Lazy or Really Balanced? *Yawn*

Its day 26 of summer break. I’ve been on vacation a few times already. Some with my kids. Some without. I’ve slept-in at least 20 of these 26 days. And I’ve stayed up into the wee hours of the morning running out of things to watch. It is a teacher’s dream…well, THIS teacher’s dream. And I don’t feel guilty about it.

At the end of August two years ago after losing both my mom and sister to cancer just months prior, I relocated to a different state. From Pennsylvania to Maryland. Here, I found a completely different way of life. Some good. Some bad. The cost of living was enough to rock my world but even that took a backseat to the different demands I faced in a different school system.

As fate would have it, I ended up in the school with a no nonsense principal. She was strict and grueling…on the staff. Before the sun rose, we were faced with a different email reminding us of our expectations as teachers, staff and educators. I went from teaching English and Reading, to now teaching Math as well. And I was failing. I had not thought about 4th grade Math…well since 4th grade. But, that wasn’t an excuse. We weren’t allowed an excuse. My principal did not (appear to) care that my mom was my first thought each morning when I opened my eyes and still there when I opened one of those dreaded emails. It wasn’t the focus that I was preparing to raise my deceased sister’s son, or that I had a daughter who was also the “new kid” to Maryland. Oh, how many days I was so close to packing us up to head back home prepared to walk away from education entirely.

The scores were the focus and there was no grace for anything else. Only to raise our students’ scores from the test they had taken at the beginning of the year against the test they’d take at the end of the year. No breaks. Fun days and parties at school were few and far between. Raise the scores! And not just raise them…but raise them by 10 percent. And not just 10 percent overall, 10 percent each. Each teacher was expected to educate to the point that their classroom scores be raised by 10 percent in Math and 10 percent in Reading.

I don’t know if I slept much my first year. I know that I worked. I didn’t have weekends, I had two days out of the week where I worked from home. My mind would not let me rest until everything on the “Staff List of Things To Do” that week were complete. A checklist full of lesson plans and anything else the week called for.

Often, my family would drive down to visit and I’d sit in my bedroom on my laptop working. My “After Hours Work” list was endless. Grading papers, then entering the grades into the grade-book, responding to parents’ demands and questions in a timely manner according to our code of conduct handbook, matching our state and county standards with my lessons, staying up late to teach myself first (in Math), so I could present it (well) to my class that week.
By the end of last year, the scores were raised and the goals were met, and I was burnt all the way out. As a school, we had made true gains. Not just for the staff and teachers but for the students. At the close of the year, I realized that I gave my all and then some more, not for my principal, even though at the time it felt like it was for her but, for my students. And it worked. It worked so well that we were challenged to do it all again the following year. Raising the goal from 10 percent to 12 percent. Seriously? *Eye roll* 

While doing this proved to be much more difficult; overall in the end of my second school year, our school had moved from a permanent place at the bottom of the list in the county to 3rd and 4th place in Reading and Math. I have become a better educator here. As fate would have it, it is because of that no nonsense, grueling principal with all her emails and expectations.

My true feelings about standardized tests aside; it’s what our system is requiring at the moment, and our job is to meet the requirements. *Shrug*

And now, on day 26 of summer break, I see the looks of, “It must be nice” when non educators realize I am off from work for 2 1/2 months. If only they really knew. Then they’d understand why I have yet to read a book. Why I haven’t attended any educational workshops, haven’t taught a class. And why I’ve only thought about the decor of my classroom (that I’ll purchase with my own money) for the upcoming school year only a handful of times. They’d get why I don’t feel guilty about any of it.

For 26 days, I have stayed up with no crunch of a deadline for lessons, portfolios, grading, reflections, phone calls, or action plans. No early morning meetings or late meetings. No anxiety and I’m free from “most” of the worries of an educator. I even procrastinated in writing this! And I don’t feel guilty about it.

Granted, I am raising two children. And although the 12 year old would love to spend the 26 days and many more after on video games and iPad, and the 15 year old would rather binge watch Game of Thrones and Chicago PD while cooking a “summer” brunch each afternoon; we ARE going to do something “educational”.

The educator in me is on vacation. However, the mom in me knows better. I know my kids have not quite mastered the discipline of balance, that I’ve only recently learned myself.

You SHOULD show up, work hard, and give your best. You MUST be ever learning. Ready to greet the world each day, prepared to take it all in. However, when the opportunity comes for you to take a break…TAKE IT! Constantly reminding yourself how precious life and time is has to propel us to want to take pause and just enjoy life…in this moment.

