Monday, May 28, 2018

Oh no, Joe!

The past month we've been following the story of Joseph with our preschoolers at church.  As a storytelling volunteer, I get the opportunity to really reiterate the bottom line for our tiniest friends.  A lot of times, these stories are warm and familiar, like Joseph and his coat of many colors. Praying that I get the point to our little guests, I always try to brush up on these stories at some point throughout the week.  Many times in my Christian walk, I think back to these truths from the Bible and get too comfortable with the story, missing that bottom line myself.

So, each week in May we followed Joseph.  He went from being highly favored by his father to being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.  "Oh no, Joe!" my little friends would echo clasping their hands at their cheeks like Kevin McCallister (Home Alone).  I'm such a people pleaser in my everyday life, that sometimes I don't understand why my best efforts end up with me feeling like I'm being thrown in a hole.  Like the truth I wanted my littles to understand this month though, God always has a plan.

He won over Potiphar, his master, and Joseph continued to live as God would want him to.  However, living according to God's law meant that Joseph lost favor with Potiphar.  And again, Joseph found himself in unfortunate circumstances.  He was thrown into prison.  "Oh no, Joe!" In prison, Joseph was put in charge of the other prisoners.  One of these prisoners was the Pharaoh's baker.  When the baker returned to the Pharaoh's charge, he eventually mentioned to the Pharaoh that Joseph could help interpret dreams.  The Pharaoh had had a dream that Joseph helped him understand and in turn, helped Egypt prepare for a famine. 

Eventually those brothers traveled to help their family acquire grain.  Their family had not been prepared for the famine and needed the grain in order to survive.  Joseph recognized and forgave his brothers. All because he was patient and believed that God had a plan for him, Joseph was able to forgive and be reunited with his family.

Sure, I'm sure most of us have heard Joseph's story.  But thinking about how he trusted God in these times is impressive.  Over the past month, I've watched my friends trust God, even in such adversity that I'm sure I'd question my faith. The grownups in our house have been making some changes and decisions for our family, and while relatively we've remained unmarked and unharmed, they are scary nonetheless. I worry so much about if we are doing right by Brent and the girls.  I want so badly for all the pieces to neatly fall into place, but in this world, rarely is it that simple or easy.  I know that.  I want to trust God's perfect plan.  I also want to have it all sketched out in my to do list.  Those things contradict each other.

One of my sweet friends told me she wanted to pray specifically for me, my small group, without me saying a word, included me in their prayers.  It's not that I don't covet those prayers, but asking for someone to pray for me is something I find hard.  Not because of pride, but because I worry that will seem selfish.  There are other people who are climbing mountains compared to my little molehill.  But you know, I think that part of this journey has been for me to learn that it's okay for me to let someone else think of me.  I worry all the time that I'm not selfless enough.  There was a time in my life where I was not selfless at all.  I guess I'm trying to make up for that.  I don't need to.  Jesus paid that price for me.  So, to survive this busy time right now, I'm just going to be a little more like my friend, Joe.  God's got this, so I don't have to.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

#realisthenewperfect

I guess I was born trying to be perfect.  It wasn't something my parents pushed on me.  They didn't have to.  I wanted to be the fastest, the smartest, the friendliest.  I'll admit when my A- in my high school calculus class bumped me from being my class's salutatorian, I might have cried a little.  They already made me write my speech. Or when I came up a few seconds short in the regional cross country meet from making all region, I might have been a little more than rationally bummed out. Coastal running is my thing though!  After they redrew the conferences and we ended up in the western region, I never came close.  At those moments, I learned that perfection isn't always obtainable.  I tore my ACL my senior year playing soccer on a team that had a losing record, but I still had a lot of things going for me.  I accepted a pretty prestigious teaching scholarship to attend my mom's Alma mater and I wasn’t scarred from graduating third in my class after a tragedy took the life of one of my closest friends just a week before graduation.

I joke with people that when I graduated college that I was convinced that I was going to change the world. It’s not that I don’t think teachers cannot change the world, but that picture that I had created in my mind was not what my classroom was like at all.  That first year, I might have danced the Soulja Boy but I also had a desk thrown at me.  I might have helped kiddos really learn to read and multiply, but they still didn’t reach proficiency. I did want to quit.  But I didn’t.  Not without a lot of encouragement from coworkers, family, and friends, I survived that first year and I had an amazing second year to follow.  All those real events were not perfection, but they are some of the building blocks that made me the person I am today.

