Sunday, January 30, 2011

For the Birds and So Much More

"Uh, there's a bird!" Lee exclaimed. She gazed at the small Chickadee pecking away in my recently installed bird feeder. She was mesmerized. This exemplar of simplicity, beauty, and life only a few feet away, enjoying the new mix of dried fruit and seeds, delighted her. As the minutes passed, she began to wonder more and more about this lovely creature. She asked questions like, "Do they store food in the winter? How do they keep warm? What kind of bird is that?" Teachable moments don't get any better than this. Ever since I stuck the feeder to the outside of my classroom window, all of my students have been enchanted. They are actively engaged in the scientific processes of hypothesizing and observing.

Heartbreaking to think and know this kind of learning may soon be a thing of the past. With a greater emphasis on high stakes testing and accountability these days, I'm afraid teachers are feeling the pressure and finding less and less time to engage their students in these types of activities. Not to mention the amount of time kids are spending inside. How often do they get out exploring our world and experiencing the beauty of nature?

I just finished reading an article about the benefits of Forest Schools in the United States. Are you ready for this? In the Forest School, also known as the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, N,Y., children spend a total of three hours a day outdoors, rain or shine. Teachers there have noticed an improvement in motor development and children resolving social issues through imaginative play.

I love it for these aspects and so much more. It lets kids be kids and fosters a greater respect and appreciation for our environment through its "nature based outdoor education". Furthermore, you probably don't see any children with obesity issues there. Kids are allowed and given the opportunity to get out and move. Notice I said allowed and not encouraged. Children already have a deep intrinsic need to actively play and learn. It's time those making the policies start paying attention to this.

This brings me back to my students and my new friends, the birds. In a day when we are constantly being warned of the effects of global warming, pollution, and the need to conserve, it seems we could benefit from going back to some good old fashioned basics. Allowing our children to be children while fostering respect and appreciation for the planet entrusted to us for stewardship and care, are more important than ever. Tests will come and go, along with the politicians who mandate them. Yet, how we educate our children and train them up is pertinent to our own survival and future.

In conclusion, it's time to start looking and listening more carefully. Millions of dollars aren't needed for reform. Good teachers know their students and know what works and what doesn't. Letting children be children while providing educational opportunities that actively engage them and foster a sense of respect and appreciation for each other and the world we live in, is what's needed today, now more than ever.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Appointment

For JFK, Garland, Lennon, and Marilyn amongst others
We say it came too early
We needed and wanted so much more

It is an appointment we shall, indeed, all keep
Young, old, early or late
It pays no mind and does not discriminate

Some pass on from us unnoticed
While for others the world ceases to orbit
We find ourselves stunned and weeping
For the greats who met theirs unexpectedly

Hate, carelessness, drugs, alcohol or cancer
The terms of it never cease to vary
As long as the sun continues to set and rise
These appointments will sadly carry on
Claiming hundreds, thousands, and even millions
Before the world reaches its final end

Adam and Eve were promised and warned of this so very long ago
So each one prepares and responds differently
However, some of us don’t even do that
We carry on as if there will always be a tomorrow

How and when will I know?
For when shall my own bell toll?
Like an unexpected thief or a long awaited friend?
This I do not and may never foresee to know
Five or ten minutes I usually tarry
But for that final appointment
I can not, nor will I be late
The grander one’s exit and the appointment’s arrival
The grander in memory one individual shall remain

Yea, though I do not know the day or the hour
I do know that from an eternal perspective
It can not be far off
For a thousand years to us, is only one day elsewhere

So best get crackin’
Living, loving and laughing
Sending a strong hearted message and legacy onward
Making and raising new babes and disciples
Inspiring everything and every one of good repute and nobility to go forward

Listen here, all you who tarry
tomorrow’s not promised to me or anyone
Each and every one of us can be sure
We will make that appointment and make it on time

Monday, January 24, 2011

Look On the Bright Side

Fifteen minutes after reading numerous pages detailing my friend, Keith's new diagnosis, my heart groans and the tears come. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, is no stranger. I wasn't even a teenager when my very own Grandma, Ida, was diagnosed. Clumsiness, tripping over one's feet, decreased motor function, slurred speech, difficulty breathing and swallowing are all stages one enters and never recovers from. At its final outset, one is totally imprisoned in their own body, unable to speak or move, but fully cognizant of everything happening around them. In my opinion, it embodies the worst of the worst. Many, including myself, wrestle with the why's of it all.

