Category Archives: What I’m All About

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

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.

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.

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.

Lean Back

 

My One Little Word for this year is Lean. My goal was to focus on a different direction/aspect of how to lean in order live a healthy life. I kind of skipped April and May because life happened, and I got overwhelmed. Somewhere in the middle of those months, I decided that June would be all about leaning back because it was evident I needed to do so in a desperate way. As my month of focusing on leaning back draws to a close, I’ve put together an alliterated list of five things leaning back means to me. I hope you enjoy, because I’ve enjoyed this month of leaning back (even the awkward and messy parts of it) immensely!

Leaning back means…

Resting – I tend to get caught up in “living” so much that I forget that rest is a crucial part of really living the life I’m meant to live. I wrote about what I’ve recently learned about rest here. By getting tangled up in a busy schedule through April and May, I forgot how to lean at all most of the time. Leaning back has been an imperative step for me in June. It’s been beautiful, wonderful, and the only way I could get to one of my favorite things to do (and the next thing on my list of what leaning back means).

Reflecting – Reflecting when I’m not actually leaning back translates into me over-analyzing and, inevitably, spiraling. The kind of reflecting that happens when I’m leaning back is intentional. It comes from a healthy perspective that brings about self-improvement rather than self-loathing. There’s a big difference, and it’s a necessary one to distinguish. The right kind of reflecting will always lead to the next two things on my list.

Removing – It’s impossible to rest and reflect without getting rid of some unnecessary or unhealthy parts of our lives. We recently purchased a storage shed to clear out some space in our garage. While we moved most of the things taking up prime real estate in our garage into a new building, we also opened up the opportunity to reevaluate what we could live without completely; there were several items that we decided to throw away. Cleaning up the right way can’t happen without throwing out the things that we no longer need. As I’ve leaned back, I’ve been able to see some mindsets, habits, and time wasters that needed to get the boot, and I feel lighter already now that they’re gone.

Restoring – When there’s an empty space in our lives (for example, when we’ve done some reflecting and removal of unnecessary things), I have become a firm believer in embracing the wisdom of Ephesians 4:21-24. It says,

 

“assuming that you have heard about him [Jesus] and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

The deal-breaking decision after removing something from our lives is how we’re going to refill the hole it leaves behind. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we will always find some way to refill the spaces we think will stay tidy and empty. That’s why, as a believer, it’s crucial to dig into God’s Word more when we’re in a time of redefining what’s important and what’s not. Removing becomes a pointless act if we aren’t choosing to restore ourselves to God’s intended purpose for our lives. No matter how mundane or crazy it might seem, there’s always evidence that He’s there to redeem us through the process. A fabulously weird example of this happened just tonight as we were having dinner as a family.

Rice Crispy Scrapes – We had one of those days. The kind that leaves everyone feeling like they’ve been on a roller coaster with the seat belt starting to fray out as you’re in the middle of a series of impressive twists. Our kids were feeling it, we as parents were feeling it, and we’d talked, disciplined, hugged, and distributed a couple dozen tissues and maybe a band-aid or two. We sat down to a thrown-together, late dinner just as the tension and heightened emotions began to stabilize a bit.

As I sat down at my seat, I let out a yelp as my elbow met some sharp object on the edge of the table. To my astonishment, the source of my pain was a rice crispy flake that was cemented to the side of the table from Daisy’s breakfast. (I told you it was one of those days.) As I lifted my elbow to examine the damage, blood started running down my arm, and we all started to laugh.

 

I had been injured by a Rice Crispy.

 

That little fleck of cereal was just the punctuation mark we all needed to cut through the stress of the day and laugh at the hilarity and ridiculousness of the day’s events. It was a reminder to not take life too seriously, and sometimes, even the things that hurt at first can ultimately make us laugh and remember that we are a family that is there for each other, even for putting bandages on injuries sustained by cereal.

So there you have it, just a glimpse into what my month has looked like. It’s been my favorite one of 2017 so far, and I’m confident it’s because of a renewed focus on what’s important, and without a doubt, a whole lot more sleep.

 

Choosing Kindness

As I’m easing my way into summer, I’m looking forward to writing more. To get reacquainted with my blog, I’m wiping away the virtual cobwebs with something I had the honor of sharing at my school’s baccalaureate a couple of weeks ago. The theme of the evening was the Fruits of the Spirit, and the students who put the service together had a different person speak about each fruit, connecting it to a physical piece of fruit. 

I was delighted to receive the task of discussing a quality that I believe in so much – kindness. 

 

It’s a human tendency to fail to see the beauty in the ordinary. We are attracted to flashy things that make bold statements. Trends draw us into them and make us lose sight of the things that seem common or dated.

