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 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?

Other Duties as Assigned

I was recently asked if given the opportunity, would I have a gun in my classroom. My response “ absolutely no. Never. “. My real response in my head harkens back to my favorite episode of M.A.S.H.and Hawkeye’s own response to carrying a gun —


Hawkeye: I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash-and-carry, carry me back to Old Virginie, I’ll even ‘hari-kari’ if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun.

This topic has come to the forefront obviously and people may have good Intentions of protection for we teachers and our students. There are better ways. First of all- we need to recognize that mental health and bullying are real issues and these students need our help. They are not rabid dogs needing to be put down. I get attached to all of my students. Not just the little angels, but those little deceptive ones with walls of steel built up to guard their broken hearts. Those are the ones who keep me up at night trying to think of how to reach them. I know I can’t save them all, but I believe kindness and love is needed before it’s too late. I am their teacher. One of my jobs is to provide a safe environment for my students. That goes both ways. Hurting children need to have at least one adult in their life they can trust and feel safe around too. They need an adult in their life who isn’t afraid to set boundaries and say “No”.

Am I saying in a naive way that love is all these children need and if we love these truly disturbed children more they would not have gone off the rails? I don’t know. Every situation is different. I just know that I couldn’t shoot a student because most likely I’ll know who they are. I’d feel like the boy in Old Yeller. Now don’t get me wrong- I’d do whatever possible to protect my other 99 from the 1.   I just find  it’s a heartbreaking reality to put on my lesson plan “students will be able to quickly and quietly stack furniture in front of the door”.

So please don’t ask me to carry a gun. That should not be part of a teachers’ “other duties as assigned” requirements. I’ve attended funerals of students killed at their own hand. I do not want to have a death be by my hand. Again I want all of my students to be safe. Let someone else more qualified carry that burden and carry the gun.

5 more minutes

This afternoon I said goodbye to a colleague/mentor/friend.  I normally hug her neck at the end of the year lunch we have at school, but Miss O. slipped out before anyone noticed.  I figured I’d see her around the first of August since we both tend to go up before the rush to set our rooms up for the new school year.  I thought about maybe working registration this year and chuckle at how she has all of her Washington DC trip materials piled high on her rolling chair, pushing it to the gym to convince more 8th graders to join her on this magical trip.  This afternoon, as I sat in the funeral home chapel among a crowd of students, faculty, and family,  the weight of finality began seeping its way into my heart when I realized registration and the school year will not be the same.  I also remembered not saying a proper goodbye just a few weeks earlier.  If only there had been 5 more minutes.  


That thought of “if only I’d…..” is a universal regret we often feel after losing someone.  However, that concept of taking 5 more minutes doesn’t have to be connected to the death of loved ones. How many times have we heard in response to “go to bed and turn off your light” the “ah mom – just 5 more minutes!”  I was notorious for missing my curfew because I hated the idea of thinking I’d miss out on something really fun.  That idea of “just a few minutes more”  can be our outlook on life as a whole.  What kind of impact would taking 5 minutes of listening to your child or spouse share about their day create?  What about taking a few minutes to allow the elderly gentlemen to skip ahead of you in line at the grocery store with his small basket of items.  As a teacher, what would it hurt to spend a few minutes after school listening to a student pour out their life to you because they feel you care.  It all causes ripples.  


Taking those few minutes (if for the right reasons) to make a small difference is, in my opinion, one of the most Christ-like things we can do.  I am remembering the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. He didn’t have to spend time listening to her or talking with her- it was a choice. I don’t know if he went out of his way or if it was circumstances that brought him there. To me, the nugget is he took the time to listen to her.  She knew he cared. I can hear some of you saying “He was Jesus that’s what he does!” Yes, he was fully human too.  We are supposed to be like Him – so now what are you going to say?  


By the size of the crowd at my friend’s funeral, I am going to go out on a limb and say she took the time to make those around her -friends, family, coworkers or students – feel appreciated and cared for too. So think about this. What can you do – just something simple that only takes a few minutes – that causes the ripple?  Judging by the morning headlines, there isn’t enough kindness in the world or at least the kindnesses are not being noted.  Your simple act of kindness make not make the whole world a better place, but it will certainly improve the world around you.  Take 5 minutes and make a change.

