Friday, September 9, 2016

A letter to my students

Dear students,

I love you. But I need to get some things off my chest...

Please stop calling me Mrs. Staples, Mrs. Stapler, and Mrs. Staplehead. It is Mrs. Sta-ple-TON.

You don't have to tell me every time you find a paperclip, a piece of fuzz, or a string on the floor. Just take care of it. Put it in the trash for heaven's sake.

Students, don't fall into peer pressure. Just because the student next to you needs to pee doesn't mean you need to pee too. Don't start a disruptive ripple effect.

And what's the deal with bathroom sinks? Boys, why do you see it as a competition to clog the spout and see if you can get water to spray on the ceiling. Girls, why do you see sinks as opportunities to slick up your hair and come out confidently looking like wet cats.

Students, we are really going to have to work on what a "question" is. Anytime someone says, "Do you have any questions?" It seems like you guys always follow it up with... "My dog died when I was 3." Or "My baby brother ate a bug once."

Let me get a few more things off my chest...

I love you so so much.

I love how much you make me laugh. I have loved hearing things like
"We need a questlamation point at the end of the sentence!"
"The state flower is called the blue vomit!"

I love how badly you want to please. I love that you laugh at my jokes...even when you don't get them. I KNOW you don't get them because I know how 1st grade brains work. You are just laughing to make me feel loved.

I love that you are innocent. I love that you still have a wonderment of the world around you. I love that you are motivated to learn.

I love it when you say, "We are a team. We are a family." I love how when someone cries, you all want to stop class to make sure they are ok. I love that you rub their back and say, "Its ok!"

I'm sorry that some of you live with uncertainty. Wondering when you are going to eat next, where you are going to live, who you are going to live with, who will pick you up that day. I wish I could tell you that everything at your home will be ok. But I CAN tell you that everyday that you come to school that you will eat, you will be loved, and you will be safe.

I also want you to know that I don't care what's "wrong" with you. I don't care what labels you have. I don't care about your history or how you did last year. You are mine. I don't love you because you are a good student. I love you because you are MY student.

Thank you students for filling my days with smiles and joy. I'm so impressed with you all. You handle so much in life with more grace and maturity than a lot of adults do. You love and forgive better than a lot of adults do. So even though I might teach you some "stuff." You teach me so much more.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Teacher/Momma Soapbox

It's very interesting being a teacher AND a mom. I see both sides. I know what teachers expect. I know what bugs teachers. I know their pet peeves. YET, I know my imperfect children and that I love them more than anything in this world and want them to succeed. I often have these views about education and parenting that have teacher and parenting beliefs intertwined. I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts with you.

1. It's ok if your kid isn't GT. I've had so many parents come to me so very disappointed that their child didn't qualify for the gifted and talented program. I believe that there are some kids that truly ARE GT that didn't qualify. Just because they couldn't pass a weird test and it doesn't say on their cum folder that they are GT doesn't mean that I'm not going to treat them as a GT kid. 

Now, here is the other side of that. I had a mother upset that her daughter didn't qualify for GT. I had a conference with the mom and said this:
"You're daughter is very driven and goal oriented. In the grand scheme of life that is going to benefit her way more than having a GT label. "

Being GT isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sure they are incredibly smart and gifted. But they also struggle in the public school setting because they think on a totally different wave length and might even be considered "weird" to classmates or teachers. GT kids are hard to tap into. If your kid isn't GT, I am going to try to teach them to be organized and goal oriented and driven.
GT kids are so awesome and interesting. But your not GT kid is just as praise worthy and successful. 

2. I'm going to tell all kids they are smart...even if they aren't. There is big research going around saying to stop telling kids they are smart. "Oh it might make them feel entitled. It might build up a superiority complex. We just need to tell them they worked hard." Well I can guarantee you that they will quit working hard if they feel like they aren't smart and they aren't getting the "expected results." 