Keith and my Grandma are not unalike; both of them highly intelligent, creative, gifted individuals. Keith, an author, illustrator, musician and teacher at one time, who is now confined to his bed, still writes. He dictates and is currently on his third novel. Ida, my Grandma, was a fantastic nurse, artistan, tailor, gardener, and teacher. She made me a Kermit the frog piggy bank and sewed a beautiful christening gown for my brother when he was just a wee little one. Beautiful people with beautiful gifts, robbed of a fully functioning body, no longer able to freely create.

My eyes looked up towards the beige ceiling of my kitchen as I began to cry out a prayer of intercession on behalf of my friend, "Please God, heal my friend. I don't like to see him suffer this way. Please, God. Please, take his ALS away."

We never like to see anyone suffer, especially someone of such beauty and gifting, even less so when it is someone so near and dear. ALS does not discriminate. It robs men and women alike. It robs and robs and robs until there is nothing left to take. However, despite its tragic fury, I've come to ponder what and how it gives.

I realize it gives an opportunity for one's true colors to show, both the individual along with the family and friends affected. It gives an opportunity for us to show kindness to those in need and to weep with those who weep. It gives an opportunity to count our blessings and think about what is most important in this life and the one to come. It gives an opportunity to fight the good fight or cash it all in early and kick the bucket. It gives us some of the most painful and memorable lessons we will ever learn. In its face, we will either cower with fear and despair more unbearably or learn to live, laugh, and love more heartily.

Keith's wife, Kate, is now one of my hero's. As a dedicated and loving wife, she cares for him at home. She is a fine nurse who loves her husband and tends to all his needs. It is a beautiful testimony of the words, "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, and for richer or poorer..." lived out. She is still able to smile and chuckle as she takes everything in stride. She is thankful for the many blessings they have been given.

I am thankful for the privilege to know them and share with them. I am thankful for another visit and opportunity to show kindness, even if it only means sitting beside my friend and reading a few stories to him.

ALS takes and it gives, but I must believe it is not an end in and of itself. There is so much more for us to enjoy in the life beyond here and now. For ALS can neither rob us of our souls nor the eternal joy we have been given to possess. If we are to press onward, we must believe the best is yet come.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Snapshot In Time

Sparkling confetti

Swirling around, floating above

Dancing here and there

The magic and brilliance of winter’s crystals

If only to find such delight in life when each storm arises.

If only to embrace the bitterness and cold as such

An orchestrated dance of great mystery and wonder

Sparkling confetti

Swirling, floating and dancing in the beaming rays of the sun

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Simple Splendor

They greeted me this morning and then once again this evening
The silverfish, white, lined branches and limbs of the great oaks and maples, staggered across the valley
Some of them tinted with only a trace of pink
Simple and magnificent in all their splendor
A distant ball of fire ignites their glazed over look, erected high in the sky

It’s a whole forest lining the narrow route to work
dirtied snow banks piled high below
No device to capture this; only naked eyes of drivers and passengers alike glancing through their windows.
Many have complained, “Not another one!” or “I’ve had enough. Spring can’t come fast enough.”

But I say, “There is beauty. Each new sudden brunt brings a different shade of glory.”

Today, it was the simple splendor of all the living beams dressed for an elegant ball.
Dressed in thin, delicate, sheets of icy glass.
Perhaps tomorrow, they will have piled on their fluffy, white robes.

