Sunday, December 29, 2013

Let us resolve...

                  Forgiveness is the fragrance of an iris upon the heel that crushed it.                
                                                                                                Mark Twain

The countdown to a new year has begun, and it offers an opportunity to reflect on the year that is soon a part of our past.  It was a year of celebrations for me, for the most part.  I decided to use four questions for reflection, and perhaps these will be useful to you as well.

         Have I submitted?

         I started the year with an ongoing struggle to find a church home.  It has not been an easy journey.  For years I found worship to be meaningful and relevant in the Protestant community, but life got in the way, and I wandered to the Catholic church.  There were many things I learned in that setting, but at the end of the day, there were too many conflicts within myself that I could not reconcile, and I returned to a nondenominational church in my neighborhood.  I have found a church home that gives me just enough "uncomfortability" to know and understand that God can continue to mold me and shape me into the believer He wants me to be, yet a firm foundation in beliefs that are assuredly in agreement with who He is.  It has required me to submit to His authority, rather than using my own GPS, but this waystation of the cross is where I belong.

       Have I emptied myself?

       Learning to live in my own skin has not been easy for me.  I squirm and balk at being told what to do, how to do it, when, and why.  Yet I think God's encouragement to me has been to trust Him, and I have not had to try so hard to do that.  I think that's what happens when you learn that He is who He says He is.  I seek His will often, not always, and must empty my own longings and urges in order to be filled with His longings and plans for me.  He has filled my life to overflowing, and I am grateful.

      Have I prayed?

      An attitude of gratitude is hard to sustain when life gets in the way, when sin gets in the way, when I get in the way, but with each day, I have a brand new chance to get it right.  Praying puts me in the right posture, the right frame of mind, to see and seek His face.  Spending time in His word does that as well. Sometimes my prayers are pretty sloppy one-word tomes, but I know that He listens and cares nonetheless.  I love to listen to my grandchildren pray, and they have taught me a lot in their simple conversations with our Saviour.  They have an unshakeable understanding that when they pray, they are actually talking to God, and I get humbled every time they say, "Amen."  Oh that my faith would stay simple, child-like, unspoiled, unfettered.

     Have I served?

     I seek those opportunities...not wanting to be useless, irrelevant, archaic.  I know that I miss and dismiss many moments when I could point someone to who He is instead of who I am...I am working on that.

    So 2014 is nearly upon us...and so is the opportunity to forgive.  What I love about Mark Twain's quote is the fact that it makes clear that forgiveness frees us from unspeakable burdens.  The scent of the iris, when stepped on, remains on the heel of the one who misstepped.  It gives me hope...that those whom I have hurt can forgive me, and that forgiveness will free us from carrying that grief into a new year. My prayer for each of you whom I love...

   Dear Father,  We look to you and thank you with full hearts, for You are the one who rules, sovereign and supreme.  May we look to you for light and find a clear path.  May we look to you for shelter, and find protection in your word.  May we look to you for provision, confident that our every need will be met according to your will.  May we look to you for wisdom, as the world is so full of shadows and your truth is obscured.  May we pray for and with each other, and on behalf of those who are helpless and forlorn.  May we keep our minds, hearts, and every sense focused on you,  mindful of your extravagant grace.  Amen.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The First Noel

Parking lots are filled to overflowing…
Noisy shoppers hustle lines to jockey for position…
Misshapen cookies are baked, sprinkled, devoured…
It is Christmas.

Carols on the radio remind me of the first Noel…

My random ponderings make me wonder what a Noel is…

I can not find a meaning for the word Noel in the dictionary.  I mean, I know we think of Noel as synonymous with Christmas, but its’ Latin roots say the word actually means birthday. It was a French surname long before it became associated with Christmas day.  That’s fine with me…it just makes me think of that city, that manger, that mother, that child.

Mary and Joseph were on a mission…get to Bethlehem in time.  I think of the terrain of the Middle East, and realize it could not have been an easy journey.  Painful, back-breaking steps for a mother in the final days of pregnancy, perhaps even early labor.

Turned away from comfort at the inn, offered merely the same protection given to livestock in a rustic desert dwelling.

Sometime in mid December...December 25th has become the declared date but scholars persist in debating the exact day, hour, moment...when a sovereign, omnipotent God brought a helpless babe into the world, our world. 

