Trading Frenzy for Focus

Skype an astronaut.  Assign weekly STEM homework assignments.  Create video lessons and three levels of practice for each math topic.  Figure out how to welcome and include new teachers.  And, and, and….

I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at a workshop led by several NASA educators.  We completed design challenges, connected virtually with experts at Langley, learned new ways to model the vastness of the Solar System, accessed and analyzed real NASA data, and just barely scratched the surface of the resources they have created for teachers.  It was pretty awesome.  And just as it should be, I left pumped and ready for a new school year….possibilities and plans rolling a mile a minute as I drove home Tuesday afternoon.

But then I remembered:  This year will be different.  No, not because I’m going to be flipping every math lesson or because I’m finally excited about teaching science.  This year will be different because I will be ruled by peace.

And somehow (truthfully, I know exactly how) I realized that this frantic churning of ideas and worrying how will I get it all done is not at all peaceful.  Peace-less, actually.

So my goal-oriented, objective-focused self realized that lesson plans aren’t the only things that need to be written before this year starts.  I need my own set of goals through which to help me filter those frantic ideas.

I’m in the process of writing them….still at the brainstorming and maybe rough draft stage.  Here’s what I have so far….

1.  I know this needs to be a peace goal.  A Jesus goal.

And of course I couldn’t help but look to Colossians 3 first:  Set your minds on things above…not specific enough for me to apply easily to my daily routine.  Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…this might work.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…also a good choice.

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  

I think this might be it.  I really like the fact that it leads me to consider both my words and my actions.  And reminds me to be thankful (a practice, I’m learning, that may keep me Awake to the important things.)  But I struggled at first to think concretely about the do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus part.  What exactly does that mean?

While mulling this over on my run tonight, I may have gotten an answer.  Or at least part of one.

What if I were to take any word or action and follow it up with, “I am doing this in the name of the Lord Jesus?”  There are plenty of words and actions where this would make perfect sense:  Taking the time to get to know a student or new teacher in Jesus’ name.  Extending unexpected grace to a student who expects a reprimand in Jesus’ name.  Reaching out to a struggling family in Jesus’ name.  Of course in my public school teacher role, this won’t be a spoken in Jesus’ name, but rather a conscious effort to work with a things above mindset, following Jesus’ example in word and deed.

Then there are those seemingly insignificant tasks to which I can add, “In Jesus’ name.”  What about grading papers in Jesus’ name?  Or giving instructions to an assignment in Jesus’ name?  Or covering lunch duty in Jesus’ name?  I think the key to these mundane moments lies in Colossians 3:23:  Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not human masters.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  Wouldn’t it make a big difference to view all of those moments as service to Jesus and not just a school system, a principal, a classroom of students, or a group of parents?  I think yes.

But then there are those other moments as a teacher (or parent, or nurse, or salesclerk, or waitress, or whatever) that are just incongruous if we add in Jesus’ name.  I can’t very well berate a nine year old in front of his classmates for forgetting his homework in Jesus’ name.  Or complain, in Jesus’ name, about a snippy e-mail I got from a parent.  Or repeat the latest teacher gossip in Jesus’ name.  So that’s what I came to today while running….if the words I’m about to say or the action I’m about to take is incompatible with in Jesus’ name, then I need to check myself and make a new plan.  And if it’s too late, because it will be too late plenty of times, then I need to ask for forgiveness from the ones I’ve wronged (yes…often my students!) and take steps to do it differently the next time.

2.  I’m thinking this should be a goal about inspiring my students.  It sounds pretty cliché as I write it, but I want my kids to love learning and leave my classroom with the confidence that they are mathematicians, scientists, and most importantly, learners.  Sooo….maybe something like…

My students will learn to love learning math and science.  Or maybe Develop confident and inquisitive mathematicians, scientists, and learners.

Yeah…still working on that one.

3.  I’m thinking something along the lines of Facilitate the learning of SOLs in a deep and meaningful way.  I admit my focus in the past has been too much on just Passing. The. Test.  I cringe to think of the number of times I’ve said things like, “This won’t be on the SOL test, but…”  Ugh.  While I do believe all students can learn well past the minimum requirements in the standards, I am blessed to work with a group of kids that will get there much faster than the average classroom.  This year I want to focus on going deeper than just the required info…and I realize that I can rely on my inquisitive learners to get us there.

