To those who’ve been shamed, let me be the one to say…

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

So he was told.

I had forgotten, but she reminded me yet again as we were talking: about the cruelty of  words and how shattering they can be when ill-spoken. When hastily proffered. When handed over without any thought or consideration to the receiver.

And how excruciating when those words are held out to a child, a teenager: as evidence of their failings, flaws and weaknesses. As evidence of their shortcomings. When spoken as a statement to their individual worth. A testimony, if you will: to their person-hood. And when these words of shame are spoken by a teacher, no less: the damage they inflict is often irreparable.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

Those words- they have still, at times, been spoken.

And he’ll never forget those words, no matter how much time and space come between. She’ll always remember. For they are there. Forever imprinted in his memory. In her memory. Impressed on his subconscious and thus filtered in and out through his more aware consciousness in the here and now. She’s trouble- or so she thinks; and so she’ll spend the rest of her days either seeking to live up to that reputation or finding a way to prove them wrong.

It’s how the story goes.

And to those students dealing with their own insecurities, anxieties and fears about who they are and what they might become, this is either a death sentence or a fire lit beneath them. A motivation or a deterrent.  It’s pivotal.

This piece of writing I’ve composed: it is not a reprimand to students- goodness knows there are enough of those out there to fill a book. This is a reminder to those of us as teachers to choose our words carefully before we speak them. We can never get those words back again. This is a memo to those of us who educate: to watch our collective tongues. Carefully. To form our opinions with awareness to those around us. To say what needs to be said, but to do so respectfully. With dignity. In honor of the life that stands before us.  For all life is worth that at the very least. Is worth a semblance of regard, out of respect, if nothing else, to the person and all those others they represent. The parents, family and friends. A person is not an island. And words have a ripple effect. Do not think they will fall like a stone to the bottom of the ocean. They will be carried away on the waters and they will oft be repeated. And never forgotten. Do not offer words without thought to what message those words are truly conveying. Words can have more than one meaning. And what we think we are saying lightly can be taken heavily by the hearer.  And buried deep within.

This is a message to we who are adults- we are the forerunners. We have been there before. We know the pain of derision, the wound that is a sarcastic comment spoken in scorn. We remember. And so, we who know better must live better. We must watch what we say and say it with care. There are others listening. Believing what we say. Taking it to heart.  Living up to it, those words.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

To that one who has had these words flung in your direction, let me be one to stand up and boldly say:

You are more than the sum of one man or woman’s opinion. You are more than one person’s point of view. You are capable. You are able. You are competent. You don’t have to live down, stoop low to anyone’s minimal expectations of who they think you’ve been destined to be. Prove them wrong. Be more. Do more. Live for more. Aim higher, reach farther. Be inspired to make the change you need to make so as to become the person you were born to be. It’s in you.
You can do this. Be the person you were made to be. The sky’s the limit. And you’re full of potential and possibility.

You’re amazing, I know you are.

Believe it.

I do.

An Easter Funny for Ya’all!!

Our Easter weekend is a precious time. It is treasured time to remember a Saviour. Time to invest thought and prayer and hope in a promise. Time to rest and be held.

Time.

Precious, scarce commodity that it might be understood to be, and yet, time is a sweet gift at Easter. Here at the Gard household, we never take this time lightly: for it is our reason for the season. It’s everything.

But as part of the season, we do take time as well to be with family and friends. To share in company and break bread. To laugh and relax. To meditate and contemplate. To uncover and discover. Time to talk. And to be grateful for all we are and all we have. In Christ and in each other.

