A Message to Teachers at Christmas Break

Oh Dear Teachers –

You are almost there. We know you are weary. You have every reason to be. Keep hanging on. We see you and recognize there are a million and one reasons these days before break probably each feel like their own marathon. Know that there are so many of us cheering for you.

As I have engaged with more and more teachers over the years, I have only grown increasingly fond of you…as individuals and as a collective group. You have much to be proud of. You are shaping the minds of our future generations. Educating our future world changers. Planting seeds. Shaping dreams and paths of life. You are calling forth what is good and valuable in our children and encouraging those things to shine. You are modeling relationships and teaching about love and tolerance and forgiveness. You are providing a place that is safe and consistent. It is like a second home to our children.

You are like a mother, like a father, like another family to them. Your hearts are for them. All. Of. Them.

I see the way you want to provide the best for your students. You are fighting on their behalf. All of the budgeting of resources, of time, of money is for their benefit. A constant quest for what is best for them. A longing to ignite their minds while caring for their physical and emotional being.

I see the way you carry the worries of your students. While I know the struggles of one of your students (my own) and a handful of others, you know the struggles of an entire classroom and sometimes a good portion of the school. It must feel so heavy at times.

You’ve heard about mom’s illness. You’re pretty sure the cancer has come back with a vengeance. You make special efforts to make eye contact with your student and remind them that they are not alone.

You’ve heard about the yelling and fighting. You’ve learned that your student is staying with grandma “for a few days”. One of their siblings is with another family member. You greet them by name every time they comes into your room and remind them that the class just wouldn’t be the same without them.

You know about all of the appointments. All of the tests. You make arrangements to gather the assignments and help your student understand what they may be missing when they are gone. You wonder and wait for answers as to why the symptoms keep coming back. You do what you can to help them feel like a part of your class even though they are gone so often.

You see the little guy who walks into the classroom late most mornings. You know there are reasons. It disrupts the flow of your routine. You see him staring at the ground when he walks in. You know he is embarrassed and wished he could be on time like everyone else. You resist showing your frustration because you know that there are a multitude of factors outside of his control. You smile at him and tell him you’re glad he’s joined you.

You’ve read about the factory closing in town. The little guy whose dad works there sits in your front row. He tells you he’s sad because his dad no longer has a job and his mom is worried about their bills. You tell him that you’re sorry and attempt to convince him that parents always have a way of figuring things out.

You see the little gal whose joy has turned to sadness. You know how she used to practically dance as she walked down your hallways. You know something has changed but no one has shared with you the why. You wonder. You share jokes with her here and there in a quest to bring out the laughter you once heard from her.

You are teachers. You chose this profession years ago because you wanted to change the world…one child at a time. You are doing it. And sometimes changing the world in the ways you do, must feel really hard.

We see your hearts. You have loved them well. Thank you doesn’t seem quite adequate.

Now rest. It’s okay to let it go. To release the worries that you have carried for these children that you have poured into day after day. It’s okay to release yourself from their struggles. It means no less of the compassion you hold for them. As you leave for the holidays, it is okay to close the door to your classroom….literally and figuratively.

That you might be able to let go.

And. Find. Rest.

And. Seek. Peace.

In the stillness of the morning.

In the laughter o your home.

In the beauty of the snowfall.

In the familiar melodies.

In the connection with those you love.

In the story we celebrate.

And in the quiet of the night.

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Increasing My Capacity to Love Through My Willingness to Be Uncomfortable

Just like you, I have watched the news clips and I have read the articles. I have felt the anger and I have even felt moments of fear. I have felt deep sadness as I have watched the events unfold. Human fighting human. Hate lashing out. Fear lashing out. Darkness being revealed.

I want to love deeper because Jesus requests this of me.

I’ve called on Jesus to transform my heart and have asked Him to reveal the ways I have bought into hate, bought into fear.

I’ve written my post encouraging us towards more.

I attended an event declaring hope for love and unity and I lit my candle with all of the others in attendance.

But it doesn’t seem like enough.

Because I face this dilemma…

A dilemma that I am not proud to admit.

But nonetheless, here it is…

I realize that I am just a few steps away from fading back into the world of pretending that there is not a human against human problem. A problem that leads to humans beating other humans with flags and torches and fists. A problem that leads to humans spraying fire from aerosol cans, and throwing rocks and punches. A problem that leads to cars being driven into crowds with the intention of devastation.

I watched these horrific images as they were occurring two short weeks ago. I saw similar images in the days that followed. They continue. The stories haven’t gone away.  And yet…I am just steps away from slipping back into my alternate reality where it didn’t really happen…where it’s not still happening. And I recognize that this is not okay.

