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!

Watching Them Grow

As I sit here in room 3318, I hear the soft hum of machines, a barely audible television playing National Lampoon’s Las Vegas Vacation, an air vent blowing air making this already too warm room stuffy, I am having a had time being still. Both of my parents softly snore as they sleep and there is nothing much for me to DO. I feel helpless in these tiny accommodations. I can’t help my mom get better – and looking at her lying in the hospital bed with wires coming from all of the folds in her oversized hospital gown – I feel so helpless. My dad sits in the “comfy” chair in the room, as close to my mom’s bed as he can be. He is napping, but wakes every few minutes just so he can worry some more.

How did the years go by so quickly to bring us to this point where I am now taking care of them? It seems only yesterday that they were the caretakers, making sure I ate well, fixing my boo boos, and reassuring me of their everlasting love. And now here I sit in that role, making sure they know they are eating well, helping to fix their boo boos, and loving them for hard.

I saw a quote today and it fit so well into the flurry of emotions I am feeling.

When you’re a kid, you don’t realize you’re also watching your parents grow up

As children we do not have the awareness to understand that our parents are still growing up – into adulthood and parenthood. We don’t really understand that they have their own worries and stressors beyond our own little worlds. Today I feel the message of that quote in a big way. Today I am seeing my parents in a whole new way.

I pray that they have many more years left on this Earth…because there is just not enough time for me to thank them and try to take care of them – even though it will only be a fraction of all that they have done for me. I hate that my mom has had to go through this experience, but for me, the blessing is a whole new level of love and appreciation for these two human beings who gave me life. And what a good life it has been.

His eyes are on me

I have always been a note-taker at church during the sermon. Partly because taking notes helps me stay focused and engaged in the message. I have listened to countless sermons through the years and have notes in journals, loose slips of paper stuffed in the back of my Bible, and many written right in the margins of the Word. As I have gotten older, I have learned to love going back through my notes and really spending time thinking about the points that were made in those numerous sermons. Sometimes its all just too much to take in in the moment, so I find that I can go back and read my scribbles and really get a lot more out of sermons.

Currently, we are studying the book of Jonah at church. If you were raised in the church, you have most likely heard the story of the man who ran from God’s directions and ended up in the belly of a whale for three days. As I type these words, I can hear my mother’s voice singing the children’s song that I loved so much and that always evoked giggles while singing it. “Who did, who did, who did, who did, who did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah…” As children it was a “simple” albeit amazing story that Jonah was punished for his disobedience by being swallowed up by a whale and sitting in his belly for three days (now that is a serious time-out!)

Even as a grew older, I thought of Jonah’s time spent in the belly of a fish was punishment. But this past week, Pastor Shawn Spradling taught this story in a way that makes so much sense to me about who God really is and how he shows his love for people – in just the way he knows we need it.

“God sent the fish to SAVE Jonah, not to punish him!”

Jonah was definitely running from God and knew that he was being disobedient to God’s instructions for Him. Jonah recognized that his defiance was causing harm to the men on the ship that he had boarded. He knew in his heart that HE was the problem. He through himself into the water. God sent the whale to swallow him up – but God had a reason that was not a punishment for Jonah. For three days Jonah sat in the whale’s belly. Three days. In that time, he came to realize his deep need for God in his life. He prayed to God . He reached out to him in his dire situation. And God was there all along. What I had so long thought was a punishment was really God saving Jonah! And here is the quote from this sermon that has been on repeat in my mind and heart since I heard it…

“My circumstance isn’t God’s payback, it’s God’s bring back!”

God used the whale not as payback for Jonah’s disobedience but to bring him back to Him! And God is still the same God! He doesn’t do paybacks. No matter how many times I fail, try to run, doubt, or downright disobey him. He only ever works to bring me back to him. When I am so full of anger watching a loved one battle an awful disease, God does not turn his back on me. When I doubt that God gave me any gift to use on this earth, he patiently waits. When I rely on myself to battle smothering anxiety rather than give it to him, God is still present. His eyes are always on me. God is using my circumstances to bring me back – closer to him. He is waiting for me to lean into him for strength and comfort and unconditional love. What a reassuring truth to know that God always has his eyes on me. Waiting. Watching. Open-armed and loving.

