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.

Love is Sweet

This past weekend was one that I have planned for and looked forward too for a long time! On Saturday, I hosted a shower for my soon to be daughter-in-law, Katie. Katie is a lovely, endearing young woman whose sense of style is amazing. She is beautiful inside and out, and my son is head over heels in love with her. We are so very excited to welcome her into our family.

I planned for months for this special day. I wanted to celebrate Katie in the special way she deserved to be celebrated. I will not lie – there were times that I felt very stressed about all of the details, but it was all truly a labor of love. My biggest concern was that I was able to be able to be present in the moment and enjoy the day with all of our family and friends. Thankfully, on the morning of the shower, my closest friend, my girls (including Katie and Cai), and my husband came together to help me bring my vision to reality. When the time came, I was able to enjoy each moment of the shower. I loved meeting Katie’s extended family, spending this special time with my own family, and watching Katie glow as we showered her!

Twenty-three years ago when I had my son, I began praying for his future. I prayed for him to grow in love and to find love. I asked God to bring a woman into his life who would love him in just the way he needed to be loved. All of his life I have prayed for Katie! I was honored to be able to love on her this past weekend. I am so excited for the upcoming wedding this fall, but I am even more excited for the life that Katie and Zach have ahead of them.

His Love

While mindlessly scrolling through Facebook today, I saw a saying about God’s unconditional love. It was one of those pretty pictures will a sunrise and a fancy script saying. I honestly don’t remember what the whole thing said because I couldn’t get past unconditional love. It’s been on my mind all day. Unconditional love. Without conditions. Without strings. Without hesitation. I think that I take that saying “unconditional love” for granted. I have heard it all my life about the way God loves His children. I almost think it’s one of those churchy phrases that I have listened to so many times that it has lost its power almost. But today, it hit me right in my heart house.

As mere humans, we truly can’t fathom that kind of love. Our society tosses around the word love so very flippantly and loosely that the word is almost tarnished. “Ooohhh, I LOVE your shoes!” Or how many times do we proclaim our love for an actor whom we have never met. And I promise that I have used that word when talking about ice cream (just last night as a matter of fact). But y’all, that unconditional love that comes from our Father is unmatched by anything we know here on Earth. Yes, we love our kids like our Father loves us – that is the closest we could ever come to understanding His love for us. But even then, it’s not exactly the same.

So why did it hit me today like it did? I’m not sure that I know, but I’m fairly certain that God slowed my scroll and stilled my mind long enough to get my attention. This morning I woke up still fighting my annual spring cold, feeling unrested and moderately grumpy. I did not want to get up and go to school. I even said to myself as I slovenly rolled out of bed “I don’t want to adult today. I just can’t.” I was sure that I did not have the energy needed to show up for a room full of 9 year olds. Basically, my attitude sucked. I truly didn’t think I could make it through the day, and I was mad at myself for my attitude. Maybe this is why God needed to get my attention.

His love for me – even with my ugly, early-morning grumblings – doesn’t waiver. When I’m not at my best He loves me – just as much as He does when I’m at my best. When I’m not as loving as I should be, He still loves me. When I stumble and lose my way, His love remains steadfast and strong. Why? How could He possibly STILL love me after all of my shortcomings and grumblings and doubts and fears. Because He can…Because HE IS LOVE.

There are so many worship songs that attempt to describe this love in many different ways. His love is extravagant, overwhelming, never-ending, reckless. His love never fails. It is unending. His love awakens. He loves me, this I know. And all of these songs are beautiful proclamations of our Father’s love. But I’m not sure that His unconditional love can fully be described and understood by us until we truly believe in our hearts that love is who God is. And we are His beloved. What if tomorrow we take carry that title “beloved” with us all day? How would that change the way we love others? How would our self-talk change if we started it with the name “Beloved”?

I’m so thankful for a God who listens to my heart when I don’t even know the words for what I need. I’m so thankful for His nudges (and at times, smack upside my head) to slow down and find Him at my center. Most of all, I am so thankful for His unconditional love.

My teacher heart

I have said from the very start of this school year that our students are going to remember it for the rest of their lives, so let’s make those memories amazing! Well this past week, my students did just that for me. I teach fourth grade. In all I have 60 students between the three homerooms. We have asked so much of these babies this year and they have risen to the occasion better than some (many) adults I know. They came back to a classroom setting that looked very different than any they had experienced in their short academic career. They came back after the trauma of missing the last part of the prior year and essentially living in a lockdown during a global pandemic. When they walked through our doors they couldn’t see our smiles and we couldn’t see theirs. They were not seated next to an elbow buddy or at a group table, but rather on their own little island that was at least 3 feet away from all classmates. Yet through all of that we have built a classroom community like none other I have ever had. They are kind to each other. They feel safe in our little room. They are caring and sweet and so very funny.

This past week my students had to spend two days taking our state standardized tests. Yet nothing about this year has been anywhere close to standard. The state felt it was the right thing to do to add just a little more pressure on these little minds by having them sit for tests that they may not be prepared for. It seems the state must have forgotten that these babies missed an entire quarter of the prior year and while we worked so hard to “close the gap” (I would be fine if I never heard this tag line ever again) we need more time. We didn’t need more testing. I don’t need test data to tell me what my kiddos need. I can tell you that from having spent every day with them since August.