Jesus was born to a mother whom he desperately needed.  She birthed her Immanuel, nurtured him, fed him, cared for him.  He needed her.  This is the first time I’ve thought of Jesus as being needy.  Mary and her husband, Joseph, charged with meeting all of the needs of the Prince of Peace,  King of Kings, Lord of Lords.  That’s kind of overwhelming to me.  The world, you and me, Mary and Joseph…we were given this gift in the form of a helpless infant.    

The story of Jesus’s birth awakens every sense in me…I can picture the stable, and a weary couple trying to find a place to rest.  I can smell the wet straw, the animal sweat, the earthy scent of a stable floor.  I can hear the silence of the night, a canopy of stars shining overhead, soundless and bright.  I can taste the salt of Mary’s tears as she must have wept, in worry and then in painful gratitude as Jesus was born.  And I can hold Him…I can imagine the feel of Jesus, wrapped in rough cloth and pressed tight against my chest, resting in my arms.  Any mother who has known childbirth knows what it is like to hold an infant seconds after birth.  Nothing matches a mother's love. And is a babe who will one day surrender His life for his mother, for my mother, for your mother, for me...

How precious is that scene to me…that first Christmas, the first Noel.

The baby who needed his mother will become the Saviour of the world.  

But for now, let us be still.  Let us imagine the manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laying down his sweet head.  Let us wonder about the stars in the sky as they looked down where he lay...let us behold the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.  

Let us hold Him, let us love Him...

Oh come, let us adore Him. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

this girl

Photography by Tim Burkhalter

This girl.
This girl with the name I didn’t like, because right or wrong , teachers make decisions about names and those names carry a stereotype that may take a lifetime to undo. 


I argued with Christi about names when she was pregnant .
I told her that little girls named Ashlynn were bratty, self-righteous, and difficult to manage.  I’d taught three or four Ashlynns over the years and each one was a little pistol. 

I quickly learned that I had no say in the matter—she and Ryan were going to choose their new daughter’s name, and I’d best hush.  My opinion was not valid.  

They were absolutely right.

As it turns out, our Ashlynn has given me a completely new experience.  For the past eight years, I have had the privilege of being her grandma, and I would not trade that for any Claire, Kimberly, or Gabriella.  Ashlynn is perfectly content to be who she is, and how I have come to love that little girl.

She was an easy infant—never one to fuss or draw attention to herself.  We made several trips up to Omaha to see her after she was born.  Each visit was too brief…she was growing up so fast.

She has what can only be called “baby blues” and they work their magic on a pretty regular basis. 

She has a heart for others—when she was in kindergarten there were some students with special needs in her class, and she became the perfect helper and friend.  She reminds me a lot of her mom in that regard.

You don’t have to ask her twice to do something helpful.  She’ll give up her seat, her coat, her book, her game, her turn…she’s just made that way.  She’s a compassionate little girl—don’t tell her a sad story or you’ll have her in tears. 

She’s got a great memory…I usually make up bedtime stories for her, and I pretty much forget the plot once the story’s been told.  Not Ashlynn…she’ll remind me of all the details.  I’ve come up with quite a few versions of The Elves and the Shoemaker; some are quite goofy and those are her favorites.

She’s developed a funny little home business—she offers spa treatments for tired and weary travelers, and has a little kit of lotions, scrubs, and files at the ready.  Her rates are very reasonable. Though I’ve tried offering kisses instead of dollar bills, it rarely works that way.

I took her to get her own little spa treatment—a pedicure at a local salon.  The proprietor fixed her a little Shirley Temple and gave her the royal treatment.  She smiled from start to finish.  

She has a special place in her heart for her new cousin, Canyon.  Watching her with this little one, I am filled with pride.  She'll be such a good mother someday.  

We celebrated her birthday on Saturday.  Eight years old.  She wanted a fifties’ party  and she wanted to get it right.  She asked me what I wore in 1855.  Once I steered her to the correct century, she was nevertheless disappointed at my answer:  “Diapers!”

Christi found a pair of skintight black leggings, along with a Pink Ladies jacket, and Michelle fixed Ashlynn’s hair in a fancy “beehive” hairdo.  Along with twenty of her closest friends, Ashlynn hula-hooped her way through the afternoon.  It was a joy to watch her hug each of her friends, as they raced all over the park in their poodle skirts. 