However. Sometimes, all these spiritual intentions are thwarted by unseen and unpredicted chaos. Catastrophe of the most epic proportions.
Can I tell you how I spent part of the Holy Weekend- that is, my Easter Sunday afternoon? In a potato field caked in mud nearly up to my eyeballs, no less. With a crying child of my own flesh and blood a few meters away, out of reach. Actually, Dianne (my sister-in-law) and I were hiding the Easter eggs for an Easter egg hunt while our children, unbeknowst to us, were glued to the ground. Literally. The first cry I heard was M.A.’s while my nephew stood immobile beside her.  But I think he was laughing.  Sorta.  Anyways, the point of tha matter was that the kiddos were all hanging out in the potato field because that’s where we all like passing the time on a sunny Easter afternoon.  Well, the kids do, anyway.  And because we adults have nothing better to do (and there is that little part I left out about a kid who ventured off and got stuck, so his cousins had to rescue him, but I digress…)  Which is to say, obviously we all have nothing better to do than hang out in a muddy potato field on these beautiful Spring days.  We do live in the country.  So it seems.

Here’s how it all went down.  I came running as soon as I heard Daughter crying, because she’d lost her boots in the mud a few minutes prior. Me, unconvinced that I will sink in this stuff- forging forward at a snail’s pace: because I thought I could be the hero in my black Clark’s church shoes (I will never, ever get that mud out).  And oh the fun! Doesn’t take long for one to find out how easy those puppies might be to manouever in a clay cesspool of foot high muck.  I nearly left them there.  After about two seconds into the rescue plan, I was yelling at the onlookers- the older cousins and my two other children- to RUN to the house and grab me some boots. Pronto. While I stood in a quagmire akin to a suction cup. Daughter crying, glued to her spot, sans footwear. Nephew just out of reach up to his knees in sludge.

And when help does come, what form do you think that help might take? Husband with a video camera. Cheering me on from the sidelines, trying to get it all on video so that his wife can see what a fool she is in living colour.

His words of wisdom to me: “You’re doing great, Lori.”

What a gem.

He’s lucky it’s Easter.  I am on my best behavior.

Happy Easter everyone!

Thank you

Over the years, I have had moments as a teacher so memorable they have left a significant, lasting impression. Imprinting forever in my long-term memory the emotions that were felt when that experience occurred.

I remember a particularly difficult teaching assignment in which I took over a short-term social studies position at the high school level for a teacher with long-term illness. Who actually passed away during my time in his classroom. I was seven months pregnant with our third child, taking on three new-to-me high school courses, mid-way through the term. Not only that, there were special circumstances surrounding my hiring, along with some very special students in the classes I would be teaching. Students who were not easily persuaded or motivated to tow the line. To say it was a challenge would have been an understatement.  Overwhelmed was more suitable a word in describing how I felt about my assignment at the time.

Towards the end of June, after exams finished and marks had been submitted, I was helping the school’s graduation committee one day with various tasks associated with the graduation ceremony.  At some point, and truthfully- I can’t remember exactly how it happened,  a Grade 12 student arrived at my classroom door with a note in hand. After he left, I opened the card, and this is what I read:

Ms. Gard,
Thank you for everything you taught me. I know it was not easy to step in and take over the class, and we had to deal with a lot of unfortunate things. All things considered, you did an excellent job. Thank you for being there and seeing that we learned all that we needed.
Thank you.

Two little words. So simple, yet so powerful. So meaningful. And oh! how motivating to me as the teacher.

The whole of that message was really condensed into two little words of gratitude.  Of thankfulness.  Words that we  use at times without realizing their incredible importance in the life of another.   Have we ever stopped to consider them? For there are times when those two little words are the only ones necessary, all that needs to be spoken.  For truly, those two little words have all the power to change and impact like no two other little words in the English language. They are influential.

Game changers of the best variety.

They can melt a heart of stone. Can break a cycle of apathy. Can mend a broken fence. Build a bridge. Heal a wound. Make everything worthwhile. Those two words have sway. Gentle authority. And while there are many ways in which these two little words can be spoken. Many ways in which they can be used to convey the full sense of gratitude of which they speak, there really isn’t anything more powerful than the simplicity of those two little words.

Thank you.

Tonight, I want to say thank you.

