So. There’s This Thing Called Hope

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Over the last week anger, division, and hate have fueled the newsfeeds. As millions feel the sun has slipped below the horizon covering their lives with darkness, millions of others see a sunrise bringing light to their shadows.

And I wonder, pushing down despair, if the hate will end?

Maybe? Maybe not…

I look into the arguments as different and varied as the humans who hold them, and I see the logic and reason and the ignorance and bias all wrapped up into one. I see so much right in all the sides.

And so much wrong.

I find myself stuck somewhere in the middle of everything matters and nothing matters.

All at the same time.

And so on the newsfeeds I’m loving the babies and puppies and unicorns and flowers and rainbows.

Not because I’m scared to stand up for what I believe is true or right or just. But because I want to look deep into the eyes of those who disagree with me. Deep so they know I love them. Deep so they may hear my heart, even if they never hear my ideology.

I can’t do that on a screen.

The words of the broken matter. The broken beautiful collection of humanity. Each and every one of us. I cannot agree with all of the words. But I can hear them. I can try to hear the hearts, understand the starting points.

So I’m trying to listen.

And in my quiet weeks typing on again and off again, I find Hope. Hope that my Jesus carries on the wind, breathing life into my soul.

This afternoon, I looked deep into the eyes of a sweet baby girl. New and fragile. Tiny and strong.

She has her Daddy’s skin and her Momma’s chin. She coos and wriggles and smiles and cries. She is cherished and loved.

She is Hope.

Yes. She’s breathing in a broken world. But this life? Even in it’s shattered pieces?

It’s beautiful.

And maybe tonight you’re heart is seeing the sun slip below the horizon. Your pain and sadness, your worries and fears are not minimized here.

And maybe tonight you’re seeing the day break open. Your joy and singing, your relief and support are not minimized here.

Because Hope has countless faces.

Hope is for every broken soul. It’s the spilled-out, shimmering glitter spread across the surface waiting for the light to hit, for us to see it clinging tight. Even when we try to brush it off, it sticks—sparkling and reminding us we are never alone.

Because we don’t have to agree to hold one another. We don’t have see the world the same to grasp the hands of those across the street. We can come from separate worlds and still find the beauty of each human soul.

Because Hope has a way of removing the bitterness. It has a way of reminding us that the world and its people can shine brilliance into each other.

Because Hope is waiting to be seen.

Hope is Jesus, leaning in close, taking your hand whispering, Come with me. I’ll hold your hand. Yes. The road is long. The road is broken. The road is not what you expected. But I will walk with you. And when you feel like one more step is impossible? I will carry you.

Because Hope is worth living for.

Posted in Hope, Relationship with God, Struggles, World Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When Christmas Sees Us

One after the other. Page after page. I read their answers to my question. It was a simple question.

Who really sees you?

Their answers?

  • Nobody really sees me.
  • I don’t have any true friends that would come to my birthday party.
  • I used to be happy and laughed all the time.
  • I guess no one really sees me because I don’t think I even like who I am.

Oh, their hearts. Fragile, tissue paper hearts, worn thin by invisibility. These high school students with their souls laid bare for me to see. I wondered how to respond, how to mend their broken and torn places.

Because haven’t we all wondered if we are seen? Is there really a person in this great, wide earth who knows us—our every part? And when we’re seen, known, understood—will we be loved?

Almost every morning on my way to school I see her.

The mother and her two boys, waiting for the bus. One of those mornings I saw the bus was ahead. Early. Carrying a backpack flapping at her side, she was running. Her two boys were racing beside her—one with a distinct limp and an arm curled into his chest.

My heart clenched as I silently cheered her on. She was so close.

I sighed deep relief when I watched her boys reach the bus’s steps in time. The momma helped one with the backpack and kissed them goodbye. She smiled and waved back and forth as the boys took their seats.

When the bus pulled away, I looked back at her. The smile faded. Her shoulders sagged as she took a weary breath—exhaustion etched in her face.

I wanted to yell out the window “I see you! I see you, Momma! I see how hard you try every live-long day to be the best you can be!” I should have done it. But I didn’t.

