Just Look...

Just Look...

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Our last day of 2016 was a day much like the year was... It started as a day of mishaps, missteps, up moods and down moods. Plans changed multiple times and expectations were adjusted. However, we ended today by taking a spontaneous drive off the main path where we found incredible and unexpected beauty. Here's to a 2017 of more of the same.

2016 was the strangest year. I also measure my years in school years rather than calendar years and 2016 started halfway through an incredibly challenging school year.  In fact, it was during the end of the 2015-16 school year and the first part of 2016 that I actively looked into going back to school to add a school counseling certification. I had started to feel like the true reward for me was in relationships and that, although I would desperately miss teaching literature, that I just didn't have what it took anymore to be in the classroom. I will never forget my lowest point, sitting in a room of consultants, school system personnel, and other teachers, and realizing that it was like everyone was speaking a different language than I did. I almost frantically scanned the room, doubting my call for the first time in my life, and my gaze rested on the guidance counselor. I thought about the students in my classroom that particular semester, students I was giving my all for, students who were suffering through so much more challenging situations than anyone should ever have to live through, and I realized that maybe I didn't have to speak the language of those in that room because I spoke the language of empathy and compassion and action and maybe that's what kids need. I contacted UTC and had my transcript sent to me (and none of this was a complete surprise because when I graduated with my undergrad in English and psychology, I did it with the thought that if teaching English wasn't my thing, I could always add a Master's in Christian Counseling) then checked with Lee and UTC and some other programs to see what was required. Sometime around March/April, the ground beneath my feet started to settle somewhat and light pierced the darkness. I decided to give myself another school year before I made a decision. The year ended with a graduation ceremony for a group of kids I will adore forever and ever.

At the same time I was fighting and struggling through a difficult school year, things in our family were so hard. I have always cherished the close relationship that our entire extended family has but that close relationship also means more people to worry over. My grandparents' health failed drastically in 2015-2016 and the spring of 2016 came with some incredibly hard decisions for my mom and Uncle Doug. My grandaddy fell and broke his hip in March and we were all forced to face, for the first time, how affected my Grandmother was by dementia. My mom and Doug and Pam took turns staying with her and we granddaughters did what we could in taking turns as well to relieve them. It hurt so much to see my grandmother in her situation, to see my mom in pain and exhausted, and to see my grandparents living in two separate places. In June, we moved my grandmother into the nursing home to share a room with my grandaddy and, though it broke my heart to know she was leaving her house for the last time, I was so thankful that they would be able to spend their days side-by-side again. The summer brought an emotional respite (a much-needed one) but also a lot of physical work (mostly for my mom, although we helped as we could) preparing the house my grandparents had lived in for an estate sale and eventual sale of the house. This was equally torturous, having to see my mom struggle with feelings of guilt and anxiety and pain, even though the decisions made were clear, were best, and were the only possible options. 

The summer of 2016 brought a major highlight, and one I had been hoping to see since 2013.... Kelsey got her turn to go to Cambodia with us. It was so special, first of all to get to return after two years, but then also to get to share the place and people I love with her. And I saw a Kelsey on that trip that showed me that the heart I have always knew she had for others is truly HER. There is nothing like seeing your kids engaged in ministry and walking beside other people. 

The LAST thing I ever expected from 2016 (or any year) was a medical situation, but the summer ended in an ambulance, an ICU unit, and an operating room. The days of worry, of a low heartrate, of questions in the hospital, of surgery recovery, and of missing the first days of a new school year were days of solidifying a lesson God has been working with me on for many years now, but a lesson that was forged the summer before in a little outdoor Jerusalem cafe in the shadow of the Old City Walls... a lesson to Be Still and Know. God had to reveal parts of myself to me the summer before, then test that in that hot first week of August to prepare me for what was to come the following weeks and months. Thankfully the health situation resolved itself (minus one gall bladder and still with a crazy low heartbeat) and I started the 2016-2017 school year feeling weak physically but stronger than ever before in others. (This is an interesting paradox to my start of the 2015-2016 year in which I started feeling physically stronger than ever before but weaker in so many others...)

This past school semester has been such a pleasurable one for me and the girls as far as school is concerned. My classes were just precious and adorable, filled with beautiful souls who blessed my spirit. My Holocaust Lit class was the most productive and efficient I have ever taught, offering an incredible redemption for me in my purpose in that venue. Kelsey started middle school and has just owned it, as I knew she would. She has made wonderful friends, friends I would have picked for her, has succeeded academically, and just made her third sports team of the school year. Emma has carried all of the success and joy that she started middle school with into her final year there, solidifying friendships and academics and athletics. They are both growing in their relationship with God and have had several spiritual experiences through our youth group that I am so thankful to see. Although Kraig isn't in school, he too has had a successful and productive year of work, finishing his 20th year at Lifecare, a fact that is rare in this day and time and something I am so proud of him for accomplishing.

