Sunday, July 12, 2015

Moments in the Blur

Hello, old friend. It's been quite a long time. The problem from not blogging for awhile is that the days turn into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months into half a year! And then, it's hard to break back into it... do I write about everything? nothing? The procrastinator and perfectionist in me team up and another day goes by without blogging. But at some point, the right combination of a desire to write welling up in me, some free time, and the self-discipline to utilize that said free time occurs... and that is this moment.

Like most teachers, spring was a bit of a blur for me. There is always so much to do and unlike the fall that is punctuated by frequent holiday breaks, the spring semester stretches on often feeling interminable. Without fail though, summer always arrives just in time to save our sanity, and then the blur is a blissful kind. That being said, there were a few moments that particularly stood out in the blur these past months.

In late March/early April, I had the opportunity to go back to Haiti with a team from my church. We spent time with our friends at Canaan Christian Community there and enjoyed fellowshipping with them and helping them with a few projects. As a part of a "spring break camp" Canaan was holding for their own students and as well as for some other visiting children, we teamed up with the older students to lead various stations. I led the storytelling station and absolutely loved getting to do one of my favorite things and something that comes so naturally to me (teaching) to share the Gospel. Team laughter and bonding, the beautiful scenery despite the heat, and a few of the Canaan girls teaching me a dance were all highlights as well. My heart also started to dream again about ministry and missions, while realizing this can look a lot of different ways.

The next big moment came at the end of the school year. Every year, I have a special bond with my 5th graders and really enjoy teaching them. (Read: They're my favorites.) I'm always sad to see them go on to middle school. This year was especially significant though because it's the first time I had a group for all three years of enrichment. My first year of being the gifted specialist was their first year in enrichment (3rd grade). And due to a growing number of students and helpful staffing additions, I now only teach 4th and 5th grade enrichment so this special group of students will be the only group that I teach for all three years (as things stand now). I love them dearly and truly feel privileged to have been their enrichment teacher for the past three years. They are a remarkable group of students who remained sweet and motivated even until the end of 5th grade (which is quite a feat!). They are the main reason I love my job, and I won't be surprised to see them in the White House, on Broadway, or winning a Nobel Prize. Although I will miss their smiling faces, witty comments, and insightful questions next year, I look forward to seeing how they make a difference in this world.

Lastly, there's my recent trip to Washington, D.C. My dad had a conference in the DC area, and since my mom and I are both teachers with free schedules in the summer, we tagged along to enjoy the city. (A fun bonus included overlapping 2 days with my sister-in-law and brother, who also had a conference in DC.) Since I have an ongoing love affair with big cities, I was excited to spend a few days there and enjoy both some new experiences as well as some old favorites. While I definitely savored eating brunch in a local spot and even coveted some of the charming Old Town Alexandria town homes, I also was reminded anew that I have a tendency to romanticize or glamorize "city life." Commuting to work each day by metro sounds fun at first, but the reality is that I got nauseous multiple times on the train due to the heat and movement. Maybe one day God will call me to live in an urban setting, but for now, I'll enjoy the perks of smaller city living... and be thankful that I don't need to take Dramamine on a daily basis!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Tribute to Tipper and Seasons

While overall joyful, this holiday season included a pain my family did not expect: we had to say good-bye to our beloved dog, Tipper.  If you're a dog or pet person, you understand how hard this is.  We had Tipper for 12 and a half years, and he truly was a member of our family.  He was especially a faithful companion to my parents in their now empty-nest years, but we all loved him dearly.  Since Tip was 14 years old, we knew his time was limited but not that his death was quite so imminent.  

It all happened relatively quickly.  Saturday night, Tipper was not his usual self and chose to withdraw rather than join the family dinner party when my aunt and uncle were over.  Sunday afternoon, he began throwing up and continued to do this multiple times throughout the evening.  He was very dehydrated because he couldn't even keep water down.  After a restless night for all of us, my mom and I took Tipper to the vet early Monday morning.  The vet did some blood-work, and we learned that Tipper was in liver failure and also had some other issues.  As hard as it was to see him in that pain, I'm thankful that the answer was clear--we knew we had to let him go.  We called my dad who came and joined us at the vet, and we all said good-bye before the vet put him to sleep.  

So thankful we had one last Christmas with Tipper

As I was thinking about what a blessing Tipper was to our family, I decided that dogs are a way God gives us another glimpse of what unconditional love is.  It's not a perfect analogy of course, and I am not at all comparing my dog to Jesus.  :)  However, I do think we can learn something about love and loyalty from dogs.  Tipper always loved us and always wanted to spend time with us.  Even when he was dying and in immense pain, he managed to practically drag himself upstairs twice that night because he wanted to be near us.  There is something to be said about that kind of faithfulness, and I want to be that kind of friend to the people in my life.