Because of real life happenings, I realized that picture perfect flawlessness doesn’t really exist. People exist, love exists, but there’s a lot of things out there outside the realm of my control.  When I had these babies, I decided that I really was going to go more with the flow… especially when the second one arrived exactly thirteen and a half months after her older sister.  Real was the way to go.

Even so, there are days that I feel like I fail.  I fail my girls.  I fail my students.  Luckily, my husband has NEVER expected me to be perfect and reminds me constantly that I am the only person in the world holding me to these crazy standards.  That said, I want so badly to help everyone do well.  I want to be a valuable part of a team and on days where I’m my harshest critic, I just feel anything but.

I say all this to say, mommas, if you feel like your kids are getting less than your best, they aren’t.  My girls haven’t stopped crawling on me and kissing on since we got home.  One is literally laying across me right now. They do not care that I fed them fast food for dinner and they love telling me all about their days.  They aren’t keeping score with their friends’ moms that packed them bento box perfect lunches or made them the best 100th day of school project.  And teachers, you are changing the world.  One hug, fist bump, high five at a time.  I tell my students they ARE NOT numbers on papers, but you know what, teachers, YOU ARE NOT either.  While I hold myself to perhaps unreachable expectations, I have to realize how far we’ve come since day 1, and some of that distance cannot be measured by Lexile and percentages.

I’m giving myself this pep talk, but I bet I’m not the only person out there that needs the reminder that real is the new perfect.  You can photoshop every blemish and filter out all your imperfections, but at the end of the day they real, the actual, that’s what makes memories, that’s what makes the difference. Don't be too hard on yourself.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Being Third

In today's culture, winning is best.  In the words of Ricky Bobby, "If you aren't first, you're last." I started a Bible study co-written by two lovely teachers (who happen to reside in NC!) last week and it couldn't have hit more on time for my teacher, momma, wife, fallible heart. I sat and prayed over the scriptures I read carrying away one big idea that has made an impact on my life. Right now. Something I've discussed with my littles.  Something that we are working hard to implement as our family: Being third.  {By the way... you can check out this amazing Bible Study here: http://bonniekathryn.com/bible-study-sign/}

Tonight, I spent like 2 hours making dinner.  Only one of my family members ate it.  Only one other even tried it (it was NOT bad, but I have not so adventurous eaters---a grown man included). I got up from the table, choked back tears and left.  Ya'll, I got in my minivan and left. I'm 32 years old.  I'm not sure why stupid stuff hurts my heart, but it does. And then I remembered this line I highlighted: Faithfulness does not depend on the actions and behaviors of others (or something like that).  I did what I should have (maybe I should have picked something different to prepare), and despite the fact that over half of my family ate microwavable popcorn for dinner, it didn't really matter.  In the grand scheme of things it was fine.  I really didn't have to cry in the parking lot of the Food Lion, even though at that moment in time, it felt like I should.  I know this is a stupid story to share, but for me it's important to realize and admit my shortcomings.  My love language is words of affirmation.  So, hearing "yuck" and "I don't even want to try it" after putting forth quite a bit of effort into today's meal just crushed me.  Knowing that about myself, and knowing my family like I do, I pretty much set myself up for tonight's dinner fiasco.

What does this have to do with being third?  Who is really before me? This week's lightbox message has been a lit up reminder to our household:

This is SO hard.  I think back to my 1990s self with those trendy WWJD bracelets.  There have been a lot of times in my life where  I did NOT do what Jesus would have wanted me to do.  Even today, it's hard to be pure in mind and actions all the time.  We are human.  I wish we had more of this.  Wish my kids acted differently.  Wished I could eat anything I wanted and my metabolism would keep up.  I don't always want to let others go first.  Maybe even that dinner was more to my tastes than my families.  Maybe, deep down, I was thinking of my preferences before theirs.

