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

It’s Where Grace Finds Me

Grace.
The very word speaks of something sacred. Something holy. Something undeserved.

My children are my loves. My joy. At times, my source of great frustration.

Last night, I was home alone with the two youngest while Husband had the older two siblings at piano lessons. I was trying to clean up a huge meal which I had prepared for the family whilst doing a number of other things at the same time. Typical mother stuff. So, in between peeling carrots, parsnips and preparing potatoes, I had carved out a little time to submit an essay to an online essay contest of sorts.

Realizing that time was of essence, I came back downstairs to find Husband had finished off the remainder of the meal prep and things were ready to go. We ate, and with no time to spare, Husband and the two piano players ran out the door.
Leaving Yours Truly to the meal clean-up.

I had asked the two remaining home with me, to practice piano together- while I attended to the mess in the kitchen. Things did not go well from the start. Youngest was protesting to the snickers of her older sister. I was trying to wash pots and call out (yell) directives from the kitchen. To no avail. So after three meltdowns, I sent youngest wailing to her bedroom. With no short loss of temper on my part either, I might confess.

Peace at last. Relatively speaking. As long as I ignored the far-off wails and calls for help coming from the nether-regions of our farthest upstairs bedroom, I’d have thought I was home alone. You cannot imagine the bliss.
Nevertheless, peace was short-lived, as the calls from up the stairs came loudly, frequently and persistently. I continued to reinforce to the Young Offender that she was there for a reason and that’s where she’d stay.

How long? she asked.
A long time, came the reply.

In my mind, I had almost decided to leave it for as long as it would take: in the hopes that she might exhaust herself and fall limply into a deep and soundless sleep while settled safely on her bed. Clothes and all. Leaving me one less step in my endless to do list.

Alas. This was not to be. She never forgot her situation long enough to fall asleep.

After a while, I calmed down. I had to take a bit of a breather for this to happen, but it did happen. I calmed down. And when I did, I started to think about my daughter’s situation. Her refusal to do what I asked. He complete breakdown in accepting responsibility. Her insistence on doing it her way. And yet, my love for her in spite of it all. For love’s enduring faithfulness still remained. As strong as ever.

Could she ever be deserving of grace, even in something so small as this? Something so insignificant as a meltdown after supper, all while she sat struggling me in a battle of the wills, fought out on a scratched and faded piano bench?

I called her down to the piano. And I told her she was most welcome to come back downstairs again under one condition: that she would do what had been asked of her initially. To practice her piano under the guidance, expertise and experience of her older sister’s watchful eye.

She acquiesced with nary a noise or squibble. For what she had rebelled against was now the ticket to her freedom. She got it. And while this might be a shallow example of grace, it is yet a practical one. For in my love for her, I found within myself, grace to give. And in her struggle, she realized that what she needed so as to gain grace was the very thing she was resisting. That is, there needed to be a laying down of sorts of her own desires and wishes so as to later gain that which she wanted in the first place: her freedom.

But freedom came at a price. It always does. A lost hour of painful agony spent separated from the rest of us. We who knew what she did not from the very start: if she had only spent the five minutes practicing, she would have had the rest of the evening to spend at her leisure. We who knew to look beyond the moment into the foreseeable future. Something she could not do in her limited understanding. For with experience one comes to understand that freedom in grace is always paid for at a cost. We must at times lose that which we hold dear. Our will to fight for what we think best is often the snare. And when we fall into the trap we blame- because something has to be held accountable. Something has to be held up as responsible. But never is it our own selfish ambition.

As for me the mother, in offering grace: I have but a miniscule glimpse into heaven’s grace. A Father’s grace.

A glimpse of Your great grace. And it is in my children’s cries that I most often find grace. That I learn the depths and heights of grace itself. It is there, in those moments of tension that your grace finds me.

Somewhere between joy and frustration, tears and laughter: Your grace finds me.

It’s there in a newborn cry
There in the light of every sunrise
There in the shadows of this life
Your great grace

It’s there on the mountain top
There in the everyday and the mundane
There in the sorrow and the dancing
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

From the creation to the cross
There from the cross into eternity
Your grace finds me
Yes, Your grace finds me

It’s there on the wedding day
There in the weeping by the gravesite
There in the very breath we breathe
Your great grace

It’s the same for the rich and poor
The same for the saint and for the sinner
Enough for this whole wide world
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

Publishing: © 2013 Thankyou Music (admin. worldwide at EMICMGPublishing.com, excluding Europe, which is admin. by Kingswaysongs) (PRS) / sixsteps Music / worshiptogether.com Songs / Said And Done Music (ASCAP) / Shout! Music Publishing (Admin. at CaptiolCMGPublishing.com)

Writer(s): Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

Living Five Minutes at a Time: My Messy Beautiful

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It matters how you treat people.

