Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The View From There

What must He be thinking, from there? As He looks down on his beloved creation stuck in traffic, wrapping furiously, charging beyond their means, what does He think? Is He disappointed? Is He sad? Does anger burn within?

Does He look within us more than He looks at us, and does He see that the chaos our behavior shows only mirrors the chaos that our hearts cry?

More than $2 billion worldwide will be spent on wrapping paper this year. Wrapping paper. Millions of people are starving, going to bed without food, yet we celebrate the birth of the Bread of Life by spending billions on wrapping paper. It makes no sense.

He came to earth, the cause of our celebration, and said things like, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth..." Yet we shop until the shelves are empty and our houses are full and our accounts are drained.

He said, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." Yet we leave the orphans in their orphanages and the widows in their empty homes and stain ourselves with the merchandise being panned by the world.

He taught, and we ignore. 

He taught, and we justify. 

He taught, and we continue to do what we want anyway.

What, I wonder, will it take for His followers to obey? To remember that we celebrate the Sacrifice and that doing so does not require us to sacrifice months of paychecks? 

Could we celebrate Christmas with not one gift inscribed with our name? Would Christmas still be Christmas without the parties and baking and shopping and wrapping? Would Christmas be even better if we said no to how the world insists it be celebrated?

What if every believer spent his Christmas budget on caring for the least of these? Spent money on the hungry and homeless and hurting instead of the hype? What if?

When we are urged to be aliens and strangers and to abstain from sinful desires, are times like these what Peter had in mind? Has the celebration of our Savior become sinful instead of sacred?

The Lord Himself says, "If you love me, obey my commandments." Is it really that simple? Why do we complicate it so?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Large Part of the Battle

Some days, I think my greatest talent is believing Satan's lies. It comes so naturally to me, happening with no conscious thought and requiring no effort. I have never had to work at it, never needed to force myself to hear his whispers.

His quiet, condemning statements are directed at me constantly, from the moment my eyes open in the dawn to the last moments of consciousness in the dark. Often they come out of nowhere, and I am blindsided by their presence.

"You're not good at that, you know."

"You'll never have the time or money to really pursue your passion."

"You're not pretty enough."

"You're not enough."

"You'll always be left out."

"You obviously have nothing to contribute."

"They don't include you on purpose."

He whispers in my ear that my efforts will fall short, my feelings deserve to be hurt, my life is insignificant.

He whispers, and I listen. Not every time, of course, but enough to matter. I listen to him the most when I'm with Jesus the least.

And the truth of the matter is he's right. Without Jesus. Without Jesus, I am not enough. My life will be insignificant. My passion will be unfulfilled.

Satan's lies, without Jesus, are truth.

But with Him, they are just lies. They are words with no truth to give them any weight, and they are words I can choose to reject.

Just today, Satan began to whisper to me, telling me what he wants me to believe in an area of my life where I am particularly vulnerable. And as I type, I am struggling to reject his words and to choose to believe truth. Believe me when I say it is a struggle, though. It is such a hard one. I have that cry-avoiding lump in my throat as I am typing these words, forcing myself to give reality to the emotions I wish I didn't have. That's a large part of the battle, isn't it? Admitting that there is one? Friends, there is. There is a battle in this girl's life daily to believe I can be - and can do - something of worth. To believe that I am of worth.

We each live in a battle zone, and I fear that we lose skirmishes unnecessarily because we forget that we can win. That He has won. We lose when we react defensively instead of fighting proactively.

This afternoon, I resolve to fight - and to win - this particular battle. I'm sure there will be more, perhaps even today. But I will not go down without a fight and will not lose what is mine to win. I will fight. And I will win.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Go Ahead with Your Bad Self

My sweet little first grader just had her Christmas program at school, and it was Precious. The capital letter is on purpose there, because those crazy little kids were so cute with their missing teeth and gangly legs that I could have fainted from the sheer amount of adorable-ness in that cafeteria.

(BTW - [see how hip I am there with the abbreviation? Mom, it means "by the way."] - this is NOT how she normally goes to school. Eyeliner and lip gloss are for special occasions only, like when your class is supposed to look like rock stars.)

I'm telling you. Six year olds dressed as penguins and Christmas trees and rock stars will make you grin like a Cheshire cat and simultaneously thank your lucky stars you don't teach six year olds who have to dress as penguins and Christmas trees and rock stars.  They were adorable.

But y'all.

The parents.

I have never.

As the program began, the noise level in the cafeteria lessened slightly from its pre-performance roar, but allow me to exaggerate the word SLIGHTLY. There were some loud folks up in there. People behind me were carrying on a full-fledged conversation in normal conversational tones with ZERO attempt to hush their voices. At one point I looked at my husband and whispered (because I have some decorum), "My teacher-self is about to GO NUTS."

