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February: Lean Around

“I’m totally judging you right now.”

A student’s snarky response to what was an attempt on my part to connect with him cut me right to the core.

I know better than to take things students say personally, and most of the time it’s easy for me to let statements such as this one roll off my back, but not this time.

This time I had to put on a mask to hide the intensity with which his words echoed into my soul. Because this time? I felt like I should be judged.

My inner voice had been whispering messages of self doubt into my heart in recent days, and hearing one hurting, unsuspecting person’s attempt at humor at my expense confirmed that the murmurings in my heart were true. I was a worth being judged. I should stop fighting it and accept that it was true.

As I continue on my journey to lean this year, I’ve been learning in the most painfully vulnerable sorts of ways that it is crucial to lean around the obstacles that stand in the way of me living in grace.

I believe in grace and it’s power, and yet there are more times than I usually acknowledge that I want to earn it. I want to be worthy of it.

If those silly desires were true, however, then grace wouldn’t be what it is. Grace can’t be grace if it’s able to be earned. Grace is the most genuine driving force in my life in spite of the countless ways I screw up and don’t deserve it.

And yet there are times that I get stalled in front of voices of negativity, where I shut out the message of God’s grace so that I can soak in the painful blows of self-doubt that spew out, washing over my confidence and peace. The acidity of the lies burn through my shield, and I become a sponge that expands with each backhanded comment, deflecting truth and joy as I swell up with despair.

It’s during the times in life that I get this lethargic with anguish that I must choose to lean around the hurdles that say I can’t live a joy-filled, grace-permeated life.

For some reason, I tend to resist this necessary stretch. I despise hearing the voices that bring me down, yet I willingly make myself susceptible to their toxic messages.

Thus I’m making myself learn to stretch rather than cower. When I stand before an impugning barricade of any kind, I willfully choose to defy its deft attempts to hold me back by leaning around it so I can instead blaze a curved yet determined path towards freedom and truth.

The winter seasons of life require a staunch effort to survive, fight, and plow through dark days. There will be voices of doubt and criticism that will practically shout hopeless lies. The trick is to hear them, but then lean around them to keep moving forward anyway.

Learning to lean is tough, but each day that I endeavor to do it, I become more convinced that it’s the worthy way to truly living.

So lean around with me, won’t you?

A Look Back on 2016

I was kind of a rebel with my one little word choice for 2016: I actually picked a 2-word phrase.

Worth it

We had to make a lot of really big decisions this year, and being a person who isn’t by nature incredibly decisive, it was important to me to have a filter to run those decisions through.

Is it worth it?

Is the discomfort, uncertainty, and awkwardness going to lead to an end result that is worth it all?

We also deemed this year one of adventure. As a family, we wanted to try new things, make our own adventures, and have fun memories to hold onto.

The changes included things like

  • Selling our first home and moving closer to school
  • Family bike rides – this is our new favorite thing to do together
  • Daisy starting preschool
  • Tanner studying and testing to make the promotion list at work (He made the list! We are just waiting for the position to open up.)
  • An anniversary vacation to Colorado
  • New recipes and restaurants
  • Dash starting Mighty Mites football

We faced some serious bumps along the way, lost sleep, and even crashed and burned some days, but we all grew, too. We are learning what it means to work together as a family team, take risks, and say no to things that just aren’t worth it cost.

My heart is full at the end of this year. God has blessed us and sustained us, and I’m grateful for the memories and wisdom our family has gained by adventuring together.

Christmas is for the Broken

Christmas is for the broken.

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She was grieving and looking for something to fear rather than face the pain.

She sucked in her breath and let out a prayer that her broken heart wouldn’t scatter out of reach when she exhaled.

He held his own tears at bay and placed an arm of support around her broken heart.

He was consumed with paranoia so much that the truth seemed to mock him rather than free him.

His steady grin and shaking hands found a way to make peace with each other, all the while exhausting his body.

She leaned into the homesickness and remembered what was before.

She slowly started facing the fact that she was not solely responsible for fixing the brokenness of everyone around her.

She didn’t mean to break it. Neither did he, but eventually plastic can’t help but fracture.

The freshness of loss colliding with the memories of what used to be make for a broken Christmas.

But truly?

