Because It’s Not About Choosing Sides

For over a week I’ve been silent. Attempting to put a broken heart into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into something that makes sense. Knowing I have something to say about our nation’s fractions and fissures but not knowing quite how to say it.

So I’ve been quiet.

Even my prayers have been whispers to Jesus. His name repeated over and over and over. Because I haven’t even known what to pray.

And in the quiet, I’ve discovered this one thing.

I want to be part of the healing.

Period.

I have dear friends and former students that serve the police force in our community. I have a black brother-in-law. One of my daughter’s dearest friends is black, as is one of my life mentors. To choose one over the other isn’t healing.

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Because friends that bake together and lick spoons together and laugh together, stay together. Ella and one of her best friends ever, Sydney.

Picking sides isn’t wound-binding. It only tears and rips and pulls further apart wounds that already gape, open and oozing.

This battle? It isn’t about sides. And it isn’t really a battle. No.

It’s a war. A war between good and evil. Between love and hate. Between light and dark. Between compassion and malice. Between kindness and violence.

Violence is evil. When black men are gunned down without cause. When police officers are gunned down without cause. It is violent. It is evil. You can’t rationalize it or make it right. And it tears at my soul.

Here is what I know.

I know I’m grateful for the role law enforcement officers play in our society. They run straight into the danger. Risking everything. Every. Thing. Most all desire to protect and serve. A career doesn’t make someone evil.

No.

And a person’s race doesn’t make him evil.

But racism is evil. And it is real.

Several years ago I sat in the back of my classroom as a young black man gave a speech. A kind, compassionate, tender-hearted student. I adored him. I listened as L recounted an experience in a restaurant. He described his treatment as something I can only acknowledge as demoralizing and demeaning and racially motivated.

My student ended his speech with tears rolling down his face.

My world shifted forever in L’s speech. Until then I had only heard about discrimination. I acknowledge its reality, but I had never had to face it like I did that day. That day I was a witness to the real-life scars racism had left on L’s heart.

I had to acknowledge my own white privilege in that speech because I’ve never, not even once, had to consider that I might be treated that way. I have no frame of reference or concept for what that kind of discrimination feels like. And that? It’s privilege.

Just as I acknowledge the good of law enforcement, I must also acknowledge a country that continues to discriminate. The stories are real. Painful. And I need to listen despite my first instinct to deny.

After last week I am desperate to be part of the healing dialogue. I want to support the police officers in my community. I want to support my friends of color and my transracial family, too.

And so I will fight evil with the only real weapons I know.

I will pray before I speak and post and react. I will pray for wisdom and guidance. I will pray that God allows me to see His Truth and not be slanted by what I want to hear. I will pray for healing. I will pray for words of compassion. I will pray for ears that are quick to listen and slow to speak.

Mostly? I will pray.

And if I must choose a side, I will choose Jesus.

His mandates. His words. His desires. His is the side I choose. Because His is the side that chooses love over hate. Good over evil. Compassion over malice. Light over dark. And kindness over violence.

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What My Kids Need When the World Turns Dark

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Last night Caleb had a nightmare. Two robbers with guns came in through his window and stole him. He’s six. My heart shudders because–what a horrific dream.

I can’t pretend to think the dream wasn’t somehow related to the bits and pieces he heard about Sunday’s senseless massacre in Orlando, our Orlando. We tried to shelter him as much as we could, but Ella needed to know. At twelve, this tragedy was something we felt she needed to be aware of.

Today, Caleb’s conversations ranged from the very normal boy things like putting salt on slugs (he’s never actually done it) to why President Obama and other political candidates need policemen to protect them. I found myself, again, having to explain to my sweet boy that there are bad people in our world.

And last week after watching the attempted kidnapping of a girl in broad daylight at the Dollar General store here in Florida, I struggled to tell my 7th grade daughter why she would no longer be allowed to leave my side while shopping. Gone are the times I could leave her at the deli counter while I grabbed a few things in produce.

