Author Archives: Kelly

My 2018 Word

This is my seventh year of adopting one little word at the start of a new year. Every single one of these words have become dear to me and have focused me in ways no list of goals has ever been able to do.

Embracing one word sounds simple, but the reality is that it makes me dig in deep and carefully evaluate what is important and what needs to be adjusted in my life. As I look at my list of words, I can clearly recall where I was at the beginning of the year in comparison to the end, how I grew, and how my word aided me on my journey.

While each word has been completely different, they’ve built upon each other to help build me.

Confidence
Identify
Favor
Freedom
Worth (it)
Lean

As I move forward with my word for 2018, I have an idea of what I want to gain from it, but I don’t know the future.

  1. My life will be better for getting to know this word.
  2. It will not always be easy to embrace it.

This is how life works, word or no word; and I know that I’ve only been better for each word that’s guided me through the last several years.

All of these sentiments prove why I’m happy to announce that 2018’s word is

Wonder

I work hard. It’s part of who I am, and I don’t believe that’s a bad thing. However, it’s crucial to make sure I take time to slow down and wonder. Reflecting and learning come naturally to my personality, but sometimes I get too busy thinking and doing to just sit and wonder.

I don’t tend to notice the little things around me enough, and I want to do that more.

I don’t want to sit and do absolutely nothing but watch a movie, but I need to do it sometimes.

I can’t help but grow by watching the world of wonder in which my kids live when they are playing pretend, but I don’t sit and play pretend with them as much as I would like to.

Those are just a few reasons why I look forward to wondering more this year.

For all of my fellow one word friends, please share your word with me! I love hearing what inspires you.

Favorite Books of 2017

I did a lot more reading this past year, and it was heavenly. I’m not a fast reader. I tend to soak in the words, and as a result, it takes me forever to get through a book. This year, I determined to not let that hold me back anymore, so I powered past the tendency to linger on words so I could actually read more stories. It was a freeing, and I ended up reading twice as many books that way.

Here were my favorites of the year:

The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp – This was the book that I kicked off the new year reading. Its message impacted me and inspired me. I have not forgotten the image she shared of her daughter’s response to one of her paper hearts getting accidentally ripped:

“Maybe the love gets in easier right where the heart’s broke open.”

The older I grow, the more I believe that true love and abundant living comes after the heartbreaks in our lives. We have a choice in how we respond to our difficulties, and I love the way that The Broken Way acknowledges that hard times are allowed to be hard, but they can also become redeemed.

The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith – I am a lover of stories. There are few things that rival the power of a person owning their lives by sharing what they’ve experienced so that others can be inspired by those stories. I found this book on a whim, and it was one of the happiest accidents of my year. This slim book gives practical advice for people interested in writing about their lives. As a writing teacher, I was delighted to be able to pull some of my favorite lesson inspirations from ideas the author shared in this book. This book is geared towards people who share my love for writing and memoir.

Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy by Beth Moore – This Bible study was a crucial part of my summer when I dove in with a lot of intention to get back on track with my faith walk after feeling drained at the end of the school year. Granted, the Bible speaks for itself, but I did enjoy the opportunity to intentionally break down this incredible, powerful book in the New Testament in the way that Beth Moore presented it. It was exactly what I needed, and it has empowered me to live out the gifts that God has entrusted to me for such a time as this.

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown – I’m a fan of the work that Brene Brown has done. Daring Greatly and Rising Strong have both been encouraging and challenging reads at just the right seasons of my life, and the message of Braving the Wilderness is no different. We live in divisive times, and it’s tricky to effectively stand up for what you know is right while upholding an open door with people who oppose your point of view. The strategies that are laid out in this book are on point.

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – My cousin told me about this book, and I am so happy that she did. The unique approach to memoir that Rosenthal took is refreshing and inspiring. I showed it to at least a dozen of my Creative Writing students while I was conferencing with them about their own writing projects. Amy Krouse Rosenthal was an inspiring lady who had a uniquely special gift for connecting people. Her passion for this is contagious, and I loved having a light, happy book to relax to during a busy time in teaching.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – I had the opportunity to hear Ms. Woodson speak at the NCTE conference I attended this fall, and it was delightful to listen to her read parts of this book out loud. It’s the first book of poetry that I’ve picked up on my own and read in its entirety, and I enjoyed it immensely. Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir, and as I stated earlier, I love reading people’s stories, so this one was enjoyable for multiple reasons.

Lean Beyond

If there’s one important thing I learned from this year of leaning, it’s that God is always there to offer hope. I simply have to intentionally lean in a different direction than the challenges I’m currently facing to embrace what He’s saying.

November was a month of leaning beyond personal limits. We all tend to fall into a pattern of doing only the the things that seem possible to us. What starts as a plan to set healthy limitations can eventually turn into a list of things we believe we can never do

If it weren’t for the fact that I was so far into this commitment to lean where I needed to, I would have said no to some of the best memories and experiences of my year. Instead, I persevered and leaned beyond what my gut reactions would have been. The act of leaning beyond made me a better person, and it also prepared me to grieve deep and hopefully well.

