Sunday, October 26, 2014

Compassion

I tried to explain compassion in class this week.  We finished a novel about a Cherokee girl on the Trail of Tears (Soft Rain by Cornelia Cornilessen) and compassion was a theme of the story.   The Cherokee had to show compassion to one another to survive the journey, and some of the white people along the way showed compassion to the Cherokee as well.   I said, “Compassion is when you go out of your way to show kindness to someone else, especially when they’re in a difficult situation.” 

Generally about the time I think I’m in control of one of these class discussions, the roles reverse and a student ends up teaching me.  This was the case in this moment, as a hand came up in the back and a student bravely and carefully began to share about a difficult situation they had been in and how a family member went out of their way to help.  I know this student’s background and I know the story was told from the heart.  The rest of the class could sense this as well, as you could’ve heard a pin drop in the room as the story wrapped up.  The closing words from this student were, “If that person hadn’t shown compassion on me, I don’t know where I’d be today. 

I will admit I blinked back tears as I attempted to sum up what had been said and how it related to the lesson; in truth, it was probably the most meaningful statement that’s been made in my classroom all year.  I am rarely the person in that room with the most important words to share.  It always amazes me how many times I’ve heard a nine-year-old cut to the heart of a matter with one simple thought. 

God calls us to show compassion, but why?  In the busyness and pressure of real life, it’s easy to forget to show kindness, easy to look the other way when someone else is in a difficult situation.  We don’t see what we could gain by reaching out and we make all kinds of excuses… God will take care of them, someone else will do it, it’s really not my problem, and sometimes- they brought it on themselves.  Until we’re the one in NEED of compassion… Then, suddenly, it’s so clear why God calls us to SHOW compassion.  When you’re the one hurting and most everyone else is looking the other way, if just one person reaches out, it can make all the difference.  I know because I’ve been there.  And I don’t know where I’d be today without the compassion that was shown to me.

But what if we don’t step up to the call? Often those excuses dancing around in our mind are really just our best subconscious effort at disguising God’s voice nudging us in that direction.  Maybe we’re afraid to reach out, because we know that touching someone else’s pain will remind us that, in truth, it IS our problem too, that the only thing keeping us from that difficult situation is the grace of God.  And He’s trying to show His grace to that person now through us, if only we’ll let Him. 

My sweet, smart sister shared about her recent medical missions trip to Haiti at church this morning.  I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of people she and the team she traveled with showed compassion on that week.  As their faces flashed up on a screen during her slideshow, I thought, “If they hadn’t shown compassion on them, where would they be today?” It would have been easy for my sister (and the others) to stay home where they are comfortable, to ignore God’s voice telling them to go.  But what would that have meant for those people who needed their help?

It was a great opportunity my sister had to go on this trip, and many more of should seek such opportunities to show compassion in such an extraordinary way.  But what about in our ordinary every day lives?  There are people in difficult situations all around us.  Will we choose to reach out, or will we cower and look the other way?   

We’ve all been there, on both sides… sometimes feeling the call to help but not quite knowing what to do, other times wishing someone would help us but not quite knowing how to ask.  God puts people in our lives for a reason, and not every person is called to help in every situation.  But if God is calling you to reach out and you the miss the chance… Well, let’s just not go there.  Instead, let those words echo in your mind as well: If that person hadn’t shown compassion on me, I don’t know where I’d be today.”  And let’s not make them find out.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

When God Says No

If God wanted us to have a baby, we would.  I’ve said this consistently over the last five years.  It’s the general idea-- the deep-seated feeling inside me-- that has driven many of our decisions the last few years.  Our diagnosis of “unexplained” infertility only solidified this belief for me.  It’s not for us to know why, but one day God will explain it.  For now, He has His reasons.

I’ve only recently admitted to myself that I’ve been letting myself believe “one day” would come sooner rather than later.  I could see and accept reasons why God would delay this desire to start our family, but surely he wouldn’t deny it altogether.  I’ve allowed myself to imagine a light at the end of the tunnel that may or may not be just a figment of my imagination.  Some may call it hope, but for me it’s been a means of survival, a reason to keep pressing on.  But as we’ve passed the five-year mark and exhausted the medical options we’re willing to try, that light has begun to flicker.  

It’s been said many times that God answers prayers in three ways: yes, not yet, or no.  We’re quick to praise Him when the answer is “yes” and we don’t mind encouraging one another through the challenges of “not yet.”  But what about when God says no?  It happens, more often than we’d care to admit, but it doesn’t sit too well at the dinner table with friends and family, it doesn’t preach too well from the pulpit, and it doesn’t look very pretty in the dead of night when we’re crying tears that just won’t stop.

Why is it that we struggle so desperately when the answer is “no?”  It goes against human nature to think there are things completely out of our control, desires that may not be fulfilled no matter how good we are, how hard we work, or how much we just plain want it.  We’re afraid to talk about it for fear that other people will judge us the same way we judge ourselves.  Maybe I’m NOT good enoughMaybe I need to try even harderWhat’s wrong with me that I want something so badly that I just can’t have?  So we keep our mouths shut, we keep smiling, we keep pressing on…we keep all these questions, all this torment, inside. 