The fact is—the world is a scary place.

In the last two weeks we’ve seen a rapist only slapped on the wrist, an almost kidnapping, a music artist shot dead at a concert, and the largest mass murder in U.S. history.

If you’re human, you should be reeling from the evil traipsing across our country. If you’re a parent, you may be wondering, like me, how to protect your children physically and mentally.

The heartbreaking truth is as mothers in our first world nation, we are only now beginning to understand a fear mothers all over the world have lived for years, centuries even—the fear that we cannot protect our children. This is the world we are facing.

But I refuse to let fear win.

I’m left wondering, in the midst of my mourning—how do I talk real with my children? How do I tell them we live in an unsafe world without causing them to be afraid? How do I help them live life without being controlled by fear?

I tell them the Truth.

I tell them Jesus never promised a life without pain or suffering. But then I tell them Jesus also promised that perfect love casts out all fear. I can tell them that no matter what we face while on this earth, Jesus is with us wherever we go.

I can teach my children how to pray when they feel scared. I can let them sleep on the floor in our bedroom as many nights as they need to feel safe. I can hold them tight and tell them no matter what happens on this earth, our Hope is in heaven with our God.

I can remind them of the beautiful goodness we witness in our world.

I can show pictures of people lined up for hours to give blood here in Orlando. I can remind them of all of the men and women we know who serve as policemen, nurses, emergency responders, and doctors. I can show them a community that refuses to live in fear by continuing to visit the parts of Central Florida we dearly love.

I can teach them love is mightier than hate.

I can tell them evil lurks behind fear. Evil is darkness. And then I can turn on the light. I can show them light is more powerful than dark with the flick of a switch. We can watch a sunrise together and be reminded night never lasts.

Light is stronger than dark.

I can teach my innocent babes that Jesus is the Light of this world, and His light has already defeated the darkness. And I can remind them as many times as I have to that we uncover Hope in a world that wants us to be afraid through a Savior who wants us to love.

So, my sweet little boy afraid of the dark? Climb into my arms. Let me hold you close. Allow me to whisper the Peace of Christ softly in your ear until your breathing slows and your eyes droop with sleepy heaviness.

Because our answer to fear is only ever the perfect love of a Savior who is Light and who came to drive out the darkness.

This is the Truth I will tell.

 

Scriptures to pray with your children in the face of fear:

  • 2 Timothy 1:7—For God has not given us a spirit of fear but one of power and of love and of sound mind.
  • Joshua 1:9—Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for theLord your God is with you wherever you go.
  • 1 John 4:4—You, dear children are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
  • Philippians 4:10—…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…
  • 1 John 4:18a—There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.

Posted in Hope, Motherhood, Struggles, World Issues | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Please. Don’t Correct My Kid for Using Manners

“Don’t call me sir. That’s my father. You can call me Gary*.” The sales associate looked at my twelve year old girl with a patronizing grin.

“Yes, sir. I mean…sorry.” My daughter stumbled.

My daughter, out of habit, continued to use the manners she’s been taught since infancy. The associate continued to correct her in different ways. She felt uncomfortable and embarrassed.

Momma Bear had enough. I was madder than a wet hen. “Look. It’s part of our southern roots. It’s part of what she’s been taught, and she can’t just turn-off a habit. It’s our way of demonstrating respect. She’s going to say sir,” I said with all the saccharine I could muster.

Then came the patronizing chuckle.

So, I’m over at one of my favorite places, Orlando Moms Blog, today. A little bit snarky. A little bit sarcastic. But that’s part of me too…

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When You Wonder if You Did Enough

My classroom is quiet.

Today was the last day of the school year, and I’m sorting through papers and materials—attempting to save only what is necessary. But I hold on tight because what if. What if I need it next year? Or the next?

What if I change my mind and teach Frankenstein again? (Good news, juniors…I won’t.) What if I need that one page out of that one workbook from 2005? What if my computer crashes and I loose all my files and I need that hardcopy?

