little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

Archive for the category “Education”

Storage

Just recently my dear mama surprised me with the latest book of poetry penned by Mary Oliver, my forever favorite poet. At a ripened 80 years of age and blessed experience, Mary O. writes openly in this latest collection called Felicity about “The Journey, “Love,” and “Felicity,” and as always, she awakens my spirit and leaves me breathless.

During this season of my life, when I feel so much but often don’t know what to say or how to say it, Mary’s words open and fill, watering my dry places and nourishing its knotty soil.

In particular, her poem called “Storage” has settled in deeply as I have spent the past number of months getting rid of things. Yes, there are more things to clean out, and yes, there is more love – of God, of trees, of birds, of everything – to let in.

Thank you, Mary, for your inspiration, and dear God, on this first day of Advent, help us to empty our storage spaces and make room for what really matters.

Storage

By Mary Oliver

When I moved from one house to another

there were many things I had no room

for. What does one do? I rented a storage

space. And filled it. Years passed.

Occasionally I went there and looked in,

but nothing happened, not a single

twinge of the heart.

As I grew older the things I cared

about grew fewer, but were more

important. So one day I undid the lock

and called the trash man. He took

everything.

I felt like the little donkey when

his burden is finally lifted. Things!

Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful

fire! More room in your heart for love,

for the trees! For the birds who own

nothing — the reason they can fly.

Sabbatical Reading List…

Dear friends,

I write to you as if I’m learning how to ride a bike again; after such a long hiatus from the blogosphere, I’m a bit tentative and shaky in my keyboard strokes. For most of the month of November, thanks be to God and my gracious school community, I had the incredible fortune of taking a sabbatical — a necessary break from the daily routine to make room and seek space to just BE.  My hope was to live simply, unplug, and lean into a time and space for silence, solitude, and being in nature, and to say that it far surpassed my expectations is quite an understatement.

I was grateful to spend nearly three weeks by the Gulf of Mexico along the “Emerald Coast” in Blue Mountain Beach, Florida, and I wish I could offer the words to adequately describe this transforming experience.  My pictures of the wild expanse of sky, sand, and sea do far better justice than my humble words (and I had nothing to do with that either; I just happened to have THE best subjects at which to point and shoot my tireless, 11-year old Canon PowerShot!), but what I can offer now is that it was a time of experiencing and softening to God’s lavish GRACE and LOVE in my life.  To turn off distractions of all types and slow the pace was to open up to revelations and illuminations — both beautiful and incredibly challenging — yet nonetheless meaningful — and begin the process of letting go of so much…among them habits and patterns of thinking, paralyzing fear and shame, illusions of control, and rigid rules I’ve followed blindly for far too long. During this opening space, I was thankful to spend time in a simple state of existence: walking, journaling, wandering, observing, thinking, writing, taking pictures, encountering strangers, praying, singing, listening to music and to silence, playing my guitar, painting, and reading.  Living simply like this, stripped of habits, comfort zones, and familiar, yet distracting technology, I was able to dig deep and become vulnerable to myself.

While I hope to offer a follow-up post to express some of what I learned and continue to learn as I still unpack and process the journey (in a sense, I’m continuing the journey, and yet I’m beginning again), what I want to share today is the list of books I read during this time.  It was beautiful how one book led to the next, as common threads and themes began to emerge:  God’s “Forever Love,” everlasting Grace, how suffering/weakness/vulnerability can become life-giving, and our desperate need to tell our secrets and become our authentic, True selves.

Here they are in the order in which they “found” me and floated gracefully into my life/heart/mind (while some were precious gifts, others have been patiently waiting on my shelf for the “right” time to be read):

Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer

Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

The Naked Now by Richard Rohr

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Immortal Diamond by Richard Rohr

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones  (This was a gift from a dear friend, written/illustrated as a “children’s” book, but no, siree…this was my reading before bed each night, and it’s one of the most beautiful “Bibles” I’ve ever seen/read…illustrating the story of God coming back to rescue us with his Love…to heal what had been broken “in the beginning” and to satisfy the deep yearning within us – that desire to be “whole” again.  It, like the others listed, is magnificent.)

Thank you for reading and “listening,” friends.  I hope one, a few, or all of these books find their way to you at some point, and when and if they do, may they touch, encourage, and open you as they did me.

Finally, in the coming weeks, I hope to write again, but at the same time, I must confess that I did NOT miss the computer screen, nor any screen while I was gone…

So, with that, let’s take one day at a time, and I hope to see you soon (and by that I mean face-to-face)…

With love, gratitude, and hope in this waiting season of Advent…

“To This Day”

My dear buddy Z just sent this spoken poem to me, and I sit in it, heavy with both heartache and hope, knowing deeply that my vocation as a teacher has far more to do with helping kids grow up, love each other, and find themselves, than it has to do with teaching them how to fix their fragments, place their commas, and locate their verbs.