Let it Go

I’m blaming my youngest daughter and the Snap she sent me earlier this morning.  You see, she was at the gym with her sister and for some reason – the song “Let It Go” was blaring over the sound system.   The accompanying statement/question she had was “Am I in hell?”  It made me laugh because first of all – she isn’t really a girly girl type and the whole Disney princess thing just isn’t her –thing.  Now if that princess carried a sword, threw flame balls or something powerful like that – then maybe.  However, this isn’t a story about one of my beautiful daughters, but the idea that letting go is okay and necessary for us to be healthy.  I think without that simple, yet difficult act, you can put yourself in a type of hell or torment.

I’ve been listening to various podcasts and the one today talked about what faith is and isn’t.  What having trust is and isn’t.  I like listening to things and try to apply them to my world and reconcile with my own experiences.   They shared the idea that doubt is not a bad thing.  There are chapters/books in the Bible that deal with this – Lamentations, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Job.  I’ve known people in my lifetime who do not like those books because they are negative or show a lack of faith on the part of the writer.  Bull – after internalizing what I heard today, it’s the real life experiences of people struggling with their faith and having real doubt like we do.  They are there for an example for us because there have been days I’ve wished to hide away and waste away.  As in Psalms 102 – 

Hear my prayer, Lord;    let my cry for help come to you.  2 Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress.  Turn your ear to me;    when I call, answer me quickly.  3 For my days vanish like smoke;    my bones burn like glowing embers.  4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;   I forget to eat my food.  5 In my distress, I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones.

I read this chapter almost daily back in the day I struggled with the Acanthamoeba that almost destroyed my eye 17 years ago.  There were days I wanted to just curl up and die because the pain was so intense.  Not many of my family realize that because I felt compelled to stay strong for them.  Did I doubt in God?  Well – honestly there were days I was really pissed.  We had already gone through so much that year – I felt raw and exposed.  But doubt — well –not in God because I had already experienced that “peace beyond understanding” aspect 6 months before when we lost 3 family members in a car wreck.  That moment of overwhelming comfort enveloped me in the midst of the intense sorrow is something I’ll never forget.  I want to be clear – it was not a comfort of “everything will be okay” – it was more a feeling of someone being there for me and not being alone.  On the flipside,  I experienced more doubt in a false faith and confirmation in what I felt was life-giving trust and faith.    


We were pastors back then, and my eye disease became a hot topic at the altar, as did my “lack of faith”.  I had so many well-meaning, yet misguided people, attack me saying things “it’s your fault you’re not healed because I prayed for you and spoke it into existence.”  or “You must have a hidden sin problem – that’s why you’re not healed.”  Those are just a few of the many, many accusations I dealt with in person.  Who knows what was said out of my earshot in gossip meetings –oh sorry —prayer meetings.  I still stand by the fact that trusting God to lead us in the direction to go with medical experts with this disease took a leap of faith.  I had to trust in a doctor in Dallas, that I knew nothing about.  I’d heard he was the renown expert in this disease, but I didn’t have experience with him –yet.  So – I had – technically – faith in the unseen or unknown.  My experience in dealing with the doctor, who was as good as the claims suggested, deepened my trust and faith in his ability to help me.  Yet – dealing with the pain for that year and a half until the amoebas were annihilated required a huge amount of trust.  There were many days I wondered why I had to go through this,  Why was this now part of my narrative?   I read a quote recently that said “I’ve learned to stop praying for the things you want and start praying that in the end, you survive whatever happens.”   If I had known that quote then, it would have been taped on my mirror to reflect on because I needed to survive whatever happened.  That is where the trust comes in.  I had to hang on to something because I was facing blindness if the experimental medicine didn’t work.  Well – thankfully it did and followed by a cornea transplant, I’m almost as good as new.  