This girl.  This Ashlynn.
She has erased all other versions of the name.
This girl has captured my heart for always. 

Photography by Tim Burkhalter

She’s the one and only Ashlynn.

Sunday, September 8, 2013



the things I know have become me…

            your heart pressed close
            the purple light of iris bloomed
            the scent of rain on hot rock
            the rush of river over stone
            wind threading through a grove.

I have known one year after another.

but I will never know anything sweeter than…
            your trust
            your approach
            your gaze
            your hand
            in mine.

so grace becomes both phrase and metaphor.
hear me when I thank You and you and you for this life.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Red lines

Red lines.

Chicken scratch?  Line segments? Parameters?

Moral absolutes?

We need black and white.  In a world full of shades of grey, it’s important that we have values that cannot be broken. We need concrete ethics.  I’ve been thinking about the words of our President over these last few hours, wondering why it has been so hard for him to make a decision that he can live with, and wondering why there is so much debate. 

Inhumanity to man knows no political border, and people are killing each other all over this globe, using poisonous gas along with a whole lot of other lethal methods.  So what makes Syria different than the holocausts in Africa, or the genocide in Asia, or fill-in-the-blank with any number of countries, rulers, or despots who have inflicted evil personally or allowed it within their sphere of influence?

We have an intuition inside each of us, whether we believe in God or not.  It’s part of the human psyche that has been explored ad infinitum and ad nauseum.  I think the part that gets to me is the idea that moral standards without moral actions, sanctions, or responses kind of negate the absolutes.  What good are absolutes, if we never really take action for or against good or evil?  If we never protect what we cherish and value?  

Some of us hold to moral principles “just because” and that works, at least until the s@#$ hits the fan. Some of us hold to moral principles because of our religious upbringing.  Our ethics and moral values don’t have to be connected to God.  But if they're not, it takes a pretty strong character to maintain one's own personal belief system, and you'd be hard pressed to convince me to follow you while you make up your morality along the way. 

It just so happens that my morals are firmly attached to my belief in God.  I know that morals are invisible, and that good and evil actions are very evident in our world.  Belief in God is no insurance policy against evil...just look at the many evil incidents in history promulgated by religious beliefs.  Lots of those evil incidents happen really close to heart and home.  Rest assured I've read Matthew 7:4: Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own? While most of us view the actions in Syria as intrinsically bad, as immoral, most of us are reluctant to act.  Actions mean that we are vulnerable.  What if our actions lead to more immorality, brutality, evil?  That's all  kind of scary.

We can bomb Syria, but there’s bound to be collateral damage, and none of us want that on our collective conscience.  How can we call our actions moral if we in fact make a decision that harms innocent people? Bombing Syria might mean that the perpetrators of these gaseous bombings harm even more innocent people, within or outside their borders, and none of us like that idea much, either.

I think it’s a pretty sure thing that most of us don’t have a clue what’s really going on in Syria.  We have had very little influence in that part of the world, either good or bad.  So do we create moral sanctions when we’ve had little to do with creating moral standards? What is our role?  I admit to being pretty confused.   

I do know that absolutes bind us together…they reinforce our humanity.  Humanity next door, across the street, or across the globe.  So do we not protect the innocent, whereever and whoever they are? 

If you listen to any conversation on the street today, you’ll hear the word “absolutely” a jillion times, and yet, there are very few topics that deserve that kind of respect from us.  We’ve made most of those tricky ten commandments pretty negotiable. We absolutely abhor murder…but the red line is really greasy after that.   

I need my faith.  I need the absolutes that it provides for me.  I don’t want to decide whether this man dies and that man lives.  I don't want relativism to be our moral standard.  I want to look at the ten commandments and use those as my moral compass.  If a planned action or event defies those commandments, I think we have to search long and hard for the justification.  Based on what I know about the Middle East right now,  I have more questions than answers. 

So when a politician goes around wagging the red line jargon, I think we should all stop and listen, pause and discuss, get involved and get smart.  We should be spending quite a bit of time on our knees, in prayer for our nation, the nation of Syria, and for our leaders.  At the end of the day, we have absolutely no business drawing a red line unless we’re willing to use our own blood to do so.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


I would not wish death on anyone. 