Who knows?
It is different each time.
Watch closely, wait, and you will SEE
With each new flurry and force of the season, a fresh new wardrobe is revealed.
The storms and their fashions always change
Yet those royal, strapping limbs remain erected high in all their simple splendor

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2011 - Forging Ahead

"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
James 4:13-16

Goals. I've never been one for a five or ten year plan. It's always been difficult for me to plan and imagine that far down the road. I really don't know what I'd like to be doing and where and how I plan or hope to live that far down the road. However, I don't think I'll be in quite the same place as I am now.

For this year, I found it difficult to even set new goals. A lot of them were to continue or maintain what I'm already doing. There is one hope though. I hope I will be able to narrow down my focus and better understand my life purpose. It may even come as a surprise to me and my readers later on. Who Knows?

When I reviewed my goals for last year and compared it to everything I actually did, there were some stark contrasts. Out of the 20 goals I set for myself, I accomplished about 8 of them. Yet there were all kinds of new things I had never planned on doing at the beginning of that year. In fact, at least half of my top 20 highlights of 2010 were totally unforeseen or unplanned! Which brings me to the passage from James 4 included at the top.We never know what each day will bring us. May we cherish and make the most of the opportunities we are granted.

I am excited that there will probably be some new and fun things I will get to do and learn this year. I am also excited about the possibility of deeper or new relationships. I hope it is an exciting and blessed year for you, too!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Looking Back on 2010

I just finished reviewing my journal notes for 2010. WOW! There were so many things I forgot about. If you've never reviewed your own personal life from the year before, I highly recommend it. People perish from lack of knowledge. It's always good to take a look back on where you've been, before forging into a new year with new goals.

Here are my top 20 highlights of 2010:

1. Started blogging.
2. Throughout the year, I found inspiration to write more.
3. Made new friends.
4. Opportunity to share my testimony in church in relation to John 11 and grave clothes.
5. Worked with a sister in Christ to make a presentation for foster care in May.
6. God provided summer work!
7. Planted my very first flower garden ever!
8. Celebrated my mother's 60th birthday with her!
9. Deeper conversations with my sister, Jeneen.
10. Doing art for church- each time it flowed well with the message brought forth.
11. Visited a new friend in Columbus, Ohio for Columbus weekend.
12. Helped to do an orientation for people interested in becomming foster care parents.
13. Opportunity to honor veterans in church for Veteran's Day.
14. Made my very first presentation on technology at a statewide conference.
15. Very first professional article published in a teacher's newsletter.
16. Accepted to present at a technology conference in the spring of 2011.
17. Self published another collection of short stories for Christmas.
18. Started teaching an additional 2 grade levels this past September.
19. My students are excited about learning new proverbs each week.
20. Learned sign language for the song, "How Many Kings?"

In addition, there are many things I can give praise for as well. My family, friends, health, job, along with another year to smile brightly and share the love and kindness that has been shown to me.

As always, the new year is full of so many unknowns. I hope it is a year of gaining more insight and direction for myself, as well as opportunities to bless others and be blessed. I hope it is a year of seeing more things redeemed and restored rather than lost; kind of like the earring I found. I have yet to set new goals for this year, but I am thankful for the year I enjoyed and was blessed to live in 2010.

I hope you are encouraged to do some reminiscing of your own and to step out and try new things. Each year I try to do something new and different. I've discovered it is one of the best ways to approach a new year and in turn it has yielded some pretty awesome results.

Carpe Diem- It's 2011, a new year and a new decade!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Friend

My friend is beautiful, young, vibrant and always striving to do better.
She is grateful and humbled when receiving the smallest of gifts.
My friend is a believer, a believer in God's love, grace, and mercy.
She is a wife, mother, daughter sister, and soon to be aunt.
My friend is one I have walked and talked with for many years, almost 20 to be exact.
She does not pretend to be someone she is not. She has learned to value honesty and be more open.
My friend hosts, cooks, cleans, shapes, creates, blesses, laughs, cries and struggles like anyone else.
She is a unique gem with many facets to her; probably purple for royalty.
My friend is younger than me, but close in heart.
She is faithful. She always keeps giving and responding. I don't have to worry about her suddenly cutting me off or out of her life.
My friend prays for me and enjoys my company.
Her name means "Christ's birthday".
Natalie, she is my friend.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Seven Years and One Earring

