Little is Much

The moon shines to an almost full sphere of milky white luminosity, its opaque form growing clearer each minute we walk this warm autumn evening. I comment that I am sure this should have been a full-moon tonight. It’s been that kind of atypical day. Duty on the playground complete with emotional breakdowns, fights and bullying. In-class issues that I feel ill-equipped to handle. After school meetings. After supper meetings.  Interpersonal conflicts that I have no idea how I got involved in them and an even lesser idea of how to handle them. And I’m just spent. Just spent.

And then this: the last straw, a phone call that does me in completely.

So this is what it feels like. Discouragement. What it is to be- to feel completely disheartened. To feel the weight of it all pressing down on your shoulders. To feel despair wrapping like powerful tentacles as if proffered by some vast sea creature- tightly enclosed around your soul, squeezing the life out of you. Threatening to strip you of all you know for sure. Threatening to steal even your belief in the good. Threatening to take you for all you’re worth.

This is what it feels like to be at the bottom.

She and I talk. I can hear it in her voice- the fear of the unknown. The worry, the anxiety. The stress. We talk about what’s next- the mysterious, unspecified tomorrows. And all the days after that. Of all that is to come. We talk of the sheer ridiculousness of it all, but we keep coming back to the fear. The feelings of concern and anxiety. The apprehension. The what-ifs.

We talk. And I grow more and more frustrated with the situation- and then more and more frustrated with all the other crazy situations I come to find myself involved in. Those predicaments and dilemmas that more or less define my life. Making it appear that the only peaceful moments are those I live in-between the insanity. And I think of how small we humans truly are- how little we must seem in the sea of humanity. We’re just a drop in the bucket, are we not? A tiny, miniscule little droplet. What do we matter in the grand scheme of things? Who really cares?

It’s hard to see our purpose when we’re busy caught up in fear of what lies just around the corner. It’s hard to trust when we’re too busy caught up in worry. Hard to look up when we’ve got our eyes focused on the ground.

I run up the stairs to kiss my sleeping babies who are growing fast and becoming their own unique and beautiful person so very quickly- I gently kiss their foreheads. And I think of the little speck of faith that keeps me trusting- keeps my eyes focused on my very next step.  keeps my feet firmly planted. And I think of all that which might seem so very little in my eyes- how it can be made into something far greater. Can be multiplied. Just like the five loaves and the two fish. Just like the jar of oil. Just like those vats of wine. And I remember:

Small is mighty.  Less is more.  And little is much.

For God is in that little.  And what might seem like a small offering can be multiplied beyond my wildest imaginings.

Even a shred of faith that is as small as a mustard seed.

On stress…

It’s soon bell time and we’re getting ready.

Along with the congested hallways full of lively kids, that bus pass stuck to her locker is quite possibly one of the first things she sees as I open the classroom door to the busy hallway.  That piece of white paper folded and stuck on with a strip of masking tape, the numbers to a different bus marked out in blue-ballpoint pen. I nearly forget the fact of its existence in the end-of-day rush. For it’s time to get ready for home- coats, shoes and backpacks stand by at the ready. All but this One Little are eager for the last ritual of another busy school day.

She’s definitely not up for it today- doesn’t want to do it and makes that point plain to me, arms folded across her chest. I coax and plead, but to no avail. I can feel frustration settle in even as I hear in my voice what resembles annoyance. All I want her to do is put on her coat and shoes so that I can take the students to the bus. She alone refuses, standing in the doorway to our classroom. Not budging. I watch her finally zip up the coat part way, only to zip it down again, leaving it flapping open- and all while I watch on helplessly.

I turn so she cannot see the look on my face, expressing my exasperation in another direction.  My colleague offers quiet suggestions while I compose myself.

We finally get the coat and shoes on, but the former remains unzipped. I decide to pick my battles. As we head to the bus with a few minutes to spare, another predicament emerges. That bus pass which I had not taken into account is all of a sudden the focal point of our attention. She doesn’t want to go on the new bus- as a different driver awaits, this unfamiliar face being the very last straw for both her and me. She hides behind me as I turn like a dog chasing its tail. As I move, so does she. We dance this awkward two-step until I stop and look her in the eye:

“Are you afraid of going on a different bus?” I ask.