It’s because of that experience of doubt, faith, trust, etc., I can have the strength to face whatever happens now.  I have to trust that I may not always like the outcome, but that’s where I need to let it go.  There are so many circumstances that are beyond my control, but that story I shared about the eye disease is my touchstone moment.  I’ve had several in my life, but that one is my moment of understanding to a degree what it means to trust. I don’t have an answer as to why I had to go through that.  All I know is I made it through and if that realization from the experience was the only reason –then so be it.   Today was a reaffirming of knowing in spite of the grief of the past year and the difficult situations – I need to pray more to survive whatever happens and trust in something much bigger than myself. I need to realize that my journey can be really difficult and fraught with events I’d love to have answers.  Yet – I need to let go and accept that I won’t always get those answers. To be honest,  I really don’t like that aspect, but it’s a form of trust to accept.  Oh – I can still be mad about situations and cry out “why!!!!”,  That isn’t lack of faith – that’s real life.  It is realizing some of the difficult, heartbreaking situations we go through are a result of someone else exercising their free will not considering the old cause and effect reaction.  We cannot control those moments, only the way we react.  We are human.  We make mistakes,  We are real,  We experience all kinds of crap.  We question.  We doubt.  Do not let anyone tell you how to feel in the midst of those difficult days.  Let go of those unrealistic expectations of HOW to handle it and pray to survive whatever happens because experience has taught me – you will survive.

The Antithesis

March came in like a lion seeking destruction. You could say it was an antithesis of events.  To paraphrase The Bard – March will always represent some of the best times of our lives and now will represent the hardest of times.   It began with my normal morning routine the first Monday of March:  open my Facebook to catch up with the world; sip my coffee, eat breakfast, contemplate the day.  Well, there it was – a notification on the message app. I never get notified there. My family just texts or calls on the phone. For some reason, I felt nervous, but I opened it anyway. There waiting for me was a message from a long lost cousin letting me know my older brother Jimmy passed away the day before from a fast acting, rare lung cancer. Shock and disbelief filled me. What do I do?  That part was decided for me since Jimmy donated or gave his body to science. There was also no funeral, but a dance celebration a few weeks later to honor his life.  It all seemed so surreal.  Plus, I kept thinking he faked his death. Okay, I still think it’s a remote possibility. In reality, it doesn’t matter because I have never been close to him and now I’m the only one left from my Simpson family.    


All my life, my brother lived a life of misdirection and substance abuse. He floated around like a butterfly according to our mom. His destructive lifestyle was not going to be part of my life or my children because it destroyed my parents. That’s the backstory.  On the surface, he was a very charismatic person with lots of friends.  At one point – I did reconcile with him when I heard he’d become a Christian, and had been clean for awhile, so we briefly kept in contact. Anyway – when I decided to reconnect, I thought finally he had changed the destructive part of his life; however,  some patterns returned and I couldn’t deal with it. My children’s safety was/is my first priority.  Besides, having his ex-wife #8 send you his copy of divorce papers and asking for me to get them to him,  gave me the reason to push pause on the reconnect.


Over the years, I had wondered if pushing the pause button was the right call or was I too harsh. In reading Facebook posts on his page after his death,  I believe I did the right thing. He made changes and may have finally found the right path. I just wasn’t meant to be part of it after all. Jimmy had a lot of people whom he influenced and considered family.  So do I. It’s okay that our lives didn’t intersect because he learned how to take care of himself and not depend on me.  I was/am the baby sister. It should have been the other way around. We were/are complete opposites.  Are there regrets for shutting him out?  No – because if he truly changed his life at the end, my rejection may have been a small catalyst.  My only regret is not knowing this healed version.


The antithesis of this month?  Well – March is my son’s birthday and it’s my wedding anniversary. So – there’s that life/death thing going on or a disturbance in the balance.  I know you can’t live life without pain.   I know one shouldn’t live a life of regret.  I’ve seen my share in 54 years, so I’m just trying to process this strange month and the events that ensued.  Now that summer has finally come – I can actually grieve that which was lost and try to process the whys and what ifs and regrets.   

Like a tree, firmly planted

The Bible has several references to trees being planted by water, surviving drought and heat, standing tall, etc.  In and of itself, trees are not very animated.  Oh, in the wind, they dance and their leaves produce songs.  To me, being alone in my backyard, listening to the wind playing through the leaves is one of my favorite things because it calms my soul.  Trees in my part of the world are not a natural occurrence.  History tells us the majority of trees populating our landscape and our yards were brought in from somewhere else –transplanted.  To survive our sometimes harsh summers, unbearable winters, constant wind, trees have to dig deep with their roots to reach a water source for survival.  