It matters how you live your life, how you do your job, treat your friends, speak to your kids, care for your animals.  It matters. And it matters that you infuse love into what you do, through each and every seemingly small moment of the day.  Even if those moments are organized into minuscule, five minute increments.  As small and insignificant as that portion of time might seem.

And yet.  Five minutes can be long enough to make a mess of things.

I know.

Lately, I have been living my life either five minutes ahead or five minutes behind where I ought to be.  It’s like I am either rushing too fast or moving too slow.  In all, I am not thinking/living in the moment like I feel I should be. That is, if I was to be ‘living up to’ my best, ideal vision of myself.  That ideal I hold so dear.  And when I sat down to really contemplate this thought, I came up with eight random things I wished I had known about, five minutes before/after they happened.

1. That bag of dirty laundry that I left behind at my lovely friend’s house in N.J. (while traveling during Spring Break)- wish I had known it was sitting there in her man cave five minutes before we left (instead of ten hours later). #nicepartinggift

2. That curb that I sideswiped while backing out of my sister-in-law’s driveway (causing Husband to curl up into the fetal position)- wish I had thought about it five minutes before getting behind the wheel. #soyouthinkyoucandrive

3. Those three fish tacos I ate recently at the Ground Round- wish I had purused the menu five minutes longer before deciding what I was going to eat that particular night. #intestinalgrief

4. That one hour trampoline privilege (Sky High, N.C.) that I paid a left leg for- wish I could have traded it in for Twinkies five minutes after I started jumping (like my life depended on it).

5. And while on that thought… regarding the one hour trampoline privilege that I recently paid a left leg for- wish I had a catheter inserted because five minutes after I started jumping (like an Olympic gymnast on steroids), I was making like a crazed woman for the lady’s room.

6. That email that I was recently trying to save- and all those pictures and other important stuff that seemed so NECESSARY at the time- wish I had remembered that PURGE means GONE FOREVER about five minutes before cleaning up my email queue.

7. But then too. Those beautiful children that I mama-bear growl at, for various reasons or another, and whom I rush along and nag- sometimes I wish I could just remember- five minutes before those words and frustrations pour out of my mouth- that these are just moments in an otherwise beautiful life.  They are not worth getting in a blathering dither over.

8. And this one.  Ouch. This one hurts my ego a little. That conversation I had with my mom recently- that one during which I proceeded to unload all my petty little troubles- wish I had been able to go back five minutes in time to the moment before she proceeded to tell me about a very tragic loss that had occurred in her life when I was away on my trip.  While I was going on and on and on about my bladder troubles and other petty little worries.

Sometimes five minutes is all we need to put life into perspective. 

Five minutes is enough to show me how beautiful my life can truly be. How beautiful it truly is.  If only I am willing to stop and take the time to see the beauty in the moment.

Want to hear five of the best minutes of a day in my life recently? It was without a doubt, when I went to a small grocery store in the town of Cornwall, P.E.I., Canada. Not an event I would usually connect with morphing into daily high points, but that day it was. The cashier: she was friendly, pleasant, affable. I could hear in her voice, as she talked, that she just genuinely liked people. Liked her job. She called me ‘hun’ three times. And while that normally wouldn’t rub me the right way, that day those words seemed almost soothing.

“Anything else I can get you hun?” she said smiling.  Then later…
“Are you paying for that with debit or credit, hun?”
“Thanks, hun. Have a nice day!”

And maybe it was her smile. Maybe it was the respectful way she talked to the meat manager as he brought up a box of seafood to be priced. Quite possibly it could have even been the combined effect of both she and her colleague in the cash right next to her, a woman whom the older gentleman in line after me greeted her warmly with, “Ah Lyndsay! This makes my day just to see you here!”

And with all that love, it isn’t too far-fetched to surmise that this little grocery store is a good place to work. A good place to BE.  It exudes an atmosphere in which love is valued.  In which small moments are valued. For you can feel love palpably. People in this store genuinely seem to like being here, and perhaps the reason is because they just feel like they’re with friends.

It’s that kind of store.

And I couldn’t help but think of that well-touted line, ‘whatever you’ve been given to do, do it well’, in reference to these two women and their ethic of care towards their customers. Because they weren’t just delivering a service that day: they were offering love. Five minutes at a time, and in the process, the whole ordeal had the effect of moving me in a very profound, emotional way. I really felt touched by the kindness I observed and experienced.  And I can only hope to live up to that high ideal as I also go about my life’s work, inside my own home, workplace and classroom, living with and teaching the little and big people I’ve been called to learn alongside.

What a great inspiration it is to watch people doing what they love to do and seeing them doing it well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Because really, when it comes down to it: we’re just people living our lives, five minutes at a time.