And I really DO believe they are all different ways. I have kids who are quick with numbers and some who can read ANYTHING. Some who just have good common sense, background knowledge and vocabulary. Some who are amazing artists with an observant eye. Some who can memorize anything. Some who are athletic. Some who know everything there is to know about dinosaurs. And some who are tender and can sense people's emotions better than I do.

There is a way to let kids know that they are smart but that everyone else around them is also. I always tell my kids and students, "No one is better than you and you are not better than anyone else." Almost everyday I ask my kids, "Who is the most important person in the classroom?" They cheer "The person next to you!"

3. Teachers kids are just kids too. There is this unspoken expectation that if you are a teachers kid you should be making straight A's and be perfectly behaved. And some (not my kid's teachers) teachers can be very judgemental. My son goes to a different school than where I teach. If they knew his momma was a teacher they'd probably be shocked. He struggles for sure. He knows it and I know it. We constantly are working on the things he struggles with. My daughter does well academically but can have a cruddy attitude sometimes. I know it. My kids aren't spoiled. I spank them. I talk to them about their bad days. I may not correct them in front of other people, but you better believe when we get to the car or get home, momma's wrath is coming out. 

One of my kids got in trouble for swinging on their belly outside. They were even told, "And your mother is teacher!" Tell my kid to stop. Make them "change their color." Discipline them the same way you would any other kid. But don't make my children hate being a teacher's kid. They are just kids and should not have unrealistic expectations. 

4.On the flip side of that... Teachers need to quit talking trash about parents. (I'm guilty of this) Don't assume they are crappy parents. Don't assume their is huge concern just because they show up without their jacket one day. Or a day here and there without homework. Or they don't know how to help them at home. TEACH them how to help their kids. Have a parent conference where the kid is there too and let the parent watch you guide them through reading. Quit acting like its us vs. them. Partner with parents. Build a relationship with them. They love their kid just as much as you love yours or atleast as much as they know how. Don't judge them, just show them and equip them.
5. Extracurricular is so important. But simplicity is too. Find what your kid is good at or interested in. Let them do it if you have the means. Let them dance or play piano or play ball or do karate or be in a club or whatever. Those extracurricular activities really do enhance what happens in the classroom. It gives them experiences to bring to the classroom. Extracurricular activities activate a part of the brain that becomes useful in the classroom. And it gives kids a sense purpose and pride. But don't feel the need to overload your child with constant stimulation. It's ok for them to just sit and watch a TV show for a few minutes sometimes. It's ok to spend one night at home doing nothing. It's ok to just tell them to go to their rooms and play. 

Let me end by saying this: Every family is different. Some families are home bodies and some love to be on the move all the time. Some have kids who were reading at 18 months and some who didn't read until they were 7. Some parents allow endless technology and some severely limit it. Some eat processed food and some eat whole foods. You do whatever you feel is best for your family. God made you momma and daddy of your family for a reason. YOU are the parent. Don't feel like you need to do any more or any less because of what other mommas or teachers say is best. 

The best advice I was given was this: "When someone criticizes you or gives you suggestions. Consider it. If it convicts you and you feel they are right, make the changes needed. If you don't agree, just smile and nod and dismiss it quietly."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Best Birthday of All!

In our Sunday School class last Sunday, we talked about how we unintentionally make our children an idol (as a result of jealousy). We compare how our kids look, act, perform, etc. to other people's kids. We turn it into this unspoken competition. We do whatever it takes to make our kids look good.

We discussed the topic of Birthday Parties. How we feel like we HAVE to go all out for our child's birthday parties. We were saying things like, "I just CANT believe some people spend X amount of money or hand make their kids party favors and poop out a pinterest perfect party." Well....Um...That's jealousy too. We trash talk how other mom's choose to do things just to hide the fact that we've been outdone and want to make ourselves feel better.

In the midst of our discussion we kind of all decided that it's ok if parties are elaborately perfectly done, and its ok if you just put up one balloon, eat a cake, and call it a day. Then a wise lady said this...