Much of my reflection on leaning has taken place as I’ve biked the trail near my house. On November 27, I had come home from a funeral and decided to hit the trail to clear my head a little. The wind was strong and against me in every direction. It seemed fitting for the day, but as I continued to pedal, I found a renewed strength.

As crazy as it may sound, the resistance of the wind was just the message of hope I needed. I could laugh at the wind and persist on my journey because I’d made it through so many experiences in the past few weeks that had challenged my limits. I knew that moving forward was possible, even if it was challenging.

While this post may be simple, my soul has been stretched the most of all from leaning beyond.

This is my post about leaning from November. I know I’m tardy in getting it published on here, but I haven’t had the time to transfer it from my writer’s notebook until now. Better late than never, I suppose. 🙂 

How I Learned the Painful Way Why I Should Lean Up Straight

I rolled over and felt the stabs of pain right between my shoulder blades. 3:00 A.M. never looked so annoying! I muttered as I tried rolling to the other side.

Nope. I was greeted by a disagreeable sensation in that shoulder as well.

I’ve always tended to carry my stress there, as much as I’ve told myself I’m going to get better at managing it.

Regardless, it was somewhere between grading essay 46 of 200 and battling second grade spelling lists until bedtime that the knots started sneaking in, assuming control.

By the time my alarm went off, I couldn’t move my neck. What on earth have I done to myself?!?!

Alas, I had to humbly acknowledge that, as much as I wanted to carry on with life like everything was fine, I wasn’t, and I couldn’t hide it either. Sometimes, pain is a big enough jerk that we can’t smile through it with enough credibility to satisfy those around us, especially ourselves.

Two days into my awkward neck pain, I recalled the direction I’d chosen to lean for the month of October.

Lean up straight!

Seriously?

How embarrassing, I thought. Here I am trying to be all clever with all of these directions to lean in 2017, and I’ve literally injured myself in the process of failing to follow through this month.

I should probably explain how I came to choose this direction. It was October 1st, and I went out on a Sunday afternoon bike ride to enjoy the beautiful fall day. I was all alone with my thoughts and my 7-speed, pondering which direction I should focus on leaning this month.

“Lean up straight!”

It was a silent voice, but I never doubted that it was a command.

“Got it!” I replied.

I smiled at how easily I heard God on this one.

Some months have been a real stretch to find a new direction to lean, especially now that we are 10 months into this year, but not this time. It was clear, clever, and I mentally knocked out a poem that involved leaning up straight. Too bad I was biking and didn’t take time to write it down.

As I fast forwarded to the infamous moment of realization that I had indeed neglected to actually try  to lean up straight while I was going about living, I felt humbled. Which is probably a good idea when one is leaning up straight.

Leaning up straight with the right heart attitude is crucial; otherwise, it might be misconstrued as arrogance or an attempt at shutting people out when I actually need them.

The truth of the matter is, I need to work much harder at leaning up straight.

I tend to bend down and work harder than I should on things that aren’t nearly as big of a deal as I think they are in the moment.

I tend to pile burdens on my shoulders that belong in the hands of Jesus.

And I tend to let myself get worn down and not nearly as effective a light because I don’t have it in me to stand up tall and shine for those who need a ray of hope.

So much like the end of every other month this year, I find myself admitting that I haven’t even come close to mastering how to lean. I do, however, feel more enlightened on how I need to grow, and that is what this whole “learning to lean” thing is all about.

Lean Beside

Lean beside the ones who ask for help
Just as much as you lean beside the ones who say they’re fine

Lean beside the ones who encourage
As well as the ones who only want to take

Lean beside the ones with whom you agree
As well as the ones with whom you couldn’t disagree more

Lean beside all that you value
So that you can give to all who are willing to receive

Lean beside when you feel like it
And lean a bit harder when you don’t

Lean beside the voice of truth
So that you can speak life to yourself and others

Lean beside the ones who push you
So that you can push yourself

Lean beside the good questions
Especially when they’re not the easy ones

Lean beside the answers
And respond with grace when you don’t want to hear them

Lean beside the sad and hurting
With as much passion that you lean beside the laughter

Leaning beside says more than words can

That we’re in this thing called life together

That I don’t have to know how to fix it

Or even how you feel

But I care enough to be human right along with you

Leaning beside means being brave
It means humanizing when it’s easier not to
That you’re choosing love when hate begs to become a norm
That joining hands can happen with those you least expect

And that there is always, always hope
Because you have someone to lean beside

The Important Work Waits Where We Lean Down to Find It

I’ve made it a tradition to write a back-to-school letter every year on the eve of the first day of classes. I had quietly been planning the letter’s contents for weeks. The theme was going to be, “We have important work to do.” I was determined to write the letter before my head hit the pillow that night because I believed so much in what I needed to say.

