A Bloom in a Season of Loss

This piece is in loving memory of my beloved aunt. A mentor, prayer warrior, example of cherishing family, and living for Jesus. I miss her prayers on my behalf already, but rejoice in the fact that she no longer in pain and reunited with many whom she has had to bid farewell.

As autumn tentatively bids the world a hello, I join its apprehension of beginning a new season. Some seasons are like that in this life – bringing about a change we don’t want to welcome, while others bound in joyfully with a breath of fresh air.

This season is one that brings with it the loss of one of my spiritual giants, my Aunt Katy. My heart grows tender, full of sweet memories as I come to peace with starting a new season that says I must accept the passing of what was: the comforts of times past with familiar laughter and prayers on my behalf make my heart hurt for the loss of those blessings.

As I grieve losing one that I love, I am humbled by the way God speaks hope into the whirlwind of emotions through what has turned into a beautiful symbol of what my aunt has meant to me throughout her life. My hydrangea bush is one of my favorite features in our front yard. I love the blooms of hydrangeas and the way their blossoms reflect the type of soil in which they are planted.

This summer was drought-ridden, and I found some comfort in the fact that the plant thrived in spite of the intense circumstances it was surviving: its greenness boasting happily against the brown grass around it. There was, however, one point of wonder that puzzled me each time I admired its tenacity in those dry, hot months. Not one single time did its flowers bloom.

Even so, the plant encouraged me with its diligence to dig deep into its roots and grow. Times were tough, yet the hydrangea persevered. Much like my aunt who endured so many difficulties throughout her life. She had many opportunities to make excuses and not thrive, but she didn’t because she knew where her identity and purpose were rooted.

Things have been a bit different this season with my hydrangea bush. While the bush was still a picture of strength all summer, it didn’t provide the familiar beauty that it has in years past. As this new season of things falling away begins, and even as the bush’s leaves are beginning to fade because their time of shining brightly is coming to an end, something uniquely powerful and beautiful has happened: one small, yet mighty cluster of flowers has blossomed, greeting me with a joy that springs from the hope of God’s presence in the midst of sorrow.

It is inevitable for our spiritual giants to fade and bid this earth goodbye in their proper season, and that is a painful reality to accept. However, I find an incredible amount of hope and inspiration as I remember that Aunt Katy knew until her last breath on earth that her greatness only came because she understood where her identity truly dwelt. That is why she always shined, much like the gift of the hydrangea blossom that is still flourishing so that I will remember where my hope and identity must reside as well.

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I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
~2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5-8

 

Wonderful Grace

I’m now nine months into my year of wonder.

I decided somewhere around month 6 that I wished I could scrap the word and start with a new, more exciting word, but I know that isn’t how these kinds of things work. After seven years of living out the practice of adopting a word with which to inspire growth and endure struggle, I know that my word deserves the full year particularly when I don’t want it to, and especially when it doesn’t end up meaning what I thought it would.

Enter September.

I found myself spiraling with the reality of life and being annoyed at myself for how I was handling it. I was “supposed to” sleep in on the morning of September 1st, but motherhood didn’t allow it. I added this wake up call to my mental list of all the responsibilities that I know in my heart that I want and love but just couldn’t take anymore without feeling like I might lose it.

This also allowed an entrance to another reminder of my struggle: there’s not a one role or responsibility that is demanding something of me that I want to give up, but in the process of working as hard as humanly possible to keep up with everything, I have been slowly and unintentionally giving up on who I was created to be. I’ve been too busy trying to be light, love, and kindness to sufficiently invest in what it takes to be those things.

Thankfully, just when I was really getting annoyed at wonder, wonder stopped me in my tracks and showed me just how much I needed more of it. Between encouraging words from a friend yesterday and stopping on the side of the highway to clean up a sick kid on the way to church this morning, wonder demanded I take some time to consider and appreciate it for the absolutely beautiful thing that it is. For the first time, I learned what wonder is meant to be to me.