My hope is that once I have nailed down a few solid goals, then I will be able to use them to start weeding through the tremendous number of ideas that are swirling.  Keep the things that meet all three requirements.  Pass on the rest.  I’m looking forward to trading frenzy for focus.

Teachers, do you have a set of big goals that you have written for yourself or your classroom?  Friends in other jobs and roles…how about you?  I’d be really interested (and grateful!) to hear them…even if you are in the brainstorming stage like me.  Please share!

Practicing Peace

Teacher friends, close your ears.   Ok….everybody else ready?  Good.

I go back to work in less than a month.  Wow.  

Ok, you can open them again!

This morning it dawned on me that it wasn’t going to be summer forever.  I realized all of a sudden that I had to start tackling some of the tasks on my growing to-do list before it was too late.  And as soon as I made that realization, I started to feel that panicky feeling in my chest that I haven’t missed one bit in these last few weeks.

Get a new Social Security card for Chica.  Schedule doctor and dentist appointments.  Order agendas for school.  Figure out childcare for the first week back to work.  Shop for school supplies.  Start planning for the first month.  And on.  And on.  And on.

As I finished breakfast and wondered to myself if I could afford one more day of putting off my list, Jay must have asked me three times if I was okay.

Yes.  I’m fine.  This is just panic mode in mute.

This all got me thinking about the new peace that I’ve been feeling and practicing and living this summer.  I really want to believe that this peace is a result of setting my heart and mind on things above, and not just a welcomed side effect of being off of work for a month.  I want to believe that Jesus is changing me into a peaceful person, a person that deliberately chooses calm and grace over panic and hurry.  Maybe most of all, I want to believe that something will be different when I go back to work.

I heard a speaker talk this week about sin.  In his section about the ways we can remedy sin and its power to harden our hearts, he pointed out some more peace verses in Philippians 4.  He suggested that in response to anxiousness we are to pray, be thankful, and think about those things that are Godly.  And here was the interesting part that he added:

The best time to practice this is when you are in the middle of it.  The second best time to practice this is when you are not in the middle of it.

So what does that mean for me?  It means that this coming month is like a dress rehearsal before opening night.  Like a scrimmage before the season opener.  Like behind the wheel before hitting the road alone.  But the real test of my his peace will come a month from now.  When I’m sending my big girl off to kindergarten at a new school, and Bubba cries when I drop him off at daycare, and I still have 47 things to do to be ready for my class of 26.  Oh, and don’t forget the laundry and the dishes and who knows….maybe moving to a new house??  Yep….it’s then I’ll know if this peace is really rooted in a changed heart or just a sparse calendar.

I once co-directed a school play.  Talk about anxiousness…but that’s a story for another day.  Anyway, after a long rehearsal, I would sit down with all my little actors and actresses and give them notes from that day’s practice.  This person missed their line, let’s change this light cue, somebody needs to go find that missing prop, etc.   And occasionally (yep…I was probably a little too harsh most of the time) I gave a few positive remarks too.  We could finally hear this girl’s lines, or thanks for hitting that music cue right on time.  The point always being that they would keep the good stuff and change the bad stuff when the real thing came along.

So this whole practicing peace idea got me thinking about a few quick notes from today’s “rehearsal”:

  • Good:  Getting started on “the list” early this morning instead of just continuing to worry about it.
  • Bad:  Screaming at Chica after she asked me for help while we were trying to get out of the house on time for swimming lessons.
  • Good:  Keeping way calm during another stretch of maybe-I-should-pull-over rain.
  • Bad:  Continuing to worry (even now, as I write this) about things that I just can’t change.

Keep the good.  Jesus, change the bad.

P.S.  Ask me in a month about peace, ok?