What I Can Do

Several years ago I read a book called Strengths Finder 2.0. At the end of the book was a quiz that helped the reader learn their top personality strengths. To be honest, I thought it felt a little hokey when I did it, but after answering a long, long list of questions, I felt like the results were spot on. My top “strength” was empathy. It’s days like today that it feels more like a weakness.

There are so many people in my world who are hurting. Friends and family are dealing with major illnesses. They are facing internal battles that seem to have no solution. They are staring down financial struggles that feel insurmountable. They are searching for something to fill them at the bottom of a bottle. And my heart hurts for every single one of them.

At night I lie in bed and cry for all of the pain that I see in the lives of those I love, and in the world around me. My chest aches, my mind spins, and the weight of helplessness smothers me. I would give anything to be able to take all of the worries and pain away from all of those I love.

But I can’t.

What I can do, however, is pray. And make sure that those around me know that I am walking with them through their battles. I can make that phone call, or send that text. I can mail the card, or sit and listen. I can embrace this strength and love hard.

So much more

It’s spring time again, and for school, that means another year of state testing for my students. In the past, I would have been filled with anxiety – hoping that I had done enough to prepare my students to perform on the standardized tests that they are subjected to each school year. After years of worrying about the scores that come from one (or two) days of tests that truly only provide a moment in time snapshot, I am no longer worried. These scores are not at all a reflection of who my students are, or what kind of teacher I am. A rating of proficient or better is only a label placed on each of my students that is solely based on how well they can navigate the passages and questions on one test. But these numbers are not who my students are. These score reports do not even come close to describing my students. My students are readers, and artists. They are dreamers and athletes. My students are comedians and tricksters. These children energize me and teach me. They make me laugh, and some days they make me cry.

This year, we have become a family. We have created a classroom community and have formed bonds through books and stories and lessons. We have made memories in the little moments. We have become writers. My students and all that they are could never be defined by one number. They amaze me everyday with their resilience and persistence. When things get tough, they repeat back to me our classroom mantra – “We CAN do hard things.”

Now, I have to be completely authentic here and add that not every day is sunshine and rainbows where they all listen to directions the first time and always follow expectations. We have had our days where lessons flop, arguments abound, and behaviors get the best of us. But we are a family in room 214, and family sticks together.

So tomorrow, my students will arrive bright and early, ready to tackle this test, knowing that they CAN – but also knowing that in my eyes, they are so much more than a test score.

Twosday

Unless you have been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard all of the excitement about tomorrow being “Twosday” 2-22-22. Maybe because I am an elementary school teacher, my excitement is different than yours. But, y’all I am looking forward to sharing such a fun day with my students tomorrow. If you are a teacher or have a teacher in your life, you know that it is a pretty rough gig these days. And has been for a few years now. We are exhausted and feel like our very best is sometimes not enough for what our students need right now. I think that is why I am so excited to wear my new Twosday shirt, don a neon orange tutu and have some fun with my students. We are pretty good at having fun on a normal day in Room 214, but tomorrow is hopefully going to be a day that my students will talk about for a long time.

Tomorrow morning I will go into school super early to decorate my room with Twosday banners and streamers. All of the activities we do will have to do with the number 2! Everyone will get some Double Bubble gum. Our warm up work will be drawing a picture around the number two. We will read for 22 minutes. Our read aloud is aptly titled “Tuesday.” All “work” done tomorrow will be done in pairs. We will try to imagine what life will be when they are 22, and then write 2 paragraphs about those ideas.

Now, I realize that teachers everywhere are doing many similar things – and some are probably going way beyond what I have planned. I am by no means a super teacher, but I sure try to make special memories with my students each year. I guess I’m just super excited because just as much as my students need some fun – I need to have fun with them. I love feeling energized about what my day looks like tomorrow. I am not feeling that “end of the weekend” dread about going to school tomorrow. This block of time – from the middle of February to the middle of April (Spring Break) is a long stretch with no days off. It is the most challenging time of year for me, as state tests are looming and all of us are completely over being inside at recess. So, I am going to embrace the lining of up the calendar and have an amazing Twosday with my students.

I hope your Twosday is twice as nice as any other day and that you find a way to have some fun Twomorrow!

