Thursday, November 29, 2012

God Is a Father to the Fatherless (Psalm 68:5)

Two years ago for Thanksgiving, we drove to my home town to see my dad. He was a few months into a chemo regime that was ultimately not able to return him to health. But at the time, we didn't know how the story would end. We went to spend time with him and so I could be a part of this part of his life. I took him to his appointments so I could see where he spent his days, and so I could be a (very small) part of the care he was receiving from so many people who were driving him to appointments and sitting with him through transfusions and treatments, etc.

Last year was our first Thanksgiving without him. I thought a LOT about how different things could be from one year to the next. It wasn't even the "day" so much as we often didn't travel home or see him on actual holidays. But it was the principle. He was the only parent - the only close family - I had had since I was 19, and he was gone. I felt a lot of support from folks who remembered that it was our first holiday season without him, but I was still lonely.

This year I think I felt the emptiness as much if not more than last year. Maybe last year I was just expecting it. Maybe the other things going on in my life right before the holiday, and the fatigue of a long school year were contributing factors. This year, Thanksgiving was a reminder that we were moving into a very lonely season in the year without Dad. When the phone rang on Thanksgiving Day, before anyone even looked at the caller ID, it was obvious it wasn't going to be for me.

I don't say that to say, "Please call me so I don't feel lonely on the holidays," because, honestly, I think that would make me feel worse. But there's something about losing both of your parents that can make you feel adrift. I felt it this summer as I was anticipating the family reunion, and I felt it from Thanksgiving to New Year's last year. I imagine this year will be much of the same.

I know the ache will lessen as the years go on. I remember how bitter I was about Mother's Day when I was in my 20s - without a mother to celebrate in person, with plenty of conflicted feelings about the mother I had, and without a child of my own to shift the focus. But those feelings resolved in time. And I'm sure these will, too. But they will weigh heavy this year, for at least a few more weeks.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Emotional Whiplash

"Emotional Whiplash."

This is a phrase I coined in recent weeks. It is a good description for how I've been feeling lately. I guess I was operating on faulty assumptions in one area of my life, and when those assumptions were challenged, I wasn't sure what to do next. It felt like one of the planks of the foundation of my life was warped and wobbly and crumbling away all of a sudden. It still feels that way if I think about it too much.

Unfortunately, that is how I work. I think about things a LOT. I replay moments over and over in my head. I ask the same questions in several different forms. I plan out emails or blog posts or conversations in my mind where I ask my questions and raise my concerns. But if there's no real-life outlet for all that thinking, it can just be an exercise in frustration rather than something helpful.

I still would like my questions and concerns addressed. I feel like there is a kernel of doubt lingering that time by itself won't resolve. I'm trying to determine what my response should be to all the emotional upheaval - is it important for me to pursue the questions I have, or is it better to try to put it behind me and focus on the work to be done today? How do I care for others who have questions and are looking to me for answers when I still have questions of my own? I'm afraid the upheaval has changed some of the relationships I hold dear in my life and I don't know what to do about that, either.

I feel like a lot of my life the last couple years has been significant emotional ups and downs. I had hoped we were past some of that, so this one caught me by surprise and it's lingering.

"You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on You 
because he trusts in You."
~ Isaiah 26:3

Hoping for that "perfect peace." Soon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Break

I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago my growing bitterness that my family had enjoyed 2 four-day weekends in three weeks while I worked during both. Well, it is Thanksgiving break and finally I get to enjoy a few days away from school. I hope to spend them doing a smidge of Christmas shopping, a lot of reading, and very little else. So, I'll be taking a blogging break until next week.

May you and your family have a restful Thanksgiving holiday!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fail Boldly

We are trying to teach our son that it is okay to "fail boldly." I would rather have him bomb a test than cheat. I would rather have him admit that he did something wrong than lie about it or be sneaky.

But those can be hard lessons to enforce because, frankly, I'd rather he be perfect. I'd rather he never fail at all and always make the right choice. But that's not going to happen.

These discussions at home also force me to look at MY behavior. I recently heard adults in two different situations talk about being late for something and having it brought to the attention of others (in innocent ways, like wondering if the person was okay). Neither case was one where someone was trying to "catch" them doing something wrong or where a job was on the line. Both said something about wishing people hadn't said anything. My first thought, after all this conversation at home was, "Fail boldly." If you're late, you're late. "Sorry, I got distracted. I'll try to be more careful next time." But those words are easier to say than to live out. I hate screwing up in front of other people. I will rehearse that screw up over and over in my head, feeling the humiliation each time. I'd be much happier if I could keep people believing that I always do everything right.

But I don't. I have to work at saying, "That was my fault. I made a mistake. Thanks for being gracious with me."