We long to be seen. To be known.

Hagar. Slave of the Bible’s Abraham and Sarah. Mother of Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. Victim of jealous abuses. Because no one is perfect and the men and women of the Bible demonstrate their humanity. Because all humans are capable of the vile and the revolting.

Hagar flees to the wilderness, and she is met by God—a God who sees her devastation, her fears, her pain, her brokenness.

During those moments in a Middle Eastern desert land, Hagar proclaims God to be El Roi.

El Roi. The God who sees.

Those words? A sweet fragrance for my soul.

In a life that causes us to wonder if anyone sees us for who we are, we can know there is at least one. The God who met Hagar in the thirsty, parched sands is the same God who meets us in our deserts.

He is the same God who saw mankind’s deepest need and joined his children in their humanity on a winter night 2,000 years ago.

Emmanuel. God with us.

We are never hidden from the Father’s eyes. In truth, He is the only one who ever really sees all the fragments and pieces of our soul. Because the walls of our human hearts don’t exist in the realms of Heaven.

Aside from Mary and Joseph, do you know the first to worship at the feet of the newborn King? The first to witness Emmanuel?

Shepherds. They weren’t the elite. They were the unseen. The workers who labored and slept in fields to watch their flocks. They looked for dangers, for the lost, for the sick and abandoned.

They were the watchers. And they were often alone.

I wonder what it must have been to be a shepherd witnessing the Christ child that starry night. Too look into the eyes of an infant knowing they peered into the face of God.

The unseen looking into the eyes of El Roi—the God who sees.

The holiness of the moment stills my soul.

Because God calls to the unknown, the unseen, the invisible. He beckons us close to the manger to peer quietly over the edge. To witness Love nestled in a bed of warm hay.

And while I can’t fix the broken hearts of teenage students or tired mommas or broken friends, I can lead them to a manger. A manger of Hope.

He calls us close to whisper into our hearts.

I see you, he says.

I know you, he says.

I am with you, he says.

I have come for you, he says.

I love you, he says.

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A Dreary Day, Two Eagles, and an Election

Today was the damp and dreary kind. The kind that tempts with cozy socks and hot chocolate and Jane Austen.

But there’s the job and the motherhood and the housekeeping.

Sigh…

I know I’ve been quiet. In the last several months, my words have stuffed themselves into the cobwebbed caves of my mind, refusing to appear. I’ve stared into the white space of my computer screen with nothing to write.

Truth? I’ve had to shove down panic, anxiously waiting for words to find their way to the surface. Asking my Jesus when the words will come again. It’s been painful, this waiting.

And as I waited, one Scripture repeated over and over.

Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:2 (HCSB)

This.

Let my words be few.

Because God is God. He is in heaven. I am human. I am here on earth.

Let my words be few.

So I’ve been trying to wait and learn and hear.

After the last week, our nation sits fractured. Torn. Struggling. I’ve been at a loss—trying to discover a way to help in the healing. Because we can’t stay this way.

But I’ve had no words.

And then sitting in the sanctuary on Sunday, my Creator-God spoke metaphors into my soul.

It was the image of the two bald eagles. Just two days after the election. Not far from my home here in the Sunshine State. Tearing into one another. Clawing and ripping. Fighting until falling.

Into the gutter—the sewage drain leading to waste and sludge.

Oh friends, the lesson cannot be lost on us.

Honestly, I didn’t want to even write this because if you’re like me, you’re just tired. Tired of the rhetoric, the hate, the bitterness, the fight. I don’t want to read one more word of any of it.

But those eagles. Their symbolic illustration of our America and our fractures. I can’t get their warning out of my mind. Because look at where we will end up if we can’t stop fighting.

I wonder how. How will we stop clutching each other with our razor sharp talons and words? How will we work to heal each other? How will we find spaces where love, respect, and grace can live and grow?

And then I know.

Let my words be few.

Let our words be few.

May the Church approach the Throne of Heaven without a list of how to fix the brokenness, but with words that are few as we lay the fragments of our country at the feet of our Jesus.

When our words are few, maybe, just maybe, kindness and compassion can rise. Because if we leave the rhetoric behind, we have space and room for actions that show care and empathy.

