATION!" :) My pillow was a sopping mess when I finally dozed off around 1... only to be awaked by my alarm at 2.

We needed to leave for the Knoxville airport by 3 in order to make our 6 AM flight. We were very tired but also very excited. Two (prop) plane rides later, we arrived in the Big Apple (technically in Neward, but really who's being specific?)! Feel free to skim over the touristy details of our next few days. In Kraig's words, "Athena, you are the only person who can fit a two week trip into two days." Well I try to get my money's worth. Or, in this case, ABC's money's worth! :)

I'm kind of going to do this in list-form.

This was my first time to ever see someone holding a sign with my name on it, then ride in a car that had been sent just for me. Our driver was so kind, had a daughter in journalism at Columbia, a son in law school, and a wife who is a reading teacher. His regular job is that he drives Robin Roberts on weekdays.
Left our bag at the hotel, changed clothes, headed to the Discounted Tickets booth in Times Square
Line moved super fast, within minutes had 5 tickets to Newsies at 2 PM!
Checked in with Mom, Dad, and Natalie (almost to their hotel), made a plan to meet up with them
Very easily found John's Pizza (highly recommended), had a table in minutes, ordered food for all of us
Mom, Dad, and Natalie arrived with about 45 min of time in which to eat
That pizza, by the way, was delicious!!!
Made it to the Nederlander Theater at just the right time to see "Newsies"
It was raining when we left, so we headed for the Subway to spend a little time shopping in Chinatown.
I would prefer not to speak of our time on the Subway. Either we are dumb or New York enjoys the confusion of its guests.
Various family members bought various fake things, then we had another frustrating Subway journey back to the Times Square area. I BOUGHT RAIDER BLUE SHOES FOR THE SHOW!!!
We spent lots of time walking, went in St. Patrick's Cathedral, saw Radio City and Rockefeller Center, then grabbed a burger and parted ways.
Kraig and I bummed around Times Square and the Hershey store for a bit before heading back to our room around 11:30.

It was Mother's Day! Supercool way to spend that holiday.
We met Mom, Dad, and Natalie in the far corner of Central Park around 9:30.
We took lots of pictures and walked that end of the park until we emerged on the corner near Broadway.
Our sweet friend Brenda had gotten us a complimentary meal at Ellen's Starlite Diner-- what an experience! We loved the singing, the food, the atmosphere, all of it.
VERY COOL moment was when our Pastor skyped us into the Mother's Day service at church! The girls talked to us and he encouraged votes and support.
Stopped by our hotel to charge phones, bathroom, etc.
Walking Tour (Natalie's favorite part!) started at 2 at the New York Public Library. We saw the library, Grand Central, the Waldorf Astoria, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Radio City, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's, and lots of other things I am forgetting.
Most challenging Subway experience came next as we tried to get to the 9/11 Memorial on a weekend. Just whatever.
The 9/11 Memorial... WOW. I am so interested in memorials and monuments and museums. I love to consider the thought that goes into something that carries such a burden of responsibility to do it RIGHT. This one is just so incredibly moving and powerful. I love that they put roses on the names on that person's birthday. Unfortunately, the Museum opens in ELEVEN DAYS, so we barely missed it. That's a day none of us will ever forget (and a day that means my daughters only know a post-9/11 world) and I appreciated a chance to pay honor to those who lost their lives.
We then took the Staten Island Ferry out to see the Statue of Liberty and the famous skyline. It was a beautiful day and that was an incredible experience.
One (easier) Subway ride later, we were back in Times Square and ready for some supper. We picked Virgil's (also recommended) and really enjoyed it.
My people bought lots more fake stuff on the streets as we enjoyed a leisurely trek through Times Square. We even got to see the guys grab all of their wares and run for it when the "Madame" (as they called her) came near.
*My wonderful Director of Schools had arranged for us to enjoy complimentary Starbuck's on this day but we were unable to get to the one that his brother managed. We really appreciated the gesture, however.

*I'll come back to the show part later.
Got picked up for the studio at 7:45, did the show, back to the hotel by 10:30
Mom, Dad, and Natalie finally got back in their taxi so we went to the room for a minute to charge phones, for me to change, and for Kraig and I to check out.
Our friend Brenda had also arranged for complimentary Top of the Rock tickets for us, so the 5 of us headed to Rockefeller Center.
WHAT A VIEW! WOW. Really really cool experience.
From Top of the Rock, we had planned to go to the Shake Shack but it was so crowded, so instead we went to Juniors, which seemed to be at the top of most people's lists. It was sooooo good! Food, atmosphere, and especially THAT CHEESECAKE!!!
We sat in the stands in the middle of Times Square and people watched for a while, trying to soak up the last little bit of NYC before Mom, Dad, and Natalie headed to their hotel to catch a car to the airport.
Kraig and I just strolled around, shopping and being together. We saw a film being shot of the Fox show "Girls", which was cool. Bought some souvenirs, got rained on, ate some more pizza, then headed to the hotel for the car to pick us up.
From there it was an easy trip home (for us, not so much Mom, Dad, and Natalie!)!