I still think it is an important thing to teach my son. I want him to grow up to be a man of integrity - who can admit his mistakes when he makes them and then learn from them rather than try to hide them. But I have to remember that sometimes it's hard to be that bold.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lightning Rod of Hate

My husband and I used to watch a TV show called Whose Line Is It Anyway? It was a very funny improv show hosted by Drew Carey. In one episode, after being harassed in a sketch, one of the actors referred to himself as the "lightning rod of hate" and it became a running joke for the rest of that episode. (You can do a search for "lightning rod of hate" and get a YouTube video of the show - there is some mild swearing in the clip)

The phrase has stuck in my head for years, and it came to mind last Wednesday as I was reading election results and reactions to the election on Facebook. It struck me (pardon the pun) that the President - whoever happens to be in the office - is often the lightning rod of hate for our country.

When people struggle, the President often takes the blame - especially in an election year. When I hear from some folks who are having a rough time, the only person some seem to see at fault is the President, even though there are many levels of government between them and the President that could also be contributing to their circumstances.

Some of my students were doing mock elections and debates and were trying to convince me to vote for them. One conversation went like this:

Student: Who would you vote for for president - (names) or (names)?
Me: I don't know - what do you stand for?
Student: Republican.
Me: That doesn't work for me - I'm an Independent. I need specifics. What's your take on the issues? What do you stand for?
Student: I'll get you more pay for your job
Me: The President has no role in what I am paid at this school. Try again.
Student: I'll get you $1000.
Me: Where's it going to come from? How are you going to pay for it?

Granted, this was a conversation with a student rather than with an adult, but the students didn't quite seem to grasp what authority the President has over the things they thought mattered in the election.

I imagine the job of President must feel like wearing a target every moment of every day. While it is the pinnacle of political power in our country, the checks and balances limit how much the President can do on his own. So you get the title - and the target - but not always the actual power everyone perceives in the role.

And we see it time and time again, no matter which party is in power. It's almost like we forget for a moment that we are not electing a Savior. We already have one. We are electing a flawed human being - just like us. We are trusting this individual to surround him or herself with honest advisers who act with integrity rather than self-interest. We are trusting all of our elected official to put our needs over their own, and to work with one another to steer our country into the right direction for the future. Some get it right and some get it wrong - just like us.

I hope we can get back to the spirit I saw leading up to the election - the Facebook posts that said no matter who was elected, God was still on the throne, the idea that we are called to pray for those God places in leadership positions over us. Think about the responsibility they shoulder. Think of the accountability they will be held to. And then pray.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Seven Days of Book Fair

Every year, the teachers at my school get a "Partner in Prayer." This is a person you pray for, leave notes for, and some times leave a small gift. It's a fun program, but it can be hard in the business of the school year to apply your creativity to your PIP.

This year, on the first day of book fair, a student knocked on the library door before school started. She handed me a large cup of my favorite soda from a nearby gas station. Taped to the cup was a note that said something like, "On the first day of book fair, my Partner in Prayer gave to me a Caffeine-free Diet Pepsi."

How cute! And a very welcome treat (although, after having been up until midnight the night before to get book fair ready, the "leaded" variety of Diet Pepsi would have been welcome, too!). I thought it was a fun treat and didn't really expect anything more of it.

But on day two, there was another "verse" as well as two Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and a can of Diet Pepsi.

And every day of the fair after that, there was another verse and another treat. It was delightful. I felt so loved and cared for. It was clever and it showed some planning and effort on the part of my PIP - something my own Partner in Prayer was not receiving from me.

"Appreciated" is too mild a word to describe how I felt after these daily treats during book fair. And I am inspired to do better for my PIP so he/she feels just as valued and cared for as I did during book fair.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Book Fair Pros and Cons

*I get to talk about books with students and parents and teachers for a solid week and a half.
*I never sleep well during the fair - I'm thinking of things I need to get done or things I should have done differently.
*I get to know students and parents in a different context. I had some amazing volunteers this year. I had students who pitched in with diligence even though the tasks I asked them to do weren't thrilling. I was thoroughly impressed by some students and parents I barely knew before the fair.
*Book fair consumes me for the two weeks when it is in full swing, including set up and tear down. I don't check email, except at school, I can't deal with library issues, I don't see the people I usually see during the week, I can't spare the mental energy to make other decisions or deal with other life events until the fair is done.
*I get to enjoy watching students connect to books. Kids who buy a book we talked about want to come back and tell me what they think of it, and 95% of the time, they are happy.
*I hear students say they "can't" read something if it doesn't have an AR quiz or if it isn't in their reading level range. This is wrong on so many levels, but until book fair is over, I can't devote the time I need to change this perception.
*I see teachers receiving new books for their classrooms. Kids can access books in their classrooms that I won't be able to get on the library shelves until January at the earliest.
*I have more books to catalog for the library than I have time to catalog for the library.
*We raised a little money to go towards some new cushions for our reading spaces in the library. This was the goal for this fair and I'm looking forward to finding us some comfy pieces to make our space welcoming for readers.
*As soon as I think I have addressed all the mistakes I made last time, I discover all the new ones I am making this time around. (grumble)

All that said, our fall book fair was a great success and a lot of fun. In fact, the library looks a little forlorn without all of the bright colors of the fair. I'm enjoying a break from all the work, but I will be ready to do it all over again this spring.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Project Life

I've blogged before about Becky Higgins' Project Life materials.