She nods her head and grunts a little affirmative. I finally understand, but am left still to deal with the very real predicament of her balking in the parking lot. We are nowhere near her bus. I look around and wonder who I can get for help. Each child I ask, Little One shakes her head ‘no’ to and then pulls away, shrinking in behind me as if to disappear from sight. I have no idea how this is all going to end.  No idea what options are left at my disposal. Finally, support arrives in the form of a Big Friend from the bus.  We are all relieved and tell her so. She offers to take my Little One’s hand and walks her to the bus.

My Little One acquiesces. Offer received. I breathe a sigh of relief. We’ve overcome one hurdle. And that’s all I need for today.

*****************

The very next day, another Little Guy finds out that there is a change in his bus driver as well, and he too is almost paralyzed with fear. He forgets where to place his shoes in our familiar cubby, eyes glazed over as he loses himself in worry. I walk him to his bus and while I stand at the foot of the bus step, I look over to see him sitting there in the front row, tears welling up in his eyes. He is so fearful he cannot even process the lively banter around him. I call him to come to me, and I wrap my arms around him with the warmth of my embrace. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t protocol- as far as I am concerned, it’s the only human thing I can think to do right now.

******************

And so it goes.

I talk to a teacher in the hallway on a more personal level about the stress of an evening earlier on in the week at the Gard house, and we both laugh at the absurdity of the stories we tell. But underneath the laughter is a strain of forced notes and flattened chords. We are pushing ourselves to do more, be more.  Make more. “That speaks of the stress everyone is under in the system,” another colleague listening in wisely offers.

It’s everywhere… and rampant. Stress. We all feel it and it takes but a moment for the seed of contention to conceive and develop. Stress. I see it in children’s eyes, in their faces. Stress. Fear of the unknown, of new situations. Of failure. I see it in my colleagues eyes too at the end of another busy day. I hear it in my own Four Dear Ones banter with me at the start of the day- from angst over misplaced items, to bigger worries and fears that are becoming more and more unexpressed.

I feel it in my gut: it’s why I walk our country road each and every day.  I have to- my body and mind demand it.

I don’t like all this stress- it’s eating us alive.

*************

It’s a new day, and I determine to make this one an opportunity for possibility. I run into problems before we even break for lunch- a Little One balking again at the instructions for a game she is playing with friends. This time, instead of feeling immediate annoyance, I try to put myself into Her shoes and I ask questions that enable her to express her fears and concerns. Instead of trying to understand it through my experience, I try to see it through her’s. And what I see first is a child who is afraid.   But then I start to see something else- a glimpse, really. Of a child who, with the right supports, has every possibility to learn to overcome.  Who has the tools within her to let stress go and embrace the joy of living.

I hold her hand and we walk hand in hand. And I feel it.

The stress is gone.  Here comes the joy…

When Love Walks Among Us

I am walking tonight- solo, as the Two Youngest have a friend over and Husband is on duty back on the home front. I miss my walking partner on nights like this. Nights when it feels I am the Lonesome Isolated- walking when the rest of the world is doing more important things, living out more exciting plans than I.  When the rest of the world is organizing and doing things and gathering in places and spaces- making plans that I have not been privy to. Having fun being connected and together.  All but me: I walk alone.  And so tonight, feet slap pavement sounding loudly while hearts are feeling a tad bit blue and rather lonely.

It must be awful to feel lonely day in and day out.

I called my friend later and checked in about an activity our children are both involved in tomorrow. And after I tell her how happy I am that her daughter Zoe* has taken my own daughter under her wing, now that she has arrived a full-fledged member of intermediate school, my friend happens to mention something to me off the cuff. Something I find interesting in light of my feelings tonight.  Here’s how the conversation went down.

She asks me first if I have heard the name Charissa* come up in conversation when talking with Daughter. No, I say. Oh?  Well Charissa has been hanging out with the girls too, she says (proceeding to tell me that Charissa is new to the school this year and that the girls had noticed her alone over lunch time). She continues to tell me that her daughter Zoe*- the same one that has taken care of my own dear one- took the initiative to go over to this young adult sitting by herself in the cafeteria and invite her to sit with her and her friends, one of which is Daughter. My friend mentions the fact that Charissa has a shaved head on one side and a couple different colors of neon framing her head on the other- not someone easy to mix in a group of unfamiliar faces. Maybe some of the other kids didn’t see her as potential. But Zoe* did.  And because she did, Charissa isn’t lonely anymore.