Eighteen years ago, on a February weekend, my sister-in-law, Jimmie, shared a verse with me about being like a tree being firmly planted by the waters.  The picture she had as she read this verse was like I said earlier –a tree with its roots firmly planted by the water source.  She felt like this fit because the days ahead would be fraught with spiritual storms that would test my faith, so I needed to stand strong and steady like the tree.  Eighteen years ago, those words were true as the storm did hit – literally and figuratively – taking my brother-in-law Jeff, Jimmie and their baby Jordan away from us.  They may be gone, but those words Jimmie shared with me that afternoon are echoing in my heart tonight.  Our family has endured more storms, trials, and hell over the past 18 years than I care to recall right now.  Today, we are facing yet another test of our will and faith and fortitude.  

I’ve added a few other images.  Like I said — trees are not really animated, but they are steady.  They provide shade from the heat.  They provide a home for flying creatures, and they provide food.  If you study the archetypal symbolism of trees, each tree tells a story.  So, according to this symbolism, oaks represent truth, courage , nd wisdom.  So back to what my sister-in-law said about me being a tree.  No – I am not exactly the most animated person, but I’ve been known to by hyper at time.  I did fall off my stool in my classroom last week, does that count?  I would say I try to speak the truth and share wisdom.  Courage – well – I suppose it takes courage to not give up.  I feel like I am the one who needs to be that steady source of encouragement and shelter to my family when their world falls apart.  I am reminded of an interview my older brother gave after returning from a dangerous mission in Vietnam.  The reporter asked him “Were you scared?” to which my brother replied with a laugh and answered “Dude – you’d have to be crazy not to be, but I know where I’m going if my time comes. Pray less for me, but for those around me who don’t.”  Pretty good advice.  In the midst of this current battle, I’d say the same thing.  Yes – I’m scared, but pray less for me, but more those engulfed in this battle.  In the meantime, I’ll stay steady, strong, provide shelter, wisdom, truth and courage for those who rest in my shade.  

Christmas Past, Present, Future.

Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart.  Luke 2:19.  Of all the Christmas verses, this one always gives me pause.  In my younger years, I honestly never thought a thing about it.  No, it wasn’t until Christmas of 1990 that I first noticed it.  That was the year I was “great with child” – with my only son Daniel.  That Christmas the now classic song “Mary Did You Know” hit the airwaves and hit me in the gut.  So my question or pondering is this, in the years to come, did Mary experience her own version of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas Future?  

As a mom of three now, I have the weird vision condition of seeing all three situations simultaneously.  You see, when I see my three children, I’ll imagine them as children in their Christmas attire, adults still in Christmas attire of some kind, however, the future vision is a little fuzzy at times.  Those usually happen in dreams.  Each Christmas,  I try to make myself remember every detail of those moments – I ponder them in my heart.  Thanks to Timehop and Facebook memories, they help me remember special Christmas too.  For example, a Christmas or two back, my children surprised us with a monetary gift they’d been planning since March to send their Dad and I on a vacation to celebrate our 30th anniversary.  I’m still in shock over that one.   

Last Christmas I knew it would be the last one I’d have with my crew because 2016 brought us so many exciting changes -one being a new daughter!  Anyway- as we spent time together playing games and eating, I sat back and took a mental photograph of the memories being made and thanked God for my blessings.  You always hear about holiday gatherings being times of stress when family members are forced to be together and some crazy relative does something to ruin the moment.  We’ve never had that.  I am blessed that my children and new in-laws all get along and truly love each other.   I knew last Christmas would be the beginning of changes of sharing my children with their spouse’s family. That was always part of my Christmas Future vision, that always turned out opaque because I  never knew exactly how it would be.   I just knew it would happen one day so it should not have been a surprise. However, we started a new tradition of ThanksMas and celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas together by exchanging our gifts and making our predictions for the new year.  That memory is permanently etched in my heart.  

So I understand why Mary pondered things and moments in her heart.   None of my children have had to flee for their lives, face angry crowds, experience torture and death.  However, the point of that verse to me is a reminder that we have to store up the happy memories and wrap ourselves in the love those moments create because they will help when we experience bleak days and dark nights.  Be thankful for the moments you have and treasure them in your heart.  The rule of parenting is this – we are supposed to raise our wee babes to go into the world and lead full lives.  Sometimes that means realizing and accepting they leave and begin their own traditions and experience new traditions as they become part of another family.  So this year, while my married children are experiencing doing exactly that, I am thankful for my Iphone that buzzes with little notes or pictures of their moments.  I am thankful they are part of new families that love them too.  I take time in the silence to pray for all of us for the upcoming 2017 and the new adventures it might bring.   I thank God for Christmas past and ponder them in my heart.