The Show
It started with people behind a barricade taking photos of our car as we pulled in to the garage. (Kraig laughed and said, "Those guys have no clue who they are taking photos of!" HAHA!) Joni met us in the garage and took us straight to the Green Room where she was very impressed to hear how much ground Davis Touring can cover in 48 hours. ;) Everyone I met on the show was just so very nice! I was nervous but not painfully so until I heard that an ambulance was there for someone else who had passed out and something about my crazy brain and how susceptible it is to power of suggestion made me start feeling woozy (same exact feelings as the Hall of Fame induction in September!). I ate a crescent and drank some water and mind-over-mattered it out of me and I was fine from then on. Hair and makeup was a unique experience (and apparently went well, based on the input from others-- more on that in a later post called "These Things I Learned"). I didn't have any cavorting time with Michael and Kelly or any of the other guests for that day. Kimmel shook my hand, Ruffalo waved, and you saw me hug Michael and Kelly (in between the strange clasping of my hands to one another that I did the entire time I was onscreen). I apparently was less than two feet from Jennifer Lopez at one point and had no clue it was her. Typical. After Kimmel and Ruffalo's segs, they had me in a narrow hallway backstage where I was able to watch my filmed segment before I went out. Let's just say from the first student face that popped up, I was teary. It wasn't just the sweet things they were saying, it was that I knew I wouldn't be seeing them in my classroom again! They were GONE! Graduated! :( I didn't watch very closely because I couldn't handle too much at that moment. When it was time for me to go out, I was nervous and excited. It went so fast and was very hard to hear what was being said so I actually had to look at the teleprompter at one point. Kelly is as tiny as she seems (or smaller) and Michael is as huge as he seems (or bigger) and they are both just comfortable and sweet and genuine. I am so grateful for the tablet/computers for my school.
The trip to Israel??? I am still in shock. I never in a million years expected that. Some people who watched the show last year had mentioned some got trips and I wondered about the possibility of a trip to Poland or Germany. I never would have imagined a trip to Israel. NEVER. It's a dream I never even really voiced because it seemed so out of reach. For a teacher of the Holocaust to visit Yad Vashem, for a Christian to visit the Holy Land... JUST WOW. It took my brain a long time into the announcement to fully process what was happening. I feel like even now, almost a week later, my brain just has this little refrain in it going, "Israel, Israel, Israel!" We are thinking about going fall break week. And we are planning to pay extra and take our two girls.

I was back at school by Tuesday and this week has been another whirlwind of end of the year stuff and coming down off the high. I have loved all the students at school who have introduced themselves to me, told me they saw the show, promised to vote for me. It has made being alone once seniors leave a little less lonely... I can't even being to explain the massive amount of messages and kind words via all forms of social media, technology, the beautiful packet of cards my friends arranged for me to get from all sorts of people, in person, etc. As I said in the last posts, most people have to wait until they die to hear nice things and then they don't even get to hear them! ;) I am so so grateful.

I was finally able to watch the segment (the one that basically everyone has told me made them cry) this week. (I watched it from backstage but it was nice to watch when I could focus and not feel like I was about to throw up.) I am in complete awe that Joni, a woman who had never met me in her life, could show up at my school on a Tuesday morning, shoot me teaching, interview kids and administrators and me, talk to a few other people, and somehow put together a segment that presents EXACTLY the person I hope I present myself to be. She even used the exact quotes from our hour long interview that I would have wanted her to use! And MY STUDENTS!!! I wish I could round every one of you up, those whose interviews made the cut and those who didn't, and have a giant party with you and give you presents and thank you! Like a LIVE 2.0 or something! You all made me so proud, not only for the things you said about me, but for the intelligent, articulate ways you expressed yourselves. I am just beaming still today.

I'm so thankful for those who kept my kids while I was gone, for all of the love and supportive words the day I was on the show, for those who have laughed with me since about various things (like my hands and my nails), for the inspiring and moving newspaper articles that have been published and the television stories that have been done by local media, and just for this town and who you are.