On November 5, 2009, we were going about our daily lives…educating children at a small elementary school at Fort Hood.  It was a half-day, so for the most part our students had been dismissed, but we still had about 80 children in after-school daycare, and all of our staff and their children were still on campus.  We received the alert warning to commence lockdown procedures just after noon.  We could hear loudspeakers in the neighborhood outside as we locked down, and all of us took our positions in emergency locations.  There was a lot of confusion about what was happening…despite the lockdown there were parents trying to get into the school building to pick up their children from daycare, but we weren’t allowed to release anyone, much less answer the front door. 

Many of our staffmembers were getting updates from others outside of school who were on post, and we began to hear about a shooting. Based upon the news there was fear that the shooter was in our school neighborhood.  The hours dragged on, and plans were put in place to feed the children with us, as well as the staff.  The emergency plan worked well, and we did as we were told. We followed protocol pretty much to the letter.

Eventually we were given permission to leave, at nearly 8:00 that night.  Our students were frightened and confused, and we had a storm of anxious parents trying to get to their children.  There was a lot of hugging, anxiety, and relief as parents were reunited with their kids.  It took hours to drive off post that night, and as we arrived home the news began to reveal what had happened all afternoon while we were hiding out in our school building.

One of “our own”…a military soldier and officer…murdered 13 people in cold blood, and injured thirty more.  If you know anything about tragedy, you know that equates to thousands of individuals who were affected by the massacre.  It took a long time, it seemed, for the media to finally classify the act as terrorism.  No one who was on post that day bought the lie that it was a case of workplace violence.  This was clearly pre-meditated, and the cruel execution of innocent people created a thick cloud of anger and grief over the post.

This was a place already affected by enormous tragedy.  With over 100,000 troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, you could not ask a community to give more than they were already giving.

And yet.  We saw military families reaching out to one another as only they know how to do…offering comfort, solace, and an opportunity to share shock, bitterness, and anger over this act of violence.

The shooter’s last words were “Allahu Akbar…” which translates to “god is great…” 

I don’t want to know anything about his god.  His words are blasphemous to believers of every faith.

I think peaceful Muslims worldwide would agree that nothing about his proclamation brought glory or honor to God.  As a Christian, today I would say, “God is great…”, not because a man is going to die, but because justice was served.  The price of thirteen murders is a death sentence---it is called punishment.  While no one rejoices that a man is going to die, there is certainly a great amount of relief that a man who was found guilty through a thorough and fair legal proceeding is going to find that retribution is fatal and final. 

So be it.

The day after the shootings, most of our students came to school.  I credit their parents with this act of courage.  They could have kept their children at home to hide out for the day, but they didn’t.  They brought them back to us.  We had a safe, secure, and solid school day, and they had a chance to talk with their teachers.  We were briefed before school on how to handle the emotions and difficulties many of our kids would be carrying through the doors.  We were asked to give our children a voice, but to allow them to be innocent of the brutal details.  There were soldiers with machine guns at our school entrance, but our message to our children over and over was clear:  we’re going to take care of you. 

The murderer on post that day is no martyr.   I hope we all forget his name, his cause, his fury. 

Let’s remember every single person who gave their lives that day, and all those injured as well.  Let’s honor every person who stood in harm’s way to prevent further injury.  Let’s keep our first responders continually in our prayers.  And let’s be grateful that a jury found the shooter guilty as charged, and sentenced him to
an unmarked grave.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Time's Up....


Dr. Seuss said it best:

How did it get so late so soon?  It's night before it's afternoon.  December is here before it's June.  My goodness how the time has flewn.  

I feel the seconds ticking past us as I write.

The school year is fixing to start, and I know time will begin to slay me once again.  I am making an attitude adjustment. Time is such a gift.  I’ve always hated the expression, “killing time” as it seems so irreverent.  When there are only 24 hours in a day, why would you want to kill any of it?  Henry David Thoreau summed it up quite well:  

I want to manage my time better this school year.  Sometimes I procrastinate, and that is just a reflection of my fear or anxiety over any given task.  Sometimes I rush through things, and whatever motivated me to get it done is gone when I realize I have to do it all again. I don’t want to have to go through any “do over’s” if I can help it.  

I want to honor the time I’m given.  Nice words, but what do they really mean?

I’m going to savor the alarm clock instead of tossing it against the wall.  That will save me time buying new clocks at Wal-Mart, and it also might save me some money.  Coco Chanel warned us: 

I’m going to make my lunch the night before. If I’m cleaning up after dinner, it kind of makes sense to just pack my PBJ at the same time.  George Carlin said we ought to sleep with our clothes on so we don’t have to get dressed in the morning.  I might try that as well.

