Thursday, July 31, 2014

Pray Them Up

Last year was a banner year for me in teaching.  I had a special group of kids that I’ll never forget.  They cared about each other, they worked together well, they were thoughtful and they wanted to grow.  I felt like I made a connection with each one.  I attributed that partly to the fact that I only had twenty students, at least four less than I had ever had before and eight or so less than I have most years.  That doesn’t sound like much, but when it’s translated into attention per ten-year-old, it goes a long way. 

Only about a week ago, as I began to think in more concrete terms about this school year, it occurred to me that maybe my amazing past year wasn’t totally due to the smaller class size.  Granted I’m probably looking for a silver lining because I’m back up to 28 students this year, but I’d like to think I could achieve that same sense of classroom community and trust no matter the class size.  As I was preparing for this year, I remembered a new tradition I had started and sensed God saying to me, “Maybe that’s why you had such a good year.”

My new tradition is this: last summer, I counted back from the first day of school the number of students on my roster.  Then, I made a list of one student to pray for each day.  I also looked up their pictures in an old yearbook so I could picture the child I was praying for that day.  (The added benefit of that is you know a lot of their names at Open House- a real parent pleaser and it makes the child comfortable right off the bat.)

What do you pray for, you might ask?  I pray for the whole child, because that whole child will be walking through my classroom door every morning.  That whole child, academically but also socially and emotionally, will be my responsibility for seven hours a day for a whole year.  It all matters- their home life, their self-esteem, their attitude toward others, their past school experiences, their friendships….and yes, their little soul.  I pray that each one of them will see Jesus in me and feel His love through me every single day. 

I do NOT believe that we get the answer we want to the prayers we pray every single time.  But I DO believe that prayer improves situations every single time.  When we pray, the conversation with God improves our perspectives, our hearts, our relationships, and our attitudes.  And if we could get those four things in line, it would make all the difference in our classrooms (and our lives).  Maybe that’s what happened last year in Room 319.  And it’s what I’m praying for again this year, starting this week.

I don’t share this to sound holy or together.  In truth, I choose to do this intentionally now because I know I won’t be together enough to pray this specifically each morning once those 28 little faces greet me each day (though I should).  I share this in hopes that some of you will take it as a challenge.  If you’re a teacher, do something similar.  If you aren’t a teacher, make a list of kids you know and start “praying them up,” as a dear, praying older lady in my church who is also a good friend of mine would say. 

If there’s anything that breaks my heart about teaching, it’s this observable fact: it’s not easy being a kid these days.  Pray them up.  They need it, they’ll feel it, and I choose to believe it will change their situations somehow.  Believe it with me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tag, You're It!

I hate to run.  I know that’s not a popular thing to say these days, but no amount of healthiness or trendiness will sway me.  It’s just not my thing.  Given the option in a game of freeze tag, I’d stay frozen all day.

Earlier this month, I attended summer camp with the youth from my church.  The theme for the week was “Tag, You’re It” and I could predict the correlations they’d make when it comes to hitting the ground running for God.  I was just glad we were talking about spiritual running and not physical running, even though one can be just as taxing as the other depending on the situation.

What I didn’t expect was the skit the opening night, in which the drama team leaned on another definition of the word “tag.”  They each were wearing “tags” that labeled them.  It was a school setting so there were the typical tags you’d expect: jock, nerd, goody two-shoes, class clown, outcast, etc.  Then there was another group that simply wore a label that said, “HIS.”  This group welcomed the other characters in the skit into their group with a smile. They included everyone, but removed their previous label and replaced it with one like theirs that simply read, “HIS.”

The point of the skit is that we’ve all been “tagged.”  We let ourselves be defined by our personality, our talents, our friends, our families, our jobs, our accomplishments and failures…  We carry those tags everywhere we go and often we let them drive our decisions and our every day lives, sometimes even when they don’t represent the truth.

The truth is that God has tagged those of us who follow Him as “HIS.”  This tag overrules all the others.  We should be able to not only place it on top of the other tags, but we should rip off the others and replace them with this new one.  Too often, we not only keep wearing the other tags but we use them as excuses:  

  • I’m not of any use to Him because I’m _______________.   
  • He’ll never forgive me for _______________.   
  • If He really loved me, I wouldn’t be _______________.   
  • Why would anyone else listen to me as long as I’m _______________?

