Dear Teach, a word of encouragement for you

maria

You know you’ve been grading papers too long in one setting when you have to stop yourself from writing sarcastic comments on your students’ papers as feedback. #guilty

What I wanted to write on one kid’s fiction analysis in my reading class: “What in the world?!?! Did we even read the same story?”

What I actually wrote: What was the main problem the character had to fix?

Other times I masked my true feelings…

What I wanted to write: Is this in English?

What I actually wrote: Use your Frequently Misspelled Words list.

What I wanted to write: For the love! You might as well start copying your partner. You’re never going to make it in this class!

What I actually wrote:  Tutorials are every Monday and Tuesday after school. Please make arrangements to come next week.

When I reach this stage of paper grading, I know it’s time to hop up and take a break for a bit. Bye Felicia! I’ll be back when I can record grades without choking back mouth vomit.

We’re about a month into school now; we’re settling into routines. We’re identifying struggling students, setting goals, making adjustments, probably clicking along at a pretty steady pace. As we begin to settle into fall and the first round of assessments are administered, we sometimes begin to fully realize the pressure put upon us as teachers. For me, it’s usually about this time of year when I begin to feel overwhelmed… by a myriad of things: getting students to be successful in the classroom and having data to prove it, balancing work life/family life, beating down the to-do lists faster than they can grow, wondering if I’ll ever get a few minutes of peace to myself before bedtime without accidentally falling asleep… just a number of things that make me feel uptight. Inevitably, when I feel stressed out, I have to deal with self-doubt. This leads to more negative self-talk than I care to admit.

Anticipating this natural shift in the year, I’m being more intentional this time in dealing with my feelings. This year, I have a battle plan in place. (Because, yes, I’m one of the many who contributed to the $11.4 million dollar success of the film War Room.“The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy.”) This year I’m choosing to take a pro-active approach to stress and self-doubt. I’m on the offensive now, and through much prayer I’ve identified my battle cry: 2 Timothy 1:7.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

A timid person is one who shies away from confrontation. A timid person feels unconfident in the face of strife. This is the chick who wishes things were better but never figures out how to actually make it happen. This is Elle Woods, when who we really need is G.I. Jane.

According to this verse (advice Paul offered to his BFF Timothy while being imprisoned for his beliefs), Jesus has equipped us with a spirit that is ready to take the offensive. In the face of self-doubt, he empowers us to stand up for ourselves and to protect our well-being. He provides us with the emotional, mental, and spiritual power to claim his truths instead of the lies the enemy would lead us to believe. We should not let Stress tell us that we are a poor teacher or an inattentive mother this year. Let’s ignore the voice that makes us question if our struggling students will be successful or if our family would be better off with a wife/mom who, like, cooks and stuff.

When we feel maxed out, isn’t it super easy to be irritable and snarky to the people around us? Through the grace of Jesus, we are provided with a spirit that continues to communicate in love. Therefore, this year I’m more equipped to approach my students, my colleagues, and my own family with patience and kindness.

Lastly, I am so thankful for the self-discipline to stay the course even when I am so exhausted I can’t even stay awake through a whole episode of Grey’s Anatomy. When we feel worn out, know that the enemy will want to strike us when we’re weak. In these moments, we’re more likely to lash out or give up. But, hopefully, this year will be different. As we begin to feel overwhelmed, pray this verse. Refuse to let self-doubt creep in and cause undue damage.  Let’s claim our right as a child of God saved through grace, to a mindset of power, love, and steady self-discipline.

Are you ready for battle?

The Care Package Is On Its Way: An Update

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece detailing how our little family was facing a low point and how we were trying our darndest to trust God to work life out for us, hoping through faith that He’d eventually bring us out of our pit. (The Care Package Is On Its Way)

I’d like to report that, glory hallelujah, He did! God was faithful, just like He promised He would be! We were in need of so many things: money, jobs, a place to live, hope because… just. wow… the resolve to move to a new town and start life in a new place… and *SOB* a new church.

Life is better now. It is easier. We feel happier. Back in the spring, we knew that eventually life would cycle back around to these good times. That’s often the nature of life, but it sure was hard in the low times. And I had no idea how long we’d be stuck in the valley. Only by the grace of God did I hold it together long enough to see this time.

Song of Songs 2:10-12 New International Version (NIV)
10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.