The worship band had just finished playing when Gary gave Bella the nod to go ahead. She stepped up to the microphone, greeted the congregation, and began to share a testimony. For seven years she and her biological father were estranged and it grieved her deeply. Although she knows God in heaven is her father, she still missed her biological father and wanted him in her life. She needed healing. She never went into the details of what happened; only that she called her mother asking for her father's phone number and made the call. It was her courage to reach out in love and forgiveness that made the difference. He talked to her and now they are reconciled.

Why seven years? Why did I so easily toss my earring away after a matter of months and almost my faith in God's willingness to heal and bring reconciliation? Perhaps because I know there are stories that don't end so well. Some try for years reaching out and there is no happy ending when the person finally passes onto eternity.

Last night, I confessed I had little to no hope and that God would need to help my unbelief. Today, I discovered there were many experiencing those very same feelings when so many stood for prayer. Bella's testimony and the verses from Hebrews 10:35-6 about not throwing away one's confidence resonated with at least half the congregation, if not more. We are all tempted to give up and give in because things don't happen when and how we think they should or would.

In conclusion, it remains to be seen what will come in 2011, as we have only just begun. Yet I do believe there is something to be said for not throwing away one's confidence and only matching earring too soon, which is a whole lot more than I could say last night.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Lost, but Then Found

Years ago when I suddenly discovered my beloved toe ring was gone, a dear friend encouraged me, "That means something new is coming." Now tonight, the gold, circle earring I lost months ago, I suddenly found while rummaging through the kitchen junk drawer in search of a cable connector for my digital camera. I thought for sure the earring was lost for good. Somehow it must have slipped out of my ear unbeknownst to me until I later looked in a mirror and realized it was gone.

I remember searching on the floor, throughout the apartment, on the path outside, and then inside my vehicle. I looked everywhere I could think of and to no avail. I never remembered going in the junk drawer that morning and therefore never gave it a thought. For awhile, I left it alone figuring it would eventually turn up, but months went by and nothing turned up. Nothing happened until tonight that is. Only one problem. Can you guess what I did?

After finding the earring I went straight to my jewelry box to see if I had kept the other one. Two or three drawers later, I remembered tossing the matching earring a month or so prior to tonight. It was costume jewelry and I thought, "What good was one gold earring without the other?" Since it had been so long, I gave up and tossed the one good earring I had into the waste receptacle. It had not turned up in the time I thought it should or would and so I simply concluded it was then or never.

How often do we do that? How often do I do that? I'm afraid to admit all too often. It's so easy to succumb to feelings of, "What's the use? Why bother? Nothing ever changes." In fact, earlier I felt like typing something to the effect of, "If God is not willing to work victory in and through my immediate circumstances and family where I am here and now, then He certainly will not work above and beyond these things." I have been frustrated with what appears to be His lack of interest and intervention in the things that have grieved my heart for years. I find it difficult to even pray these days.

What am I to conclude now? It is a new year, 2011. On the first evening of it, I found the gold earring I had given up on ever finding and forgot about, once I had tossed its match in the garbage. I am reminded of the verse in Hebrews 10:35-6, "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what He has promised."

To be honest, I haven't had much confidence or will to persevere these days in regards to the disharmony that exists within my family. It continues to grieve me that people are so bitter, disrespectful, and unkind to each other; even more so that they do not know or desire the peace that passes understanding. What promise or hope do I have that things will ever be healed? What does it mean when something that was lost is unexpectedly found?

I would like to believe that it means God is willing and WILL work in and through these trying circumstances. I yearn to see the miracle of hearts being turned from stone to flesh. I long for the animosity and disgust between family members to be replaced with forgiveness and love. In essence, I want to know God sees and cares for the same people I do. I need to know He wants to and He will melt the ice away and bring healing in my family.

If He is willing, may He help my unbelief, so that those I know that are lost may be found, too.