Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wrestling to Make a Difference

Blow the dust off your yearbook, and take a walk down memory lane with me. Take a look at all those shining faces filled with promise, potential and hope. I scan these images of my past and let the memories wash over me. I wonder how many of us imagined we would be where we are today. I cannot help but notice that there are many faces I have not seen since high school, and I do not know where they are or what they are doing with their lives. It is amazing how time flies and how easy it is to lose touch with those we spent everyday with for so many years. There are friends I never thought would become memories, but sadly I have lost touch with them. This is life of course, and we all grow up and move on eventually. Yet, as a teenager you dream big, and see life with a sort of hunger and fire we tend to lose as adults. We think we will never grow old, we are invincible and we will always have one another's back.

I was privileged enough to attend a high school in a small town. I was a cheerleader who cheered loud and proud for the football and basketball teams, no matter the score. Which in hindsight was pretty handy considering we lost more games than we ever won, but the scoreboard did not reflect the valiant effort our guys and gals put forth every game.  I am also the teenager who played in the band, sang in the choir, and danced on the drill team. I was a Thespian, a volleyball player, and was involved with student council and Junior Red Cross. I was also that giggly,girl who sat huddled with her friends around bonfires, and gushed over the boys we were so madly "in-love" with.   I was sometimes the broken hearted teen, crying after a break-up with, "the one." I was also the teenager who was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it. After all, I wanted to make a difference in the world, and as a teenager I believed life would be filled with opportunities to do just that; make a difference. 

Just as we lose touch with our "BFF's," life sometimes gets in the way of "making a difference" too.  However, you may not even realize when you have an impact on someone else's life.  You may not even know when you have touched the heart of another human being. In fact, you could be the saving grace for a total stranger.  People are placed in our lives for a reason. God places them where they need to be to inspire, teach lessons, and give hope. I know that as teenagers we did not recognize this as a reality, but as adults we all see that one life can make an impact. Sometimes that impact is negative and others it is positive, but when we face trials God always finds a way to send "angels" to the rescue. 

When we are dealing with hardships we must believe God has a plan; "For I know the plans I have for you,”  declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). He always puts "angels" in our paths to help us get through the worst of times, and to help cope with the moments in life, which make us realize we are not invincible and we are fragile human beings with no control. We are not alone, as we were meant to be relational. God wants us to reach out to others and to give to our fellow man; to help them through the tough times. So, tonight as I am walking down memory lane, I am reaching out with all my heart, and begging you to take a moment to recall the teenage hunger and desire to fill this world with an all consuming fire. 

A friend from my past is in need of "angels." He and his family need prayers and some assistance that this world of connectivity can provide. If you notice in the top right corner of this blog there is a donate button for Loren Lettington. He is the baby brother of one of those great friendships in our yearbook. Loren was a wrestler in school, full of life and spunk. Now he is the proud daddy of two small children, and the loving husband of a beautiful young woman named Megan. This week, while working in Germany, Loren was involved in a work related accident. He is critically injured, and his brother, Richard Lettington, and his wife, Megan Lettington, have flown overseas to be by his side. They are reaching out to friends and family for prayers, as Loren and the doctors fight to save his life. He has some very serious injuries and the doctors are not giving him much of a chance to walk again. Their young family have a long road of recovery ahead, with daunting medical bills and travel expenses. Therefore, my husband Gavin and I are trying to reach out to our small town roots, and want to lend a helping hand. Many people want to do something, but just do not know how. So, we have set up a fund for the Loren Lettington family on this blog. 100% of the proceeds will be going to Loren and his family. 
"Once you've wrestled everything else in life is easy." Dan Gable

I am challenging each of you to send this blog forward to all the people in your contact list, and to all your friends on Facebook. Even if you have nothing to give that is okay. Prayers are always free and so is forwarding the blog site to those who might be able to lend a helping hand. I am not asking for a hundred dollars or five. I am asking for whatever you can give. Just one dollar can make a difference for this family. Of course, I am only one person and I only have a small circle of followers, but I know the Will of God is a powerful thing. I also recognize that God has placed people in our lives for a reason, and maybe this is the one way we can help. I am imploring all of you to reach out to your contact lists via email or Facebook, so that together we can ease the simplest of burdens upon this young family. 

Remember your desire to be "somebody" as a teenager, and take this moment to be somebody who makes a difference. We may not be teenagers anymore, but we can still dream big, and inspire hope. We were once teenagers who said we would never be separated, and we would always have each other's backs. Growing up has put miles between us, but our hearts are all still connected. Many of us have Facebook accounts and are able to stay in touch, and this has been one of those weeks when I am so thankful for this amazing tool of technology. Not only can we stay in touch, but we can reach a bigger audience and we can make a difference. So please consider forwarding this blog, reach into your own pockets and give what you can. Then send a note to a friend from the past. You never know what kind of impact you will have on another until you extend a helping hand.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

School Lunch

I love lunch at school, but not for the same reasons I enjoyed it as a child. As a kid, who loved to eat, I could not wait until lunch because it meant a break from the monotony, something warm to fill my belly, and time to read my book.  However, now that I am a teacher I enjoy lunch because it gives me an opportunity to reach out to my kids, and to have conversations outside of the normal classroom environment.