Those aren’t the only what-ifs I’m asking.

I also find myself haunted by the hard questions. The painful and guilt-ridden ones.

You see, the faces of some students haunt the classroom of my heart. Not the scary ghost-story kind. But rather those who are the subjects of my did-I-do-enough questions.

I think of S. The third grader my second year of teaching. The one I didn’t know how to teach. The one from a crazy, broken home who could be sweeter than lemonade one second while he bounced and flitted and yelled and screamed and never listened the next. The one I gave up on because I was out of ideas. I think of S., and I’m filled with shame.

I think of T. The eighth grader who called me a b!#*&. The one so angry at the world he carried violence in his fists. The one expelled because my discipline referral for his spewed word was the very last one he was allowed to get. I didn’t know. And I think…if only I hadn’t written him up. Maybe he wouldn’t be in jail today?

I think of C. The junior girl filled high with entitlement. The one who looked down her nose at me, sighing big with sarcastic eye rolls. The one who showed up for her AP exam and never wrote a single word or bubbled a single letter, knowing her score affected me. I think of C and wonder if I stayed angry with her too often.

It’s not that I think I can save students. Or that I see myself as some sort of high-and-mighty teacher able to fix all the problems of those I teach.

Neither is possible. I know that.

But it doesn’t keep me from wondering if I did enough to help them. Or if my actions hurt them.

Every year I ask the what-ifs…

Was I as kind as I could have been to the kid who never stops talking? Did I handle that discipline situation correctly or was I too nice about it? Was my class too hard? Was it too easy? Did I require their best? All the time? Did I give my best? All the time?

Truth is, I never close the door on a school year feeling like I did all I could.

I think about the lessons I could have put more effort into. The papers I could have spent more time grading. The days I could have been more prepared for their possible questions. The days I could have kept them better engaged.

All the times I could have done more, more, more.

I know I’m not the only teacher who feels this way. And you don’t have to teach to understand the questions of what if and did I do enough?

Reflection is good if it spurs us towards change. But when reflection beats us black and blue, grinding us down under the heavy weight of guilt? We can’t move forward.

And I want to move forward. Every year.

I want S to remind me never to give up. I want T to remind me how deep my students hurt, how much they need my prayers, and how sometimes consequences are out of my control. I want C to remind me that behind every arrogant façade, there is a brokenness needing my compassion, not my anger.

I always want to improve—to be a master learner of my teaching craft.

And how I reflect on the year will determine if I move forward. Do I bury myself under the weight of unmanageable guilt? Or do I take sand paper to the rough edges of the year?

And in the process? I must remember some edges can’t be smoothed over. There are some things out of my control. Some students I’ll never reach. Some failures unpreventable.

I’m learning there will always be more I could do, say, or teach. Nothing will be enough to ensure a perfect year.

Because bottom line? Life isn’t neatly wrapped in red ribbon.

So how I respond to my what-ifs is really a question of whether or not I will allow in grace.

Grace to remember the year is done. Grace to realize I finished well, despite the imperfections. Grace to forgive myself for my mistakes.

Reflect, my dear friends. Reflect and move forward. Refuse guilt and fling wide your arms for Grace.

And the most beautiful stain-glassed Grace for the teacher?

Beginning anew in August.

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I’m Already Proud of You

Oh, my sweet girl. My young, beautiful ballerina.

This week I’ll watch you walk into the studio for hours and hours of rehearsal for your part in next week’s performance of Coppélia. After the final curtain falls, and your muscles are weak and tired, you’ll look for me.

You’ll want to know, Did you see me dance, Momma?

Of course I did.

I love watching you dance. My breath catches, and I don’t trust myself to speak. Salty tears threaten to spill out the corners of my eyes. You will never understand how much I adore witnessing your talents on display.

I love watching you dance.