All over the cafeteria there were people who seemed not to care one iota that children - including their own! - were performing a program that had taken weeks of practice, coordination, and planning. These people stood up in the middle of the performance, held iPhones in front of others' faces to capture shots, scooted chairs across linoleum floors that magnify sounds, and spoke - loudly - to their brother's friend's grandma about Lord knows what.

And then, my favorite part of the night.

Mrs. Music Lady, she who had practiced with the children and was trying her best to keep the program going despite the redneckery that was filling the dining hall, stopped. And stood up. And preached.

She let them have it. She said that in 34 years, she had never had to stop a performance, but these children had worked too hard to have their songs go unheard by people who were supposed to know better.

She scared me, and I fell in love with her. I was so proud that for once, someone in education stood up and said, "STOP IT. You should know better."

I wanted to hoop and holler and do that weird arm motion that Arsenio Hall did.

But I refrained.

That night solidified for me, as a teacher, why we have 96% of the problems we do in education. The trees from which the apples fall. The parental units.

Jim Trelease says, "In one school year a child spends 7800 hours at home and 900 hours at school. Which teacher should be held the most accountable?"

I think I know.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


For several months I have wanted to tell you about a miraculous event in my family's life, but I haven't been able to. Now that I can, I'm not sure I can do it justice.

On October 11, we legally and forever gained a new niece, Ivey Elise. 

My husband's sister, Mandy, and her husband, Chad, adopted the most beautiful baby girl, a child whose story grabbed our hearts and whose presence has changed our lives.

Mandy and Chad had gone through all of the paperwork and preparation for adoption, having their home inspected, fingerprints run, and lives dissected. Their names were placed on the list, and just four months later, they received the call. Both teachers, Mandy and Chad were at work when the call came saying, "There is a baby girl - if you want her, come to the hospital."

You have to hear Chad's story of running through the halls and parking lot - I picture it like the scenes of expectant dads in movies. Of course they wanted her. They were going to have a daughter.

Sweet Ivey had been dropped off at an upstate South Carolina hospital under what is known as Daniel's law. Under this special provision, parents may relinquish their babies, 30 days old or younger, at specified locations without fear of prosecution. Her mother gave no information, just handing over the tiny girl wrapped in a towel. Her birth mother gave her up so she could have a better life. I'm crying as I type this because I cannot, as a mother, imagine facing that decision.

There are people who ask, "How could someone do that?" I ask the same question, but with a tone of admiration - "How could someone do that?"

The story of Ivey is a story of grace in so many ways. Her birth mother showed Ivey grace by gifting her with a life that could have turned out so very differently. We shudder to think of what might have been for her - the options that were not chosen. God showed Mandy and Chad grace in bringing them a child that they, of course, would not have in their lives without His intervention. He has graced my in-laws with a granddaughter who lights up their lives. Grace at every turn. Grace in many ways.

What I love about grace, true God-given grace, is that it is so unexpected and unplanned. When God shows His great love, it is so rarely in the ways that we humans would have imagined it to be. It is often illogical, rarely on our schedule, but always a reminder of His nature.

Ivey-boo, we love you so much. We cannot wait to see you grow and learn, cannot wait for the first time you tell your parents "no," cannot wait to see the woman you will become. God sees something extraordinarily special for your life, and I know this because His plan for you has already been extraordinarily special. Every time we see you, we see God. Bear that image well, sweet girl. Your story will draw people to His love, as it already has, and He has entrusted that privilege to you. Make Him proud. We are so honored to be part of your forever family. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Random Thoughts of a Restless Mind

My earring fell out of my ear today while I was in the restroom and nearly landed in the toilet. What is one supposed to do in such a situation? Flush it? Reach in and grab it? Thank goodness I didn't have to decide. I wouldn't mind flushing it - it is a cheapo earring, but I would mind ruining the only adult female toilet in my wing of the building. I might never be forgiven.

I hate hand painted signs by the side of the road. What makes you think I want to vote for your candidate because you spray painted with yellow paint on a blue tarp? Professionalism you do not require, apparently.

The day before a teacher workday is tantamount to the day before spring break or Christmas vacation or the day of a full moon. They're nuts. And I need a nerve pill.

While we're on the subject of teacher workdays, is it too much to ask that teachers be allowed to really work on said workdays? I could get so much teacher stuff done - say, planning and grading! - if I were not required to be in meetings all day. Guess that's what the weekends are for, huh? (Sarcasm intended).

I did not cry when my husband went out of town the last time. Tomorrow when he leaves, I feel there may be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

I am having to end my friendship with a precious woman because she casually mentioned in a conversation that she loves cashews. Having forgotten the splendor of a cashew, I bought a bag. And since then? Approximately 274 more. And can we talk about the price of nuts, people? Good stinking grief. My little habit may require a part-time job.

