Author Archives: Kelly

My First Day of School Letter

Last year I started the tradition of writing a letter to my students on the first day of school, and I’m so glad I did it! I realize it’s more for me than for them at this point, but I’m okay with that. To all of my fellow educators, whether you’re teaching in a classroom with cinder block walls, at your dining room table that doubles as a school room, or in an office where you encourage and inspire others to never stop learning, I pray you have a blessed year.

Dear Students,

Have you ever noticed how humanity tends to be obsessed with first things?

First words
First steps
First day of _____ grade
First man to…
First woman to…

This summer, my family and I moved from our first home. There were a million life lessons that came from the experience. Some of them made me feel warm fuzzies and others made me come close to bidding my sanity goodbye.

One thing that has stuck with me came from removing all of our possessions from the house. This meant uncovering patched up holes from first-time home owners before they understood the power of power tools. Going through tubs in the attic revealed dust-covered decor I bought before I was more confident in my sense of style. Cleaning out closets meant finding rags used to mop up messes I respect you too much to describe (motherhood is incredible).

The evidence of how I fumbled my way through the uncertainty of those experiences when they were new challenges are humorous to me now. I know the next person will come in, slather a fresh coat of paint on the dings, stains, and patches on the wall, perhaps shaking their heads at the “mess” we made of things only to make their own holes in the walls and stains on the carpet as they move past their first days there and begin really living.

First days are wonderful because they bring with them a fresh start. None of us have to be defined by last year. We’ve all changed in some way over the summer because life brings that about whether we want it to or not.

But if we’re honest, first days aren’t the best days because we haven’t had a chance to start really living in this new school year yet. I’m not saying they’re bad, but we have much to anticipate and enjoy in the months to come. We haven’t gotten to work, put off work, learned to persevere through challenges and conflicts that arise when doing meaningful work.

We’ll make messes, laugh, likely get annoyed from time to time, be proud of things we accomplish, wish we’d done things differently, and try again. Then in May, we will all pack away our things and then see the evidence of what we learned from each other.

I’m truly thrilled about spending this first day with you, but I am most excited about how this first day will turn into only one of many days.

Thanks for coming along for the journey, my dear kiddos. I know you will inspire and teach me a great deal this year, and I look forward to trying my best to do the same for you.



Mrs. W.

Daddy’s Hands

Daddy’s hands –
A symbol of strength throughout my life
How I learned what a callous was
with its layers of toughened skin from labor
The inspiration for recalling tales from the day
because of the scratches brought about by
wrestling barbed wire,
transforming fallen trees into firewood,
convincing cattle to submit to the head gate,
loading boxes of explosives into the trailer,
or fictional stories involving mom and a frying pan

Dad & Tori

Daddy’s hands –
Wiping tears, steady and sure
when I couldn’t figure out how to navigate growing up
Picking me up and swinging me through the air
Tickling me against my will, making me laugh uncontrollably
Folded together on his chest as he takes a snooze
in his recliner at the end of a full day of work
Then folded in prayer long before dawn the next morning

Ryan & Dad

Daddy’s hands –
Beginning to shake against his will
Less confident and capable of buttoning his shirt and tying his shoes
An outward sign of an inward battle with a disease
he’d rather not become a part of him,
Threatening to take over who he is,
Casting a fog over his brain, zapping him of energy
Yet he walks every day with sometimes slow,
always determined steps
While he wills he trembling hands to still,
and sometimes they listen –
Proving that no matter how much Mr. Parkinson may try to take over who he is,
Daddy will do what he always does with those he comes across in life,
He will kindly shake hands with him
and invite him to come along for the journey,
But not let him steal who God has created him to be.


When No Other Words Can Come, Give Thanks

With the first half of year one back in the classroom almost behind me, I feel equal parts spent and fulfilled. It’s been challenging to learn how to balance our new way of life, but it’s been a worthwhile challenge.

Finding time to sit down and write meaningful things has been beyond my abilities. This is a year of survival and transition. I’m a working mom for the first time as well as a mom with a kiddo in school. Trying to keep up with the homework we both have each night uses up any last reserves of energy I have when I find a bit of quiet before heading to bed.