Five minutes: it’s all we need to put everything else in our messy, beautiful lives into perspective.  Because that’s what this is all about- the messy in our lives is really the beautiful.  And if I was really being honest, it’s not about five minutes before or five minutes later- it’s really about living out both the frustrating five and the pleasurable five in life- at one and the same time.  Does this mean we cannot talk about the small stuff- the random things we wish we could do-over?  Of course not. In talking about them, in VENTING at times, we realize that they are just small moments that comprise a bigger life.  In validating our small moments- and learning to laugh at them, we come to appreciate the bigger picture that much more.

And in the process, we realize- life is full of moments that we live.

Five at a time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

 

 

 

 

It’s a Hard Knock Life

Three Stories That Prove I Am A Bad Luck Magnet:

1.) We arrived home from our 2014 March Break trek to N.C., U.S.A., pulling in Saturday night at 10:00 p.m. From the minute I opened the van door, I hit the snow/ground running. And I didn’t stop until I had most of the bags unpacked and put away. Things were pretty much back to normal by the time I went to bed that night, minus a suitcase that sat in the hallway upstairs for the better part of a week. Anything that could be stowed or shoved out of the way was, so as to buy me some precious time.

In some ways, it was like we had never left. Life falling back into a rhythm of fast pace hectic mayhem. Such is the busy life we lead. Sunday was church and the Ice Show, which consumed most of the day. Monday was school and meetings and piano lessons. And course readings late into the night. Tuesday was more of the same with the added bonus of a course exam by Skype that night with my professor. Since lunch time was taken up by meetings/preparations (as was more of the same after school), I had made up my mind to go home and make supper then head back into school at 6:30 to finish up the last minute preparations prior to taking the Skype call.

Everything running on schedule, I got supper started and made, and then decided that in order to save time, I would eat later. So I headed into school as planned at just an hour and a half before the exam.

The school was a quiet place to be- no noise and worries. Just peaceful silence. I settled in to read over my papers and print off my notes. When I was ready to leave, I locked the office and got my coat on. I had twenty minutes to spare. Everything was running on schedule. That should have been my first clue.

I was just about to leave the building when I put my hand into my pocket to retrieve the keys, only to discover: I had no keys. No keys. No KEYS???? To say I freaked out is an understatement. And to say that this really wasn’t that much of a surprise is telling the honest to goodness truth as well. I looked up at the clock. There was not a minute to waste. I ran back up to the office to see if I had happened to leave the van keys in the door, but unfortunately had not. I ran back downstairs to see if they were anywhere in my classroom. Not a chance.
I looked near the phone. Nothing. And then, I started to panic. I had no keys and an exam that would now be starting in 15 minutes, thanks to my dim-wittedness and lack of attention. In a moment of clarity, I dialed my Husband’s number and then completely unravelled when he answered the phone.

“I left my keys in the office,” I spluttered. “Come get me.”
“I’ll be right there,” the reply. Sweetest.man.ever. What I ever did to deserve him I will never know. I could almost see him rolling his eyes at me over the phone line. That this was happening to me was certainly no coincidence.
Because of course, these things ALWAYS happen to me.

While I waited for my Knight in Shining Armour to arrive, I desperately dialed my principal to see if I could avoid embarrassment in the morning and have him run out, unlock the office door, and allow me to slink out of the school with my keys in hand. No harm done. No one would ever know the difference. Alas, I could not get through his phone line, try as I might. It just kept running a busy signal.

I paced back and forth, knowing full well that I now had under ten minutes to make it home in time for that exam.

Finally, our truck appeared, barreling down the road; Husband pulled into the parking lot. I rushed over, grabbed the keys and took off in a record-breaking sprint for the van. T minus 10 and counting. I drove home, trying to pace myself and calm down from what could have been a full-blown anxiety attack. By the time I got to our driveway, I had resigned myself to the fact that “whatever will be, will be.”
I arrived home at 7:59. Walked in the door. I put my hands into my pocket, just a natural instinct. A reflexive gesture. And what do you know?

There were my keys. In my pocket. Exactly where I had put them twenty minutes earlier. Isn’t that always the way?

Knock one.

2.) I was loading the laptop in preparation for the Skype call to my professor. Ten minutes into the wait, I realize that maybe I am missing something here, as I am getting no calls. I check my e-mail and find out that my prof has already sent me two messages trying to figure out where I am in Skype-land. Turns out, there are twenty other people with the same Skype address as we have. I didn’t realize that there were that many Brian Gards in the world. Fifteen minutes after our exam is scheduled to begin, I finally clue in to the fact that I am the one to make this call. And so I do.

Knock two.

3.) Every week, we have at least one major liquid spill in our classroom. You’d think I’d learn. You’d think I would’ve bought a mop bucket by now. And you’d think that after a while I would have some sort of a slick system devised. But apparently, this is par for the course in Kindergarten, as I have come to learn. So it was on Tuesday that we had two chocolate milk spills in the span of an hour, causing me to wonder if there is such a thing anymore as powered milk. If so, I am buying shares in the company.