I adore sweater weather. And boots. And scarves. But not hats. I just look like a weirdo in them. 

At what age do your children stop bothering you while you're in the bathroom? Because apparently we're not there yet. Door shut = privacy, please. (I realize I have referenced the bathroom twice in one post, which is twice more than I have ever spoken of it. But COME ON.) 

Enough with the Dracula commercials, already, NBC. Jonathan Rhys Myers is so doggone scary. I don't enjoy your attempts to cause nightmares in me when I'm innocently watching the last few minutes of Ellen. Give a girl a break. Real life is scary enough.

An incredible teacher I used to work with posted on Facebook that she recently was invaded by swarms of educational higher-ups including but not limited to the district and STATE superintendent of education. Hives. I would have broken out in hives - not just because of his presence but his policies. Oh, lordy. Better her than me! I'm becoming way too candid and outspoken in my old age to keep the old mouth shut.

I think today I have verbal diarrhea. Wait - does that count as a third bathroom reference? If so, I apologize. But not really, because sometimes it just has to come out. Am I lying? Let it out or explode. 

On that note, I'm done. For now. Enjoy your evening while I go pick out a cute sweater outfit and try to use the bathroom in peace.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Heaven That is Publix Super Markets

When my dear husband asked me to marry him and I moved into his house after our wedding, a tragedy befell me from which I might never recover.

I had to switch grocery stores. And not just from one store to another of its kind farther away... No, I had to switch chains. I know - the horror.

Prior to this wedded bliss, I had the great fortune of living approximately 90 seconds from heaven on earth, AKA Publix. For anyone not living in the southeastern United States where Publix fell from heaven like manna, I apologize to you and will remember you on my knees tonight as I implore our Maker to bless and highly favor you with grocery store blessing. In the meantime, allow me to paint with my words a picture of the heaven that is Publix Super Markets.

First, and not to be taken lightly, it is clean. And we all know that cleanliness is next to Godliness. Never have mine eyes seen stains discoloring its tile or garbage littering the lobby. Ah, but no. Publix sparkles. When those awe-inspiring automatic doors part and the aisles appear, stretching endlessly before you are endcaps glistening like teeth in commercials and air so fresh that Febreze wants to bottle it. My children could roll around on the floor in the bathroom and I would watch with nary a word. Cleanliness wins every time.

Also high on my list is the organization and logic with which items are placed. Where is the syrup? Near the pancake mix, of course. Peanut butter? Look no farther than the bread. It's as if someone thought like a consumer... "I'd like to make spaghetti tonight - so noodles, sauce, and Parmesan cheese should be grouped accordingly." Logic makes my heart pitter-patter. And not to be outdone - the stocking. High school boys in green smocks descend like locusts and ensure that items are not pushed to the backs of the racks, but are blocked, pulled flush with the front so as to be easily accessible to the mother with the toddler on hip and infant screaming in buggy. It's the little things, people.

Customer service is the priority at Publix, and its baggers seem hurt if you tell them you can take your own groceries to the car. Come rain, wind, or snow, they tell you that carry-out is their pleasure. Mine too, dear Publix. Mine too.

My husband makes fun of me to the point that I've developed a complex, but I cannot change my heart. I am just a Publix and Target kind of girl - one that he says is snooty. (Said with nothing but love, I assure you.) Try as I might, I cannot break my heart's will and force it to become an Ingles and Walmart lover. It's not who Jesus created me to be, and I will not change my identity. I will pay ten percent more - gladly - to have a pleasurable shopping experience, and nothing makes me happier than my dear, sweet Publix. Except for maybe my husband. So Publix, I'll be seeing you. But don't forget me. I'll be back.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What State is Germany In?

At first I didn't understand her question, her face looking at me expectantly from around her computer's monitor.

"What state is Germany in?"

I'm sure my eyebrow lifted as I contemplated what she meant. State? Germany?

It suddenly dawned on me that she wanted to know where in the United States Germany was. Germany, the country, in the United States.

Her neighbor looked at me, too. She had already asked him, and he wasn't sure either.

I gently (I think - I tried to be gentle) explained that Germany is its own country and that it is located on a separate continent from the United States.

I write this not as an indictment of this particular student (or her neighbor) or in a mocking sort of way, but rather as a very serious, contemplative question that must be posed in every educator's mind.

What in the world does this mean?

When two students who have made it to high school do not know that Germany is a country, we must take this seriously. If they do not know where Germany is or that it is a nation, they must not understand exactly what happened in the Holocaust or the implications of that event either. (Am I right? Is this too great a leap for me to make?) If they do not know of the Holocaust, they do not understand the conditions that allowed it to occur. If they do not understand how it happened in the first place, they do not know how to prevent it from happening again.

