Nine times the Bible says The Lord is slow to anger.  I like all the references, but this one stuck out to me.  Ex 34:6-7  “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger , abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children  …NIV  I heard the part of God being slow to anger is a song I had on while texturing our bathroom wall.  While I held that soft, malleable clay in my hands, I remembered a conversation I had with one of my students this year in the hall.  It went something like this:

Me:  Hey bud – what’s up, you look like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.    The young man shrugs and starts to just walk on by, then abruptly turns around.

Student:  Mrs. Winter, I am just having a crappy day but I have a question for you.  How come you’re the only teacher I have who seems to actually like their job?

Me: What do you mean?  (in background – the loud bustle of students hurrying to class and teachers barking commands like military drill sergeants)

Student:  All my teachers seem to hate their jobs because all they do is yell at us ..and I’m not exaggerating.  All but you.  You know, it’s really out of my way to come this way to my next class but it’s worth it because you always have a kind word or a smile.  You have no idea how much I need that to keep me going till 6th period.  Thank you!   With that he scooted off to class leaving me stupefied and heartbroken at the same time.  I honestly do not remember what my reply was other than “you’re welcome!” that followed after him down the hall.

 

For the rest of the day I became more aware of my surroundings in the hall.  As students scurried off to class and we teachers stood guard – I heard either a mixture of “Good afternoon so and so” to “I SAID GET IN YOUR SEAT -NOW!”  Granted not all my co-workers were barking orders, but the ones who did, drowned out the ones of us who politely greeted our students.  Then I looked into my classroom and notice my kiddos either retrieving their folders from the cabinet or getting the handouts from back counter.  Others are reading the Smartboard and beginning the bell work.  By the time the tardy bell rings, most everyone is in their seat and quiet.  Some call out “Hey Mrs. Winter!”   My classes are far from perfect – trust me, but I’ve worked hard at creating that relatively cooperative and pleasant atmosphere.  My mentor teacher told me once that our attitude creates the tone of the classroom.  I believe it. Have I yelled at my students?  Yes on occasion, but I try to make it a rarity because I honestly believe they tune me out when I yell. I am slow to anger.  Besides, kids hear angry adults way too often.  My daughter told me once that students really don’t respect teachers who yell all the time.  Most students will shine and give their all for a teacher who truly shows that they care.  Is that a simplistic, idealistic way of thinking?  No.  I heard an interview with an 40 year veteran in field of education stated pretty much the same thing after one of her teachers complained that none of the students did well on an assessment and she taught them everything – they must be stupid.  The educator told her colleague – that’s not it – they just don’t like you.  Students will not put forth effort to learn if they perceive you do not like them.

 

So am I saying we are to be their friend and “friend them” on Facebook?  Absolutely not.  I am saying have compassion on them.  In a nutshell, my goal is to treat these squirrely 7th grade students I have the way I’d want to be treated.  Or how I hope my children’s teachers treat them.  The classes my kids excelled in the most and enjoyed the most were from the teachers who treated them with compassion.  The second part of the verse is the key also.  He does not leave the guilty unpunished.  If you make a bad choice in my room, you pay the consequences – detention or office referral.  Do the crime, do the time.  Every year I have my frequent flyers who have detention with me at least once a week, or more.   I know this year will be no exception.

 

So what point am I trying to make?  Why are so many teachers angry?  I seriously doubt that was their goal as they began their career.  Well maybe some, those powertrip teachers who enjoy belittling students with caustic one liners and who enjoy verbally pummeling students into quiet, unresponsive submission.  I imagine politics, state mandated standardized tests and other asinine things have a role in stealing the joy of teaching.  So what!  We choose our behavior right?  Don’t we tell our students the same thing?  Shouldn’t we practice what we preach?  Honestly – if a teacher has so much perceivable anger that all her students see is someone who appears to not enjoy teaching –maybe they should get a different career.   Our students are like clay and we have that ability to mold them with our words. It makes me cringe to think I’ll be the teacher my students hated in 7th grade.  Of course I want them to learn my content, but not at the expense of loathing reading and writing.  Getting a 7th grader to read is battle enough, why add to it with having a crappy attitude?  Guess that’s why I have the reputation of being the “fun” teacher.  So be it.  At first that really bothered me and made me think my students are not “learning”.  Well – since test scores are the true measure of learning (ha!) – I suppose my students are “learning”.  You know what else they learned this year?  That someone cares about them – warts and all.  To me this all comes down to relationship.  This year I was the subject of a former students Jr. English project based on the novel Tuesdays With Morrie.  I wrote about that experience in  My Constant  http://nocoincidence63.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/my-constant/ so I won’t restate the whole thing again.  Bottom line – he chose me based on the connection developed in the classroom.  A dad recently told me that his son still thinks of me as his favorite English teacher.  This boy will be a Freshman in college this year.  I hear similar stories to this all the time and it is what keeps me going.  I’ve already decided that if I ever become that angry, bitter teacher -I’ll quit.

