On beginning readers as well as lifelong ones…

I was blessed to have grown up in a household of books and I am sure my mother read to me from the womb. While I cannot remember the first time or first times I was read to as a child, I can remember the moment that I learned to read independently. That moment was life-changing for me- unforgettable.
I was five or six years old, half way through kindergarten, and at the time, we were on vacation at my grandparents house. I was alone in the upstairs bedroom passing the time, and for whatever reason, I had a book that I was looking at- which in one moment I wasn’t reading for message and content- and in the next moment, I was. It was like I went from darkness to light. I still remember running downstairs to tell my family that I could read. Still remember the excitement and pride and absolute wonder at it all.

Today, my kindergarten students got their very first guided reading books to take home with them for homework. I brought the books out and told them what we were going to do- that we were going to read some books together- with them reading alongside me independently. And one Little Guy piped up, “But I can’t read yet!” I assured him that he most certainly could, and that they had been reading for quite some time (that is, reading our morning message, sight words, word work, letters, words in Big Books, environmental print, etc.). But I got what he was saying. This time, it was different. They had an actual book in hand and it was their job to do the reading- not mine. We got started and within minutes, the students were noticing words and letters and pictures…and low and behold: they were reading!

They were READING.

We read the book through three times together on our classroom rug, and they read it on their own twice. And the pride that we all felt was palpable. I could hardly contain it myself! Thankfully, a colleague dropped by to relieve one of the educational assistants for a break, and I was able to nab her and share with her this most transformative of moments. I was bouncing, I was so excited.
I can only imagine those students tonight as they read to their moms and dads and significant others in their lives- reading school books out loud for the very first time. To me, it is a milestone up there with walking and talking. I would like to think today is the first day of the rest of their lives spent as lifelong readers. I hope that they always find joy in reading- joy as I saw on their faces today.

It never fails to move me to watch a child read for the very first time.

What balance means…

I was eight or nine when I first started feeling responsible for those silly, ridiculous things. Maybe even younger than that even. Which is not to say that I wasn’t perfectionist from the very start.

My mother tells me that she once caught me picking up miniscule pieces of white lint off our red industrial carpeting on the basement staircase. Back at the old house in Melvern Square. When she asked me why I was doing that, I replied impatiently, “Someone has to do it.”

From childhood, I felt the compulsive desire to smooth out wrinkles in blanket covers, straighten sofa cushions, wipe up any remaining water from the sink taps. Eliminate crumbs from the counter. I was that girl whose bedroom was immaculate. Who dusted and vacuumed before I entered junior high. I was that child who rearranged her books alphabetically. For fun. Who made a nightly cleaning circuit course as a means of calming herself down. Because order meant security. Chaos was too unpredictable.

And then, somewhere between those teenage years and when adult life begins, the wheels fell off the wagon. The pendulum swung. And all that I felt compelled to be became null and void. I couldn’t have cared less. I lost that urge towards responsibility and conscientiousness. And I was quite a while returning to my familiar, comfortable place of being orderly.

Sometimes the return home enables a person to find a happy medium. And sometimes one swings back and goes farther to one extreme than they’ve ever gone before.

My pendulum just never seemed to adhere to that motto that moderation is the key to happiness. Rather, the motto I’ve lived by most of my life has been one founded on the ideals of diligence, thoroughness and strict fastidiousness.

Sounds fun, huh?

While for some people, balance means more discipline and precision in their life- a calling back to routine, schedules and practice, for others like myself, it means a releasing from the crippling chains of habit and custom. It means allowing oneself to experience freedom and pleasure and liberty. It means that these dear ones like myself must allow themselves to let go. Cut loose. Give up control.

Such a difficult thing to do when you’ve never done it any other way.
Over the past few years, I have been talking to myself through my writing- through this blog. It’s a conversation I have with myself that I let the rest of the ‘world’ in on. Although it is really for me, it’s also for US. Because I believe that there are other people out there having different conversations with themselves and sometimes it helps to know you’re not in this alone.

Some of those conversations are about goals. Some are about habits. Some are about relationships. Some are about harmful lifestyles. Some conversations are about things we’re doing right. But by and large, our self-talk is often about things we are finding fault with, within. Things we loathe about ourselves. Things we wish to change.

Wouldn’t it be life-altering and freeing if these inner conversations could be positive? What if they were affirmative? What if they built us up rather than tore us down? What if they were encouraging?

My tendency, if left to my own desires and curious ways would be to tell myself that I am never doing enough. It has been the self talk I have heard in my head since I was old enough to remember. And it is what I choose to change this year by focusing on a more balanced lifestyle.

