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.

Adjusting the Eyes of the Beholder

What if I told you that you could change the image you see in the mirror without a single application of the newest beauty product or without a single dose of the most recently released line of supplements?

Remember the quote that most of us have heard hundreds of times in our lives…“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

And who is the beholder when your reflection stares back at you in the mirror? It’s you! You are the beholder! Your eyes are the judge.

In my career, I have sat across from individuals of, quite literally, all sizes, height, skin tone, hair color, and complexion. They have been tall, small, curvy, average and stick straight. Their hair has been blonde, brown, black, red, grey or some other manufactured color that is not in anyone’s genetic phenotype. Some have had no hair at all. They’ve had green eyes, blue eyes, brown eyes, hazel eyes or some combination of the four.

Over and over and over again, they doubt their beauty.

The number of heart-breaking reasons could easily fill a thousand pages. Sometimes the interpretation of their beauty was delivered through a well-intending adult in their life. Sometimes the interpretation is delivered through their own repetitive act of comparing them self to some photoshopped, filtered, or airbrushed image posed on a screen. Sometimes the interpretation was delivered directly through trauma…through someone who intended to harm them.

The list makes me weep. While the cause may be unique, the impact is similar…distorted eyes for the “beholders”.

Oh and trust me, dear ones, my eyes are distorted as well.

What if today, we determined that we would see through eyes of kindness, through eyes that love and search for value? What if today, we agreed to look at ourself until we recognized our beauty? What if today, instead of judging our worth based on wrinkles, scars, hairs out-of-place, or against images of what we think we are supposed to be, we choose to not judge ourself at all? What if we choose to accept that our beauty is not something that is coming once we enhance our appearance, meet some goal, or purchase some product, but that it already exists? Truly…right now…we’d believe that it is already in existence.

It doesn’t take a dime, but it does take courage and it does take compassion to admit that your beholder’s eyes are wrong. Let’s do it together. Today. Let’s adjust our view, take on new eyes and look deep until we see our beauty.

When Celebrating Feels Unnatural: A Mother’s Day Reflection

My journey of motherhood is complicated. As time passes and I am granted more opportunities to enter into the stories of other women, I am beginning to recognize that the journey is complicated for most of us. Literally, for most of us.

I have learned that celebrating Mother’s Day can feel like an unnatural choice. To many, Mother’s Day does not automatically come with a simple dose of all the positive emotions one might assume. Recognizing Mother’s Day can easily bring to the surface emotions that we have worked unreasonably hard to hide. For some, loneliness, disappointment, grief, longing, bitterness, guilt, and shame are a part of this day. They are the pieces that make the celebration feel a bit unnatural.

Here is what I want you to know…You Are Not Alone. Not. Even. Close.

As I think about my own rocky journey, I remember the days that I sat in silence…in confusion…in loneliness. Years of infertility. Burying my 3-day-old daughter. Watching caseworkers remove our son following a failed adoption. For many years, there was absolutely no desire to celebrate.

Ten years ago, I was given the unexpected gift of a beautiful healthy son. Two years later, it happened again. Yes, TWO amazing sons! One who looks like his daddy and one who looks like me.

And with that, there is something else I want you to know…those two boys didn’t take away the pain of the journey and their arrival didn’t eliminate the path I had already traveled.

There are many truths I have learned through my own journey and one I’d like to gently tell you today…my pain has only lessened as a result of giving myself permission to deeply experience the fullness of the emotions that have accompanied my journey.

So, this is what it looks like today…I wear this awesome set of rings bearing the names of the four children that’ll always have my heart. We grill lunch and eat with my mom who is experiencing her first Mother’s Day without the man who made her a mother. My husband and sons plant flowers and build a garden in our yard. We eat ice cream at the grave of my daughter. I say a prayer for the son that I do not get to raise.

It’s complicated. And yet, I have found peace, beauty, AND joy in the ways we honor our complicated story.

I know your story is complicated too. I know this because I have heard the stories, countless stories. Maybe I haven’t heard your story but stories that may not be as far off as you’d imagine. Please know that your journey matters…the parts that are easy to celebrate AND the parts that make the celebrating less natural.

And please know that you are not alone. NOT. EVEN. CLOSE.

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.