 

 

My Constant

Becoming the topic of a former student’s research project has made me pretty introspective, slightly paranoid, and extremely humbled.  I had this young man as a quiet, inquisitive, and gifted 7th grader a few years ago so when he told me I was the subject of his research – his person of influence – well – it is a humbling honor to say the least.  The project is based off the novel Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Album, where Mitch writes a novel about his favorite professor and the life lessons Morrie imparts.  Well – my student, who I either called Kabetzke or McGeek, and I met at a local coffee shop, every Sunday during the Fall semester. Oh – the McGeek reference is from NCIS.  His class period was my NCIS kiddos because several were fans of the show or I thought they reminded me of 7th grade versions of key characters.  Well – I of course was the female version of Gibbs – because of the constant cup of coffee I’m sure.  Well –there is the gray hair and the parental devotion I have for my students too.

Anyway – every Sunday, Kabetzke would have his list of questions and I honestly had a hard time putting into words my responses and sounding somewhat –normal.  It’s a little strange to lay aside my teacher persona and put on the normal person persona.  But the sounding normal – that is where the introspection comes to play.  Some questions have been about my childhood experiences, tough situations I’ve gone through, my family –past and present, and my influential people.  It’s a lot like having someone write your biography –well it is exactly like that.  The hardest question to date has been “What has been your constant?”  McGeek thought it would be my coffee – but that’s just partially true.  That particular question gave me pause because one primary constant has been my family, yet even that is in a constant state of change.  That’s why in my mind this past Christmas was the last one with us’ns.  Our son will graduate from A&M in May, our oldest daughter is in a serious relationship with a young man and our baby girl is getting ready to apply to colleges.  So – the family dynamic is changing, yet they are still my constant. I know in my heart – that even if our children are scattered across the globe – we will have that strong bond.  This past summer, the two college kids wrote me separate letters of encouragement and appreciation. Just because.  Both letters had me in tears and both made me realize I have been a positive influence in their life.  (During those weird teenage years – a mom often wonders if her words sink in or not)

I really have two constants –the second being Faith.  I do not have answers to why I’ve walked through some of my situations.  I just know it has molded me into a person who does not give up.  So – the experience of having someone choose you as their person of influence – very humbling and eye-opening.  It has made me realize how powerful our influence within the classroom and within our families can be. We do leave legacies – question is – what kind are we leaving?

Let My Light Shine

photoThere is something sacred and beautiful in the artistry of stained glass.  I’ve always been fascinated by the intricate patterns that comprise many familiar Bible stories – from the story of Christ to Old Testament legends (Daniel, David and Moses to name a few).  I remember as a child becoming lost in the colors and patterns, often times zoning out during the sermon.  Even today, as the sunlight played amongst the colors, I became enchanted by the beauty.   From what I’ve read, each piece of the pattern is created by a master craftsman who fashions the glass in fire, flattens it, adds the desired colors, cuts it into various shapes and lays it into a  pattern – piece by piece.  The process sounds very precise, time consuming, and labor intensive.  Yet, I would imagine a labor of love.  To create something of beauty must be a joy.  However, its true beauty is not revealed until the sun pours through the many facets.

I imagine our life is the same.  Each piece of our life -the good, bad, trying, glorious, heartbreaking -have been laid out into a spectacular mosaic of color and beauty.  One of the ingredients of the glass is potash and I am reminded that beauty arises from the ashes.  Our beauty is more often than not forged in fires as well.  So many of us travel our journey broken shards of glass, but I know if we give our broken pieces to our master artisan, He can gently place them into a story that reveals His glory.  People really do not need to know all the details for our lives to reflect the glory.  Do they?  I believe all people really need to see is the beauty our story tells when His radiance shines through our stains.  

