Even when I don’t see it

During worship at church this morning I was moved to tears. Not just a pretty little tear traveling down my cheek. I mean tears upon tears. I’m talking make up streaking, snot slinging, ugly crying. I was so overcome with the presence of God in that time and place. Worship is how I most often hear from God – when I am open and listening for him. Worship for me is not just about singing a few songs. For me it is a time to lay my burdens down, open up my heart, praise my God, and listen for what he has for me.

Right now life is really heavy. I am bone tired and soul weary. I have been mad at God. I have argued and yelled at him as I asked him “WHY?!” (as if He owes me any answers). I have then changed to crying out to him and begging him to “fix” it. I have pleaded for a miracle from him. I have tried to turn it all over to him…casting all my cares…but in all reality I was not truly turning them over. I was sharing them with him and then trying to tell him what outcome I would like.

Today God used a song that I have sung a million times to still my spirit and to remind me of his love for me. The song was “Way Maker” by Leeland. During the pandemic, when this song came out I listened to it on repeat. I loved the timing of it as it helped me navigate the fears that came along with the lockdown. I wore that song out! It really spoke to me then. I honestly had not heard the song in a while until today, and I guess God just knew I needed to hear from him!

Even when I don’t see it, you’re working
Even when I don’t feel it, you’re working.
You never stop, you never stop working.
You never stop, you never stop working.

Way maker by Leeland

Regardless of how I feel about all of the troubles around me, God is at work. When I feel that he just isn’t hearing my cries for a miracle, he does, and he is at work. When I can’t feel his presence, he’s still there. He is working it all out. God is in control and he never stops. He knows. He sees. He has the answers.

I think the entire song shares a powerful message about all that God does for us day in and day out. But today, I think God really wanted me to open up, listen, and believe that he has not gone anywhere. Rather he’s been waiting for me to fully trust and listen to his voice. Even though I may not see what he is doing and how he is working, he is still at work. God will never stop working – and for that I am grateful beyond measure. I know that God’s answers may not be the ones that I am desperate for, but I also know that he is in control and no matter what, he is at work. That is who he is.

I’m so thankful that when I get mad at God, or doubt his presence in my life, he still loves me and is at work in my life. And he will never stop. He never stops.

“Teachers don’t poop…”

I just started my 14th year in the classroom. Even in that time, teaching has changed so very much. I work, on average, 10-12 hours a day. I’m typically buried in paperwork. The requirements and demands coming down from the state are endless, and often make no sense. The academic, physical, and emotional needs of my students are draining and more often than not keep me awake at night. This career is exhausting.

But…then there are the kids. My absolute favorite part about my job is the kids! There is never a dull moment when you are working with tiny humans. They tell me jokes that crack me up. They wow me with their creativity. My students shower me with daily hugs and stories about all the things that are important to them.

They get crayons stuck in their ears. I have heard myself say, more than once in my career, “Please don’t lick the windows.” They are squirrely and sassy at times but also have moments that melt my heart. Some days they will NOT stop talking, and others they are the most captive audience around. They are certain that ice from the nurse can cure anything. They will crawl on the floor picking up every little speck of dirt for the promise of a piece of candy.

I love the energy that they bound into school with. I love that they can still leave me speechless with the things they come up with. Today was one of the conversations that I will probably never forget. While standing in the hallway taking a whole class bathroom break, I asked one of my “responsible” students to monitor the class and hand out Dojo points so that I could go to the end of the hall and use the restroom. When I returned approximately 37 seconds later (as a teacher you have to go fast) one of my students said “Mrs. Taylor, what do you do when you go to the end of the hallway?” I replied, “Ummm…I use the bathroom.” Another student chimed in and said “D’uh…teachers pee too!” A third student chimed in, rather loudly, “And poop!” By this time the whole class is mesmerized by the topic of my bodily functions. A fourth student jumps into the conversation to proclaim, “NO! Teachers don’t poop!”

I didn’t really want to explore my bathroom habits with twenty-five nine and ten year olds…so I just quietly shook my head (as I often do) and went on. I mean really, what is there even to say at that point. Just move on. Did I even for a moment to expect that we would be discussing my bathroom habits today? Nope… Tomorrow I am sure there will be something else that catches me by total surprise.

I love these kids so much – already. We are building a classroom family and they bring me more joy than I could ever express. Even when I’m sending one to the nurse for jamming a crayon in his ear. Even when I have to try to explain to one why “No, I will NOT smell your hand.” And even when I have seen my thirty-second wiggly tooth of the day (and my stomach is lurching).

