Game Sweats

Several months ago I was teaching all of my classes virtually. I had met some of my students for about 10 minutes in person before moving to strictly digital. Of course when I met them, they were wearing masks so I didn’t really know what they looked like. Now that we are back full time, I still have no clue what they really look like. But I digress. One kid, Nathan, always wore a hat to our virtual meetings. Not a baseball hat, but a fedora. And not just one fedora, but a different one every day. He’s a twelve-year-old boy with a pretty fabulous fedora collection, so he stood out.

Since he was in his bedroom for our meetings, he was distracted like all the other kids. One day in the middle of instruction, I leaned in close to my mic and said, “Although you are in your bedroom, the same rules apply during class time, so please put your swords away. I would hate to witness you slicing yourself to ribbons when one of those swords gets away from you.” He immediately stopped his sword twirling routine and put them away. I was impressed, but was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be able to do his work and twirl two swords. His mom must have caught on to the distractions because pretty soon he was moved to the kitchen table for classes.

Now that he’s at school his personality is in full force, and I find myself laughing a lot. One day he was waiting for his bus and talking to the girl who sits behind him. I only heard part of the conversation, but it was enough to make me chuckle. “Yeah, he was for sure an existential writer, that’s clear in his works.” The girl screwed her face up and said, “I have no idea what you just said.” He continued with his thought, ignoring her comment all together. I think he might have still been talking as she stomped off to catch her bus.

Yesterday Nathan stayed for Board Game club, along with another girl, Emily. We typically have more show up, but there was a conflict with the Art Club, so it was just the three of us. When we were walking back to my classroom, he said something about being thirsty and wishing he had remembered his water bottle. The conversation shifted to what 8th grade was like, even though they are still new to 7th grade and the need for fluid comment was forgotten.

Once in the room we played a card game called, “Taco, Cat, Goat, Cheese, Pizza.” At one point during the game, Emily took a drink from her water bottle and I took a drink from mine. Nathan commented, “Look at you two just nonchalantly drinking your drinks. Meanwhile I’m sitting here ready to drink that bottle of lotion because I’m so thirsty.” I laughed as I scrounged up enough change to get him bottle of water from the machine mostly because I wasn’t sure what bodily harm would ensue if he drank my apple scented lotion. He thanked me profusely and proceeded to drink the entire bottle of water in two gulps.

Emily was shuffling the cards when I heard what I thought was a fart. I would have died in middle school, or now for that matter, if I had audibly farted in front of people, so I didn’t say anything. Emily either didn’t notice or didn’t want to embarrass anyone because she continued shuffling and I continued reading an alternate set of rules. I looked up to see Nathan bright red and convulsing from laughter, tears streaming down his face as he tried to say, “It reverberated on the chair.” It took him about three tries to get the whole sentence out before he exclaimed with joy, “Oh- and it smells. Awww, that’s awful” he said has he frantically waved his hand in front of his nose. Emily and I just looked at each other and walked to the opened window and stuck our faces outside to avoid smelling Nathan’s fart- who was still having a complete middle school boy moment as he laughed maniacally from inside his fart cloud.

Once the cloud dissipated, we started a new round of the game. When a card matched the word spoken by the dealer, all players slapped the cards. This involved our hands touching. I later realized it probably wasn’t a Covid friendly game because it involved touching, but we had a blast. After a card slap, Emily wiped her hand on her jeans and commented, “Someone has sweaty hands.” Nathan immediately said, “Oh, that’s probably me. I’ve got the game sweats.”

We laughed for nearly the entire hour in board game club. It was a great way to end the day, although I could have done without the smelly fart.

A Different Kind of Day

There was a tragedy in our community this past weekend which has impacted our school. A student lost his sister and mother at the hands of his stepfather who took his own life. I was speaking with someone today and mentioned that this group of students has had more tragedy and oppression than any group I’ve taught before. This is the second student in this class of 7th graders to have lost multiple family members in a single act of violence by another family member. It’s difficult to wrap my mind around as a woman in her forties, so I can’t imagine how a twelve year old would go about doing it.

I arrived to school this morning with a small knot of dread in my stomach. I took three days off last week, the first full week that all students were back in the classroom all year. As I walked to my desk I saw a long note from the substitute. Typically that means disaster ensued in my absence and I will spend the day dealing with discipline issues and trying to catch up students on work that should have been completed last week. I also worried about how to handle questions should they arise about the events of the weekend.

I set my coffee down on my desk and began reading the note, preparing my heart for the worst. I slowly read as the substitute praised my students for their hard work and good behavior. He wrote about how helpful my teacher’s aid was to him and the children. He finished his note with an offer to work for me anytime I needed a substitute. I sighed with relief and began the necessary menial tasks as I prepared for the arrival of students.

As kids arrived, I took my post at the door, armed with hand sanitizer and wearing a big smile to greet my students. They didn’t see my smile because we are required to wear masks, but I was hoping they could see it in my eyes. While students slowly drizzled in, we teachers gravitated from our doors and stood in tight circles in the hall, quietly discussing what we should do if a student brought up the weekend’s tragedy and the counselor wasn’t available and wondering how in the world a child gets through something like this.

I didn’t see much of a difference in my students until the middle of the day. My first period returned to me after lunch for a study hall period. They were caught up on work, so I told them they had free time. Most students played chess together online in groups of two. Others read or talked in hushed tones or giggled softly. I spent the time moving from group to group and talking to those who wanted to share either what they were doing or tell me about their weekend.

I walked by one student and noticed she was decorating the outside of a homemade card. I complemented her drawing and she said that she was making it for the student who had lost his family over the weekend. I asked if she went to elementary school with him and she replied, “No, I’ve never met him. I just can’t imagine what he’s going through.”

As I wandered around the room I had two students frantically waving me over to their table. I walked over and they said they needed my advice. I got down on my knees and listened as they pointed out that Sam was sitting alone and they wanted to see if they should ask him if he wanted to sit with them, or if he wanted one of them to sit with him. I advised them that they just needed to ask him, but to realize that he might want to sit alone. Either way, their acknowledgement that he was alone and their willingness to approach him touched my heart.

In seventh period, the counselor came to my door and asked to see a student who is typically very talkative and congenial. Today she was subdued and didn’t offer to answer questions like she normally does. At the end of the school day, when most of the students were gone, including that student, another girl approached me and said, “Do you know if she is okay? She’s usually so talkative and bubbly and today she seemed really quite. I hope she’s okay.” I asked if she could text her and she said, “Well, I don’t really know her. I was just worried about her. This is the only class I have with her.”

When all my kids had left for the day, I thought of those students and how kind they were in action and in thought toward their fellow classmates. That’s pretty rare in a middle school because I usually have to give a speech forbidding eye rolling and heavy sighing when assigning groups. I’ve said on more than one occasion, “I’m not asking you to form a lifelong commitment to the person I’ve assigned you to work with, I just need you to complete this assignment with them for the next twenty minutes.”

I’m glad today turned out to be a different kind of day than the one I anticipated.

In the Broom Grass

Sometimes I replay regretful situations over and over in my head, desperately wishing that I had done something differently, but instead I have to sit with the consequences of my actions and figure out how to move forward. It’s easy for my thoughts to get stuck on repeat and play the ‘what if’ game, but it’s not at all helpful. Leaving the past in the past is for the best until I stumble upon that time machine and can go back and fix what seems to have gone wrong.

Although, I suppose not all regrets need to be fixed because that’s how I learn and grow and mature. It’s in those broken places that I learn to trust in Him, to not lean on my own understanding, to acknowledge Him and believe what He says. Isaiah spoke about his ministry to those who were grieving in Isaiah 61:3, “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. ” All that I endure as a believer is for the display of His splendor. That doesn’t make it easy, but it’s a marvel to think about how long ago Isaiah lived and the words he was inspired to pen still speaks to my heart today.

A few mornings ago, I was reading the Bible and thinking out loud. There were others in the room, so I wasn’t talking to myself, but after reading and feeling convicted for the disparity between what I’m instructed to do and what I actually do, I said, “I wonder if I’ll ever read Scripture and be able to say, “Yep, I’ve got that one verse down.” Although it’s difficult to see my shortcomings in plain view, there is comfort in knowing that the Lord cares enough about me to not leave me there. He offers hope and has the power to change me from the inside out, which is great because I don’t have the strength or know-how on my own.

Sometimes a song appears and it speaks into the season of life I find myself in, and I wonder if I maybe actually wrote it, but I just don’t remember it. It can be discouraging to feel like I have messed up, or I just can’t seem to find victory in an area of life, but it’s helpful to know I’m not alone when I hear:

I don’t write ’cause I don’t think

I don’t have a need to speak

I don’t see the bright side, quite as clear

Accolades and happy days

They don’t ever last

Stories of courage clouded up with fear

In the broom grass I would lie

Glimmer in my eye, the sun smiled back on me

from victory, I tried

To match eternal light to how I live my life

Of course, I was forced to retreat

From victory, I accept defeat

Waxy green and yellow walls

Outside my windows fall

Covering the light I thought I’d see

Am I sad or am I sick?

What’s at the root of it?

Should I throw my hands and quit?

Something tells me no.

In the broom grass I would lie

Glimmer in my eye, the sun smiled back on me

From victory, I tried

To match eternal light to how I live my life

Of course, I was forced to retreat,

From victory, I accept defeat

Worries on all sides of my mind

In silence, my darkness is denied

Victory– The Avett Brothers

In Psalms 23: 1-3, David says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” The song Victory reminds me of the truth of Psalm 23. Lying in the broom grass, refreshed and beside quiet waters will come– if I closely follow the Shepherd and allow Him to guide me through the tough spots.

If You Catch a Firefly

I stumbled upon this poem and immediately loved it. It’s wonderful how so few words can bring forth waves of memories of summer nights catching fireflies. I never put them in jars. I just watched as they weaved in and out of my fingers and scurried around in my hand until finally flying away into the night, giving off a luminous blink as they went.

I don’t mind the cooler weather of winter and fall, but I do miss the fireflies twinkling in the trees and grass. So much joy is understood when the first firefly of the season is spotted lighting up his little corner of the world.

If you catch a firefly

and keep it in a jar

You may find that

you have lost

A tiny star.

If you let it go then,

back into the night,

You may see it

once again

Star bright.

Lillian Moore

A Sheep, Not the Shepherd

Several years ago I had a job that I didn’t love. I had moved school systems, and I had taken a position that had me daily working in five different schools. I missed the community of my old school, having my own classroom, and not spending most of my day in a car. I had reservations about taking the position, but it’s one of the few things in life that I had 100% certainty that the Lord had called me to do.