I’m going to consolidate my errands.  Instead of making a stop a day, I’ll try to get them all over at once.  Surely that’ll save me a few hours.  I’m not sure who said it, but basically it went: Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.  Good advice.

I like Ike.  He said we should never waste a minute thinking about people we don’t like.  That seems like a great way to reclaim lost moments.   If it’s good enough for Eisenhower, it should work for me as well.

Time should be well-spent.  Carl Sandburg likened time to money:  

If that’s true, then my coin’s older than your coin, and I better treasure it. 

I’ve burned up 33 minutes just pontificating about time.  


But if you have a little leftover time one day soon, you really should listen to The Last Lecture  by Randy Pausch. He really says all there needs to be said about time.  Keep a tissue handy. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer's going...going...goiiiiiinnnnng

Summer's coming to a close for teachers across America...and as much as we love what we do, it's always a huge relief to finally arrive at June, July, and August.  Some folks have the idea that teachers don't work over the summer;  but actually that's the time of year when we get some of our most productive work completed.

When I first started teaching (1976!) I took home piles of work each night--papers to grade, lessons to plan, professional articles to read, paperwork for special needs children--and spent a couple of hours every evening finishing what didn't get done during the day.  Summers were for workshops, casual time with colleagues, and a lot of serious soul searching.  You'd think after 20 years I'd get better at that, but I still carry home files, articles, lesson plans, and paperwork--most of it can be condensed on my laptop but it's still all there.  And I don't know a single teacher who leaves her laptop at school over the summer...all that information comes home with us, and we stab at it, dig in it, work at it, worry over it, and plan with it.  The good part is we can do that in our pajamas, we can plan at 2AM or 2PM, we can do it with a margarita in hand, we can use our grandchildren for guinea pigs as we practice some of our lessons, and we can just relax because we're not being "tested." We're not punching anyone's clock but our own.  But to say we have the summer "off" is just not accurate.

Teaching is an art, not a science.  It is a profession of inquiry.  We must question ourselves first and foremost, so we can make sure what we are teaching is relevant for our students.  We are our own worst enemies in that regard.  We question everything we do.  There's a great book out there called The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, and it's all about the painful and necessary conflicts that teachers face every day.  It's all about the self-doubt and self-discovery that's part and parcel of the teaching profession. For almost every teacher I know, teaching is a mission, not a vocation.  It's what we're called to do.  Whether we're teaching in the biggest classroom on campus, the library, or the smallest classroom on campus, the principal's office...we're committed to what we do.   Summer gives us a chance for reflection and personal growth.  Don't worry, they're not paying us for those three months. We take the pay we're given for 9 months of work, and we stretch it out over twelve.

So for the next fifteen days, we're spending some time with the families we miss too much during the school year, we're hanging out with friends whom we miss too much during the school year, we're getting the rest we miss too much during the school year, and we're saying a few prayers for the children headed our way.

Sharpen those pencils, stock up on new crayons and glue, find a pair of cool shoes and a trendy backpack, and we'll see you in a few!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It' s Off to Work

When my kids were little, one of my father’s favorite expressions was, “Get a job.”  We used to laugh about that, because the kids were only 4 or 5 years old, and they told him they were too little to work.  But I’m grateful for the sentiment shared with me and my brothers and our children.  We were always taught the value of work. 

We were not taught an entitlement mentality.  God didn’t owe us anything, our government didn’t owe us anything, our community didn’t owe us anything, and our family didn’ t owe us anything.  The maxim, “A day’s work for a day’s pay,” was lived out in our household.  We were taught to work sick or well, old or young, happy or sad, grumpy or jolly.  And part of that maxim meant you worked even when you didn’t like your boss, you didn’t like the rules, you didn’t like the hours, you didn’t like your coworkers.  We understood that all of those workplace traits could be adjudicated by a simple process—choose a new career path, choose a new job, or work within the boundaries to make it all better. 

The poet, Rumi, asked, “Why should I stay at the bottom of a well, when a strong rope is in my hand?”   The rope we held onto, and hold today, is our work ethic.  We were taught the value of work.  No one needed to throw us a rope:  we held the rope our parents created in our own hands.  