Knock three.

And there you have it.  My three stories that span the perimeter of one day in the life…of a woman with a few hard knocks.  It’s a hard knock life, boys and girls.  But it ain’t so bad as I make it sound, really.

At least I still have my sense of humor.

Making Donuts: The guilt and the pleasure

I have never before attempted making donuts.

They are too big a project- all those tricky steps, complicated instructions. Added to this, I have to admit: the real reason has always been that donut-making is too messy- the grease and flying fat. Yuck. And aren’t they too time consuming, don’t they have to be rolled in sugar, no less? And glazed? Ugh. Again, so many steps. So much bother. They really are just too complicated. Besides, they are the stuff of grandmothers and professionals- not a recipe for an amateur baker like myself to dabble in, a woman with more than a few projects on the go at any given time. A woman who really could be doing about thirteen other things right now- of more significance than this project, to be completely honest.

And furthermore, what’s so wrong with Oreos for dessert?

But it’s been decided: I am making donuts today if it’s the last project on the agenda for the weekend (it might well be at the rate I am going). And I am making these delectable little yummies mostly because I feel guilty.
Internal-guilty: (oh let me count the ways. I am a glutton for punishment, I am home today due to a storm- I might as well be busy, I haven’t baked in a while, I need to do something with the kids, there’s nothing to eat in this house…).

External guilty: (I just got off the phone with someone who is making baked donut-muffins; so, what do I do but feel I must go and bake too; in a friendly case of ‘one up-manship’ along with the fact that I cannot find the actual recipe I am looking for, I decide to make fried donuts, the old-fashioned way).
Guilty for the sake of feeling guilty: (it has been a loooong time since I baked anything delicious; which means I now have to over-do it and bake something delectably challenging- something as delicious as it is complicated).

Yes, I am feeling it. Guilty. Just plain old guilty. Guilt always has a curious way of motivating me to action, sad but true. But it does.

I enlist my Husband to secure me a bowl from the high cupboard. It is under a mountain of junk food. A precarious mountain that threatens to become an avalanche unless One more patient (and taller) than I takes measures to protect ‘said heap’ of treasured snacks. I have everything under the sun crammed into that pantry cupboard. I look longingly at the two granola bars I have to move out of the way first. These instant snacks are where it’s really at, so much simpler than this journey of dough and flour catastrophe I am about to initiate and embark on. I maneuver around the six bags of chips stacked on top of one another at random angles.

Yikes…

At which point, Husband comes to my rescue. He hands me a bowl, but it is much too small. I explain which bowl exactly and why, and he sighs. It is of course the aqua rimmed bowl at the bottom of everything. And I do mean everything. Eventually, the bowl is produced, while I find the bag of flour at ground level, behind my antique stove, where it has been preserved securely inside two grocery bags: in case mice get at it before I do. That’s how often flour gets noticed around here. By the mice.

And we are a go. I am ready to begin.

I quietly call a child to help share this journey into uncharted territories with me (because that’s really what this is all about- spending time with the children doing something productive, meaningful and memorable). Quietly I call a child over. Yes, QUIETLY. That’s because this mama can only handle one child in the kitchen with her at a time. Immediately, however, there is tension in the air as everyone hears the rattle of glassware and dishes in spite of my precautions, and they all come pouring into the kitchen wanting to help.

Just what I need to make the guilt levels ramp it up a notch. Great.
I negotiate. Distract. Plead, beg and nearly cry. And the Others not involved in the Project are finally sufficed with a promise from me that they’ll get to help next time. That is, in my next life. When I make donuts again.

We begin. I mean, really. We begin.

I set the recipe on the counter, and Daughter begins to stir melted butter and sugar. Eggs, milk and vanilla. It’s dreamy, actually- this mixture of yellow liquid froth and foam. Daughter looks almost entranced. I feel a sense of calm wash over me. Maybe this won’t be as bad as I thought.

We mix the dough. I add flour and so does she. The lard is on the stovetop and things are pretty much at that point of no return. As the Daughter who is helping is getting tired of stirring in flour, I recruit another child to take over where she left off. Actually, two others.

They pat down the dough with their fingers and make cut-outs with my donut maker. The flour puffs up in little bursts. Reminding me of steam.
Surprisingly, the atmosphere in the kitchen is one of calm and repose. It is almost cathartic, this process. And I even get Husband to help fry the dough.

We sit in to a brunch meal of eggs, sausages, toast, oranges and homemade donuts. And I decide: even though I began this process for all the wrong reasons, things have a way of working themselves around for good.
These donuts were well-worth the effort it took to make them. Well-worth the elbow grease and time. And right now, listening to quiet munching around the table, I also realize: some things in life are just better done the old-fashioned way.

(Although I could do without that little side-motivation of guilt…I’ll know better for next time).

And yes, Children: there really will be a next time. Scouts promise.