This being third has also been a theme in our current church series "One Another." {You can catch this sermon series here: http://subsplash.com/thesummitchurch/s/cfb7ceb/  If you don't have a home church and want somewhere to worship on Sundays, you are more than welcome to join us ANYTIME!} In this series, we've discussed how our walk with Christ isn't alone, it's interconnected with others.  Other followers and other nonbelievers, and how our actions can show others Jesus' love. I'm not the best at voicing my faith aloud (I'd much rather just type it out...), but if my actions show His love, those actions speak louder than any words ever could.  Do I have to travel to Africa on missions? Do I have to organize volunteer efforts in our community? Do I have to teach at a Christian school? No.... even those are all wonderful ways to serve our God.  I need to live third. I need to carry the burdens, forgive, submit, honor, be kind, and genuinely love others just as Jesus did.

So, while this little lightbox message won't make it's way to my classroom this year (at least in black and white and lights), it's stamped on my heart. Jesus. Others. Self. In the words of Rachel Henley, "If you aren't third, you probably aren't doing it right."




Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Heaven Sparkles and the Mailbox is the Best Place to Visit: Interviews with Rea & A

This summer has gotten off to a slow start... Cloudy skies, cooler than average temperatures, and rainy afternoons don't make for the best sightseeing or pool days.  We've made the most of it and today on my seventh day of summer break, I thought we'd take a time out and just see how these tiny people are thinking these days.


Anna:
What is your favorite color? Pink & Yellow
What is your favorite treat? Chocolate
What is your favorite sport? Basketball, because I'm good at dribbling the ball!
What is your favorite tv show? Paw Patrol of course. 
What is your favorite book? The one about sea turtles (I'm not really sure what she is talking about here.....)
What is your favorite restaurant? Olympic, because I love their cheese grits.
What is your favorite place to visit? The mailbox (eh... maybe too many Amazon boxes have arrived lately)
Where do you WANT to visit some day? The Science Center 
Who is your best friend? Drew
What’s your favorite thing to do with Reagan? Play with our toys
What’s your favorite thing to do with Brent? Watch movies
What’s your favorite thing to do with Dad? Eat popcorn
What’s your favorite thing to do with Mom? Make a secret hideout
What is the nicest thing someone has done for you? Make me ice cream
Can you tell me something that scares you? BLOOD!
What do you think heaven looks like?  I think it looks like outside with fun things to do.
What is the best thing about you?  I play with lots of friends and I think about unicorns.
If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be and why?  I would be Reagan because she's funny!

Reagan:
What is your favorite color? Blue
What is your favorite treat? Cake!
What is your favorite sport? Soccer
What is your favorite tv show? My Little Pony
What is your favorite book? Wild Kratts
What is your favorite restaurant? The Cafeteria, because they make yummy breakfast
What is your favorite place to visit? Gramma and Grandpa's
Where do you WANT to visit some day? This summer I want to visit the new park.
Who is your best friend? Joel
What’s your favorite thing to do with Anna? Play with toys
What’s your favorite thing to do with Brent? Play outside
What’s your favorite thing to do with Dad? Snuggle
What’s your favorite thing to do with Mom? Snuggle
What is the nicest thing someone has done for you? You always make me food and if I don't like it, you make me new food.
Can you tell me something that scares you? Heights (true story, I've climbed in many a Chickfila PlayPlaces to get this kid down)
What do you think heaven looks like?  I think it looks like clouds with sparkles.
What is the best thing about you?  I can be a kind friend.
If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be and why? God, because He is good & powerful.

I guess none of these really surprised me, but I actually kept the girls separate when I asked them, just so I could hear their earnest responses.  They get lumped together a lot: the girls.  Like they are one little entity; however, they are very distinct little people.  It's easy to get caught up during the school year with the work that seems to surmount around me, and I adore the summer for the very reason I get to stop and just be Reagan and Anna's mommy.  My house becomes a place we live and have fun instead of where we throw our stuff down, eat and sleep.  I LOVE my job and know I'm not cut out to do this 12 months a year, but I do love the two months when this becomes my life.  I hear all the time about how fast kids grow, and while that's true, there's something magical about each age.  A few summers ago I spent my time tracking feedings and poopy diapers and I DO NOT miss that at all.  This age is much more fun.  I love that Anna only wants to be her sister, Reagan loves visiting Gramma and Grandpa's house "in the country," and that both girls seem to have an affinity for red headed little boys. All these answers will probably change by the end of the summer, but I'm enjoying looking for the sparkles in the heavens and maybe a couple less trips to the mailbox (summer budget, you know!). 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Be a Shepherd