It’s this very tendency that makes the fruit of kindness such a strong evidence of the Spirit’s work.

Sandwiched in the middle of the qualities listed in Galatians 5, kindness isn’t there to blend in. Rather, it’s there as a backbone for all of the other fruits. Its quiet strength speaks volumes, and it is completely content to go about its invaluable work, even when it goes unnoticed by others.

When I was thinking of which fruit I believed best represents kindness, I thought of the apple.

Much like kindness, one might argue that the apple is one of the most ordinary of fruits. There’s nothing flashy about it. It’s the fruit that people go to without really giving it a second thought, but at its core lies the tiniest, most powerful source of the life of faith.

We decide whether or not we like an apple by its skin. Each color embraces a distinct flavor that the consumer will either find off-putting or appealing. What’s fascinating about kindness is its ability to be pure in how it functions, in spite of how others view it.

Kindness doesn’t pay so much attention to the color of the skin, rather it realizes that underneath the skin, all apples have the same color of flesh. Kindness is the great equalizer. It’s the thing that sees what we all have in common and, as a result, pours out empathy on everyone around it. It understands that there is no point in judging because we all have a common need for grace. Grace can not be understood without kindness. Showing kindness is living out grace so that others see that it is possible, even though it’s undeserved.

The thing that is the most compelling about the fruit of kindness is the power of its tiny seeds. While the world might scoff at kindness and view it as weakness, in reality the small seeds of kindness that are intentionally planted understand their potential to change the world.

Much like the apple seed, when a seed of kindness is planted, it will often go unnoticed by those who pass by. It will even be trampled upon as it silently yet diligently sprouts its roots into the soil. Given time, the seed of kindness grows to provide a better world. A world with a tree that provides shade, a place for a traveler to rest while on a long journey, a place where children can climb and see the world from a new perspective, but most noticeably of all, it produces an abundance of fruit.

This is the beauty of what might have seemed just a simple fruit: it is most effectively accomplished in the ordinary. It can look quite different from one kind to the next, but on the inside it sees itself and others for who we really are. And it provides seeds that, when faithfully planted and tended, grow into one of the strongest producers of rest, joy, and nourishment – kindness.

Why It’s Imperative to Lean On

I watched her grade drop by the day. Another assignment not turned in, another excuse or knowing giggle when I talked to her about it.
After two years, she and I have learned to be real with each other about parts of our stories that we had carefully guarded, building a trust that suspended the judgments that had kept secrets that needn’t be secrets. I knew what it meant when she read book after book rather than write a paper. She was going into self-preservation mode, knowing exactly what she should be doing – making her story worth the pain she’d endured for years.
Bit by bit, she has begun to climb out of the darkness of secrets, but the pit in which she has dwelt for so long is a looming one that takes immense courage, faith, and strength to escape.
“You always make me write about the things I don’t want to think about,” she would claim time and again.
“On the contrary, my dear, it is your heart that is begging you to unleash your powerful story. To move past being enslaved to it, and to victoriously share hope with someone else.”
It’s true. The stories within us will eventually reach a point of no return. A point when we know it’s not meant to eat us alive even after we’ve convinced ourselves we are worth nothing more than the false names and claims the villains in our stories have repeatedly whispered.
And writing those stories we never wanted to live takes all of the energy right out of our souls until we actually begin doing the work of getting those words out for others to hear.
Then all of the sudden, we realize how much we need to lean on others to lead others, to lead ourselves, to hope – to victory.
When she refused to even read anymore, I knew there was something more – a new painful chapter she was living on her journey out of the pit.
I waited. I prayed. I waited some more until one day she told me her new chapter of uncertainty.
And we cried together, leaning on the Truth that binds our hearts together in hope.
It was during that conversation that I knew stories like hers are exactly why I need to work harder to lean on others.
Climbing out of pits created by tragedy, evilness, and grief cannot be done alone. We are meant to lean on others, especially when we face feelings that tell us that we are burdening others too much. Because what we believe to be burdens for others, actually end up being glimmers of purpose, necessary shifts in perspective, and the stuff that genuine relationship is made of.
While she walked away feeling a bit lighter by not feeling the weight of trekking her difficult road alone, I walked away feeling all the more inspired to lean on the incredible people who are begging to walk alongside me in life rather than allowing my own burdens to weigh me down.
Living the victorious life and letting freedom happen is an intensely personal journal many miles along the way, but it will never be accomplished without tried and true friends who stick beside us, especially when we try to push them away.
So lean on.
Walk on.
Purpose on,
and start by sharing your story.

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