It's so much more than just not knowing geography.

Every day that I am in my classroom, I see students [some, not all] not knowing what should be basic knowledge for a well-educated student. They do not know how to find information without Google, they do not know that "it's" means "it is," they do not know the governor of our state. They do not know know the basics of the United States Constitution.

Here's what is sad to me - these are smart kids. They are bright, witty, and have unlimited potential. They are so much to fun to be around, but something stands in their way. Is it our system of education? Is it our culture? Just what is it?

I teach the 9th grade, and I have students who do not know (or perhaps just do not follow) the rules of grammar, such as the rule that states each sentence must contain a capital letter and have punctuation at its end. (To be fair, texting is teens' primary mode of writing, and it does have different rules. I get it. But don't they need to get that there is a time and place for it, and school assignments is not it? Why have they not learned this yet?)

 It disturbs me that they do not follow the rules (perhaps more than if they did not know the rules), because if this is the case, someone has allowed them not to do so. I am a tyrant when it comes to simple grammar, and my students fuss often about my deduction of points. Why am I a tyrant? For this reason and this reason alone - details matter.

When did excellence become irrelevant? When did it become acceptable to have access to information but no first-hand knowledge of it? Why is it not an issue when conventions exist but are habitually broken?

I am the first to champion technology and its place in education. The world is, literally, at our fingertips. But I fear much more is slipping away. We are a global society, but our citizens cannot locate major countries on a globe. Progress has begun to show its cost. Simple communication skills are suffering greatly; people do not know how to express themselves unless it's in 140 characters or fewer.

Without emoticons, people are losing the ability to express emotion through words.

Maybe I'm just a Chicken Little sky-is-falling kind of person, but things like this matter to me.

Perhaps I am to blame. I teach, and there are probably students who leave my classroom not knowing what others think they should. I don't know exactly where the blame should fall, but I suspect it's probably not just on one set of shoulders. Mediocrity has become the norm, with excellence the exception.

I just read a fascinating book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled David and Goliath, and he discusses how characteristics that begin as benefits over time can become liabilities. After a certain point, the cons begin to outweigh the pros.

His example - the influence of money on parenting. Too little money increases the difficulty of being an effective parent, but too much money can also increase its difficulty. He refers to this phenomenon as an inverted U-curve. (If you struggled in statistics, hang tight. I'm making a point.) He says, "Inverted-U curves have three parts, and each part follows a different logic. There's the left side, where doing more or having more makes things better. There's the flat middle, where doing more doesn't make much of a difference. And there's the right side, where doing more or having more makes things worse" (54).

I think we might be on the right side of the U-curve. We have more, but it's making things worse.


How many of you have tried to have a conversation lately, only to become exasperated as the other person pays more attention to his phone than you? How many hours have you wasted on Facebook and Pinterest while the real-life relationships you hold are struggling? Our more is costing us dearly.

The vast majority of Americans are wealthier than the vast majority of the world, yet we constantly want more. More than enough is just not enough.

Maybe I should just relax and stop reading so much into the trends I see. The sky might not be falling, and we might not be making things worse.

But I can't help but wonder, "What if we are?"

Sunday, September 15, 2013

I Think Jesus Would Wear Nikes

I wore my running shoes to church today.

Some of you are saying, “So what?” If so, you might be among the throngs who now wear jeans and t-shirts to church on Sundays and don’t think twice about it. But for others, wearing running shoes and “street clothes” is a huge no-no, an offense that would bring down the wrath of the powers-that-be in your church.

Please don’t assume that I’m passing any judgment here, because that’s the last thing I want to do. I’ve been a member of both camps.

When I was a teenager, a woman I loved dearly told me that we have to dress up for church because Jesus wants our best. (In full disclosure, the topic came up because she was gossiping Sunday afternoon about the attire of someone who had not dressed up Sunday morning. Just so you know.)

Naïve and respectful, I thought she must be right. After all, she was older than I was and had been serving in the church since before I was born. Years later, I realized that she might have just missed the whole message of the gospel. Jesus’ gospel, anyway. Some churches have their own.

You see, Jesus has different requirements for us than the world does, and they most definitely do NOT include wearing “church clothes” to come worship him. His requirements? Come. Follow me. Love your neighbor as yourself. No heels and pantyhose required.

I’m sure if I did some research, I could find out when the tradition of dressing up originated and what the reasons were. Truth is, I don’t care. All I know is that now – in 2013 when we have stars twerking onstage and teenagers wearing shorts smaller than some of my underwear – many churches require that people dress a certain way to come in the doors. “Look like us, and we welcome you. If not, we will politely have a deacon escort you out a side entrance.” What nonsense. If the people are coming, why in the world are we doing anything to turn them away?!