We are making a bigger deal out of our kids birthday parties than we do out of 
celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

I've been so convicted about that all week. What have I been doing? Sure we have a quick discussion about how it's all about Jesus, we read the Christmas story. Then they go nuts opening presents. Here are some simple thoughts on things that I have done or will try to make sure Jesus is the biggest deal this Christmas season. THEN I want to hear your ideas!

1. Last year, after every gift that we opened we all would say, "This is good, but Jesus is better!"
2. Last year, we put $20 in each kids stocking with a note saying they had to find a way to use the money to help someone in need. Carley chose to buy shoes for Buckner. Colin chose to buy a few toys to put in the hospital play room at Scottish Rite hospital.
3. This one got a little loud in my car, but last year, every time we passed by a house or building with Christmas lights, we would shout, "Happy Birthday Jesus!"
4. Read the Christmas Story. Make it interactive depending on their age. If they are 2-3 years of age, have them jump up every time you say, "Jesus" or "Son of God." If they are preschool age, have them draw a picture of what they visualize while you slowly read the story.If they are school age. Have them write a summary or their favorite part or what they think is the most important thing that happened. Have them act out certain parts. Play cherades with things from the story. Anything!
5. We watched a video at our church from The Skit Guys about how this man stole baby Jesus from their nativity set and hid it. He left clues all over the house for his kids... making this a week or 2 long search for Jesus. The point was to make the whole season about seeking Christ.
5. Quit asking your kids so much what they want for Christmas. Our kids are fine. They have enough. Start asking them what they should give instead. 
6. Somehow try to explain to your kids (depending on their age) the connection between Christmas and Easter. That He was born to die so that we could someday pray for Him to save our lives.

I have absolutely nothing against Santa, buying your kids presents, and all that fun that comes with Christmas. I just know that I HAVE to be more intentional about making the biggest deal out of Jesus for my kids...and myself. 

Tell me your ideas/thoughts on ways to make this happen for your family. Whether you have babies or teenagers. I want to hear it all!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

My how the tables have turned...

When we lived in Marshall, we had this teeny tiny dining room table that used to be my parent's. It was in my house growing up and it was passed on to us when Jeff and I got married. Such sweet memories. Colin and Carley ate their first baby food at that table, we ate many a meals there, Jeff spent countless nights studying at that table. But it was too little, and so rickety, and creaked at every wiggle of the table. I actually cried a little when I sold the table. So when we moved to our new house in Ennis, it was naturally time to look for a new table. We had a much bigger eating area and I knew we'd be fostering and needed something bigger. I knew exactly what I wanted. But what I wanted was expensive. So I searched for a few months online for a good deal on what I wanted and started saving. Much to my surprise I found the PERFECT table on Craigslist for about half the price I was expecting to spend!

Why would I blog about a table? There is just so much that happens at this table for our family. It's more than just a table. It's a place where memories are made, ideas happen, lessons are learned, and love is shared. Some of those moments are intentional and planned, some not.

I often think of big events at this table. The holiday meals and the signing of papers when we've received a foster child. But it's also the mundane that happens at the table that is important too. The helping of homework, the Saturday morning breakfasts with puffy eyed and messy haired children, the board games we've played with family and friends.

We "try" to have family devotionals together at the table. We don't have them as often as we should and some are not as successful as others. We've had a few conversations about God that assure me that God is working on my children's heart and other conversations that end with me saying, "Nevermind. Just go play..."

I love that we share this table with kids that aren't our own. Our first foster child spent more time at this table making Colin and Carley laugh until they couldn't breathe because he could burp on command. Then we had the opportunity to pull a high chair up to this table that held our second foster child. We called that her "happy place." She loved to sit there and eat and smile and talk.

