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.

It’s not my ugly

Sitting here staring at my computer screen with so much on my heart, but searching for the right words. When I started this blog several years ago, I did it for me. As an outlet for all of the things that life throws at me. I did it for me. As a way to process my feelings and frustrations about family and friends, work and play, highs and lows. This is more than just a social media outlet to blast out my “highlight” reel. I always promised myself that I would be real. My posts would be authentic and would share the good, the bad, and the ugly of real life. There is so much good in my world and I am a blessed wife, momma and soon to be mimsy, and I have some really special friends who truly lift me up. But I am also at times a messy wreck of a human being who struggles with confidence, has a hard time trusting, and feels hurt and betrayal very deeply. It would be a lie to only post the happy moments and not share the ugly.

One of my biggest struggles that I have lived with my whole life is the feeling of not being valued. Of being unseen – invisible. Of being taken for granted, not appreciated, and used. These feelings run very deeply. I have some thoughts about where those come from, and why they are such triggers for me – but that is for another time and another post. Today, I am broken. I am so wound up in these feelings that I cannot free myself of them to find any peace. And quite honestly I’m not sure what else to do but get them out here.

In the past, I would crumble and cry when I felt betrayed or disappointed in the actions and words of another. I would unpack my suitcase of pity and set up camp. I’m not sure when that changed, or what changed it, or perhaps this situation is different – but I am not sad or depressed or crying tears of despair. Today I am seething with anger and frustration. I am not hurt – because I am strong and have been hurt enough in the past that I almost don’t feel it anymore. I am mad. I am angry that I have been taken advantage of and used. I am livid that I have been treated the way I have been – unappreciated for my passion and heart and disrespected because of someone else’s insecurities.

As I type and cry I can feel it already – the sense of clarity and calm that expressing myself brings. I am going to be okay. I will learn from this and refuse to be pushed by a situation like this again. Life’s lessons aren’t always easy to take in the moment…but what understanding they can bring when I allow myself to feel all that I am feeling. I can’t just “let it go” without first processing it, understanding it and truly taking time to allow all of the emotions. But wow what an eye-opening process it is. No, I can’t just let it go – but I can see things for what they truly are, and then light it and let it go. I will not let my anger cause me to say things that I know to be true but will fall on deaf ears. But here’s the thing…I will use these feelings to help me become more of the person I know I am and I will not let it change me into someone I don’t want to be.

So thank you. Thank you for helping me see the reality of it. Thank you for pushing me to be so angry that I had no choice but to stop and work through it all – and learn the lesson that I needed to be taught. The lesson that this isn’t really about me. This is about you. And I can’t process your ugly for you. That’s your work to do.

Best. Gift. Ever.

It was a very quiet Christmas Eve at our house this year…until it wasn’t. Chris and I were home alone. The girls had left for a trip with their mom earlier in the day. Carty was with her dad and step mom’s family. Zach and Katie were on their way down from Katie’s family’s gathering in Canton. We decided to watch a movie while we waited for them to arrive. And then a second movie. Zach texted and asked if we were going to wait up for them, so we started a third movie. (Stop judging – it was a holiday).

Whenever Zach and Katie come to visit, they always bring Archie, their dog, with them. So when they arrived, it was the usual chaos of Archie and Malone (our dog) chasing each other around and jumping over furniture and establishing dominance in the house. It’s honestly a ritual that I have grown to love. After the excitement of the arrival died down, Zach said that he and Katie wanted to give us ONE of our presents. They just couldn’t wait.

Maybe it was the seven plus hours spent on the couch in a movie stupor, maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was just the excitement of their arrival, but I had no clue what was in the box. I slowly opened it and opened the card that was inside…and that’s when I got it.

Instantly the happy tears began to flow. I remember covering my face and trying to grasp what was being shared with us. Our son and daughter in law were expecting our first grandchild. I remember saying over and over “I’m going to be a grandma.” Zach then reminded me that I hadn’t made it past the card yet. So I gathered myself (ish) and peeled back the tissue paper in the box to find a sonogram picture of my grandchild. Katie was 13 weeks pregnant! This brought another round of happy tears and hugs and more proclamations that we were going to be grandparents. Those moments in time will forever and always be one of my fondest memories. We hugged and cried and laughed for quite some time that evening! It truly was the best gift ever.

Now that the holidays are over and life has begun to settle back into its normal rhythm, I have had a lot of time to think about all of it. Zach is my firstborn. My only son. My baby boy. All of the memories of Zach coming into the world and growing into such an amazing young man keep playing over in my mind. I am still trying to get used to the idea that he is a married man. I am still over the moon with excitement and emotion from their wedding day in September. Watching him that night, barely able to contain his excitement while sharing his news wrecks me every time I recall it. My son is going to be a dad. He and his wife are bringing life into this world! And they are going to be amazing. Life truly is so beautiful. This precious memory of receiving the news of a baby is just the start of so many more to come as they form their family.

Wife, momma, teacher, Jesus follower….and now “Mimsy.”

It’s about trust

I am the worst passenger. I’m not sure why its called being a “back seat driver” because I’m rarely in the back seat when someone else is driving (especially Chris), but regardless of the title, I own the role. When I’m in the car and not in control, my anxiety takes over. I’m working on it. The other day we were driving down 75 into Cincinnati. As we approached downtown and the lanes to merge to either go downtown or continue south all came together, I was gripping the door handle with extra force. A semi merged in from the right and for an instant, I was certain I was about to meet my maker. Obviously, I’m still here, but I haven’t stopped thinking about how I felt in that moment. Even though I get nervous in that kind of traffic, there is still a whole lot of trust involved. Traveling at a high rate of speed in multiple lanes, we trust that all of the other drivers are going to do what they are supposed to do and keep everyone safe. And while that semi driver made my heart skip a few beats, I knew that I had to trust that he was going to stay in his lane and not come over into mine. I also knew in my heart that Chris was in control and would get us to our destination safely.

I think that this has stuck with me so vividly because its kind of where I am at with my faith right now. I know in my heart – and in my head – that God is in control and that he is guiding my steps. But at the same time, I often allow my anxiety about life to take over and I end up white-knuckled throughout each moment of my day. I am allowing all of the traffic and what-ifs of day to day life control me, rather than trusting in the fact that my God is the one who is truly in control.

And here’s the thing…IF I can ride down the highway and trust that Mr. Semi-driver is going to stay in his lane, why can’t I walk through my days trusting that God is going to provide? He is faithful to His promises and He will never leave me or forsake me. It’s time that I take my hands off of the death grip I’ve been keeping and open them up to all that God has promised me.