I don’t know how to fix this. Truth is, I can’t.

Because I am human. And I am here on earth. But there is my God. In heaven. So I will approach Him with words that are few, offering up the brokenness I can’t fix.

And that’s a start.

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Mothering in the Dark

Ella and Caleb,

My sweet ones.

I knew all summer I’d write this letter.

But now that it’s here, now that it’s time to write, I hesitate. Fear creeps in and I wonder what you’ll think of me.

Because depression and shame often work together to chain and to bind no matter how hard you fight.

Ella-girl, my first fight with depression and anxiety came when you were three. And Caleb? I was in the ring again when you were one. Both battles were fought with Faith and medication.

Well, my loves?

I’m in the ring again feeling bloodied and bruised from the fight.

I’m not writing so you feel sorry for me. I’m writing so you know me. I want you know the imperfect hollows of my heart and mind.

I writing real. And one day I’ll be brave enough to let you read the real. When you’re ready. Because I never want you to feel as if you have to carry me through the shadowed days. And I never want you to think my dark is your fault. Never, never, never ever.

Because it’s not.

This past summer, while you skipped and danced and swam and biked and played. While you did those things?

I was deep in the dark. Yes. I was there. Yes. I smiled. But I’m an expert at hiding the black days.

You need to know. Your Daddy? He really is Prince Charming. He hides me so often behind his strong tower of safety. He shelters you from my worst days. And this past summer, he made sure you had the fun things to do.

But my darlings, I felt so weak.

Ella? My kind girl. There were times you needed me to do things for you this summer. Times the fog was so thick on me, I simply forgot.

I’m so sorry.

And Caleb? My boy who bounces and bounds with abandon? All you wanted was someone to play with this summer.

I’m so sorry.

My darlings, the guilt is so heavy it consumes me. But that’s the darkness talking. Because there were good days.

There really were.

But sometimes I wonder if you wish I was someone else? Do you wish you had a momma who is all-kinds-of-fun? Do you wish I had it all together?

I also wonder if you know how strong I am.

Because fighting depression and anxiety? Fighting the darkness? It’s not for wimps.

There will be people you hear in the whispered corners of your life that talk. They will say harsh and critical things about those who struggle like me. They will shake their heads and tsk-tsk because they think medication is for the weak. They will believe that those who live in darkness can simply choose light with a finger snap.

My sweet ones? Please don’t listen. Turn your ears away. Those arguments only want to stomp and crush and extinguish the spirits of the fighters.

And those who turn to face the darkness every single day? Those who open their eyes and rise out of their beds and walk one heavy foot after another into the sun?

They are the warriors.

They choose to war against the diseased pieces of their own minds.

So don’t look at me, sweet ones, and worry. Don’t think I will break like a branch drained of life. I’m refined by the fire, not consumed by it.

Because I’m never alone in the depression inferno. The Prince of Peace, my Jesus—your Jesus, He’s there. Always. There are so many reasons He allows these dark times to shadow my life. Reasons I can see. Reasons I can’t. But He never leaves.

Never.

My loves? Don’t believe depression is your momma’s definition. While it influences who I am, it does not define my life. Or yours.

I want to say it again. Again, so you can press it down deep where your memories are strong.

Depression is never someone’s definition.

You need to know I am so much more than a medical term. Believe that I am brave and strong and courageous. Because I choose to fight. I choose to fight with a tiny blue pill—God’s miracle of modern medicine. And I choose to fight with the One who never leaves or forsakes.

I choose to fight for me.

I choose to fight for your Daddy.

I choose to fight for you.

I will continue to choose the fight. I promise.

Because I love you both,

Forever,

Always,

Your Warrior Mom.

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A day of real smiles and sweet summer memories.

Posted in Hope, Joy, Motherhood, Struggles | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments

Using the Language Our Teens Speak

Oh, friends. It’s been too long. The too long has been caught up in the rush and busy of a new school year. I know you know. Barely catching breath and running here to there. It’s as if there are seasons when our lives become a piece of performance art for “The Flight of the Bumblebee.”

