Monday, March 31, 2014


This has to be my least favorite word in the English language.  At the same time, I’m drawn to it.  Every time I’ve heard it spoken or seen it written the past few years, I’ve stopped dead in my tracks, trying it on for size.  Does it really describe me?  Is that who I am?  Has there ever been a word more empty, more haunting, sharper in truth?

The teacher in me loves my Merriam-Webster dictionary app.  I usually use it for school purposes, but it also comes in handy on a personal level.  I’ve probably typed in this six-letter word more than any other, seeking to understand more about how I feel inside.  There is a long definition but one line always jumps out at me and grabs at my heart: “devoid, lacking.” 

Devoid is defined as “being without a usual, typical, or expected attribute,” and we all know what lacking means.  We’ve all felt this way in some aspect of our life at one time or another- not good enough…left out…inferior.  Sometimes there’s something we can do about it: try harder, change our circumstances, focus on a different aspect of our lives.  But what happens when you HAVE tried your hardest, the circumstances are truly out of your control and you’re still devoid and lacking in the one aspect of life that everyone is MOST focused on (and for good reason)?  What happens when you can’t escape the painful reminder that you ARE devoid and lacking…because there it is, all the time: on your Facebook feed, in every lunch table conversation, on the aisles of Target, on TV, in magazines, at every dreaded family reunion, even in the pages of your Bible when all you’re seeking is some comfort and wisdom?

I’ve often complained to my husband that no one understands the pain that comes with infertility (unless they’ve been there) and he, being a man of true faith, always points me back to God.  “There are reasons we can’t see,” “God really does care,” “He can fill this hole in your heart if you’ll just let Him…” Brent always has all the “right” answers but in these moments, I am rarely in a state to listen fairly.  There is also a noun form of the word “barren,” meaning "a track of barren land."  Under synonyms for this form of the word is the term “no-man’s-land.”  I’m sure Brent would wholeheartedly agree. 

However, thanks both to these nudges from my husband and to my deep-seated faith that remains even in my most seemingly faithless moments, I have often turned to the Bible (in addition to but so much more importantly than my dictionary app) for clarity.  There is one passage in the Bible that begins with that six-letter word and ends with the most important promise we need to remember.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try or how difficult our circumstances are; it really IS all about focus. 

“ ‘Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,’ says the Lord.”  (Isaiah 54:1) …“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.  Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.  You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.  For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is His name – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.”  (Isaiah 54:4-5)

I can’t say that I’m singing about this yet and I’m not sure I ever will.  I don’t feel a shout of joy coming on and I’m a little confused about how I’ll ever have “more” children than anyone else despite all this, even figuratively.  However, I do feel afraid sometimes, and I know that disgrace and humiliation all too well.  Those references confirm to me that these Words are real, true and applicable.  And I also know my Maker, the Lord Almighty, the Holy One who IS my Redeemer.  I know that He IS God of all the earth, including this little life I call my own.  In truth, my life is His, just like everything else, and He truly does know best. 

I get a little glimpse of this truth every day when twenty-some kids call me “Mrs. Jones,” even if not one will ever call me “Mom.” I remember these facts when I’m serving at church, working with the youth and the kids, doing things I may not have time to do if I had two or three little ones by now.  I am reminded of His perfect plan every time that darn near perfect husband of mine takes a deep breath and explains how much he loves me (no matter what!) one more time, as patiently as the first time I questioned him.  I feel peace flood my heart when God speaks to me through a friend, someone whom He so obviously has placed in my path deliberately. His redemption comes in many forms.  We just have to look for it.

When I look at the people and opportunities God HAS blessed me with, I feel anything but devoid and lacking.  Perhaps I could be defined by that empty, haunting, and sharp word: “barren,” but that doesn’t mean it has to define me.

Freebies and Followers

I am excited to say that my Teachers Pay Teachers venture is still going very well!  If you haven’t checked out this website yet, you really should.  Even if you aren’t interested in selling your own work, it’s a great place to purchase products to enhance your classroom that truly will be worth more than you pay for them.  Furthermore, there are SO many free products on TPT; I check this website first now every time I plan a new unit. 

Speaking of freebies, I just added a few more freebies to my TPT store.  My store is linked as “Shop (TPT)” at the top of this page.  My first freebie (a Comprehension Packet for the novel Sarah, Plain and Tall) has been downloaded more than 800 times so I decided it was well worth it to create another, this time for the novel Esio Trot by Roald Dahl.  If you are a teacher or homeschool mom, definitely check these out and if you are parent just looking for ways to keep your child busy over spring break or this summer, check them out as well.  “Follow” me on TPT to get the latest information on my new products including freebies, as creating these Comprehension Packets and related products has become somewhat of an obsession to me, so more are being added all the time.  