Embrace the grey

I am starting a new journey. While for some it may not seem like a very big deal, to me it is one of freedom. It is one of self-love and acceptance. This journey is liberating and will allow me to embrace this stage of my life. To many, the decision to not color my hair anymore may seem like a superficial, even shallow journey – but this is about so much more than hair color. This is about loving who I am at this point in my life and not feeling like I have to live up to society’s standards around “holding on to youth.”

I am not one of those women who LOVE going to the salon. I tried to make myself love being pampered in the chair for hours each month. I tried. I have never liked sitting there staring into that mirror while I attempted to battle the grey hairs that showed through. Honestly, I hate sitting still that long. My stylist is amazing and always did wonders with my thick, coarse hair. And so I kept going. I kept changing the color to try and feel fresh and beautiful. But I have never enjoyed the time it takes to maintain whatever look we chose.

So, a couple months ago, when it was time to schedule my “touch-up” appointment I did some soul searching. Why did I feel like I HAD to continue covering my real hair color? Now. some may laugh about the idea of soul searching about hair color, and on the surface, it does seem rather shallow. But here’s the thing…to me it’s sort of a big deal. For me it’s about having the confidence in myself to be who I truly am and to not worry about what other people think. Now, I also feel the need to share this disclaimer. I do NOT judge any woman (or man) who makes the choice to color their hair for any reason. It truly can be a way to express yourself and feel good about yourself! I am simply sharing MY journey. And what it means to me personally!

This will be a long process for me. I have really long hair that has been colored for many, many years. I am not going to color it to try and match my natural color, as many do as they decide to go natural. I will be going “cold turkey” which is going to make for some very interesting hair for the next twelve to eighteen months. I am currently ten weeks out from my last color. The process in and of itself will really challenge me to focus on the end result. But it will also allow me to grow as I learn to accept myself and my looks all along the way. The process will be where most of my growth – literally and figuratively – occurs. I am ten weeks in and I’m constantly repeating my mantra, “trust the process,” especially when I catch a glimpse of my patchwork color in the mirror. I’m excited about growing into this new phase for me. I know there will be people who don’t understand or who think I’m crazy, and that’s okay. We all have our own path, and this is mine!

“I love learning with you”

I am a teacher. It is not what I do…it is who I am. I love the energy that the kids bring to the classroom everyday. I love reading stories with them and listening to their reactions to historical events and reading their creative writing.

But I am tired. I know that people are probably sick of hearing teachers complain about how hard the last few years have been. But y’all, it’s like nothing I have ever experienced. And I cannot not even begin to explain how or why. Unless you have personally walked through it, no amount of words could even begin to try and paint a picture of the enormous weight that teachers are carrying.

Today was a really rough day. There are kids who desperately need help that I alone can’t give. There are parents who have seemingly checked out and are not attentive to their child’s needs. Today I ran smack into so many walls while trying to do all that I can for my students. I am feeling defeated. I am frustrated and standing on the edge of hopelessness. I have cried nearly every day this year. Many nights I have tossed and turned worrying about other people’s children – my students. I am burned out and exhausted.

As I sat in my dark room today scarfing down my cold lunch, saying a prayer that I could be what my students needed for the rest of our day, I was completely overwhelmed with feelings of failure. And then I saw tiny note peeking out from some papers on the corner of my desk. The small piece of notebook paper had been cut into the shape of a heart and crisply folded in half. Inside it read:

Dear Mrs. Taylor,

I might not have any sweet treats, but I have something I want you to read. In the start, school was a big fart, until I switched for the first time. It’s like I just ate a lime. My eyes gazed around your room. It was beautiful, through and through. What I mean is from my heart…I love learning with you!

In that moment, sitting in my dark, quiet classroom, tears streamed down my cheeks. Somehow, this sweet quiet student knew exactly what I needed today. And all of the mess and chaos of the day was gone. With this thoughtful poem, a little 10 year old girl brought me back to center. She reminded me why I show up every day. She filled my heart with so much joy that I couldn’t remain in my overwhelmed state even if I had tried.

I am so blessed to get to do what I do every day. And it took the secretly left musings of a ten year old to remind me of all of those blessings.