Wonder is grace.

Wonder is moments of joy and learning in the midst of overwhelm.

It is an undeserved gift I could never repay, no matter how hard I work to do it – sometimes extravagant, other times simple.

It’s kind and familiar faces stopping to hand me a towel while I clean up the mess in my backseat.

It’s getting to read a happy book after a long day.

It is lessons learned from experience.

It is the cross in the midst of chaos, boldly lighting the way to hope and freedom.

No matter how big or small the gift that wonder hands me, it begs me to walk in the way of humility. It reminds me that I’m neither meant to or able to do good on my own.

Wonderful grace is both overlooked and underappreciated when I am too busy to breathe and notice its constant presence, yet its power is greater than all that surrounds me with questions, exhaustion, and defeat.

I can now genuinely consider this year, with all of the demands and struggles that have and continue to come with it, a year of wonder. A year of opportunities for grace to abound, for grace can only show its full potential when I fully realize just how much I need it.

To the Man Who Makes Me Better

Twelve years ago today, I married a man that I loved very much.

At 24, I had barely gotten started on adulthood, but I pledged my love and devotion to a man who always found a way to bring a smile to my face.

We had spent the last two years falling in love, figuring out how to compromise, and dreaming a lot about our future.

Then on July 15, 2006, we took the first step towards making that future happen.

Along the way, I’ve learned many things my naive perspective couldn’t begin to comprehend on that day that it all started. Things that only time and experience can really, truly teach a person. But you should probably know that I’m no longer married to that same guy I fell in love with.

Instead, I’m married to someone who has grown with me through the darkest days of my life.

Who has stayed my constant friend when many people have exited.

I’m married to a man who has proved to me that he will always strive to do what is right, even when others let him down.

Who loves his family, always has and always will fight for his family, and teaches our children what that means.

I’m married to a man who is humble enough to work hard doing jobs few people are willing to do without expecting recognition.

Who can speak wise words with clarity when the world screams of chaos.

I’m married to a man who reminds me how important it is to take time to play, to laugh along with kids, and to do it all while bringing order.

Honestly, neither of us are much like the young and in-love couple we were a dozen years in the past because time changes life; losses and gains bring about new roles; and things that used to matter are no longer relevant to things that are priorities now.

God’s love for us has been the only constant that has continued to draw us together to take on each challenge that has shaped us, grown us, and kept us determined to be true to our commitment to each other. We are no longer the same, but we are better because we’ve been together. I grow every time I take time to learn from how he lives.

He never could have really known as my groom that he’d go through as much as he would, but he didn’t hold back from choosing a girl, who is now much different herself, to take the wild ride called life together. For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death us do part.

A Rearview Look at Fear

One thing I love about taking time to wonder  as I work to embrace the word this year is how the most profound revelations come in the simplest of moments.

Take, for example, when I was backing up my new car the other day.

I have had the car about a week, and the entire reason I got it was because I was rear ended and my other car got totaled. It’s scenarios like this one that I recently experienced that do not make me a huge fan of driving. One might even say that I get a little paranoid when it comes to backing up, driving in big cities, on major highways, or other such things. (Okay, people have actually said these things because they might be true.)

I have let fear convince me to envision the worst case scenarios when it comes to driving. Sometimes it’s funny, but other times it’s just ridiculous. I have imaginary wrecks when I’m backing out of a parking spot at least a couple of times a month even though it’s never actually happened. Okay, okay, there was that one time I knocked my rear view mirror off when backing out the garage, but that was a long time ago.

Even so, it only took that one time to make me realize it could happen, so I hold my breath and/or work to not hyperventilate 8 out of 10 times that I back out of a parking spot or garage.

This is why I was delighted that my new car is equipped with a backup camera. This is the first vehicle I have owned that includes this feature, and while I’m still adjusting to it, I knew that it would be good for me to actually be able to see what is behind me since I tend to imagine a maze of fictitious objects are ready to jump out at me.

