Dec 24, 2014

Christmas Is War

A few weeks ago our pastor presented Christmas in a way I had never thought of before: Christmas was an all out military invasion intent on delivering humanity from captivity.
The mission was clear, war was declared before the world was made, there will be casualties, but nobody paid a higher price than God.
(You can listen to the message here Pastor Jim Ladd Christmas)

The world was dark and hopeless and Jesus broke through and shone a great light.
But it wasn't that simple.
There was resistance.
A battle ensued and will continue until humanity is delivered.
There are casualties.

Christmas is this light isn't a beautifully decorated tree and sweet songs by the fire.  It isn't perfectly wrapped gifts and a garland dressed mantle.
It is soldiers clad in armor, weapons at the ready, it is small victories and great defeats.  It is death and destruction.
It it blood.
His Father crushed his own son and caused him to suffer in order to make his life an offering for our sins.
Christmas was the initial invasion, and since that moment battles have been raging.
While the battles include pain, fears, trials, and some defeat, the war will be won!

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end."

Away in a manger no crib for a bed our savior, Lord Jesus, the Light that breaks through the darkness,  brings comfort, joy, and peace, and victorious warrior, the one who conquered death on a cross and redeemed the lost, lay down his sweet head.

This song captures this message beautifully.

This Is War Dustin Kensrue

Dec 18, 2014

Break the crayons, mix up the alphabet, and run with scissors.

I have learned a lot since starting my job at an elementary school about a year an a half ago.  I have learned how to teach, how to deal with frustrating little children, and so much more.  Here are some lessons for new moms, old moms, and well just about everyone.

Break the Crayons.  This goes against everything in you.  You get the 64 crayon box set and then one breaks.  Toss it?  Or allow that half crayon to fall to the bottom of the crayon box?  Difficult question.
I say "break all the crayons".

For preschoolers: The smaller crayon actually fits little fingers better and helps them practice pincher strength and fine motor skills.  I didn't make this up.  It is actually a strategy used by a writing program called Handwritting Without Tears.  Kids learn to hold crayons that are tiny so that they don't fist grab a crayon and carry over that grip with a pencil.

For big kids: Broken crayons color just as well as the long, perfect ones.  We need to focus less on what looks good and more on what is functional or what works for us.  For years I tossed the broken, dirty, paper torn crayons when the boys brought them home at the end of the school year.  Then I realized they don't care if the box of crayons is rag-tag.  They all color their own color regardless of size and outward cleanliness.  We don't need to be perfect, and neither does our toolbox.  The meal doesn't need to be perfect, the house, the car, the kids, the gifts, the outward appearance.  In one way or another we are all broken crayons and we are still valuable, still full of color and leave a lasting mark on those we encounter.

Mix up the Alphabet.

For preschoolers: A, B, C, D, E, F, G,.... now I know my ABC's next time won't you sing with me.  No, next time I'm going to show you a G out of the blue and hope that you recognize the G on its own without always following F and coming before H.
Sure there is a need for the order of the alphabet, thus alphabetizing.  But short of filing, you really don't need the alphabet in order!
So many kids struggle with letter recognition when not given the opportunity to sing the song.  Mixing it up allows for kids to learn the letters themselves and spares them a karaoke show when trying to remember the letter K.

For big kids: There is a place for order in our lives but sometimes the greatest joys and greatest learning experiences come from the random, out of order experiences.  Traditions broken, expectations crushed, and plans thwarted are all opportunities for something new.  Allow yourself to see a G and appreciate the "G" for "jjjjj like George and Giraffe" and the "gggg like golf and garage".  It is actually ok to mix things up, try something new and maybe even do it all backwards!

Run, even with scissors:

For preschoolers: kids have energy.  They need to run and jump and climb and probably fall.  They will learn that running sometimes results in falling, and sometimes they will get a scraped knee or road rash on their hands.  Then they can decide if the fall and the associated wounds are worth the joy of running.  If we never let them run for fear of falling, they will not know what to do when they take a tumble.
The other day a little friend of mine was playing on a slippery playground when he bumped in to another kid and fell down.  Knees dirty.  Oh my goodness. You would have thought he broke a leg.  He cried for 10 minutes.  10 long, noisy minutes, because his jeans were dirty.  Another boy 2 days earlier fall into a mud puddle, and I mean inches deep mud puddle.  He was soaking wet, covered in water and dirt from shoe to sleeve.  I panicked and ran over to him prepared to calm him down and as I was asking if he had spare clothes in his bag or if he wanted to go to the nurse for a change of clothes he looked at me and said "I'm ok, can I go play now?"
Teach the kids to hold their kid size safety scissors blades down, so if they do trip in fall with them they won't poke an eye out.

