How to master the art of teaching in one (really hard) step

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Once upon a time, I was a new teacher.

Thrown into a classroom with little support, it was baptism by fire.

I leaned hard on a mentor who stubbornly refused to let me fail.

And on the other new teachers at my school—young and idealistic like me.

Two of those young, idealistic teachers got “promoted” to administrative jobs this year.

Jobs at which they will undoubtedly be fabulous.

Because I am too competitive, this gave me pause.

Should I be working harder toward upward mobility in my field?

The truth is (at least for now), the classroom is my happy place.

It’s a place where I work alongside little people to make magic happen.

I am a good teacher.

I know this.

Much better than I was in those baptism by fire years.

Sometimes people ask me about my secret.

There’s one thing, I think, that sets the truly great teachers apart.

I have not mastered it, exactly, but it is my number one goal this year.

And every year.

Truly great teachers care about kids and make them believe it.

With some kids, this is easy.

They come to school wide-eyed and ready to learn.

They don’t make waves.

They know how it feels to be cared about and they hang on your every word.

But the truly great teachers sweep the edges,

Nudging the ones who have been taught by life not to care.

Chipping away at hard exteriors, seeing leadership where others see defiance.

Paying attention, remembering hard what catches their attention, even for a second.

And mentioning it.

Casually, casually, so as to not make a fuss.

The truly great teachers lose sleep over this.

Plotting and scheming and never giving up.

Because they know that when content knowledge and pedagogy and the best of behavior management strategies fail, relationships don’t.

Truly great teachers don’t teach math or kindergarten or PE.

Truly great teachers teach children.

Every single one of them.

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Loved to the end

It has not been my best week.

Too many anxiety-provoking meetings, too much yelling at a child who is trying my patience, too many appliances falling apart around my house.

I am tired and needy.

Vulnerable.

I am here for the same reason that I like to keep Little One in “big church” as much as I can—because being in this room matters.

Messy lives rubbing up against one another, voices joined in hope and celebration.  There is power in loving Jesus together.

In another season of life, in another head-space, I might hear challenge in the same words.

But today, all I hear is love.

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

(John 13:1)

A humble servant, stooping to wash the feet of the faithful and the unfaithful alike.

I love you.

A body broken, blood spilled, a kernel of wheat falling to the ground to die in order that many may live.  That I may live.

I love you.

A place prepared where all will be new.  No more striving and struggling.  No more uncertainty about tomorrow.

A place that needs no temple because he is the temple.

A place that needs no sun because he shines so radiantly.

I love you.  I love you.

I’ve heard it all before.  The very same words.

One thousand times, at least.

And still it feels new.  Like water to my desperately thirsty soul.

I cannot even try to wrap my mind around it tonight.

I just drink it in, unfolding my arms and letting it splash into my face.

Into my heart.

Tonight the word is simple.

Maybe it’s a word for you too.

You are loved.

Loved to the end.

The end of this day.  The end of your life.  The end of eternity.

Friend, you are so, so loved.

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When Your Body Mocks You

She is overly chipper when she returns to the room.

I shouldn’t judge.  Doctors are supposed to be happy to give good news.

“Well,” she chirps, “you are perfectly healthy!”

I am here for a routine check-up.

I don’t suspect that anything is wrong.  And it’s not.

As I step out into the blinding sun, I can’t help but make space for it

The reality that this perfectly healthy body of mine will most likely never carry a baby.

Not because it can’t, but because of my choices.

Don’t get me wrong.

My life is full of much that I love.

I love my daughter (and the Little Ones) more than life itself.

But this was not the plan.

You guys, I thought there would be a soul mate.

(So help me if you leave a comment about your great aunt Myrtle who found her true love at the age of 82…)

I thought there would at least be a choice to carry a baby in my perfectly healthy body.

(I know there are ways to do this without a soul mate and I don’t judge you if you try them.  They are not for me.)

It’s not something that I mourn intensely.

But it’s something that throbs a little at moments like this.

Do I wish my babies had a daddy?  Yes.

It just doesn’t seem quite fair, you know?

And I can’t help but wonder about the what-ifs.

All of the places that things might have gone differently if I had walked a different way.

I don’t really want to speak this, because I know so many of you have stories that are harder.

Stories that seem much more unfair.

But it is true.

And if there is another mama out there with the same little throb,

I want you to know that you are not alone.

You are not alone

When you step into the blinding sun and your perfectly healthy body mocks you.

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Wanderlust

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I’ve always been a little bit restless.

I blame this on my youthful (right?!) zeal to “do something big” for God.

But I had a dream the other night that I ran away from it all.

Like off-the-grid, nobody-knows-where-I-am away.

Because it would be super-easy to raise kids in the middle of the woods with no electricity and only a hatchet and a cooking pot to my name.

But anyway.

I know this is part of the restlessness too.

Sometimes I just want to run away.

Away from all of the roles that I mostly love but struggle to reconcile with each other: mom.  foster mom.  teacher.  friend.  writer.  advocate.

Their collision feels both too hard and too ordinary.