You know why I love my church? Because we have people who wear shorts smaller than my underwear, and they are welcome. They sit in our services and sing our songs. Some of them are not yet believers, but they come because our church is a place where their presence is welcomed. We are nice to them. I had a girl tell me just this morning that she had been visiting churches and in some of them, no one spoke to her. She said, and I quote here, “It was like nobody there cared.” Unreal.

At my church, we don’t ask unbelievers to dress like believers – we first introduce them to Jesus, and then disciple them so that their behavior (and dress) come into alignment with his commands. But we don’t exclude them from the beginning and make demands of them that Jesus only made of his followers.

So many people are turned off from church – and ultimately, from Jesus – because church members (I will not use the term ‘followers’ here on purpose) are some of the most judgmental, demanding, and unkind people around. Some church members are nothing like Jesus, who spent time with the unacceptable – tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers. The true test of our faith might just be how we interact with the people most unlike us. Do we treat them as Jesus would, or do we look down our lofty noses and make silent judgments? Do we sing every verse of “Just As I Am” but say to people, “Uh, but not like that?”

My church is not perfect, and goodness knows I’m not. But we make every effort to introduce people to the Jesus who spent time with a sinful woman and THEN told her, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). There seemed to be an order: meet Jesus, THEN change.

We have decided that our role, at our church, is to do whatever it takes to arrange the introduction. The changing? We’ll let the Miracle Worker handle that. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

You'll End Up In Jail

“You’re fat.”

“You’re worthless.”

“You’ll end up in jail just like your father.”

This week my freshmen and I talked about the power of words for both good and evil, and I asked them to respond to the quote, “Words break no bones, but they do break hearts.” And, let me tell you, there are some 15 year olds out there with broken hearts.

I expected my kids to have some experience with word-wounds, but I had not anticipated the depth of what they would share. They wrote of parents constantly belittling them and peers teasing mercilessly. They wrote of hearing that they are good for nothing and have no hope for a bright future. They wrote of words they had said themselves and regretted instantly…

They wrote, and my heart ached.

I remember being their age and in their shoes, and I remember words from those days. I remember words and looks and rebuffs and sideways glances, and I remember the tears I shed. But even now, decades removed, I am hurt by those very same things. Your heart doesn’t have to be young to be tender, and you don’t have to be in school to be rejected. We all know the power that others can have over us.

We know their power, but we forget ours.

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).

Every word we utter will yield some sort of power – will show some sort of fruit – and whether it is positive or negative, bitter or sweet, is completely dependent on us. We get to choose.

I so badly want for my students to hear uplifting and encouraging words, but I also need for them to understand that regardless of what they hear, they are responsible for what they speak. I want that for all of us, actually.

Without a renewal of my mind and a prayer for the Holy Spirit to tame my tongue, I will wield a weapon every time I open my mouth. We each know the conditions that make us vulnerable to the torch of the tongue. For me, it’s being tired and stretched too thin, but we must also know that we are without excuse because we have been told that it is an issue of life and death. We cannot take what we say lightly. Others are standing at the ends of our words, and their lives may depend on the way we speak to them. We can cause permanent damage and inflict never-forgotten pain, or we can build up and encourage.

Lord, tame our tongues.

I'm linking today to www.missionalwomen.com and www.christianmommyblogger.com

Sunday, August 18, 2013

For My Students

I am a teacher, and tonight – the night before school starts back – the honest to goodness truth is that right now I could not care less about how much English literature my students learn from me this year. 

After an encounter today with someone who just wasn’t very nice, it occurred to me that I would rather every student fail the End of Course exam if, in exchange, they could learn to be good people who do everything in their power to make this world better. I know far too many well-educated people who only make this world more difficult for others and leave hurt in their wake. What good is it to know lots of information if you don’t know how to love? 

Tonight, my lessons are planned and tomorrow I will teach English, but I will fail as a person and disciple of Jesus if I forget what really matters. So students, this is what I really want you to know.

I want you to know that what you do and say to others really matters. I can remember something unkind said to me over 20 years ago, and I still have a scar from the wounds of his words. You may think you’re being funny, but to the butt of your joke, it’s not a laugh. It’s a wound. And some wounds never heal.

I want you to be responsible for the choices that you make. I lose patience when you won’t bring a pencil to class, but it’s not just about the pencil. It’s about your choice to waste an education that people in the same world as you don’t have the chance to receive. Yours is free. Don’t take it for granted.

I want you to know that you must take time to chill. Yes, education is important, but so is enjoying life. I agonized as a student over every single point, and I nearly had an ulcer before graduation. Life wasn’t fun for me then, and at the end of the day, I was miserable. Don’t be like me.

I want you not to be a victim. Yes, your life at home may be a nightmare. You might come to school without a pencil because there is no one who cares enough to buy you one. Life is hard, and you deserve some help. But you cannot use the hardship as an excuse not to succeed. Work harder than everyone else and you will have a life unlike everyone else. You play a role in the future you will live.