All it takes is one rock to start an avalanche.

That’s all it takes. And in like manner, all it takes is one person to begin a cascade of love. That love and care and compassion and concern- it’s a free fall after that one encounter. Because other people notice and become caught up in the action. It’s hard not to when you realize the possibilities. In choosing to love, we lose fear. In choosing care and concern, we lose disinterest. In choosing compassion, we eliminate indifference. By choosing grace we say no to cruelty. What’s not to choose?

We all feel alone sometimes. But it makes my heart sing to know that there are human beings like Zoe out there in the world noticing the faces of people who need love. We all need love, but some of us need an infusion of love in the in-between moments of life even more than others. For me, knowing that there are Zoes in this world makes me want to join the effort, get in on the love cascade. So that love can fall like rain and the lonely can feel they are with their people.

We all are their people.

And in thinking about Zoe and Charissa and all the other lonely, isolated solitary people in this world- myself included by times: it helps to know. We are not alone. We never are.  Not when Love walks among us.  And because we know this, we can then reach out in love to others- turning their isolation into connectedness.  Turning their feelings of separation into togetherness.

Creating a love cascade from a single act of kindness.

Someone Sees

photo from http://www.theguardian.com

There is a catch in her voice. I can tell by her tone that the tears fall freely down her cheeks. She tells me her Youngest Boy has just flown out this morning at 6:00 a.m. and that she woke in time to stand on her deck and watch the plane circle and fly overhead. Heading for distant places, distant spaces- far, far away.

We marvel at this modern wonder- that a monstrosity of aluminum and steel observed as a speck in the sky can lift a precious Loved One into the air and beyond is at times astonishing to the amateur. That this same Loved One might be oblivious and unaware that his devoted mother stands guard, watching- is equally astounding and noteworthy.

But tell me this: if a plane flies overhead with your child aboard and that same child is unaware that you stand alert and attentive from far below, is this noteworthy? Significant? Is this ordinary happening complete with any meaning?
Does it matter?

Monday morning, Youngest and I travel home from Charlottetown at dinner time and pass by Sister’s house where her two young boys play outside. The youngest boy stands at the foot of the playhouse while his older brother looks down from the loft. I imagine the conversations that are transpiring. I watch for a brief blip of a second after which Youngest and I again remark that it is interesting that these two loved boys are not privy to our watching. They have no idea we are even in the area- for all they know, we are in our own surroundings located the two hour’s drive away. Not breezing by on the highway that runs in front of their house. It is at one and the same time unnerving that we can be watched unawares and yet a strange comfort to know that the people who love us might be watching our comings and goings.

Yes. This has been a week of watching. We watch the world respond to Robin William’s death, the killing of Missouri teen Michael Brown, the killing of John Crawford III in an Ohio Walmart. We observe in horror as Sunni militants terrorize and overrun so as to create an Islamic Empire in northern Iraq even as clashes are ongoing along the Gaza Strip. Crisis is still very much the word in other parts of the Middle East, including Libya and Syria. Some have even said that with all that is going on currently, things are more dangerous in that part of the world than they ever have been at any time in the past. These are dangerous times. There is much to watch and much to pray vigilantly for.

Even as these crises of epic proportions are going down in far-flung parts of the world, little wars are being waged here at home. Little battles being fought. A mother’s body struggles to accept her chemo, a child has just been diagnosed with a rare disorder, a new cancer patient has just been delivered the news. A woman struggles to accept her mental illness. A father grapples with dire financial straits. People are lonely, afraid, anxious and hurting, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to state that there is pain in the world.

Life is happening all over the place and one has to wonder- is anybody watching? Who is attending to all this pain and anguish?

photo from http://angelawaite.me/category/environmental-photography/

As I walk the country mile this evening, watching burnished grain blowing gently in the breeze, I consider this notion of watching/being watched. And believing as I do that I am watched over by One whose eye is on the sparrow- whose hand has counted every grain of sand, every hair on my head, I feel a comfort. Comfort in imagining His hand as holding me in the hollow- safe from any harm that was not meant to come my way. Comfort in knowing that I am being kept. Preserved. For such a time as this.

