Truth-telling

It is one of those balmy, beautiful outdoor recess days that you might think would create the reality (or illusion of such) of not a care in the world being felt or expressed. You would expect to see everywhere…children running hither, thither and yon playing tag, catching butterflies, picking daisies. Strains to Pharrell’s Happy theme being piped onto the playground. Unicorns floating lazily in the sky.
Rather, it is a bit of a zoo- and I feel like a chicken running around with my head lopped off, my nerves frazzled and my sanity nearly unattached. All because ‘so-and so’ just did this- and Little Miss just fell off the tire swing and he just said THAT. Can you come quick? Somebody else just got slammed into the soccer nets and somebody ELSE just got into a fight on the playground equipment.
It is not easy, either- trying to figure out the truth of the matter. Not easy at all. Trying to sift through the facts to get to the bottom of the story at hand, particularly when there are three or four or more stories to attend to. Listening to stories and first-hand accounts is almost a full time employment.
But one thing as a duty teacher that I am trying to honor and privilege with my generous ‘doling out of justice’ responses is the following:
Truth matters. And it matters more than what just happened or what will most certainly happen again in five minutes if we don’t establish the facts of the matter and own up to them.
Truth has come under fire lately- because, as it has been contended- who really knows? What is true? What is false? Is there really such a thing? I believe there truly is.
When it comes down to brass tacks, there is always a true account of what occurs- whether we want to admit or deny it or otherwise. Something had to occur so that another something could then follow. Usually, there is a tangled web of facts and information that somehow ties back to what originally went wrong- it has been my job each Monday afternoon, as the teacher on duty, to help my students find their way back to the start of the issue: so as to re-trace the original steps that were taken. In doing so, we collectively arrive back at the beginning where the truth resides: arrive at the truth of the matter somehow, someway.
I honor children who tell the truth. I once had a child steal from me. In questioning him on the matter, he would not own up to the contention, even though I had caught him red-handed. Later on, with some careful questioning and encouragement, he confessed. I told him that I appreciated the truth he had the courage to tell in spite of his fear causing him to withhold that truth from me. I expressed that even though what had happened was not a choice he should have made, his decision to tell the truth was certainly commendable.
Even in the difficulty of the moment, I honored that simple truth he had the courage to tell.
As teachers, we need to encourage our students- our children, to tell the truth; and somehow we must show them that this route is a better way for them to travel. Yes, it is not easy owning up to mistakes. Yes, it is hard to admit that we’ve done wrong. Absolutely, there are greater consequences which eventually await the child or student who has both made a poor choice to act unfavorably, along with lie about it.
But for the child that tells the truth- I personally have a special place in my heart for those young students and learners. This goes against the fabric of our culture and society. These students are swimming against the tide- have come to the realization that truth-telling- as hard as it might be- is more desirable than covering up and hiding beneath a blanket of false pretenses.
And that is about as true as it gets from my vantage point on the elementary school playground.

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Dear Son…A Post-Christmas Letter

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Dear Son:

It is three days past Christmas and yet the varied strands of lights on our tree still burn brightly, as if they truly were soft candle-light glow. I write you tonight, pensively.  For there has been much on my mind since the mad scramble of Christmas morning.  There has been much weighing on me.

Your sweet gift to us all on Christmas Day- gladly bestowed as we impatiently sat on a crowded bed, remnants of Christmas stockings and wrapping paper strewn all around. Glitter from your sister’s pajamas. Candles in the window.  And there you came, bearing gifts.  Bringing to us those sweetest of presents.  The packages done up with a single letter attached to each, a candy cane seal.  Those letters for us- your family, they have given me much to think about.  Those beautiful letters.  All so heartfelt, so beautifully penned.  For penned they were, the old-fashioned way.  Your sweet boyish script.

Son, in a world bent on celebrating Christmas in its own way, it is hard to push against the tides and do it different.  For Christmas has become something gaudier than it was intended to be.  Too bright.  Too shining.  Christmas is just sometimes too much of everything.  And sometimes in the midst of lavish excess, it is the simplest of reminders that brings us back to the truth.  To the truth about Christmas. To the truth about life- it’s past purpose, present possibility and future promise.