But lean in close, my sweet girl. Because what I’m about to tell you is one of them most important things you will ever hear from me. Something I want you to stuff into every dark corner of your heart. Something I want you to pull up every moment you feel disappointment  well within–moments when you need light. Something I never, ever want you to forget.

I’m already proud of you.

You could miss a step, a beat, an entrance. You could decide to never dance again.

None of those things matter.

Because I’m already proud of you.

I’m not proud of you because you dance beautifully. I’m proud because in order to do so, you work with incredible perseverance and determination.

I’m not proud of you because you make the honor roll. I’m proud of you because you strive towards excellence.

I’m not proud of you because you’re well liked by friends. I’m proud of you because your kind heart draws others to you.

You see, treasured girl, I’m never proud of you because you display a talent or a gifting in certain areas.

I’m proud of you because of who you choose to be.

When I see you welcome the unloveable, face the hard things, get back up after a fall, extend grace to those unkind, embrace challenges, refuse to give up, respect people of all backgrounds, be blind to the color of one’s skin, stand strong in your convictions? When I see these things?

This is when I’m so proud of you I can’t stand still. My joy wells-up and spills out.

Are you a daughter of character? Do you show resilience when you want to give in? Is your heart one that seeks to please God and not man?

Because you will never please man. Humankind will always want more and more and more from you. There is but one heart to please, daughter. And His is the heart that created you and numbered the silky hairs on your sweet head.

I will disappoint you with my humanness. It’s not if but when. His love will never disappoint.

If you only danced for me. If you only made good grades for me. If you were only kind for me. If you only ever chose to do things to make me proud, then when the road becomes difficult and you fail a test or trip on stage or lash out, you will lose your way.

You won’t know who you are.

Never dance for me, Ella-girl. Dance for your Jesus. And dance because you love to spin across the floor on your toes. Never change or mold yourself to fit some kind of person shaped the way you think I want you to be.

Don’t misunderstand, darling. I love to watch you twirl. Your grades make me smile. My heart warms at the friends you call your own.

But my pride in who you are? You can’t gain something you already have.

So when the curtain falls Sunday. When you curtsey. When you smile into the audience. Hear these words from my heart…

I’m already proud of you.

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Dear Teacher on the Tired Days,

I get it.

I had a student hurt my feelings today. Words that cut deep and wounded because there is always an element of truth perceived by the one being sarcastic.

And I’ve been icing my bruises all afternoon.

The school year is winding down, and I’m tired. I know you’re tired, too. Exhaustion is seeping in. We’re wondering if we’re going to end better than we began, or if our students will be dragging our limp bodies across the finish line.

My seniors may have three weeks left, but they checked out a month ago. Some days I wonder why I even bother to have a lesson. I could just assign a reading passage and the questions to answer from the end for the next fifteen school days.

There are teachers out there who do that…

I understand why.

I spend days and weeks begging and pleading, attempting to try anything that might, just might, get my students to read the books I assign.

I craft lessons and talk about stories and show video clips in every attempt to get my teens to think outside of themselves—to see the world and its nuances. Then I spend lunch wiping the tears of the one bullied and outcast.

I stay up to grade essays and comment on ways to improve their writing. Hours spent away from my family only to wonder if it makes any sort of difference when I see those same essays in the trash.

So by this time of year, I’m ready to call it quits. Every year wondering if I can do it again.

I know you understand. I know you feel the same. I know you have nights you wonder why you chose this profession, this teaching, this pouring out of your life into hearts day after day after day.

But really? You didn’t choose teaching.

It chose you.

For me, college was spent denying the very thought of teaching. It was only a far-in-the-background safety net if the writing thing didn’t work out.

The only job I could get right out of college?

Yep. Teaching.

By Christmas that first year I said never again.

I’ve been teaching thirteen of the last seventeen years, and now there’s no other job I’d enjoy more. (Unless being a travel writer for Condé Nast was an option…Are they hiring? Tahiti sounds like heaven right now.)

It is my calling. It is my purpose.

