Saturday, December 28, 2013

Maybe Eventually…Thoughts on a New Year

While I may not be so enthusiastic about the holidays, I can get into New Year’s with the best of them.  It must have something to do with my love of countdowns.  Life just isn’t the same now that Dick Clark isn’t counting down that final minute each year.  I genuinely enjoy reflecting on the year that’s past and planning for the one that awaits.  (In truth, I’m mostly just glad there are about 360 days until I have to be ready for Christmas again.) And of course, there are the resolutions.  Every good fourth grade teacher makes her students write some goals for the upcoming year, which always gets me thinking about mine…

A lot of people have sworn off New Year’s resolutions, and I can respect that.  A new start isn’t always necessary, and when it is, it can come any day of the year- that I do believe.  But I’ve never been able to resist the added motivation of a fresh start that comes with a fresh year. Granted, last year, I decided that my New Year’s resolutions would instead be Martin Luther King Day resolutions because I was still just too worn out from the holidays to get it together by January 1st, but I did still set some new goals at least.  I think the delayed start may have enabled me to keep my new habits up until President’s Day instead of Valentine’s Day last year, but I’ve never once made it to March.

So why do I keep making these short-lived resolutions year after year?  This is a question I’ve been pondering lately and I’ve decided it’s because I’ve bought into the idea that so many women (and men) have- that I’m not (and will I ever be?) good enough.  I tell myself that if I were healthier, more organized, more physically fit, more spiritual, simply more TOGETHER…THEN, my life could truly begin.  I use the terms, “one day,” “if only” and “maybe eventually” way too much and I convince myself that God uses the same phrases when He looks down on my life, as He too shakes His head and wonders if I’ll ever begin to live up to what He had in mind for me. 

This year, as I assess where I am and where I’d like to be, some lessons that I learned just recently keep creeping into my mind and challenging this perception that I’ve always had.  This fall, I participated in a small group Bible study by Priscilla Shirer entitled Gideon and subtitled “Your weakness.  God’s strength.”  This Bible study was eye-opening and I’d venture to say even life-changing for me, as I’ve always had an issue with pride and wanting others to think I’m perfect (or at least darn near perfect).   The idea that God intentionally fashioned us with imperfections that are meant to draw attention to His strength was a concept that had somehow escaped me for thirty years’ worth of church attendance. 

The author of the study used the metaphor that our weakness is a specifically designed key that unlocks a door would otherwise remain closed, both to us and to others who would benefit from it being opened.  She also pointed out that even once we recognize that we have the key for a reason and it unlocks that door, the door will still remain closed if we choose not to open it.  Opening it reveals opportunities to know God, both for us and for those around us, in ways that we never would have experienced Him otherwise.  But as long as we hide our key away and keep the door sealed, we are limiting how much He can be glorified through our lives.

God used this study to speak to me about my own weaknesses and the ways He could use them if only I’d let go of my pride and turn the key in that door.  And now He’s using it to remind me that there are other doors just waiting to be opened NOW, not “one day,” “if only,” or “maybe eventually.”  It would be great to improve myself as I take on those new opportunities…to eat healthy, get myself organized, exercise more, get it together…and of course, to be more deeply rooted in Him.  However, He is always ready and willing to use me NOW if only I’ll let Him. 

God’s plans aren’t always what we have in mind.  This year, He has shown me just how much He can do with a life that I would have considered completely derailed more than once.  My challenge to myself, as well as to each of you, as we are faced with a brand new year, is to let God meet us where we are.  It doesn’t matter to Him that we think we need to lose a few pounds, clean out our closets, cut out soda, or even go to church, read our Bible and pray more first.  There are opportunities NOW all around us – not once we save up for that mission trip, once our family circumstances are different, or once we learn how to manage our time better.  I promise you that He wants to use each of us to share His love TODAY, just the way we are, because His power is made perfect in weakness.  He’s just waiting on us to open the door.  And maybe someone else is too.

But He said to me, 
“My grace is sufficient for you, 
for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  
-2 Corinthians 12:9

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Hardest Question

Kids almost always speak what’s on their mind.  That’s one of the things I love about them.  It’s also one of the things that drives me craziest about them.  Especially when I’m asked the hardest question, the one I’ve yet to figure out how to answer, the one that inevitably comes more often than I’m prepared for (and seemingly more so this time of year):  “Mrs. Jones, don’t you want to have kids?”

I always smile, pat the unassuming, innocent fourth grader on the head or back, and say, “Of course, I’d love to have kids one day.”  They always smile and nod, satisfied with the answer, because in reality, they were just making sure I genuinely like them as much as I seem to.  They can’t imagine why someone who loves being with them as much as I obviously do wouldn’t want my own little person to come home to.  So, I assure them that I’d like nothing more, with a smile and a simple answer.  That’s the easiest and only way to explain it to a nine-year-old.  