Some teachers do not want their lunch time interrupted, and this is completely understandable.  Honestly, there are days when I could really use some down time to "stew" in my office, void of any noise. Days when I would enjoy being able to block out the world for 30 minutes and read a book to relax. However, there never seems to be enough time to connect to my kids or their families, and lunch is a perfect opportunity to squeeze in those few extra relational minutes.

Having time to meet with my students during lunch is not something I just decided to do one day.  In fact, it was actually a learned response based on a negative experience I had during my undergrad training. My task for one of my courses was to shadow a third grade teacher for a week. I was to reflect and learn from her practices. Then I was to write a positive paper about all the wonderful things I viewed and would potentially use in my future classroom.

After the first day of this practicum, I found myself in tears. The teacher was mean to students who were noticeably not "affluent" enough for hugs, or too "stupid" to understand the assignment. In fact, as all the students lined up for a morning hug and to turn in their homework, she literally put her hand out and told one little girl, "Stop, you can just go sit down." The look on this little girl's face was one I will never forget. She was in mismatched clothing, Sunday pants (holy), and her hair was unkempt. She looked disheveled, but the bright smile she had been wearing was enough to bring sunshine into any dreary situation. However, after she was refused positive interaction with her teacher, that smile fell away from her face and left her sullen.

I made it a point to give her a big hug and talk to her as soon as she came into class every day after this. She stopped going to the teacher to get the customary morning shunning, and immediately came to me to tell me all about what she had done the night before.  Sadly, I was only there to offer a small light for one week, and I still wonder whatever happened to this sweet little angel, after there was no longer a hug waiting for her in the morning. It has been almost ten years and I am still welling up with the sadness in that thought.  I am appalled at the lack of sincerity and sensitivity in this supposed educator's personality. When I questioned the teacher about this little girl the teacher informed me she was a "lost cause with terrible parents." How horrendous is it to write off a child, especially in the third grade?! However, this was only one small glimpse into this teacher's philosophy of education; the other alarm went off at the bell for lunch.

During lunch on that first day, the host teacher and I sat in the teacher's lounge with our food. I had a notebook full of questions about the field of education lying between us. I hoped to "pick her brain" about the need to incorporate activities for English language learners, and transient students into the classroom instruction. I wanted some tips on how to be a better educator once I had my own classroom. Instead I was given answers to my questions about her teaching practices, as I watched dark clouds form around this woman.

I fought back the anger and tears surging in my brain as this woman and a fellow colleague bashed their students. They literally made fun of them, and called them horrible names. Eating lunch was pointless because my stomach was in knots, and my heart ached. These women were supposed to be role models to their students, but also to the student teacher, who sat visibly shaken between their barrage of hatred. I refused to eat lunch with her the rest of the week; stating I had to work on my notes each day thereafter. The "positive" paper I wrote was difficult because I did not even know where to begin.  I decided the positive things I could pull from this experience were the egregious behaviors exhibited that I hope my students will never witness in me.

One of those behaviors cemented in my brain was to never make a child feel unwelcome. I make a point to show every single student that I care about him or her as soon as they come to class. I shake their hands and say hello. I ask how their day is going and comment on their cute shoes, or nice hair cuts. I let them know that as soon as they are in my room, they are welcome no matter where they come from or how much money their parents have. I do not care if they have moved 30 times or have been a lifelong attendee; they are a part of the "family."  Each student deserves a clean slate, a hand shake and the knowledge that someone cares about them as an individual. "My kids" are not just a warm body filling a seat. They are each unique, bring a perspective to the discussion that is valuable, and are worth every minute of my time.

Therefore, the time I am granted at lunch each day brings me to my second lesson learned. My lunch policy is to avoid the teacher's lounge. This is a place where teachers can go to unload, recharge, and share their day. I do not condemn teachers who need this brain break; however, I do not want any part of the negative side of these conversations. The need to vent and unload is human nature; yet, I feel really awkward and nauseated when I hear colleagues trashing a student. This is not a common practice, but it happens.  So, I just choose to spend my time with more uplifting activities during my "duty- free" lunch. Like, listening to woes of teenage breakup and hilarious anecdotes about the weekend dance. I enjoy walking with those who need to pace, or to help ease a frustrated mind. Granted this does not always happen daily, but spending my lunch warming hearts, not just my own belly, seems much more productive.

Here is a thought though, what if we all put a little extra time in being the sun shining through a cloudy day? What if every single person who reads this blog would go out and eat lunch with someone new tomorrow? Or would give another person a compliment instead of tear them down? I  challenge you to eat lunch in a new place this week, and post your experience on this site. After all you would only be losing one lunch, but to someone else it could mean a ray of sunshine. Imagine if you could shed a little bit of  light and warmth on a heart that has been shown only bitter cold darkness.  Remember, once it is all stripped away "these three remain; faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love." Corinthians 13:13. So, challenge extended: go eat and be merry.  How many of you will be that light today?

* Be looking for my next entry covering some lunch time conversations; "Discourse Over the Main Course."