But here’s the thing about calling. God doesn’t call us to the easy. He invites us to the hard. The get-your-hands-dirty difficult. We are not promised perfect just because we are fulfilling our life’s purpose.

Because that kid with the bitter sarcasm? He or she may still need your smile that you might not want to give.

And your class after lunch with 20 big teenage boys and only five girls, all hyped-up with sugar, dyes, and processed foods and IEPs and 504s? They need to know they’re worth the effort even when they themselves show none.

And those children from broken homes with parents who shatter each other with words or fists? They need a quiet heart to stand beside them, even though you know politicians only see their test scores and not their homes.

And those students with apathy so thick you fear they will never feel anything? For anyone? They need to see that transparency breathes a beautiful life. They need to see it in you, even when the see-through heart leaves you an easy target.

Teaching was never about us. If this profession has called your name, you’re only ever in it for the students.

That’s why it hurts so much when they act like they don’t care or when the disrespect slaps us hard across the face, and the sting burns for days.

I know you’re tired. You’re battle weary with wounds seeping and scarring. But they still need you.

They need to see your fight.

Don’t give up, my friend. You can’t. I can’t. The stakes are too high. This calling, this profession, this teaching—it changes the future.

Our students are worth starting new tomorrow. They are worth giving it all we have one more day again and again and again.

Because there are students listening. There are students learning. There are students caring. We must refuse to allow the loud voices of a few to drown out the soft voices of teachable spirits.

Let’s fight together, friends. Let’s end this year better than we began. Let’s cheer each other on tomorrow and the next day and the next until we hear that final bell ring.

This is our calling. These are our students.

They deserve our fight.

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Whispers and the Still, Small Voice

I know I’ve been quiet lately—here in this space.

There’s no singular reason, but rather it’s been the spinning plates or the different hats or whatever metaphor you want to give to the busy-ness of a teacher-mom running fast.

While a full life is good, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, it sometimes sucks the creativity right out of me. Despite my silence here, I’ve been thinking about how God and I communicate.

It’s not always a neatly-tied-in-a-ribbon package of greatness.

There’s this quote that floats around. I’m not really a fan.

Something about the teacher being silent during the test, and how that’s like God when we’re tested with the struggles of life.

I guess, as a teacher, the reason the statement feels a bit like sand in my shoe, is because I’m not always quiet when my students are testing. Especially when a student asks for help. While I may not give them the answer, I don’t ignore them. I’m not silent. Instead, I work to guide them, whispering to them at their desk.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I talk to God. How He speaks to me. All of those things.

A few months ago I lost my voice which is not the best scenario for a teacher of juniors and seniors. Throughout the day I could barely croak out a whisper, but my students were incredible. After they stopped laughing at me (because really, who wouldn’t?), they all became quiet.

They were intent on listening. Hearing my whispered voice.

Now. Their quietness wasn’t what I found strange. I expected it because teaching 101 tells you the better response from a classroom occurs when you lower your voice, not raise it.

What was strange to me was that they whispered back.

Time and time again my students responded in small, quiet voices and not because they were trying to be funny. Except for a few, their natural response to my hushed words was a whisper.

They whispered back.

This is where I have my communication with God all wrong.

I’m not proud of it, but I’m a tantrum thrower. My first reaction to anything straying from The Plan is anger and frustration and finger pointing and fist shaking toward Heaven. I pitch a fit, fussing at my Creator.

I don’t react well to any test or struggle. I don’t guess many do.

I don’t ask God questions in whispered words so I can hear His still small voice. Instead, I’m stomping my feet, yelling about the unfair problem on page three.

I allow panic and fear to take over when I’m facing the struggles of this life. I allow anger to bubble up when I don’t understand why bad things happen. I allow frustration to drown out any chance of hearing my Teacher’s voice.

But I don’t want to stay this way.

Here is what I want to learn—I want to learn to whisper my heart to my Daddy-God. I want to learn how to not shake my fist but to feel the quake in my soul that comes with Holy Communion.