I am not a cook. I don't enjoy it and I'm not very good at it. So we've shared some meals at our table that we've forced our way through. It's sometimes even hard for me to keep my own rule of, "Eat, whether you like it or not." We've argued at this table. We've all said words that we don't mean and raised our voices and cried at this table. Yet, we gather back the next day as a family and try again. Because that is what God wants us to do. To forgive and to love and to keep striving toward holiness as a family...together.

I look forward to more memories at our table. I pray for those moments...even the frustrating ones. I pray for more conversations where my children learn more about who God is. I look forward to inviting another foster child to join us at the table. I look forward to hearing cracking voices of puberty and even the rolling eyes of adolescence at that table. And I pray that God will teach me how to gracefully handle arguments that happen there. I even pray that I'll learn to cook more pleasurable meals that we can honestly say, "That was good!"

I just love the beauty of our table holding the messiness of our lives and the graceful times of life. The table is always there for us to meet together regardless of life's circumstances. God is the same way. He is constant and there for me to meet with whether I am loving life or not.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

One uppers

I've never really understood the desire within people to "one up" others. I do it myself even. It all starts when we are kids, "My daddy is stronger than your daddy!" Then as we get older we reverse it. We try to one up who has it harder in life. "I'm so tired from all this homework." "Oh yeah? Try getting sleep with a newborn baby!"

This is so silly. And I'm convicted because I say or think these things all. the. time.

I've seen articles SO MUCH lately posted on facebook about things like, "What NOT to say to a ___." Fill in that blank with pregnant woman, foster mom, mom with special needs child, stay at home mom, working mom, etc.

I believe that these articles were originally intended to be helpful and informative. And they are! I want to know how I can be more sensitive to others. But I fear that the people who write them and post them might have motives that are wanting to "one up" others. It's like we post these articles with the intention of rubbing it in other peoples faces that we live a life that they will NEVER understand.

What is the point in that kind of attitude? It fosters bitterness against people who did nothing to you and pushes away people who may WANT to understand.

I could tell you all kinds of struggles about being a working mom, being a ministers wife, being a foster mom, growing up with a special needs sibling, losing a sibling... And I think you can learn from my life experiences. I LOVE to share what God has done and is doing through those life situations with those that haven't lived what I have lived.

BUT I also LOVE to learn from OTHER peoples testimonies who have lived through things I can't imagine ever living through.

I think God would be way more honored if we invited people to go through our specific life journeys with us instead of pushing them away. He'd be more honored if we didn't get ticked off that "people just don't understand." He'd be more honored if we took the focus off ourselves and back on to Jesus Christ. He'd be more honored if we chose to ask other people to share their story instead of only thinking about our own.

Most importantly, I fear that "one uppers" have made their life situations their badge...their identity. Your identity lies in what Jesus did for you on the cross. Not what you have endured. My life and what I've been through belongs to God. Not me.

This is not a competition, people. God created us to have community with eachother and that can't happen with a bunch of one uppers. Let's "rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Anxiety anchors me

I've struggled with anxiety for a while now. Its always been a quiet companion my whole life, but festered into more of a friend than I would like it to be in my 30s now.

I've talked with people who have anxiety about different things. Many have generalized anxiety or only have anxiety when in public places or around large groups of people. I (believe) that I have panic attacks. Specifically related to car phobia and "What if" freak accident scenarios that I involuntarily play through my head. I feel threatened and therefore lose all sense of reality in a feeble effort to defend myself.

Driving in Dallas is torture for me. I literally feel like I'm about to die or get in a wreck at all times. My heart races, I get cold and shivery, and I cry. My husband is awesome. He has learned over the years to just let me cry and not say anything, and I have (most of the time) learned to not scream out to avoid a REAL wreck from startling him. He holds my hand, I cry, and he reminds me that I am still alive.