For I am safe even in my freedom to come and go.  To be myself. Even as the storms rage around me, threatening to dismantle and upend.

Last Friday, I was pulling out on a busy stretch of highway in Charlottetown. I had all the children with me and we were heading in town having just left my mom and dad’s house. For whatever reason, a large four-by-four pulled up on the inside shoulder of the road, blocking my view of the highway. Having believed that the coast was clear, I pulled out into oncoming traffic. As I did so, I could see several vehicles barreling straight for my path of entry in the very lane I was pulling into. For a moment, I panicked. And then quickly manovered the van off the road until it was safe to pull out again.

That this happened shook me. I know if I had been hit, it would have been on Son’s side that the impact would have occurred. For several hours afterwards, I could not shake the nagging sensation of ‘what if’. I couldn’t get the visual out of my mind. But after some time had passed, I began to think of the significance of the event. Our vehicle endured a close call. We as occupants in that vehicle were preserved. Had anyone been watching us, they would have been aware of the significance of this feat. The significance of our preservation.

Someone was watching us even as we were unaware.

Someone saw us. And I realize that our safety and protection in this instance, while significant, are not the real story. The story is not necessarily that we were protected (as wonderful as that is), but that we were watched. We were in His view. Someone is out there in very much the same way as Daughter and I were attentive to my nephews on that Monday morning, as my Mom was aware there on her deck and as many of us in the world are holding space for the millions of displaced, disadvantaged, hurting, wounded, suffering people in this world.

This I know: Someone is out there- and He is standing watch. Keeping vigil.  And as He keeps watch, I am held Held in the very hollow of His hand.

Safe, secure and kept.  And all because He’s watching.

 
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Who We Are

It is hard to understand the whys and hows of human relationships. Sometimes these interactions astound and touch my deepest parts for their tremendous propensity to kindness. And yet sometimes they disappoint beyond what mere words can express.

Why are our connections with one another so prone to such wild swings of the pendulum?

For here we are, all just walking around inside our little outward shell, thin veneer- pretending to be brave when we don’t always feel brave. Pretending to be strong when we don’t always feel strong. Putting on our game face even when the game is over. Showing up even when we don’t have the strength to take another step. We are all, I believe, giving this ‘here and now’ our best shot- this moment, this day, this life. We are who we are- cover-ups, disguises, masks and all. Doing what we have to so as to keep our head above water, to stay afloat. And it’s a hard-knock life sometimes. Hard enough trying to get by without having another soul, another Body: push you over. Knock you down. Hard enough trying to be a person living through the day without having another soul, another Body step all over you. Rain on your parade.

Isn’t it high time we gave each other a chance?

Is it so hard to see ourselves, our weakness- as through viewing our brother’s face? So hard to see our own proclivity to sorrow by looking in our sister’s eye?

She orders a coffee and a chicken sandwich for her husband. And all the while, she is given the five-star treatment by the waitress on duty. No request denied, no favor spared. She is Chosen. Somehow, special. But when it comes to him- he who is different, suddenly the mood alters. The temperature drops or so it seems. He who is seen as ‘other’ is disdained, disparaged, despised. She wonders, as she waits for the remainder of her order: why? Why him? Why her? Why such vast discrepancy? Why is she singled out to receive the good and he left to suffer the mockery, the subtle abuse? Why such different treatment when the same blood that courses through her veins, pumps slow and steady through his also?

Are we that blind that we can no longer see each other for who we truly are?

And who are we anyway? Who were we made to be?

We were made to be His Beloved. Loved, cherished, held, treasured. Longed for by the Father and precious in His sight. And when He sees us, He sees the beauty in the workmanship, the exquisite detail in the masterpiece. He sees us for the value and worth and tremendous significance we were designed for.

Each one of us.

And He doesn’t judge us for the fading shell without, that holds us.  Piece by fragile piece.  That damaged armor we wear to protect, we put on so to endure.  Doesn’t judge us for our persona.  Our outward presentation- He just loves us.  Loves us for the lasting treasure we are within.