Partly because of Tipper's death and partly because of some other circumstances, I have been thinking a lot about seasons lately.  Sometimes when we are in certain seasons, they seem indefinite so we either long to be out of them (the negative ones) or fail to fully appreciate them (the positive ones).  I really want to be aware of the different seasons God has put in my life right now and savor them.  Life is constantly changing, and sometimes it changes abruptly.  I am continually being reminded that I can't control most of those changes, but I am trying to treasure the "here and now" without holding onto it too tightly.

My dear friend Jennifer shared this song with me a few months ago, and I have been listening to it frequently.  I love how it reminds us to praise the Lord in all seasons because there is grace for today.

"Praise the Lord" by The City Harmonic

Praise the Lord when it comes out easy
Praise the Lord on top of the world
Praise the Lord ‘cause in every moment Jesus Christ is Lord
Even in the middle of the joys of life
There is always grace enough today to
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Won’t you praise the Lord?
Praise the Lord with the world on your shoulders
Praise the Lord when it seems too hard
Praise the Lord ‘cause in every moment Jesus Christ is Lord
Even in the middle of the long, dark night
There is always grace enough today to
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Won’t you praise the Lord?
Praise the Lord if you can sing it at the top of your lungs
Praise the Lord like every moment is a song to be sung
Praise the Lord: though it might take blood, sweat and tears in your eyes
There is grace for today so praise the Lord
There is grace for today so praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Won’t you praise the Lord?
There is grace for today so praise the Lord

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Memorial Stones (or Shirts)

This past fall was tough in several ways.  I have multiple friends that are fighting cancer, and they are closer to my age than my parents' age which is a first for me.  Various unanswered prayers and situations where it does not seem like God is working in my own life wear me down and even cause me to doubt God's goodness, if I'm honest.  The drug cartel violence in Mexico rages on, killing innocent lives, while the government does not do much to help and sometimes even appears to be supporting the cartels.  Not to mention, there is the horror of ISIS in the Middle East, racial tensions in the U.S., and other tragedies happening around the world.  No doubt about it, we live in a broken world.

It was in this state of mind that I was particularly encouraged one cold day this fall when I pulled out my t-shirt quilt for an additional layer of warmth at night.  My t-shirt quilt represents about a decade and a half of my life, and I finally got it made last spring after years of saving my favorite or most symbolic t-shirts.  When I look at those shirts and all the things they represent, I am reminded of God's abundant blessing and provision in the past.  I see years of playing volleyball and all the lessons that sports can teach you.  I see time spent in the inner city of New Orleans that grew my heart for the poor.  I see my youth group and college ministry days that helped give me a strong spiritual and theological foundation.  I see the excellent education and amazing friends that both high school and college gave me.  I see the wonderful elementary school where I work and God's providence in leading me there.  I see words in espaƱol that represent many faces of loved ones in Mexico and times of ministry there.  And when I look at all these tangible examples of God's faithfulness thus far in my life, I am encouraged to keep trusting Him for the future.  As I was thinking about this recently, I realized that my t-shirts serve a similar purpose as the memorial stones did for the Israelites:

[Joshua 4] 1 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”

Like the Israelites, I am prone to forget.  I need these memorial stones (or shirts) to remind me of the Lord's mighty hand.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Feasts

photo credit

Last Wednesday, my small group from church had a Thanksgiving meal potluck.  Since I love my small group and also love almost all of the typical Thanksgiving foods, I was really looking forward to it.  The meal did not disappoint, and we all enjoyed a great time of food and fellowship.  The next day, we had our annual Thanksgiving meal at school.  This is one of the best meals the lunchroom serves all year, and the fact that it coincides with the 5th grade's living history museum of the 13 American colonies makes it even more fun.  Last night, my roommate hosted a big "Friendsgiving" at our house and there was once again a large feast.  Tomorrow, I'll celebrate on actual Thanksgiving with my family in Florida and then happily eat leftovers for a few days as well.  

I was thinking about how many times I will enjoy eating Thanksgiving foods over these two weeks, and I was struck by the fact that for some of our students, that lunchroom version of Thanksgiving might be the only feast they have related to the holiday.  While that certainly won't the case for most of the children, there are probably a few who won't do or eat anything special tomorrow.  Perhaps their family cannot afford a luxurious feast, or perhaps their parents did not grow up in the United States and don't understand this custom.  