If I actually believe that love is necessary to change this human against human problem, I genuinely MUST be willing to increase my capacity to love. Like our physical bodies that do not become stronger unless they are pushed out past their limits, my capacity to love is increased through my stretching and moving beyond what is comfortable for me today.

I must ask myself who I am uncomfortable loving. Ugh. I know…I really just said that.

And because today I am referring to the type of love that is demonstrated through my actions, I am asking the deeper question of who I am uncomfortable interacting with. I am asking this question because it leads me to a deeper truth about myself. I am asking this question because I actually have answers. When I ask myself who I am uncomfortable interacting with, I find out who I struggle to love.

I am far from proud to admit this, but there are people groups that I avoid. I avoid them with my presence. I avoid them with my words. I avoid them with my eyes. And this is not love.

I am grieved by the way my avoidance adds to this human against human problem.

And so today, I commit to stretch my capacity to love. I commit to make myself uncomfortable so that what is uncomfortable today may become comfortable tomorrow.

I will lift up my head and stop avoiding with my presence, with my words and with my eyes.

I will choose to say hello. I will choose to smile. I will choose to wave. I will choose to ask, “How are you?” and wait patiently for a response. I will choose to do this especially when I know I am uncomfortable. How can I live out Jesus’ command to love my neighbors if I keep pretending that some of them aren’t even there?

I know that these actions may seem small and insignificant to some. That’s okay.

For me and for any of the rest of us knowingly a few steps away from slipping back into the alternate reality that everything is just fine, would you consider another option?

Ask yourself the hard question…who do you struggle to love?

Take an uncomfortable step…say hello. Wave. Ask them about their day. Listen.

Know that these steps are good. Simple as they may sound.

Despite the awkward.

Despite the discomfort. 

Change occurs through the awkward.

Change occurs through the discomfort. 

A Letter to the Educators Returning to School After Your 8-Week Summer Vacation

Well, another summer break is ending and you’re making your last minute preparations to jump back into the classroom. You’re tidying up your lesson plans and scouring over your schedule and student lists. You’re taking deep breaths every day and giving yourself pep talks about the adventures of the upcoming year. For some, you may be feeling those first day of school excitement jitters like the night before Christmas.

Before I go much further, I have some confessions to make…

In the past, I know that I have been more than guilty of thinking, “It must be nice. What I wouldn’t give for 8 weeks off in the summer!”

I must tell you that those thoughts were from a place of not knowing…I mean REALLY not knowing. And I must also tell you that I am so very sorry for not looking and listening close enough to know better.

Over recent years, I have chatted with you at drop-off and pick-up. I have sat with you in my counseling office. I have talked with you at church. I have engaged with you at family gatherings.

I have listened deeper

and

my view has dramatically changed.

I know that many of you have not had the summer that my past-self used to envision. Maybe you’ve spent some days at a pool or on a family vacation…but so have many of the rest of us. Hopefully you have had moments of peace and pure joy and have made some amazing memories with your closest people…and again, hopefully so have many of the rest of us.

But this is what I also know…

This summer, you have sat and read longer with your own children. You have cuddled longer. You have lingered in conversations with them. You have felt more present as you have been less exhausted from the events of the school day.

This summer, you have attempted to disconnect from the difficulties facing your students…the ones that have weighed heavily on your hearts and have disrupted your sleep.

This summer, you have planned new assignments and you have attended hours of classes and trainings to educate our children in the most up-to-date and relevant ways.

This summer, you have sat in limbo and have wondered about the security of your teaching future. You have watched as national, state, and local changes have been proposed and initiated.

This summer, you have taken on extra jobs and have launched new businesses to support your growing family and your growing expenses.

This summer, you have set and taken on personal goals of self-care. You have found time and space to follow your creative spirit and express some of those ideas that have been stirring in your mind for months.

This summer, you have tackled the ever-accumulating home to-do-list. You have raced to cross as many items off the list as possible and you have decided that the rest will now just have to wait until “the next break”.

This summer, you have crammed in medical and dental appointments and procedures for you and all of your family members because fitting those into a teaching schedule can be more than challenging.

This summer, you or a family member has received a diagnosis that has devastated you. You have consulted with doctors and have scoured over the internet looking for treatment options. You have searched to find your new normal.

This summer, you have cared for your aging parents. You have made arrangements to transition them into facilities that will care for them in their declining physical and mental state.