The truth is hard to see in the dead of night, hard to feel in the midst of so many conflicting emotions that ravage a broken heart, hard to hear when only one word echoes in an exhausted mind: “no.”  But the truth is still there, and the truth is worth talking about.  The truth is God is still God and sometimes we don’t get to choose the path He has laid out for us.  But there is more to that truth—a “no” doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us, doesn’t mean He has forgotten, doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough, doesn’t mean there is no hope.  It simply means “no.”  The rest of it we’ve added ourselves, or in some cases, we’ve let the Devil himself creep in and add his own commentary. 

The only way to shed some light on the darkness of this particular “no” is to change my focus.  The light at the end of the tunnel that I’ve had my eyes laid on for years may very well have been a figment of my imagination, an illusion of a hopeful heart.  But as I blink and watch it fade away, that doesn’t mean I have nowhere else to look.  God’s been right there all along, not shining a light in the distance, but holding a lantern alongside me each step of the way. 

The answer may be no, but He has His reasons.  And not only is He still God, He is still good, even when the answer is no.    

Pirate Day

As a teacher, you quickly learn there are certain times of year the kids are going to be hyped up and you might as well just go with it and channel that energy in a positive direction.  In other words, "if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!"  That’s what my coworkers and I had in mind several years ago when we decided to deem one of the last school days in October as Pirate Day.  



What started as a desperate attempt to focus on something that might hold attention more strongly than costumes and candy has turned into a memorable, fun, AND curriculum-based tradition.  Since we teach state history in fourth grade, we cover the influence of pirates on the early Carolina coast in social studies.  On Pirate Day, we spend the whole day covering this topic in social studies, and we also integrate pirate activities so that we can spend the whole day talking about (and talking like!) pirates.  We allow the students to dress like pirates if they wish, and we have extra pirate supplies on hand for those who don’t dress up (bandanas, eye patches, etc.)  Just be careful to be clear that hooks, swords, and other plastic weapons aren’t allowed. 


There are so many pirate-themed activities out there that the possibilities are endless.  We focus a lot on Blackbeard, since he lived in Beaufort and was killed at Ocracoke Inlet, but we also read about and discuss other pirate of the Carolina coast such as Stede Bonnet, Charles Vane, Calico Jack, William Kidd, Anne Bonney ad Mary Read.  We study and design jolly rogers, we play Pirate Place Value games in math, we read books like How I Became a Pirate and write imaginative narratives.  We discuss the diet of a pirate and what type of impact their nutrition probably had on their health.  Each year, we change the activities somewhat as we find new resources and tire of old ones.  There are many websites, books, and other resources that make the only problem with planning Pirate Day narrowing it down to what you’d like to cover.  One of my favorite websites is qaronline.org, which is an organization devoted to the shipwreck of Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. 


Most of all, we try to get the students to understand the motivation of the pirates and who they really were.  The most challenging part of teaching fourth graders about pirates is separating fact from fiction, myth from reality.   My favorite part of pirate day is using an excerpt from the National Geographic TV movie Blackbeard: Terror at Sea to do just that (click the title to watch on YouTube).  I learned about this film at a workshop a few years ago, and it is the most realistic depiction of the pirate era that I’ve seen.  The entire film wouldn’t be appropriate for fourth grade (violence) but the first ten minutes allow students to experience a pretty accurate idea of what piracy and the life of Blackbeard was really like.   After showing this excerpt, I pose the following questions: (answers in italics)


-What did Edward Teach want?  Compare/contrast to what Charles Vane wanted.
Charles Vane wanted money and power.  Blackbeard just wanted to be remembered.
-Why do you think Mr. Hands and Blackbeard became friends?  Give evidence.
Mr. Hands saved his life.  They seemed to want the same things.
-What kind of person makes a pirate?  What do they all have in common?
First and foremost, a pirate was a sailor.  All kinds of people were pirates.  The sea bound them together.
-Who elects a pirate ship’s captain?  What qualities must they possess?
The crew of the ship elected the captain.  He must be strong, fair, and successful.  
-Why were the colonies concerned with pirates? 
They stole from trade ships and threatened violence. 
-At what point in American history was the Golden Age of Piracy?  How long was Blackbeard’s reign?
The Golden Age of Piracy took place late 1600’s-early 1700’s.  Blackbeard’s reign was 2 years long.


If you too decide to attempt Pirate Day this year, your day won’t be complete without serving up Pirate’s Pot Luck.  


Pirate’s Pot Luck
Goldfish ~ "Rotten Tadpoles"
Pretzels ~ "Smoked Dried Eel"
Mini Marshmallows ~ "Whale Blubber Bits"
Potato Sticks ~ "Pirate Toothpicks"
Candy Corn ~ "Pirate's false teeth"
Chex Cereal ~ "Wood Chips"
Chocolate Chips ~ "Squid Eyes"
Raisins ~ "Ship Bugs"
Bugles ~ "Peg Fingers"

If my coworkers and I, who are true landlubbers, can pull this off, anyone can!  Good luck, mateys!