For some, that enjoyment may come from reading a good book, taking a class, or continuing to work…even on their days off. For me, that enjoyment comes from the comfort of my own bed, the seat of an airplane, the last bite of a grilled burger, music in the park, the chlorine mixed with sunshine on my skin and the burning sand between my toes.

My kids think that sleep, video games and TV are the only enjoyment out there. I’m here to show them (and me…and maybe you if you needed the reminder) how to balance that out by way of dragging them to the pool, out of the hotel bed while on vacation and today…to the library. Otherwise, how else will they know if a good book brings them joy? Tomorrow, we may even dust off the bikes and go for a ride. And hopefully before the break wraps up, we can visit a museum…or two. But, if none of it happens that way or in that order, it’s ok. No obligation. No deadlines. Just a break. Just balance.
As fate would have it, for the next school year we get to pick the content area we want to teach…I went with Math.

If you’re looking for a reminder or permission to enjoy life while making memories. This is it. The world will not always remember to treat you kindly. Take the time to be kind to yourself. Happy summer!

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Unforgiveness Renders You Dumb

Very transparent moment and my lesson on forgiveness. 

A few years ago, we decided on a family trip to the beach. All members on deck. Months of planning and preparation ended with a disastrous family trip. By the end of the weekend Kami got sick and had to go to the ER, and folks weren’t speaking each other. To this day I still don’t really understand what caused the war. But, whatever it was, caused us to stop speaking to Karessie. By that next summer, she was gone. 

Rewind to the aftermath of the fight. After a few weeks of breaking our parents hearts, my dad told me one night that even though I feel Karessie was wrong, I still needed to kiss her you know what because she was the one who was sick. I very reluctantly heeded his advice. But, not before I foolishly tried to convince myself that I had made my peace with our relationship for what it was. I’m so ashamed for ever thinking that. Unforgiveness makes you dumb. 

I’m so glad we mended it and moved on and went right back to needing and wanting each other’s company, even though at the time I didn’t know it was the last year of her life. But, what difference did that make? It could’ve been. Just like it could be for any one of us. We were absolutely fine in the end, and yes sisters are bound to have fights, but that year, I still had only 49 weeks with her instead of 52. 

Moral of this story: Don’t let unforgiveness make you dumb. 

Because…”In a course of a lifetime, what does it matter?”

Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons

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Safety

As this day closes and begins to creep into the next, I finally realized that I can confess and admit that this day was extraordinarily hard. Who was I trying to hide it from anyway? 

Today, I took my sister to her 60 somethingth chemo. My mom, who is also on chemo was dropped off to her appointment and check up a few hours earlier by my nephew. What do you do when you’re sitting in a chair facing your sister getting chemo on one side of the room while your mom isn’t on the other end getting calcium shots? You make videos, jokes and take pictures. No biggie. 

Then it was time to leave. With the help of my 12 year old daughter, we had to get both my mom and sister home, purses, oxygen tanks, wheelchairs and walkers.  

“Ok. Breathe. You can do this.”  

Those were the words I spoke to my sister when we pulled up to her house. The cancer…or maybe the blood clots, maybe it’s a combination of both, add July humidity. Whichever was responsible, I wanted to wrap my hands around it and squeeze it until it was no more and then burn it for good measure. Whatever the culprit, for weeks now has been causing her to fight for each breath she took between coughing spells. By the time we got home, today, her portable oxygen tank was out of oxygen and she still had to climb 7 stairs into her house. 7 suddenly felt like 70. Her walkway seemed never ending. 

I gathered her purse, oxygen tank, and miscellaneous things to take in the house while she gave herself a pep talk before she got out of the car to make that long walk. When I reached her back at the car, she slowly lifted her head and her eyes cried out to me what her lungs wouldn’t allow her mouth to speak. 

I can’t do this, anymore.

It’s too hard. 

I’m scared. 

I can’t breathe. 

I’m panicking. 

And…

I’m going to die. 

She wanted to buckle into my arms, and I wanted to let her. If I could’ve morphed into a wheelchair at that moment just for her, I would have. If I could’ve driven my car right up the steps, through her gate, over the porch and right up to her bedroom so she could roll from the front seat of my car to her bed, I would’ve. But, I couldn’t. And I couldn’t let her have her moment of defeat. We still had 7 steps to climb. She sucked in a shallow breath to give her enough air to let out a wail…

I held up my hand, “Don’t cry. Your panicking. It’ll make it worse. If you cry you really won’t be able to breathe. We are going to do this. Do you want to lean on me? Will it help if I stand in front of you and hold your hands?” She nodded. My mom who’s heart, I’m sure had been in her throat the whole time, reached her hand from the back seat to pray over her oldest child, yet again and whispered, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

I’m sure being 6 years younger than her, she held my hands when I first learned to walk. And I remember her abandoning her high school soccer game and holding my bleeding hand when I got hurt at the playground.  She ran with my hand in hers, the whole way to my grandmother’s house…to safety. So, today it was my turn. To cheer her on, with each step. 