Taking My Stand

Lately I am fixated on a word from one of my favorite set of verses.  It is the word stand found in  Ephesians 6:10-20.  Yes – the whole set is about donning the armor of God. However, in the NIV, it says stand four times.  “11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”  “13 -Therefore, put on the full armor of God , so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything,to stand.  14 -Stand firm then, ….”  In one instance, it is used as a noun – to take your stand  a mindset or decision in which you will not be moved.  I think the other instances are metaphorical in nature to figuratively take a stand; to not run away from a fight.

The context is a battle we are engaged in involving the spiritual realm – basically a battle of and for our  mind and soul.  Romans 8: 27-38 speaks to this reality.  37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,#

8:38Or nor heavenly rulers neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is more than the cartoon angel/devil sitting on our shoulders.  I actually picture that scene from The Return of the King when Eowyn engages in combat with the Witch-King and he knocks her down.  She has fear in her eyes, but she does not stay down nor does she run away.  .  The Witch-King raises her up claiming that “No man can kill me” to which she, while piercing him with her sword cries out “I am no man!” She made her stand and defeated her enemy, which changed the course of battle.  In life – we too get knocked on our butt, unfortunately too many times, we choose to stay there and play the role of a victim instead of getting back up and getting back into the fray. Sometimes we just run away thinking we can outrun our problems and challenges.

Whoever tells you being a Christian is easy, is full of it. Life is messy and sometimes – just horrific.  In addition, there is too much proof in the Bible stating we are engaged in a battle and we are told over and over to Be Strong and Courageous.  Technically, those words were spoken to Joshua upon entering the Promised Land.  Correction –taking the Promised Land.  To be who God intends us to be, takes action on our part, even if it’s standing. To go where He intends for us to go – a promised land – we will need to be prepared to fight for it.

I also do not believe we need to go looking for battle because I think the battles come to us.

Standing up for what is right, standing by the hurting, standing shoulder to shoulder with others in battle,  standing against injustice, standing your ground when the enemy taunts or tests you.  It is not an act of cowardice.  Oddly enough, the stance for me is quite often on my knees – in prayer or battle for my loved ones. Our society has become soft.  We have lost our grit and have become wimps – in many ways.  We quite often sit it and whine that life is too hard or why is God being mean.  Last time I checked, God doesn’t live in a golden lamp.  He knows we have battles, but we don’t fight alone.  Metaphorically, He leads the way into our battle and brings up the rear guard. We are completely surrounded – by His glory.   Do we trust Him to help us?  Yes – we may be wounded.  Situations may not turn out how we wanted them, but I still trust in God’s sovereignty.  He is the only one who sees the big picture and all the various timelines our events can travel down.  We cannot.

Since the word stand has been on my mind of late, I can’t help but wonder if God placed it in my heart as a means of preparation for the coming year.  Am I or is someone in my family headed for yet another battle?  Not that we are unfamiliar with battles – you name it -we’ve probably gone through it or something similar.  We are a little weary from the fight, but I’m not giving up.   I will clean my armor, sharpen my sword and prepare for whatever lies before me.  I will prepare my heart, soul and mind through prayer and be reminded that in each battle – the Lord has gone before me and is my rear guard.  I am never alone.  Neither are you,  Remember, when you’ve done all you can do – stand.  .  

Ghosts of Christmas Pasts

I’m sitting at the computer watching snow on the first day of winter, listening to Christmas songs, and feeling that gnawing pang of loss I always feel this time of year.  What is it all about?  I guess the obvious answer is simply Christmas is when we gather with family and friends to celebrate the birth of Jesus by attending candlelight services, opening gifts, eating tons of food, and enjoying ourselves.  It’s also for me a small  reminder of those who will not be with us around the dining table, nor have they been for many,many years.  I am glad it’s not a constant blue Christmas, but just a little piece of my heart  remembers.  It always remembers – especially the good.  Oddly – it’s through food I connect some memories.  Chocolate fudge I always associate with my mom and how it always turned out beautifully.  I’ve tried to  make it several times, but ended up with a good chocolate sauce for ice cream.  So – that one will stay with her.  However, I have mastered her dressing and the taste brings back sweet memories.  Even memories of my dad, who would meet me in the kitchen the morning after Christmas, ready to eat cold turkey and dressing for breakfast.  Something I still do today, as well as my my children.   Not all of my memories are food related, but snow related.  My  brother-in-law, Jeff, always loved having a white Christmas, or at least the possibility of one.  So as snow falls outside my window, I can’t help but imagine Jeff up by the storehouse of snow in heaven, purposefully dumping it on our city and loving every minute of it.   Speaking of my brother-in-law, I cannot help but laugh when I see Kmart commercials this time of year and his infamous Blue Light Special Christmas gifts he would buy as divine inspiration from above.  He certainly had a flair for creative.  Who else would come up with the idea of using a crossbow case as a keyboard case complete with images of deer embossed on top.  Still one of my favorite gifts.  