But sometimes, I stop and consider how I’d answer if I could actually be honest.  If I could speak the truth when asked the hardest question, I’d reply with these words:  “I want to have a child the way most people want to win the lottery.”  At this point, it certainly feels like my odds are similar in both situations.  I can’t imagine it actually happening but if it did, I’d be thrilled beyond imagination.  I’d thank the Lord, thank my lucky stars, check and double check the facts to make sure it was true, and quite possibly hire a skywriter to announce the news.  Then, I’d start praying in earnest that I could handle such a tremendous and long-awaited blessing with grace, with poise, and with faithfulness to the God who gives perfect gifts. 

With that said, I don’t gamble much.  I’m just as content with what I already have in my possession as I am with the prospect of going double or nothing.  In the same way that I don’t buy a handful of lottery tickets each week, I haven’t put it all on the line for a chance at a child of our own the way many would expect someone in my situation to do.  I would never, ever judge a person for any risk they took in this area, because the reward is certainly worth the risk (considerably more so than is the case with the lottery).  But for me, there has been greater reward than I ever could have imagined in learning to be content here and now, without taking a risk at all.

Technically, the person who buys one lottery ticket has a fair chance to win just as much as the person who buys 1,000.  Especially if you believe, as I do, that there’s a higher power picking the numbers, and He knows best- every. single. time.  

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, 
because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists 
and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  
-Hebrews 11:6

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Twelve Days Before Christmas Break

This time of year, I’m regularly met with looks of pity from friends, family, and strangers on the street when they are met with the fact that I teach elementary school.  The mere thought of being trapped in a classroom with twenty-some hyped up, excited, antsy kids for six hours a day in December is enough to make an average person squirm.  For us teachers, it’s just another hazard of the profession that we take on with a smile (even if it’s fake at times).

As we face the last couple of weeks before Christmas break, it occurs to me that this has to be the longest 12 days of the entire school year.  Longer than those first 12 days when you haven’t quite mastered their names or their quirks, longer than those pin-drop quiet days of testing in May, and even longer than those 12 ninety degree days in June when the kids have become more like bickering siblings than studious classmates.  The only people who find that time absolutely crawls this time of year to an even greater degree than those kiddos who are counting down to Santa are their teachers, who are trying to contain them for twelve. more. days.

In honor of this joyful stretch of time, I’ve compiled a list of things that every elementary teacher will either say or at least think over these glorious 12 days.  My prayer for us all is that most of these will remain thoughts and not become words, in the interest of holiday cheer. J

·        Yes, I know what a shelf elf is.  No, I do not want to hear about where you found yours this morning.  I’ve already heard the riveting details of six other shelf elves this morning.  And, no, I don’t remember what you said yours’ name is.
·        Another assembly? No problem.  Let me move the math test I really need to get in before Christmas break for the third time so we can watch another program that will get the kids extremely wound up. 
·        Is there any way to effectively clean up glitter?  Because I’m pretty sure it’s still going to be all over my guided reading table in March after that craft.
·        Could you possibly ask me again when our class party is going to be?  It’s the same day and time that it was the other hundred times you asked.  And yes, there will be food.
·        Yes, we still have homework.  I’m sorry but we can’t take a whole month off and still keep up with the pacing guide. 
·        Did your mom really let you wear that jewelry that jingles or that shirt that lights up to school today?  Because we weren’t distracted enough as it was.
·        Thank you for the coffee mug.  It’s just what I’ve always wanted.  (Not to sound ungrateful, but sometimes I have to wonder if anyone notices that I drink Mountain Dew every single morning- never coffee.  A can of Mountain Dew would have been perfect!)
·        If you teach K-3rd grade: Yes, we are going to watch Polar Express and wear our pajamas.  If you teach 4th-5th grade: No, we are not going to watch Polar Express and wear our pajamas.  You have the whole movie memorized because you’ve done that for the past four years.  Sorry, you’re big now. 
·        Can you PLEASE just sit down and calm down?  For five minutes even? 

But you know what?  For every time I’ll be counting to ten under my breath these couple of weeks, there will be another time that I’m counting my blessings.  Because despite the chaos and craziness, there is no more magical place to be than an elementary school in December.  Eyes are brighter, steps are lighter, and smiles come more easily than any other time of year.  I love those twenty-some antsy kids, I’m glad they’re excited, and I hope their Christmas will live up to all the hype.  And I’ll be extra grateful for them when their sleepy, calmer little selves drag in on January 6th...