I want you to be kind. To everyone. I know that girl may dress funny and use too-big words, and I get it that that guy just moved here from somewhere strange. But they – like you – need a friend and a place to sit at lunch. Do you want to eat by yourself? Of course not. So don’t let anyone else have to sit alone.

I want you to know that I’m here for you. Stop laughing. I really am. I could make way more money and get far more respect doing something else. (For the record, just in the past week I was called a “glorified baby-sitter” among some other choice names. Some people think teaching is a joke.) I’m hard on you because I know you can do better, and I ride your case because I’m imagining something great for you. If I start to get on your nerves, which is almost guaranteed, try to remember that I see something in you that you haven’t seen in yourself yet.

I want you to know that I want great things for you, but greatness doesn’t always include a college education or a six figure salary. Greatness means giving of yourself and loving on others. What is your passion? What makes you feel alive? Do that! Others may think you’ve lost your mind and are wasting your talents, but if you feel you’re supposed to, then do. I will be your greatest cheerleader.

I want you to read great books. And here’s the catch no English teacher wants to admit… What is great to you might be horrible to me. And that’s ok. Reading takes you where you can’t always go yourself, and it teaches you what you didn’t know you didn’t know. Yesterday a book took me to South Sudan where children were kidnapped and forced to become soldiers. The book wasn’t – and won’t become – a classic, and it’s not on any approved reading list. Who cares? Read what you like and toss what you don’t. Life’s too short to read terrible books.

I want you to learn who you are. You’ll experiment, and you’ll learn in stages. But don’t pretend and don’t force it. You were made a certain way and for a certain reason. Do everything in your power to discover who and what that is.

I want so much for you, and so little of it has to do with my class. I want you to truly live, not just exist, and I want you to thrive in your own unique way. I want you to feel joy and to bring it to others. I want you, 30 years from now, to know that you are doing exactly what you are meant to do. I want you to be a great you – even if you don’t make an A in my class.

Monday, August 12, 2013

What No One Can Tell You About Being a Parent

I glanced in the rearview mirror today, and her shining eyes in the very back seat brought a lump into my throat.

She is six now, heading to 1st grade, and I don’t know where the time went. I swear it was just yesterday that I brought her home in a preemie outfit that swallowed her whole.

In the seat in front of her, big brother sits, his face losing baby fat as fast as he’s losing baby teeth.

They are both big kids now, riding big kid bikes and reading chapter books, leaving me to shake my head and ask the age-old question, “Where did the time go?”

It’s just one of the things no one can make you understand about being a parent.

They can’t explain to you that seeing your wrinkly, red newborn for the first time will make your heart feel as if it will explode from the love that suddenly appears.

They don’t tell you that the second time is just like the first.

They can’t tell you that you will panic the first time they sleep through the night, though you begged for it for weeks (or months – they don’t tell you that either).

No one tells you how bad explosive diapers and projectile vomiting really are, and they don’t explain that it is physically possible for your son to pee in his own mouth.

They don’t tell you that the tooth fairy will need to come on the night you have no cash, and you’ll be forced to ask Grandma to deliver a dollar on the sly.

They don’t tell you that you become a raging bull the first time someone is unkind to your child, and that you will have zero hesitation about putting some hurting on a three year old.

No one prepares you for the agony that is potty training.

They don’t tell you that you will memorize, verbatim, Good Night Moon and Elmo Loves You and Green Eggs and Ham and Little Toot (not kidding here – it’s about Toot the Tugboat) and that when you lie down at night you will hear, looping in your head, the theme song from Little Einsteins.

No one tells you that when your son is seven you will drive by the park that was his childhood, and you’ll cry for the day when he and his first friend pretended to be monsters.

You cannot be prepared for walking your baby into school and facing the reality that you have to leave without him.

You would never believe that you’ll have to scoop poop out of the tub with a plastic cup.

They don’t tell you that you will drive 30 minutes out of your way to go back and retrieve a smelly, tattered stuffed animal that is your only hope for a peaceful night.

You can’t guess that you will stand in the doorway of her room, watching her chest rise and fall, wondering what you did to deserve that child.

No one tells you that years after diapers are only a memory, you will still have a brand preference that you purchase for baby showers, and that your preferences are gender-specific.

No one tells you that you will repeatedly inhale the scent of your baby’s head, closing your eyes as you try to memorize it.

You don’t know that seeing his newborn rompers will bring tears to your eyes and that you will hug them to your chest to remember how small he once was.

You can’t imagine that the baby you once carried will turn into a hilarious, vivacious child whose company you prefer over that of some adults.

They don’t tell you that you will second-guess yourself daily, replaying decisions you made and words you said and time you spent.