Then there are the stories the 140 new kids I’ve gained this year continue to share with me. Helping them see how their stories can be worth something great is one of the very reasons I chose to embark on this new adventure.  As I’ve tried making sense of my own story, I came to realize we all need to rumble with the plot twists that leave us reeling. As my students share their stories through writing, behavior, or heart-to-heart conversations, I often find myself teetering, rising, and falling with them.

I’ve tried many time to write about what I’m learning about life in the last few months, but I can’t even begin to make sense of it all. There’s just so much there. Stringing words together used to come much easier for me than they do these days, but I’ve decided that the only way I’m going to get through this season of silence is to practice a little here and there, to stop being afraid to share my words because I’m too tired to proofread as much as I should or bemoaning the fact that my ability to remember fades with each hour I neglect to sleep.

As I tell my students, the only way writing gets easier is to practice writing, and I can’t think of a better way to get back into the swing of things by practicing a discipline that has transformed my life: gratitude. So here I am, making a list of things I’m thankful for in a not-so-poignant, somewhat awkward at times, definitely not proofread-enough sort of list.

I’m thankful for:

  • Joy from watching Dash thrive in school
  • The struggle of keeping identity and priorities balanced because it helps me to find number 3.
  • Satisfaction from being able to look back and see that I’m growing
  • Exhaustion from fighting to convince skeptical souls that I truly believe they’re worth something
  • Seeing an occasional flicker of hope, and sometimes even belief, that I’m right – they are.
  •   The weighty volume of heartbreak students are brave enough to share. They keep me grounded, on my knees, grateful, and inspired by their resilience.
  • That beautiful fall Saturday I got to spend with my dad and my kids on the farm where I grew up.


  • Reading new books and watching a new reader.


  • Also, finding someone who wants to learn to read more than she wants to go to bed succumb to sleep on her pile of books.


  • Getting to see the sunrise more often.
  • Continually realizing that working full-time does NOT mean giving up quality time with my kids. My time with them is much more meaningful now.


  • More and more letting go of expectations, grief, and hurt that held me back
  • Learning what makes me tick, how to roll with it, yet how to not use it as a crutch
  • Trampoline-induced static hair


  • How peppermint mocha creamer makes the extra coffee go down
  • Seeing grace, truth, love, and holiness work together to bring hope
  • Family pictures thanks to my crazy-talented sister’s photography skills


  • An incredible team of co-workers who help me, inspire me, challenge me, encourage me, and make me laugh every single day
  • A husband who has taken on so many more responsibilities as I’ve floundered through figuring out what I’m supposed to teach, grade, wear, and make for lunch the next day
  • Friends that continue to be true to me through all of the changes we are going through in our individual lives
  • Thanksgiving break – because of it, I’ve been able to scrub, clean, bake, read, eat, watch, rest, reflect upon, and laugh about things that have been neglected for far too long

Where I’m From

My awesome friend Ashley and I are both getting back into the teaching saddle after a lengthy hiatus this year, and she inspired me to get in on the fun of the Where I’m From poem with this post, which you should definitely read. Then you should go ahead and just subscribe to her blog while you’re there because you’ll likely feel all kinds of encouraged and inspired  after reading her posts like I do.

Anyway, because Ashley asked me to write my own Where I’m From poem so she could have some examples to show her students, and also because I’m now planning to have my students write their own as well, I threw aside the jitters I’m feeling before heading off to work tomorrow and got my poem written.

Where I’m From

By Kelly West

I’m from homemade dresses and blonde French braids.

Naming calves each spring and stock tanks doubling as swimming pools.

I’m from summers made cooler by eating Pop-ice in front of a green box fan.

Blowing bubble pipes and weaving clover chains kissed by the morning dew.

I’m from being chauffeured in the back of a truck to the filling station each Saturday where I could pick out which flavor of Tootsie Pop® I wanted.

I’m from learning about Moses parting the Red Sea in Sunday school then going home to cheer with the red sea at Arrowhead.