I would like to say that I rejoiced in my circumstances, even if they were not what I would have chosen, as Paul instructed me to do. Instead, I cried nearly everyday after work for about a month. After two months, I was frantically searching job boards looking for a way out. Even with the knowledge that the Lord had clearly instructed me to take the position, I fought against it. I thought maybe I had been wrong. I justified my striving as not doing “what I was called to do” when in fact, I was exactly where I was called to be. I was striving with all my might and getting no where fast.

While I didn’t love my job, I loved my students. I had the most precious, strong, funny, brave children one could ever hope to teach. I taught English as a Second Language to children who ranged in age from kindergarten to 12th graders. It was a difficult and lonely job in which seeing progress in language development was painfully slow.

My first year I had two hours in the afternoon to work with seven students. One student had only been in the country for a couple of months and spoke very little English, while the others were fairly fluent, but needed extra help with the finer points of language acquisition. I met one-on-one for an hour a day with my non-English speaker and then one hour with the others ranging in grades from kindergarten to fifth grade.

I often felt like a teacher in a one room schoolhouse. Because of space issues, we were relegated to an old storage closet. There was no heat or air, so it was either freezing or hotter than hades, but thankfully we did have a small window and an oscillating fan. We had a great time in that little closet, even if it wasn’t my ‘dream’ job. I struggled to plan lessons that would meet the language needs of a kindergartner, two first graders, two third graders, and two fifth graders . Despite my feeble attempt at adapting lesson plans, the children entered my room daily with smiles and a willingness to do whatever I suggested. I needed to take cues from them regarding my attitude.

Tonight, my mom and I had plans to pick up pizza and watch a movie. Through a series of odd events and two failed attempts to pick up food, we ended up at a local restaurant. As we were waiting, I recognized one of the waiters as Hector, one of my fifth graders from the year of teaching in the closet. As he walked by I said his name, and he smiled (I assume he smiled, he was wearing a mask) and said, “Hey, Ms. K!”

Hector returned after seating a couple and stood at our table talking to me about school (he’s a senior), showing me pictures of his car after he was involved in an accident, showing me pictures of he and his girlfriend, telling me about taking the ACT, and catching me up on his family. He asked how I was doing and if I enjoyed teaching at the middle school and he spoke to my mom and asked about her job. I was so proud of the well-spoken and courteous young man he had become.

While Hector was at our table, it was like two old friends catching up. The busyness of the restaurant, the waitress dropping off our food, and the roar of the cars driving by on the busy four lane faded into the background. After about twenty minutes, Hector said he needed to get back to work and then he looked at my mom and said, “You have a great daughter. I didn’t like going to her class at first because I wondered why I needed to be there, but now I see that it was so helpful for me to learn English. I’m so thankful she taught me.” My teacher heart melted, particularly because I knew how I felt all those years ago and how much I thought I wanted to do anything but teach ESL. I would have missed out on Hector if the Lord had allowed me to have my way and that would truly be a tragedy.

The Lord has used those four years in the form of many lessons for me. I regret that I did accept the circumstances the Lord had for me, because I am certain I missed out on so many blessings. I say that because despite my sin and ugliness, I received more blessings than I could ever have hoped for through that time. Tonight was a reminder that regardless of what season I’m in or what attitude I choose to have about it, God is sovereign. He is so much bigger and wiser and greater than I am. What an understatement.

I cannot even fathom what His plans are, let alone make suggestions to Him. This past week I’ve been attempting to memorize Scripture and one verse this week that has been on replay in my mind is Psalm 46:10, “Surrender your anxiety! Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God. I am the God above all the nations, and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.” Getting to see Hector was a gentle reminder that I can stop striving. I can rest. I can sit back and enjoy that He is in control, and I don’t have to be because I’m a sheep, not the Shepherd.

Maddy Lynn

Today is another sad day for my friends Heidi and Chris because they said goodbye to their faithful pup, Maddy. Heidi wrote an obituary for her and I’m publishing it here.

Maddy Lynn


April 9, 2008-October 7, 2020


Maddy Lynn came to live with us when she was almost 1 year old. She started as the dog to a boy named Tyrell. We had a play date with Maddy and family when she was about 6-7 months old. She was a very busy puppy. Almost every picture I have of that night is a blur where Maddy should be. Maddy was a lot for Tyrell’s household and they reached out to us to see if we could help re-home her. We had one family interested in her and took Maddy home. I felt like we were making a horrible mistake and vowed we would keep her if they brought her back. And they did. It was destiny, she was ours.

Maddy and Gertie had many adventures as puppies together. They especially loved the farm in Minnesota and loved to run away when my mom was in charge of them. The red laser dot was also a formidable nemesis. Maddy was an amazing hunter. Where Gertie would bark and try to annoy her prey to the point where they surrendered, Maddy had patience and ninja-like skills. She sat by a chipmunk hole an entire summer a few years back—and just waited. Whenever we couldn’t find her we’d go “check her hole” and sure enough, there she sat waiting. If she was really on a scent, she’d get a different, more intense bark and we knew she wasn’t crying wolf when we heard that bark. She murdered many chipmunks, a mole, and a few squirrels in her day.

If Maddy had any regrets, it was probably that she didn’t learn the amazing fun in tracking deer until this past summer. She wandered off a few times from the cabin in search of the elusive white tail. Returning with a smile on her face and her tongue dragging on the ground from each journey. It was hard to stay mad at her knowing the fun she had. We met one neighbor on such a hunt for her. He reported that she nearly snatched his pork steak supper as it sizzled away over a camp fire. He said she barked at him and then wandered away again when he had barked back.

She was as loyal to us as any dog I’ll ever have. Not once was I surprise attacked in the bathroom, because she stood guard every time I was in there. I think she secretly just wanted some delicious toilet water, and was hoping just once we’d leave that pesky lid up. She loved all water that wasn’t in her regular water bowl. From toilets to Lake Superior, to your ice water glass that was on a low enough table, to the watering hose…any new and different water source was her favorite.

Our girl loved people but hated most other dogs. She tolerated Gertie, and even a few neighbor dogs, but was not fond of Helga. Even without reciprocal affection, she managed to teach Helga how to use the doggy doors, how to be dead weight so they let you stay in the human bed, how to beg for and snatch up fallen people food, how to drink from the hose, and that the mailman has the best treats.

Maddy was my most faithfulest hound and had an a** mass that kept her from pooping normal shaped poops. It was like one of those play dough shape squishier things in the end. She had stopped eating, lost a bunch of weight, and was sleeping more and more. We knew it was time.

Our faithful sweet dog was the best gift I have ever received from a little boy who was heart-broken to give her up. Tyrell, your sweet dog gave us the best memories and snuggles, comfort and unconditional love for 11.5 years. She was the best good dog. I’ll never be able to thank you for what you did for me and Chris. Even if it was not the choice you would have made. We are better people for having had her love in our lives.

The Beauty in Death

I have noticed over the last few days that a lot of trees in my town are turning the same lovely bright orange. I struggle to pay attention while driving, especially as the sunlight is cast on the orange tree tops and it looks as if they’ll burst into flames at any moment. I’ve been eagerly scanning the trees for signs of autumn for several weeks now.

Today as I drove to the park I spotted the top of a tree that had turned bright orange. The color was particularly striking because the surrounding trees were still vibrant green, and this lone tree appeared to be showing off, almost shouting, “Look at me! Aren’t I stunning?” I wondered if the tree was proud of its new adornment. Then I remembered that the changing color of a leaf means the process of dying has begun, and I couldn’t imagine that the tree would be very happy about that.

I have read most, if not all, of Elisabeth Elliot’s books. I enjoy her writing because she does not sugar coat difficult truths. I appreciate hearing the truth, even if it stings, over a lie any day. As I drove I remembered that she often echoed what Scriptures says: death is necessary for life.

It is the rule of the universe—this continual cycle of living and dying. We can see this rhythm most dramatically in nature. The apple seed produces the tree which then produces leaves. When the leaves fall off there’s death, then in the spring there’s life. But those beautiful blossoms have to fall to the ground—to die—or no fruit will be produced. The fruit has to rot in order for the seed to be released which must fall to the ground to make the tree. Then the cycle begins all over again.

Ligonier Interview with Elisabeth Elliot

Through my earthly eyes it’s difficult to view dying as a good thing, let alone as a beautiful thing; however, Scripture reveals just that. The obvious being that through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, all humanity is offered eternal life. In John 12:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Death to self brings life to others.

When I think of death, I think of pain and tears and sadness. The leaving behind of vibrancy and life. The paradox is that as a believer, I am called to die daily to self and out of that death will come love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s difficult to die to self. It’s really hard to be willing to give up my wants and desires and hopes and dreams to follow after Jesus, but He reminds me in Matthew 16:25, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” I’m not even talking big issues. I’m not sure the Lord and I have made it there yet, because I struggle to die to the small things of daily life.

The changing leaves of the autumn trees is a reminder that there is beauty in dying, not only in the natural world, but also in the spiritual. It’s imperative that as a follower of Jesus, I pay attention to what Paul says in Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” I must strive to daily, moment by moment, embrace the process of dying in order to live.

Mystery of Mercy

Some days I wake up with a song playing in my head that I’ve not thought of or listened to in years. This morning it was Mystery of Mercy by Caedmon’s Call. The album was released nineteen years ago, and it has probably been at least fifteen since I’ve listened to it, but I awoke this morning with it on repeat in my brain. I spent the day hearing snippets of lyrics and music and wondering why in the world my brain pulled that particular song from the archives.

Earlier this evening, I joined my regular Monday night Bible study where we have been Meandering Through Mark for several months. Tommy spoke about paying attention to stories in Scripture and how a story can significantly impact people in different ways. The words of this song seemed to fit with that thought, how in each story we can often identify with the different characters.

I know for me, I often feel like I’ve played all the roles, and I marvel that He continues to pursue me and accept me and love me. His love and compassion for His children is indeed a Mystery of Mercy.

I am the woman at the well, I am a harlot

I am the scattered seed that fell along the path

I am the son that ran away

And I am the bitter son that stayed

My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me

When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty king

My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me

It’s a Mystery of mercy and a song

A song I sing

I am the angry man who came to stone the lover

I am the woman there ashamed before the crowd

I am the leper that gave thanks

And I am the nine that never came

My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me

When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty king

My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me

It’s a Mystery of mercy and a song

A song I sing

You made the seed that made the tree

That made the cross that saved me

You gave me hope when there was none

You gave me only your son

My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me

When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty king

My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me

It’s a Mystery of mercy and of song

The song I sing

Mystery of Mercy– Caedmon’s Call

Cheeks, Eyes, and Mouths

Cheeks

Middle school students are often unaware of the idea of personal space. I cannot count the number of times that I’ve turned around and had the faces of several children peering back at me, some towering over me, in hopes of getting their request fulfilled first. I’ve started more than one class with the phrase, “Every one sit down, I feel like a celebrity fighting off the paparazzi. Let me get the class started and I’ll answer your questions.”