I dream of rocking babies in an orphanage, of teaching at a school in the middle of nowhere, of delivering vaccines to remote villages on horseback, of making a ton of money to invest in microenterprise.

I like to try to divide up the moments, the experiences in my life.  You know, the ones where I am “on mission” for Jesus.  And then all the rest.

And then I see my babies with their toes dangling in the water.

A spontaneous stop after an errand I’d written off as a failure.

Babies who, today, are my mission.

My hard, ordinary mission.

The justice system tells me that one of them is “mine” and the other one is not.

But I cannot not love.  I cannot not pour every bit of my heart and soul into giving them every chance to know how family feels.

And so

Tonight I will sing and pray and tuck them in.  Again.

Tomorrow I will feed them and read them stories and put up with their ridiculous shenanigans.  Again.

Maybe I will dream again about running away.

But I will wake up and do the hard, ordinary thing.  And then I will do it again.

And so

If you are feeling restless.

Tired, unappreciated, emotionally frazzled.

It does not mean that you are in the wrong place.

It does not mean that you are not “on mission.”

Get some sleep.  Dream a little.

And wake up to do the hard, ordinary thing.

Because it matters too.

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You are Beautiful

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I think I have a pretty good body image.

I am happy with who I am.

I wear what I want, I eat what I like and I made peace with my curly hair years ago.

I have no time for uncomfortable shoes, contacts that make my eyeballs itch or cosmetics that cover up my real, actual face.

Since becoming mom to a beautiful, strong little girl, I have been purposeful about speaking positively about my body.

And hers.  And yours.

Apparently salt water is my kryptonite.

You see, I am white.

Like SPF 70 and a t-shirt to avoid sunburn white.

And yet I find myself at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean with this beautiful, strong girl (not so little anymore).  And I am thinking of you.

You know who you are—friends posting beach pictures with perfectly tanned bodies, perfectly coiffed hair, perfectly relaxed smiles.

I feel a mess.  I am covered in sunscreen, sweat and sand.

I am exhausted from chasing a toddler over uneven terrain while keeping one eye on a child who is overly confident in unpredictable water.

The beach is not my happy place.

In this moment, I speak of you, Facebook-perfect friends.

Immediately, my daughter calls me on it.

You are beautiful, mom.

Stop comparing yourself to them.

Just stop.

She is right.

So I smile for a picture,

A real, actual, happy smile.

Because even though the beach is not my happy place.

In this moment,

Being her mom is.

Friend, if you feel a mess today.

Covered in sand or regret, worried about measuring up.

Her words are for you too.

You are beautiful.

Stop comparing yourself to them.

Just stop.

You are beautiful.

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Sharing Space

We tell our kids that it’s ok to feel however they feel.

That sad and angry are ok.

That it’s only our actions that get us in trouble, not our feelings.

But do we believe it?

Or do we try to rush ourselves—and each other—through the hard feelings?

Do we offer a platitude and avert our gaze?

This is one of the reasons that I love Nehemiah.

You guys, he keeps it real.

He doesn’t deny the gravity of the situation.

His brothers and sisters are in danger.  Vulnerable to attack.

The whole situation is a mess.

So what does Nehemiah do?

He sits down.

Not in resignation, but in expectation.

He weeps and mourns.

For days.  Maybe months.

This was not a quick cry.

He owned the sadness.  The sorrow.  The anger.

He fasts and prays.

Friends, God and sadness are not incompatible.

God and anger are not incompatible.

Nehemiah got this.

He let his feelings and his God share space.

This was our sermon last week.

But it’s a word that I desperately need to hear today.

As I look around at the broken walls in my life,

The gravity of the situation threatens to overwhelm.

The feelings are strong.  And not happy.

And here, too, God is God.

Unafraid of the mess.

Unthreatened by the feelings.

In no particular rush to snatch me up and over to the happy ending.

And so I will let him share space with all of it.

Today.

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Just about every single day

I don’t know why it persists.

I guess it makes a good meme.  Or inspirational poster.  Or whatever.

But it’s just not true.

Over and over again, I hear people say, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”

I don’t know about you, but God gives me more than I can handle just about every single day.

The challenges of parenting a beautiful child who lived too much before she called me mom.

The twists and turns of foster care that yank at my heart, test my patience and make it impossible to plan for the future.

And a toddler.

And that’s before I step out the door of my own home.

Do you want to know a secret?

I think this is the way it’s supposed to be.

I absolutely think God gives us more than we can handle.

Why?

Because… Jesus.

I love to handle things.

To organize them, manage them, control them.

Having more than I can handle makes me feel small.

Not in a “no one sees me, I’m insignificant” way,

But in a “oh, wait a second, maybe I don’t got this and I better take a step back and plead for mercy from the One who does” way.

Having more than I can handle reminds me that though I am called to the ministry of reconciliation, I am not the Reconciler.  I am not the Redeemer.

Do you want to know another secret?

For a controller like me, this is a relief.

I can exhale, can breathe even when it feels like everything is going off the rails.

So, if you feel like God has given you more than you can handle today,

It’s not because you’re not trying hard enough.

It’s not because you don’t have enough faith.

It’s probably because he has.

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