Now, where’s that bag of Oreos…

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

What’s love got to do with it, anyway? Got to do with education? Got to do with teaching?
What’s love got to do with it?

Everything. It’s got everything to do with it.

I am delivering a dynamic lesson on adding detail to writing. It has spanned two days of teaching, and I have covered the gamut. I have used mentored text. I have used my own illustrations. I have allowed more than enough time for the students to think through, talk through and share ideas. I have all the bells and whistles- anchor charts; word walls; alphabet and number charts; soft music. Nice sharp pencils, which I just barely finished sharpening this morning. In spite of the rush. The classroom has even been designed so as to be conducive to writing. We have a writing centre and various writing stations, but there are of course other spots in the room that a writer could settle down for a productive writing session. I can’t imagine what stone I have left unturned.

“Okay, everyone!” I urge. “Let’s get writing!”

And with that send-off, I see the students scatter into all four corners of the room, ready to write. And I think to myself…”what a wonderful—”

…wait a minute.

All but one has settled down for that intended writing session. There is always one.

In a matter of minutes, I can see that the best laid plans are still only plans. For this little writer has not been inspired to write today much more than a scribble. And when I approach and ask why, I am met with a bit of defiance. A little bit of defensiveness.

And some little feet propped up on the table.

This was not what I envisioned the writing session to be.

No not at all.  Rather, I had pictures in my mind of children, heads bent low over papers, hands moving furiously. But never did I conjure up images of students sitting back, smug looks on their faces. Telling me “I’m done” after three minutes have barely passed since the send-off.
This is not what my ideal vision would be under any circumstance.

I approach the student quickly and ask how the story is unfolding, as we have spent considerable time developing the idea for this book that he is making. He points to a circle on the page. I ask what it represents. “A circle,” he says smugly.  I am not ready to admit defeat, so I probe further.

“What is it suppose to be?” I ask.

He looks at me and shrugs.

“A circle,” he repeats.

I know and he knows- that the story he had told me he would working on today was about a movie he had seen over March Break. He had left our gathering place on the blue rug with ‘next steps’ already in place. But here we are- with circles that look more like scribbles than they do circles. And these ‘circles’ are covering his page.

It’s easy to forget that teaching, like all of life, is not about us. It’s not always a rejection of what we hold near and dear to our hearts when plans fail to follow through. Sometimes, it’s just that people are different. Some of us enjoy writing. And some of us do not.

I later talk to this student’s mom about our writing session, and in the process I realize a few things.

I really like this boy. A lot. And the more I try to understand him, the more I realize I can accept him: just as he is.
• I need to work harder at helping this student see the value in writing. If what we are doing is not connecting, there needs to be another way. Another approach taken.
• This student is more than just a would-be writer. He is a comedian, a reader, a brother, a son. He is a strong personality with the ability to stand his ground. He isn’t easily persuaded. He has resolve. This child is going to be fine- so what if he decided this week to just draw circles? Next week might be a whole different ball game.

Which brings me back to my first question: what’s love got to do with it all?

There are many aspects of my job that I am required to do. I am required to deliver curriculum. I am required to teach certain skills and knowledges. I am required to prepare my students to enter the next grade- the next level. The next unit. I am required to look after my students in their parents’ absence. Overall, I am required to begin preparing them for life. Real life.

But in all the descriptors that I have been given, no one has ever required of me to love them. Interesting, really. Their parents have much the same job as mine, but love is always underlying the relationship. Why is this so? And why is it not something we think that we as educators should be compelled to feel as well?

In spite of this fact, I find that love happens anyway. We come to love our students, in spite of ourselves. In spite of the odds. They wrap themselves around our hearts and we are not easily able to let them go. We think about them after the buses pull out of the parking lot. We consider their needs as we prepare lessons for the next day. We care about their lives as we make after-hours phone calls. We enjoy when we run into them at Wal-mart on the weekend.

We end up loving them. We really do.

Because in the midst of teaching and facilitating and preparing and instructing, I find myself caring about the students I teach. In the midst of guiding and disciplining and leading my students in key areas of fundamental learning areas, I find myself empathizing with them. In offering to assist them during writing workshops, I find myself coming to understand them better. In watching them discover key math principles, I find myself delighting in their learning- appreciating the young wonder that is a five-year old mind. In listening to their stories- as told by them and by their families, by their parents: I find myself coming to love these children. As if they were my very own.

I can’t get them out of my heart. It’s about love, really.

And even though I am passionate about writing and reading and math and science- and passionate about learning in general: I am more passionate about people. And I have come to believe that my calling is relationship, not teaching. The teaching is secondary to my calling to connect and relate and commune with those little people who show up in my room every day. It’s about reaching my students through relationship so that I might later on influence them to use their learning to develop their own relationships with people they trust. So that they might come to see that getting an education is about finding ways to connect with people in the world around them. So that they can thrive and flourish in this wild and beautiful life we have been blessed to live.