I can't write a post about 2016 and not mention the election, but I also can't write a post about 2016 and discuss the election right now. It all still feels too heavy and too raw to talk about yet, and maybe ever. If nothing else, it drove me to my knees and I have no doubt that as I pray for the country, the office, and the President, it will keep me there.

August 11 was the beginning of that spontaneous drive off the main path that led to the incredible and unexpected beauty, because that was the day I saw a Facebook post that forever changed the trajectory of our lives. This part of our year has been covered in many different ways on this blog, so I won't belabor the point here, but the moments from August to this night have been filled with such a beautiful Presence of our Father, with an undeniable Peace, and with a certainty that we are following His Ultimate Call. Our family has grown in faith, in love one for another, and in anticipation of what is to come. 

All in all, looking at it from this perspective (the end, haha!), 2016 has been a good year for us. There were moments of great struggle and great reward, but those are the rhythms of life. We look forward with great hope and excitement into 2017 and all that it will bring with it.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve. The house is quiet. The girls are at Mom's, Kraig is making shirts in the basement, and I have Christmas music playing softly while I finish up a few Christmas gift designs. I keep thinking about how this is the last Christmas exactly like this one.

Of course, every Christmas is the last one exactly like itself, isn't it? Kraig and I aren't staying up late putting toys together anymore. Now we wake our kids up on Christmas Day instead of the reverse. My grandparents aren't able to be present at every single Christmas gathering now, able only to attend the Christmas Day festivities. Some years bring gifts you cannot wait to give, others you feel like you were struggling to think of ANYTHING to give (that was this year for me). Some years Christmas sneaks up on you, others it feels long-anticipated. One day Christmas won't even bring kids waking up in our house anymore, but rather coming to visit, hanging their coat instead of making their bed.

But this Christmas is the last one as a foursome. And it has had lots of feelings attached to it. We are all very aware of the changes to come (and probably very unaware of others, haha!). There is also a sense, at least for me and Kraig (I haven't talked about this much to the girls), of feeling incomplete. And yet also more complete than ever before. We are in a time of waiting, much like the Advent season, much like Mary probably felt as she made that long journey to Bethlehem. We are also in a time of great anticipation and fulfillment of a promise, also much like Mary probably felt as she bedded down in the straw of that cave, birth pains beginning, ready to look into the face of her Son.

Her Son, Who first was His Son. 

Our sons and daughter, who first were His sons and daughter. 

Tomorrow celebrates the day that Mary got to feel His tiny fingers wrap around hers for the first time, the day that she cradled His downy head in her hands, listened to His newborn mewing, and saw in His eyes her whole purpose. We won't get to wrap our arms around two boys and a girl tomorrow, feeling the first hug. We won't get to hear their voices for the first time, to add the laughter of three more to our family chorus. We won't get to see their faces tomorrow, to hear their excitement as they wake up on their first tender Tennessee Christmas morning.

But we will hold to the same promise that Mary held to throughout her pregnancy, delivery, and the years of loving Him on earth... the promise that just as He was His first, they were His first. And just as He walked beside Him during His years on earth, so He is walking beside them across the world right now. He is preparing their hearts, He is holding their hands, and He is loving them through the beautiful caregivers He has provided in their lives "for such a time as this". And our other promise that we cling to is that next Christmas will look different, will be much louder, and will be filled with love multiplied. And for that we are so thankful this year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Watching You Walk

It hardly seems like two years ago that you and I sat in the van and waited for Emma to make that walk. I remember that you were hanging over the backseat, staring desperately at the door, your 4th grade self breathlessly waiting to find out if she made the volleyball team. That was our first foray into school sports and we all knew how much was weighing on her results. You watched and watched and then when you saw her, you shouted aloud and said, "Mom, I can't tell if she made it or not!"

That was one day's tiny taste for you in what it's like to be a mom. As I sat in the van today, alone this time, and waited for YOU to make the same walk, praying for grace in success and an equal amount of grace in denial, I watched breathlessly to find out if you made the sixth grade volleyball team. As you walked out the door, I studied your gait from afar, searching for any sign of despondency or delight. The day before, you ran/skipped to the car, making the answer to the first cut quite clear. Today, it wasn't clear. When you got close enough for me to see your face, I searched your expression for disappointment or excitement. Still nothing. I watched you walk to the car and I thought back on how many other times I have watched you walk. 