So yes, teachers work really hard and often feel underpaid and disrespected. We sometimes feel we are being tasked with the impossible. We are tired and overwhelmed and burned out. BUT, we do love the kids, and we are so blessed to get to do what we do! We can be frustrated and still love our jobs all at the same time!

I wish my teacher knew…

This time of year is always bittersweet for me. I love the lazy days of summer. No schedule. No alarm set. Slow quiet mornings sipping coffee contemplating the biggest decision of the day – which bathing suit to wear for another day by the pool. But as much as I enjoy sweet summertime, by the time August rolls around, I am ready for routine. As a child, the start of a new school year was so exciting to me. And it still is as an adult. The newness of everything feels so good. As a teacher, it is the prospect of 50 new little lives that I get to watch grow, pour into and love on.

I have worked non-stop since the first of August getting ready for this brand new school year. Countless hours have been spent setting up my classroom with a new look for the year. Name tags and lists. Materials and labels. Pencils and copies. It has all consumed me for the days and weeks leading up to the first day of school.

The first day has come and gone and I have enjoyed each moment getting to know all 50 of my students (25 in my homeroom, and 25 in my teaching partners room). I often have to tell myself that this part just takes time. I want to get to know their strengths and weaknesses, their personalities, their fears, and their interests. I want to know how they each learn best so that I can help them each grow to their full potential in the 177 days that I have them to teach.

Each year, each new group is so very different from the one before. I am loving the eagerness of this group of kids to learn. They are not afraid to try the hard things and already seem to feel safe enough in our little classroom family to make mistakes. They are helpers, jumping in to help a classmate who is struggling. They are storytellers, rushing into the room to share news of a new pet or football game. They are dreamers, talking of future careers as paleontologists and veterinarians. My desire is to foster all of this in all of them each and every day.

The responsibility of teaching and growing these little minds is not a burden, but rather one of the greatest blessings I could imagine. In my room I have an “I Wish My Teacher Knew…” jar. I encourage students to leave me a note about the things that they would like to share with me but are maybe not ready to say to my face. The first few days of school the jar would be full of little notes saying “You’re the best teacher,” or “I love school.” But it was on day four that a lone note in that jar reminded me just how important this responsibility is. This note said “I wish my teacher knew that I am dum.” I saved that note. I have not stopped thinking about those words. They have kept me awake at night. I think about them as I am preparing lessons and activities. I am thinking about them when I pray each morning before my students arrive. I will carry those words with me every day this school year. They will be the force that pushes me to do anything and everything I can for this group of students.

I have always believed that relationships come first in my classroom. I tell my students – my kids – that I love them. I listen to them. I hug them. I shower them with positive affirmations. Relationships before tasks. I firmly believe that if a student feels loved and safe, they are more willing to open up and take chances in their learning. My prayer is for each one of my students to believe in themselves and in their abilities.

And by the end of our time together I hope that they can say “I wish my teacher knew that I feel loved…”

Anywho

It’s a dreary, rainy day here. I am all about lazy, slow Saturdays…but I’m still holding tightly to summer and was hoping to relax poolside all weekend. So for now, I’m embracing my inner couch potato and relaxing inside of the quiet, empty house. As I searched the kitchen for something to fix for lunch, soup seemed appropriate for this rainy day. I picked out a can of clam chowder. I love clam chowder. I haven’t had a bowl of it in a long, long time. As I pulled the steamy, hot bowl out of the microwave, I was suddenly overcome with emotions that I couldn’t quite understand or explain. (I mean, I DO love to eat…but normally do not get giddy over food).

And then it hit me. My grandpa used to make clam chowder all the time. Not just any clam chowder. Owen made the best giant pot of clam chowder I have ever tasted. I miss my grandpa. He was truly one of a kind. Owen Edward Lykins could do just about anything. His signature dish was indeed clam chowder, but he also made the fluffiest scrambled eggs I have ever tasted. I remember sitting in the kitchen with him once while he was making those famous eggs. He told me that the key was cooking them slow on very low heat. He said, “It it doesn’t take you at least 45 minutes to cook eggs, they just won’t be right.” He was always full of wisdom and quirky phrases that we still use in his honor everyday.

When you asked Grandpa a question – any question – to which the obvious answer was “yes” he would retort “Does the Pope wear a dress?” When finishing one of his stories and switching subjects, his go to phrase was always “Anywho…” And oh the stories. He loved to tell his stories. Even if he had told the same one over and over, he would tell it with his quick wit and gusto. My grandma would often roll her eyes and remind him that we had all heard the story, but it did not slow him down. When Grandpa was thinking on something, he would always say, “I’m going to urinate on that.” Isn’t it funny the things we remember from the people who aren’t with us anymore!?