I’m from pondering life under the stars as I drank in the country silence, punctuated by a coyote’s soulful interjection.

I’m from piling wood for the winter to receive the prize of roasted hot dogs and marshmallows – the perfect crispy brown – for lunch.

Afternoons held The Flintstones and Carmen San Diego and evenings Dr. Quinn and Walker, Texas Ranger.

TGIF meant learning about life from a teenage witch and a Boy Meeting the challenges of the World.

I’m from when snow days meant Matlock and The Price is Right.

I’m from where bike crashes left me coated with brown dirt and tiny pebbles tearing open my skin to try making their new home.

Where I’m from, I learned shoes were only necessary in cold weather and snow boots don’t make good hammers.

I’m from a time when Shania reminded me to feel like a woman and page 16 in the hymnbook said to count my blessings





When a Good Thing Comes to an End

Today is perhaps my last quiet day home with just me and the kids for the summer. Monday morning, I officially become a full-time working mom for the first time. It’s a transition I am excited to make, and I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities it opens up for not only me, but also my family.

But of course, in order for something new and exciting to begin, it means the end of an era. The stay-at-home mom season of my life has to come to an end so I can become a teacher again. Seasons of transition always bring with them a jumbled excess of emotions to unwind and make sense of, so of course this summer has kept me busy doing just that.

The time I’ve been home with my kids has been an invaluable opportunity. It has also been the most challenging time of my life. I’ve undergone countless overhauls on perspective, purpose, needs, and identity.


I now know the negative effects sleep deprivation has on me;

Sweet Summer

the impossible yet necessary quest to strike up a balanced friendship with isolation;

Me + kids

three-year-olds can give you bloody noses (unintentionally of course);

Sand box

I’m capable of praising and loathing poop multiple times in any given day;


play dates are sometimes more important for the moms than they are for the kids;


and coffee has miraculous powers.

I’ve also learned one of life’s most important lessons in the time I’ve been raising these kids I love so much: Every experience- both and good and bad – is for a season.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom, and I will forever be grateful that God honored that desire of my heart, but for our family, it is time for a change.

My kids aren’t babies anymore because they weren’t created to remain in the infant stage forever. They were made to grow, and so was I. The greatest gift God has given me as a mother is that, no matter how many changes my family or I go through, I will always be a mom – Dash and Daisy’ mom. As their mom, I’m given an incredible responsibility to teach them how to be brave, try new things, and never stop learning or growing.

The saying, “All good things must come to an end,” may leave a melancholy air with it. As I’ve worked through my jumbled emotions this summer, I have decided it’s unfortunate and unjust to make that statement by itself. I’ve reflected on the numerous good things and times that have come to an end in my lifetime, but I can say with certainty that eventually, saying goodbye to those things has always brought about new good things, and oftentimes even better things.

So yes, I do feel a tad emotional as this time in my life winds up. I will obviously miss the luxury of staying in my pajamas on the mornings that follow up a rough night with a sick kid, but I am thrilled at the opportunity to leave a legacy with 130+ kids in addition to my own each year. I might not get to relish afternoon nap time in the way I used to, but I get to be a very active and empathetic cheerleader for Dash as we start school together in just a couple of weeks. Most importantly, I get to prove to my kids that it’s important to live with this philosophy:

When good things come to an end, make


The Broken Cookie Cutter Marriage

I never used to believe that I was creative.

No. I was too busy lining up cookie cutter pictures of the way life was supposed to be. The perfect good girl looks like this. The perfect student does that. The perfect Christian can’t think or dress that way.

I read book after book about the specific ways to find the perfect spouse and finally decided to stop trying to find a husband altogether. Then one day, when the last thing on my to-do list was to find a man, I met him. Instead of being “perfect,” he was the real deal, more bona fide than any suit-and-tie guy who only quoted the KJV I’d met. He was the just the right fit for me, exactly what I needed to give me a new perspective on how to look at life.

I’d spent 22 years building a kingdom exclusively out of cookie cutter cookies. The only thing is, as pretty as those cookies are to look at, they will never beat a batch of chocolate chip, mismatched in size and shape as they may be.