Watched you walk (toddle) those first shaky steps, knowing these were the first steps away from me... watched you walk (awkwardly because ski boots don't walk well) into ski school at age two and hoped you and I would both survive the day on the Utah slopes...watched you walk into kindergarten on the first day, praying not to see timidity in your steps... watched you walk up the steps of the church van for your first trip to youth camp, hoping those steps were firm and sure... watched you walk through Yad Vashem, pleading with God for you to understand and not be damaged by being exposed to such horror so young... watched you walk on trembling legs to the stage of Conn Center last Christmas to play your guitar in the Mayfield program, knowing how terrified you were because I felt the same way... watched you walk out of school on a thousand days, reading your day and your mood in your steps... watched you walk out of elementary school for the last time in May, both of us sobbing over the relationships that we were going to miss so very much... watched you walk through the courtyard of an orphanage in Siem Reap, Cambodia, arms grasped by tens of little hands, knowing that what may have been awakened in you on that trip could one day take you far, far away from us... watched you walk into a big new school for the first time and knew that you were going to shine... watched you walk up to the case worker doing our home study and introduce yourself in a nervous voice and felt a mixture of fear and love as I thought about our future... watched you walk out of cross country tryouts, swim tryouts, and now volleyball tryouts and marveled at the fact that this non-athlete has somehow produced two 4-sport children... watched you walk angrily into the house when you made a bad choice and I disciplined you on the drive home... watched you walk (really tumble) around with Emma, goofing off, and been so proud that y'all love each other so... watched you walk arm in arm with your friends and saw their faces beam as they clamor for your smile and loved that you are mine... 

And I didn't let myself go there long, but for a second I glanced into the future at other times I will watch you walk...
Into the house after a date, wondering how it went... into my classroom... into an ACT testing room, a car for your first drive, the stage in Raider Arena on graduation day, a college dorm, down an aisle... 

Life is full of winding roads, Kelsey, but I want you to know that watching you walk them will always be my favorite thing. Congratulations on making the volleyball team. I'm your number one fan.





Saturday, December 17, 2016


Isn't life funny? It took me 37 years to discover my true self and it happened during a month stay in Israel in the summer of 2015. The symbol for me of that self-discovery is a little Italian bistro in a bustling mall in Jerusalem. I always chose a table outside with a view of the Old City Walls. There, in the shadow of ancient history's storied walls, I found the truest version of me, and the one I will carry into my future. I ate there alone (something I had never done anywhere) more nights than I didn't, spending time in prayer and study and reflection and introspection. The "return to life" (see: Joseph Campbell) has been more challenging than I ever would have imagined. The year after Israel was the hardest year I have lived through in 39 years. From a challenging year professionally to an emotionally dark year for my extended family to deep struggles personally, August 2015-August 2016 was a time of great turmoil and pain. I believe the seeds planted in Israel encountered a season of painful growth last year. Growth involves tests and pruning and tilling. It's amazing to me, though, how almost to the date, a new year brought light and fruit and hope. My school year this year feels better, my grandparents are together and happy (which means my mom is at peace), we have started an incredible journey as a family, a journey of hope and promise. I'm forever grateful for that July in Israel and that little bistro that represents my own awakening. Even knowing of the year that came after, I'm still filled with nostalgia and happiness every time I look at this little bag.



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I Will Look

I haven't been able to get Aleppo off my mind since that one video. The one I watched yesterday, the one that was linked in the article about the babies being burned alive. It's too much for me right now, and yet I don't get that option. It can't be too much. If it's too much, I become the ones I caution against, the ones I teach about, the ones I teach my kids to beware of....

So tonight, I had to look. And read. And listen. And mourn. And remember that "never again" simply wasn't true. Because tomorrow I will be teaching about other genocides. I will take them with me through the Killing Fields of Cambodia, down the halls of S-21 in Phnom Penh. I will tell them about the churches with pews filled with clothing in Rwanda. I will talk about the toddler in Darfur and the scavenging bird and the photographer who committed suicide later. I will share the markings of the homes of Christians in Iraq. And tomorrow, I will add a new chapter in this ghastly book of hate and apathy. Tomorrow I will tell them about the babies in Aleppo, the mothers and fathers who carried their children from the rubble. Tomorrow I will share the goodbyes from residents of a once-thriving city that is now a wasteland.

But tonight, I wrote. Inspired by Peter Fischl's "To the Little Polish Boy, Standing with His Arms Up" poem, I wrote my own version for the children of Aleppo. The link to Peter Fischl's poem is here.

The photo that captured my heart is below, credit to CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images.

Residents who had fled the violence in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood reached Aleppo’s Fardos area on Tuesday. 