We’re so quick to forget that we have ALL been tagged.  There are tags that we’d like to rip off, but there is also THE tag that not only allows us, but demands us, to rip off the others.  Satan loves to remind us of all the other tags.  But if we’ll focus on the only one that counts, we’ll be able to live our lives the way Christ intended. 

The rest of the week focused on equipping teens to hit the ground running spiritually, as I originally suspected.  Once we realize He has tagged us, there’s always a job for us to do.  We had four full days at camp, each one with a different focus: Pray.  Share.  Defend.  Lead.  Depending on who we are and where we are, we’ll be at a different place on that continuum on any given day.  But staying frozen isn’t an option once we’ve been tagged.  Action is required.  

Let us not forget.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: 
The old has gone, the new is here!” 
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

For we are God’s handiwork, 
created in Christ Jesus to do good works, 
which God prepared in advance for us to do.” 
(Ephesians 2:10)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Partying with Plastic Cups

(not the red Solo kind)

My little sister and her husband just bought their first house.  They’ve been homeowners since they got married six years ago, but they just made the jump from a condo to a house.  Right away, I told Donnay I wanted to throw them a housewarming party and right away she started balking it.  She said, “We’ve been married for years, we both have good jobs, we have what we need…” and so on but I finally convinced her that it wasn’t about the gifts.  It was about celebrating the new house and kicking off all the fun times they’d have in it. 

And it was about the food.  Because every good party is about the food.

So she finally produced a short guest list for me and gave me the green light for an intimate gathering with no emphasis on gifts.  I told her that was fine with me, because of course I was planning to emphasize the food.   Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to overdo it when it comes to entertaining and food.  And when it’s summer and I have extra time on my hands, it can get a little crazy.  Which it did. 

I saw a lot of ideas on Pinterest about serving housewarming party food in individual serving cups in order to cut down on spills and encourage mingling and milling about the new house.  So, I ordered these plastic 9 oz. tumblers online and started pinning foods that could be prepared in little plastic cups.  


Individual Seven-Layer Dip
(makes 8 servings for 9 oz. plastic tumblers- multiply as needed)
All ingredients should be split eight ways and spread into the cups.
Layer 1: 16 oz. can refried beans mixed with 1 package taco seasoning
Layer 2: 1 cup guacamole
Layer 3: 1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
Layer 4: 1 cup chunky salsa
Layer 5: 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
Layer 6: 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
Layer 7: 1 (2.25 ounce) can of sliced olives, drained
*Serve with tortilla chips.

Mixed Fruit with Honey Lime Dressing
(makes 30 individual servings)
2 quarts strawberries
2 pints blueberries
2 pounds white seedless grapes
Wash, cut, cap, etc. all fruit and mix with ¼ cup honey and juice from 2 limes. 


Key Lime
(makes 15 individual servings)
1.  Mix together:
8 oz. package cream cheese
1 can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup fresh lime juice
2.  Then, fold in 8 oz. Cool Whip
3.  Crush a box of Nilla wafer cookies.  Mix with one stick melted butter.
4.  Layer crust mixture with lime mixture.
5.  Dollop with Cool Whip and garnish with lime slice, if desired.

Strawberry Brownie
(makes 15 individual servings)
1.  Prepare a brownie mix as directed.  Let cool.  Cut into 1 in. squares.
2.  Cap and thinly slice one quart of strawberries.
3.  Mix 2 (3.4 oz) boxes of French vanilla instant pudding with 2 cups milk.  Whisk until thickened.  Fold in 8 oz. Cool Whip.
4.  Layer 2-3 brownie squares, strawberries, drizzle of chocolate shell syrup, and pudding mixture.  Repeat. 

Peanut Butter Chocolate
(makes 25 individual servings)
1.  Prepare a brownie mix as directed.  Let cool.  Cut into 1 in. squares.
2.  Mix 2 (5.1 oz.) boxes of vanilla instant pudding with 4 cups milk.  Whisk until thickened.  Add 1 cup creamy peanut butter and 4 teaspoons vanilla flavoring.  Fold in 12 oz. Cool Whip.
3.  Cut miniature peanut butter cups in half.  I used an entire family size bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups.
4.  Layer 2-3 brownie squares, 2-3 peanut butter cup halves, and pudding mixture.  Repeat.

We also had our family favorite, Sir Pizza, as a main course. 

I got lucky and found these cute paper products that match the colors in Donnay’s house at Dollar Tree. 

The individual servings and different choices were a big hit, and as an added bonus, Skittles enjoyed being able to help with the leftovers.