I still can't believe it has happened and is still happening. What a beautiful gift straight from my Lord, and one of which I am undeserving.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

LIVE Update

This one is likely going to be long... (I have to make up for a two month blogging absence.) :)

On Friday (I cannot believe it was less than a week ago), we had been told that a special announcement was going to be made on Raider Connect. We all tuned in at 9:45 (after some mocking from me, just if I'm being honest) for the "BIG ANNOUNCEMENT". The screen flipped to the "LIVE with Kelly and Michael" show... then to the Top Teacher Contest... at that point, I assumed a local person had made it into the contest. A couple of names into the announcement of the Top 12, I realized who the local person was...
Um, WHAT??? Is this real life? I turned to my class and they turned to me and for about two beats, we stared at each other silently, then they cheered and I got lots of hugs, etc. My ears had closed after I heard my name, so I had no clue what this possibly meant, but it seemed really good. :)

The day felt like a dream with people congratulating me, celebrating with me, and asking for more information. The voting started that day in order to get into the Top 5 Finalists. The weekend was just so much fun and so surreal. I went to Walmart and strangers stopped me to say, "I voted for you!" One lady hugged me with tears in her eyes, saying that she read the letter about me and she "just had to hug me". My social media filled with compliments and kindness. I am just in awe of and so humbled by the support I received. It was a beautiful weekend.

Voting ended at 5:00 on Monday, so I broke all my rules for myself (don't even vote for yourself, don't toot your own horn, don't self-promote) and voted like crazy, begged people to vote for me, and posted frequently about my situation. I tweeted at famous people, locally famous people, etc. I went on the radio that morning to beg for more votes. 

Once it all ended on Monday at 5, I felt an unbelievable peace (that was quickly broken by an unsettled weather pattern that resulted in us sleeping all night in the basement). I posted this on my fb that night:

"I just want to say that no matter how this contest ends, the past four days have felt like a dream. I am so grateful for the nomination (Kelly), for the insane amount of support from friends, family, church family, coworkers, students, former students, parents, future students, classmates, local media, "famous" friends, and perfect strangers. I just read through the comments on my voting site and I am just so honored. It isn't very often that you get an opportunity to hear this sort of kindness while you're still living  and I just appreciate it so very much. I love my job with a love that probably looks crazy to most people. I truly feel that I was called by my God to do this work and I attempt every day to live up to that calling. My ultimate goal in education is to help my students become a better version of themselves and stand up for what is right, showing kindness to all along the way. (I also hope they learn some English and literature and writing as well, haha!) I treat my students the way I want Emma and Kelsey's teachers to treat them. That being said, it is SO easy to love my students and this job because they make it easy. Cleveland High School is the best school on earth and I work in the most phenomenal school system, with and for the most amazing people. I am so blessed by the students I have had and I eagerly anticipate the upcoming 17 years.

I would LOVE to be in the Top 5 and go to NYC. Kelsey asked me tonight if I would be disappointed if I didn't make it. I said I will certainly be disappointed, but I wouldn't trade the past four days for anything. At that point, EMMA compared it to "Soul Surfer" (apparently there's a scene where Bethany Hamilton is asked if she would change anything about that day and she says no, because if it hadn't happened, she "wouldn't be here right now with you, talking about the love of God")... While I feel rather certain there is a huge gap between shark attacks and the Live with Kelly and Michael show, I AM so thrilled to be here right now, even if tomorrow brings news that this is where it will end.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for voting and sharing and listening and hugging and writing beautiful and hilarious posts and just being YOU... my people."

I truly meant every word of that post. But thankfully, miraculously...THIS HAPPENED:

On Tuesday morning, we had a two hour weather delay. For that reason, I was not in class with my 2nd period, but in Jon Souders's room surrounded by teacher friends, Kelly, and my sister. I didn't really get nervous until there were only 15 min left in the show and I knew it was next. Never been so grateful to be at the BEGINNING of the alphabet! My name was the first announced!!! My friends stood and cheered and screamed, Natalie hugged me, I was shaking and shocked. After I talked to Autumn, I went back to my room and my sweet co-workers/parents/sister had decorated and made me the sweetest treats!!! It was so beautiful. I had barely gotten into the classroom when Autumn called me down to talk to New York. NEW YORK. Where I am going to get to GO now!!! I am one of the Top 5 Finalists in the teacher search. 

What I found out from Autumn is that they would be coming to tape the VERY NEXT DAY (today, that is). Well. That escalated quickly. ;) That meant that my classroom, my car, my house all needed to be clean. Perhaps more importantly, I needed to get my hair done IMMEDIATELY. Thankfully, my sweet friend Edie not only did my hair, but did it free as a "Congratulations!" It was a crazy night, one in which I stayed up almost all night, making it the second night in a row I got little-no sleep. 