When I opened your letter firmly fixed to the front of that fragrant bottle of Stress Relief Body Wash And Bubble Bath (you know me well), my heart did a sudden lurch.  Because sometimes the line between reality and dream is so fine.  Sometimes the present here and now seems so elusive. That I instantly thought to myself, “Oh no.  Something really bad is about to happen.  He has written us such heartfelt prose- that it must mean the foreboding sign has been given.”  I am very fragile at Christmas.  And so very aware, knowing as I do- that another mother sits weeping by her Christmas tree, no boy there now to sling an arm about her neck.

I read that letter. And I wept inwardly.  You know me so well.  Know us all so well, as those letters to each member of our family indicate.  They were spot on.  In Grammie’s words, ‘you nailed it’.  Can you imagine her saying that?  She did.

Sometimes I wonder why me.  Why this ordinary girl?  Why have I been blessed so lavishly?  Why have I been given so very much, such precious gifts?  You four children.  Your father.  Our family.  This home- the far-flung fields bordered by our wooded lot, grandly spiced with fragrant hemlock. Shadowed by grand, ancient trees. Why this for me?  Why, when there are so many who have little to nothing?  Mothers who are aching for a child?  Children aching for a mother?

A world in such desperate need.

And this line of thinking can be burdensome- overwhelming.  Constricting.  I feel it smothering me. Alive. Weighing me down in such a way that it nearly incapacitates.  Because I don’t understand the why’s.  I only know ‘what is’.

According to the Gospels, to whom much has been given, much will be expected.  I have been excessively blessed.  And the expectations are so very great.

I may not ever fully understand the richness of His mercy, the lavish unfolding of His grace.  I might not understand why He chose me to be your Mama- why He chose me to lend me four of His most Precious.  And I am tenderly aware that you Four are on lend- you are not mine to keep.  You are His.  And while you are in my care, I pray that I might walk worthy of the calling of which I have been called. Your Mama.

You will never understand what it is to be a Mother- there is something so primeval about this place in which I find myself right now.  But you might someday be a father.  And you will know a parent’s love.  You will come to understand that nothing tangible in this world- no Christmas present, no bling or shiny package could ever take the place of that which is most precious: our children.  And in understanding this, you might come to know that God’s love extends to all His children of every colour and every race. That His love is bigger than any evil this fallen world can proffer.  His love extends.  It reaches.  It surpasses.  It outpaces.  It goes before.  And it always was and always will be.

I pray that you might come to know His love, a love bigger than any passing fancy we might have our eye on in the here-and-now.  Because His love, like His time- it is not like ours’.  His desire, not like our desire.  His understanding, not like our understanding.  And therefore His love undeniably not like our love. Nor can it ever be.

Those letters.  They reminded me of something.  It is not how much we’ve been given- how extensive the blessing.  How high the windfall.  It is what you do with it all.  It is what you make out of it.

For all of life is but a gift- from the tiniest of breaths to the greatest gust of wind.  It is all grace.  It is all blessing.  And I am so grateful to have been given you- on lend, for you are such an extravagant gift.  And so extraordinary.

I want to thank you for reminding me yet again that we don’t know how good we have it sometimes.  And I never wish to wait until that gift is gone to say thank you.  Thank you for everything you are.  For all you have taught me.  Thank you for giving to me the sweetest of gifts- a priceless offering that money can’t buy. Thank you for your words, your life and your spirit.  You are very loved.

Love,

Your Mom

The Truth of a Child…

I can feel the stress creeping up my back.  Into my shoulders.  Down my spine.

Everywhere I turn, I hear what seem to be hundreds of little voices calling me.   Calling me to ‘come!’ and ‘look!’   To intervene and facilitate.  To watch and guide.  Happy Voices.  Tattling voices.   Whining voices.  Crying voices.  Pleading voices.   Voices.   Calling me in various cadences of sound.     Until all the voices fade into one and I hear instead a distinct ringing in my ears.

“Mrs. Gaaaarrrrrrddddd!”

I feel that taut muscle system pulling in the back of my neck and shoulder.  And I rotate my neck, hoping to alleviate the strain.  I am probably doing damage there in ways that would make a chiropractor cringe.

