To the Hurting Mothers

To the mother who has been labeled brave and strong but never set out to be –

   You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother whose heart tells her one thing and photos tell her another –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who never got to celebrate –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who looks down through empty arms to the scars where life once lived –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who stands at the grave to pour out her heart –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who longs for a hug with arms that ache and are heavy –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who wonders if her children will ever know the depth of her love for them –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who worries that she will never make up for the mistakes of her past –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who never planned to parent without a partner –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother whose home is tense and silent –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who repeatedly believes she is not enough–

        You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who is barely scaping by on time, energy, and resources –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who is so exhausted her hair hurts –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who sings the songs just to remind her of the past –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who juggles the schedule to fit in the doctors and the therapies –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who lies awake desperate for a diagnosis –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who cries out for mercy and answers –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who is holding the hand of another that is fading –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who is wrestling with trauma and working towards healing –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who longs for reconciliation

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who is trying to navigate the hard and unexpected –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who mothers those not bound by blood or document –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who wonders if she could have done more –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

To the mother who never imagined it would be this hard –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

There is One who promises to never leave you,

who promises to forgive,

who sees you completely and chooses to love you,

who would walk through a million fires to rescue you,

who sees you as significant,

who longs to hear your heart,

who is ready to comfort you,

who cares about every pain, every tear, every longing.

To the mother who is still wondering –

         You are loved and you are not alone.

End of the School Year Encouragement

My oldest son began school 6 years ago. Yet somehow, every year around this time, my emotions get stuck somewhere between the disbelief of “how are we already in this last month of school”, the frantic “how are we going to make it through this last month of school”, and the sentimental “how are my babies almost another grade older?”

Here we are. We’re in the homestretch.

Can you feel it?

Keep breathing cause you’re almost to the end.

Welcome to the last month of school.

We are all a little tired.

We are all a little emotional.

We are all a little scattered.

We are all a little anxious that next school year’s to-do list is going to look a whole lot similar to the one we put together at the beginning of this year…because… well…life.

We are all trying to work some serious calendar magic to fit in all of the year-end field trips, spring concerts, living wax museums, class parties, and sporting events.

Remember the start of the year? You determined that you’d surprise your kiddo for more lunches, you’d volunteer in the library, chaperone every field trip, and write encouragement notes regularly to your school staff.

Well again…life.

So you fell short. Forgive yourself and move on. Holding disappointment against yourself only means it’s more likely you’ll look for things to hold against others.

Can we please make a pact? Can we agree to see each other with compassion especially as our raggedness reveals even more of our imperfections? Can we agree to be quick to offer grace and slow to offer judgment?

Instead of judging the parent whose child stumbles out of their car still nibbling on a cold pop tart with untied shoes and an unzipped backpack, can we first remember that it’s the last month and applaud their effort to get to school?

Instead of wondering how another parent could send their child to school in pants that are two inches too short and a shirt that’s inside out, can we remember the stuff that really matters?

Can we make eye contact with those parents and smile with a smile that kindly acknowledges how we’ve been there too?

Instead of being angry at your child’s teacher for making a mistake on the graded schoolwork that was sent home, can we agree to take a breath and think of all the correctly graded papers sent home before this one? Can we remember that for every paper that comes home in our child’s folder, there are 25 other folders with those same graded papers?

Can we heap grace on the teachers who have lost the pep in their step and need four cups of coffee instead of their normal two to get through the day? And can we remember how challenging the previous part of their race has been?

Instead of denying your child the opportunity to spend the evening playing outside with friends, can we just skip the AR reading for the night and let them have a little freedom? It is the last month of school.

My kids are whining more. They are tired. They’ve had tests, and projects, and experiments, and standards to meet. They consistently wake up before the sun. They desperately want a string of days to sleep in. AND honestly, so do I.

Can we remember that the teachers, administrators, parents, and students are all working really hard to cross the finish line? And can we remember that we are all on the same team as we move toward that finish line? Teachers, administrators, parents, students.

Track meets may be one of my favorite sports to watch. It feels like there is little attention on who you are “against”. Whether you are the one coaching, the one running, or the spectator, your focus is on your team. You spend your energy doing what you can to see that your team crosses the finish line. Teammates cheer for one another. They encourage. They remind each other that they are proud of them.

My niece runs like a gazelle. It’s beautiful irony that she was actually born in Kenya. It is a joy to watch her run. She is very specific about what motivates her when she is running. She wants people to shout things like “you are awesome”, “you are doing great”, and “I am so proud of you”. She gets extra motivation when we shout “I love you, Hannah.” When she is in the race and focused on getting across the finish line, she wants to know that we see her efforts and are proud of how hard she is working.

Aren’t most of us like that? Especially when we are frayed and weary and just trying to cross the finish line. I know I am.

It’s the final month.

You are in the homestretch.

You are doing great!

I see your effort and know that you are working hard to cross the line.

You’re almost there…

Now, go find your teammates. They need you as much as you need them.

Are You in Need of Spring?

I love the spring.

I have lived all my life in the Midwest. Summer, fall, winter, spring. Summer, fall, winter, spring. Seasons are distinct. I am grateful for the contrast between them.

Winter is cold, snowy, sometimes muddy, and often grey. Generally by the end of winter, my body, mind and spirit are longing for the first signs of spring.

There is a patch of landscaping twenty feet outside my front door that is packed full of perennials. As the temperatures rise and as the sun begins to consistently show itself, my eyes are drawn to that patch of landscape when I walk past it. I scan the dirt, looking for spikes of green to poke up through the ground. I have confidence that it will come. The new life will eventually emerge, I am certain. It always does.