Today, fitting with a previous pattern, I wasn't even very nervous. It was so much fun to meet the camera man, Ben, and the producer, Jonie. They were just the nicest people who were so good to me and easier to work with. They filmed in my classroom most of the day (getting footage of my classroom, me teaching, etc). They also invited my students out in the hallway to be interviewed. We ate lunch in Autumn's office (JENKINS!) and then they did some other interviews and I was back on my own for a while. 

I am so stinking proud of my students today. They were absolutely so impressive today with the crew there, just as they are daily. THEY are why this job is what it is. THEY are the ones I love. 

This afternoon, they interviewed the girls, Kraig, Pastor Moody, and the four of us at our church. I think that went well. 

This entire thing is just so crazy. No other words for it...From the amazement and awe of being selected to the sheer gratitude I feel to those who voted and shared to the nervous energy associated with today.  I have floated through the past six days. I cannot imagine what is coming next!

They finish recording at the school tomorrow, then I go to NYC the weekend of graduation to be on the show on Monday, 5/12. Voting starts again on Friday, May 16. AUGH!!! :) Did I mention I am going to NYC??? :) 

Friday, April 25, 2014

VOTE! (please) (Even though I stink as a consistent blogger)

So, I feel a little awkward posting this BUT..... it IS a trip to NYC, a place I've never been, so here goes. :) Somehow (and rather miraculously) this happened today and I am in the top 12 semifinalists for Live with Kelly and Mike Top Teacher Contest. If you would, please go to the link below and vote!!!


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

To You, I Say...

It's Olympic season. And although I love watching them so much, and they always inspire me and bring me to tears and reignite my patriotism, they also have a way of making me feel somewhat "less than". These people have dedicated themselves to a purpose and are, in some cases as young as fifteen years of age, accomplishing what most will only dream of-- an Olympic medal! But I think the part I overlook as I sit and watch Ted Ligety on giant slalom and Ashley Wagner on ice is the struggle that got them there.... the falls, the tears, the injuries, the time sacrificed, the days they wanted to give up, the friends lost, the events missed, the soreness, the failures, the close calls, the heartbreaks... and no doubt the very pieces of their journey that made the platform that much sweeter.

I know so many who are struggling right now. 

Today I had serious conversations with two students who are struggling with growing up, with relationships. Senior year? It's so hard. It's hard to let go when you want to hold on tightly, to hold on when your every instinct wants to let go. It's hard to co-exist in that strange place between childhood and adulthood, to feel so ready to take the world on some days and just like you want to crawl up into your mommy's lap on others. It's hard to "make the most of every moment", "yolo", and "carpe diem" when you also know that you need to study for this test and that one, write this essay, attend this practice, volunteer at that event, and work this shift. 

To you all, I say: Keep breathing. Keep waking up every morning and learning who you are more and more each day. Keep walking that tightrope and you'll get better and better at balance. Keep pushing. This time is so short and will truly be in the past sooner than you can imagine. And you will look back with such fondness at this cool in-between person you are. But my how you will love the person you become... You can do it. The struggle is worth the next chapter.

People I know are struggling with friendships. There's a line in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar where Brutus says (about Cassius), "Thou hast described a hot friend cooling." It's so difficult when friendships change (or vanish), especially when there isn't a specific reason for it. It's awful to lose that "hot friend", that person who once mattered so much to you but now is a stranger. It's tough to have good news, or sad news, or need advice, but have no "favorite" in your phone list anymore to call. 

To you, I say: Let go or grab hold. If this person matters enough to you to fight for, then fight. Make yourself vulnerable, be the bigger person, make the call. If not, soldier on. There are very likely other people around you who have always wanted to get to know you better, people who can't imagine how a person like you could be lonely. There may be people around you who are feeling just as alone as you are. Reach out to them, make a friend, be a friend. The struggle is worth the connection.

My family is struggling with the aging and health issues of my grandmother. It is so painful to see the people you love most, the people who have always been your strength, in a vulnerable situation in which they are dependent on others. It's hard to hear her acknowledge her confusion and, as she calls it, "crazy", to know that she is aware of her lapse into spells of dementia and mourns it. It scares me to know that this could only be the beginning. It terrifies and overwhelms me to look into the future and know that I still have another grandparent, parents, in-laws, eventually siblings and even a spouse who could venture down this difficult road one day as well.