It’s about using the learning of writing so that they can then encourage, persuade, inspire, motivate and compel.
It’s about using the learning of math so that they can then reason, problem solve, analyze and explain.
It’s about using science to wonder, imagine, discover, uncover, explore and investigate.
It’s about using social studies to remember, consider, understand, appreciate and recollect.
It’s about making school a place that we learn the art of relating to people so that we can use the knowledge and skills we learn there in that place we call school- so that we can then go out into the big, wide world we live in with other people, and use those skills to better the world around us.

So that we can transform the world through love.

Through LOVE.

So you see, love has everything to do with it. Without love as the basis for learning, how are students to then know that love underlies everything we do? Everything we learn? Everything in life?  Love is everything.

And love has everything to do with it. For without love, writing is just a subject. It’s just writing.  So is reading and math.  They are just a skeleton.  Love makes them whole.  Breathes life into them and makes them come alive.

We will have more writing sessions much like the one I have described above. I realize this. I am no naïve fool.
But what else I understand- what I know for sure about our future sessions is this: I teach people, not subjects.  I teach boys and girls, not writing.  I teach human beings full of potential and wonder and possibility.

So when we have those kinds of days, we’re going to get through them. Together.  And always through the power of love.

We Always Have Enough

I have written a lot about teaching and what’s important, but I would be remiss to not emphasize the reason I feel so strongly about creating a caring ethic within the classroom and school.  And for me, that reason is very personal.  And I certainly do not apply this reason as a blanket explanation for everyone in my situation, because it might not be true of everyone in similar circumstances to me.  Nor would it preclude other people who are not like me.  What I really want to say is this: I am a better teacher because I am a parent.  Which really means that for me personally, it took becoming a parent to realize what it means to care deeply for children and their innate abilities as human beings.  It took becoming a parent to learn how to really love.  And it took becoming a parent to learn the depth of empathy and compassion and love.

I am not this type of person naturally.  Some people are.  It would not take becoming a parent for them to learn how to care.  I am in absolute awe of these people.  And I do not say that with any tone other than that of respect and wonder.  For people who are naturally in possession of understanding as it concerns children and creating an ethic of caring, I would give you my absolute admiration.  I wish I was like that.  But I know who I am.  And I am a work in progress.

When I became a mother, I became one reluctantly.  Sure, I fell in love immediately.  Sure I was for all appearances a great mother.  But being a mother took a great deal of effort on my part.  I was not naturally nurturing.  Not naturally patient.  Not naturally empathic.  I was very self-centered in a lot of ways.  Becoming a mother took the focus off me and placed it on the ‘others’ in my life.  It made me broaden my horizons.  Made me learn to care about people in ways I was unused to doing so.  And I believe it made me a better person.  Because it required so much of me, I had to transform in certain ways.  And when transformation is a positive experience, as it was in my case, there is much to be gained.  Much to learn.  And much room for growth.

Similarly, when I became a teacher, I became one reluctantly.  I was on the track towards getting my double honors degree in Political Science and Journalism.  I was going to be a foreign correspondent.  I didn’t actually aspire to be a teacher.  I probably would have picked any other career than this one had I been given a choice.  My life path led me, however, to meet a boy.  And that boy lived on a small Island where there was a small university.  And that university offered neither of those areas to major in.  So, after much deliberation and counselling by my future husband, I instead chose to take a different path and become a teacher.  With a specialty in history (not my first love) and a minor in Political Studies.

Life is so interesting.  Because when we are in the moments we are in, we wonder why life is unfolding as it is.  I certainly asked those questions of myself.  I was driven and focused- not patient and long-suffering.  I wasn’t the best pick for teacher material.  But somehow, I enrolled in the small program offered in my province and I found out very quickly that while teaching might not have been my first love, I could come to love it deeply as I grew into myself.

The ‘self’ I grew into was a different person than the one I had been before.  And while I hate to say ‘better’ I will say I developed some character traits along the way that helped me grow as an individual, teacher and then mother.

1.)    I became more empathic.  As I realized that teaching was less about subjects of expertise and more about people, I found it appealed to me more as a career choice.  And in time, because of the people I interacted with and was involved with- I eventually saw teaching as less than a career and more of a calling.  It became for me a higher calling- a sacred thing.  For I saw that I was accountable for the ways in which I interacted with the human beings in my care (all of them, from staff, to students to parents to general public and personnel): I saw them as people.  And I began to care more and more deeply about the ways in which I interacted with people.  I began to care about the students and their overall experience.  I began to care about teachers as people.  I began to care about parents (especially after becoming one) because I saw how much their children were their absolute treasures here on earth.  How much my own children were mine.  And I began to consider how much trust I placed in teachers myself- and how much trust parents entrusted me with looking after these treasures.  And in the process, I became more empathic as a teacher.  As a mother.  As a friend.  As a wife.  As a person.