You can do this.

Just lean on me. 

4 more steps. 

Keep telling yourself what God said. 

The cancer is drying up with every step you take.

You are not defeated. 

Two more steps. 

You’re almost there. 

Safety. 

And now, I’m home. Trying to unwind, let my mind rest and get that image of my sister’s face at her moment of defeat out of my head. 

And God says to me:

I have you in the palm of My hands. 

You did it.

Just lean on me. 

Remember what I said. 

You are not defeated. 

Safety. 

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Proverbs 18:10 

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Happy Birthday?

I received a notification for a birthday reminder on Facebook, today. I don’t think that person is on Facebook very much. But, I have their phone number. So, I decided to send a “Happy Birthday” text message instead. Seemed more thoughtful. However, after they thanked me, they ended with, “it’s just another day, another year.” And my heart hurt. As I reread the message for clarity, I couldn’t help the sadness that overtook me each time I explained to myself that this person felt that they weren’t worth celebrating. 

Sure, I’ve had birthdays that I longed to hear from someone that was no longer a part of my life, but, I’m able to say those thoughts were fleeting and drowned out by all of the other well wishes and love I’d received. How sad for this friend of mine, that there wasn’t one person that was willing to give her the chance to instead reply, “my birthday was great!” And how sad that if and when they were given the chance, they didn’t seize it. 

As I searched for the right words to say back to her via Google, I have to admit, as much as I love google, it failed me. I couldn’t find a single quote, article, or blog that explained why a birthday wasn’t just another day. So, I decided to write it myself. To say to my friend (and maybe you) why it’s more than just another day and another year. 

1. Sometimes, when I’m not sure of the look I’m going for and the mirror won’t agree with me, I run into you, and you take the time to stop, smile and look me in the eyes and say, “Hi, beautiful.”

2. Sometimes, when I’m beating myself up about something I’ve done or said that I shouldn’t have, I see you and you say, “Hi, precious.” Even when I don’t feel very precious. 

This lets me know that you understand. You must know what it’s like to feel ugly, sometimes. Inside and out. How else would you be able to make it your life’s purpose to give a brief yet meaningful smile and compliment? 

Take the time out today, to ponder who you are to those around you. And in case that is too difficult a task, (after all, if it were that easy you’d do it all the time, right?) then I will tell you. You matter. The world and the people around you are better because of the big and little things that you do. Even the people you don’t know but, pass on the street. You’re worth celebrating. Every single day. Someone held on because of you. 

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Do You Know the Cost?

Studying a book about leadership and obedience to God, my mom posed the question: Do you know the cost?


Every week I come down with the Monday morning blues. I thought it was just me, but I’ve heard other people express it. It’s not because the weekend is full of fun and Monday is just a reminder of the long work week ahead. But, because Monday reminds me that time is passing. A new week is starting and I’m not prepared, and before I can catch myself, I’m thinking of everything in life (or the prior week for that matter), that I have not accomplished. The day changing into Monday represents, to me, time moving forward, whether I want it to or not. And since I like to have control (sometimes…just a little bit), Mondays are just that something I can’t stop, avoid or control.

There are things I want for myself so badly that it physically hurts. I even have it all worked out in my head how I would like to obtain them. But, having them would mean turning my back on God because, even though I don’t know His detailed plan for my life, I know what He doesn’t want for my life at this moment. And to be honest, to answer the question, no I don’t understand the cost. If I did, Mondays would be easy for me. And I wouldn’t have a tug of war contest with God at 5:40 a.m. every Monday morning. 

So, I can’t honestly say that I understand the cost and all that it entails…that’s too big for my tiny, ever racing mind. And because my pea brain can’t grasp the magnitude of the cost, I trust the One who does know it all. The One who knows that I don’t really understand the cost, but gives me the chance to do what He says even though my flesh cries out, daily. I don’t know the cost, but I know it’s important to God. And because I love Him and trust Him, I do it, hurting and afraid.

 

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Are you looking for love?  You already have it!

Monday night class at our church started off as classes for ministers in training. But, over time, it became an in depth studying of God’s word and our personal lives. This group varies in age, title, interests, etc… But, we all share one thing in common. A thirst for more of God by any means necessary. We have become one another’s sounding board, confidantes, cheerleaders and accountability partners, promising to do our best with God’s help to leave none behind. 

