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

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

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.

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.

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.

Comfort food

There is just something so very special about sharing a meal with loved ones. Today is my mom’s birthday so we had my parents over for dinner to celebrate! My husband made his famous meatloaf accompanied by mashed potatoes and sweet skillet corn. That meal was a staple from my childhood. Sitting with my parents and listening to my daddy bless our food was pure comfort.

My parents spent the last month in Canada visiting my baby sister and her family. We have not seen them in nearly two years and we miss them terribly. As much as I worried about my parents making the 28 hour car trip, I know that it was good for all of them to be reunited. And even though I don’t see my parents nearly as often as I would like, I missed them. They were too far away. When they phoned to let me know they were safe at home, I was so relieved and happy. It made me smile to think that I used to have to call them to let them know that I was home safe…and now I was on the other end of that phone call.

As we broke bread around the kitchen table I was filled with comfort and peace. They shared stories of their time with my sister, brother-in-law and their grand-babies. We giggled as we listened to my daddy’s stories of his thick Kentucky accent causing some serious confusion on the French-speaking island that my sister calls home. They tried to make light of getting lost in Rhode Island for the better part of two hours (pretty sure you could see the whole state in two hours), and not being able to find a gas station that sold paper maps.

I count it as a blessing to still have my parents here on Earth to share birthdays, partake in family meals, attempt to pose for selfies and to hug around the neck. I am so thankful for these sweet hours spent together, for the comfort my parents bring with their presence, and for each and every memory we are able to create each time we come together.