And here is my poem.

To the Little Boys and Girls
in the Brightly Colored Jackets

I would like to be a photojournalist
So I could take pictures of you
Little Boys and Girls 
in the Brightly Colored Jackets

Walking side by side with your parents
Holding their hands
as you flee the streets of your city, the city
on whose streets you 
used to kick a soccer ball
but instead now flee bombs and bullets

I would take photos of your downturned mouth
your innocent little hands
your cowlick that perks jauntily just over your left eye

I would make pictures of you 
and the world who said nothing

I would like to be a writer
so I could tell the story of you,
Little Boys and Girls in Brightly Colored Jackets

Walking side by side with your parents
Holding their hands 
as you flee the streets of your city, the city
on whose streets you
used to kick a soccer ball 
but instead now flee bombs and bullets

I would write the story of you
and the world who read nothing

I am not an artist, not a known
But my heart is full of the sight of you

You stand out amidst the rubble
so the whole world cannot 
ignore you any longer
Little Boys and Girls in Brightly Colored Jackets

Walking side by side with your parents
Holding their hands
as you flee the streets of your city, the city
on whose streets you
used to kick a soccer ball 
but instead now flee bombs and bullets

And the World who said nothing

I’ll shout your story so loud
that it will burn the ears
of the world who heard nothing

Four million pages long
will be the story
A million pages for each year of 
your little life
The life that is disregarded and ignored by
the world who saw nothing
So the entire world can see you
Little Boys and Girls in Brightly Colored Jackets

Walking side by side with your parents
Holding their hands
as you flee the streets of your city, the city
on whose streets you
used to kick a soccer ball 
but instead now flee bombs and bullets

And the story will
remain so the deaf
and blind
will know
that “Never Again”
just meant “we can look the other way”

The world 
Who was too busy to pay 
attention to you
Little Boys and Girls in Brightly Colored Jackets

I am not a writer
And I am not a photojournalist
And I am not a politician 
And I am not a relief worker

I am just a teacher

But I can pass your story on
to the torchbearers in my classroom
I can show them how to look
I can remind them to hear
I can gently pass your little hands 
into their strong ones
And I can pray that this time….
This time the world that THEY will build
will NOT be a world that saw nothing, that heard nothing,
that looked the other way
And that you, Little Boys and Girls in Brightly Colored Jackets
will again find peace and joy in a 
quiet evening
of street soccer, 
safe from the bombs and bullets

Friday, December 9, 2016

Mine.... Reflections on this Semester

I've got this class of all girls this year. Although I always love all of my students, I am a big fan of mixed gender. I believe you need the girls to balance the boys and vice-versa. And I have always said if I had to have a single gender group, give me the boys (which I had in my PRECIOUS Connections boys for two years). This particular class happened semi-accidentally, semi-out of convenience, and semi-out of student request. I agreed to it with the caveat that I could switch back if needed. I can't begin to tell you how fascinating this social experiment has been. I'm different with them. I emphasize different things in the Lit. I guide the conversations in different ways. They are the first group of my day and I have to tell you, it is such a soft and gentle way to begin my school day. I know that it's not solely gender, it's also the mix of these particular girls, the dynamics and personalities. They are just the most kind, respectful, insightful, loving people I have ever had gather in one place.

 I had a group in 2014 that I compared to platelets. Something had happened that had me upset (and hurt and betrayed and so on) and those kids flocked to my side like we were magnets. They sat with me and talked to me and checked on me and I hadn't even said a word to them about what was happening, they just sensed it. Later I was describing the situation and my relationship with them to another person and I said they are like platelets. Platelets rush to the scene of the injury and they clot the blood. That's exactly what those 2014 kids did for me. 

This group of girls has similar qualities. If I had to make an analogy for them, it would be that they feel like home. When I am in their presence, I feel comfortable and safe and loved. To be honest, they do for me what I try to do for all of my students. I want my classes and students  to see me and my classroom as a refuge. I don't know if these girls will ever understand that they make it easier for me to do that for others all day long by doing it for me first thing every day. 

This semester has been a gift for me. I have been split in 3 major ways since August and my students have not only been forgiving of that, they have been excited for me and interested in our circumstances. Teacher-moms always feel pulled between school and home. I've been pulled between school and home and an adoption (and all the paperwork, fundraising, worry, and emotion that comes with that). And my kids in all of my classes have made things as easy as possible for me. They are gentle and kind souls, eager learners, slow to complain and quick to connect. My AP classes are incredible, my English IV class is darling, and my Holocaust Lit class intriguing. I don't know what I did to deserve the 87 kids who grace Room 222 every day, but I am so grateful they are mine. 💕