A couple weeks ago I got to spend a few hours working on my scrapbooks. I had already put pictures into slots - I just needed to record stories and finalize the picture placement. Once the pieces were in place, and the journalling done, I was so happy with how each layout looked.

I fell in love with the system all over again.

Many people use the system to record a picture each day. That doesn't work for me. I needed something simpler. So I do a page or two per month. If I need more, I can use more. If I need less, so be it. If I want to use one page to talk about one event or one memory, I can do that. If I want to use 6 pages to talk about our vacation, I can.

This probably means I can unload most of the scrapbook supplies I still have. I think I'll be using Project Life for most of my memory keeping from now on.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Divine Appointment

"I have become convinced that if God stands a child before you, for even just a minute, 
it is a divine appointment." 
~ Wess Stafford

I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Stafford at a conference back in October. He talked about his new book Just a Minute and examples of moments in which everything changes - moments like 8:46 am on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. There are also positive moments - like the moment when an adult speaks something positive and life-giving into the life of a child.

This portion of the conference has stuck with me. I have tried to be more aware of my students and ways to speak positive things over them. This can be hard. I am a task oriented person. I like to check things off the list. I have things to accomplish in the library with students in 40 minutes. It can be hard to balance both my tasks and responsibilities and the relational parts of my work.

A week or so ago, I was at a scrapbooking thing at school. A few women were working on our scrapbooks. I was really enjoying the grown up conversation and being able to make progress on my scrapbooks for the first time in ages.

The daughter of one of the women came by with her dad. She is a darling little girl - probably 4 or 5 years old. I don't think she's ever said more than two words to me when I've seen her - usually she is playing with friends or just passing through with her mom. But this night she climbed up on the seat next to me completely unprompted. 

A divine appointment. 

I could say hi and go back to my scrapbooking. Or I could treat her like she was the only person in the room. 

We had a fun little chat. She talked about things she likes to do, including drawing, so I handed her a card and marker from my scrapbooking supplies and invited her to show me her favorite thing to draw (a tree with a hole for an owl). When she was done, she said I could keep the picture, so I ran it to the library to pin it on my bulletin board.

It took maybe 10 or 15 minutes from my night - It wasn't a major time commitment. It wasn't an inconvenience. It was a delight. I don't imagine anything in our chat was life-changing for her, but it was good practice for ME in setting aside my agenda to just BE in the moment.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

She Did What She Could

At teacher convention a couple weeks ago a woman spoke on the passage in the Bible where Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointed Jesus with expensive oil. She zeroed in on the verse that said, "She did what she could."

Last weekend, I worked at school on book fair things. I received an email from the company that runs the fair showing the two restock orders I had placed already and how many items were enroute.

One of the things I noticed is that I wasn't going to be receiving all of the copies of a book I needed. I was down to my last copy, so I had asked for the maximum, 8 copies, both times I had called in a re-order. In one case, the operator only recorded that I wanted 4, so I was just getting those 4. In the other case, I was getting 0 instead of the 8 I needed. I had already sold those 4, so I wasn't going to have anything to put on the shelves on Monday, even though I had been telling kids I had more copies coming.

I had personally told almost all of my 250 students about this book - it works for the youngest in 1st and 2nd grade as well as the older ones in 5th and 6th. And it was a well-written and fun story. I have a LOT of kids who want this book. I even sold the library's copy (it hadn't been cataloged yet) and marked it for replacement at the end of the fair so I would have an extra copy to work with. I hate the disappointed looks on their faces when I tell them I have to order more and they can't take the book with them. The more I thought about the lack of copies of this book, the more desperate I started to feel. It started to affect my sleep. I would lay in bed, wondering if I could order more copies from Amazon and sell them myself (FYI - No, I can't. They are in hard cover, and more expensive, from Amazon).

Then I remembered the words of this speaker: She Did What She Could.

All I can do is what I can do.

I can keep calling in reorders for the maximum number of books
I can call my rep and ask her what my other options are (and complain about the rep who didn't place the order as I originally requested it).
But I can't conjure more copies from thin air. I can't force the warehouse to have more copies than they have.

I can only do what I can do.

It will have to be enough.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

God Sighting

As I was sitting down in my pew on Sunday, I heard snatches of a conversation a friend was having with the couple who sits behind our family. As the conversation wrapped up, the woman said my friend was a "God-sighting" for her that day - a moment when she was reminded that God cared about her and was involved in the things going on in her life.

My extraverted nature kicked in and I blurted out, "No pressure!" I think my friend thought I was hassling him, but I wasn't.

Think about that pressure - a God-sighting.

Now, maybe not every person is actively watching for God's hand in his/her life. But some people are. Some people have trained themselves to do it. Others are desperate for it.

Am I open to being that sign of God's hand?
Am I tuned in to the prompting of the Holy Spirit?
Am I looking for ways to reach out to others who might need an encouraging word?

Am I willing to be used by God in a way where people see HIM rather than me?