The most important verb we need to know and do and be is LOVE.

May the “success” for which we strive and teach our children to strive be far more about filling this life — our world — and the hearts that stumble alongside us — with kindness, love, and true beauty.  How could we have been made for anything more…or anything less?

Orchestral landfills

I just read about and watched this moving piece about music springing forth from bits and pieces scraped from a landfill in Paraguay.  It’s a must share and a must view.

This is a masterpiece, and I cannot wait to share this beautiful lesson with my students this upcoming year. May it teach us to be more aware of our own daily waste — our treatment of trash. More importantly, may it compel us to be more aware of, as the video states, our treatment of people…ALL people.

God calls us to…

Bring in the “garbage.”

Make use of the neglected.

Pick up the forgotten.

Love the unloved.

Believe the unbelievable.

And dig our hands deeply into grace.

Amen.

Midsummer Musings…with a new set of strings…

Disclaimer:  I am SO very grateful to be a teacher (or as my papa says, an “educator”) and to be entering my twelfth year this August (whoa, Bessie, pull them reigns!).  The school year is both demanding and exhausting, and yet, it feeds me each day through the relationships I enjoy and through the day-to-day happenings that can be so unbelievably exciting, humbling, and soul-filling.  Furthermore, there is real beauty and purpose in pausing at the end of each school year to reflect, rest, recharge, and prepare to return again, hopefully with fresh eyes and a renewed spirit (for both teachers and students!).  And, so while I am deeply thankful for the school year, I am increasingly grateful for sweet summer time…this summer space, this summer pace.

(yes, I’ve clearly gotten over the “empty classroom syndrome” and those lonely birds I wrote about back in May.)

Today is July 1st.  Really?  How did you arrive so fast, friend?  Well, while I confess that I may not be initially tickled pink to welcome in this new month already, I feel the need to give thanks for what has come and gone and how it has helped shape today.  Man, over the first month of this glorious summer, I have learned a LOT.  As the first summer in eleven years of teaching that I have not taught, coached, or tutored, I have learned a lot about letting go and about welcoming in (sorry for ending with a preposition; it’s summer mode, folks; forgive me!).  So far, it has been a summer of HEALING, and that healing has come in the form of quite literal healing in twice-a-week physical therapy, but also in cultivating friendships, enjoying family time, embracing music in a fuller dimension, exploring new parts of the ATL, writing poetry, devouring books, giving myself permission to rest, and taking risks to, again, let go and welcome in.

First, the letting go.

It has been difficult to let go of  what I’ve been used to for so long; how easily we get sucked in and often addicted to our routines.  For example, it’s been an adjustment to let go of doing anything related to teaching, tutoring, or coaching this summer, AND let go of the guilt that initially accompanied this reality.  What will people think?  Am I letting others down…my students, their parents, myself?  Bah…

I have also let go of confining schedules and demanding routines that used to own me throughout the year and even into the summer, never allowing me to fully rest. Granted, these were my own choices to run, swim, bike, and work out obsessively every morning, but now that my body cannot do what it used to, I am grateful to God for renewing who I am beyond those strivings — beyond those identities I had constructed for so long and from which I still panted, obviously still thirsty…

So, this past week, I took a deep breath, and I let go and sold my bike, my beloved “Bluebird.”  I am so thankful for the past 6 and a half years with her and for the commuting rides we shared to school for 3 of those years, but it is time to move on and to realize that physically, I’m in a place where I cannot do that anymore.  It ain’t easy to say that out loud, nor to act on it, but it’s necessary.

Letting go…

and then welcoming in…

and so, I’ve traded my handbars for pirouettes along the fret board —  a flutter of fingers over a steel-stringed shore — a reconnection with my love affair with music and a dusty guitar I’ve had since I was 13.

While I’ve been able to play a few tunes here and there over these past twenty years and do know basic chords, having learned from my musically-gifted papa and friends along the way at camp and in high school, I’ve never officially taken lessons.  And so, on June 4th, I had my first lesson, and I have since looked forward to every 30-minute session per week.  My teacher is patient, kind, funny, and unbelievably talented, and our musical tastes harmonize beautifully, as we introduce each other to new tunes and artists each week.  While I’ve only had four lessons at this point, I cannot even begin to express all that I have learned, both song-wise and music-wise, but even in ways beyond my beloved 6-stringed guitar (by the way, “Debbie” is her name, for she is a Gibson (Epiphone) guitar, and for those of you who grew up in or knew the 80s, you know what I’m talkin’ ’bout).

Each session uncovers more and more about vulnerability, the hunger for challenge, and the importance of practice, and along the way, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself.  Indeed, this teacher has become a student again, and in an area in which I’ve lacked confidence, especially when my calluses have gone away and the guitar sits lonely and waiting in the corner, and I think to myself that I just can’t play like I used to…

Hmmm, I wonder how many of my students have felt this or feel this.  How important is it for me to put myself in their shoes and take on a new challenge — one that demands practice, respect, perseverance, and humility?