I really do use these products in my own classroom daily, so I also wanted to share a little bit about how that works for me.  Sometimes the whole class reads the same novel; other times, I split the class into two groups.  I’ve done this a couple of different ways.  For example, in the fall, I ran two “Titanic” reading groups.   My “at” or “below” grade level students read I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1812 by Lauren Tarshis, while I worked with a small group of “above” grade level readers on Titanic: Unsinkable, the first book in a trilogy by Gordon Korman.  Just recently, I worked this in the opposite way instead.  My “at” or “above” grade level readers read Ribsy by Beverly Cleary and my below grade level readers read Socks by Beverly Cleary.  While these books are written at about the same level and are the same number of chapters, Ribsy is longer and it gave my more advanced readers a chance to work on their stamina independently and in pairs while I worked with my “below” grade level readers on the shorter novel in a small group.

Whether we are working as a whole class or in groups, we begin each chapter by looking up the vocabulary words using the Vocabulary Powerpoint.  Students make vocabulary flashcards for the words, with the word and page number on the front and the definition on the back.  I cut 3x5 index cards in half for these cards and provided my students with word boxes at the beginning of the year (the penny pencil boxes from Staples).  These cards are used later for review games.  Once they’ve made their cards, they look up the words and we read the sentences containing the words and discuss their part of speech and meaning, using context clues.  After that, we preview the worksheet from the Comprehension Packet so we know what to look for as we read.

We mix up how we read the chapter each day.  Sometimes I have the book on CD and sometimes I read to the students.  When I read out loud, I pause once in a while and expect the students to say the next word out loud so I’ll know that they’re “with me.”  Other times, they buddy read, read round-robin style at their table or read independently.  I try to use a variety of methods for each book, as different methods yield different benefits.  After reading the chapter, students complete their Comprehension Packet worksheet for the day.  I have these stapled in packets according to quizzes.  For example, if there is a quiz after the first 5 chapters, I staple the first 5 pages together as a packet.  After the quiz, students will receive a packet with Chapters 6-10.  Students receive a grade on the each packet of 3-5 worksheets.  Grading each worksheet individually would be overwhelming.

Finally, my favorite part of this process involves a product that I did NOT create but that can be purchased on Teachers Pay Teachers for a nominal cost.  At the end of class, I put students in groups of 3-5 to discuss that day’s Comprehension Packet sheet.  We use a method called “Talking Sticks” created by Laura Candler.  This strategy gets all students involved in the discussion and forces them to take turns speaking intelligently with one another about what they have read.  We also have a “house” rule that no one can begin their statement with the words “I put…” This activity helps students achieve the Speaking and Listening objectives for Common Core.

If you have questions about the products in my TPT store or if you have suggestions, feedback, or requests for future Novel Units, please let me know.   I love the way technology allows us all to share resources and teaching ideas.  The possibilities are endless!

Sunday, March 16, 2014


A student from my fourth grade class visited our church with his family today.  My favorite thing about teaching and going to church in close proximity are opportunities I get to teach children in a public school classroom and then worship alongside the same children (and later teenagers) on Sundays.  For me, this is what it’s all about.

This morning, I was very lucky because this student and his friend (who has always come to my church) came and sat next to me.  I smiled as they put their heads together to find the right pages in the hymn book and asked me to help them find the appropriate book in the Bible.  However, as precious as these moments were, I can’t say they’re what stuck out to me most. 

The most striking moment came during the offertory music, as I reached for my purse for a piece of gum.  I held out the pack to the boys and quietly asked if either of them would like a piece.  One boy (the one I’ve known longer) immediately took me up on the offer. The other boy looked just as anxious to grab his piece, but paused and looked over his shoulder, two rows back to his mom, and asked, “Can I have some gum?” I turned around to smile at her and found her fumbling in her purse for some gum.  I whispered, “I have the gum.  He’s just asking for permission.”  We both laughed and she nodded.  I smiled and whispered, “He’s well-trained.” 

As he unwrapped his gum and handed me back his wrapper, I thought about how odd it felt that he asked permission from his mom, when he spends 30+ hours a week looking to me for those answers.  I have no delusion that I’m anywhere close to as important as a parent in my students’ lives, but still…it was just a piece of gum.  I found it impressive that he was so respectful, so restrained, and so well-trained, as I told his mom, to stop and ask before taking.

Maybe it was just because we were in church, but next I began to think that just as this boy’s mom should be proud of the way he handled himself, God would be proud if we handled ourselves similarly.  It’s so easy to forget who we belong to, who sets up our opportunities, who directs our paths and knows our every move before we take it.  Just as this boy easily could have forgotten who was charge of him in that moment, we forget who is in charge of us all the time.  We get caught up in a certain career path, family plan, financial opportunity, or even church project and before long, we are convinced that it belongs to US or to at least to our boss, our pastor, our financial advisor, our friends or family.  We look to everyone BUT God for our next step, our next payday, our next opportunity, so that even when these things are presented to us as part of His plan, we completely leave Him out of the process. 