To you, to us, I say: In the grand scheme of life, this season is so short. There are so many years of memories and moments to hold on to in this darker time. Let's view this as an opportunity to hold the hand that held ours through so many challenges in the past, to get on our knees and return the hours of time on bended knee in a bedroom across town, to sit and listen (even if it's over and over... and over) to the one who listened to our infant cries and toddler fits and rambling stories of childhood and silly complaints of youth. Don't be overwhelmed by the future, because God has plenty of grace there for us. Let's just drink of the grace available for today. The struggle is so worth the moments we have had.

Sometimes, God asks us to do things that create struggle. Friends are struggling right now to raise funds for a mission trip. It's a hard walk of faith when you know that God is calling you to something but your brain says it can't possibly work out. $3000 is a lot of money. So they can bbq sauce and they craft things and they hold yard sales and Kraig makes apple butter, pizza sauce, and banana bread. They scratch and claw and sell tshirts and worry that they are annoying everyone around them, that they have become "that person". But they know it's a not something that is a choice. When God says, "Go"... You GO.

To you, I say: Keep on. Keep being creative, keep working your fingers to the bone, keep canning and making and crafting and selling. I've been there and I can promise you-- it's so worthwhile. There is no feeling quite like that of trusting the Lord to make a way, then seeing Him do it. There is no feeling quite like that of standing on the soil of a place He has called you to. This struggle is worth the hands you will hold, the hearts you will touch, and the lives that will blend with yours.
I gave my AP class a really hard assignment yesterday. It's the second year I have made this particular assignment and I am very aware of its difficulty. They typically balk at it, complain a bit, then dig in and get to work. Sometimes within the process they give up a little, then find some inner creativity/spark/poetry that carries them to completion. I talked to one student today about hers and we brainstormed a bit after school. She sent me a rough draft of her work this afternoon... wow. There is such beauty in the struggle sometimes. It's the knowledge I have of the difficulty of the assignment that causes the goosebumps on my arms when success is reached by these kids. When they read these completed palindromic writings, I just sit in awe, chills running up and down my body. Because they did it. They tried and they risked failure and they struggled and they came out on the other side with an incredible creation. 

Because that's us, y'all. We just have to get through the struggle, find the beauty in the struggle, in order to get to the podium and hear "our song".

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A 10 Point Snow Week Post

Oh yeah, I have this blog! ;) To ease myself back into not only writing, but also real life (after a week's reprieve in the form of a snowcation), it's going to be a list today. But a list of VALUABLE INFORMATION from my week of LIFE RESEARCH.

1. I have still never made or had snowcream in my life. And I feel a touch slighted by that, but not slighted enough to use the snow we collected in the two bowls we left out all night Wednesday. Maybe in three more years when it snows again.

2. Southerners may be ill-equipped to deal with snow but we are very good at improvising and our round sleddish discs worked very well attached to Gators and 4Wheelers via water skiing ropes. We had an absolute ball on Wednesday making laps around the horse pasture. The girls and Eli even took a few turns being pulled on their snowboards, wakeboard-style.

3. There is absolutely no better timing in the world than a big snow during the Winter Olympics. Not only was it so much fun to always have something good on television, it also worked beautifully for Emma and Kelsey to easily imagine themselves in Sochi at the top of the halfpipe each time they took their snowboards down our driveway.

4. Speaking of something on television, I have two new favorite shows that I discovered on GAC-- "Junk Gypsies" and "Flea Market Flip". They are perfect for my upcycling, flea market junking self. The girls loved them too.

5. Movies! There are so many fantastic movies in the Redbox and theaters right now. We rented "Captain Phillips", which I highly recommend although an AED would also be handy to have near while you watch. It was really a well-done movie and I am just so obsessed with the Navy SEALS. Wow. We also watched "Grace Unplugged" with my parents and it was really quite good as well. The girls just loved it (spent the next day writing songs). It was clean, had a great message, and included a cameo by Chris Tomlin. What's not to love? Kraig and I watched "The Butler" last night... good grief. What a movie, what a historical piece, what tragedy is buried in American history. I think it's a must-see, although disturbing. Tonight we hit the theater to see "The Monuments Men" and I can't say enough about that movie. Of course it is based in my favorite period in history and also includes several moments that tie directly to the Holocaust, but it also really told a story I have not heard before. I have looked at several pieces of art that were mentioned in that movie and never stopped to consider how they survived two world wars and various other conflicts since their creation!