Nonetheless.   Muscle relaxation, cartwheels and games of tag.  It is what we teachers do.  To survive and enjoy that sweet half an hour stretch known to children as Big Recess.  And known to teachers as:  ‘The Slowest Half Hour of the Day Which Has Been Designated Specifically for Outdoor Bedlam’.

Or, in the handbook: it’s known as Lunch Duty.  And it can go one of two ways.  Smooth.  Or utter chaos.

I start walking over to the new tether-ball set-up, as there is a crowd of students gathered.  Tether ball stations for a K-2 playground.  “Seemed like a great idea at the time, said no teacher ever.”   And it has already proved to be that expected source of contention that was anticipated, that is: contention over  whose turn will be next and whether or not everyone is getting a fair shot.  And the very real dilemma that one kid has already received two bonks in the head worthy of a pretty good concussion.  It is a hot spot of entertainment for one and all.  Love that I am the guinea pig teacher who gets to try it all out first!   And as I left this huddle of fun only five minutes prior (to investigate such worthy matters as bodies in backpacks and ‘who wasn’t playing with whom’), I know that it is time to make my dreaded return.  To the tether-ball game and the twenty or so children lined up waiting for a turn.

Time is up just now for the two whacking the ball into oblivion.

I trundle over.

“Time to shift,” I holler.  “Who’s up next?”

The two already in play start to contend.  One yells at me, “But we haven’t won yet!!”

“Sorry guys, there are a lot of kids waiting for a turn.  So, you’ll have to end your game and move to the back of the line.”

“What.the.FRIG,” comes the angry retort.  Then, the stomping begins, and Little Tether-Ball Player starts to storm off.

What the FRIG sounds to me like a string of swear words, seeing as I am dealing with innocent Primary-aged students.

I can feel blood boiling, along with that tight shoulder spasm.

I can almost sense a blood vessel about to burst.  You could pump a bike tire with this pressure.

“So-and-so, you follow me please.  Over to the wall.”

So-and-so walks off in the other direction.

“So-and-so,” I repeat again, in as calm but insistent a voice as I can muster, “Follow me over to the wall.”

So-and-so follows.  But reluctantly.

I have exactly ten seconds to talk myself down from this potential heart attack I can feel coming on.  I am ready to explode or spontaneously combust.

I arrive at the wall and I realize.  I have a choice to make.  I can issue stern reprimands for disrespect to a teacher, which will be followed up on once said child arrives inside.   Or.  I can choose another route.

Another way.

When we see children as precious souls.  As little people with big stories.  We then make a choice to understand the ‘why’s’ of their behaviors.  Thus allowing us to get below the surface of the ‘what’s’  of the circumstances in their lives.   So as to uncover the truth. Their truth.

For every child has a truth that is their very own.   And we do a disservice to them as human beings when we don’t listen closely enough.  For the rest of the story.

Big breath.

Calm voice.

Heart connection.

And I make a choice of compassion and understanding over frustration and anger.

We both win.  That Tether-Ball Champ and I.  And know it as true as the sky is blue.   As true as there are not enough words to justly tell a story.  Truth- a child’s truth.   I can see it shining in his eyes.

For Me to Live…

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Seems every time you turn around, there is something embarrassing posted on the Internet about a purported Christian, that is, a Christ-follower- or at the very least, that is someone seemingly with moral upstanding in the world of human interactions.  And that is what Christ-followers preferably should be.   Morally upright.   Principled.  Full of honor and integrity.  Among other ideals.

And yet.   There it was.   A receipt posted the other day by a former waitress from Applebee’s restaurant in St. Louis on which was scribbled the following: “I give God 10%.  Why should you get 18%?”  The receipt went viral, as would be expected.  Anyone with a few marbles rolling around up top knows that something like that can’t be written down on paper and not publicized in some manner.  The receipt was meant to be seen by someone.  It just happened to get seen by more than the intended readership.

It went viral.  And somehow landed up on my Facebook wall.

The persons in question are a waitress and a patron.  The patron, we know little about.  We can’t know for sure whether or not she was having a bad day or is just an ill-tempered person by nature.  I’m guessing the former, as she had the full staff under question and then some fired for the receipts exposure on the Internet.  The waitress, we can infer, was a likeable employee who took the fall for her fellow waitress for whom the note was intended.  The waitress has also written an on-line rebuttal to those responsible for her firing in which she gives her side of the story.