For big kids: Just run.  Run even if you look silly running, even if you are slow, if you have to stop and take a break, don't let the fear of falling, or failing keep you from living life to the fullest.  Take risks, just be sure to keep the scissors pointed down, so if you do fall you won't be fatally wounded because big kid scissors do not have a rounded ends.

Dec 17, 2014

Everyday at 8:35 a thunderous roar approaches my classroom, like a tornado rolling through, or maybe a pack of motorcycles.  But it is neither, it is simply my kindergarten students coming out for their reading and math groups.  My coworker refers to our early morning dose of kindergarteners as a "slap in the face".  They come out like a bull out of the shoot.  They are wild.
And then they sit down and I ask them to write their name, or point to the letter "A" and then suddenly they go silent.  What happen to their voices?
The next 40 minutes are the most painful of my day.  Not because kindergarteners are particularly annoying, but because THESE particular kids are the least exposed kids I have ever met.  Some don't know their name, most don't know more than 3 letters in the alphabet (thankfully we can usually count on them knowing X and 0), one kid told me his name was "Nugget" (thankfully it is not) and forget counting, holding a pencil and attempting to differentiate between a circle and a square.  40 minutes may as well be 40 hours because every single task I give these kids is painfully tedious.
Because of this I typically say "I don't like kindergarteners".

Then....I have 15 minutes of recess duty with 24 kindergarteners and I remember that I actually love kindergarteners, I just don't like teaching them.  Kindergarteners have the best stories ever!

Monday M came busting out of class to tell me she went to church the night before.  Here is the conversation:

Me: oh did you sing songs at church?
Me: so fun!  What was the play about?
Me: what about Jesus?
M: well Jesus was a FULL GROWN MAN and he did NOT like Mary.  Then Mary said "where is my scarf? Because Jesus was crying and needed a scarf.

The birth of Jesus according to a kindergartener.

Dec 14, 2014

A few years ago, while living in Germany, I was given the amazing privilege of serving a dear friend by being a participant on her "cancer team".  This was the team of people who brought meals, gave rides to her son, donated money to pay for a house-keeper, took her to appointments and prayed for healing.  Since we all know I can't bring people meals, I volunteered some of my time taking her to appointments.
There were numerous visits to the clinic and hours spent waiting for her turn for x-rays, blood tests, chemo treatments, and psychology visits.  There was a lot of waiting.  There was a lot of time for me to get to know her more and more importantly for me to see her shine.
She sat in the waiting room of the chemo area as if she were a mere visitor and every one else were patients.  She talked to people, gave them her number, and told them about her healer, the one found not in tubes or pills but in the power of the one we call Jesus.
I remember her asking me and those around her how we were all doing, she would counsel us and pray for the midst of her very own struggle.  She was truly a light to all those sitting in darkness!
My dear friend was diagnosed with a cancer that didn't have any receptors (this is bad), she also tested positive for the "cancer gene".  She had a double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation, followed by a full hysterectomy.  The latter was an attempt to give this genetic cancer less stuff to go after.  Shortly after she completed her final radiation treatments she fell and shattered both of her feet, this required surgery and some time in a wheel chair as she recovered and gained strength to walk again.  Just when her health seemed to be returning, a spot was found on her lung, it was determined to be breast cancer metastasized.  She had lung surgery to remove the cancer and weeks later had a grand maul seizure that sent her into the hospital where doctors found she had a cancerous brain tumor.
Today she is laying in a hospital bed with cancer in her liver, brain and lungs.  Her lungs are trying to give out on her, she struggles to breath, and her strength in waining.
I have been praying for her without ceasing.  I don't know what I'm praying for.  Sometimes I pray for God to just take her home.  Other times I'm asking him to help her hold on until Christmas.  I know that God can choose to keep her on this earth, but at this point everything we see with earthly eyes are pointing to that time here not being very long.
When my friend was first diagnosed with cancer she said that her one prayer was that God would be made known through this.  I know he is so pleased with how she ran this race.  She fought the good fight even when it seemed fruitless.  And she will be healed, either on earth or in heaven.
I'm a member of a private Facebook group that she started to keep her friends and family updated along the journey.  She posted pictures of her losing her hair, during treatments, trying on wigs, and testing out bras with fake boobs.  She posted videos of her dancing because even in a trial one can find joy in Christ.  She wrote about feeling low and feeling good.  She talked about the really weird cancery stuff that most people don't share.  She posted a photo of her twice her size due to swelling, she showed off her scars from brain surgery and more often than anything else she praised God for the people who love her, for the strength she was able to muster, and for the life she was given.
As I pull up her Facebook group, I hold my breathe, I am so afraid that the words of her passing will soon appear on the page.
Her fight will be over, the victory will not be one seen on earth, and she will leave behind hundreds of people who diligently prayed for her and loved her and showered her with blessings.  She'll also leave behind a sweet boy just 11 years old, and a devoted husband who loves her so dearly.
She will leave behind a world full of sorrow and pain.  She will leave behind suffering, loneliness, grief, injustice and pride.  She will leave behind the body that she has fought against for the past 4 years.
She will breath a breathe so full and deep that it overwhelms her, she will run, she will laugh, she will smile the contagious smile, and she will be free.  She will stand before the throne of her Lord and Savior and I know more than I have known this about any other.... her king will say "well done, well done my good and faithful servant".  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Cor 13:12)
I don't know the doctor's prognosis or the timeline she has been given, but I know that her life, until her very last breathe is in His hands.