6. I haven't read a ton, but I did finish a few that merit a mention. The Happiness Project is a Gretchen Ruben book I read years ago and really enjoyed. I had started Happier at Home a few months back but had trouble settling in to read it. I finished it over break and walked away with several really good ideas. I'm almost finished with a reread of Chris Cleave's Little Bee (a favorite of mine for FOREVER). It's a book that makes you want to drink in every sentences, to swim through the pages and float on the paragraphs. I just love it so. I have also started Jonathon Martin's Prototype and am really digesting it slowly. It's powerful.

7. It is possible to have six days at home with no obligations and somehow get absolutely nothing productive done. This is why I am frantically sorting out what MUST be done tomorrow. UGH.

8. I'll say more on this later, but we are needing to kick our Cambodia fundraising into high gear so Kraig has a batch of pizza sauce, he is going to make one more batch of apple butter, and I am ready to make more "Home" shirts as people order them. It's getting to be crunch time.

9. My grandmother is back in the nursing home for rehab, this time after a hip break and surgery. It's been a bit of a tough transition this time, as confusion seems to be setting in heavier than before. It's difficult to see and hear because she knows she's confused and that agitates her even more. I can't imagine what it must be like to feel like you are losing control of your mental capacities, and I feel so sorry for her. Any prayers for her would be appreciated.

10. Because when one has a list, it must end with 5, 10, or any other increment of 5, I'll add that this week home with my people has been precious time to me. I am so madly in love with these two girls and I love our days together. I just dread so much the day that they are gone from this house and my arms.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Time with "The Veil"

I love art. I love art in its every form, from literature to visual art to music to theater. Until this afternoon, however, I had never seen a dance performance. Wow. The girls and I went to see Lee University's Unity Troupe perform "The Veil", which was probably the most powerful and moving experience I have ever had in the context of a theater. It was just... Goodness.

The talent of the dancers, the BEAUTY of the writing, the depth of the story, & the profundity of the thoughts...I'm in awe. I just wanted to take some time while it was fresh on my mind to reflect a little about the things I felt like God used this performance to remind me.

The overall story was the story of the Creation. When the animals were coming out a few at a time, I smiled at the thought of Him forming each of them, with all of their diversity and complexity. I teared up the first time when the monkeys came on the stage. It just blows my mind to really consider the care and detail that went into the animals and, in some cases, the humor that had to have been there. How glad I am to serve a God of humor, a King who laughs and a smiling Savior.

Another part of the program that at first caught me off-guard but ended up resulting in some deep thinking was the immediate post-Adam creation. They really emphasized an intimacy between the Spirit of God (played by a female) and Adam. At first, I was a bit unsettled by that. Then I took a step back and considered what Adam represented to His Creator... His masterpiece, His newborn babe, His closest friend. We aren't called the "Bride of Christ" for no reason. And it really made me question, is that level of intimacy present in MY life between me and my Savior?

As for the next takeaway, it could have totally been in my imagination and not purposely in the performance, but it still made me think. The Spirit of God and Adam danced beautifully together after creation. After the creation of Eve, before the Spirit of God allowed Eve to go to Adam, she also danced with Eve. Again, this could have been a stretch on my part, but what was so impressed on my mind from that part was that we have to learn to dance with God before we can dance with others. He HAS to be our first priority. If our relationship with Him isn't solid, none of the rest of our relationships will be either.

Another part that was different from the ways I have always imagined it was with the Fall itself. The struggle between the Serpent and the Spirit of God and Adam and Eve was not a short one. It wasn't a quick decision--eat the apple, learn everything, easy choice. There was an ongoing battle, a struggle, back and forth and back and forth. It's no different than a sin decision today. Most of us don't make snap choices to sin, impetuously. It typically comes with a struggle.

For me, the most painful and REAL moment of the entire performance was after the Fall when the Spirit of God fell to the ground and uttered the most gut-wrenching, visceral cry you can imagine. It was all the more powerful because it was the first vocal sound in the performance to that point. As I watched the girl playing this part writhe on the ground, clutching the fabric that represented righteousness, moaning in pain, it made me cry. It's not something we think about very often, or at least I don't. And it's not a far leap to consider the sort of pain He feels right now, every time I sin. Wow.

The show ended with the restoration of humankind through the redemption story via the Cross and the Resurrection. It, too, was just a phenomenal visual representation of the story of MY salvation. I can't say enough about this performance. I know there's a big game of some sort on tomorrow night, but I guarantee you, this show will cause you to delve into your spirit  and relationship with God in a way very few things can. 7:30. Dixon Center at Lee. It's so worth it!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

This Girl...

I had a little talk with this girl last week. My big girl, who was just a kindergartner the last time I looked. I remember that talk, too...