And because He loves us, we too can love. Wildly, unabashedly, freely- with abandon.

We are free to love each other.

We are Loved.

My Five Wishes for the Upcoming School Year

It’s August. And as it happens to be my holidays, I am knee-deep in summer lovin’. I have paint spatters on my legs from the fresh coat I applied to the veranda this afternoon, a good book waiting for me on the couch and the idea in my head of a glass of iced coffee just waiting for me to drink it. Thoughts of school, teaching and work might be a million miles away from my immediate consciousness.

But are they?

As a teacher, this time of the year is one where my mind drifts to ‘what ifs’ and ‘how abouts’. To possibilities. Summer is the time of year when teachers are finally afforded the TIME in which to breathe, take stock and think about what is yet to come. So while I am not ready to cash in on summer yet, here are a five wishes I have for the upcoming school year, set to start in a few short weeks.

1. I wish for this upcoming school year that we as teachers act on the principle that education be not only about the mind. It be about the person. That is, the whole person. I love what Nel Noddings has to say on the topic:

“…school, like the family, is a multipurpose institution. It cannot concentrate only on academic goals any more than a family can restrict its responsibilities to, say, feeding and housing its children. The single-purpose view is not only morally mistaken, it is practically and technically wrong as well, because schools cannot accomplish their academic goals without attending to the fundamental needs of students for continuity and care” (Noddings, 2005, p. 63).

What Noddings is saying here is that school must function in continuity for the purpose of caring for students as whole persons, not just merely as empty minds which require regular and constant filling up of knowledge. Students have minds, yes- but they also have souls and bodies which both require care and attention in the course of the day, along with caring for the student’s mind for academic, physical, emotional and relational pursuits. My wish is for educators to remember that there is more to student learning than simply pumping the mind with facts and information. The possibilities for growth and development are endless.

2. There is a lot of wasted time in school. Time wasted before school while waiting for all the buses to arrive, time wasted in line-ups, in wait time, in coming and going places. Another wasted time of day is lunch time. Sure, it gets used for eating and sustenance- but wouldn’t it be great if lunch time was an opportunity for growing community, in the very same ways that those families who see it as a priority use it to grow family attachments? What I am talking about, and this is another one of Noddings’ beliefs as well- is the importance of mealtime. Breaking bread in the very real sense of the word. Mealtime is a time to talk and listen, a time to discuss and reflect. A time for sharing and caring. A time when what is said is not evaluated and assessed- but taken at face value and respected. If students were given this opportunity, to sit face-to-face, as might a family eating a meal together, how might that benefit in a positive way the dynamics of social interactions amongst students? We’ll never know until we give it a try.

3. There is very little choice for students in school- very little choice for teachers either. We have all been given the required curriculum and asked to adopt it as our own. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if students and teachers were able to work together to come up with themes and pursuits that might reflect curriculum ideals, using them as springboards for further areas of study and exploration. Using curriculum jazzed up with a healthy dose of imagination, critical thinking and creativity to make these extra-curricular projects work within the existing structure? I think the sky is certainly the limit for those who give it a chance. Who knows what new interests might be sparked for learning amongst students who are currently disenfranchised, disengaged and disempowered. The time is now for outside the box thinking and teaching..

4. My wish for teachers and students is that we remember that each person we see sitting in front of us each day, standing beside us at our desks, walking along in front of us or behind us in the hallways- each person going and coming in the hustle and bustle: each person is a person. A person with feelings, thoughts, emotions, complicated baggage, issues, story, problems, joys, sorrows, hurts and pains. They are a person with more than meets the eye. And I wish for all those who find themselves in the educational milieu, that is MY HOPE would be, that we never lose sight of the humanity of the people in our schools: the humanity of the students, the staff, the parents, the volunteers, the administration and any visitors that might find themselves walking through the hallways. May we always be known as a People that care. And may that define each and every one of us this year.

5. And as a final note- may we have fun! Is it too much to ask that we find time to play? Time to laugh? Time to breathe, and wonder, and imagine, and daydream? Time to doodle, and draw and sculpt and create. Time to rest and time to work. And may we never forget that learning is a life-time pursuit. We don’t want to burn out the creative fires until the very last embers of life have been snuffed out, when we find ourselves breathing our last. May we always be found learning each and every day of our life- and may it be a joyous, delightful, exciting, inspiring and worthwhile venture.