However, my most favorite memory of all is of Jeff and Kent dressed in bathrobes, cottonball beards, pillow case shepherds hats and canes as shepherds crooks.  Their schtick was worthy of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis or Abbot and Costello as they told their eyewitness account of seeing the angels and the baby Jesus.  When asked what sore afraid meant – they just looked at each other and belly flopped to the ground demonstrating how they immediately fell down before the angels and afterwards they were well —sore.   Do you know what swaddling clothes are?  According to these shepherds, it was what you wrapped your swaddle in.  

 I am thankful for all of my memories – the good and the bad.  I hang on to the good ones because they bring me comfort and joy.  I remember the bad ones because they make my good memories much sweeter.  It all reminds me of a quote from Doctor Who -Every life is a pile of good things and bad things.  The good things don’t always soften the bad things but vice versa.  The bad things won’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.  Life your life adding to the good pile of others.  So as you sing your songs, eat your food, open your gifts,  make a pile of good things for those gathered around your table this season.  They might provide a bit comfort during those upcoming bad things that will inevitably happen.

Christmas Through the Eyes of a Mom

Nearly twenty-years ago I heard the song Mary Did You Know for the first time and wept.  The tears were from sudden realization of the precious gift she carried as I too was pregnant with my first born, a son.  I too had those wonderings of what my baby boy would become someday.  Would he be musical like me,or brilliant like his daddy.  Would he have blue eyes or black hair?  I imagine she wondered the same thing, but with obvious exceptions.  His father was God and no one knew what He really looked like.  I just cannot imagine the thoughts racing through the poor girl’s head.  

Then the day of Jesus’ birth arrived.  I have no doubt she had an overwhelming amount of love flood her soul when she gazed upon his sweet face for the first time.  I did too the first time I held Daniel. I remember thinking this was the most incredible miracle I’ve ever witnessed.  However, my miracle is nothing compared to her story.   I can’t help wonder what went through her mind as she held him, counted his fingers and toes and kissed his brow.  I know I became lost in the newborn magic and could hold my newborn son for hours, just basking in the warmth and sweet baby scent.  While Daniel would grasp my finger with his small hand, I never imagined that it would be covered in scars one day.  I wonder if Mary did when her newborn baby grasped her hand?  I remember how cautious I was cradling Daniel’s head. I’m sure Mary took precaution in protecting her baby too.  

However, there is only so much we as mom’s can do to protect our children.  I remember the day my son had a terrible skiing accident that caused a concussion and lacerated eyelid and broken occipital bones.  As I watched him lying in the bed, bleeding and throwing up blood, I didn’t see my 19 year old son – I saw my baby boy and felt helpless.  Then I felt guilty because Mary saw her baby boy bleeding, bruised and dying.  Did she see him as a grown man sacrificing his life for her or as the sweet baby she once held in her arms?  I’m sure she wanted to take on the Roman guards and rescue her child, which is probably why Jesus directed John to take care of her.  I’m sure Jesus had seen that mama bear look in her eyes before.  

I also wonder if she was allowed to join the circles of women at the well or whatever they congregated to – talk about husbands and children.  Or did they shun her because of her “bad reputation”?  The Bible doesn’t say anything about that.  Yet I wonder what the conversations sounded like after the resurrection and ascension into heaven?  Mary could certainly trump any mom there because I am positive saying “my son is  Savior, Deliver, King of Kings” beats “my son is a Doctor, Lawyer, Common Ruler”.  