For me, balance does mean some discipline. But more than anything, it means release. I chose five areas of my life to work on and become more balanced in those areas. Those five areas are spiritual (meditation and prayer), physical (exercise) and mental (play and self-awareness and perspective); the reason I chose them is because in each area, my tendency would be to self-talk myself out of doing them. Over the years this fact has been blindingly obvious.

Given any spare or free time, I will tell myself to do laundry rather than read a book, meditate on Scripture or pray. Given a window of opportunity, I will often say to myself that there is supper to prepare or children to look after rather than exercise. Given the opportunity to be responsible or be playful, 9.99 percent of the time, I would choose sensibility.

Given freedom of thought to see life as brutal pain or exquisite beauty, my natural tendency is see ‘life as pain.’ Life is just too hard to be beautiful, is it not? And as for perspective, it’s glass half full for this gal most of the time.
Left to my own devices, my self-talk would leave me a sad and bitter woman. It would make for a very miserable, pitiful existence.

So for me, restoring balance to my life has been to release myself from the bondage that is my own tendency to live life fully driven, goal-oriented, focused and resolute.

Thus at this season in my life it is in my own best interest to let the pendulum swing a little farther away from my compulsive self toward a freer, less-restricted me.

Balance certainly will mean different things to different people. For me, it means giving myself permission to make mistakes. Allowing myself to have fun. Letting go. Embracing freedom. Which is not to say that doing these things all the time and in every situation would bring balance. But knowing myself as I do, making these five a practice will be easier said than done. And when I see the day that all five of my purposeful intentions have been realized, then I will feel the need to examine my intentions and perhaps swing the pendulum yet again.

All this to say that my balance is different than your balance.  And so the story goes.  Which leaves me with the question: what does balance mean to you?

What I purpose for this new year…

Minus 37 with the wind chill factor. That one hour school delay affording the buses an extra hour off for idling- it should have been the ticket, really. There I was. Bleary-eyed from a night of restless sleep- worried over deadlines to come, papers to write, classes to teach and examinations to prepare for, jarred awake at 5:30 a.m. And I could have had that extra hour of precious sleep, but who’s to know that early? That one sweet hour would be given like a gift?

My brain, like the weather, on permanent freeze status. One never knows what a day might bring.

For who was I to know that I would pick up a small tube of Optimyixin antibiotic solution and think it was model cement glue and that I would proceed to try and fix daughter’s broken snowflake earring with it- and then pleased with that endeavour: also attempt to right a broken headband flower that had also fallen off in the tug and pull that is our morning hair-do sessions with the same. Who was I to know? I thought it was a little sticky. The earring is still sitting there on the shelf- fully medicated and fully slicked.

And how was I to know that I would find myself with two gold dangley earrings pulled neatly through one ear lobe? So that I would sound for all the world like an old cowbell while looking like a woman who hadn’t seen a mirror in quite a while…. How was I to know? I truly hadn’t (seen the mirror, for quite some time).

And then. Lint all over my new pants (to which, I took long strips of packing tape which I then used as a make-fix lint remover, all while standing discreetly behind the kindergarten shoe cubby- only to have inquiring little minds ask me what the tape was for and why was I doing THAT)?

It was that kind of day.

A day that drives me to consider that one key word for me at the dawning new year- BALANCE.

A need for- a craving for: balance. A desire to live life in balance. That state of reasonable equilibrium wherein one is poised in between sanity and insanity in perfect steadiness. That’s what I need this year. A place to settle. A place to fall.

When my world seems just a little too off kilter, when the boat rocks me too hard one way and then another, I needs come back to that place I find my center. My niche. My sense of peace. My source of hope. My fulcrum.
When the world seems perpetually to be lobbing me one hardball after another, in the good name and spirit of family and community, faith and common brotherhood. In the name of all good things, there still must be a balance.

For if not, I will inevitably totter off the deep edge and be swallowed alive.

I am not much for New Years resolutions, although we did for fun state one each around the table, our first meal of the New Year. Rather than resolve, I choose to purpose my intentions. And in so doing, I hope that I will not set myself up for failure.

