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.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Too Soon

This afternoon I sat in the parking lot at my little girls' daycare and sobbed.  Like hysterical, crazy woman ugly cried.  I hid behind my aviators, prayed no one saw me and that God would help me pull myself together.  It's the last day of school for goodness sake, I should not be sobbing.

It's just too soon.  I sat through my little boy's fifth grade graduation yesterday.  Just 6 years ago, he was graduating from pre-k, and I had only shared his last name for a little over 10 months.  I was amused and beaming with love for this five year old to start school.  We were going to be in kindergarten at the same time at different schools and in obvious different roles.  I was ready for that change.  Fifth grade?! Middle school? How did this happen?


It's just too soon.  Last week this time, we were celebrating my first born's pre-k graduation.  Six years ago at her brother's I was praying for her.  We had been trying to get pregnant for several months and it wasn't happening as instantly as I thought it would.  And naturally, if it wasn't happening, something was wrong with me.  I wanted to hold a baby in my arms so badly.  It happened not too long after that, just the next month, I saw those two pink lines.  Now, she's going to be loading up and heading to big school with me.  She's still a baby.  How can she be old enough for elementary school?

It's just too soon.  I found out I'm switching grade levels this week.  In my tenth year of teaching when I enter my classroom, it will be the seventh different one, and I'll be teaching a new grade level for the fifth time.  The confident 30-something I am, will tell you I have a vast understanding of the K-5 curriculum, but the part of me that is constantly questioning if I'm doing all I can, if I'm reaching all the kids I should be, if I really should open up a bagel and coffee shop downtown is terrified that I just can't find my niche in this world. That for whatever reason, I'm just going to be bounced around until it's "right." Thing is, I thought it was right.  I love my fourth grade teacher friends, I love fourth grade content, and it's the grade Dr. Cooper told me I was supposed to teach, and she was like some kind of guru of teacher placements.  I'm sure I haven't failed at this, but for whatever reason, it's just not where I'm supposed to be at in the fall.  And I'll do the best job I can wherever I am; it's just. too. soon.


It was probably too soon for me to throw this all out there, but that's just who I am.  I'm not in denial about my babies growing up, I'm not angry about being asked to do something different.  I just have to get used to a lot of new. Wednesday, I moved too soon and hit the car at the stoplight in front on me.  The driver got out, rubbed my back and said, "Aw. Look it's going to be fine.  I'm fine, you're fine.  It's really okay." I'm taking those words to heart, even if it does feel just too soon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fearless

I looked up the dictionary definition of fearless and it said: without fear, bold or brave.  While I really doubt I am bold or brave or ever without any fear, there was once a me that approached life a little more fearlessly.  Not just the daily, but the making a difference, doing whatever it took in my chosen career path.  As a college student, I spent many evenings tutoring a sweet little Montagnard girl in her less than desirable apartment complex. When I say less than desirable, it reminded me of the commercials about starving children in third world countries.  All of the inhabitants were refugees that were grateful for the roofs over their heads.  The country girl I was just wanted to help people, I didn't really realize how my blonde, freckled self was way on the wrong side of town.  But my fearless self could see a difference in the relationships I forged and the risks paled in comparison.

These experiences made me feel invincible, like some kind of super-student teacher/graduate, so when I looked for my first teaching job, I only applied at high risk, high needs, Title 1 schools.  I had a pretty stellar resume and interviewed pretty well, and I was offered a job at my first interview.  While those three years I spent in third and fourth grade with a large minority population were rewarding, they were exhausting.  Once I got married, I decided I need to play it more safe; my fearless self had been tamed.

I was talking to my mom on the way home from work today.  It's a busy time a year for teachers, an especially busy time for me it seems, but I was chatting away and saw a little friend from my fourth grade class playing with a group of children at an older apartment complex.  This complex was hands down high class living compared to the one I visited the refugees in in college.  However, it was still run down compared to the suburban neighborhood I live in. I told my mom I thought I should turn around and check on this friend.  She nervously told me to be careful and it was like déjà vu from my UNCG days.

I turned into the parking lot, and rolled down my window.  I asked him if his homework was done (it wasn't), he introduced me to his friends and seemed so proud I was there just to see him.  I stayed about 5 minutes tops (because I wouldn't get out--I'm not as fearless as I was in my twenties). Though, it was just a tiny bit of time, it might just be what I need to get this fella to summer, and hopefully make a lasting impression.

Sometimes being a teacher is getting outside your comfort zone.  We ask kids to get out of their comfort zone all the time. And today, while it may seem a little trivial, I did that for my little buddy.  Judging by the smile that spread across his face, I feel like he realized that.  The fact that one of his friends said, "Wow, you're right, she is pretty!" didn't hurt either.  If that's the worst thing he can say about his old teacher, I'm doing okay, even if I'm pretty tough on his peers and him at this time of year.

I was a few minutes later picking up my own babies today {again}; I've been pretty booked solid. But when I loaded up Rea & A, I told my beautiful girls about how I always want them to be careful, but sometimes you have to be a little fearless.  Fearless when it comes to doing what's right to hopefully make a difference. I'm not sure they understood, but I do hope that I will set that example for them no matter what they decide they want to do with their lives.
I saw this quote when I was referring to the dictionary online :) I thought it fit my situation pretty accurately, though I doubt it was intended that way!


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Must Be Doing Something Right...or at Least Okay

My mom was a teacher, and a REALLY good one.  So good, that it intimidated me into teaching in a different county at a completely different type of school when I graduated from college.  My mom poured her heart and soul into her classroom.  Maybe so much that I felt a little envious of her students from time to time, because I felt that they may be getting a little better chunk of my mom's time than I did.

I'll never forget my dad saying that when he'd drive past the Highfalls Elementary parking lot at 5:00 and my mom was the only one still parked in her parking spot that perhaps, it wasn't the teachers leaving at 3:30 that were doing something wrong.  After all, as women that work outside the home, our only jobs aren't those that we drive to on the daily.  There are still people within the four walls we live in that count on us too.  I took those words to heart and have always tried to devote the better me to my husband, stepson, and little girls.

That is, until lately.  When I left school Friday at nearly 6, I felt really down.  On myself, on my job, for my girls, for my messy house, for the fact that I left so much undone.  I had helped a coworker with somethings she needed help with, somethings that my administration had asked me and trusted me to do, and it left me feeling empty.  Because while I had done those things, things that I'm more than willing to do, other things had fallen to the wayside.  Preparing for my new student, lesson planning, picking up my babies at a decent time.... those things.  And I was so upset with myself.  I felt like I just wasn't getting it right.

Today's my birthday.  Number 31.  You'd hope that by this point you'd be doing somethings right in life.  I'm nearly 1/3 of the way through my teaching career, and probably over 1/3 of the way through this life God's given me to live on earth, but on Friday, I just wasn't sure if I had gotten any of it right.  My kids were some of the last kids left at the daycare, I cried all the way home because I felt so horrible about it, and  then fed them Sheetz hotdogs that made us all sick.  Mother of the year right here. But this morning over breakfast, after my 3 year old blessed our meal, my Facebook messenger app dinged, and a student I taught my first year messaged me the sweetest birthday message and I cried again.  Not guilty tears, tears that maybe I'm getting some of this right.  Another sweet student from just last year left me a video message, and maybe her mom made her do it, but I don't care where the sentiment came from, it was one I needed more than ever.

I'm my own toughest critic.  I'm not sure I'll ever fill my mom's shoes; if I'll be the mother or teacher I think I should be, but today on my thirty first birthday, I'm sure two little girls touched my heart, because maybe I touched theirs, and that does make all of this craziness worth it.