Thank you to all those students who have crossed my path in years gone by and in these present days.
Thank you to the girl who recognized me at the drugstore two weeks ago as her music teacher back in Grade 1.
Thank you to the young man at Walmart a while back who remembered me from his junior high days.
Thank you to my neighbour’s son who walked with me the other evening and shared his heart as well as happenings of his day with me.
Thank you to my little friend from Grade3 whom I see at the pool twice a week now. Whom I love to chat with and sometimes like to tease.
Thank you to my own seven little ones in kindergarten who have taught me how to love unconditionally.
Thank you to the little boy who met me at the door today and confided to me a heartfelt sorrow. I treasure that trust.
Thank you to the boys and girls of Bloomfield- every one of them. The ones who ask me to supervise hockey games, the ones who chat with me in the halls, the ones whom I work with in extra-curricular activities, the ones who keep me company on duty.
Thank you to the little one who always writes me love letters.
Thank you.

You have blessed me in ways I could never express. My life is fuller, more beautiful. Because of all of you.

And for that and so much more, I am forever grateful

Addictions and taking baby steps

When I was a little girl, I remember this so clearly. I was perhaps eight years old or there abouts, and at the time of this memory, I was standing in the bathroom beside a cupboard used for storing towels. I asked my mother this question: “Am I good?”

My mother answered me as best she knew how, telling me that I was good as I could be. She knew me well- I could also be stubborn and strong-willed. As any child can be. But in light of her response, I remained unconvinced. I wanted more than a ‘pat’ answer. I wanted truth. And I wanted the truth to be what I believed: that she knew me as being someone kind and good. Someone inherently upright. I wanted her to say of me- that who I was, the person I was becoming, was someone worth affixing the label “good” to.

I have never forgotten that moment, although there are other moments in my life of which I still wonder about now as an adult. Times when I was bullied in my middle school years and taunted for all manner of reasons, not the least of which being that I wasn’t pretty enough, classy enough or mature enough. I remember those moments as survival, moments in which one couldn’t care less about being good. One just wished to live through it with one’s dignity intact.

I remember too, not living up to certain expectations others had of me and rebelling against the desired good in me. The little girl who strived to please became rebellious against the golden standard of ‘good’. Because it just wasn’t worth it to work so hard. Who needed good when they could be ‘bad’ and get the same attention?

I am approaching my fortieth birthday next month, but there is still a little girl inside me that cries out to anyone who will listen, “Am I good? Good enough? Am I worth noticing? Do you see me?”

I hear that little girl’s voice in my writing, when she hits “post” on a Facebook status, blog or article.

I hear her in my conversations with colleagues, friends and family.

I hear her talking in the staff room, in the classroom and in graduate level discussions with her own classmates.

I hear her at the supper table when she is talking to her children and Husband.

I hear her relentlessly ask the same question over and over and over: “Am I good?”

And interwoven throughout every conversation, every thought, every nuance of language both spoken or otherwise, she asks of those around her, “Am I worth something? Am I good?”

It is a need- an addiction, if you will. Yet one so subtle you might never even notice it (were she not to write out the truthful words of it all here). It seems so harmless, really.

We often think of addictions as being those outwardly noticeable compulsions that lead one to dependence, obsessions and habits. I admire those who are able to talk of their addictions, who are able to share their experiences. I see great courage and strength in those who tell their stories of addiction. But I have never really thought of myself as having an addiction. Never really seen such in me. Strangely, addictions can show up in the form of needs so seemingly benign- needs that we all innately crave- that these same innocent of all addictions can compel one to want something so deeply, they are willing to go to great extremes to get it. I should know- I have one of these seemingly innocent addictions. I crave positive affirmation. I just want to be good, and I always have.

I have always wanted people to think I am good. Think I am quality. As someone with value. And there is a little part of me that curls up inside when I feel disregarded. Cast off. When I feel as though I were invisible. There is still a little girl inside that feels darkness settle over her like a cloud at times. Because in truth, she has always wanted to be noticed. She has always wanted to be considered by those she holds in high esteem and even otherwise, to be enough. That girl- I know her well, she has always wanted to feel special. Always wanted to be seen. She has always wanted to be ‘enough’.