Image:  40+251 Done-ish © Bark  | Flickr Creative Commons




Gifts #35 and 36: Peace and Salsa

We were already late.
I had to drive because my bathing suit had gotten the seat too wet for Jay.
Then it started to rain.  Hard.  Like the maybe-I-should-pull-over kind of rain.
There was a cop following me.
“MommyMommyMommyMommy,” came from the back seat in typical Bubba fashion.
The this-is-a-test beep was on the radio, only it wasn’t a test this time.
Flashing lights from an accident up ahead.
Still raining.
Knuckles getting whiter and whiter.
I remember something I forgot to bring for dinner.
Still late.

And then it hits me.

Let the peace of God rule in your hearts….and be thankful.

I’ve been working these verses of Colossians 3 over and over…in the car when Chica doesn’t protest too much, when Jay will hold the tattered paper and follow along, when I’m sitting in the rocker beside Bubba’s bed waiting for the right moment to exit.

And it’s slowly starting to feel like the message of Christ (at least this tiny little piece of it) is seeping down from my lips to my head to my heart.  Dwelling richly in me.

Ordinarily, during a car ride like this, I would have been thinking any and all of these things:

I can’t do this.
I hate driving in the rain.
Shutupshutupshutup, this is already hard enough.
He should have just driven.  His knuckles are probably as white as mine.
How dumb do you have to be to forget the salsa when serving Mexican?
Late. Again.

Ok, so if I’m honest, I guess I really did think all of those things.  But after just a pass or two, I consciously made the effort to breathe in the peace and breathe out the thankfulness.

The rain slowed down.
The little people remained calm.
We were late, but it just didn’t matter.  Our new friends are full of grace.
And she had salsa.

Two jars, actually.

Image:  Rain © Knick Banas  | Flickr Creative Commons

Things Above

I’ve made it to verse 13 in my challenge to memorize Colossians 3.  There are lots of people words in verse 13…each other, one another, any of you, someone…so it’s taking a little longer to stick than the last few.

Apparently Chica’s been listening as I’ve been practicing out loud.  Today on our ride to a friend’s house, she asked out of nowhere (because isn’t that how the best conversations always start)…

“What does ‘set your minds on things up above’ mean?”

There’s nothing quite like having to explain truth to a five year old to let you know whether you’ve got it or not.

I think I said something like, “We should spend our time thinking about God instead of worrying about things that are less important in our everyday lives.”  Since that explanation was met with silence, I knew I was going to need to do better than that.  Chica is certainly a verbal processor, and she starts explaining things back to you (always with her own twist) if she thinks she’s got it.  That wasn’t happening yet.

Just like me, I knew she needed an example.  I had a pretty concrete example from last week at the library…

That day I made the mistake of attempting the library without Bubba’s stroller.  Chica was way into an Elephant and Piggie book, but Bubba was much more into pulling one book after another off the shelf.  My chaos quotient had long been passed, and I needed to get out of there fast.  But Chica wasn’t budging….only whining.  So I got down in her ear and whispered a very mean sounding threat.  Meanwhile Bubba is sprinting across the library and has made it clear across the building by the time I’m done with Chica.  I run to catch him, and then she runs to catch us.  I gave her a few more ugly words, this time with her chin in my hands (the I’m Really Serious signal in our house), and then marched my grumpy little family out of that place.

In the car I was just fuming…rolling everyone’s bad choices over and over in my head.  But it didn’t take too long before something else rolled on in there…set your hearts on things above.  Certainly my crappy attitude wasn’t above.  A few verses later it says to rid yourselves of anger….the verse I had been working on that day.  Though I admit it wasn’t immediate, I tried to use these two verses as reason to cool off and just let it go.  First…get rid of the anger.  Second…think bigger picture about what might be happening here.  The best I could come up with on my ten minute ride home is that I was being given an opportunity to model for them an appropriate (or inappropriate…ugh!) way to handle frustration.  If I want them to have a Christ-like attitude in difficult situations, I better start trying to model that myself…and admitting when I don’t get it right.