I can remember my first jobs--walking the dog, cleaning the toilet, dusting the furniture, washing the dishes.  There was no pay for completion.  You did those tasks because a family and household required it.  We were gradually offered an allowance for doing “extra” family jobs, and we transferred that idea to the neighborhood, realizing that not only my mom, but my neighbors, would pay me to babysit, to mow their lawns, to pick their weeds, to rake their yards.  We equated freedom to go to the movies, buy a birthday gift, or get a new outfit to the amount of work required.  If I mow one lawn, I can buy that record.  (Records were these plastic disks that played music on a machine called a record player.)  I am so grateful for learning the value of work at a young age.  I worked at summer camps and  restaurants when I was a teenager.  I learned how to weigh a 4 oz. cone at Dairy Queen and how to center my condiments at McDonald’s.  I learned how to typeset a newspaper, operate a switchboard, and teach Red Cross swimming lessons in college.  I learned how to keep track of aviator flight hours, order aviation parts on an MS-DOS machine, and prepare executive correspondence when I could not get a teaching job.  I learned how to create arts and crafts to sell as a stay-at-home mom, and kept other people’s children so I could remain at home with my own. I taught children of all shapes and sizes for 24 years, and continue to do the same. I have a hard time planning for retirement, because the idea is foreign to me.  I admire folks who work into their eighties and nineties, because they are having so much fun.

I have little patience for those who are able but unwilling to work.  4.3 million Americans are on welfare.  Does that mean 4.3 million Americans are unable to work?  47 million Americans are on food stamps.  Does that mean 47 million Americans cannot earn enough to buy a day’s groceries?  6 million Americans collect unemployment.  Does that mean 6 million Americans want to work and can’t find jobs of ANY type?  4% of our fellow citizens are on welfare—does that mean 4% of our fellow citizens are unable or unwilling to work?

Deuteronomy spelled it out more than a few centuries ago---15:11—there will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to the needy and poor in your land. 

I second that emotion—the needy and poor need our hand in our land.  But I do want to clarify the definition of needy and poor.   If you cannot work, I will help you all day long.  But if you can work, and help yourself, that is YOUR obligation, and not mine. 

Did you know that in 40, I said FORTY, and I mean FOOOOOOOOORTY states in our country, welfare PAYS more than an $8.00 per hour job?  Sit with that statistic a moment.  Say what?  Say WHAT?  No wonder illegal immigrants flock to our marketplace.  They understand that $8.00 an hour is better than $0.00 an hour, and are willing to do the work to leave the ranks of the “needy and poor.”

Did you know that there are 9 states where welfare pays more than $12.00 an hour?  Some college graduates start at a lower wage.  Where is the motivation to work in those 9 states?  Did you know that in 7 states, teachers may as well stay home because they could collect more in the welfare office than in the classroom? 

These statistics, frankly, piss me off.  I’ll go to work every day of the week to pay my taxes, and will gladly agree to see those taxes help the needy and poor.  But do I want to do that for those same people forever? 

Did you know that of those 46 million folks on food stamps, more than 20% will collect those benefits for more than 5 years?  Are you telling me that in 5 years, you cannot collect the training, experience, or job development skills necessary to find work?  That is simply unbelievable.  Just walk down to the Texas Workforce Commission.  IF you want to work, they will freely teach you how ALL DAY LONG until you’re gainfully employed.  Do I think you should pass a drug test to collect welfare?  Absolutely.  Do I think the able should collect welfare indefinitely? Absolutely not. Do I think you are entitled to welfare?  No way.  It was never designed to be an entitlement, it was deemed a necessity for the few thousands who are unable to work, not the few millions who refuse to work. 

The thing that makes most working Americans angry is the same thing that has been making folks angry since benchmark biblical days.  James asks us in 4:1-8---

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Here’s the thing:  the only thing that will get us out of this mess is to change the culture.  Let’s start valuing work, like our parents, and their parents, and the generations before this me-me-me generation.   The truly poor, needy, injured, and disabled want a hand-up, not a hand-out.  If you’re not unable to work, then work you must.  But if you cannot work, I’ll work for you.  And if you’re too old to work, we will take care of you.  If you’re too sick to work, we will take care of you.  If you’re too hurt to work, we’ll help you get better. And when you’re well, you’ll return to work, and pay it forward. 