Good enough.

And at times, this obsession has become a singular preoccupation in my life, at the expense of all other priorities. That’s how it is with addictions. They take over. The first step is admission. And here I am. Telling you, my friends, that I struggle with this. I have an addiction to approval and it is at times insatiable.

For me, in living with myself and my idosyncracies, the best way of acknowledging this messy part of who I am is through my writing. I have started to live my life out loud and in the open because I love being able to share my thoughts and musings with others. I love connecting to people. Love the relationships that develop. I love creating community with my confessions, so that we can share our lived experiences together. But there is also another reason for which I have often held shame and that is this: I need people. Deeply. For many different purposes, some of which are noble. But some of which are not.

I must confess.

In connecting with other people in both private and public spaces, I am able to feed the addiction for approval. For I want it very, very much. I am able to feed the hunger for confirmation that I am ‘enough’- enough in every way, in everything I do, not the least of which is my writing. And I am able to meet this need through the encouragement I garner from things so minute as an opinion to concerns of utmost importance. Affirmation is an addiction. And it can consume a person’s thoughts. It can drive a person crazy. And there can also be shame. Shame in admitting all of this messiness about my truthful self ‘out loud’; for who wants to be seen as needy and weak?

I am nearing middle age and yet, I still want to be perceived as admirable. I still desire to please others so as to hear them tell me how good I am. And all this, even though I know I am loved. Even though I know that I am cherished by a Father. Even though I know. My head admits it, yet my heart still needs some convincing by times. I still have that need for approval even though I know that who I am is who I have always been meant to be.

Even though I know.

So I take comfort tonight: that confession is a baby step toward healing. Believing in myself and my inherent worth is a close second. Knowing I am loved and cherished and teaching this to my heart, the underlying foundation.

I press on. Tonight I walk forward, making progress with baby steps.

One little footstep at a time.

Trigger warnings and Play

Warning: the contents of this article might be offensive to some. In that, it might make you conjure up images of snot, mucous, throw-up, broken arms and the like. Consider yourself trigger warned.

Last weekend’s Globe and Mail had an article in its Focus section about trigger alerts. Essentially, trigger alerts are advance warnings that might alert one to potentially harmful, anxiety-inducing, adverse information found in course material, books, public and private settings and environments, writing and other venues of transmitting influential stuff that might need censoring.

In other words, someone could be bothered at the very least- offended at the most, by what they encounter.

According to the article, university professors are being asked to provide trigger warnings in advance of their course readings- to the extreme that any sort of ill-affect, including panic attacks and anxiety disorders, might be provoked by the influence of the potential literature, and could thus be avoided through use of such an advance cautioning system. That is, through using a trigger warning so as to alert.

Essentially, trigger warnings are kind of like car horns: they jar you so that you pay close attention. Or kind of like the jarring bellow of a teacher just before her student runs in front of the swing-set. You get the idea.

The thought of which gave me pause to consider the various trigger warnings that I should offer to all those incoming students of mine who are going to be attending my upcoming K classes in the fall. The four year-olds, that is. If I was to provide a trigger warning for them, here’s what it would look like:

Be aware, Prospective Clients of the Public School System. Entering the educational system and thus attending kindergarten classes might bring on the following adverse, unpleasant affects:

1. Sickness, after you come into contact with every cold and flu virus known to humankind, which incidentally must FIRST cross the threshold of the school doorways before filtering out into the world at large.
2. Dirty, filthy clothing, as you wear said ‘virus’ proudly like a badge (because I can guarantee: you will be wiping your nose all over those super-adorable little shirts and dresses that looked spick and span when you left home in the morning but look like a compost dispenser by the end of the day).
3. All manner of cuts and bruises, as you manage to find every dangerous corner, table, wall and other sharp object or the like inside every classroom, hallway, music room, gym and secretary’s office within the school. And yes, quite possibly even the bus.
4. All manner of broken body parts, (yes again, I said that right), as you experiment with gravity on the outdoor playground equipment. Or school banister railings.
5. Writer’s cramp, as you are reminded for the bazillionth time to hold your pencil with proper, standardized pencil grip.
6. Discriminating taste buds, as you realize halfway through the month of September that you still have twelve years ahead of you eating Flakes of Ham sandwiches.
7. Joy at discovering that mom has no idea what happens to said ‘sandwich’ when Teacher turns her head to read out the lunch menu. For that matter, neither does Teacher.
8. Cold, wet feet, upon discovering that playing soccer in mud puddles a foot deep causes one’s clothing from the hip down to become completely soaked. And then some.
9. A propensity to needing bandages, as you discover that sticky, adhesive substances are quite fun to apply to the body. And then rip off two seconds later.
10. A paranoid sense of personal space as your teacher patiently explains to you why standing one cm from a person’s mouth is not far enough away.

These are merely the top ten. I could write more. So much, much more.

The author of the Globe article goes on to cite a recent Atlantic Monthly critiqueon the topic of micromanaged kids and their helicopter parents. And he does so as to say the following: “Kids are no longer left alone to find their way, invent spontaneous and sometimes risky forms of play, to confront and overcome unknowns, to do things themselves, and to fall, fail and then get back up again.”

To which I say, au contraire. Where there is a will, there is always a way.

I was on outdoor duty Friday, and I can assure this good man: children are still testing the waters of safety, running towards the road, hiding beneath trees, escaping the confines of their boundaries, sitting on the top of the monkey bars, sliding down the slide backwards, hitting one another over the head with pinecones, branches and possibly rocks (oh my nerves) and banging into each other when playing and running.

Falling down. And then getting back up again.

And interestingly, some of these kids do have helicopter parents.

While I see that there is still a propensity towards anxiety in children of helicopter parents, by and large, most kids are running around full-tilt on the playground, as if their life depended on it. And loving every, single minute of it.

‘Cause that’s their job. It’s what they have to do.

At least, it is for the healthy, happy P.E. Island kids I know and teach.

What We Crave

In our deepest parts there is a craving to be needed. To know that our lives are necessary. Essential. We want to live for something- something bigger than just ourselves. And we want to impact someone- beyond ourselves.

I listen to many stories and each one means something to me. Her’s was special. She told me of the people whose lives had impacted her own. I listened, intently. And while I listened, she indicated to me, through tears, how overwhelming it had been for her- this experience. This trauma. But in the midst of the pain and trouble- the mess that we call living: there were people. People who did simple little things and people who did providential, epic things. Big or little, they did them for her. And I thought of this one life that had been impacted by love. By care. By the tenderness that is a warm embrace. The comfort that is a phone call or text message, unexpected. I thought about the gifts and love offerings. The support. The net of care that had been created for this one individual. And all because people sensed within themselves a desire to reach out beyond themselves toward another human being in need.

These people: they felt the need and they responded.

And yet. Accompanying this great need to reach out, there is something more.

In our deepest parts, we know that we are not self-sufficient. We know our lives are full- yet broken. We need people, Someone: to perfect the beauty that is our life. We need one another. Each other. But oh! how often we allow pride to stand in the way. We tell ourselves, “I can handle this. I can do this on my own.” But a knowing settles in and reminds us yet again, we need each other. We need to be needed every bit as much as we need to be reminded that we are, at times, ourselves needy.

For in our life, there is a hungering. A thirsting. A want- of something that seems just beyond our grasp. We are so often full, but at times, we find ourselves, so very empty.

We crave hope.

Sometimes that hope comes in the form of an encouraging word. That is enough to light a spark of hope. Sometimes what we need is a helping hand. And sometimes we need more. To be lifted and held: in tangible, heartfelt ways. Sometimes we need a rescue plan, as life squeezes every last bit of hope out of us. And when that rescue plan shows up, the very human hands and feet of a saviour, we reach out and hold on for dear life.  Because we know- we are not alone.

We are not alone.

Grace or criticism?

Grace or criticism?