Personal space isn’t really top priority in a middle school. I’ve been nearly knocked down by students wearing overstuffed backpacks, bounced like a pinball off of children after being passed by a kid rushing to get to their next class, and clotheslined by a child celebrating a good grade.

The gym at our school is being renovated, which means students have physical education in the cafeteria on rainy days and on the soccer field on the days with good weather. This renovation altered our afternoon dismissal process. Instead of the bell ringing and all the children leaving to go to the gym to be dismissed, they sit in my room for half an hour being dismissed to car line, bus line, or after school activities at various times.

Last year my last class of the day consisted of 25 students, only six of them being girls. The class was filled with testosterone and could be pretty rowdy. Most of my boys were athletes and they were dismissed last, so I had a full class most afternoons. I tried my best to keep them in their seats, but typically gave in and let the chaos happen. The first week of school it was discovered that one of my football players, K, had moved from another state and had attended a summer camp that my friends maintain. This knowledge created a bond between us and right away he seemed very comfortable telling me all sorts of things.

One afternoon, I stood anxiously waiting for the athletes to be dismissed because they were particularly wired that day. A former student had stopped by my room to stay hello and give me a hug, and as I stood at my door talking to her, I noticed that all the boys in my room were standing very close behind me. My former student left to catch her bus, and I stood in my doorway, crowded by five junior high boys. They were laughing over something silly and probably inappropriate when K suddenly noticed one of his friends in the hallway.

He leaned out the door and as he did so, his cheek pressed against mine. He didn’t notice and continued his conversation. I very casually said, “K, you are just a little too close. Would you step over just a little because our cheeks are touching.” He looked at me, laughed, moved about 1/2 an inch, and went back to his conversation. He affirmed what I’ve always known- personal space doesn’t exist to most middle schoolers.

Eyes

Last week I read two poems about cockroaches to my students. As we read them, a student said that he felt like roaches were crawling all over him. That lead to a discussion of how when someone mentions lice, your head will itch or if you start discussing the symptoms of a disease, you suddenly think you have all the symptoms. The power of suggestion is real.

Several years ago I was a looping teacher, which means that I taught students both their seventh and eighth grade years. I loved having students for two years because I felt like I really got to know them.

One afternoon I turned around to find Travis standing closely. As mentioned above, I wasn’t shocked to find a student in my space, but I did wonder what was so urgent that upon entering the room he felt the need to immediately speak to me. His seventh grade year he was about as tall as me. Now, as an eighth grader, he towered over me.

Travis had just gotten braces and had been struggling to speak clearly for a few weeks. As he was explaining why his assignment was late, he accidentally spit directly in my eye. He didn’t notice because he was a middle school boy, even though my head jerked back, and I was frantically blinking my eye. He finished what he needed to say, which I didn’t hear because I was trying to undo the past, and he went back to his seat unaware that I left the room not to speak to another teacher, but to run to the bathroom and rinse my eye. For the remainder of the day I could barely concentrate on anything other than my eye burning and being certain that I would lose my eyesight. A face shield sure would have come in handy at that time.

Mouths

When I was in school I rarely spoke to my teachers about anything other than things related to school. I don’t remember wondering about their lives or even thinking they had lives outside of the four walls of our classroom.

Things have changed.

My students ask personal questions all the time and tell me details about their lives that I couldn’t have fathomed talking about with my teacher. Several years ago I had a student name Warren who was a truly delightful boy. He struggled in my class, but he tried so hard to do well on his assignments and he always had such a positive attitude. One day he told me that he was dating Grace, a student I had in another class. I never really know what to say to students when they tell me about their relationships because I see so many of them begin and end within a single day. For the next week or so, Warren was love-struck and googly-eyed when he would talk about Grace.

One afternoon we had a little time before dismissal and students were packing up their things to go home. I had gone to my desk to send an email when I felt the presence of somebody standing closely. I looked up and saw Ty and Warren. Not in front of my desk like normal people, but behind the desk with me- the three of us crammed between the desk and the wall. Warren told me, with a tinge of sadness in his voice, that Grace had broken up with him through a text message. He couldn’t understand why she would do it through a text message and not tell him to his face. I was secretly not surprised because Grace wasn’t a very nice girl.

I tried to console Warren as best I could and told he and Ty that they should hold off on dating until college. They protested. I reminded them that they attended a small school and if they dated everyone now, who would they take to prom in a few years. I said, “Don’t forget guys, you’re fishing from a small pond around here.” Ty, always quick witted, said, “Yeah, and all the fish are big-mouth bass.”

Being a teacher is more than educating children on the finer points of the English language. Sometimes it’s giving up personal space, getting spit in your eye, and sharing the ups and downs of life with twelve year olds.

Ballads, Bridges, and Commas

Ballads

Sometimes my mouth moves quicker than my mind and my words come out all jumbled. If I’m lucky, I’ll realize it right away and correct my mistake, but there have been a few instances where I’ve not even realized what I’ve said until I’m met with awkward glances.

I didn’t have the typical student teaching experience. Most people who have a license to teach 7th-12th grade will spend half a semester in a middle school classroom and half in a high school classroom. During that time, the student teacher will spend several weeks observing, then teach a lesson or two, and finally they will be allowed to teach an entire unit for a few weeks.

I somehow managed to skip the student teaching experience and was hired to teach English as a Second Language. I still needed the experience to get my license, so it was agreed that I would teach a 12th grade English class for one period a day and that would fulfill the student teaching requirement. I met with my mentor teacher the day before school began and instead of easing into teaching, I was the teacher from day one. I was terrified the first day, and she later told me that she thought they were going to eat me for lunch. But, I pushed through and survived. She was an amazing teacher because she offered guidance, but didn’t rescue me or do things for me.

Thankfully, my students needed my class in order to graduate, so they were a little more motivated than most students. It was an interesting class and I discovered that students were at a weird time in their lives where they would act really immature one moment and then discuss their future careers the next. I also enjoyed the conversations where they dreamed out loud of their futures.

One student, Ronnie, stuck out among the others. He was very tall, but weighed about 90 pounds. We had a split class where we would meet for an hour, go to lunch for half an hour, and then return for thirty minutes. Ronnie always entered the class with some type of food: a biscuit, a foot-long sub, a family-sized bag of chips, etc. He would eat that during the first hour and then go to the cafeteria and have a full lunch. It was often asked how he could eat so much and still be so thin. Ronnie had a great sense of humor. He was entertaining, but not distracting. The entire class had been together for a long time, some since kindergarten, and they were a tight knit group. Their group dynamics were a first-year teacher’s dream.

I had a blast teaching the class because we read a selection of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and Beowulf. I went home every night and couldn’t wait to study what I was going to teach the next day. I think my excitement rubbed off on the students because they enjoyed the stories as much as I did.

One day we were discussing ballads. Ronnie had moved from the back row to the front. I had selected a few ballads to share with the class, but before doing so I was explaining that a ballad was a song narrating a short story. I off-handedly made the comment, “Ballads are songs that tell a story, often about the loss of true love. These are real songs, not like a lot of songs today that are just about one-night stands.”

Ronnie raised his hand and with a mischievous grin on his face asked innocently, “Ms. K, what’s a one-night stand?” I quickly answered, “Ronnie, go ask your mom,” and continued with my explanation of a ballad because I was really excited for them to hear the ballads I had selected. I noticed that Ronnie’s mouth fell open, and I saw students stifling their laughter and some laying their heads down no their desks. My mentor teacher was sitting at her desk, and I saw a huge smile spread across her face as she put her head down on her desk, her shoulders shaking with laughter.

I suddenly realized that my response had made it sound like Ronnie’s mother, whom I had never met, was well acquainted with and had had many one-night stands. What I had meant to say was, “Ronnie, that’s not a topic in which I wish to enlighten you, so go home and ask your mother those types of questions.” I immediately began insisting that I had not meant to insult Ronnie’s mother and he crossed his arms and jokingly said, “I can’t believe you just said that about my mom.” The class was in such chaos that we had to go to lunch and then only had time for one of the ballads I had planned.

Bridges

In that same class, I had three boys who always entered the class the same way: Jamie came in walking backwards, his arms out in a defensive position because Austin and Cody were always tickling, punching, or poking him. It was funny to see three boys, who looked like grown men, being so silly, but I also loved that they were so close and had each other.

One day I had given them assigned seats because they were working in groups. Austin, Cody, and Jamie were all placed in different groups- mainly so they would get something accomplished and not just pick at each other the entire class. I didn’t realize how distraught they would be to have to sit apart. Cody kept looking back at Jamie and over to Austin. It was comical because I had clearly underestimated how much it meant for them to all be together in my class. I discovered later that mine was the only class they had together. After telling Cody to turn around for the 19th time, I finally said, “Oh my word, Cody- focus. I’m going to build a wall around you so you can’t look at Jamie and Austin and you can get your work completed.” Cody replied, “Love will build a bridge Ms. K, love will build a bridge.” When I had social media, they had all friended me and it brought me great joy to see them stand in each other’s weddings, celebrate babies, and continue in their friendship.

Commas

Just recently I was assisting two students with studying for the English and Reading portion of the ACT. We were sitting outside at a picnic table, enjoying the cooler weather and the fresh air and talking test strategies. One of the girls was really stressed about the test and was explaining that she knew the information, but once the timer started she forgot everything.

I told her that instead of timing the next section, we would go through the questions one by one together. We were discussing a question and she was telling me that she didn’t understand when to use commas; she either never used them or put them after every other word. I was walking her through a sentence and said, “Well, this isn’t a complete sentence, so you don’t need to put a condom there.”

I looked up and noticed she and the other girl were looking at each other and then back to me and giggling. I then heard what I had just said and started explaining myself. In these situations I should just stop talking altogether, but unfortunately, I just keep blabbing and making things worse. “Oh my goodness. I’m glad that wasn’t in my classroom, I’d have to get a new job. I never say that word. I don’t know why that fell out of my mouth. I mean, I’ve not said that word in like, 8 years.” I then realized that it sounded like it had been 8 years since I had been in a situation where it would be necessary to say that word. Thankfully, I was finally able to force myself to stop talking about it and just move on to the next question. I made sure to mention that I had to go to Bible study after tutoring so they would be sure and know that I wasn’t a loose type of woman. And I really did have Bible study later that night, I wasn’t just making that up.