By definition, entitlement means “the right to do or have something, to qualify, to confer a title, rank, or honor.”  It is an honor to work, and I’m grateful that I can. 

I am grateful that the lessons that were sown into me during my childhood have stayed with me.  All of my children work.  All of their children participate in this microcosm of the workplace that we call a home and family.  We attach high value to work.  My father was raised on a farm;  he understood that if he didn’t work, he didn’t eat.  He worked all his life, and over time, he learned to work smarter, not harder so that he had accrued enough money to retire on his own income. My mother was raised by a single parent;  she understood that her mother needed support to make it, and she worked after school from the time she was 14 years old until way past the point when others would have stopped working.  She enjoyed going to work every day, and grieved the day she was no longer well enough to go to work. 

Work gives us pleasure and purpose.  It’s not a chore.  Work gives us a sphere of influence;  a way to change the world one paycheck at a time. Work is where we build and refine relationships that matter.  Work is a privilege, not a punishment. 

See you later.  I gotta go to work. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cowards and Kings


I know a man who lived through one.  It is hard to hear his words.  He sits on the edge of the bed and describes the scene. The carnage. Long pauses between recollections, the mind’s digital display a reckless mess, impossible to share.
Senses overloaded beyond repair. 

He tells me…he will always know the smell of C-4, the echo of end-of-life screams, the white-out of the blast, the grease of blood on fragments of limbs, the metallic taste of a bit-through tongue.   He has no ears left to hear…bionic replacements capture sound for him.  He has eyes unscarred from a random purchase of designer shades. His nose has been rebuilt over and over again. He has a few fingers left to touch, but skin more scarred than unscathed on a body burned from head to toe.  He knows the softness of newly grafted skin; the hardness of scar tissue over bone. He knows sour and he knows sweet.

He can tell you what an explosion does to you on the outside.  And he can tell you what an explosion does to you on the inside.  He can describe panic like a tsunami in your blood vessels. He can utter the incantations of grief. He can explain what it means to register fear with the delivery of a package, a bundle, a backpack.  He can wince at a loud noise, an unexpected backfire, fireworks.  Yet he can demonstrate what it means to live fearlessly, with a clear understanding of the grace that can grow out of mayhem.

He has met the coward and he has met the King.  He would tell us to pray right now, where ever we are, whenever we can. Because prayer changes us. Prayer changed him, and it changes me.  Prayer tells God that we need Him more every hour...every day.

And he will tell you that today is all we have.  It’s all we know.  This.

A vapor. A moment. A speck.

And he can explain that everything depends upon what we do with this millisecond of eternity, this wheelbarrow of time that we’re given.

Do we love well and kindly?

Do we share bold good news?

Do we embrace beauty and reject evil?

Do we touch, taste, hear, smell, and see His goodness?

Do we pray to a Listener who cannot be blown up, who cannot be blown away?

Do we know Him?

Do I?

Do you…

Sunday, February 24, 2013

School Trouble

When I decided to get my master’s in library science back in 1998, I was both excited and scared of the journey.  I knew I needed to further my education to “get ahead” in the teaching profession…whether that meant becoming better equipped to work in a classroom setting or moving into a different arena of school business.  A couple of my principals talked with me about moving into administration, and I was quite decisive in believing that was not my path.  While I could handle the administrivia and I thought I might be able to handle the administrials, I knew that it would put me too far away from kids. 

So I earned my master’s at an ALA-accredited university and got myself headed in a new direction as a librarian, enjoying the challenges of working in my school’s largest classroom.  I opened a new school library, then another one, and continued to hone my skills as a teacher-librarian.  When I moved to Bryan ISD and found out librarians were being deleted from the teaching roster at each and every school at the end of my first year here, I was really in a quandary over what to do next. I felt lucky to stay in Bryan, but believed that some dangerous undercurrents were at work, dismantling our libraries and turning vibrant literacy centers into nothing more than book rooms.  I was rehired to supervise  five of Bryan ISD’s libraries and that has given me some unique challenges. I'm no longer a teacher-librarian, I'm a supervising librarian, and those roles are very different. Despite the discouraging aspects of the job,  I have discovered what others had told me is true:  the meaning of work, whatever we choose to do, is that what we do must be in service to others in order for it to have meaning to us. It’s been said that genuine, relevant service to others can heal the world.