As I ate my canned clam chowder (I’m sure Grandpa was rolling over in his grave) I was overcome with sadness. It hit me that when I ate my grandpa’s clam chowder, I didn’t know that it would be the last bowl of it I would ever eat. As a matter of fact, I can’t even remember when that was. But I certainly didn’t know it would be the last. I would give anything to be sitting in the kitchen watching Grandpa cook and listening to his stories (even if I had already heard them a hundred times before). I miss the way he loved his family. I miss watching him spoil his dog – even carrying her around in his half-buttoned shirt. I miss the way he used duct tape to “fix” anything and everything in his house and garage. On the day of his funeral, the hem of my pants came loose right before it was time to leave for the funeral home. In true Owen fashion, I “hemmed” them with some trusty duct tape. And I know he would have been so proud.

I am thankful that a simple can of soup made me slow down today and remember my grandpa for a few minutes. I am thankful of the reminder to love each other hard and appreciate the people in our lives because here’s the thing…we never know when one of those reminders might be the last.

Always sporting his red bow for special occasions

Game Day

Last night we went to East’s football game. I love football season. I love the game so much. But I have to be honest, it’s hard for me to go to any football game where my #22 is not on the field. I still have not gone to an Edgewood high school football game since Zach’s last one – in October, 2015. It may sound silly, but I just can’t imagine sitting in the stands at Kumler field and not seeing my boy out there.

Both Paige and Meaghan are a part of Lakota East’s amazing marching band – and I love watching them do their thing on Friday nights! They amaze me with their hard work and talent. But watching the game – even the game that I love – is just, well, different.

I’ll never forget taking Zach to his first pee wee football practice. He didn’t start in Kindergarten as many of his friends did. Rather he waited until 4th grade to try out this sport that would forever change all of our lives. As we pulled up to the practice field, he was fighting tears. He changed his mind twice as we were getting out of the car. He held tightly to my hand (not cool for most boys that age) but fought off those fears and went out there to join his team. From that day on, Zach was obsessed with the sport. He practiced on his own in the backyard. He watched any and every football game on tv. He studied the playbook. He played imaginary games in his room long past bedtime. He became a football player.

Pee Wee 4th grade

His love of the game continued through junior high and high school. He was one of the most dedicated, passionate players I have ever seen (yes, I am biased…but it’s true). Zach was also a very talented baseball player, earning Player of the Year his sophomore season in high school, along with many other honors through high school. As college approached, he looked at several schools to play baseball, but also received some football offers. I truly thought all along he would choose baseball but when it came time for a decision, he went with his first true love. He said to me “Mom, there is just something about the hype leading up to a football game. I’m not ready to be finished.”

Zach went on to play four years at Otterbein University where we were able to make so many amazing memories. We tailgated weekly and made so many new friends through his journey. Saturdays in fall were my absolute favorite. Still are. Just a little different now.

As excited I am for another college football season, I still get emotional thinking about the fact that my favorite football player of all time will not be suiting up! I will watch all the games. I will cheer hard for the Buckeyes. But I will always be thinking of all of the cheers and tears that a lifetime of football with my only son brought me. Thank you #22!

The final season

Just call me Mimsy

This summer I gained a new title…Mimsy. My son and his wife made me a grandma! Zach and Katie live in Columbus, about two hours away from me. They went to the hospital on the evening of June 15th. I knew (thought) that it would be a slow go, being there first child, but by the next day I was hovering over my phone waiting for an update. Zach was very good about sending the play by play to our family group chat…”she’s at 10 cm.”…”she’s ready to push…” But after that, it was radio silence. I paced. I ate (I’m an emotional eater). I called my daughter. It felt like a century went by before I got the call. That moment in time will forever be etched in my memories. I was sitting at the house alone. Jason Aldean music was playing on the Alexa in the kitchen. My phone rang and Zach delivered the news I was not so patiently waiting for. Baby boy was here. He and momma were both healthy and doing great. He came into the world at 7 pounds 8 ounces. He was 21 1/4 inches long. I was a grandma! The phone call was brief as Zach went to be with his wife and new son. When I hung up, I sank into the couch and sobbed. I gushed the happy tears. Alone in the moment I didn’t even know what to do with all of the emotions. I have never felt anything like what I was feeling in that instant. I thought there could never be a better feeling than that.