God was faithful! Not because we got what we wanted. Not just because it’s easy to proclaim His faithfulness when we’re happy and relieved, and we feel blessed. (Don’t get me started on the “prosperity gospel” or the likes of Joel Osteen!) God was faithful because He promised our family that the low point wasn’t permanent. He had promised to take care of us. He gave us a reason to have hope just when we thought we were ready to throw in the towel. Months (maybe years?) before we actually needed money, jobs, a place to live, a church, resolve, He was providing those things or getting them ready for us.

Hindsight is 20/20, right? I’m glad God doesn’t run to our rescue at the escape of every whimper, at the exact moment we panic and think our lives are crumbling to inevitable ruin.

Patience.

Faith.

His timing.
Society treats everything like it’s an emergency. My mind plays the same trick on me when I wake up in the middle of the night. Why does everything seem so dire at 3:00 am? I am a failure at EV.E.RY.THING and every menial task on the to-do list is in danger of imminent demise (which has taught me to NEVER send emails in the middle of the night. They always sound too desperate or too snarky. Not the sweet voice I’d hope to be during the daylight hours. Ha ha!)

Yet, in the lowest of the low times, when we went without the things we swore we couldn’t live without, we noticed we were actually getting by just fine in a lot of respects. Like the times we’ve been dead broke, and the family kept showing up at the dinner table around supper time, like we weren’t dead broke. So I presented those adorable hungry faces with the mystery meal I pulled together with magic, luck, divine intervention, and the couple of random ingredients we still had in the pantry. Coupled with laughter around the table and (hopefully) good conversation (my husband comes from a family who remains pretty quiet at the dinner table compared to my loud family who uses the table to catch up on town gossip and swap stories. He prefers the quiet table, bless his heart), a handful of those dreary meals were actually the most pleasant, heart-warming family dinners we shared together. God was faithful to give us enough, at the appropriate time.

Often, the care package isn’t wrapped like we’d expect, like the left-over holiday wrapping I’m tempted to use for my New Year’s baby’s birthday. Often, it doesn’t arrive when we think it should. But rest assure, the care package is on its way because God is faithful.

Dear Little One,

I look at your empty crib. I love looking at that thing. I found the perfect pink chevron-patterned crib sheet that compliments a matching grey one in your brother’s crib, just feet away. I have no idea how this room will come together, but I am determined to create a space that both unites the room for you and your brother and allows a little boy to feel boy-ish and a little girl to feel girly. First world problems, dear.

I wonder about you. Often. When you finally join our family, how old will you be? What color will your hair be? How long before you accept us– all of us, the good, the bad, and the ugly? Will you get married one day? How in the world will the man I’ve been with for so long react when he has to walk you down that aisle and trust that the man before him will care for you and cherish you like we have? Like God does.

What will you be when you grow up? How will you find purpose and fulfillment? One thing I know is that no matter how big your dreams are, God has big dreams for you too. My greatest hope for you, darling, is that one day you’ll know God like I do. And then you’ll begin to understand. He loves you so much. He has called you by name. And the dreams He has for you will completely blow your mind. They are more than you could ask for, or imagine, or even imagine to ask for because it will be for His glory.

Daughter, don’t doubt yourself. Fear and insecurity are a trap, and they can be paralyzing if you take your eyes off of the cross. I ask often for what I’ve come to call “tunnel vision to the cross.” I pray the same over you. For whatever big dream God wishes he could make in your life, He’ll prepare you. Don’t bother feeling overwhelmed or daunted by the task; He has equipped you to live out your dream. You are exactly who He needs, with the talents you have and the heart that leads you.

You are enough.

You are worthy.

He looks at you and proclaims, “You are mine.”

And that, sweetheart, will be the most profound truth you will ever learn.

 “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!”
Ephesians 3:20-21

 

 

Bring Back Our Girls: The Power of ONE

lilysblackboard.org

lilysblackboard.org

What the heck is going on in Nigeria?

And more so, I’m just a middle class American mom…

enjoying a life of relative ease in this Western culture so hated by the Islamic group, Boko Haram… what influence can I possibly have?

(For a full story of the conflict in Nigeria, click here.)

The answer is: a lot.

I stumbled across this on Facebook, a movement supported by achurchforstarvingartists.wordpress.com. The blog urges readers to pick one name (of the incomplete list of released names) of one kidnapped girl in Nigeria and to pray fervently for both her and her family.

Well, I can do that.

I can remember the girl I’ve chosen– Liyatu Habitu– as I pray for my own kids. I can remember her family as I lift my own up in prayer.

Because prayer is power.

Because Scripture says God hears our cries and sees our tears.

Because I believe what the apostle Paul said– some things are only the result of prayer.