I have only grown to love the genuine man who has proven over-and-over that being real and true to who you are created to be is worth it. He has made me see that life is far richer when I will embrace the creativity that God has placed within me, even when it looks messy. Messy is real, and it can clean up into something that will inspire others.

On our ninth wedding anniversary, I celebrate the man who unknowingly started crumbling my cookie cutter kingdom eleven summers ago when we met. Others have tried to mold him into their definition of “acceptable,” but instead of settling for their definition of good enough, he has been brave enough to ask God what pleases Him first, and change according to His standard instead.

Nine years of living brings about a great deal of change, but what I love about having a marriage with two people who are real rather than ideal is that, for better or worse, it is rich. I am grateful that I married a man who encourages me to be real and has proven he meant his vows.

Even when I’m not looking or acting pretty, he’s my consistent encourager. He has not only been there in sickness and in health, he’s helped me clean up kid puke in the middle of the night, even though he had to deal with patient puke at work. He’s not only been there for better or for worse, but he actually believes that I can do better at my dreams and passions than I’d ever allow myself to imagine. He’s worked hard and sacrificed much to make our poorer days rich in memories.

I thank God that, when He gave me Tanner, He didn’t send the picture I had in my head. He sent me someone far greater than I could have imagined.

New Love

Love Today

A fun little then and now. Top picture was taken the summer Tanner and I met, and the bottom one I took today.



Being Real

When you’ve been through a refiner’s fire or two, you come out on the other side changed. It’s impossible not to be different. Sometimes, even though you know that you are not who you used to be, you wonder if other people notice, too, or if they just think you’re crazy. 😉

The other night I got to spend some time with a dear friend of mine whom I’ve known  for nearly a decade. We attended church together when I was very much of the mindset that my purpose in life was to be the hardest-working, model church member out there.

That was when I believed that being faithful to God meant not only being at every church function, but serving at it as well. Why be in charge of one ministry at church when it was humanly possible to be a part of 3-5 at any given time?

That was a time in my life when I would have said and believed, “My identity is in Christ” but I did not yet understand that my identity was a balled up mess, woven into titles, expectations, and tradition.

This friend has known me through the unraveling of my identity. We don’t see each other as often as we used to, but she has prayed me through some extremely dark days. She’s a fellow lover of the beautiful stories that God writes with our lives and has been one of my greatest encouragers as I’ve grappled with how to share it.

As I once again wondered about my sanity while we talked, she made this whole messy process that I’ve been working through a bit more worth it by stating, “You are not the same girl you were five or six years ago, hardly even the same DNA. Now your story is real, and I can relate to you in my own mess.”

There was a time when I would not have considered those phrases a compliment. I’d have much rather heard someone say, “You haven’t changed a bit.” When your works come out as rubble in the fire, however, you have a different perspective. As I continue to sort through the mayhem of what remains after the fires God saw me through, there are times I wonder if it was worth it. Did I actually come out stronger or more chaotic?

I believe the answer is both. Because the truth is, I am still trying to find the balance in what was good about who I was before and what I need to let go of. A prime example of when the struggle was very real was just a couple of months ago.

I forgot to go help prepare a meal for the local homeless shelter because I was helping family. I cried the entire frantic trip across town in hopes that I wasn’t too late. I was. The grace that the sweet women I had unintentionally stood up extended to me was precious, but the old me swam intently to the surface begging for a chance to prove that I’m better than that. The new me, humbled and much more willing to receive grace told the old me to calm down and remember, “You aren’t defined by your mistakes. We all need reminders from time to time that we desperately need grace. In the end, grace is enough. It has to be.”

While we all appreciate people who are real and relatable, the process required to become that ourselves is no easy feat. If you find yourself in that process, let me recommend the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. She brings up some powerful points about the value of vulnerability, even in a culture that thrives on shame. I love the passage from The Velveteen Rabbit that she shares on pp. 110-111 of her book.  I hope you do, too.

   “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.””Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”