And even though this thought is sobering, I love that about my school.  I love that we have children of mixed economic levels, backgrounds, cultures, and races.  I love that children from very wealthy backgrounds go to the same school with students who receive free or reduced lunch.  And I love that we can offer them all a safe, loving environment to learn and grow... and eat Thanksgiving feasts once a year. :)  In this season of gratitude, I'm especially thankful for the privilege of working in a place like this.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

(Fall-Inspired) Tuesday Tidbits

Tidbit #1: It's Finally Fall!

We have had a few tastes of fall this year, but today it actually felt like a true autumn day.  After some intense storms, a refreshing cold front came through today.  The leaves are also beginning to change, and I'm looking forward to some beautiful, crisp days.  May the cold days of winter stay away though for quite awhile still!

Tidbit #2: New Running Shoes

60 and 70 degree weather also makes me want to run again, and I recently bought some new running shoes to help with this endeavor.  Not necessarily wanting to train for another half marathon, but I do feel inspired to start adding to my mileage again.  We'll see!

Tidbit #3: Manhattan Love Story

Fall also brings the return of television seasons.  While nothing could take away my fierce loyalty to my favorite show, I have been watching a few new ones (first fall without grad school in 3 years = a little more time to watch TV).  Manhattan Love Story is one of them, and it's adorable.  If you like romantic comedies and New York City, you will love it.  It's a classic tale of a naive, Southern girl who moves to the Big Apple.  A blind date disaster ends up having unexpected promise, and you can guess the rest.  While it may be a predictable plot, every episode so far has made me laugh out loud and left me eagerly awaiting the next one.  Some funny side stories with supporting characters also add to the charm.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Through the sheer coincidence of the artists' schedules, I attended two concerts this past weekend.  (Lest you mistakingly think I am a cool hipster, you should know that the last concert I saw before this weekend was more than six months ago.)  I simply couldn't pass up the chance to see Matthew Perryman Jones and Sandra McCracken, both in small and up-close settings.

I think one thing that makes the "listening room" style concerts especially appealing to me is that the artists take a few moments to explain their songs and share a little background with you.  While every quality song can speak for itself, there is something endearing about that brief, spoken intro that makes it feel more like a conversation between friends than a concert.  And somewhere in the middle of listening to melodies and my stream-of-consciousness thoughts, I had a miniature epiphany:  it's all about expression.  This almost obvious realization made me feel connected to the musical world and other artsy worlds in a new way.  While I do know how to play piano and dabble in guitar, I would not describe myself as a musician.  I am a writer; I write to express myself.  There are days where I feel in my core that I have to write--I'm desperate to process my thoughts in my journal or occasionally a blog (case in point).  Musicians express themselves though the beautiful combination of notes and lyrics.  One of my friends is an artist and expresses herself through visual art.  Her paintings tell a story about her current state of emotion just as much as the written word.

The musician, the writer, the artist--these are just a few examples.  While the methods of expression may vary, I think we were all meant to be communicators in community.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Global Kingdom

20 days.  15,000+ miles.  10 flights.

This is enough to quench even my travel-loving spirit.  When I arrived back in Birmingham on Sunday morning, I was very happy to be home.  I am even content to not have any big travel plans on the horizon, although I'm sure that won't be permanent.

Every aspect of my my trip half-way across the world and back again went great.  I'm truly so thankful for this.  Even more so though, I am thankful for God's global kingdom and the relationships I have all over the world because of it.  And somehow, they are all connected in various ways.

After a wonderful visit, I left Kate and her roommate Lydia on Thursday morning.  Good times and quality conversations still lingering in my head from there, I arrived in Seattle about 27 hours later.  I spent the weekend with my aunt, uncle, and cousin who have all lived in the Philippines before and even know some of Kate's teammates.  It was great to be able to process my own trip with them and discuss places and cultural aspects.  A few days later, I headed home to Birmingham via Chicago on a red-eye flight.  My dear friend & former missionary teammate Becca came to see me at the airport for a short visit during my early morning layover.  If I hadn't been a missionary myself, I wouldn't have had the same desire to visit a friend on the mission field.  Becca's passion for missionary care has also influenced me over the years--one more way the stories are weaved together.

Finally, there is my church in Birmingham.  My pastor often says it's like a family reunion, and I definitely felt that this past Sunday.  It's a joy to be enthusiastically greeted and hugged by close friends that I love and that I know have been praying for me.  I felt welcomed home in such an encouraging way.

These intertwining stories paint a beautiful picture of the Lord's global kingdom.  It feels like a small taste of heaven.