A few weeks ago I had the honor of sharing part of the Christmas story with the youngest attendees at church.  While a bit ill prepared, I had the best time sharing with these tiny people one of the best parts of the story that is certainly applicable to our lives in 2016 (almost 2017).  And though I'm not sure if the 2, 3, and 4 year olds took away the deeper meaning I did from the shepherds' story, I left feeling more festive than I had this whole holiday season.

You see, this year, especially the second half of the year, has been really tough.  I guess because I grew up a bit privileged, perhaps a tiny bit spoiled and completely used to getting my way.  That said, my heart is big, and I would do anything to help, as long as I have advanced notice.  Changes in schedules, changes in surroundings, changes in procedures mess me up in a big way.  Those shepherds, they didn't really have advanced notice.  Angels just showed up and told him that the Messiah had been born, and upon this discovery, they didn't just muse over the good news and rejoice in their inner circle.  They packed up, went to Bethlehem and saw that baby. When they left, they rejoiced and shared with EVERYONE that Jesus had been born (this part of the story, I'm sure most of my little listeners understood).

Being a shepherd wasn't the most glamorous job back in the day and herding stinky animals probably was tough.  I feel a bit like I'm herding wild animals for my day job. It's not so glamorous either. It's easy to get lost in the daily grind, but I keep chugging along. In Bible times, shepherds weren't seen as valued or high class in society, but God sent the angels to them.  And they did not disappoint, they spread the good news of the savior's birth. When I first entered the teaching field with hopes of changing the world, I wasn't so wearied.  Herding classes of children that each year bring new and different challenges for several different administrations with different expectations has left me somewhat jaded.  But if I see myself like God sees me, and see the great big things He has done, then I can share good news too (not just that stuff in the common core).

All this said, if you asked me a couple days ago what I wanted to resolute in the new year, I would have said "manage my time better" or "eat healthier, drink less Diet Mountain Dew" or maybe even a "stay more active." Truth is, these are things I try to do most of the time, I just slack off sometimes, and when I do, it's more for my mental stability than anything.  Sometimes, I need a brain break with Candy Crush, Chick-fil-a has some pretty healthy options these days and they don't even serve Pepsi products. What I want to do, more than anything, is to be more like a shepherd.  Instead of focusing on my own circumstances that I may not be the happiest with, I want to share the good news.  I serve an amazing God.  My greatest blessings could never be wrapped up, but warm my heart by holding my hands. A town that I used to just reside in, has allowed us to put down roots.  I have friends that I can call and they would drop everything to just help.  My family has grown this past year by two tiny feet and two huge blue eyes and being an auntie is pretty special. There are so many immeasurable blessings that I don't deserve, but I do not take for granted. If you ask me how I'm doing, not in spite of anything, but because of everything, I'm just fine. I have good news to share. My resolution this year: Be a shepherd.





Thursday, October 27, 2016

Memories

When I was in college, my expository writing professor said that sometimes you cannot write about things that leave you emotional because your piece will lack literary direction.  So, be forewarned, if you haven't figured it out already because I'm certainly not a literary master, that I may be rambling without clear purpose. My poor first graders would never be able to pick out the main idea, but writing is what makes me feel better.  Some people like to talk, some people turn to alcohol, some exercise; I like to write.

This week, my husband went to visit his stepdad at the hospital.  When he came home, he told me he wasn't well, but he thought that he'd pull out of it.  A couple hours later, we found out that wasn't going to be the case.  While Keith's death wasn't expected, it was not exactly a surprise.  Ever since my mother-in-law lost her battle with cancer almost 7 years ago, Keith had slowly lost his spunk in living.  If ever a man loved his wife, Keith loved Faye.  He thrived taking care of her, insuring her happiness, and loving her big family...well, big.