“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”

Because even when I can’t see the Big Picture, I remember that I serve the God who is, who was, and who is to come. His heart grieves with the heart of every Nigerian girl ripped from safety and familiarity because He doesn’t love them any less than He loves me. And He is reaching out for them in this broken, evil-filled world.

I can’t do much for a remote crisis far across the globe that just happened to gain international attention.

But I can pray.

I can pray for a miracle for Liyatu, that she’ll make it home one day and that for now at least, she’ll find a moment of relief or peace. And I pray for her family, that they’ll find peace eventually, without losing hope of their daughter’s return.

One individual committed to praying for one little girl can make a difference. God willing, it could be the difference between life and death, between being a slave or being free. Between being broken or being healed.

I’m just one, but prayer has power.

“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”

 

Luke 12:48
When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

The Care Package Is On Its Way

 

This morning I found myself in an interesting predicament during my drive to work.

Stopped at a red light, smack dab in the middle of a busy school zone don’t you know, I heard something on the radio that grabbed my attention so abruptly and with such raw honesty that a torrent of tears unlocked from some recess hidden deep within me. There I was one minute waiting nonchalantly for traffic to begin moving again, and the next thing I knew, I was swiping at my cheeks, trying fiercely to salvage the fresh mascara. There’s no telling what the poor high school kid stopped next to me at the light thought. I was caught up in this story playing over the air waves, and I hadn’t realized until that moment how desperately I needed to hear those particular words.

The message was clear: Remember that God often begins filling your needs long before you even know you have them.

A gentleman called into the Christian radio station I was listening to, and I would have immediately turned the channel had my hands not been preoccupied turning the corner. While I love the focus and encouragement I feel on my way to work listening to Christian-oriented stations, I find the banter between radio personalities hokey and the call-in stories feel too rehearsed. I hate the talk; I love the music. This morning though, I was grateful for the talk. The part of the story I clued into was a gentleman explaining how his son is in the military and currently stationed in Afghanistan. Apparently this soldier is well-known among his colleagues for being a Christian and a man who takes prayer seriously.

Recently, there was some kind of mix-up with the meal packs while the soldier’s troop was on a mission and he was forced to go two days without food. He reports that he prayed and asked for something to eat… crackers, anything. He showed trust that the Lord hadn’t brought him that far to let him starve in the middle of the desert. That same night, he received a care package from his church back home. In it was nothing but food! God answered his prayer right when he needed it, and he got to share his snacks with the other people in his company as they witnessed his miracle too.

care-package-for-solider

Here’s the kicker though: his church had mailed that care package two months before it arrived in his hands. Two months! Two months before he even felt the slightest pang of hunger, God was already at work pulling the pieces together to meet his need.

And that’s the part of the story that gripped me.

And I tried to act as normal as possible at the stoplight, screaming in my head for the green light that would move the cars around me again so I could react without disturbing those cute kids next to me, waiting to pull into their high school parking lot. “Dude! Did you see that lady? I think she was losing it.” Oh the stories people could tell if they watched me in my car!

My husband and I are in a peculiar, and admittedly trying, season of life. Many changes are coming around the corner. Some welcome, some our choosing. Some not. It sure is easy to feel scared and doubtful in times like this.

I am reminded that God is faithful. Surely He didn’t bring us to the middle of the desert just to have us starve to death, literally or metaphorically. We do live in West Texas after all… for now, anyway… . He knew exactly what we would be facing. He knew long ago what we would need now. He began fitting pieces together for us, for this time, long ago. I can’t necessarily see the whole picture at this time, but He can. And I am able to stand on His truth: that He has proven faithful in the past, so I know He will be faithful now.

Lord, I trust you.

The care package is on its way.

The 25th Hour

I read something by Sheila Walsh (Women of Faith speaker) this morning that jolted me awake.

I was still lying in bed, aware of the sound of the baby stirring in the monitor, but not really cognizant enough yet to act on it. It was going take more than just a couple of “I’m awake!” wimpers from #3’s room to stir me. We’d already been up together for some quality bonding time from about 4:00- 6:00. At 8:00, I was waiting for the full-on wails and a Mack truck to lift my big bottom and get it moving. I blame it on my pillows, y’all. Oh, be still my heart… my pillows. Just the right fluff, 2 semi-flat ones (not too fluffy, not too stiff) stacked up under my head, one REALLY fluffy one beside me on the outside because even though I’m 34-years-old, the edge of the bed still freaks me out a little in the middle of the night. Now that I found a replacement housekeeper, fresh-smelling pillow cases hold me hostage. Everything was so peaceful in that groggy, don’t-make-me-open-my-eyes-yet bliss that preceded the morning routine.