The morning was misty. So were my eyes. I couldn't believe that five years had flown by so quickly and she was ready to start school. She had spent every school day with my grandparents... my mommy's heart, even my TEACHER-mommy's heart, couldn't imagine that those teachers could take care of her the way she needed. I was scared to see her walk away into that building. And I knew how much the thirteen year journey ahead mattered for her, knew that this was the start of her becoming that baby-girl-woman. So, I did what I do-- I talked.

I explained to her how important it was for her to take school seriously. I told her she should enjoy it and develop and maintain a thirst for knowledge. I expressed my own love for reading and how it would always open a new world to her. I emphasized the fact that she was representing Jesus and our family, that the most important detail was how she treated others, that she always should show kindness to those around her. I talked for probably ten or fifteen minutes as she listened intently, her little face solemn in concentration. I closed with, "Do you understand, Emma?"

Emma: "Mommy? It's so foggy out there I can hardly even see those cows."

OK. Good talk, then.

Again, though, I've looked up and found that we are again coming to an ending and a beginning. As she takes those final steps toward the ending of a journey at Mayfield, a journey on which those teachers did take care of her the way she needed, even better than I ever imagined. I realized that the talk I give my second semester seniors is a valuable one for my kindergartner-turned-fifth-grader whose footsteps will soon be only an echo in the halls of a place that has been like home for six years.

Through some tears, I admonished her to finish what she started. It's easy sometimes to lose sight of the finish line when we get too close to it. I encouraged her to stay focused and strong academically. I explained that sometimes we get a little bit of a big head at the end and can forget the ones who got us here, reminded her that she is a product of Mrs. Burton and Mrs. Dotson and Ms. Mason and Mrs. Steward and Ms. Cooper and now Mr. Brown and Mr. Rogers and Mrs. McMahan and Mrs. Strother. It took heart and soul from each of them to pour into her to get her to this point. Keep smiling at and hugging those former teachers in the halls. Don't forget the ones that brung you. ;) We talked about the fact that, fair or not, the last impressions are the ones that stick. You can be the most wonderfully perfect student/person all the way through, but if you blow it at the end, that's how you will be remembered. Trust me. There are some very accomplished persons I see in town and all I can think of is the way they ended their time in the walls of my school. And then that kindness... the same kindness we hopefully started on. I know she's getting to the age where it might not seem as cool to be friendly to certain people and I so desperately want her to rise above that and remain that sweet kid whose preschool teacher told me she never made a distinction between people, whose early grade teachers often partnered her with a challenging student because she was so good with him. I talked, and this time, she did more than listen. She talked too, and we shared stories and experiences. It breaks my heart a little a lot to know that the situations that call for this talk are eventually going to end.

But I sure am glad there were no cows around this time.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Weekend Blog, Take Two

I actually found a post-it where I had several blog topics for a "dry spell", so I'm going to pull those out in a day or two if this mental block doesn't clear up. Until then, though, here are a few random and sundry things I wanted to make note of...

(Yep. It's in list form. Which means it will have to be 5 or 10, so you should be able to tell at what point I'm just blathering on in order to reach a normal ending number...)

1. Today at lunch, Kelsey made a point that it was her "most awful day at church ever". This was a bit concerning for me, so we questioned her further. Turns out, the problem was not exactly of a spiritual nature.
"There were boogers all over my chair. And I knew I should tell someone, but there never was a good time. So I just perched on the edge of the seat the whole entire service."
It's not exactly funny, but it kind of is. It also made me wonder how many times I just accept my circumstances (the boogers on the chair, if you will) to avoid making waves or calling attention to myself. Let's just say it's more often than not, and I don't want her to be that way. I'm actually a little surprised she IS that way because it doesn't seem like her to me.

2. It's no secret that I am a summer lover. I would rather get in a stifling hot car than a freezing cold one. I love flip-flops more than boots. I drink in the sunshine like oxygen. The Fourth of July has always been in my two three favorite holidays and it might be in my top two if it didn't just seem wrong not to have the holiday that honors the birth of my Lord and Savior in the top two... ;) Pools and lakes and oceans and creeks and rivers represent pure joy to me.
I have just enjoyed the calmest, most peaceful, joyful, wonderful weekend I have had maybe in forever. It is the first (and probably last) weekend I can remember in which I had zero obligations or appointments other than church on Sunday. Nobody in this house had anywhere to be at any point. And the anticipation all week of this weekend was just plain delicious. It measured up, too! We ate at Stevie B's on Friday night, then snuggled together and watched a movie. My parents came by for a few minutes. I read, Kraig watched even more screenprinting youTube tutorials, continuing his obsession. On Saturday, we all slept in and then Kraig made breakfast smoothies and the girls brought me one in bed. We cleaned and organized some, Kraig made a Lowe's run, he and I worked in the basement, the girls played, my parents stopped by again, we snuggled, we ate a late dinner together, and the girls went to bed. I got some work done while Kraig watched a (terrible, awful, scary) movie. Today we overslept early church, went to late service, and brought Zaxby's home. Kraig and I bustled around the downstairs, picking up, putting away, making chili, making a batch of brownies, while the girls sat on the couch upstairs and played ipad games. I could hear their conversation and they could hear ours. I thought to myself,
"This. This is the beauty of winter. The quiet, the calm, and the together."