Parker Williamson Smith

Until the moment I finally got to hold him in my arms and introduce myself to him. The plan was to wait until Zach, Katie, and Parker were home and settled in before I went up. I remember those days of being brand new parents and feeling completely overwhelmed with a whole new reality, wondering if you’ll ever sleep again, and having constant people in your house. As hard as it was for me to wait, I wanted to respect their time as a new family. I had planned to go up a few days after they arrived home. However, the morning of my planned trip, Covid struck our household and my plans were sidelined. I was devastated, but also thankful that our daughter’s results had come back so quickly and that I hadn’t exposed my son and his family. Thankful – but beyond disappointed. So I waited some more. Thankfully Zach and Katie sent tons of pictures and face-timed often.

After a five day waiting period, and two negative Covid tests, Carty and I hit the road to Columbus. My anticipation made the drive pass quickly. The moment we stepped in the door and I saw my son holding his son, the tears came again. When people tell you there is nothing like being a grandparent…well, now I get it. Seeing the man that I gave brith to and poured all of my heart and soul into, now doing the same with his own child left me breathless. Holding Parker for the first time was all that I ever dreamt it would be. He was absolutely perfect! Zach and Katie were so at ease with their new roles as parents. I was amazed at how natural it all seemed to come to them.

Meeting Parker

I know that people become grandparents every day. I’ve watched two of my siblings experience it before me and listened to them tell me how fun it is and how much they love their family additions. I knew I would experience all of those same feelings. What I did not expect to feel so deeply was the overwhelming awe and pride in watching my son be a daddy. Words are escaping me right now as I attempt to share those feelings. This man, who I spent all of my time and energy raising and shaping and molding was now responsible for another life. He was taking care of this tiny human. And he is so good at it. Watching Zach and Katie love on their son was and is, by far the most amazing part of this whole experience. I love being a Mimsy! But I also love being momma to Parker’s parents.

The Smith Family

“Honor your impact”

It has been a long time since I have taken the time to write. It’s so strange to me that I rarely do it anymore, yet it’s one of the things in life that truly brings me joy. I have had so many things to write about and share with the world. I have even sat down at the computer and attempted to write. But something has been holding me back. Even as I sit here in the cool of the evening, listening to my favorite music, I am fighting the urge to just close the laptop and keep it all inside.

I have been soul-searching, trying to uncover my aversion to writing lately. There is a lot going on in my world right now…some really heavy stuff…that I am just not able to share. Part of me feels like if I just write about other things that I am not being authentic and I do not ever want to be that. So I will continue to process all of the hard stuff until I am at a healthy place where I can share. But for now, I am going to share what I can, as authentically as I can…because this just feels good.

But I alone cannot take credit for this breakthrough. I am reading a book by Jimmy Casas titled “Culturize” that stopped me in my tracks today. Casas was talking about his school experience with writing, and how he never believe he was or could be a good writer. He offered several pieces of advice where writing is concerned, and these three hit me right in my heart.

  • “It only takes one person to relate to your story. Honor your impact.”
  • “Embrace your vulnerability. Give of yourself and don’t be afraid to share your story.”
  • Write for you. Reflection is powerful and necessary for individual growth.”

The last few times I blogged, months ago, I allowed myself to fall down the rabbit hole of statistics. I checked them over and over and found that my words had not reached a very big audience at all. Very few people had read what I felt I had poured my heart and soul into. I got lost in the numbers. But that is not why I write. I write for me. I write to process and to reflect and to understand. But…what if one of those few people who took the time to read those words related to my story? I may never know if my words may be impactful to someone else. But I know for certain they won’t if I never write them.

So I am going to allow myself to be vulnerable. I’m going to embrace it and allow it to help me grow. I am going to remember why I started writing in the first place and I am going to continue to share my story…the good, the hard, the messy, and the joy.

I knew that this book that I am reading with our Building Leadership Team was going to be powerful as we strive to be school leaders and change the culture of our school. I knew it would help me in my journey to truly impact my students and my colleagues. But as I sat here tonight and dug into it, I truly didn’t expect it to reignite this fire in me to share my story. I’m so thankful it did!

Much love…

J

Then God Said…

Every summer I take more time to dig into the word and to study and pray. Yes…this should be my routine year round, and I am really going to work on that when school starts back up, but I am a work in progress. I really cherish this quiet time in the morning, when I am not on a schedule and can spend this time reading and listening to what God has for me.