Here are a few ways in which I hope to carve out a sweet slice of balance for myself this new year of 2014:
1.) I am making more time in the morning for Scripture reading. For prayer and quiet, reflective meditation on that which I have been portioned. That quiet time in the morning is mine in which to think. To ponder and consider. To both speak and listen. To be spiritually fed.
2.) I am taking the time to exercise- even when I don’t feel that drive to get up and go. Just for the fun of it. Just for the fresh air and wind. Just for that cold slap on my cheeks. Husband and I- in an ironic twist on the tale Gifts of the Magi each bought for the other something akin to the same. He bought for me a pass to the local ski park for both skiis and snowshoes (minus the equipment) while I bought for him the double pair of snowshoes. Neither knew what the other was up to. A meeting of the minds.
3.) I am making more time to play. And I confess, I am not that playful by nature. My daughter commented to me just the other day that I never play with her, to which I immediately felt defensive: of course I play! But truly playfulness is the spirit in which you set out to do that pleasure or novelty of which you are endeavouring; and to that end, I must admit that I am not always very playful. So, I am purposing to play more, by which I mean experience life more so in a spirit of wonder and playfulness.
4.) And I want to see the beauty in my world. This world: it is filled with so much darkness- so many shadows and grey lines. Overshadowed by so very many of those dark, heavy, black clouds. And when I focus on all that which is misery and sadness and heartache and bitterness and evil, I no longer see the beauty. But life is still so beautiful. In spite of its darkness. And there is much beauty to be found, even in pain. The beauty of a jagged line- a scar. Beauty of a smudge. A trace left behind. A crooked smile. There is beauty to be found in tears, even in sorrow. And yes, beauty can rise up strong even from crumbled ashes and decay. Life may not be pretty or appealing from every angle, but it can be beautiful from the perspective of the viewer who chooses to see light instead of darkness.
5.) And of greatest significance: I want to live for what is worthwhile- for that which lasts. For that which matters. What is the pursuit of the soul that is lasting? That does not fade? That rewards back seventy-fold for the endeavour? For we can pursue many things and many places in this life and still find ourselves wanting. True balance can only be found in perfect rest. Rest equal to peace of the soul-kind. A peace that passes understanding, that always satisfies. That is never exhausted and is in plentiful supply.

Whether I am using my moments to be a mother or using my moments to be a teacher or a wife. Whether I am using time so as to better myself- or so as to better others, it all boils down to choice. Am I fully here in this moment or am I somewhere else? Am I living for what matters? Is all well with my soul?

These things are the driving impetus to my life: my faith and trust in a God who lives, my precious family and my focus (my purpose in the here and now). And it takes all three to be wholly who I was meant to be.

I start the van at the end of the day, engine rattles to life in spite of itself. She wants a bit of time to warm her jets, but I have places to go and people to feed. We head for home. And I feel my body unwinding- I feel the balance even in the midst of quiet imperfection.

Why I don’t support Shaming…among other bad spiritual tactics.

There is a problem with the church today- a problem that runs deep and wide and long.  It’s created a chasm actually and an exodus. It’s a problem sourced by a history of church practices and traditions that serve to verify its authenticity as real and overt.  It’s a problem all right.  And that problem is shaming, specifically the shaming of people, both Christian and otherwise.  Shaming them into becoming better Christians (or at the very least, A Christian).  Shaming them for their sins.  Shaming them for their choices.  Shaming them for not living up to a certain standard.  Shaming them for not upholding expectations.  Shaming people for reasons even I can’t conjure up.  Shaming in the name of faith and religion.  Shaming for the sake of shaming. Friends, shaming people into making choices or following up on decisions or acting on their conscience or into living for Jesus is no way for the church to conduct its mandate.

I recently read an article by the Naked Pastor that was written in regards to a hoax that has been circulating around the Internet.  The hoax is about the fictional pastor Jeremiah Steepek who dresses up as a homeless man and then attends the church he will be pastoring, prior to ever showing face to the congregation formally.  In the said hoax, Pastor Steepek goes around trying to connect with various parishioners, failing to get anyone to talk to him, let alone help him with his troubles.  At the end of his charade, he reveals himself to be their new pastor from the pulpit and proceeds to shame the congregation into crying and feeling horrible for their actions toward him.  You can read more about it here. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2013/07/why-i-wouldnt-attend-pastor-steepeks-church/

At first when I read the article, I personified the pastor as the homeless man.  I saw the ‘homeless man’ as the story.  What I identified with was the problem we have in our society of not seeing people as God sees them: beautiful and precious and lovely.  A work of God made even in His own image.

But after considering a wise friend of mine’s perspective, another angle emerged.  And that angle was the shaming that occurred in that church as a fall out of the rejection some of the congregation had towards this pastor-cum-homeless person.

The author of the above article, David Hayward, says this:

The church’s number one tool to get what it wants is shame. I have been the victim of shaming so many times I can’t even count. I have used it so many times I can’t even count. When I think back on the times I’ve been shamed I get angry. When I think back on the times I’ve used it I feel remorse. It’s the church’s primary language. We grow up with it in our families, our schools, our jobs and our churches. Shame is used against us every single day of our lives so persistently and sometimes so subtly that we don’t even realize it anymore.