While today I’m over with my Orlando moms, there’s a piece of my a-bit-fragile heart I’ve held close this summer that I will timidly share with you in the next few days. Because I’m still here. I’m still searching for (and finding) the beautiful Joy hiding in plain site on this journey.

Until then, maybe join me at Orlando Mom’s Blog?

It’s been less than 10 years since iPhone changed our country, our culture, our world. Gone are the days of pay phones and Facebook via the desktop.

As a member of the generation with my childhood riding in cars without movie entertainment and my adulthood running pace with technology, I have welcomed many of the changes brought to us by our hand-held computers.

But then I became a mother of a middle schooler. With a phone….continue reading here.

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For the Teacher at Summer’s End

I’m sitting at my desk. Music quietly plays in the background and a steady, soft rain falls outside my windows. My classroom is as ready as it can be.

I’m not.

In just a few hours, I will be gulping down nerves as I meet new parents and students at Open House. My stomach will be in knots, and I’ll wipe off my sweaty palms dozens of times. I will smile, and my face will light to see faces I know. And I will be excited about this school year. Because I am.

But I’m not ready.

Maybe you’re not either.

Just a few months ago, as the final bell clanged, I was filled with so much promise. Hopes and plans and projects and goals were going to be accomplished. I was going to get so. much. done this summer!

I was going to look over new curriculum for those three different classes, find two new AP novels to teach, help my daughter refinish a bedside table, play with my Court Jester more, snuggle on the couch each night with my Prince, start eating healthier meals, visit family, send off a manuscript to an agent, catch up on blogging, and, and, and…

Ask me if I accomplished any of that list.

Or don’t ask. That’s okay, too. Because my answer of ‘no’ swims in guilt.

I’m beginning to think teachers treat the last day of school as a time to make unrealistic New Year’s resolutions. In the same way February rolls around slapping us with the shame of unmet resolutions, August hits us with the fiery furnace of unmet goals.

That’s why I’m never ready to come back. I feel like I fail at summer. Every year.

I never get enough rest. I never get enough accomplished. And I never want to leave my family. And I never want to go back to the paperwork and the grading and the planning and the hoops to jump through.

Sure I’m ready to meet my students. I want the beautiful structure and schedule that comes with the school year. I’m tired of hearing my two children fight each other all-the-live-long day.

There are perks to going back to school.

Still. Summer’s edges taunt. I look at July fading in the distance with a deep yearning to dig my heels into the sand and refuse Monday’s first-day-of-school bell.

Here’s the thing about teacher-guilt at summer’s end. When it consumes us, as it so often does, we fail to see all our summer did hold. And as crazy as it sounds, the way to rid ourselves of our grumbling and foot stomping and arms crossing?

Gratitude.

Because I’m thankful for much. For the books I did get to read, even if they aren’t going to work for my classroom. For the time to introduce my Ella-girl to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. For the mornings (okay…days) spent in pajamas. For watching my Court Jester ride his bike without training wheels for the first time. For nights my Prince and I did get together. For our first, for-real family vacation ever.

So much of my summer was beautiful. I miss seeing those glimpses of beauty when I’m mired in the guilt of unfinished plans or the frustration that comes with being a teacher in today’s culture.

But, my friends? Look at what we get to do.

In the coming weeks we get to build relationships with students. We get to influence the lives of future doctors, nurses, politicians, mechanics, lawyers, business managers, clerks, and every other possible job on earth. We get to see that light flicker in a student’s eyes for the very first time. We get to be a part of the change. We get to be a bright spot in what can be dark days in the lives of our students. We get to love our kids.

And loving our students? That’s why we do what we do.

May I just encourage you from my own struggle? I am making a conscious choice. On this day, I choose to be grateful for the beauty in my summer. And I choose to be grateful for all I get to do on Monday when that first bell rings.

I may not jump out of bed when that alarm goes off, and I may be dragging my feet with coffee in hand. But I choose to be excited. And then I may or may not also silently count my days until next summer…

Pray for me, my friends? I will be praying for you.

It’s going to be a good year. And we can do this. We must. The future depends on us.

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Posted in Struggles, Summertime, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

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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