Those of us leaning into the reality of brokenness on Christmas have a fragile handle on something we might have failed to acknowledge in years past: Christmas is made for the broken.

It’s a reality that is often attempted to be glossed over with shiny wrapping and cute Christmas cookies.

A reality that we overlook as we break the seals and rip the bows on the gifts. In order to get to the treasure inside the package, we have to embrace ripping, tearing, and destroying of that festive cover someone spent hours getting “just so.”

The real brokenness that wove its way into Christmas this year made it a new kind of beautiful – a glimmer of beauty that the humble souls living out the bizarre events of the first Christmas might have felt.

The confusion and pain of a new mom who wanted nothing more than to offer the most comfortable and clean place to snuggle her king-child after the agony of bringing him into the world.

The fear and frustration of a man who watched his wife birth a child far from home after his efforts to at least provide her with a clean place to stay were repeatedly rejected.

The confusion of some worn-out, forever-changed shepherds whose routine and filthy work was broken by a glimpse at what glory actually looks like.

They all got just enough perspective to push through the broken dreams, rejection, and disheveled surroundings to see that Hope was born in the midst of their broken, screwed-up world.

It’s only appropriate that the fanfare that comes in the weeks, days, and hours preparing for the most wonderful day of the most wonderful time of the year ends with a day where everything is left in disarray.

Christmas is a thing because of flawed, broken people. It’s a thing because grace is the only answer.

Christmas can be celebrated when we don’t feel much like celebrating because it’s not about us. When we try making it perfect or about ourselves, disappointment leads to anger
leads to bitterness
leads to ugly attempts to salvage a meaningless day.

While the facets of pain are difficult to endure, the True Meaning of Christmas came to redeem shattered dreams and imperfect realities.

And that is why I can say with a joy that grows deeper with each year that I live,

Merry Christmas!

 

You’re More Creative Than You Think

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If you’re currently under the impression that you are failing in the creativity department, this message is for you.

You wake up with high hopes for weaving a beautiful tapestry of productivity sewn together by imagination and inspiration. You progress on your construction as best you can, each check mark on the to-do list weaves another row on the day’s fabric. Midway through the day, you pause to look at what you’ve made, and you sigh contentedly at the way the patterns are coming together.

Then reality comes along and snips your thread.

Your to-do list gets crumpled. You realize you’re still in your pajamas at 2:00 P.M. and haven’t showered in three days. Your little people begin revolting at your announcement that it’s nap time. Your boss walks in with a surprise assignment. You get that call from the doctor’s office you were holding your breath for all week.

The next thing you know, the day is over and your high hopes for a dazzling day are wadded up like a ball of thread, tangled beyond repair.

And you decide to hide behind an apology for what you believe is an inability to cope with the demands placed upon you. You likely keep throwing the scraps of what you create every day in the corner, mourning what could have been if only you were creative.

Can I challenge you to stop apologizing? You’re doing the best you can. Even if you aren’t making what you hoped to be making with your days in this season of your life, you’re still creating valuable things. What if you went ahead and did something with all of those half-finished, twisted, sometimes colorful other times drab creations from each of your days?

If you’re honest, you can see a little bit of madness in everyone’s life, so why not embrace what you have and make a patchwork quilt with your own craziness?

Patchwork quilts say, “I’m not going to let what I have get thrown away because it looks like garbage right now.” Instead, it embraces tattered fragments of small victories from one day and intertwines them with half-done, ripped up, (and maybe even drooled upon) shreds of another day’s accomplishments.

Patchwork quilts stop the claim, “I’m not creative enough” with saying, “I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, but I’m going to work with it.”

Being creative is so much more than we think it is. Creativity is what changes the world. It’s what makes a task we dread become an accomplishment. It’s finding the positive in the midst of deep negativity. It’s not using trite words when it’s easier to say them. It’s choosing to dwell and soak in when your schedule says to run nonstop.

Creativity acknowledges that things aren’t perfect, and very rarely are they ideal, but you’re going to roll with what you have anyway, so start your own crusade to make the best-looking patchwork art you can, and you will undoubtedly inspire someone else along the way.

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.

 

Sincerely,

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.

Kids

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.

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  • Reading new books and watching a new reader.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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