Bathroom Stories

My mind is pretty sporadic. I find myself mentally making a list of things I need to do for work and then wondering where the stray cat spends his time when he’s not on my porch while thinking I’ll make a plan for writing a book and then remembering a student I taught 12 years ago and wonder what they are doing now- all within a three minute span of time. I’m often frustrated with myself for interrupting my own thoughts. The last few days I’ve had random funny memories of students pop up in my mind, and I thought I would share a few of those.

One spring afternoon, I had all the windows opened in my classroom. The air was sweet and warm with just a tinge of cool. My students and I had settled nicely into a routine and were eagerly awaiting the quickly approaching summer break. by this time of the year, students are well acquainted with my bathroom policy: one student out at a time. At the beginning of the year I’m often asked by a student if they can go to the bathroom, and I’ll tell them they may when such-and-such returns. If it’s someone of the opposite gender, they’ll protest, “but she is a girl and I’m a boy.” Their argument is met with a blank stare as I say, “Yes, I’m fully aware of that fact, but the rule is one person out at a time, so you may wait your turn.” I’ve never understood why this one rule is always met with confusion, but it’s really the only one that students question.

On this particular spring day, students were working on a project and I was wandering from group to group, happy that I was upping my step count for the day and getting to visit with small groups. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Ricky and Seth were headed in my direction. As they approached, they increased their speed. Ricky got to me first and asked to go to the bathroom, much to Seth’s dismay. I told Ricky to go on and as Seth began to protest, I informed him that when Ricky returned, he could go. Seth went back to his seat and sulked.

I’m not sure how much time had passed, but I think it was a long time. I had forgotten that Ricky was even gone, and I was standing at my desk when Seth appeared out of nowhere, threw both hands dramatically on my desk, and proclaimed loudly, “Ms. K- Ricky is pooping! He told me he had to poop and he’s taking forever! I really have to go pee! PUH-lease can I go???” I was so stunned by his volume and desperation that I told him to just go because I didn’t need all the details. He was out the door within seconds just as Ricky sauntered back in, looking relieved and pleased with himself as he passed Seth in the doorway.

Along that same topic, I had a student a while back named Ernie. At the beginning of every nine weeks, students received new schedules and were to report to their new intervention classes after lunch. Ernie was placed in my intervention class and was not my regular English class, so I didn’t know what he looked like or who he was.

At the beginning of the class, I took role and marked Ernie absent. About 15 minutes later there was a knock on the classroom door. I opened up the door to find him standing in the hallway with his book bag slung casually over one shoulder. He wore a camouflage fleece and looked like he would rather be in a tree stand than standing in my doorway. I asked who he was and he told me Ernie. I asked where he had been since he was late, and he told me that he hadn’t been sure where to go. This seemed like a plausible excuse, because I had never met Ernie and his classes were at the other end of the hall. He was very polite, but in an Eddie Haskell sort of way.

The next day, Ernie didn’t show up at all, so I marked him absent. I later discovered that he had been at school, but just hadn’t bothered to grace our class with his presence.

The day after that, he didn’t show up again. I checked the daily attendance log and Ernie hadn’t been marked absent or withdrawn early. I got my students started on an activity with the teaching assistant and then went on a search. I checked his previous intervention class and that teacher hadn’t seen him. I contacted the office, and they affirmed that he was at school, but didn’t know where he was since he was supposed to be in my class. His name was announced over the intercom, bathrooms were checked and then right before we panicked, someone mentioned checking his homeroom class.

I knocked gently on the door of his homeroom teacher and discovered that there was a substitute that day. Ernie was sitting at a desk as if he belonged there; upon seeing me I could tell he knew he didn’t and that he was busted. I don’t think he counted on me being so persistent.

As we walked to my class he muddled his way through his excuse of why he thought he would only need to be in my class for one day and then his schedule would revert back to what it was 18 weeks prior. I told him I didn’t buy his story and I expected him in my classroom everyday for the next nine weeks. He politely said, “Yes, Ms. K. I’ll be there.”

For the next week he consistently showed up to class 10 or 15 minutes late. It’s my fault really. I told him I expected him to be in class daily, but I never mentioned anything about being on time. By the second week I had finally had enough, and one day I met him in the hallway as he slowly made his way to my classroom. He looked shocked that I was waiting for him outside the classroom. Right in the middle of my lecture he said, “I’m sorry Ms. K, but I had the runnies.” I stopped talking and stammered, “You. Huh? The what? Never mind, get in class and get started on your work.” I opened the door for him, but I had to stand in the hall for a moment to get control of my laughter. After that he wasn’t late anymore and thankfully never used the word ‘runnies’ again in my presence.

October

This morning I received a small surprise on my drive work. It was dark as I drove, and I was drinking my coffee while scanning the road for deer and cats. I approached the four way stop, turned left, and then audibly exclaimed, “Oh wow!” As I rounded the corner, I saw a big, bright orange moon looming over my city. I thought about pulling over to get a photo, but moon pictures on my phone are always less than underwhelming. So, I continued my drive slowly, glancing up at the brilliant moon while simultaneously watching the road.

I continued watching the moon as I walked from the parking lot and made my way into my classroom. I sat my stuff down and went about turning on lights, opening windows, and preparing my board for the day. I changed the calendar from September to October. I’ve always said that October is my favorite month of school. August and September are spent training the children with rules and procedures and they are in shock at having merged with five other elementary schools, meeting new teachers, and navigating new hallways that they seem pretty personality free for the first few weeks. Beginning school during a Covid year has only exasperated the situation.

October is a magical month in many ways, but in middle school it’s the month when I feel like I finally know my students, they know me, and we are beginning to settle into a routine. The personalities of each class emerges during the month of October. This year has been so bizarre that October snuck up on me. I didn’t realize that all this time I have been getting to know my students. This week has been the first week that I’ve truly enjoyed my students and have seen their personalities peek through. The other weeks were filled with so many technology issues and other frustrations that I barely realized kids were in the room.

Today we read two poems about cockroaches. One poem speaks of roaches negatively and the other is a sweet lullaby. It’s always fun to watch the kids squirm and look horrified as the author mentions the roach “shimmying on the butter” or “chanting simple tunes while swimming in the baby’s prunes.” We spoke of the authors’ word choice and why they would, ‘say it like that.’ They are delightfully insightful with their ideas. This is one of my favorite lessons because students are engaged and laughing and eager to share their thoughts and this group did not disappoint. I stopped in the middle of my 7th period class and thanked them for answering questions and participating- especially the 18 kids who were joining online.

At the end of 7th period, some students were leaving to catch their buses and others sat at their desks talking while waiting for their rides. I noticed someone slipped in the door, and I looked up to see a student, Trent, from last year walking toward me.

This was a kid who daily made me laugh. He and his two friends would sit at their table and spend most of the class giggling, jokingly kicking each other under the table, and stealing each other’s supplies….normal middle school boy behavior. Last year this boy spoke to me almost daily about basketball and how he badly he wanted to play on the school team. The week of tryouts he told me how practice had gone the day before and he couldn’t wait for that day’s practice after school. I saw that he was branching out and talking to other kids in the class and not just his two friends. The day came when students found out if they had made the team, and Trent did not. Basketball was something he and his dad had done together, and dad was no longer in the picture. My heart broke for him, and he was sad for several weeks afterwards.

Today, I greeted him warmly as he approached me and told him how much I missed his class, and that I was still sad we didn’t get to finish out the year. He said, “I did terrible in your class, but you are my favorite teacher.” He awkwardly held out his arms to give me a hug, and I told him that I was so thankful to have had the chance to be his teacher. I had to hold in my tears as I made my way back to my desk to dismiss my other students. He is not a terribly emotive person, so I felt honored that he had chosen to stop by my classroom.

When everyone was gone, I made my way to the office. The football team was standing in the foyer, waiting for their coach when I heard, “Ms. K! Look!” I saw two other students from the same class as Trent. I walked over to them and one, Ryan, wanted to show me how his hair was growing long. I commented that he had grown a foot since I’d seen him last week. Both boys began telling me about 8th grade and then one asked if he could show me something on his phone. I, of course said yes, and he then showed me several pictures of himself as a little boy. He was adorable as a child and I told him so. We chatted for a few minutes about 8th grade and their families, and then it was time for them to head to practice and they said goodbye. Again, I felt honored that they wanted to share their pictures and tidbits about their lives with me.

I walked back to my room, thankful for the reminders that I’m not just teaching my kids comma usage or literary terms, but I’m building relationships. This week has made me hopeful that at the end of this school year, I’ll be looking at the faces of my current students, and I’ll be sad to see them go because of the relationships that we’ve built. October never disappoints.

The Duckling

I worked at a local university as a Resident Director several years ago. I wasn’t much older than the students I supervised, and I found that I fit in easily with the college scene. I had an apartment in the girls’ resident hall where I was in charge of the building budget, programming, the residents, and mentoring five Resident Assistants. It was a job that I truly enjoyed and it meant free tuition as I worked toward obtaining my teaching license. It was not uncommon to have four or five students in my apartment with others coming and going at all hours of the night. Some stopped by to report an issue and ended up staying to talk, others were hungry and wanted to see if I had any snacks, and still others wanted to avoid homework so they would hang out with me while I also avoided homework.

My secondary job was the Program Director. I made sure the entire Residence Life staff, men and women, provided programming for their halls in the form of movie nights, bowling, camping trips, etc. The university had a small amount of money to fund such activities and some of the R.A.s were very creative in what they did with their residents.

Two of those creative types were Chase and Tim. When I arrived, Chase and Tim were beginning their junior year. They both loved the outdoors, playing Frisbee, and getting into all sorts of mischief. Stories of their shenanigans during their freshman and sophomore years were legendary at the university. I enjoyed spending time with them because it always meant gut splitting laughter would occur. One night they told me about the time that they had rescued a duckling.

At one time, a golf course sat behind the university. Several years ago the land was purchased and the rolling green hills became a part of the university landscape, which makes for great sledding when it snows. At the bottom of the largest hill sits a good-sized reflection pond. I don’t remember ever seeing anyone near the pond, let alone reflecting. I was told there were snapping turtles, ducks, and fish in the pond, and on a rare occasion I would see a family fishing on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

There was a large drain, big enough for a person to fit into, that snaked underground from the pond, through a large field, and to the other side of the road. Overflow from the pond would go into the huge drain and except for a few inches of water, the drain wasn’t full unless there had been a lot of rain. Being adventurous, Tim and Chase decided to see how far they could go in the drain with the hopes of making it out the other side. Wearing their headlamps, they waded into the pond, hopped down into the drain and ventured into the darkness. They saw big spiders and crickets and smelled awful smells, but they weren’t able to go all the way to the end as it narrowed and the water got deeper. They were disappointed, but turned around and headed back toward the entrance.