David's family is kind of huge.  He is one of five boys. All the boys have families and his mom was married to his stepdad longer than she was to his dad.  David's dad called Keith his "husband in law" and we all got together in the same home for the holidays.  While that may seem a little crazy, it worked.  In fact, after Faye's passing, Keith and even his new wife would attend family functions at the Henleys.  For all the things I gained when I married my husband, what I gained most is family.  A family that loves immensely, looks past what society says when it comes to how you should respond to situations, and just accepts everyone.  We fill up several rooms, sit at cafeteria style picnic tables and there is no more laughter to be had when our family gets together.

When David and I were about to get married, his mom's health was really deteriorating, and we spent a lot of weekends in her and Keith's home.  A lot of times, the three of us (Brent, too), spent nights in the "vasement" (Brent's four year old nasal voice was so cute) of the Johnson house.  Keith loved Brent.  He was his PawPaw Keith... and not his step-grandpa... He was the real deal.  He gave him piggyback rides, rode him on the Gator, let him feed the fish in the Koi pond, all those wonderful things grandpas do.  He and Faye accepted me like a daughter, even before David decided he wanted to make it official. They gave the biggest hugs, let me sit on their couch when I'd had a bad day at work (they lived closer to my school than I did at the time), always had snacks and drinks, and always loved me SO big.

This week when I realized Keith was gone, it was almost like losing David's momma all over again.  Keith was like our link to how life was she was here.  He loved like she would have.  He would rub my girls heads at Christmas and talk about how crazy Faye would have been about having two more granddaughters after a whole lot of little boys down the bloodline.  He was our family. Even if he didn't have to be.  He chose us; even when he could have moved on.

Memories are what we have when time moves on.  And death is a reminder that time really does move on more quickly than we have control over.  I'm just forever grateful for the example of big, unbiased love that I was lucky enough to receive from a man who probably didn't realize how much we really loved him in return.

P.S. Don't get married in August... It's hot as hell. Our smiles are fake, but the love is still real.



Monday, September 12, 2016

Legacy

When I first started teaching in the fall of 2007, I drove about 20 minutes to work.  Every day I would play the same Nichole Nordeman song and pray.  I was so young and scared.  Really.  Scared that I would royally screw up the impressionable twenty something eight year olds that looked at me every day. I was just 22. Scared that I had no idea where exactly my life was going to go.  I moved back in with my parents after college and while I had a long time boyfriend, it didn't seem quite right, and I clung to the hope that I was going to change the world. Nothing else mattered if I could just make my mark on the world.

I quickly found that changing the world wasn't easy to do alone.  I spent a lot of my waking hours at work. Even the weekends. And it really didn't matter how much time or how much of my money I put into the prep work of teaching, most of what mattered was with the words I used, the gas I used to haul children home (I was young and dumb), the snacks I kept in my desk drawer, and those unrelenting prayers.  I had a desk thrown at me, I learned red high heels are just for Kelly Pickler and not for school teachers when I had to chase a kid clean across the playground, I tried to get kids who could barely read on a kindergarten level to pass an EOG, and I cried a whole lot.

I thought about those days recently.  When I was moved down from fourth grade to first this year, I had the hardest start to the school year I've had since 2007.  Not because the challenges were tougher, but simply because I had to start from scratch, and I felt like I wasn't doing my best job to leave the kind of legacy I wanted to.  I downloaded the song onto my phone, and once again, I started listening to it like I did all of those years ago.  This time a little voice in the back seat has started singing along and we pray together.  We pray for the other teachers (her teachers too), we pray for the students (those excelling and those struggling to have their needs met), we pray that we both will be the light just where we are in kindergarten and first grade. And while my heart has been awfully stubborn about this move; I may have cried more the first week of school than I did my first year teaching, quickly I've realized what a difference just a little prayer can make.

I want to leave a legacy
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to You enough
To make a mark on things
I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace
Who blessed Your name unapologetically
And leave that kind of legacy
Listen to the whole song here :)

We are just ten days into school, but I'm excited to grow some six year old babies this year!  And if you had asked me about the school year nine days ago I probably would have burst into tears.  It's not going to be perfect, but if I was perfect then I probably wouldn't be a school teacher. I am certain God has put me where I'm supposed to be and I'm going to do my hardest to leave my school babies with the best foundation possible and leave that kind of legacy.