The other day I found myself in a tight parking lot and decided this would be the perfect opportunity for me to practice using the camera. There were actual cars, a tree, and a massive dumpster all hanging out in this parking lot, and prior to having the camera, I would have been tempted to just off-road my way out of there. I have tested the validity of this camera, however, so I knew it was okay to push myself. I backed up right towards that dumpster and didn’t even come close to hitting it, thank you very much. I even backed into a parking spot. Nothing insane happened, but I saw some realities I’ve been blinded to for a long time.

  1. The truth is the truth no matter how much you want to convince yourself that it’s not. There is a literal camera above the license plate of my car. It has a front-row view to any potential threat to the rear of my car. It even has lines that show where I need to use caution and slow down. Before having the backup camera, I had believed for years that I must be close to hitting something when I had never actually come close to doing so. My perception of the truth did not match reality, and this ties in nicely with the next thing that I realized from this simple little experience.
  2. Fear is a powerful and convincing force in this world. There are times we are all motivated by fear, whether they be irrational fears that become endearing quirks or legitimate fears that come from painful realities. No matter what kind of fear we are facing, it shouldn’t be allowed to become our decision maker. When fear rules our actions, we have lost sight of what is right. Fear is sneaky. It can take one element of truth in a messed up situation and twist it even further, thus taking us prisoner. Our actions submit to the twisted truth and we stop being as effective as we could be.

I started laughing about halfway through my time in reverse in that parking lot because I could see the truth for the first time. I have been a prisoner to an irrational fear for as long as I can remember, but one simple look at the truth set me free.

From one human to another, I’d like to encourage anyone else who gets hung up on the lies that fear feeds us every day to look for the Truth. It’s usually far more simple than the convoluted ritual we’ve grown accustomed to living out, and the result leads to being free to move in ways you didn’t yet know were possible.

 

Blogging Birthday Reflections

In June 2009, I started a blog. I had no idea what on earth that would come to mean to me, but it was a trendy new thing that a few people I knew were dabbling in, and I wanted a place where I could post pictures and memories of my newborn so that family could keep track of how he was growing while I could look back and remember what made those first months of motherhood special.

That blogging journey became a game changer for me. I never did become one of those famous bloggers with hundreds of followers. I haven’t earned any money from any of the blog posts I’ve written, and there have been many times in more recent years when I seriously considered shutting the whole thing down.

Even so, blogging changed me. It helped me see some really important things about myself. As I wrote more in the first few years of the journey, I learned how much I absolutely love writing. I came to see myself as a writer because I sat down and did the thing on a regular basis. I have always liked to write, which would explain the degree in English, but I began to see the a joy that could not be compared to writing the stories of my life as well as the lives of those I love.

Being a writer allowed me to connect with people in a completely different way. There are many people I have never met in real life that I now know and love because of our writing connection. This is a treasure that has brought me happiness, but even more surprising to me was the way I was able to connect with people I already knew. There’s something far more powerful in saying what’s in my heart through the written word. I learned that through blogging, and it slowly changed my life’s mission to a more focused one.

The momentum to write and connect kept growing over the first few years. I researched about writing and blogging all of the time. After teaching myself how to set up and maintain a working website and then writing an e-book, I scaled back a bit around the time that my daughter was born. It turns out there wasn’t quite as much free time when kid #1 stopped taking naps at the same time that kid #2 didn’t figure out how to be a good sleeper for the first couple of years of life.

As much as I grew to love reading about being a good writer and learning and practicing how to be a better blogger, I also started feeling the need to slow down in the virtual world so that my kids didn’t see me constantly staring at a screen. Several key parts of my little world started crumbling shortly after that, and that’s when I got really lost when it came to writing. I lost a good deal of my audience and didn’t feel that I was free to write openly.