There are many angles in a story like this one.  There is the issue of low wages for wait staff and the necessity of tips to supplement incomes, along with concerns over privacy issues of patrons and protection of such in businesses and other establishments, as well as the issue of tithing and how it factors (?) with a casual meal out with friends.

And of course, there is the white elephant in the room: why in the name of time Christians can be so mean-spirited.

I’d like to tackle the former as I am also a follower of Christ, and it is in my best interest to understand this subject as much as is humanly possible.  Christ-followers, or as we are often called- Christians, are commonly assumed to be one of three kinds of people.  We are either proponents of freedom to live our lives under the cover of grace, or we are proponents of truth to live our lives under the law or we are strivers of balance seeking to live love in active service through careful adherence to both truth leading to holiness and freedom leading away from binding legalism.

What a mouthful that last one is.

If you are in the first group, you are probably a contemporary Christ follower. You might find that Scripture is open to broad interpretations and you are likely to be very open-minded toward ideas and opinions different than your own.  If you fall into the second group of Christ-followers, you might closely resemble a stereotypical Christian fundamentalist.  And you might also be referred to by other Christians as a legalist.  And you are often not very popular in the modern day church because your ideas are un-malleable, your convictions are often a dictator and you are seen as lacking compassionate understanding for those who do not share your biblical views.  If you are in the last group, you are often seen to be the most balanced of the two.  However, if you even err slightly on the side of truth, you are taken for a fundamentalist.  If you sway slightly to the side of freedom, people are calling you defector to the cause of liberalism.

Folks in this last group just can’t win.

The point is: Christians are not all cut from the same cloth.   We do not all share the same experiences, have the same worldviews, interpret the Scriptures the same.  And, surprise!  Not every Christian is even a nice guy.  Or gal.   True.  We MUST have the common ground of faith in Christ as our Savior if we are to be Christ-followers.  But, past that.  Like snowflakes, no two Christians are exactly alike. And in all truth, Christians are still just simply people.  And we all know.   That people are people are people.  No matter what we claim to be.  No matter what label we wear.  Or what we purport to be.

Which begs the question.  Why should one mean-spirited person’s ill-advised stinginess be the characterization true Christ-followers?  Could that patron not be chalked up to a mere anomaly?  For perhaps other Christ-followers might had already come through the restaurant that day and left generous tips.  And in like manner, those claiming the opposite, to hate God, leaving nothing.  Again, people are people are people.  You really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

But yet we do.

And here’s the thing.  We are assuming that Christ-followers are close to perfection, which sadly is not the case.  Christ-followers are people.  And people make mistakes.  People are flawed. People don’t always live up to our expectations of what they should and should not do.  Some of us are nice and some of us are not.

This being said.  Should Christians be enabled to continue on acting in ways that are unfeeling, unloving and unkind?  That is, acting in ways that are not representative of the One who was perfect Truth, perfect Freedom and Perfect Love?  If we truly follow Christ, we already know that this is NOT the way we are to live our lives.  And when we err, we ask for forgiveness.  And when we are wounded, we offer grace.  And at all times, our lives must be characterized by love.  Because love covers a multitude of sins.

Love is Christ.  And Christ is love.  And this should be the underlying motive for all we do.

So while it is disappointing, hurtful and damaging that another purported believer of Christ has acted in less than Christ-like ways, and particularly because this act has received such public attention, I still believe that we need to extend compassion to everyone.  To those who know better and those who don’t.  And, underlying every action and reaction we make should be the mantra:  What would Jesus do?

For we know that He did everything in sinless perfection, always keeping the balance of living out the truth in love.  Always reaching out to us with just the right message intended for our soul’s condition, whether that be a need for more grace or more truth or more freedom or more love.  God knows what we need.  Our job is to be like Him.  And when we fail.  To humbly admit our wrongs and do things different the next time.  And this process just keeps going and going and going until we hit eternity.

But until then.  For me to live is Christ…and if I can live like Christ, I have lived a life worth living.