Shame is a motivator, but not permanently, and not in significant and meaningful ways. It gets something done now, but it destroys hope and character in the long term. Love is the best motivator. If it isn’t out of love, then it’s not a healthy motivation.

            I am a teacher of kindergarten students.  There are many times in the day when my students disappoint me for reasons based on the fact that they are four and five year olds.  They are busy.  They don’t always pay attention to everything I say.  And sometimes they outwardly ignore it.  If I was to use shaming as an instructional tactic, not only would I be out of a job, I would permanently damage these children in ways I cannot even word right in an article of this length.  I would destroy the goodwill I have set as a foundation of our classroom interactions and I would undermine my role with them as a nurturing support in the place of their parents.  As a teacher, I am mindful to always err on the side of gentleness when dealing with students.  Do I do it one hundred percent of the time?  No.  But it is the underlying goal in my mind as I go about my day.  To create an atmosphere of respect, understanding and possibility- always working within a Vygotskian theoretical framework that promotes positive, achievable growth.  Here’s Vygotsky’s mantra: “Show me what you can do, and then I’ll help you get a little better at it.”

Would that the church as an establishment would follow a little advice of this themselves.

What we need as a Church is to see God for who He really is, not for the interpretations we have of Him.  God is a Father- a perfect, loving, understanding, gracious, accepting, committed father unlike this world has ever known.  When I think of myself as a parent, I know that each day I get up in the morning I give my best self to my four precious children.  I don’t wake up dreaming of ways to shame them into following what I want them to do.  I don’t dream up ways of how I am going to coerce them into doing what I say.  And I don’t try to conjure up as many ideas as I can for how I can make their lives miserable.  I strive to not be that parent.

No.  I love them. I admire them.  I am proud of them.  And I would die for them if need be.

And so would God.  So did He.

And if we can see God that way- as Love personified, than we ought also to see his people- The Church in the same manner.  We must see the church as God sees them.  For the church is His Beloved.  They are his Bride.  He loves us i ways we can not even begin to understand.  And as a Father, we are His children.  The depths and heigths of that great love and mercy and grace and compassion for us can never, ever be underestimated. 

It is time we started loving people the way God does.

There is a beautiful passage of scripture that we recite often at weddings about love.  But friends, this passage ought to be the pulse of our hearts as Christians.  I Corinthians 13 :4- 8

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

That’s God’s kind of love.

So why do we as the backbone of the church still see Him as One who wants to make our lives miserable?  Why must the church backbone be the primary voice behind this message?  And why can’t we stop using shame as our primary motivational tool to motivate people and start living the love we know God is?

What the world needs now…

What the world needs now is truth-tellers.  Shamelessly spreading the word- that the new normal is flawed, imperfect living done in the real world.  Transparent style.

What the world needs now is empathy.   Compassion spreaders intent on understanding people and their complicated stories.  Covering the world with a blanket of caring kindness.  So that compassion is more prevalent than indifference.  So that warmth and sincerity become the standard method of interpersonal dealings.

What the world needs now is authenticity.  Genuine, honest discussion free of stereotypes, labels and subjectivity.  We are all different, that is a given.  But isn’t it high time we started treating each other with heartfelt  concern and respectful consideration?  People matter- all of us.

What the world needs now is brokenness.    People willing to let go of pride.    Freed to embrace humility.  To embrace Gratitude.  Grace.  Love.

People freed so as to have faith in Hope.  To have faith in something bigger than themselves.

What the world needs now is the purest example of that Faith come to Life.

We need a saviour.  Salvation through the daily dying to self and living to Life.  Putting away that which encumbers and clinging to that which enables.  Resisting all those things which drag us down.

Choosing joy over despair.  Choosing truth over lies.  Choosing life over death.

Choosing to live the best life we were meant to live.  Living each and every moment, but not concerning ourselves with the details.  Just concerning ourselves with the living.

What the world needs now is an alternative to what is driving us into these caverns of despair.  We need an option that is unconventional.  Something bigger and better than we’ve been offered in the past.

And we might not find what we’ve been searching for in a book.  Or in a classroom.  Or in a church, a speaker or a platform.  Or in charisma and personality.  It might be hard to find.

Or it just might be right under our noses.

Because none of those things I’ve listed above are permanent.    Are fixtures.  These things are fluid structures at best.  Books will fail.  Classrooms will fail.  Churches will undoubtedly fail, as will the vivid personalities associated with such.  People will fail.