I have contemplated grace and its place in my life for many years now. I have wondered at its significance, its practical purpose. I have tried to make sense of it. Tried to understand it. And the only way I know how is to put it into the context of my own lived experience. To make sense of it through the circumstances I find myself in on a daily basis.

For me, grace is a strand of love. For love is everything that is good in this world. And since grace is good, it is a strand of love. How I describe grace is in this way: doing willingly for others what wouldn’t come natural. Or put another way, offering love even when I don’t feel like offering it.

Grace is second and third chances.

Grace is endless, actually. I cannot even fathom it. It’s depths and heights. When I think of the grace I have been offered, I am compelled to consider offering such to those I interact with. When I feel like being gracious and even when I don’t.

Criticism, on the other hand, is something which comes quite easily. I have also contemplated its significance in my life and come to discover that criticism, unlike grace, is quite quick to be offered. It is something I could offer without putting too much thought into how I might frame it or place it in context. I can criticize without any premeditated deliberation or contemplation. It easy. And quite natural, I’m afraid. Critiquing, as a branch of criticism, is not so severe a practice. Critiquing requires deliberation and restraint. And it is a discipline. I have learned through many years of watching and listening that careful critique, unlike criticism, can shape us and mold us through it’s wise counsel and influence. One who has learned to critique has also learned to listen and to see. To understand the many angles of a situation.

When to use grace? Criticism? Critique?

If love is in all and through all, and grace is a strand of love, then I believe that grace must be exercised liberally in all of life’s various circumstances and situations. Grace is the open door to reconciliation. It is the pathway toward forgiveness. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the salve for the open wound. And so then: love is both the beginning and the end of everything. It is the Healer’s gentle touch. The Hands that hold.

Growing up in a very fundamentalist environment, I didn’t always see grace. I felt the sting of criticism and the pain of disapproval. But rarely did I feel the freedom of grace. The liberty of love expressed in compassion. But it was there just the same, although often hidden. Not seen in the obvious but through the obscure.

True, there was much criticism, and that is what I remember. But in time, I came to realize that grace had greater influence than the spirit of criticism. Grace had farther fields of influence. And grace could do what critical could not. It could soothe. Heal. Relate. Love. Affect. Grace had powers and strength that critical did not. And grace could do all this in and through the abiding constancy of love. Criticism often worked under the influence of hate. It was only when criticism came under the spell of love that it changed. No longer criticism, it became critique. And as long as critique stayed within the realm of love, it was pure and true. It had the steady influence of a constant to guide it.

My constant is love. The tool to project that love is grace. And I can thus critique under the watchful eye of these two powerful forces.
I no longer wish to have my life marked by criticism. I was checked on such today, offhandedly, when a colleague shared a story and added this detail: “You know, I had preformed an opinion about so-and-so based on what everybody else was saying, but that wasn’t really a true picture of what ____ was like with me when I had a chance to talk one on one.” Which gave me pause to reflect on how too often I judge and criticize others based on an opinion I’ve already heard from someone else. Based on second and third hand information. How incredibly unfair.

Where criticism really stings is when it is directed at destruction. Again, criticism is not evil. But when it originates in hate, it has the power to destroy. To cut down and to damage. To ruin and defeat. To expose and annihilate. To devastate those at whom it is directed. Criticism is powerful. And one has only to listen to one human being tell their story to understand the power of criticism to shape a life.
I am still receiving letters from readers who read the essay “What Students Remember Most About Teachers.” I want to include a link to my most recent letter. There are parts of it that break my heart, for it speaks of the power of criticism to hurt and wound. I am still considering how I will respond to this letter.  I am saddened that teachers have wreaked such havoc on a life.  And that an adult is still captive to the memories of that influence.

I wish this writer to know: I care.  I cannot fix or mend.  But I can care.

I haven’t yet formulated what words I will write to this dear one, but this I will seek to do, through the grace that I have first received and experienced in my own life.  And that is to write that response in love. With a heart overflowing.

In a wash of grace extended outward.