As they got closer to the pond and were about to climb out of the drain, they realized that a duckling had fallen from the pond and was stranded in the drain. Tim picked the duckling up and passed it up to Chase who was then standing at the edge of the water. After hoisting himself up, Tim admired the duckling with Chase and without much discussion it was determined that they would keep the duckling as a pet in their dorm rooms.

Clearly, they didn’t put much thought into taking care of a duckling. They decided t0 share custody since they lived on different floors, but hadn’t considered that they shared a community bathroom equipped only with showers, urinals, and toilets with 100 other men. Neither were exactly sure what to feed a duck and they hadn’t pondered where the duck would sleep or what they would do with it while they were in classes and R.A. meetings all day or who would take care of the duck when they left for their respective homes during summer break or after graduation. All minor details when you have the opportunity to have a pet duck.

Both Chase and Tim enjoyed having the duckling as a pet, but after just a few days they realized that they were not equipped to co-parent a duckling while living in their dorm rooms, and they had not considered the long-term commitment raising a duck would take. With sadness in their hearts, they decided to return the duckling to his family on the pond as soon as their classes ended the next day.

The following afternoon, they carried their pet duckling to the pond and said a few kind words. They had spotted the mother duck with her other ducklings swimming on the other side of the pond, so they gently lowered the duckling into the water. They waved goodbye and stood watching, eagerly awaiting the reunion as the little duckling swam quickly toward his waiting mama and siblings. Just as the little duckling was halfway across the pond, he was snatched up and eaten by an undetected snapping turtle that had been waiting just below the water’s surface. Tim and Chase both stood slack jawed as they slowly processed what they had just witnessed. Tim looked at Chase and said, “You’re a terrible parent!” and turned and walked away.

Active, Not Passive

I had been out of college for several years when I realized that you get out what you put in to an education. While earning my Bachelor’s degree I completed my assignments and showed up to class. I took notes and studied those notes when it was time for an exam. I didn’t really think much about the content of my classes unless I was physically in the class or studying.

When I returned to school to get my teaching license, I was more invested. One day it dawned on me that studying the material and looking deeper into the topics on my own would afford me a richer education. So instead of just reading the assigned material for my Literature classes, I would look into the lives of the authors and read their other works and investigate what was going on in their world and who their major influences were. I discovered that I enjoyed my classes so much more because I was taking an active approach to my education.

I’ve been reading in Ephesians lately and had the same revelation. The life of a follower of Jesus is active, not passive. Even just the term “follow” indicates that there is movement taking place. You can’t passively follow. That’s called sitting.

Ephesians 6: 10-11, 13-18 reads, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. PUT on the full armor of God, so that you WILL BE ABLE TO STAND FIRM against the schemes of the devil….Therefore, TAKE UP the full armor of God, so that you WILL BE ABLE TO RESIST in the evil day, and HAVING DONE everything, TO STAND FIRM. STAND FIRM therefore, having GIRDED your loins with truth, and HAVING PUT ON the breastplate of righteousness, and HAVING SHOD your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; in addition to all, TAKING UP the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And TAKE the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition PRAY at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, BE ON ALERT with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” In reading that passage, there isn’t a lot of room for sitting around and casually meandering through the Christian life. It’s an active event, one in which we are called to be alert, to stand firm, and to be prepared for battle.

1 Peter 5:8-9 states, “Be well balanced and always alert, because your enemy, the devil, roams around incessantly, like a roaring lion looking for its prey to devour. Take a decisive stand against him and resist his every attack with strong, vigorous faith….”

When I picture this battle, (I see myself in a cool gladiator’s outfit, but not a slutty one like most costumes for women; it’s always appropriate for battle) I imagine that one would be fully dressed and not stopping to look for their belt of Truth or only having one foot shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace, or wondering where that breastplate of righteous is this time.

According to Webster, being alert means being, “watchful and prompt to meet danger or emergency; quick to perceive and act.” So, if I’m alert, I’m ready for action. I’m watching and listening and filtering everything through the truth of Scripture; even things that are seemingly good, and even godly, and making sure my attention isn’t being pulled away from Jesus.

Just like when running a race, you have to be mindful of your pace, of those around you, and be aware of any potholes or uneven sidewalks. If you are sitting on the couch, you don’t have to worry about any of those things, it’s really only when you are actively running. If the enemy has you lounging, how big of a threat are you?

Always being alert sounds really tiring and difficult and like I already need a break. Thankfully, we are not left to our own devices, in fact, we are offered a cool cup of water while running the race in Matthew 11:29 when Jesus says, “Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me.” I’ve got to join my life with His, know who He is, and choose to follow Him now, and not tell Him I’m going to catch up with Him later. It seems being alert means actively looking into His word, praying, watching, and surrounding myself with others who are also alert, running the race, and seeking Him.

Unraveling the Lie

On July 2 of 1985 I sat in the back of an unair-conditioned chapel at camp. It was my first time ever attending a week of camp and staying away from home for five days in a row. We were kept so busy that I don’t remember having time to think about anything except how long until we got to go swimming and if I was supposed to be at archery or bb-guns during activity time.

We attended chapel every night after stopping by the canteen for a snack. In those days we wore our church clothes to night chapel, so after dinner and game time we would go back to our cabins, put on our good clothes, and head to the chapel for a sermon from that week’s missionary. I don’t remember much about the message that night, but I do remember sitting in my seat, listening as best as a 9 year old could, and then suddenly standing up and walking to the front when we were asked if anyone wanted to accept Jesus as their Savior. I don’t remember making a conscience decision to go forward, but I do remember sitting with the preacher’s wife on the back pew and her asking me several questions and me telling her I wanted to know Jesus. I don’t know what pressure I was feeling as 9 year old before walking into the chapel, but I do remember feeling relieved after having met Jesus when I walked out. Then I sobbed for the rest of the night as my counselor tried in vain to console me.

Growing up in church and attending camp regularly, I was under the impression that as a follower of Jesus, life would be good and free of trouble. I don’t remember anyone actually ever telling me this, but somewhere along the way I decided that it must be truth because I allowed that lie to settle deep within my heart and into my belief system. Not surprising, I was pretty shocked each time something occurred that went against that deceptive deep held belief that was the opposite of truth.

One day soon after I graduated college, I was having my quiet time and I read Paul’s account in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, “Are they servants of the Anointed One? I’m beside myself when I speak this way, but I am much more of a servant than they. I have worked much harder for God, taken more beatings, and been dragged to more prisons than they. I’ve been flogged excessively, multiple times, even to the point of death. Five times I’ve received thirty-nine lashes from the Jewish leaders. Three times I’ve been shipwrecked; for an entire night and a day I was adrift in the open sea. In my difficult travels I’ve faced many dangerous situations: perilous rivers, robbers, foreigners, and even my own people. I’ve survived deadly peril in the city, in the wilderness, with storms at sea, and with spies posing as believers. I’ve toiled to the point of exhaustion and gone through many sleepless nights. I’ve frequently been deprived of food and water, and left hungry and shivering out in the cold, lacking proper clothing. And besides these painful circumstances, I have the daily pressure of my responsibility for all the churches, with a deep concern weighing heavily on my heart for their welfare.” I sat back and thought, “Whoa- and he’s one of God’s chosen?” Those verses revealed the lie I had been holding on to for so long.

The lie continued to unravel as I read stories of missionaries who had left their homes and loved ones behind in order to reach a lost world with the Gospel only to end up being speared to death by the very people with which they had hoped to share Jesus. Those missionaries must have taken Jesus seriously when He promised in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” and in Luke 9:62 when Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Reading Paul’s account, the biographies of the missionaries, and the words of Jesus make me wonder how I became so easily entangled in the lie that following Jesus equaled a life lived on Easy Street. It was right there in black and white, and it’s not as if Jesus didn’t come right out and say that life would be hard. Instead of offering an easy way, He offers something better: Himself. I had a decision to make: accept that choosing to follow Jesus meant surrendering my wants and desires to His will or hold tight to my lie and hope for the best as life offered one disappointment after another.

As I understand Scripture, we are actually invited to share in His sufferings. That’s a difficult invitation to accept, but Romans 8:17 reads, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” In 1 Peter 4:12-13, Peters tells us to not be surprised when we face trials, but to “rejoice as we participate in the sufferings of Christ so that we may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” Rejoice in suffering? That went against every false belief to which I was clinging.

Last spring I had to have a series of rabies shots after getting bitten by a stray cat that I mistakenly thought wanted to be my friend. I sat in the hospital, telling myself that I could either stay and get a couple shots or run out and potentially die of rabies. In all honesty, it was a tough call to make. The thought of the pain of a shot made my knees weak, and when the doctor came in to give me the first of what I discovered would be seven shots, I asked if I could lay down on the bed because otherwise I was going to hit the floor. My pleading eyes were met with a look of confusion and pity as my request was granted.

In thinking about my fear of physical and emotional pain and the lengths I’ll go to avoid both at all costs, it’s easy to see how I bought into the lie that life as a follower of Jesus would be uncomplicated and basically effortless. I filtered the truth of Scripture through what I wanted to see instead of what was actually there.

In fact, many preach that exact message today- follow Jesus and you’ll be prosperous with the things of this world. Jesus, however, preached a very different message when He said to His disciples in Matthew 16:24-26, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for the soul?”

It’s easier and more comfortable to believe that as a follower, life will be smooth sailing. But it’s not the truth. Although sometimes hearing the truth stings and can be painful, it’s preferable to believing a lie. I’ve come to realize that having Jesus in the midst of trouble is far better than having all that the world offers in place of Him.

The Road

Several years ago I didn’t have many close friends that lived nearby. On a whim one weekend, I attended a women’s retreat hosted by a local church. A good friend of mine convinced me to go with her because she had just begun going to the church and wanted to meet other people. I agreed, mostly because the retreat was going to be in the mountains of North Carolina. The retreat was nice, but I quickly learned that I didn’t fit in with that particular group of women. They were all very kind, but we just weren’t on the same path in life.

On Saturday afternoon a large group of us went to eat at a local Mexican restaurant. As we waited for our food, I watched as many of the women threw back drink after drink and joked about their ‘liquid lunch.’ Comments about jobs and details about children and the various activities in which they were involved gave way to complaints about husbands. I didn’t have much to contribute after speaking about being a teacher, so I sat and listened and observed.