These five are among my wishes for you all- for we are all learners. And for those of us who call ourselves teachers, staff and students, as we set off in another few short weeks for another voyage, another adventure of learning, wonder and discovery: let’s not forget to take care of each other in the process.

Carry on, comrades!

{You can read this again on the Huffington Post by clicking on this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lori-gard/back-to-school-2014_b_5656507.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-living }

 

Offering gratitude

I remember the Christmas I was about seven or eight years old. I wanted a Cabbage Patch doll. It was all I really wanted that year, to be honest. I had made that much clear to anyone who was listening (Mom, Dad, Santa….God?). I think I dreamed about her, my doll: those chubby cheeks, that rag-doll yarn hair. Those two lumpy pig-tails tied with ribbons, along with the signature on her rounded derriere that guaranteed she was truly made by ‘the’ Xavier Roberts. To have a Cabbage Patch doll would have been to have a dream come true. An answer to prayer, even. (I am not sure if I prayed for her, my non-existent dollie- but to think that I might have makes total sense.)

So imagine my surprise when I opened my Christmas gift that year to find a beautiful china doll with porcelain skin staring back at me instead of a dimpled plastic one. This replacement other- this actual doll was a fine toy complete with dark, wavy hair, finely stitched Victorian dress and a velvety blue bonnet that just never would stay put on that her head. She was lovely, but she wasn’t a Cabbage Patch Kid.

I don’t remember feeling very thankful.

What I do remember was receiving that doll and the disappointment I felt. She was beautiful, elegant and far more of a classic in comparison to the trendy Cabbage Patch doll I craved. But she wasn’t what I asked for. I felt quietly disappointed about the whole thing.

Years later, I find myself still asking. Only this time, my requests aren’t as trivial and innocent.

“Please God, protect them…” “Please God, allow rest…” Please God bring healing…” “Please God, more time…” “Please God….please.” Sometimes the litany of request feels like a shopping list of needs that I rhyme off- with hopes that I will get everything on my list. But what if what I am asking for is no longer in stock? What if it is not available at this time? What if what I am asking for is something not the very best for me- nor the very best for those for whom I am requesting that certain something? What is best, anyway? Do I even know?

What if prayer was less a list of ‘please give…’ and more of an “I thank you…”? What would prayer be like then? Would it change?

Our lives are full of blessings. Some of those blessings come through rays of sunshine and hope. Some of the blessings come through tears and storm clouds. But through the joyous moments and through the difficult times, there are slices of time when light shines through and we see the absolute beauty in life. Yes, our lives are precious in all their complexity- even in the midst of absolute darkness and sorrow, beams of light will radiate.

These little moments for me can be seen as answers to prayer. True, these little blessings are not always the big ticket items on my proverbial prayer shopping list- sometimes they are just those little somethings I noticed out of the corner of my eye. The little things. Things like…

• A friend stopping by to say they are thinking of me
• A phone call just when I needed it
• A message, email or note
• A smile timed just right
• A hug
• A drive to Tim’s
• A rainbow
• My flowers blooming
• A found kitten

The little things in life are sometimes what bring the greatest joy in my darkest hour. They are what get me through.

I have been asking God for some pretty big-ticket items lately. I have a feeling a few of us might be in this same boat. But I wonder if we have sometimes forgotten how to pray gratitude into our prayers. To thank instead of ask. To offer gratitude.

To thank God for the gift of time- what a precious commodity that is. To thank God for the gift of memories- we have such precious recollections of the ones we love- even as we make new memories each and every day. To be grateful for each moment we’ve been given. Even for today. To just relish the very minutes we have right now and breathe a prayer of thanks for this priceless gift.

We are so blessed.

Our lives may seem complex, complicated, rushed, maddening, stressful, anxious and short. But viewed through a different lens, they can also be seen as beautiful, intricate, intense and precious. Our lives are a masterpiece- and this life is only the beginning.

For every breath we’ve been given, our grateful hearts say “thanks”.