Sooo….back to today’s question in the car.  The whole library example was so concrete and real for me, but way too much to give Chica today.  So I stalled with my fair share of ummmms and welllllls, and finally attempted a few five year old “for examples”:

  • If it’s your first day of kindergarten and you start to worry about having the best clothes, the coolest backpack, sitting next to your favorite friend, and knowing all the right things to say, then this is thinking about the earthly stuff.  But if you set your mind on things above, then instead you’ll be thinking more about God’s promises to protect you and provide for you in a new situation.
  • If you and a friend are playing, and you both want to play with the same toy, you have two choices.  Earthly choice:  “I want to play with that toy because it’s the coolest, I don’t have one of those at home, and you’ve already played with it for too long.”  Things above:  “I’ll let my friend have it because this is what Jesus would do.  Maybe by sharing I can show my friend what it means to be like Jesus.”
  • If you are at Nana’s house watching TV, and Nana says it’s time to go see Mema,  you could tell her, “I don’t want to go…I just want to watch this show.”  That would be focusing on the earthly stuff.  But you could also think, “Ok…I’ll go because I know that going to see her makes her feel good and loved.”  This is thinking about things above.

Her feedback after each of the examples made me think she was getting the idea, but I know from my own life that this is definitely an easier-said-than-done kind of lesson.

Well apparently it’s more accurately an easier-done-when-five-than-thirty kind of lesson.  My friend called me tonight to tell me about what had happened when we weren’t listening.  We were gabbing about teacher stuff while her teenage daughter entertained four little kids in her room. They were each picking a piece of paper for a project, and Chica wanted the same piece as one of the other girls.  It sounds like there was a short protest, then something like, “I’m going to let you have that one because I’m thinking about things above.    The paper is an earthly thing.”

Bam.  I have so much to learn from her.

But just in case you are tempted to think that she’s an angel (Grandma!) and always goes around quoting scripture, I leave you with one other conversation that happened today.  Again, out of nowhere in the car:

Chica:  There are just so many ways to do it.
Me:  Do what, Chica?  You mean think about things above?
Chica:  No, Mom.  I mean when I burp I can make so many different sounds.
Me:  Oh.  Yeah, that too.

Changing Sheets

Sometimes God speaks in a still, small voice.  Other times he uses trash that’s fallen down between the bed and the wall.  Whatever works.

It’s Sunday morning.  Bubba and I are stuck home together because he puked three times in the early morning hours….once in his bed and twice in ours.  I’m attempting that delicate dance of baby watching and housework at the same time.  I’m sure moms who work at home get really good at cleaning while playing, but I usually do just one or the other.  But with the sheets on all three beds needing to be washed, I didn’t really have time for that.  (Chica’s sheets were in need of cleaning from a different bodily function earlier in the week.  You can only make a kid sleep on the floor in the sleeping bag for so many days in a row before sucking it up and just doing the wash.  Bad Mommy.)

Anyway, after stopping for the 17th time to read some dumb book about a parrot running away from a tiger, I finally got back to making Bubba’s bed.  Like I always do, I pulled the bed away from the wall a bit, both to rescue fallen books and help get the sheets tucked down.  I found the usual lost sock and board book, but I also found this:


That is for sure my handwriting, but I have no memembery of writing it down nor what motivated me to want to remember it.  I have a good guess, though.  I’m betting I wrote it in a sleep-deprived haze when my “work” and “lot in life” consisted of not much more than a milking cow.  I can’t lie….those days were hard, girls.

So I can’t go back and change the amount of joy I had then, but you can bet I had a quick attitude check with the sheets in hand.  Was I enjoying this work?  Well…to be honest…no. I was (slightly) aggravated that I had to be home, annoyed that we have only one good set of sheets per bed, and contemplating how much faster I could work if I didn’t have to keep stopping to read about the parrot.

But I want God’s gift of enjoying my work, and I want to look back on my life without sorrow, so I guess I might as well start with the sheets.  Fake it ’til you make it, right?

I have so many reasons for joy, and I’ve decided to try to count work as one of them.  Work in all its forms:  housework, school work, and mommy work.  I didn’t do a very good job of that today.  (I’m thinking in particular of the moment when I was cleaning up 3/4 of Bubba’s dinner off the floor and got pelted, on purpose, by his “wa-wa” cup.  Still looking for the joy there.)  But if I tell you I’m trying to be joyful, then maybe I’ll find even the tiniest bit of joy tomorrow.  Sounds like a plan.

How about you?  How do you take joy in your work?