That is why I tend to look at Christmas through the eyes of a mom–no – The Mom.  She certainly has become the image of the perfect mother right?  I really wish there was more to her story, but I guess all we really need to know is one thing – she was obedient and willing to do whatever God asked of her.  I guess her story is told between the lines.  

Miracles

Healing

A few weeks ago was son-in-law, Chris, had surgery to install components for his first cochlear implant. This week he will be fitted with the processors will provide the miracle of sound. Not just normal hearing, but sounds we cannot hear. Super bionic sound capability. Some have prayed in his past for God to supernaturally heal him. My thought is simply this. God did heal him because God gave the doctors and the brilliant inventors abilities to not only perform this miraculous surgery – but create a device to allow him to hear-clearly!  That is truly divine in every sense of the word. Do not get me wrong because this does not negate the power God because He is the giver of our gifts and talents. Gifts and talents are often associated with the arts; isn’t creating wonderful medical devices also an art?  There is much more to Chris’s story than this operation – but you need to watch his vlog for that part. I for one am in awe of how this incredible story has unfolded and I cannot wait for the next page of his journey to unfold.   The link below takes you to his vlog. 

http://youtu.be/JekwNISuZao

The Real Time Lord

Time is a gift we receive like manna from heaven. We can’t save it because it dissipates. We can’t go backwards or forwards. All we have is now. However how we behave in the past sets our course for the future. How we behave today can rewrite a page of our story. We are the author. We have the pen. We may think we are in complete charge, but we are not. God is the Editor-in-chief and has the permission to rewrite our story, introduce new characters, plot twists and conflict. I guess He really is our Ghost writer. Thankfully , He uses our past mistakes for helping others today. He allows us to travel through time. He is the one who gives us our time on earth. He is our ultimate Time Lord. To quote my favorite fictional time lord -
“We are all stories in the end. Just make it a good one eh?” (Doctor Who).

Why I Write

On most Friday or Saturday nights, you will see a street preacher perched on a busy street corner in our hometown. He has an old hearse and other macabre items as a backdrop and a megaphone proclaiming everyone is going to hell. I find myself not wanting to make eye contact with him for fear he would come jump in my car at the stop light. He really isn’t doing anything wrong so why does it bug me?
Why does the person who comes door to door witnessesing bug me? Only thing I can point to is that is not my style of evangelism. I am a naturally shy person so why I took a class on evangelism is beyond me. Oh I know – I felt like I wasn’t doing my part to spread the gospel and was made to feel like I was a failure. So in college, I started taking a class on how to evangelize and share the gospel. We memorized scripture (which I am horrible at) and then we went to the mall and approached random people with the intent of sharing the gospel and giving a tract of information. I have never felt more awkward. I felt like a failure as a Christian because of my feelings of inadequacy. It has taken me a long time to realize that style of evangelism is not for everyone and it is definitly not for me and that’s okay.
We as Christians are all called to make disciples but how we do it is directly tied to the talents and gifts God has placed in us. I am a relational person who generally makes friends easily. I have this personality that seems to make people comfortable talking with me and I try to give godly wisdom in their situation. I am not that in your face Christian. Maybe as I get older i will approach becoming that because I won’t care what people think. So the title of this piece is about why I write. I write because I feel firstly God has given me a gift of words but in written form. I can write it down. Rearrange it and add flavor. I do not feel as though I speak eloquently because I get distracted and forget important details and I feel like I come off sounding foolish.
I also write because I am a reader and being such. I tend to re-read things and in doing so often find new insight. I hope when folks read my articles they learn new things too and feel encouraged. I am also a teacher, not just in school setting but in Sunday School, or I have been in past. In public school I cannot share scripture or directly pray with students, but unbeknownst to them, I do pray for them. I cannot teach things of Jesus but I instead try to be Jesus and look at them through His eyes. It all goes back to being relational. Many times I have had a student come by after school and break down in tears while telling me their parents are divorcing or other heartbreaking things. Do they need a sermon then? No. Just a box of tissues and a listening ear. Sometimes a hug. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. We are suppose to be a light. Some of us spotlights;some of us candles. Both illuminate the darkness and bring hope to a lost and dying world.
We need to let our light shine in whatever vessel (gift) God has bestowed upon us. We also need to minister in love. Without that being the source of our light, we will be rather noisy. Think of a gong or clinging symbol. So how do you let your light shine? What is your true motivation ?

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