You can’t know that the home-movies you are making now will rip your heart to shreds in a few years as you laugh and cry and marvel at the changes in your children.

You don’t know, but you can’t know.
They don’t explain, but they can’t explain.

Being a parent is simply an indescribable experience – we have a picture of what it will be, and the vast majority of the time, we are wrong. But we are wrong because we underestimate it. We simply have not learned how deep love can go, and we cannot know how we will transform.

The birth of a child also brings the birth of a new person – a parent.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Why Teaching Is So Doggone Hard

It’s almost here, fellow teachers. 

Like it or not, we will wake up Monday morning much earlier than our summer sleep schedules are accustomed to, and we will walk back into the buildings we simultaneously love and fear. The newly waxed floors will look foreign without any tossed away papers and all used-up pencils, and the bare bulletin boards will mock us as we remember the cute ideas we saw on Pinterest.

We will make multiple trips from the car to our rooms, carrying bags filled with the magic we are convinced will make this year the best. We will stand surveying our rooms, hands on hips, as we envision a space that inspires and welcomes.

The plans will have to wait, though, as we sit through multiple meetings where we team-build and common-core learn and technology policy question… And don’t forget lunch-plans make, as this is the week – the only week – where we are allowed to leave for the sacred lunch.

Our non-teacher friends will roll eyes as we mention ‘heading back to work,’ and they will make snide comments about us having the whole summer off. We will roll eyes back as we mutter, “You just don’t get it.” And, bless their hearts, they don’t.

They don’t get that being a teacher – a good teacher – is like being a performer onstage for eight hours a day, five days a week who has also had to write the script, create the scenery, memorize each role, and research the backstory. 

It means dealing with hecklers in the crowd whom security cannot remove and then being responsible for said hecklers mastering the nuances of the play she is performing. It means changing the script in the middle of the performance because audience members are nodding off, and doing so with zero funds because she spent her allocation stocking up on Kleenex and hand sanitizer.

It means not being able to go to the bathroom when she needs to, but racing to beat the other teachers before the tardy bell rings. 

It means having her performance observed and critiqued by those who only see just a part, and receiving blame if the audience doesn’t rush to join her onstage.

It means so much more than any non-teacher can understand.

It means feeling like you have more children than you actually delivered, crying at their troubles and celebrating their victories. It means noticing the child who has no brand new supplies and no way of getting what the list requires. 

It means sinking into your chair as the final bell rings, asking yourself if you can make it another day. It means arriving earlier the next morning to ensure that you can.

Being a teacher is hard. But it’s good.

Do me a favor, ok? If you’re not a teacher and you see one in the next few days wearing a look of panic – tell her thank you. Tell her thanks for cramming 365 days worth of knowledge into 180 (fewer if you count the interruptions and standardized tests). Say thank you for her being “on” every day when she steps in front of your child, leaving her own exhaustion, troubles, and worries at home. Let her know you appreciate the fact that she cannot just leave her work at work, but brings it (and thoughts of your child) home with her.

I guarantee she doesn’t hear ‘thanks’ nearly enough. You might even make her cry. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

They Prayed for Paint

Pastor José’s eyes were rimmed with red as we gathered at the front of his church. We had just finished painting his house, transforming a drab concrete building into a vibrant standout in his barrio.

“My family – we gather every morning to pray, and we have prayed for a year to have our house painted,” he explained softly as the translator relayed his words.

I dropped my eyes to the dirt floor of the “Jesus is the Way to Heaven” Church. I have just repainted my entire house, and prayer was not part of the process. The money was in the bank, the desire was in my heart, and that’s all there was to it. I wanted to, so I did.

The humble pastor went on to tell us how his family has prayed for paint, but God did not allow for it until now. “Many people in my country think pastors are becoming wealthy,” he said. I wondered what they would think of American celebrity pastors as wealthy as our athletes.

He told us of how just that morning God revealed to him a lesson about protection. He said that God kept them from having the money to paint it themselves so that others would see the house after our team left and know that the money came from God, not their own greed.

The paint provided a beautiful lesson as well as a beautiful house.

We all bowed as José began to pray, the Spanish flowing from his mouth in the most heartfelt prayer I have heard. His words and the translator’s overlapped, and though I missed some words, I did not miss the Spirit. 

The sanctuary had no air conditioning and only dirt for a floor. There were no projectors showing catchy videos, no sound system blaring latest hits. No pens advertising fancy logos, no worship guides to fill in.

But make no mistake – it was worship. 

I wiped away the tears that would not stop as I thought of how wrong I – we – have been. Pastor José prayed for a year for what we deem simple, and I give up after mere days on what is important.

As the prayer grew in intensity, the wind began to blow. The yellow plastic decorations that hung above our heads began to rustle, and I knew it was the Holy Spirit in our midst. I cannot explain what I felt as we gathered in that place, but I know that it is a place God has blessed.