I attempted a few times to interject thoughts about the speaker at the retreat or the devotional time we had all shared that morning, but nobody really seemed interested in discussing any of that stuff. I concentrated on my chicken chimichanga when the conversation turned to suggestions for a good housekeeper. At the time I was struggling to afford a bottle of Windex or Pledge, let alone paying a person to actually use those products for me. By the end of the weekend, I realized that we just didn’t have much in common and our goals for how we lived our lives were very different.

Since then I’ve taught a few of their children and they continue to be very friendly when I see them around town. The problem was that we just weren’t headed in the same direction. In fact, I think maybe we weren’t even on the same road. I say this because for about a year I went to many more gatherings. Again, they were always very kind, but I typically left feeling like I hadn’t really connected with anyone because we had nothing to talk about after we covered the topics of work, the latest fad diet someone was attempting, and catching up on family life.

This weekend I attended a retreat with different friends. We spent the weekend singing together, praying, picking up trash on the highway, playing games, listening to messages from Scripture, working in the food warehouse, talking about life, crying with and comforting each other, cooking meals, and cleaning up after it was all over.

I sat behind everyone in our group this morning in church. As we sang worship songs, I looked around at everyone and my heart felt so full I thought it might burst. We all possess different gifts and talents and come from varied backgrounds and life experiences, but for whatever reason, the Lord caused all of our paths to cross and we find ourselves looking for reasons to get together.

The pastor today was preaching from 1 Peter 5. He read verse 8, “Be well balanced and always alert, because your enemy, the devil, roams around incessantly, like a roaring lion looking for its prey to devour” and then asked, “In the wild, who does the lion go after? We’ve all seen the videos, who is the lion hunting? The weak, the one lagging behind, the one cut off from the group.” I pondered that thought and was reminded how important fellowship with believers is in the Christian life. How I need people who will call me out and encourage me and pray with and for me and how I am called to do all those things for them. I looked around and thought about the unique gifts each possess and I envisioned that we were all on the same road, headed in the same direction, with the same purpose- to know Jesus and to make Him known.

The great thing about this journey is that it isn’t a boring one. There are moments where we have to trudge through the mire of life, but even in those dark times there is joy and laughter and encouragement and reminders of Who we serve and why we press on, because in 1 Peter 5:9-11 we are told, “Take a decisive stand against him and resist his every attack with strong, vigorous faith. For you know that your believing brothers and sisters around the world are experiencing the same kinds of troubles you endure. And then, after your brief suffering, the God of all loving grace, who has called you to share in his eternal glory in Christ, will personally and powerfully restore you and make you stronger than ever. Yes, he will set you firmly in place and build you up.” I think to take a decisive stand and to resist attacks, I need back-up. I can fight for a little while, but soon I’m going to need a break or encouragement or help standing.

Robert Frost said it best,

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

I Will Lift Up My Eyes

Since I work in a middle school, I spend a lot of time thinking about what life was like when I was twelve. It’s a little embarrassing now. It was the mid-80s, so my hair was teased high and stiff with layers of hair spray. The walls of my bedroom were covered with posters of NKOTB, River Phoenix, and other celebrities. I read and reread S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders so many times that I have large portions of the book memorized. I spent hours after school in our barn, playing with the cats and pretending I had my own apartment in the loft my dad had fixed up for me and my sister. I daydreamed. A lot.

I thought a lot about my future. I hoped to one day live in a big city and go to college. I wondered what job I might have, and if I would have my own family. I was a super sensitive kid- that hasn’t changed about me- so I got my feelings hurt a lot. I laughed while watching “The Monkees,” reading the comics in the paper, and laughing with my family. I looked forward to summer camp and breaks from school. I spent hours on the phone every night talking to my best friend and passed notes at school throughout the day. I look back and wonder how we had that much to say.

Life feels so different for kids now. Like it’s heavier and more serious and not quite as light-hearted and fun. This has been a difficult week at my school, not because of the in-person and virtual thing happening simultaneously or the essays that I’ve been grading or the failure of technology in some form on the daily. No, it’s been difficult because of the burdens of life my students carry with them throughout their day while still trying to somehow manage to just be a kid.

On Wednesday, most students work from home, but this week we brought in those kids who are failing 3 out of 4 academic classes to offer more support. I didn’t have any students 1st and 7th period, but during 2nd period I had six students who all needed one-on-one attention. Thankfully my Educational Assistant was there to help and together we managed to offer a little support. I worked with students who are in 7th grade, but read on a first grade level. Many of them have a long list of learning disabilities and behavioral issues.

In 6th period I had two boys, both of which are lacking strong parental support at home. One boy, Joey, doesn’t do anything unless he is actually at school, and the other, Billy, has so many distractions around him from the adults living in his home that he basically isn’t truly in class when he signs on.

Now that I teach students virtually two days a week, I have a small portal into their home lives that I’ve never had before. I think it’s worse to actually know instead of just think that a kid has a rough home life. If their mics aren’t muted I hear cursing, yelling, and many other distractions while the kids are trying to attend classes online. On Wednesday, I bounced back and forth between the boys. I had received an email from the high school football coach asking me about Billy. The coach said that Billy had it rough at home and often showed up to his house hungry and wanting a place to get away. When a student is hungry, fearful of home, or doesn’t have an adult who pays attention, school assignments are last on the list of priorities.

During my planning period on Wednesday I had noticed that a student who typically shows up to meetings and turns in assignments had been absent and hadn’t turned in any work since the week before. As I was considering how to go about contacting the student or her parent, I received an email from her casually informing me that she was sorry she hadn’t been doing her work, but she was in a facility because she had attempted suicide. She hoped that I would understand. The next day my co-worker was informed that she also had a student who was in a facility for attempting to take his life as well. I wonder what has happened to these children that they don’t have any hope left and suicide seems like the one viable option left.

In my 7th period class I have a girl who shows up to every meeting, participates in classes, and turns her work in promptly. Currently, her mother is battling the same type of cancer that took her brother’s life. Over the last few weeks, her mother’s health has declined rapidly and my student has become an online student only. I often look into my computer screen and wonder how she’s really doing. I want to tell her to close her laptop, forget about English class, and go spend what time she has left with her mom, but then I wonder if school work provides a necessary distraction. When you have a dying parent, you need something else on which to focus.

I took tomorrow off because I’m going out of town for the weekend. Tonight I’ve been packing and I’m looking forward to time with friends, but it’s been difficult to not think about my students and wonder what the weekend holds for them. I have known that life is just hard for some time, but that fact doesn’t sit very well when life is so very difficult for a kid. Instead of despairing, I thought of the promise of Psalms 121 and prayed that my students would discover this truth,

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;

From where shall my help come?

My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night.

The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul.

The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in

From this time forth and forever.

Psalms 121 NASB

I have to believe that, although this has been a weird, stressful, not very fun start to the school year, I have been brought into the lives of these kids to offer them hope. Not hope that life will get better or easier and everything will work out, but hope in the only one who is always reliable, stable, genuine, loving, and caring- Jesus.

Thankful

Tonight I was sitting on the couch thinking I should go to bed, but not really wanting to do so. Then I heard it. The rain falling softly outside, and I was thankful that I had stayed awake long enough to hear the rain. Then I thought of how much I love the smell of rain on asphalt and that led to thinking of all sorts of things for which I’m thankful. I thought I might just put that list here as a reminder to myself on the days when I struggle to remember to be thankful.

I’m thankful for (in no particular order):

Books, stories, and movies where the lines of reality and fiction are blurred because the writing is just that good.

My mom because she’s the best.

The gift of knowing Jesus and having access to Scripture.

The beauty of creation- the changing leaves, the cooler weather, the smell of cut grass, hiking in the mountains, sitting by the ocean, and looking into the night sky.

Friends who encourage me, make me laugh, challenge me, and pray with me.

Fingernail polish

Jokes and comics- especially The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes.

Music

Cardigans

Strong, dark coffee

Flair pens

Chaco sandals

Holiday decorations

Wild cherry flavored anything

Middle School kids

Hydrangea flowers

Cats and Foxes

Brightly colored pants

Games

Surprises

Good food

Lazy days

The feeling of accomplishment after completing tasks

Cooking for others

Writing letters

Receiving letters

Cozy blankets

The tired you feel after having been outside all day

Falling asleep in a car on a warm summer day

I could go on, because once I got started thinking of all the things I am thankful for, I realized that one thought led to another and another and another and this blog post would be very, very long. Then my heart started to swell, and I couldn’t help but turn my attention to the giver of all good things- my Heavenly Father.

Every good thing and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

James 1:17 (NASB)

The Night Sky

For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed looking up at the stars. It’s a comforting thing to stand outside, crane my neck, peer into the darkness and see the familiar constellations of Orion, Cassiopeia, and the Big Dipper. The sun, moon, and stars are reliable and predictable.

In college, I took an astronomy class. I was beside myself excited as we stood outside in the cold night air taking turns looking at stars and planets through a large telescope. I’ve spent many nights sitting in my back yard during a meteor shower hoping to catch a glimpse of shooting stars. I’ve even set my alarm to drag myself outside to the back yard before dawn because I’ve read that’s the best time to see falling stars during a meteor shower.

When I moved to Alaska, I didn’t just look at the stars, but I spent many nights standing in a snowy field captivated by the beauty of the Northern Lights. I like the small feeling I get when looking into the sky. In those moments I’m so aware of who God is and who I am in relation to Him. I’ve never questioned if God is the Creator of the earth. Seeing the consistency of the appearance of the sun, moon, and stars proves to me that there is a Creator. Looking at the capabilities of my own body, the complexities of the eyeball, and the beauty surrounding me shows me that none of this occurred by chance.

This last week I began a Bible study in Genesis. The passage this week was on Genesis 1 and one of the questions led me to Job 38. In this section of Scripture, God is replying to Job and reminding him of who He is. He says in verses 31-35,

“Can you catch the eye of the beautiful Pleiades sisters,

or distract Orion from his hunt?

Can you get Venus to look your way,

or get the Great Bear and her cubs to come out and play?

Do you know the first thing about the sky’s constellations

and how they affect things on Earth?

“Can you get the attention of the clouds,

and commission a shower of rain?

Can you take charge of the lightning bolts

and have them report to you for orders?

Job 31-35 MSG

In our study, the attribute of God that we were studying was that God is incomprehensible. For me, I find comfort in not being able to figure Him out. If I completely understood God, well, he wouldn’t be God. When I consider the world around me and the sky above, it causes me to marvel at the wonders of who He is.

After this week’s lesson, I’ve been wanting to make it a daily habit to notice the things around me that point me to the Creator. The crisp autumn weather, the turning of the leaves, the warmth of the sun, the sliver of the moon, and the brightness of the stars, and are all reminders of Him.