But as I look for sign of new life, I do not know when it will appear…I just know that it will. It eventually does…after every winter. So I keep looking. And the first time I spot the tiniest spike of green, I am grateful. It’s like the weight of the winter begins to fade at the sight of spring as I take in the hope of what’s to come.

I have experienced many winters in my life. Literal winters. Figurative ones. Times where all I can see is the cold, the muddy, the mess, and the grey. Experiences that have felt lonely, dark, filled with sadness and crushed hope.

I have friends and family who are currently feeling the impact of winter. They have experienced death. They have experienced loss. Disease has stolen from them. Broken promises have left their hearts shattered. They’re experiencing uncertainty. They are weary of the grey. Their energy is gone. They are tired but they can’t rest.  

They are in desperate need of spring.

It’s okay to hope for spring. It’s okay to look for it’s signs. In the dead of winter, we may feel as if the grey will never end. That the bitter cold will linger and linger and linger. But of this I am certain…the winter will not last forever. It never has.

Recently, God has been reminding me that he doesn’t waste a thing.

Not one tear.

Not one hurt.

Not one winter in my life.

And with that knowledge, I am looking for the signs of spring. I am looking for new life. I am looking for the sun to shine. I am trusting that the God who makes the green things grow, does not desire to leave us abandoned in the greyness of winter. I am trusting that the God who makes beautiful things out of dust and pulls us up out of the ashes, is more than able to do it over and over again in all of our lives.  

 

‘I give you all the credit, God – you got me out of that mess, you didn’t let my foes gloat. God, my God, I yelled for help and you put me together. God, you pulled me out of the grave, gave me another chance at life when I was down-and-out. God, my God, I yelled for help and you put me together. you did it; you changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers. I’m about to burst with song; I can’t keep quiet about you. God, my God, I can’t thank you enough.’ Psalm 30:1-3, 11-12 (MSG)

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.

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. 

When Your Mind and Your Body are Failing You

I know it’s hard and you may resist believing me, but there’s something really important I want to tell you…

I know your physical strength is waning. I know you don’t like needing help to lift and move things that, at one time, would have been a breeze. I know you feel weak and fragile. But please, know THIS is true…

I will remember playing ball in the driveway and wrestling in the living room. I will remember the piggy back rides and I will remember your strength that always protected me.  And with THESE memories, I will honor you.

I know you walk more slowly than you used to and you just can’t get your legs to go any faster. I know you are concerned that you are making us late for wherever it is we are going. But please, know THIS is true…

I will remember how we’d play chase and run through the fields together. I’ll remember when I was the one that couldn’t keep up with you. And with THESE memories, I will honor you.

I know that you struggle to tie your shoes. It’s hard to grip the laces and you grow tired during the process. I know it frustrates you that your fingers don’t work the way you want them to. But please, know THIS is true…

I will remember it was you that sat patiently with me as I learned to tie mine. And with THESE memories, I will honor you.

I know you can’t hear as well and you have to ask me to repeat myself several times. I know you feel embarrassed when you just can’t understand what others are saying to you. But know THIS is true…

I’ll remember when you would sit and listen to me tell you stories. I’ll remember how your ears were always open and ready to hear my heart. And with THESE memories, I will honor you.

I know that your vision is no longer what it used to be. I know you struggle to see the pages and ask me to read the words to you. But please, know THIS is true…

I will remember how we would cuddle up on the couch and you would read my favorite stories to me. I will remember how you taught me to see the details of my surroundings as we would drive the countryside together. And with THESE memories, I will honor you.

I know that you wish I didn’t have to feed you, wash your face, and comb your hair. I know that it’s uncomfortable to let me care for these basic needs. But please, know THIS is true…

I will remember the times that you took care of me. The times you fed me, bandaged me, and cared for me when I was sick. And with THESE memories, I will honor you.

I know you are scared and you startle at the slightest noises. I know that you feel embarrassed when you don’t recognize your surroundings. But please, know THIS is true…

I will remember how you would calm me when I was the one who was frightened. How you would make me feel safe when I was the one who was scared. And with THESE memories, I will honor you.

I know that you cry more than you’d like and you worry that you are burdening those around you. But please, know THIS is true…

I will remember the many times you wiped away my tears and helped mend my broken heart. I will remember all of the burdens you carried for me. And with THESE memories, I will honor you.

I know there are times you struggle to say my name. I know that you wish you could find a way to make your mouth say what you are thinking. But please, know THIS is true…

I will remember the many times you said my name with the deepest joy and the biggest smile. I will remember how proudly you would speak of me every chance you’d get. And with THESE memories, I will honor you.

I know that you think you are less than you used to be. You believe that because your body and mind do not function the way they did when you were young, you are less valuable or less lovable.

But know THIS is true…

Your value and your worth go deeper than what your mind and what your body can do. Your value and your worth are steady and never-changing. God declared that long ago.

AND WITH THIS KNOWLEDGE, I WILL HONOR YOU.

 

 

**This piece was written in honor of my father, Jerry V. Saylor, who lived his last years on earth struggling through the physical and cognitive effects associated with Lewy Body Dementia. He lived and loved well from 6/14/1947 – 8/19/2016. I also write this in honor of the many others who struggle to believe that their value and worth are never-changing in spite of the reality that their mind and body are.

 

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.

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.