I want a heart that quietly approaches the throne of God with my questions and struggles and tests instead of storming the gates of Heaven which will leave me battle weary and bruised.

God’s voice can be loud and clear. But most frequent in my life, it is still and small. It breathes a gentle wind into my soul.

Is God quiet during our tests? Maybe. Sometimes.

And is it oaky to come to Him with our questions and our anguished hearts? Yes.

But more often? I think I just can’t hear Him because I’m too busy screaming my questions instead of whispering them.

I’m drowning out the voice of God with my loud words.

I learn to learn to whisper back.

Whispered prayers prepare our hearts for His still, small voice.

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Notes to Self as I Turn Forty

I turned 40 yesterday. I’ll be honest. I’m not sure how I feel about this giant leap into middle age. But I know how I’d like to feel.

I’d like to be great with aging. I’d like to believe it only gets better. I’d like to embrace each wrinkle and ache and pain with wisdom.

I’d like to feel free from wondering what people think.

Sharing a bit of my musings on forty with Orlando Moms Blog today. I’d love for you to click here and head on over…

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Because the Village Still Matters

We sat across from one another sipping our coffee. She was traveling back to her college campus and had asked if we could meet. I jumped at the chance to hear about how her life was going. We talked for hours. I smiled at the adult she’s becoming.

It’s the best part of my job—these deep and true conversations with students who’ve left my classroom but still desire to connect, to seek advice, to fill-me-in on their lives.

I left that afternoon with a heart overflowing. I was grateful. Grateful her momma, my dear friend, allows me to be a part of her daughter’s collective village. Grateful my friend had no expectations that I share the conversation I had with her girl. Grateful I have so much to learn from my friend…

To continue reading, please join me this afternoon as I share why the village still matters with Orlando Moms Blog.

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Because Sunday Always Comes

Today, Love was crucified.

Today, Hope was buried.

Today, Light was shut in a tomb.

Grandma always said the sun hides its face behind a darkened cloud at some point on Good Friday afternoon. As if nature still remembers the blood spilt and poured—the blood of the innocent.

The earth considers, and still it shudders.

On this day I always imagine the disciples, the followers, the Mother of Jesus. How hopeless they must have felt.

I imagine they expected a miracle, maybe? They watched a tortured, beaten, bloody Jesus in agony. Surely the Christ would call forth the angels? He walked on water, wouldn’t He save himself?

Surely.

But then Jesus takes his last shuddered breath. They watch as his body is lowered. A tomb is found. His lifeless form is sealed behind a giant stone and giant guards.

Hope is lost. Not even a crumb left to feed the desperate soul.

It is finished.

They didn’t understand God’s plan. They didn’t realize the greatest miracle was just ahead. They didn’t know Sunday was coming.

Good Friday was nothing good 2,000 years ago to the followers of our Lord. Good Friday was the definition of a hopeless world. In their eyes, death had won—to evil the spoils of victory.

How darkness must have clouded their hearts. This is not what they had signed up for. Doubt and sadness and confusion. They had just walked with Jesus yesterday.

Yesterday.

And now He’s dead.

Theirs was a crucifixion that had yet to taste the sweet relief of Resurrection.

But we know. We know Sunday’s coming.

When I try to match my hopeless moments to those who witnessed Christ’s death, I realize I don’t know hopeless as they did. I don’t know hopeless because I live in a world of the Sunday Resurrection.

I am never without Hope.

Hopelessness is a world where the Light never cracked open the tomb. It’s a world where Hope stayed buried. It’s a world where Love never rose again.

But I live in a world of the Sunday Resurrection.

You do too.

Today may seem dark. It may seem as if evil has crept in and pressed down hard. Life may feel as if all is lost. Your dreams and goals have shattered, and you’re walking through the broken glass.

But Hope is not gone, my sweet friend.

No.

Because Sunday’s coming.

Sunday always comes.

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