One morning this week, I went back to the Old Testament and re-read the creation story in Genesis. This is probably one of the first Bible stories I ever learned as a child and I have heard it, read it, and even studied it many, many times over the years. But this time, as I studied it, something brand new jumped out to me. I love that so much about God’s word. I feel like he allows me to see new things each time I dive in…according to what I truly need or what I am seeking.

As I read through the story of the creation, one phrase jumped out to me. “Then God said…” This phrase was used ten times when describing the creation. Then God said.

I have been battling really bad anxiety lately. Battling – but losing the battle. My thoughts and worries always jump to the worst case scenario – I catastrophize. I’m anxious over things that I normally have under control. I am not at peace. So when this phrase “then God said” jumped out to me it stopped my thoughts and worries in their tracks.

God is at work. God knows. He has not left me. He knows what is on my heart and on my mind. And God is at work on all of it. Soon, God will have his say in all of the things that are troubling me. Soon, my “then God said” moment will be here and he will show me the way through all of it. And that’s what I am holding onto to steady me through the storms.

Trying to process

I finally had to turn the news off this evening. My heart could not listen to one more minute of the school shooting. My head could not comprehend what I was seeing and hearing. And then I think of all of those moms and dads who have lost their world today – and they can’t shut it off. My tears blur my eyes even now as I type these words. As I try to process this horrific tragedy.

I think of the families who have lost small children, but I also think of the entire school community, and the town. I think of my own children and the world that they live in – so confusing and sad. And I think of my students. My classroom family. Those 50 children with whom I have shared the last nine months of my life with.

I picture their faces and try to begin to fathom what those teachers are feeling right now – the ones who made it out alive. How are they even beginning to process any of this? How will all of these classmates who lived through today’s hell ever, ever be able to walk into a school again?!

This time of year is always hard on me. One the one hand, I am very excited for a little break and some relaxing. I already have my summer “to be read” stack of books piled up. But one the other hand, I have a very hard time saying goodbye to my students. We have spent so much time together since last August. We have laughed and cried. We have learned so much about each other and about ourselves – together. There have been days when I just didn’t think I could make it – it has been a very challenging school year – but I did make it. I am not ready to let them go just yet. People don’t realize how much our classroom, our students, become like a family each year. And each year, we have to say goodbye. Goodbyes are hard.

And yet, next year they will poke their heads in my classroom and say hello and run and hug me when they see me in the hall. Those poor eighteen students who senselessly lost their lives today will never have that chance. Those teachers who were excitedly counting down to summer break with their students will not be going home tonight.

I just can’t understand why these innocent lives were lost. I just can’t bear this pain. I feel so helpless. All I know to do is to pray for peace and healing for these families and for this entire community. I pray that God will provide them with the will and the strength to go on. I pray for our country and our world.

I have two days left with this year’s class. You’d better believe that I am going to hug them tightly. I’m going to make sure that they know that they are loved and that it has been my honor to have shared these last nine months with them. And then I’m going to cry some more.

The Time is Now

The meal is planned. Groceries bought. Tables set. Forks counted (I always worry I don’t have enough silverware!) The baskets are filled and I am ready.

Easter Dinner has always been the holiday that I host in my family. I love everything about it. I love the newness that spring brings to the world. I love that we get to slow down and reflect what the holiday is truly about and how blessed we are that the grave was empty.

Since Chris and I married and brought our two families together Easter is even more special in that we host for my family AND his family. Both families come together and we are all in one place breaking bread together. The older I get, the more I appreciate time together with all of us.

I was thinking that life is so busy and that there is just not ever enough time…but that’s really not it at all. If I’m really honest, I just don’t let myself slow down enough and MAKE time for these special moments with family. And I should. Not because it’s the “right” thing to do but truly because when I am with my family I am truly happy and at peace.

My son and bonus daughter live a couple of hours away, but that is not an excuse for not jumping on the highway and making time to see them. My parents live only about 30 minutes away (and even closer to where I work) but I only stop and see them about once a month (maybe). Why do I wait for a holiday to make sure that we spend precious time together? I don’t want to look back in a few years and wish that I had more time with the people I love.

The time is now. Time to make that call. Time to clear the schedule and jump in the car. I am going to talk to my family – real conversations – and soak up every minute I can with each of them. These are not just words…I will not let them just be words today because I’m feeling nostalgic of holidays past. No! I am going to put action to these words. I’m just sorry I have not made time sooner for those whom I love.

In this season of rebirth and newness, I am going to renew my relationships with all of my family and make sure that the time doesn’t slip away from all of us. Who do you need to make more time for in your life? Cause here’s the thing…we are not promised tomorrow – make sure you spend your time wisely today!