Pastor José’s church continues to grow, with people bypassing other houses of worship to attend there. Their previous location was destroyed by a drunk man wielding a machete, but the congregation now knows that God allowed its destruction for a purpose. Doesn’t He always?

I did not want that moment to end, a moment when the Lord’s glory came down and was palpable, but as all such moments in this life must, it did. We wiped away tears, hugged the gentle pastor, and assured him of our continued support.

Friday, we will leave this place, having painted some walls and played with some children. We will return to our state of the art church facility and our own luxurious homes. We will reenter our daily lives, demands returning and needs pressing.

But we will not forget. We will remember standing in the shadow of a volcano where the Spirit erupted, touching our hearts and reminding us of His love.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Poverty Is Not Just Physical

Her brown eyes followed our van as we passed her on the bumpy road, looking through the windows at a dozen Americans conspicuously out of place in her neighborhood. We had come to bless a local Nicaraguan pastor by painting his house, a luxury for a man whose family can easily be without food. 

She spoke nothing to us, but I wondered what her words would be. What stories could she tell of living in such a place? Homes walled with black plastic sheeting; floors nothing but dirt. Garbage littering what passes for a road, leading to a neighborhood where children wander unattended and adults loiter because there is no job to be worked.

I saw her for just seconds, but her face is on my mind tonight.

She could be me.

My natural reaction on any trip away from America is to pity the inhabitants of wherever I travel.

“They just don’t know what they’re missing,” I think.

Which is what? More electronic devices than there are people in the house? So much food that I toss expired bags full? So many channels to watch that I never have to converse with the people I love most?

Maybe I’m the one who is missing something.

Poverty is not just a physical condition. So many of us – rich Americans who are spoiled more than we know – are really the poorest of the poor. We lack contentment in our everyday and peace in our condition because we know too much. We know that the world is full of more – more to do, more to buy, more to see. 

But now as the rain is pouring and I am reflecting, I wonder… Does it matter that there’s more? If peace is possible in the scarcity, why do we convince ourselves it’s only found in the plenty?

If I have learned anything from the people of Nicaragua on my trips to their country, it is this: possessions are not the purpose, and poverty is not just physical. I have walked into houses with no beds – no beds! – and the inhabitants smile and hug. I have played with children who don’t have playrooms mimicking Toys R Us, and they are exuberant. I have seen cardboard as the only barrier from the elements, and the families are joyous.

I want that to be me.

That should be all believers.

Christians are not immune from the traps of the world – more, better, now. We spend on what doesn’t last and invest in what is fleeting. We store up here and neglect what is to come.

Remind us that we are your hands and feet, Lord, and that unless we serve, people hurt. People starve. People die without You.

You have commanded us to love, but we choose when and where.

You have commanded us to give, but we selfishly hold some back.

You have commanded us to go, but we make excuses and sit in comfort.

Forgive us, Lord.

Create in us a new heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

On a Plane Again

Tomorrow is a big deal for the new Mrs. Scott. From this point forward, it shall be known as 'the day Jennie got on a plane on purpose for the second time in one summer.'

Kind of catchy.

The first time was to catch a cruise ship out of Puerto Rico for a luxurious honeymoon where someone else turned down my bed and made cute animals out of my towels. Sunday is to go to Nicaragua for a mission trip where bats are said to fly through the house I'll be staying in and where I will have zero access to a hair dryer or flat iron.

So the trips will be slightly different.

Other than the plane ride, I'm so excited I can't stand it. If I could just be beamed up like Scotty, all would be well. However, beaming up technology hasn't made its way to me yet, so I'll be forced to zoom through the air at 500 miles an hour in an aluminum can.

Can I get some pills, please?

Suffice it to say I'm not the best traveler. I have what might be called in some circles a slight case of the panic attacks. My poor new husband still bears the claw marks on his arm from our previous flight. If I could just be the one flying the plane, I think I'd be ok. It's a control issue. And maybe a "we're 30,000 feet above the ground" issue.

But whatever.

Once we arrive in Nicaragua, we'll be working with some local missionaries to paint, build structures, love on some kids... Anything that needs to be done.

All joking aside, this country is one of my favorite places on earth. I've been there once before, and it's where I began falling in love with Mr. Scott. Literally a life-changing experience. I'm praying that the next week will be equally as life-changing. There's just something about getting away from the convenience of my everyday life to remind me of the needs that people face constantly. (And I'm not just talking about the needs of the Nicaraguans. I'm talking about the needs I have to get over my own selfishness, act like Jesus, and share the gospel).

Next week as internet access allows, I'll be sharing what our team is doing and how God is working. We appreciate your prayers!

Now to go find those pills...