It is vital.

It is vital to remember what it’s like to mess up and fail AND to do so in front of somebody, and have to start over again and practice more.

It is vital to feel passion towards something creative AND to be able share it with others (I have shared more “sing-a-longs” with friends and family in the past month than I have in the past 15 years!).

What’s beautiful, too, is that while this guitar playing is absolutely vital for my soul, it is also assisting my physical healing; in fact my physical therapist considers it a boost to the healing process in my left elbow and arm.  Who knew that what I always put aside for athletic pursuits would pull me back home and help me feel whole again?  Who knew that a debilitating injury would actually give birth to this rekindled love in my life?  Thank you, God; You knew.

And so, on this 1st of July, I look back in appreciation and thanksgiving for the healing that has taken place and for the light that emerges from the dark, and I anticipate a song-filled road ahead. Will you sing with me?

p.s. any requests or ideas for songs to learn?

Quiet

In the quiet of the evening as summer storms make their mark on my windowpane and water our thirsty earth, I am thinking about the power of quiet – both in the soft silence that surrounds, but also the book I have just finished by the same name:  Quiet by Susan Cain.  The subtitle of this notable read is The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, and it had this introvert hooked and fascinated.

Cain suggests that an introvert is the person “who recognizes him or herself somewhere in the following constellation of attributes:  reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned.”  In contrast, an extrovert is “ebullient, expansive, sociable, gregarious, excitable, dominant, assertive, active, risk-taking, thick-skinned, outer-directed, lighthearted, bold, and comfortable in the spotlight.”

Cain admits that certainly not everyone is simply one or the other, but rather a complex collage of a medley of these traits.

This book intrigued me for many reasons (and not just because I saw vulnerable parts of myself between many of the pages), as it brought to light our cultural perceptions of introverts and extroverts and our need for better balance.  We live in a noisy, overstimulated world that needs to be reminded more and more of the importance of listening, being still, and making room for silence.  As human beings, we need to better understand each other, and the best way to do that is to listen and think deeply before we respond or offer our opinion.

Furthermore, as a teacher, this book has helped me to better consider the myriad of personalities and gifts in the little beings that enter our space every day.  Not every one thrives on collaboration, one of our 21st century buzz words. Sure, teamwork is important, but there needs to also be time for independent work and deliberate thought and practice by oneself.

Here are a few other ideas Cain puts forth, which I hope compel you to read this important book (you’re welcome to borrow my copy):

1. How our society has shifted from placing importance on one’s character to one’s personality (20th century phenomenon)

2.  The power of listening

3.  Quiet leadership (NOT an oxymoron); think about this idea of “soft power” in figures like Moses and like Ghandi, who said, “in a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  Amen and hello, Rosa Parks.

4.  Deliberate practice is necessary to improve, and it must be done by oneself.  This also cultivates patience – something we ALL need.

5.  We can all benefit from quiet in a world that suffers from excessive stimuli (how many screens or devices are we plugged into daily?)

6.  Need for better balance in the classroom (ex:  independent work alongside collaboration)

7.  Relationships and communication between introverts and extroverts…how can we better understand each other?

8.  “Love is essential,” Cain asserts, “gregariousness is optional.”

Read more here:

http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/about-the-book/

Let me know what you think when/if you read this. Maybe we can collect our thoughts separately and share them in this space or another intimate forum.  I am, mostly, an introvert, see.  🙂

“How to be a star”…wise words from Ann Voskamp

I teach at an Independent School, and I love it.  I love my students, my colleagues, and the challenge and surprise inherent in each day.  I love that each day makes me want to be better the next.  However, what I do NOT love is the sense of competition that perpetuates so much of what happens in our day-to-day living and being and doing…from grades, extracurriculars, and admissions stats to what was lauded in bits and pieces of yesterday’s commencement address.  I adore my school and our community, and I know we are not the only ones living in this society that seems fueled on competing in nearly every part of life.

I have felt it throughout these eleven years of teaching, and I continue to wonder how we can make a change.

Ann Voskamp, whose book One Thousand Gifts I just finished this weekend, recently wrote about this cultural phenomenon of competition in a blog post, and I have re-read it each day this past week.  Her poetic and poignant words give voice to the humble, the lowly, the vulnerable.  She questions why we should “enter the race” at all and instead offers that we pose like an open-mouthed bird, receiving grace from God and offering gratitude in response.  That is enough.

I encourage you to savor her words (and subscribe to her blog!) here:

A Holy Experience

Can this be part of the curriculum we share with and teach our children (and try to better learn/understand ourselves)?