A Working Lunch

Last December I attended a conference in Nashville for English teachers. It was fun to be staying in a fancy hotel with my co-workers and getting to mingle with other people who enjoy reading books and diagraming sentences. I enjoyed getting up every morning and wandering through the double buffet lines trying to decide if I was going to make a wise decision to start off my morning or throw caution to the wind and pile my plate high with artery clogging biscuits and gravy. I was there for three days and I think wisdom prevailed at least once. While I enjoyed some of the sessions, I mostly just enjoyed being away, sleeping in a hotel, and choosing what local restaurants to have dinner at each night.

On our first full day we had what was called a ‘working lunch.’ We were seated at large round tables already set with a place setting, unsweet tea and water, a dessert which was quickly traded for a more desirable dessert placed at the empty seat beside me, various types of hard rolls, and butter pats. I sat with my co-workers and we exchanged pleasantries with those seated across the table. We discussed what cities we lived in, what grades we taught, and what curriculum we were considering adopting for the upcoming school year. The work part of the lunch meant that after we were served our entrees, we would enjoy our meal while listening to a keynote speaker.

A conference organizer took to the microphone and introduced the speaker as the author of several young adult novels. I had never heard the author’s name and wasn’t familiar with his books. A man around my age, sauntered up to the front of the room, his hair styled just right, wearing a leather jacket, tight jeans, and black t-shirt. When he turned around to face us, I got the impression that he was expecting a roar of applause to erupt from the audience but instead was welcomed with polite clapping. He began his speech with a lengthy joke, casually mentioned that he not only was a lawyer and an author, but was also a musician. He dropped the names of a few celebrities as he shared his other interests and hobbies.

I soon discovered that I was more interested in cutting my chicken up into tiny pieces rather than listen to the man drone on and on about how he stumbled upon writing a best seller. He emanated pride and arrogance and managed to successfully offend everyone in the room with just a few statements about the slowness of country folk. Unfortunately, I was sitting at a table near the front of the room and there wasn’t really a way to leave without being noticed, but that didn’t stop me from formulating plans for an escape.

The older I get, the more irritated I find myself when sitting in meetings or lectures or a surprise sales pitch that don’t pertain to anything I’ll ever need or want. I begin thinking of how I only get so much life and my minutes are being sucked away without my consent. I often envision myself standing up and screaming like Phoebe Buffay as I storm out of rooms. Unfortunately, I don’t really like to draw attention to myself so I usually end up just enduring the meeting and making lists of what I’ll do when I have a say over how I use my time.

As I sat listening to the author drop more celebrity names, I decided that I just couldn’t sit and listen anymore. I rationalized that I was an adult, and I really wanted to get some coffee before the meeting I was expected to attend right after our working lunch and if I stayed until this man finished up, I wouldn’t have time to get to the coffee shop. So, I decided to quietly gather my things, whisper to my co-workers that I would meet them outside, and I left. I figured walking through the room quietly was better than running out screaming, so I went to a coffee shop and had an enjoyable afternoon. I’m guessing that nobody even remembers that I left and I got to choose how to spend my few precious life minutes. Getting coffee is always a wise use of time.

Campfires

On Thursday night I drove two hours north to spend time with friends who needed some help moving into their new home. It had been a gray, gloomy day and the kids and I discussed how those kinds of days make us want to take naps and lounge in the living room with warm beverages. We managed to push through the day, my students taking a test and finishing up final drafts of their essays and me finalizing lesson plans for the upcoming week. At the last bell, I walked out of my classroom, got in my car, and started driving.

When I arrived at my friends’ house, I realized that I was painfully underdressed for the weather. It seemed that on my drive from home, I had crossed over into full blown autumn weather. I was thankful that I had packed my favorite sweatshirt and actual shoes instead of just the sandals that I’ve been wearing for the last five months.

We spent the weekend eating, telling stories, laughing, and driving from old home to new home. On Friday, my friend Jami and I went for a walk at the local city park. It was a perfect autumn day with sunshine and the temperature was in the high 60s. We circled the park and talked and wished that we lived closer to each other so that we could make walking together a habit. As we walked we saw the beginnings of leaves turning, exchanged hellos with others out enjoying the day, and pointed out lovely flowers growing on the banks.

Yesterday we spent the morning bringing the remaining items to the new house. We loaded trucks and cars and vans and drove across town to unload the trucks and cars and vans. The job was completed quickly and gave us time for another walk on the golf course behind my friends’ new home before returning for dinner. The sun was shining and we enjoyed the coolness of the day as we watched golfers putt and drive from one hole to the next.

After eating pizza and having a small informal Bible lesson with my friends’ dad, we settled in for a campfire. The sun had set and there was a chill in air that promised autumn was here to stay. We unfolded camping chairs and circled around the fire pit, all of us thankful for the heat radiating from the blazing logs. We joked and picked at each other and then the stories began which lead to laughter and conversations and thankfulness to God because He is the common thread which brings us all together. As the fire began to die down, more wood was added and the flames would reach higher and bring light and warmth. The stories moved from vomiting to strange relatives to caring for others to the blessings of all God has given us.

I’ve always enjoyed sitting around a campfire because it breeds conversation and an ease that you don’t find in the daylight. I love the warmth of the fire contrasted with the coolness of the evening; the security of the light against the surrounding darkness. I love the smell of campfire smoke in my hair and on my clothes. In my life I’ve had many conversations and shared a lot of laughter over the glowing embers of a fire. There is always a certain sadness that comes when the fire slowly dies out, the chairs get packed away, and the chorus of ‘goodnight, sleep tight’ begin. The joy is that with friends there is always the promise of another gathering, another cool night, and another circle of chairs set up around a campfire.

Falling

While standing in the hallway before school began yesterday, we were talking about seeing people fall and finding it funny. Not that people were hurt, but just the sight of seeing them go down. I started to relay a story about an incident at my former school. I got so tickled telling the story that I found I could hardly breathe from laughing and tears were flowing down my cheeks. I’m not sure the hilarity of the moment will translate, but I’ll give it my best shot.

Every year there is a week for Teacher Appreciation which typically includes a gift from the PTA, free lunches provided, and random drawings for prizes. I usually mismanage and plan to cut out sugar or carbs or something else the week before and realize that all the free meals are high calorie, high carb, and high whatever I’ve chosen to eat less of and pretty much free of healthy choices.

Several years ago, it was Teacher Appreciation Week and our school decided to hold a relay race for gift cards. Every class period the school secretary would announce an item. If the teacher had that item in their classroom, they would give it to a student who would then run to the office in the hopes of being the first one there. The first student to arrive would earn their teacher a gift card. What could possible go wrong with sending 20 students running down the hall at the same time while carrying various objects?

Each class, I would ask for a volunteer who would be willing to be my runner. I never failed to have a sea of hands waving wildly because they were all super excited to get a chance to run in school. During 6th hour, I chose Hunter to be my runner. He was instructed to run to my desk to get whatever item was called as soon as they made the announcement and to run out the door. I had promised him some candy in exchange for his efforts. Middle school is great because you can convince students to do pretty much anything for candy.

In the middle of class, the announcement crackled over the intercom for teachers to send a photo of their family if they had one. I quickly grabbed a framed photo of my family and thrust it into Hunter’s waiting hands. He darted out the door at lightening speed. I walked to the doorway and glanced across the hall to see Ms. Taylor’s shocked face. She took off down the hallway and quickly asked if I would keep an eye on her classroom for a moment. I stood in the hallway between our classrooms and monitored, wondering why she needed to leave so abruptly.

Hunter returned shortly thereafter with only the photograph in his hand. He told me that when he rounded the corner he had collided with another student, which sent my framed photo into the air. When it landed, the frame and glass cracked and shattered. I asked if he had informed the office that there was broken glass in the hallway and he said that the custodian was cleaning up as he walked back to class. Hunter was disappointed that he hadn’t won me the gift card, and I told him not to worry it was all just for fun.

The class left to go to lunch and I went into the teacher’s lounge. When we all sat down to eat we were discussing the mayhem of the day’s relay race and that we would probably be in the paper for all the injuries that were sure to come out of the day. I asked Ms. Taylor why she had run down the hall during the last class. I loved hearing Ms. Taylor tell stories because she was very animated and her stories were always hilarious. As she shared the events of the last class, we were all laughing so hard that there wasn’t a dry eye at the table.

At the beginning of her class, she chose Alex to be her runner. Alex was a small boy, but he was very quick. He had a reputation on the football team as being very fast when running the ball. He seemed like a logical choice when hoping to get an item to the office first.

The announcement was made, Ms. Taylor gave Alex the photo of her family, and he took off out the door. She said that he took off so quickly that he ran over someone else in the hallway and knocked them down. Ms. Taylor said it looked like he actually ran up their back and over their head- he didn’t even stop, but kept on going. Ms. Taylor ran over to help the student, who was lying face down in the hallway and not moving. She said, “Honey, are you okay?” No answer. “Honey, I need to you let me know you are okay. Do I need to get someone?” The student turned her head and Ms. Taylor went, “Oh!” and stifled her laughter as she realized the “student” was Ms. Cooke, the math teacher.

Apparently, Ms. Cooke had planning during that period and didn’t have any students in her classroom, so she figured she would be her own runner in the hopes of winning the gift card. She was making good progress down the hallway until Alex ran up her back and knocked her down. It was so quick that she didn’t even realize she was on the floor until Ms. Taylor approached her.

While attending to Ms. Cooke, Ms. Taylor also witnessed the collision at the end of the hallway between Hunter, another student, and my picture frame. She said Hunter was essentially t-boned by the other student, my photo went sailing through the air and shattered all over the hallway, and Hunter retrieved my photo from the broken glass, while the other student continued on to the office.

After lunch, an announcement was made that for the safety of all, students would need to walk briskly down the hall, not run, when bringing items to the office. That event was never repeated again, but it sure did make for a colorful day.

The Wall

In my classroom I have a large section of the wall that is covered in white cork board. One benefit to teaching is that kids give you things all the time. My students are in that weird in-between stage where they sort of want teacher approval and they sort of don’t care. I am a sentimental person and for awhile I kept everything given to me by students. I soon learned that if I continued teaching, I would have to build a small house to store all of the things, so I have become pretty picky about what I keep. Honestly, it’s not really a difficult decision, I typically know immediately if I’ll keep the item or toss it at the end of the year.