Writing stories about real life is tricky business, and while I believe it is important to write through the hurts that inevitably come in life, it is even more important to know two things:

1. Your why
2. Your audience

My “why” for a very long time was personally working through some serious loss that hit our family. We were all devastated and changed forever. Parts of the narrative I was living were not mine to tell and could potentially hurt some of my remaining audience. I know that there are many wise words out there about the importance of being bold and sharing your voice in writing, but I also came to learn something even more wise.

There is a time to refrain from words.

Not completely, mind you. I wrote a lot of nonsense for myself. I read a lot. I sought wisdom from people I trusted, and when the timing was right, I shared pieces of my story with people I met along the way.

Blogging consistently might have faded, but now I was emerging as someone who knew what it meant to write, live, and share a story. So I began teaching again and have met many people who have moved me to laughter as well as tears with their stories, but most of all they have inspired me as a both a writer and a human.

So here I am, nine years after I sat with one hand holding a sleeping newborn while the other clicked on tutorials that could explain what a blog even is, reflecting on the journey and feeling challenged to push myself once again. To write more about what matters, and sometimes even about things that are just fun.  To put my words out there for an audience to take or leave depending on what they have going on. To do what it takes to be able to call myself a writer: write.

While it is wise to refrain from words for a time, it should never be forever. I have learned some valuable lessons in my time of not putting very many words on here, and it would be a waste of those lessons to hold it all in forever. So here we go. This is my rambling attempt to live out what I teach: Know your why and share your story, even when the draft’s not that pretty, because it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

 

Lessons Learned About Loss & Miracles

I’ve contemplated two words a great deal in recent months: loss and miracle. Both locally and nationally, I’ve witnessed immense loss and have worked hard to come to peace with it. Our world is in a state of great unrest at the same time that the humans that I know personally have been feeling the weight of it in every way imaginable.

Here are some facts about loss that I’ve come to learn:

Loss and losing are not the same thing. I look at losing as when I choose the wrong priority and miss out on what is most important. It’s kind of hard for me to blame anyone but myself for those choices, so my natural consequence is to lose out on something that could have been more meaningful in my life. On the other hand, loss is the grief that I feel when I’m no longer able to be in contact with someone that I love.

There is absolutely no way to experience loss without pain. Loss leaves a gaping hole where there once was someone who filled a place within us that made us happy. No matter the kind of loss or what brought it on, sadness is part of the deal. Allow yourself to feel it; it is an important part of the journey to move forward.

One of the areas I’ve been inspired to grow because of all of the losses to which I’ve been connected this year is to take control of the part I have power over – not losing out on the moments with those I love – while trusting God to heal the wounds that loss leaves on my soul. That is a gift only He can give in a way that lasts.

The other word I’ve spent a great deal of time pondering and praying for is “miracle.” Watching people I care about suffer is excruciating. I’ve prayed for many miracles, and I’ve learned a lot about them along the way.

They rarely look how I think they will. God is the only one who can accomplish miracles. Every definition you take the time to look up will acknowledge the requirement of a divine entity for a miracle to happen. Like it or not, miracles are actions that He brings about to remind us of His power, love, and sovereignty. One of the most consistent prayers for a miracle that I’ve had over the last year was for Him to work a miracle in the life of a sixteen-year-old girl with cancer. I know that thousands joined me in that prayer until her last breath on earth yesterday. It was her prayer until the end as well. As I’ve pondered God’s answer to our prayer for a miracle, He’s shown me one important thing, which is the next fact about miracles I want to explore:

The scope of the effects of a miracle is far greater than my original vision. My mind can only see as far as the earth’s horizon, but the miracle that God is working through even just this one life is far greater than her life alone. The miracle that God has chosen to provide involves countless people. He’s brought about restoration, love, strength, connections, humility, generosity, gratitude, faith, and much more to a community that was given a new reason to grow in all of those ways. Shay did receive the ultimate, miraculous gift of eternal life with no more suffering, but those left behind to grieve the loss of her life on earth have the opportunity to live out the miracle that God intended for the situation all along. Of course, there’s a place in my heart that wishes the miracle I prayed for included some of my vision of what that would look like, but I’ve been through enough loss in my own life to know that my ways are not nearly as good as God’s ways, and I can trust Him to help me work through the questions that come when my definition of miracle doesn’t seem to add up with His.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is good. Always. When cancer, accidents, disease, people, and medicine are not. This is a fact I’ve only learned because of loss and miracles and how God has helped me better understand both.