Dr. Benjamin Carson Addresses National Prayer Breakfast

Regardless of your political views, the following is an essential piece; my dear friend “K-May” sent it to me, and it is worth every ticking second of its 27 minutes.

Dr. Benjamin Carson Addresses National Prayer Breakfast

It matters because we are human and because this man Dr. Benjamin Carson stands on faith and values and is willing to stand up for what he believes in and for what matters:  freedom of thought, honesty, respect for others, especially those with whom we disagree, the vitality of education, and responsibility.

I was riveted and inspired, and I hope you will be, too…

AND, if you are interested in reading his latest book, like I am, here’s a link to it on Amazon.

The CHARACTER Revolution

Just five weeks into a new school year, I feel excited, I feel exhausted, and I feel challenged.  Teaching at the Junior High level, I am constantly aware of how educating our beloved students is more and more about trying to help them (and us and our entire community) counter the culture we inhabit — a culture and society that praises success, money, superficial entertainment, and winning.

Where have we gone?  Where are we going?

Earlier this month, a friend and colleague sent me an intriguing article from the New York Times, and in it, novelist Michelle Blake contends that we are teaching our children to cheat:  “They cheat, as my high school buddy said, because they’ve imbibed the message — from parents, from peers, from schools — that looking successful is more important than being honest. They cheat because they have been taught, however unwittingly, that it is worth it.”

Ugh, that makes me want to vomit.

My stomach churns because I think Michelle is right; that IS what our culture praises.  That IS why I do not watch TV anymore because even the television ads sicken me.  In our current day and age, making the hard, difficult right choice is scoffed at, while the easier choice towards the short-cut is celebrated.

This may be the reality of the society we live in, but hope remains in Pandora’s Box.

One of the other hats I wear at school is as an advisor to the Honor Council in the junior high. While it’s grueling, demanding, and often heart-wrenching, it’s rich and real, and it has deepened what I feel is my role as educator.  Much of what we try to teach kids is that we care far more about who they are, their character, and the choices they make than we do the numbers or letters that are marked next to them in a grade book.

Students, it’s NOT about the grades.  It’s NOT about what you can accomplish to “look” successful.

WHO are you?  WHAT do you stand for?  HOW do you want to be remembered?  WHY?

You can’t cheat on those answers.

May we all continue the fight against what society says is normal and send a far different message to the bright minds, hearts, and souls to whom we have a deep responsibility.

Plant-based Summer…and Forever…

Thanks to watching a documentary called Forks Over Knives earlier this spring and to reading a myriad of materials from researchers and doctors like T. Colin Campbell, I have changed my diet this summer.  While I feel like I ate fairly doggone healthy before, I have learned so much, and my diet is now primarily plant-based.  I have cut out all dairy (I still eat eggs upon occasion) and all animal meat (except for seafood, which naturally swims in these New Orleans’ born and bred veins!), and I also consume far less processed foods.  Hmmm…I guess I’d call myself a pescatarian with a side of eggs?

I thought I would miss former staples like chicken, turkey, yogurt, and cheese, and while it was an interesting transition at first, I now feel far more energized and alert, and I also feel creative while experimenting and cooking with simple, whole, plant-based foods.

Here are my usual staples that I ADORE and for which I give thanks:

unsweetened almond milk (oh, baby — SO MUCH better than dairy milk and more calcium, too!)

ALL FRUITS!

kale, bok choy, broccoli…hmmm…ALL VEGGIES!

quinoa, sweet potatoes, brown rice

nuts and seeds – walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds

homemade guacamole, salsa, and hummus (Trader Joe’s 🙂 has some incredible varieties of hummus — of course they do; my current favorites are the edamame and cilantro-jalapeno!)

tofu, lentils, edamame beans, black beans…plain ol’ BEANS, baby (of course you remember that little tune, right?)

herbs and spices like turmeric, cumin, curry (I actually no longer take any ibuprofen like Advil but rather rely on these mamas for their anti-inflammatory properties…not to mention goodies like sauteed GARLIC and ONIONS!)

green tea (Yogi tea is my favorite!)

garden of life protein powder (excellent addition to fruit smoothies)

coconut milk ice cream (So Delicious brand, which is, of course, endorsed by my main man Drew Brees!)

Not only do I feel better in mind, body, and spirit, but this TEDx Talk I just found this morning by T. Colin Campbell also speaks to how we each have a responsibility to take care of our health and how by improving/changing our diet alone, we can help resolve our health care crisis that seems to be swirling out of control:

http://www.forksoverknives.com/t-colin-campbell-gives-tedx-talk-resolving-the-health-care-crisis/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Newsletter080212

May we be mindful of our choices and EAT to LIVE, not LIVE to EAT.

(Also, how can we better teach our children and our children’s children about proper nutrition so that in their lifetime, our health as a nation and a WORLD improves rather than declines…?)

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