That probably sounds like a really grandiose and arrogant idea…healing the world?  Really?  Right now, my world is libraries.  And I have always believed that change happens one child at a time.  Our kids are changing, but not in the direction I’d envisioned.  For the most part, our kids are being tested into apathy. It is hard to find a classroom where “the joy of learning” is clearly embraced. It’s rare to enter a classroom to find kids enthusiastically engaged in what they’re learning. Gone are the days when learning was supposed to be fun.  Most of our kids are motivated by fear, or they’re not motivated at all.  You might find a few kids who just flat want to do well and excel but for the most part, most of our students seem determined to meet our low expectations. The students who come into our libraries today are in a hurry.  They’ve been told…hurry, get a book.  And they don’t get to pick out just any book.  It’s hurry, get a book that you can take a test on.  They aren’t allowed to browse, to imagine, to dream, to choose.  God forbid they lose a moment of classroom time.  God forbid we characterize searching for the right book as a “learning activity.” There’s no librarian in the room to help them.  We have some great aides, but they are asked to manage thousands of dollars in assets for nearly nothing, and there are not enough hours in their day. They’re on their own for the most part.   And they still have to do all the things aides traditionally do- lunchroom duty, car duty, recess duty, classroom coverage.  It's not unusual to see a closed sign on the library doors every single day. Forget about the information literacy curriculum taught in the library.  Those days are gone.  In most schools in our district, the library has turned into a book room with a circulation desk. Our library assistants do their best to help students, but they’re asked to do a thousand things, and are paid well-below the poverty line to do it.

When I first went to teacher’s college, we were warned against “self-fulfilling prophecies” and were taught that our students would reflect our expectations.  If we expected the best, the highest, the brightest, the most creative, the most artistic, the most unique, the most respectful, the most well-read, the happiest kids…then that is what we’d see manifested in our classrooms.  “Adequate yearly progress” has given us just that…students who are adequate instead of inspired; teachers who conspire to be adequate versus exemplary.  If you want to see a beat-down profession, just walk into a few classrooms across the state today.  You will see teachers trying to wrangle learning out of restless children who are convinced that if they can just pass the test, that’s all that is really required of them.  Are there eager learners out there?  A few.  Are there exemplary teachers out there?  A few.  But most are in a kind of limbo…trying to wait out the “test” frenzy so that they can return to doing what they love and loving what they do.

We’re in trouble, folks.  If we want to heal what’s wrong, we have to recognize the malady, read the thermometer, check the culture, identify the brokenness.  We don’t need doctors in the classroom; we need educators.  We don’t need parental support, we need parent involvement.  We don’t need “adequate yearly progress”…we need inspiration…to produce eager, excited learners who aren’t afraid to fail, because it’s through trial and error that we truly achieve. 

It’s time to throw away the test.  Just get rid of the damn thing. It’s time to throw away all the obstacles to student success.  If we believe our kids will achieve, and achieve high, they will do it. If we don’t get rid of the test, the test will get rid of us.  I don’t believe public schools can survive this dogmatic approach to learning. It’s antithetical to how we all learn well and learn best.  If I thought the only way to succeed at school was to drill for a test every Friday, so I could pass a test every two weeks, so I could take a test every six weeks, so I could take a test every semester, so I could take a test every year, so someone could tell me I’d made adequate yearly progress, I would burn out and get a job as the Wal-Mart greeter. We have fourth graders who once hid gum in their pockets where they now hide Tums. We can’t defend this process because it makes no sense.  Let’s embrace sense and sensibility and sensitivity.

Teachers are leaving the profession in droves. Teachers who burned out after twenty years are burning out after two.  Kids are leaving public schools.  Just look at the home-schooling numbers, private school enrollment, charter school rosters, to see that folks are unhappy with what schools are doing. But because the mandates come from our state legislature, there is a sense of “powerlessness” in our midst. The thing is, the same representatives that we elected can be deselected. We have a voice.  We have a chance to voice our concerns every time the polls are open.  The only reason we still have the STAAR test is because we have not voted it out of operation. We can get rid of it.  Never underestimate what a group of concerned people can do.  Every worthwhile reform in schools today has occurred because committed workers implemented change where change was needed.  Do I believe in standards?  Absolutely.  Set them high; anything else is inadequate. 

Let’s get back to meaningful work, loving our days at a place called school, a place where all the magic happens.