Dec 11, 2014

Last night Matt told me I had until the end of this week to post something on my blog.
I realize it has been quite awhile since I've had the time and/or inspiration to write.  I've written numerous blogs in my head.
There is the one dedicated to the hilarious things that my students say like the kid who told me this: "I'm going to put this coat in the lost and fountain"
or the student who said this:
Teacher: Who is in charge of this group?
Student: Santa.  Santa is in-charge.

And then there was the blog about the worse day of work ever.  That was the day when two students showed up at school for the first time in their lives at ages 7 and 9.  They have been "lost" in the system, living in unhealthy conditions and had limited exposure to anyone other than their deadbeat parents.  They were hoarding food in the lunch room, don't know how to put on a coat, use a computer or hold a pencil.  They both had fevers of over 100 degrees, were coughing incesantly and put through hours of testing to determine their academic grade level....and they persevered.  The same day that the Sheriff arrived at school to investigate a 1st grade boy with visible bruising from his mom's boyfriend who beat him the night before.

There was a blog about our Thanksgiving trip to Florida.  We had so much fun relaxing on the beach, spending time with our family, and spending time together.  It was our first real getaway since Matt came home and it was a very special time for so many reasons.  The boys fished from the beach, I laid in the sun, Matt went golfing, I laid in the sun, we went for walks on the beach, I snuggled with my niece, Matt went fishing on a charter boat, I laid in the sun, and we ate delicious food.  Matt and Eli slept out on the upper balcony one night under the stars with the sounds of waves as a lullaby.  Matt and I coerced...or encouraged our family to run with us in a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.  His dad, step-mom, brother, Eli and Matt and I all got up early Thanksgiving morning to run a 5k.  We had a great time on the run and at the little after party at the finish line.  The boys played Gin Rummy with their great grandparents, Gabe cooked, the boys did the dinner dishes a few nights, we watched movies, threw things at the TV when the Niners failed to play offense against those pesky Seahawks, and we were truly thankful for our time together, our time with family and the blessing of spending a week on the beach in Florida.

There was the blog about our advent lesson that spoke to my heart.  We talked about how Joseph must have felt when the Angel came to him and said "hey um so Mary....she's already pregnant but go ahead and marry her because she is going to give birth to the Savior, the long awaited Messiah.  You're good with that right?"  How did he feel?  Who knows?  But if I were him I would have been a little disappointed.  My 5 year plan did not include my not-yet wife getting pregnant before I "knew her" (I love that description).  God interrupted Joseph's life.  He gave him a new path. Not just a little detour but a very big one.  Often when God interrupts our plan, we don't realize that the new path he has for us may lead us into a place that we couldn't have ever imagined going on our own.  A better plan.  A life changing, history making, plan.

I could also write about the fact that I have been home from Florida for over a week and still haven't really gone grocery shopping, or that I picked up 1/4 of a cow the other day and now my kids are panicking because they think we can't eat anything else but steak, roast, and ground beef until Bessie is gone, or I could write about how darn awesome my house looks when it is all shiny and bedazzled with Christmas loveliness.

But instead I'll write about this:
Today I got a text from my babysitter asking what time she needed to be at my house tomorrow to watch the boys so Matt and I could go to his work shindig.  I text Matt and asked him the same question to which he responded "the party is tonight...we need to leave in an hour".
So, I didn't go to the party.
He headed off looking all dapper, I dropped Eli off at youth group, and I took Gabe, and a laptop to Panera.  We had dinner together and then he played on the computer, and we did our advent lesson for the night and I did some Christmas shopping on the iPad.  At least 4 times he looked up from his dinner, dessert or computer and said "mom, thanks for bringing me here tonight" and once he left his work station and curled up next to me to give me a hug.  And for that moment, all was right in the world.
The kids with crappy parents, the laundry, the lack of food in the house, missing the party, having to leave the house on a windy wet night to take Eli to church when I'd rather be at home....all far from my mind as this kiddo was genuinely so happy that I forced him to join me at Panera instead of leaving him home, so we could have some soup and sandwiches, some laughter, some learning and most of all a sweet memory of that one time that just mom and Gabe went to Panera just because.