We must find that Elusive Something in an Other-Worldy place.  Because the here and now isn’t all it was cracked up to be.

The answer begins with a whisper.  Is heard softly through that still small Voice that speaks to the deepest, darkest places of the soul.  That Voice which reminds us- we were purposed and destined to being when He breathed us to life.  When He Spoke and the earth shuddered.

For we are loved.

We are so deeply loved.

And we are exactly whom we were meant to be- frail, fragile, imperfect people.  Damaged, but not destroyed.  Beautiful, in spite of imperfection  and flaws.  Designed with a soul that craves for more.   We are never full, but we are not empty.  For we are just as the Father intended, complete with all our failings.  And so utterly loved.   Wholly and entirely, with every fiber of being.

He loves us- just as we are.  And we are enough.

Wings to Soar…

Blues turn to pinks and greys as we arrive home at dusk to four brave soldiers. The Fearless Foursome, courageously holding down the fort. Waiting the seasoned warriors’ return. Valiantly. And awaiting the report from the front lines. Ready to move into position upon the signal. Ready to pull things together to make the plan work. Whatever it took.


It was a day of the unexpected. The unplanned, uninvited kind of unexpected. And thank the Good Lord we don’t know what lies ahead.

Our hearts would fail us.

We’re not always ready for surprises. And sometimes we just want to avoid them. We want to stop and lie face to the ground. Just because we can. Because we think we have to. Because it’s too hard.

Life is hard.

In the real world, where the big people work and play. We whom call ourselves adults. Here, it is our job to just keep going. We do this. Because we have to. We.have.to. That’s the way it’s meant to be. And we make ourselves move. Forward, step by careful step. Even if it hurts. Even if it’s hard. Even if it is so very hard. Because we’re the strong ones. The wise ones. We’re the adults. And adults are supposed to be responsible. Mature. Capable. Able to look after things. And capable of keeping things moving along. Because inwardly we intuit that moving is progress. And progress is good. At least that’s what it appears to be. On the surface.

Or so we’ve been told.

Do you remember what it was like to be five years old? Foot-loose and fancy-free? Remember when you were able to put your tiny shoe down and stomp it real hard? And say ‘no’ just because? Remember when you could lay on the floor kicking and screaming? Crying simply because it was your party and you could cry if you want to?
Remember what it felt like to be someone else’s responsibility? Back when we were untamed? Uninhibited? Living in the make-believe world of childhood?

A place of seemingly limitless opportunity.

And even as adults, sometimes we want to do this. Let it all go. For freedom’s sake. We want the liberty that accompanies release of responsibility. That sets us free from obligation. From the chains of duty and commitment. It just seems greener on the flip side, that side that lies directly opposite of adulthood.

Because life is hard.

And someone has to hold it all together.

But then again. There is a reason we hold. We are called to uphold. There’s a reason. It’s because we know. WE KNOW: that to hold is to embrace meaning. To have a higher purpose. To deliberately choose something even though it be hard. Because we can do hard things. Through Him. By Him. And for Him.

We can.
And when we do, when we embrace life and all its glory. It’s trials and painful difficulties- and we lean in hard to that which pushes us the most. And we move into the pain. Into the turmoil. And we don’t recoil. It is then that we are freed from those obligations that enslave us. That we are released from our chains. It is then that we are given wings to fly.

Given wings that hold us as we soar.

Isaiah 41: 30-31

“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.  But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

More Than I Can Imagine…

I was dreading it.  One more obligation.  One more thing to do.  And although I believe the mantra ‘we can do hard things’, there are times when I just want an easy thing.  One.easy.thing.   Amidst all the hard things in life.  All those things that pull me eight ways to Sunday.

And as I sat there thinking self-defeating thoughts, mentally beating myself up again for all my inadequacies and inabilities.   God just lifted it.  The cloud.  He lifted it.  Physically- as if before my very eyes.    As if a torrent of rain had been falling and quite by sudden, a sunburst had appeared.  For the storm was over.  And I knew.

God doesn’t call us into a spirit of fear.  Of guilt.  Of hopelessness.

He calls us to empowerment.  To love and capability.  And He isn’t standing over us shouting out orders, reminding us again and again of all our failings.  Of all the ways in which we haven’t added up.

And He isn’t trying to dream up more hard things for me to do.

He’s there to do the hard things for me.

He is there to ease the load.  Lighten the weight.  He is there to take me as I am, where I am.  As is.  And love me all the more for my weakness.

And He’s there to do more.  So much more.  Than I could ever begin to imagine.