Tips for Creating Hope in Spring

Spring has always been one my favorite seasons because of its beauty and temperatures, but above everything else, its breathtaking symbol of hope.

In spite of my love for spring, I can’t think of a single year that I’ve taught where I haven’t felt overwhelmed and unable to do much else besides work more hours than not in any given week in April. When the sheer volume of expectations explodes, I have to fight to find little pockets of time for anything besides parenting and teaching. (Side note, most of those above-mentioned days are pocket-free. I’m spent, people, and I know I’m not alone.)

It was just last week when I finally sat down and completed a timed free write with one of my Creative Writing classes that I started to see what brings about this disconnect between my love for spring and my lack of ability to actually enjoy the wonder that comes with this precious window of opportunity to celebrate the hope that comes in its flowery package called spring.

It’s highly unlikely that I’m going to have a carefree spring with a wide-open schedule anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean I have to settle for never soaking up what spring celebrates and personifies because I’m “too busy.” Here are a few observations and rules I’m making for myself after failing to notice or adhere to them for far too long:

  • Take time to create. When I’m eyeball-deep in grading, trying to plan, dealing with student drama, and completing normal adult things like laundry and groceries, it gets really easy to be buried in an impossibly-long to-do list. As a result, I only have eyes for the to-do list. I don’t create any new things (besides maybe assignments…sorry kids). When I even take 5 minutes to do a free write with my students, I start to gain back something for myself. I’m creating something just for me, even if it’s a rambling paragraph about nothing in particular. It’s necessary to take time to create something every day for myself. Today, that creation is this blog post. Tomorrow, it might be fresh-baked muffins to pack for everyone’s breakfast. No matter what it is, I feel like a normal human being when I take time to create.
  • Look for signs of hope inside when you’re too busy to spend all day outside. It’s easy to get delirious when I’m as tired as I currently am. My tired self is not nearly as kind or positive as my rested self. I can jump into a state of self-doubt or an overly dramatic viewpoint in about .3 seconds. While I’m down, I can start convincing myself that I’m not taking time to find little messages of hope, but when I stop and think about the overwhelming volume of hopeful messages I get to hear over the course of the day from all of the people in my life, it’s humbling. A letter from a student about how he or she has overcome a personal struggle, a positive note from a teacher about one of my kids, dinner ready when I get home from work thanks to my amazing husband…the hope list grows more quickly than the buds on the tree in my back yard.
  • Believe in your investments. I invest a lot in what I do. Time, faith, work, learning, kindness, and love just to name a few. Investments take a long time to show their full potential, and that means that I need to hold onto hope even when the people and projects in which I’m investing are not showing me their fullest potential. Good investments will eventually yield great results. They may not look like what I thought they would, but I must have faith that the payoff will someday come.
  • Take care. Take care of yourself; take care to get enough rest; take care to listen to positive, reasonable voices; take care of your spiritual needs; take care to let a little sunshine fall on your cheeks before it sets for the day.
  • Know your limits. I have a lot to work on for this one, but I believe in it more and more each year. I have to forgive myself when I forget something because I had too many things I had to get done one day. I have to take time to rest when I’ve been working for many hours in a row, or I won’t produce quality work that is helpful to the people who need it. I can only do what I can do, and prioritizing is key.

I may not get the chance to leisurely walk through flower gardens and soak in quite as much time outside as I wish I could, but I’m now able to see that I get to observe and learn from living, breathing stories of hope every single day because of the people in my life, and that is enough to inspire me to keep creating and finding hope in this season.