2.)    I became more loving.  Love is so many things, which I have written about a great deal lately.  But truly, loving my children is the most unselfish thing I have ever had to do.  And loving children in general has been a possibility for me because of my own journey in motherhood.  For being a mother taught me what love entails.  What it is.  And since I now know that love is something we never run short of- there is always enough: I am able to offer it to all of my ‘children’- both those who were given to me as a gift from God and those entrusted in my care as a responsibility within my calling.  I can love because I now know how- freely, lavishly, honestly.  Does this mean I have to give everything to everyone in the same manner?  Equal does not always mean the same.  What I give my own four children is not equal to what I give my students.  Nor should it be.  There is a balance that must be struck between our private and public lives.  But at the same time, there is fluidity in how I care.  And love can still be love even if it is different.

3.)    I became more understanding.  Becoming a mother has helped me understand people in ways I never would have considered before motherhood.  For instance, I have a whole new appreciation for difference after having giving birth to four distinct human beings.  Each one is unique.  Each one is special and extraordinary by virtue of their individuality as a human being.  So are all children.  I really never gave much thought to this fundamental truth, though, before having children.  It was only after having children that I realized how WONDER-ful children are as people- and how great care must be given to understanding them- as with all human beings.

I tell you all this not to make a point about being a teacher and how it has influenced my mothering for the better.  I tell you this rather so as to show that I can be both a great teacher and mother because both have made me who I am today.  Both have contributed to the person I am now.

Sometimes we think that we can only be one thing really well.  Or do one thing really well.  I remember becoming a mother for the first time and saying to my own mother that I would never have time to do anything else that required time again.  Because I could quite tell- I WAS NEVER GOING TO HAVE ANY TIME TO MYSELF AGAIN. EVER.  That statement has obviously been recanted because look at me now- I have more than enough time to whittle away precious hours checking out my friends’ Facebook statuses.  I also believed I wouldn’t ever have enough love for more than one child.  Now I have four.  And that’s not counting my school kids.  I have love to multiply- and it just keeps coming.

The thing is: all of our experiences in life contribute and enhance the person we are.  Whether that be motherhood/parenthood (as in my case), volunteer work, care for an elderly parent, or any other type of experience that involves one directly with people: it all makes us grow.  Because people are food for the soul- both those we love as well as the ones we aren’t so fond of.  They grow us as people- from the inside out.  And that is why when people ask how can we find balance, I like to think that when it comes to love, there is no need for balance.  When it comes to care, no need for balance there either.  Nor with empathy or understanding.  Because when it comes to these essentials in life, all we need is a cup overflowing.

There just is too much love, care, understanding, empathy or compassion in the world to give to balance the scales.  So rather than try to find the elusive balance, I think the key is this. Tip the scales.  Tip the scales on love.  Tip the scales on empathy.  On hope.  On grace. Compassion.  On all those qualities that make us grow and develop as people.

For in doing so, we discover this: that when we give, we always have enough.

On being authentic…and why it matters

Authenticity. It is a remarkable characteristic. And when that authenticity is combined with humility and grace, the possibility for greatness is within reach. And what of greatness? Is it defined by how high the reach or how far the circle of influence? How much one is lauded? And how often?
Often, the student becomes the teacher. And in this way, the student leads the way to greatness. Leads the way to greatness because of their authenticity. Because of their grace and humility. Through their strength of character. And although the scope of influence might be very small- it is influential nevertheless.
When I am duty teacher, I often experience my greatest teachable moments as an educator. I get to see students as their authentic selves. I see them at their very best. And although at times, I see them behaviorally at their worst, those times are few and far between. Usually there is a story behind the difficult behaviors: one that helps to explain why things are as they are. In all, interacting with students during their free time has been for me one of the most rewarding experiences of my career as a teacher. There are times when I have taken groups of students aside so as to facilitate them in solving their own personality disputes. Watching these students talk through their own problems has been a teachable moment for me, proof that students are their own best teachers. At other times, I have had the pleasure of watching students work cooperatively in a game or physical activity. At times, I have walked with students having difficulty connecting in play with other students. In finding these students their special niche, it has been rewarding seeing those same students who once ended up getting in trouble turn things around so that they were able to assist me in caring for students’ needs and requests.
Recently, I was involved in a duty incident in which I had to settle a dispute between two students. And do so quickly. Tensions were rising, along with voices and blood pressure. Mine primarily, as I knew if I was unable to cool things down quickly, there would be some serious concerns on my hand. As I quietly lowered my voice and tried to separate the students involved, I realized that one of the students had lost something which he wrongly was accusing another student of taking. As I had not been there when the incident in question went down, I was grasping at straws to figure out how to help these two students solve their issue. In the meanwhile, I petitioned the rest of the class to help me in finding the lost item, hoping to buy myself some time.
As I was rounding up my search and rescue effort, one young girl approached the boy who had been crying initially- the one who believed his desired item had been stolen. And completely unprovoked by me or any other prompting, she quietly said this to the boy:
“You can have mine. I have one of those (item that he was looking for) too. You can have mine.”
Her response was authentic. There was no glory for her in doing this, as no one could hear her over the din of the class, save for him or me. Furthermore, her response had been gracious. She was willing to forgo keeping an item if it meant one of her peers would be in distress. And her response was done in humility. She could have kept the item for herself- what it was, that particular item, was in hot demand. It was something everyone else in the class had been given as a token for Valentine’s Day, and each one of the children in the class had been enjoying that particular item during indoor recess. But this one little girl decided that it was not about her- it was about the greater good. It was about making someone elses’ day a little brighter. And she chose to place her own wants and desires on the back burner for the good of the other. She chose to be authentically graceful and humble.
And when I think back to this incident, as I have several times this weekend, I find myself believing that this child has much to teach me. For she has begun her journey toward greatness. She is well on her way. And too, when I think of whom I admire most in my own circles of influence, it has been the people with the most authenticity. For they are authentic in the ways in which they interact with others as well as they have been consistent in their own character. These people I admire most, they are gracious. Humble. Compassionate. And they have been my greatest life teachers.
And isn’t it interesting how many times, those people who’ve influenced me the very most have been children. We as adults would do well to listen closely to the teachers placed in our lives to keep us humble and authentic: our children. They have much to teach us about life and humanity. And we have much to learn.