Obviously, I did not let my students feel my disgust over them having to be tested. We chose to call it a “Celebration of Learning” – our chance to show next year’s teachers how hard we had worked all year. I was absolutely blown away by how my kids showed up and worked so hard. They made this teacher so proud. As I babbled and gushed about how proud I was to them when they were finished, one of them asked “Mrs. Taylor, is your teacher heart happy?”

Yes…this teacher heart is so very happy. I cannot express how much I love this group of kids. They make every day brighter in an all too dark world. And while I still completely disagree with the state’s decision to test them, I am celebrating with them for all that they have learned. And all that they have taught me.

Bloom

Tonight I am going to dinner and then to a Women’s Conference at a local church with some ladies from my church. I have only met a couple of these ladies out of the group that is going. I have been at my home church for almost 5 years and I have not met a lot of people (that’s all on me!), so I am excited to get plugged in and make some new, like-minded friends. I am excited, but I am also nervous and my anxiety is taking over. Since we are meeting for dinner before the conference I will be going straight from school. This morning I was in the closet trying to figure out what to wear and it truly was like a typical “I have nothing to wear” scene from a movie. Outfits flying everywhere. My train of frustration gaining momentum by the second. The all too familiar battle cry “I have NO clothes” ringing through the house. But why? Of course, I want to look good, and feel good about myself – those are completely normal things. But as I sit here sipping my coffee trying to regain my composure and prep for an ALL DAY FUN DAY with twenty 9 and 10 year olds, I know that there is more to it. We as women are way too hard on ourselves to look a certain way. And it’s because we are so conditioned by the fact that we will be judged by each other. Sadly, we often make it into a competition. Just being real. We want to look as good as everyone around us – and by “as good” I mean better. We want other women to “approve” of us. We want to be “good enough.” (I’m saying we – but I guess I should say I).

Here’s the thing…I am attending a Bible conference with a group of amazing Christian women. I am certain that this group of women is full of love and grace and will be all welcoming to every single woman there. I truly do believe that. I’m sad that society has jaded me into worrying so much about my outer appearance, when I really have a whole lot of work to do on the inside.

Ladies, let’s stop competing and start building each other up. Let’s celebrate each other’s gifts and beauty rather than silently judging them against our own. Let’s look in the mirror and see ourselves as daughters of the ONE true King – made in His image. Let’s raise our daughters to understand that each flower blooms in its own perfect way and that they are all beautiful.

I am thankful for the opportunity to meet new friends tonight. And I am thankful that through the simple struggle of trying to find something to wear, God stopped me in my tracks to remind me of this lesson this morning.

How Sweet It Is To Be Loved

I write a lot about my kids and my students. I write about school and life and many other ramblings. I rarely, though, take the time to write about my husband. But, if anyone in the world deserves his very own blog post, it is Chris. Chris is one of the most amazing men I have ever met. He is the perfect mix of smart, funny and caring. Chris’s intellect blows me away, and most of the time I have to ask him to “dumb down” some of our conversations. Chris reads so much about so many topics. He is that guy who reads the owners manual of the new product before he uses it! Chris is a thinker. I can tell when he is really in deep thought by his gaze off into space and the way his mouth twitches with each idea.

Besides being so smart, Chris is incredibly loving and patient. He rarely raises his voice or loses his temper. In a house full of teen and tween girls, he has mastered the ability to not react to endless eye rolls and attitude in abundance. He is in charge of bedtime each night. And even with the older girls, he still goes into each room and prays with each girl. One of my favorite moments each and every night is listening to he and Kelsie sing “You are my sunshine.” It chokes me up every dang time.

One of the many things about Chris that drew me to him (besides those blue eyes) was his sense of adventure. He loves to try new things and see new sights. When we were dating we would head downtown (on a school night!) to try and new restaurant in OTR. When we went to Italy for our honeymoon, Chris had planned every single detail of our trip and we moved about the country with ease! We ate in the best restaurants, stayed in unique places, drank ALL the wine. It was like living a dream.

I could go on and on about my amazing husband – like his ability to build me anything I ask for, or his work ethic that is unmatched, or his knack for cooking the most elaborate recipes. But, the thing that I absolutely adore most about my partner for life is the way he loves. Chris gets it. He loves selflessly. He gives all of himself. He surrounds me with feelings of safety and security. He has the ability to make me feel like the only other person in the world when we are together. I should have issued a **SAP** warning at the beginning of this post, but I just can’t help but gush about the man I married.

I hope that someday he will understand my devotion to and adoration of him. I feel so blessed to get to live this life with him. Things are not champagne and rose petals every day….that is not reality, but even when things get rocky and rough, I cling to him because I know that he is our firm foundation and that with him everything will be okay.

Ladies, find you a man who makes you feel this way. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to be loved like this. And if you are lucky enough to have a man like this in your life, tell him often how special he is. Be thankful for your once in a lifetime love. I know that I am.

**Edit*** Sitting here in my office listening to Chris and the girls watching a Disney movie reminded me of one of his most endearing traits…Chris belly laughs at movies, whether he has never seen it or he has seen it ten times. He does not hold back his loud, hearty laugh. I usually laugh more at him laughing than l do at whatever it is we are watching. I can’t believe I forgot that in my original post!