So I can only blame myself for the abrupt end to such a peaceful morning start. But what can I say? My phone needed me to check it. Most days, I do a quick scroll before I get out of bed. Glance at facebook and Instagram; check email. And boo-yah! Today I landed a free e-download!  Daily Devotions for Women: 10 days of devotions by Women of Faith. Um yeah. I’ve got a few seconds to start my day by dwelling on words that I can count on to inspire me and teach me a biblical truth.

Because I like to peruse my books before I start reading them, I usually stop on some page in the middle that intrigues me and read a little there. Hopefully I force myself to a stopping place before the end so I can back up and start again at the beginning like normal readers probably do. Today, the page that caught my eye was titled “Never Off Duty.” Now, that got my attention.

I began reading this devotion by Walsh with the thought, “Finally! Someone who understands me!” I felt excited about the refreshing words that would remind me I’m not the only one who always feels “on.” It’s the kind of stuff that makes you have love affairs with your pillows and drives the average mom, who is head-over-heels in love with her children, to wait for those darlings to scream and wail from the crib before she admits it’s probably time to go get them up.

Not that I’ve done that or anything.

Not that I did that this morning.

But do you know what?

That Walsh lady did not have one single uplifting comment for me! Her tone was more like the one we’ve adopted on the campus where I teach–“Suck it up, Buttercup!”

Now, that got my attention.

But she said it best,

“It’s easy to be loving and kind for twenty-four hours to thousands of complete strangers knowing that I’ll fly home shortly. But my lifelong commitment is to my husband.”

Christ was never “off duty.” Even when he went alone to pray, to catch a few minutes rest, he welcomed interruptions and used them to teach. We’re called to love, love, love, and never stop loving because Christ loved, loved, loved, and thank goodness never stops loving.  It’s easy to come home and shut down after the kids are in bed and the nightly chores are done. It may be 8 or 9:00 (or later if there’s school work to do for us teachers), but heck, the prospect of “turning off” is what keeps me going many nights so I can make it to 8:00.

Now, my husband is a coach. So I can afford the luxury of “turning off” most nights, simply because he isn’t home to need my attention. But Walsh made me realize I’ve fallen into a dangerous trap, because I’ve let “off” become my  nightly habit. When I want to be, I am EXTREMELY committed. ha!

Wives of coaches, you understand, don’t you? When Coach is gone more than he’s home, you naturally develop your own way of doing things. And darn it if he doesn’t come home on Saturday night and you feel like your whole routine is smashed to pieces even though you’ve been pining for him to come home since Monday night!

Even if my husband isn’t home often, when he is home, Christ commands that I love him. Love on him. Make him feel loved. Open the lines of communication again. Pray over him and with him.

25th hourThe burning question remains though– how do I keep loving when I physically and spiritually (my whole body and soul y’all!) ache for the second I can feel like I’m off duty?

Prayer.

It starts with prayer.

Lord, I want to love and to give like you loved and gave.

Lord, give me what I need for right now.

For me, communication is also key.

It’s not fair to Brad that the first time he’s alerted to my problems is when I’ve escalated to panic and rage mode. Instead of blowing up on him the first night he’s able to spend time with me, or worse ignoring him because isolation is easier than arguing, I can be ready to love him. Hopefully by then, we’ve had some quick, casual conversations throughout the week and if there is a problem simmering below the surface, he’s been made aware of it. During those precious times we’re together, we can then focus on loving each other.

Not to say that a well-timed and well-meaning argument isn’t necessary from time to time. A family friend of ours answered her phone one afternoon to hear her neighbor from across the street on the line: “Can you come over and watch the kids for a few minutes? M* and I need to step outside and yell at each other.”

Ha!

Lastly, I may just have to eat my own words and suck it up, buttercup.

If I’m doing everything else: praying, communicating, finding ways to take care of my own needs (MOMS, it’s okay to make yourself a priority every now and then!), then sometimes extending love to others is just sheer sacrifice. We do it because it’s good for our relationships, but mostly it’s good for our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

=          =          =          =          =          =          =         =         =          =         =          =          =

Frequently, I wish there was just one more hour in the day. Work and laundry and backpacks and lunches and bottles never end. The to-do list will never be complete, so I’m glad I’ve accepted that as a fact rather than a defeat. Because when it all comes down to it, if I were finally granted a 25th hour like I’ve always wished, I probably wouldn’t try to get another thing marked off the list anyway. I’d focus on loving…  loving that tall drink of water I married 11 years ago and those three boys who rarely let me “off duty.”