The "what if" scenarios that play through my brain can be quite paralyzing as well. I have to be very careful to not watch certain shows or look up certain things online about tragic accidents. Rescue 911 and Unsolved Mysteries were shows that gave me sleepless nights as a child. I also just try to steer clear from the news and certain links to these types of things on facebook. I imagine myself or my family in those stories in such a realistic way in my brain that I forget that its NOT real. One thought sparks another thought until anxiety is just spiraling rampant in my heart.

Anxiety does not control me all day every day. It just comes in moments. But the moments are powerful and overwhelming.

I feel a ton of guilt during anxiety too.

Guilt for not trusting God enough to take care of me. I fear that this anxiety is an indicator of a weak relationship with God. And to some degree I believe that is true.

Its amazing how my world can go to 2 opposite extremes in a matter of minutes. One minute I can tell you how good and faithful and provisional my God is. But the minute anxiety hits, I forget that. I would never tell you that God was bad in anxious moments, but I might tell you that He isn't enough.
Then once the panic attack subsides I am left embarrassed at my behavior and my subconcious thoughts toward the God that I love.

I'm not quite sure why I am writing this post or where I want to go with it even. Its actually 12:45 am and I cannot sleep. I believe this all started with me reading an article online about the lost Malaysia flight a few hours ago and who knows what happened in my brain after that. Dumb...I know. Its almost humorous sometimes.

I guess I can say that one thing good that comes from being aware of my anxiety is that it reminds me how very weak I am and how very much I need him. Its ironic that the very thing that makes me feel like God is not enough is also the very thing that anchors me to Him. And my sweet husband gives me a clear picture on a smaller scale of how my God responds to me in anxiety. He holds my hand and lets me cry and reminds me that I am still alive...but only in Him.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

She had no idea...

She was taken to the doctor to get a few stitches in the back of her head when she was about 10 years old. A boy had thrown a rock at her head during recess. Because of her insanely high pain tolerance, she had no idea that anything was even wrong. She just walked around the playground, dripping blood, without a care in the world.

My sister struggled to "connect" with the world. She had autism and mental retardation. She did not say her first words until she was 5 years old. She was known for looking up to the sky while singing a song to herself. She was known for memorizing things. Entire movies she had seen once. People's names that she had met only once.

We shared a bedroom our entire childhood and teenage life. As a young child, I did not know any different. My sister was sister. That's the way it was and she never bothered me.

In my teen years, as I started to think more in depth about the things of life, I began to feel sad for her. I would think, "She has no idea what she is missing out on by not being able to connect with this world." I thought about how she didn't have real friends like I had, or how she would never marry and have kids like I would, or how she would never get her license and drive like I would. And it just blew my mind that she had NO idea that she was missing out on any of that. No idea... Because she was in Erin world. A world that so many people that loved her tried to break into.

I always wondered what life would be like for her as an adult. And again would feel sad thinking about her future compared to what mine would probably be.

Little did I know that she would touch more lives than I ever would. Its funny how God gives such purpose to the most unlikely people. She had no idea that God was using her all along, nor did she even fully comprehend who God was, but he sure was using her.

The day that she passed away was devastating and weirdly peaceful at the same time. Peaceful because I knew she was with the one who made her exactly the way He wanted her. It all made sense and came to closure for me. I did not need to feel sad for her for what she was missing out on or what her future would hold. For she lived a life of purpose. Maybe not intentionally...but it was purposeful. I now know that God's purpose for our life far outweighs the drivers licenses, friends, husbands and kids that I wished Erin could have.

I am blessed to have grown up with that girl. Sure, hearing a song at 2am or fighting for the shower because she took 15 showers a day drove me crazy, but I have been given a new perspective. A perspective that comes from God through people like Erin about what is important in life. And what is important is Jesus Christ.

My former youth minister and dear friend, Donovan, spoke at her funeral and said something that I will never forget. He said, "Erin's life is an interesting thing. She has unknowingly taught people so much about God's character that in the end, she fades away, we fade away, and all that is left is God." Nothing more honorable can be said of someone than that. I pray that my life will do the same.