After a full day of running around my classroom and making sure everything was as ready as it could be, I came home and worked to get my excited kids calmed down and ready for bed. At last, they were both tucked in and I sat down at the computer and typed the first sentence of my letter:

I have important work to do.

Just as I hit the period on that sentence, my four-year-old princess crept out of her bed to find me, saying my name in her sweetest voice. She donned her most charming, shy smile while holding one of her snuggle buddies, and I felt the words start coming out of my mouth automatically,

“Go to bed, my love. Mommy has something important to do.”

But then I looked down at her, and my heart reminded me that the important work was not in writing the message. Rather, it was investing in her. Rocking her while she’s still small enough to sit on my lap. Listening to her talk and talk and talk about her favorite color and her new friend at preschool whose name she had still forgotten to ask 4 days in. The important work was in us singing Jesus Loves Me together while I stroked her hair then telling her all of the things I love about her.

It was when I chose to stop thinking about writing the letter and opted to lean down and pick her up that I felt clarity in which direction I needed to lean this month.

Not a week went by in August where I was not compelled to stop what I was doing and lean down – lean down and pray my heart out, lean down and send the text or make the phone call, lean down and write the card, make the meal, or send the package. Because important work is never really accomplished if we don’t lean down to reach those who need a hand of hope to encourage them.

We all have important work to do, no matter if it’s at work, at home, with strangers, or those we love, but after feeling helpless as so many people I love the most have been hit with the most difficult trials of their lives in the past few days and weeks, I’m driven to remember to take the time to make the little things that can be easily overlooked the important things.

 

That only happens when I take some time to lean down and notice the details, to hear what they have the energy to share, and fill in the gaps they can’t yet manage to bridge on their own.

 

While I’ve worked hard to get my school year off to a successful start, my most important work has been accomplished when I took a few minutes to intentionally invest in real people with real struggles.

 

That back-to-school letter never did get written, but an important change happened inside of me instead when I resisted the impulse to charge ahead while I was leaning forward so that I could lean down and see how crucial living out what I try to teach is to making a genuine change in a desperately hurting world in need of hope and love.

The Simple, Difficult Act of Leaning Forward

Parkinson’s disease officially joined our family about 3 years ago. It began taking hold of my dad years before the diagnosis, but since that day when he sadly and resignedly admitted, “I have it,” it’s taken our entire family on a different journey. It’s devastating to watch a disease work to overtake his brain, drain him of dopamine, and at times shake the strength out of his grip.

But as time has gone on, I find myself growing more inspired by being around the man who lives with the disease. He’s come to accept it as a real part of his life, but he has refused to let it define or destroy him.

He began attending a boxing class created specifically for Parkinson’s patients several months ago, and every once in a while, I get the opportunity to go with him and be his corner person. Every single time I’ve gone, I’ve found myself encouraged and challenged. People who commit to this class have pledged to not let Parkinson’s rule their lives, and one can’t help but make the connection to other life struggles when such an obvious chronic disease as Parkinson’s is being beat up by shaking, gloved hands.

My personal challenge concerning my year-long resolve to lean was perfectly illustrated last week when I was throwing a few hundred punches on the heavy bags with my dad at the gym.

You see, July was about leaning forward.

The direction we all find ourselves looking each day, no matter what kind of day we had yesterday. The direction that oftentimes invokes fear, anxiety, and insecurity. Ultimately, it’s also the direction we strive to go.

There’s a real and important distinction to make between looking and leaning forward.

Anyone can look forward. I can look forward all day while I’m leaning back, but I’m never going to move without making the effort to lean forward, take those awkward and uncomfortable stretches, and lean into whatever challenge I’m about to face.

Dad did a 1,200 punch workout the other day; his biggest accomplishment in the class so far, and it was somewhere around the 1,000 punch mark, as he and I found our target pieces of colored tape on the heavy bag to wallop that he looked at me for a second, determined grin in place, and said, “See that red piece of tape right there? That’s Mr. Parkinson’s nose!”

He then proceeded to cream his competitor – the demanding, constant, uninvited companion that walks through life with him – with an impressive blow. We did a gloved fist bump and knocked out the rest of the workout.

It was a powerful moment to watch him look at what he needed to do, focus, then lean forward and take it on.

As I worked through my own personal challenges throughout the month of July, I was amazed at the power and simplicity that comes with leaning forward. It’s not easy to do all while being simple. No matter how much it hurts, how far I’ve fallen back, or what obstacle is in front of me, it always boils down to me simply choosing to stop making excuses and lean forward, especially when it’s just easier to stand still.

I’ve made progress each time that I’ve done so just as I’ve watched my favorite boxer grow stronger with each time he leans forward to throw a punch. It’s only fitting to take the challenge of leaning forward with me into the new school year. How do you find yourself leaning forward in your current season?