Last night’s classroom discussion was, “What makes you nervous?” Everyone rambled on about their fears and doubts and we all found that most of what causes our palms to sweat and lose a bit of courage are all one in the same. 

My daughter (11)  and nieces (14 and 17) have, over time, moved on from sitting at the outskirts of the classroom while their moms learned, to being the first in the room to ensure a good seat at the table. 

On the drive home, my daughter started reliving what we had just talked about and the things that caused us nervousness. Then with a sudden change in direction, she said to me, “are you ever nervous you’ll miss something?” I said, “yea but what do you mean?” She answered, “that you’ll miss a sign from God.” I didn’t wreck the car, but the flood of emotions I felt at the mere questions could’ve caused me to. I was still intrigued, and told her, “yes all the time. I was gonna say that as one of my nervous things in class. That I am nervous and worry about whether I’m doing what God wants me to do.” I asked her to give me an example of what she meant.  She thought for a minute then said,  “like the one time we were driving and it was raining and we were talking about rainbows and what they meant. And then all of the sudden we saw one in the sky. But, what if I had missed it? What if I was sleeping or something and didn’t get to see the rainbow?” Before, I could bask in the amazement of her insightfulness, she pointed out that it was my turn. She wanted an example from me *gulp.* I thought for a minute and realized I wanted to be honest and real with her about it. I told her in my past relationships and last relationship I felt like I missed God and what He was trying to show me. She said, “well maybe you didn’t miss it. Maybe it came eventually.” (Yes, those were her exact words). As I was trying to keep my composure through her last revelation, she still probed for more details… *gulp* She rambled off questions….how? What made you think that there were signs? What are you looking for? So, I steadied myself and gave her some examples, then I told her, honestly and frankly, that I am looking for someone who knows God wants them to be with me, who loves her and loves me and takes good care of us. And as if God whispered in her ear, and had been doing so all along, my little one asked me (as if it were rhetorical), “Can you just be happy with the half of that?” Afraid to speak anymore, but still wanting to completely understand, I quietly said, “how?” She sighed and explained, “with just the ‘they love me and they love you and take good care of us’ part?” Thinking I knew what she meant, I said, “ohhh so the next person that comes along as long as they love us and take good care of us that should be enough?” Careful not to leave any gray areas, she answered slowly and clearly, “you already have it.”

“WHERE?!” I whined. Secretly hoping this wasn’t going to turn into a conversation about her father and I being together. For the last time that night, she shut me up and quieted my thoughts. “Our family. They love you. They love me. And they take good care of us.” Sigh. “What I’m tryna say is, you’re looking for it in a man. But, you already have it.”

For some reason, I needed this brought to my attention. And it came from the one I brought into this world! Shame on me. Love is love. And it’s too precious to be taken for granted or to come with guidelines of where it should come from. God has sent me love every single day of my life, something not everyone can say, and I dismissed it. Not because I didn’t want it. I wanted it very much. I needed it. I even appreciated it…some. But, in my own, careless way, I was telling God it wasn’t enough. And He was asking, “Can you be happy with just the half of it? If you never get what you want, can you be happy with what I’ve given you?” For the first time, last night, I told God (and myself) YES! Yes, I can and I will. I am richly loved. By this wonderful family He has entwined me with and more importantly, I am loved by Him. So are you. 

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The Good, The Bad And The Selfish

A few months ago I decided to challenge myself to be more giving. It started off being a rewarding experience. But, shortly after, I was faced with two observations. 1. It hurts when you are giving and they don’t pay it forward. Takers. It hurts when you come to the realization that some people are simply natural born takers. And observation 2. It’s the season of giving. So, when faced with the opportunity to buy gifts and help those less fortunate, I was excited to shop and make this holiday special for them…until the someone less fortunate was someone I didn’t particularly “like.” Someone…to be honest, I didn’t think deserved it. Someone who lies to me day in and day out, instigates, and is all around just not a nice person. You wouldn’t want to help them either, so you understand me, right? And I shouldn’t help them, amirite? No, actually I’m not right. You know what God showed me? That I STILL have so much to learn. He had me give to the selfish, to show me how to not be selfish. You see, I was giving, still expecting something, even if it were a thank you, I was looking for a return. And when my expectations weren’t met, I became the selfish one. And to my observation 2, when I tried to call the whole thing off and excuse my not helping by saying this individual wasn’t deserving, God lovingly asked me, “What if I did that to you?” Ewwwww. That hurt. Know why? Because I am certainly not deserving of all that He gives me. Daily I fall short. And what does God do? He keeps loving on me. So, in my attempt to be more like Him and less like me. To love much because God loves me much. I’m going shopping.

Luke 7:47

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