I’m not suggesting that you stop and pray the next time before you pop a piece of gum in your mouth.  But I am suggesting our lives might be different (better) if we stopped to consult our Father in those moments we’ve taken into our own hands far too often.  We say we pray about big decisions, but how often do we really listen for the answer?  Most of the time, we already have our minds made up about what is best for us.  When it comes to the good, seemingly innocent, opportunities that come our way, how often do we stop and ask God if that’s really the path He has planned for us? 

I’ve often struggled with the concept of truly handing my life over to Him.  What does that look like?  Am I anywhere close?  How does that apply on a practical, daily basis?  I think I saw a glimpse of it this morning, as a boy didn’t even reach for what was offered until he had permission from the one who is in charge of him.  I know this kid pretty well, and I feel sure that he would’ve kept smiling and maybe just shrugged even if the answer had been “no” for some reason.  I don’t think he would have argued or even asked “why?” – simply trusting that his mom knew best.

My prayer is that I can remember these lessons from a ten-year-old the next time I’m faced with a decision.  After all, sometimes all He wants is for us to ask.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.” 

-Matthew 7:7

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

It's Okay To Be 31

At some point, you run out of birthdays to look forward to.  Everyone wants to turn 16, 18, 21… I was even a little excited to turn 25 because that meant I could drive a rental car without extra insurance and take the church van for a joy ride.  But then what? 

Recently, I heard on TV that women feel the most confident about their bodies at age 27 and it’s downhill from there.  Based on my experience the past few years, I believe it. I doubt I’m the only one who has wondered how my “prime” slipped away so quickly and quietly, but now I’m starting to think maybe it seemed that way because it wasn’t my prime at all.

Last night, a friend commented on my Facebook page, “You’re at the perfect age.  It only gets better from here!” and unlike the lamenting of my 30th last year, I found myself thinking that maybe she’s right.  After all, 30 hasn’t killed me; in fact, I’d venture to say it’s been my greatest year of personal growth yet (and I’m not just talking about my jeans' size). 

So, in honor of my 31st birthday today, I’ve compiled a list of 31 reasons It's Okay to be 31...
  • You care SO MUCH less about what other people think than you did when you were 21, and that makes life SO MUCH easier.
  • (Hopefully) you have some major life decisions already figured out.  I hate decisions!
  • There are actually people at work who have less experience than you.
  • Speaking of work, you finally feel like you (kind of) know what you’re doing.
  •  It’s perfectly acceptable to be at home watching Dateline and drinking a glass of wine on Friday night.
  • It’s also perfectly acceptable to watch Jeopardy each night while you eat dinner on the couch (if it’s not, keep it to yourself).
  •  There’s really no reason to ever shop anywhere but The Loft and Target (and you have credit cards for both). 
  • There’s also no reason to ever wear anything but yoga pants when you’re at home, and make-up is optional.
  • You’ve traded in your first car (and maybe your second) for something nicer. 
  • Your dog is getting older, which means calm and cuddly.  You don’t really miss the wild puppy stage.
  •  If someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, you can use the excuse, “I’m too old for that.”
  • High school and college are both such distant memories that you only remember the good parts.
  • You’re over the shock of turning 30.
  • Reading is an acceptable (even cool) hobby.
  • Walking certainly counts as exercise.
  • You can actually afford to travel.
  • They now play songs from your high school years everywhere (yes, that’s me singing enthusiastically in the booth at Chili’s).
  • Speaking of music, you listen to what you like, not just what’s popular.  My sister calls my Ipod “Deana FM” because it’s so unpredictable [and GOOD :)].
  • You have almost a decade before you have to face the big 4-0.
  • You’ve learned the value of a good night’s sleep, a cup of coffee with a good friend, and thinking before you speak.
  • You and your significant other laugh together as much as you love together.
  • You’ve experienced enough in your life to feel like you can give some advice, AND to know how to take good advice.
  • Friends: you’ve learned which ones are worth keeping, which ones are worth making, and which ones you can live without.
  • Family: you understand its importance, especially as you watch your grandparents grow older.
  • Faith: it’s never been stronger than now that you’ve tested it and come out on the other side closer to God than you were before.
  • Speaking of faith, you’ve learned that prayer isn’t about getting what you want, but about finding out what God wants for you.
  • Some things that used to scare you don’t scare you anymore.
  • You’re figuring out who you (really) are and embracing that.
  • You’re halfway to retirement age.
  • If you’re smart like me, you know age is just a number and you’ve surrounded yourself with friends (and in my case, a husband) of various ages that remind you of that.
  • When picking out a donut, developing relationships, and judging yourself, you’ve learned that really only one rule applies: it’s what inside that counts.

As I blow out 31 candles tonight, I’m choosing to believe what my friend said: that I’m at the perfect age and it only gets better from here.  My wish for all of us is that we'll always believe that truth!