It may not be swimming pools and Bear Paw and sunshine and tan lines, but it has its own charm. If today was a summer Sunday afternoon, I would have a sense of "wasting time". If we chose to stay in, I would feel like I was wasting a day I should have/could have been outside or at my Mom's. If we went outside, we would have probably been pretty scattered, each person involved in his or her own things. And no matter where we were, I would have a heavy sense of time slipping through the hourglass. "Only x number of Sundays left of summer break..." I don't have that pressure in the winter. And while I hate to cheat on summer, I am discovering an attraction for winter...

3. Brownies with peanut butter M&M's in them.... It really needs no further explanation, but Kraig had the brainstorm last night to try it and he made a batch today. Woah. Party in your mouth, that's all I can say.... You're welcome.

4. Speaking of "you're welcome", not sure if anyone else has tie and scarf storage issues, but we have had one of those awful racks on the back of the door with my scarves on the hooks (falling off all the time) and Kraig's ties were on two of the tie thingys that hang from a regular rack and the ties lay across the little bars? Sliding off nonstop because the other hangers shove into it? Well, I tweaked an idea I saw on Pinterest and we got two towel bars and mounted them on the wasted wall behind the door, then hung his ties on one and my scarves on the other! It's like my whole closet life has been revolutionized! :)

5. We have a yard sale coming up. It's at South Cleveland Church of God on Friday, 1/24, from noon till 8, and on Saturday, 1/25, from 8-3ish. It's going to be fabulous and have TONS of great stuff. Come out and shop if you are local! It's to benefit our Cambodia missions team!


Saturday, January 11, 2014

It's like I Stink at This

So, funny story... guess what happens when you commit to writing more often and regularly?

You find that you have absolutely nothing to say.

Yeah. So instead, I'm going to practice another commitment I made and go on to bed. Not early... but not excessively late, either.

{Who am I kidding? It's 12:47. That is SO excessively late.}

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Little Bit Messy-- In a Good Way

I read somewhere that posting your "resolutions" would make you less likely to accomplish them. The rationale (which actually made some sense) was that by posting them, you would get your incentive in the form of responses from other people, and then you would be less motivated to achieve them because you had already received the positive reinforcement. It's kind of like the trend of "slacktivism", or people who use social media for charities and causes to click "like" and thus feel altruistic. People are doing less today due to these social media movements because they FEEL like they have done more by clicking "like". Again, makes good sense to me.

Anyway, I'm not planning to share much about my goals for the year. Last year I wrote a pretty specific list on here and did about a half-job of accomplishing the goals on my list. Half's better than none though, right? 

However, we did have a moment the other day that proved to be quite eye-opening for me. Over a year ago, I received a beautiful leather-bound journal from a student. In the time since I opened this gift, this student has finished high school, graduated, and completed a semester of college. Want to know what I've written in that beautiful journal? NOTHING. I am just so nervous to write in it and "mess it up". (This seems to be a trend in this household...) The girls and I were talking and laughing about my issue and they both shared examples of when they felt the same way and could completely relate to what I was saying. As I have mentioned before on here, one of my main parenting goals is to not pass on the crazy. :) So it mattered a lot to me for them to see me use up that journal, maybe even help me use it up. We decided to make four big claims for ourselves in 2014...

Use it up.

Don't hold back.

Let it go.

Get a little messy.

We decided to set some personal goals, make some lists, do some dreaming, and end with some reflection in that journal. And we got started promptly. (It should be noted that it was almost painful for me to start writing. And I purposely didn't let myself agonize over handwriting. I may have even made it more messy. But, just like the year ahead, we went ahead and made our mark.)

I ended 2013 with a post that there was "Nothing Pretty to See Here". I'm intentionally starting 2014 "A Little Bit Messy-- In a Good Way".