One of my favorite items that I have hanging on my wall is an envelope. It was given to the 8th grade English teacher, Ms. Taylor by a student that I taught his 7th grade year. The envelope reads: “To Mrs. Taylor, my 2nd favorite English teacher (Ms. K was my first).” Ms. Taylor and I snort laughed when we read the honesty in the child’s envelope address. She kept the card and gave me the envelope.

Next to the envelope is a scribbly drawing in red pen. One day Nathan walked into 7th period, handed me the paper, asked if I would hang it up, and said, “It’s a drawing of you. I drew it in Social Studies by holding the pen in my mouth.” I looked at it and then back at him. I told him that he really captured my essence in the drawing and now I knew what it would be like to teach preschool. I also questioned how he got away with doing that in Social Studies and why he decided to draw me. He laughed and sat down and told everyone in the room that I had hung up his picture.

Beside my portrait, I have a birthday card from Ananda. When I taught ESL many years ago, Ananda was in second grade. She spoke English beautifully, but hadn’t tested out of the program. For one hour a week I would work with her one-on-one. I learned early on that she was super smart and very funny. She would spend the hour telling me jokes. I was beside myself happy when I discovered that she was one of my students last year. Everyday when she left class, she would tell me goodbye and that she loved me. She continued to tell me jokes. On my birthday last year, she gave me a handmade card that captured her personality. It was beautifully drawn, clever, and very funny so I hung it up on the wall.

Beside the birthday card hangs a portrait of my student Dakari’s mother. Dakari lived with his godparents and had a very complicated relationship with his mother; a relationship he often spoke a great deal about. I taught Dakari two years ago. I had him in class and he stayed for all of my after school clubs and pretty soon he was stopping by my classroom throughout the day. I often wondered if he was a forty year old trapped in a 12-year-old body. If I could have adopted a kid, I would have adopted Dakari. During his 8th grade year, he and his friend, Macy, stopped by my room every morning and spent the first 1/2 hour of the day catching me up on life while Dakari scattered crumbs from his biscuit all over everything. When Covid hit and we were no longer in school, I missed the morning gatherings. Dakari is a true artist and many of his drawings hang on the wall.

I’m so used to the wall that I don’t even see it anymore. This afternoon I was behind my desk getting batteries for my clock when Ananda’s card caught my eye, and then Stacy’s envelope, Dakari’s tree, and Nathan’s portrait. In that moment I thought about all those kids and how much it means to me that I got to know them and be their teacher. There are many other things hanging on my wall from kids who are just upstairs on the 8th grade floor or who are now out of college and have families of their own. I estimate that I’ve taught over 1,100 kids, but I will frequently think of students that I had many years ago and I wonder how they are doing. Once a student sits in my classroom, they are always my student and I can’t help but wonder how they are and who they have become.

Glancing at my wall today was helpful because it reminded me of why I’m in that classroom. I love grammar and reading books, but what I really enjoy is getting a chance to build relationships with kids. I like hearing about their pets or the time they tripped over the cord to their mom’s curling iron- while she was using it. This afternoon as I sat outside at the high school tutoring students, it warmed my heart when I would hear, “Ms. K!” and I would look up and see a former student waving at me. As I struggle for breath behind my mask, or want to bang my head on the table after answering the same question 15 times, or spray hand sanitizer on the table instead of disinfectant- I’m going to look at my wall and remember why I’m there for this year, in this season, with these kids.

Lifting the Weight

This week at school has been about 1,000 times better than the previous five. I don’t know if I’ve just moved into the acceptance phase of grief or if things are actually going better. I know I have many people praying for me and I suspect that has truly made the difference.

The last few years I’ve had some really fun kids in class. I had big personalities, kids who cracked me up, and some who were so insightful that I found I learned a lot from them. But for the last several weeks, I’ve been wondering if this group of students is personality-free or so stunned by the masks and daily cleaning regiment that they just don’t talk. I’ve feared that I had a group of duds on my hands.

I simultaneously teach in-person and virtual classes. I attempt to lead discussions and will ask for someone to share out their answer. I even say, “Don’t worry about raising your hand, somebody just shout out the answer.” And I wait. And wait. And it becomes slightly uncomfortable. Then kids look at me to see if I’ve gotten distracted by my coffee or an email and realize that I’m waiting for someone to answer, so they avert their eyes. Finally, I call on someone at random and get a mumbled answer. This happens multiple times in a class period on the daily.

Usually in a middle school classroom, there is a lot of talking and giggling and whispering. Since I’ve been teaching, I’ve taught from the moment kids get in class until the bell rings and they pack up to leave. I learned early on that any amount of free time leads to complete and utter chaos, so I don’t give them a minute to themselves. This year, the disinfectant has to stay on the table for five minutes, so at the first bell, kids stand by their desks for 6 minutes while I run around and spray their tables and chairs. You would think they would take the opportunity to talk since I’m distracted. They don’t. They stand in silence. I ask questions, “Did anybody do anything fun this weekend?” A few kids might mutter something towards me, but the others stare. I continue to pepper them with questions and eventually answer myself. I’m a master self talker. I’ve talked to other teachers in the building and they all say the same thing: these kids don’t talk.

But something magical must have happened over the weekend.

Last week at the end of the day, a few kids were actually talking during the disinfectant phase and a kid observed out loud, “Wow, people are socializing. It’s almost like a real school.”

This week it’s as if my first period students woke up from a long nap, looked around, and realized they were 12 and at school with people their age. Instead of just standing by their desks, they have asked if we can do pose challenges. We strike a pose and I set the timer to see how long we can hold them. They giggled and laughed as they lost their balance. Today they all wanted me to look up their schedules to see when their Related Arts classes changed and they discussed which classes they liked, which ones they didn’t like, and what classes they were looking forward to taking. It actually got a little loud, but I just let that go because it was nice to hear voices fill the air again. I’ll probably regret that later when they think they can just be loud all the time.

My other classes were also more talkative to each other and to me. I heard all about how David is probably going to move in October, that Faith had a volleyball game today, and that Sydney didn’t mind soccer practice as long as it wasn’t too hot. In my last class of the day I had a kid ask if I could fix the zipper on his backpack, Knox asked if I thought he should get a mullet, and the others asked about 70,000 questions each as they wrote their first essay of the year (for the record I told Knox that having lived through the mullet phase once was plenty for me, but to have at it if he just needed to know what it was like to live life with a mullet).

During planning we received a lengthy email from our superintendent. Instead of discovering more duties and tasks to be completed, we were told that for the next several weeks we were not going to have required meetings of any kind and there would be no training or inservice on anything new. We have a work day coming up and those are usually riddled with meetings and trainings, but we were told that day would be for doing what we needed to do. It’s amazing how one email seemed to lift the weight of the world from my shoulders because it felt like there may be an end in sight.

After the last few days I’m looking forward to tomorrow and hoping that this group will share more of their personalities and stories and talk to me and their classmates like today’s group did. Maybe I’ll also get to help hem a pair of pants, suggest a child grow a rat tail, or answer a billion more essay question. I know my future holds at least one of these.

Feathers

My first year of college was basically year-long camp. Only twenty-five students were accepted into the Wilderness/ Bible program, and we lived at a summer gymnastics camp. I loved the campus from the moment I got out of the car. The school was in a tiny town in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. The campus consisted of a huge gym full of professional gymnastics equipment, a boys’ dorm, a girls’ dorm, one classroom, a small dining hall, and a lounge. There was a long staircase that lead to the dock where we would sit at night and look out at the water and up at the stars, barely speaking. It was so quite and peaceful as we listened to the loons sing their songs into the night. It was on that dock that I saw the Northern Lights for the first time. I didn’t know it was possible to see stars reflected on a lake until I sat on the dock one clear autumn night and marveled at the beauty surrounding me.

I did not have a good high school experience. I am certain I contributed to that because I thought my classmates were silly and immature. I was too busy planning how to be at camp full time and daydreaming about college and my future life in missions to be concerned with parties and prom and boyfriends. All that stuff seemed so….well, high school.

My freshman year of college I discovered that I was made for camp college. I had unknowingly been training for that college experience my entire life as I spent my summers working at camp. I made friends quickly and became more of a social butterfly than a serious student. I kept my grades up, but I was always ready for the next social opportunity. We had a curfew when we had to be in our respective dorms, so homework usually got done after midnight.

There was a cat that had lived at the college for years named Jellybean. Jellybean was notorious for sneaking in as the door closed and snuggling up on someone’s bed- usually the one person in the dorm who was allergic to cats. I would sometimes ‘accidentally’ allow Jellybean in and show her to my room. I was as shocked as anyone when we would find her curled up on my bed.

Unfortunately, my friends knew how much I loved the cat, so they liked to torment me and tell me that they had found the cat dead, or spray painted, or any number of things that would pull at my heart strings and cause me to search for Jellybean to investigate her safety. I was pretty gullible in those days, so I usually fell for whatever lie they told me.

One night I had decided that I would become studious and instead of hanging out after dinner, I was going to study. I was sitting in my room, pretending to study because I was actually wondering what everyone else was doing and what sort of fun I was missing out on. The dorm phone rang and my heart jumped. I was hoping it was an invitation to meet up with friends. I heard footsteps coming down the hallway, and they stopped in front of my door. There was a gentle knock and then my friend Anna stuck her head in my door to tell me Brad was on the phone asking for me.

I went to the phone ready to abandon my study plans for a game or a night walk or even a group study session. I listened as Brad told me that Mike had Jellybean in a pillow case and was tormenting her. I was furious and told Brad to make him stop, but he said he was unable. I said that I was coming right down. I stomped downstairs and opened the door to head down the path to the boys’ dorm.

I saw Brad, Mike, and Travis standing at the end of the walkway. Mike and Travis were holding pillow cases and I immediately demanded they stop tormenting that sweet animal. In the middle of my diatribe, from the corner of my eye, I saw Brad coming toward me. Before I knew what happened, he threw a bucket of water on me and Mike and Travis threw their pillows- which were feathered pillows and cut opened on one end- sending feathers flying everywhere. I found that since I was drenched with water, I was also suddenly covered from head to toe with feathers. The yard looked like it had either snowed or a flock of birds had been slaughtered. I remember being amazed at how many feathers fit into a pillow. And how many were stuck to my person.

The three boys laughed so hard they couldn’t breathe as I spit feathers out of my mouth and looked at them in shock. It was a cool autumn night and being doused made it a cold autumn night, so I gave them credit for a good joke and headed in to warm up, de-feather myself, shower, and resume my studies.

For months I, and all the girls in the dorm, found feathers in the oddest places. I remember writing about the experience that night in my journal. On each page of the journal was printed a Bible verse, and I looked at the verse on that particular page and was moved as I read Psalms 91:4, “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Talk about an object lesson.