This is a Love Story…

It is Valentine’s Day evening and I am just finishing up washing dishes- having made four cups of chocolate and two bags of popcorn as a bedtime snack for four kiddos. They sit now on the living room floor with that stash of goodies, plus various bowls of candy and chocolates besides. And that is where they will remain for the rest of the evening as they watch their Friday night movie. I sit down for a spell with a mug of Earl Grey tea while Husband goes through the newsfeed on his phone beside me.  Every once in a while, Youngest comes out to check and make sure that Mom and Dad are still here. Especially during the scary parts.

This is our love story.

It’s the story of a family. The story of a home. The story of us.

It’s the story of a boy who met a girl when she was young and foolish. Before she had yet found herself or discovered who she was. It’s the story of a boy who took that girl out to a brunch one Sunday afternoon and the story of a girl who said yes. In spite of it all. A story of a girl who started noticing that boy- paying more attention- and the story of a boy who later took that girl to the ocean one starlit evening where they sat shivering together on a blanket in the cool August air. The story of a boy who one day told that girl he loved her- that she was the only one he’d ever loved. Had ever fallen for. The only one to whom he’d ever whispered those three little words. And it is the story of that boy who eventually led that same young girl back to the same sandy shore he’d taken her to first so as to bend down in front of her and hold her hand. And tell her that his love was for her. And her alone.

It’s the story of a girl who had many dreams. Had plans and goals. The story of a boy who understood. Who waited for her while she followed those dreams. Waited while she followed her heart. It is the story of a girl who one day realized that a dream without love is no way to live. So the story plot unfolded as the boy asked that girl to stay with him on this fair isle and thus follow her dreams by his side.

It’s a story. And like all stories, it has its twists and turns.

It’s a story that has not always been an easy read. There are times the girl wanted to close the book and say those words “The End.” There were times the boy felt the same way. And together, they wondered if it was time to start a new story with new chapters and new characters. Something more exciting. More adventurous.

But something compelled them to continue. The story- it was theirs. And it truly wasn’t finished yet. So they stayed the course, and the story continued.  Continued because: it was still a story, no matter how difficult it was, at times, to grasp.  Continued because: it was still worth it.  Continued because they had invested so much- there was so much to lose and still so much yet to gain.  And no matter the storyline they both knew through it all: it was their story. And because it was theirs’, they persevered.

And so they did. They persevered.  They worked harder than they had ever had to work before.  Because that’s the way of stories- they require engagement, concentration, commitment.  Thought and deliberation.  Intention.

It’s Valentine’s Day night. But I have never loved this holiday. Too many years, it has felt that I could not live up to the expectations that it brings. It ask too much of us- to put our love on display for all the world to see and judge- as to whether or not it is worthy. As to whether or not it is romantic. As to whether or not it is exciting. Thrilling. Exhilarating.  As to whether or not it lives up to the standard. Sometimes this holiday makes us feel that our story is not enough.  That it needs to be more.

This is the story of a girl who decided- somewhere along the line- that dirty mugs coated with cocoa powder in her sink and leftover kernels of popcorn hidden in the recesses of her couch with the ones she loves by her side are all a story she ever needed so as to be complete.  It’s the story of the boy who loves her.  And that’s all that really matters.

To the girl.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And so, the story continues…