This summer, your heart has been ripped open in unimaginable ways. You have planned funerals. You have said goodbye to loved ones way too soon. You have grieved and you have sought out ways to breathe again.

This summer, you have fought for your marriage. You have fought for your children. You have fought for your grandchildren. Some of the battles have been won and some have not.

As you return to the classroom, know that some of us just don’t really know.

Know that it is possible that we may act as if you have been carefree and completely unburdened for the past 8 weeks.

Know that I…we…are sorry for the ways we do not see you and for overlooking important parts of who you are.

Thank you for showing up day after day after day. 

My prayer is that you would confidently rest in knowing that you matter.

That you matter to your family.

That you matter to our schools.

That you matter to our children.

That you matter to us.

Our Need for COMFORT

Can we talk for a moment about comfort? You know, your need to be comforted, and my need to be comforted, and any human’s basic need for comfort. Recently, light bulbs have been turning on in my mind as I have listened to myself, clients, friends, and family communicate different struggles in life. Deaths. Disappointments. Physical pain. Broken dreams. Unfulfilled desires.

We ALL need comfort. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. US.

As I have sat with different individuals, I have noticed a theme that while we all NEED comfort, many of us resist being comforted…myself included. We tell ourselves that needing comfort is for the weak, that it makes us bad or somehow inadequate. And so we secretly stifle our need to be comforted, paint on our strong, unaffected faces, and carry on. And then…we secretly seek to fulfill our need for comfort elsewhere…because even though we pretend to stifle the need, it doesn’t actually go away. So, we numb. We drink. We binge. We sleep. We scroll. We click. We attempt to find comfort….but it escapes us before we even find it.

Admitting our need for legitimate comfort takes courage. Allowing ourselves to receive the comfort offered takes humility and surrender…it is the act of letting others see and respond when we feel undone.

I love Jesus’ words when He speaks to the crowds through what has been labeled “The Sermon on the Mount”. In Matthew 5:4, Jesus specifically says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” BLESSED are those who mourn. He doesn’t say WEAK are those who mourn. He does not say INADEQUATE are those who mourn. And He does not say A BURDEN are those who mourn. He calls mourners blessed. How are they blessed….through receiving comfort.

Is it possible that until we recognize that our need for comforting is acceptable, we will continue to feel as if we are drowning in our shame? Is it possible that unless we recognize that our need for comforting is reasonable, we will keep running back to the things that leave us feeling empty? Is it possible that in not accepting our need for comforting, we actually push away a fulfilling relationship with God and with our closest people?

Some of us are great at comforting…that is beautiful. But let us also seek to be people who believe our personal need for comforting is not only acceptable but good.

Paralyzed by Compassion

In my experience as a therapist, anxiety can, at times, overwhelm even the most functional individuals. It can lead to feeling hopeless….like there is no way out. It can lead to feeling helpless…like there is nothing you can do. Anxiety can lead to a physical and cognitive sense of paralysis. If you’ve experienced significant anxiety, you know exactly what I mean.

Over the past days, as I have looked through articles and horrifying images of the chemical weapons attack in Syria, I have ridden quite the pendulum of emotions.

I have felt deep sadness. As I looked at the devastated man holding his dead 9-month-old twins, I experienced flashes of my own story. I have wept tears for him and for the other men and women who have watched their children and family members die in an unbearably heinous way.

I have felt that anxiety that I initially spoke of. The kind that overwhelms and paralyzes. I have had to look away and catch my breath because the words and images were too much for my heart to take in.

We SHOULD be affected when we see others hurting. We SHOULD feel deeply for them. This is empathy. Empathy leads to compassion. Compassion leads to action.

But sometimes we don’t get through that full equation. Sometimes the taunting of the anxiety stops us in our tracks before we move to action. It tells us, “There’s no hope. There’s no helping. There’s nothing you can do about it.” That’s where the paralysis sets in and numbing your emotions or avoiding feeling it all again seems like the quickest and least painful way out. Here is what I have noticed, sometimes inaction is not just a product of not caring but it can also be a product of feeling overwhelmed by caring.

Because I have experienced anxiety in my life and because I have sat with dozens of individuals who experience anxiety on a regular basis, I want to gently whisper these words to you. Focus on taking just one step. And know that it is good.

Contrary to what the anxiety may be telling you, you do not have to have the perfect solution. Your compassionate actions do not have to be THE answer. Take just ONE step. Focus on doing ONE thing. ONE action. When the anxiety tells you there is nothing you can do, do ONE thing. When the anxiety convinces you we are all doomed, do ONE thing. When the anxiety makes you think you are insignificant, do ONE thing. And know that it is good.