 

Simple Hope

This Easter, I’m most struck by how powerful and simple hope is. The hope that Jesus provides is what keeps me going when I’m tapped out of energy. It’s what keeps me smiling when I’m surrounded by sadness. I’m grateful for the way that this holiday celebrates the very thing every single human is striving to find, no matter what their view of God or religion – HOPE. It’s not nearly as complicated as we try to make it sometimes, but it is life-changing in its authority. I am grateful for the simple hope that Jesus provided when He endured betrayal, humiliation, torture, and death – all so we can find meaning and security in who we are meant to be.  That’s what inspired this simple little poem today. Happy Easter!
Simple Hope
Just when things seem dark and despondent
There comes a spark
At first it seems small
Insignificant
Impossible that it could consume
The despair that reigns
It’s going to take something
That will shake the world
To defeat this kind of pain
But Hope doesn’t always work quite that way
It’s the simple truth that we are too busy to see
It’s the puzzling things like a torn veil
It’s darkness in the midst of the day
It’s grief in its rawest form
Being consumed by Light
It’s simple traditions being met by Love
It’s enemy guards who can’t possibly be moved
Being knocked to their knees
An impossible stone being rolled out of the way
Emptiness means
Hope
Life
Strength to fight
A reason to keep on
Because our Purpose is clear
Tears bring healing
Faith is made sight
Love is alive

Why I Teach

Third quarter is always the most challenging time of the school year, and it’s difficult to persist with the demands that inevitably come. Fortunately for me, I recently had someone ask me why, with all of the difficulties of this career, I choose to teach. While I knew the answer, it was a perfect opportunity for me to remind myself of the many reasons why I pour so much of my life into this incredibly rewarding part of my life. 

Every answer that I have leads back to one common thread: human beings.

I teach human beings because I love them and want to help them be the best that they can be.

I teach human beings because it provides an opportunity for my own children to live the best life I can give them.

I teach human beings because we are all stronger than we think; we just need someone to give us the opportunity to see that it’s true.

I teach human beings because, no matter how much people fight against it, we are all connected on that most basic, powerful level.

I teach human beings because I believe that we are the most beautiful of God’s creation, made in His image.

I teach human beings because love can’t let me do otherwise.

I teach human beings because no word, number, career, or relationship can exist without people.

I do what I do because I have faith.

I have faith that God has placed me right where I am for such a time as this to do what I am doing, equipping me to hold on when I’ve spent all of my emotional resources.

I have faith in the humans that I teach. They test me and my faith, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes they get lazy and cranky and try to avoid dealing with what they should be dealing with. But I know that they have more in them than those responses we all tend to have when we are challenged to grow.

I have faith in the fact that they think critically and independently. Even when they resist it in some ways, they prove that they do it in others.

I have faith in the fact that I’m making an investment in the future. My students don’t stay the teenager with a goofy haircut, displaying sass instead of assignments. They have been and will become the people who will be there for me in my own times of need – wheeling me back for surgery, caring for my own children, saving lives and teaching the next generation. They are creating the society of our future.

I have faith because they encourage me with theirs. They will write that story that moves me, say that sweet word of encouragement that humbles me, and laugh with me about the weird things that come with being in a high school classroom.

I teach because, in spite of myself, it has made me better. It has challenged me to dig deep within and accomplish far more than I thought I could. It has made me strong. It has made me exhausted and empowered. And it’s all because of the human beings who make up my world.

 

Five

Five

You are new and grandiose
Bringing with you change
Big kid stuff
Like kindergarten
And learning to read

Five

You are more of what was sweet about four
Tea parties and princess dresses
“Pretend that…” opening a new world
To your eyes and heart throughout each day
While always having a song in your heart

Five

You make me feel a little sad
Because it means that little
Is that much closer to going away forever
While at the same time it means
We get to grow more together

Five

I don’t dread you
But I feel the emotional tug
That comes with letting go of what was
So we can make room for what’s to come
To learn and laugh and love

Hello, Five
You are welcome
Because you are going to be a part
Of one who captures my heart
For the next year of living