So your assessment shows…

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Romans 12:6-8:  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Proverbs 22:6:  Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

I have studied scriptures throughout my Christian walk, especially after becoming a parent almost fourteen years ago; and these two Bible verses have always seemed to go hand in hand when I make critical decisions regarding my children.  Now that I am a public school teacher, these two verses always seem to jump out in my mind as I am preparing my students for daily, as well as yearly goals they are required to meet in order to be prepared to go to the next level in their academic walks.  Three days ago, I was allowed to take a peek at my students’ Mississippi Academic Assessment Program, or MAAP scores.  While it is the goal of every student and teacher to receive proficient and advanced scores for the MAAP tests, and while I am very, very proud that my students scored well, it is imperative for every student to understand they are not a “test score.”  I know it is cliché to make that statement.  However, do all students really feel that cliché in their hearts?  As an English Language Arts teacher for Desoto County Schools, I will shout from the highest mountain for my students’ advanced scores, for my students’ proficient scores, and yes, for my students’ passing scores, they did their best and their best is perfect!

Why are children of today being diagnosed with anxiety and depression so much more so than in my own teen years?  Are we simply more aware of mental illnesses or learning hindrances; and how to recognize, diagnose, and treat them?  Perhaps.  But I would like to take a moment and really contemplate how much pressure and competition is often placed on our children at the expense of their own peace and happiness.  Let me be clear about one important point as not to allow my readers to misunderstand why I am writing the following words!  I love my classroom curriculums and core standards.  I believe they help our children apply knowledge as opposed to simply memorizing it.  I am trying to make the point that if a child is working as hard they possibly can to make a “C” then they should be lifted just as high as the child who works as hard as they possibly can to make an “A.”

One day during the school year, I was seated with a student who struggles quite a bit with writing.  On this particular day, my class was given the assignment of writing a fiction story.  We had already covered the writing process up to and including a created outline for the story sequence.  Today was the day the actual writing of our rough drafts would begin.  My struggling student would write a bit, I would look it over, and then I would offer suggestions.  Slowly, but surely, the more suggestions I offered in order to help his writing be better resulted in more frustration for my student as he began to think that every word he wrote was wrong, resulting in him thinking he was incapable of writing a good story.  His hands began to write slower, and his body began to shift uncomfortably in his chair.  The smile on his face at the beginning of our help session slowly faded, and a look of complete annoyance and frustration took over.  Shame on me, but I kept pushing him with my words, thinking when all was said and done, this piece of fiction would be so wonderful!  Again, shame on me!  I ended up pushing this child’s frustration level to tears, and only then did I back off a bit.  I took a long look at my teaching and my parenting skills.  I only want to push my children (both birthed and assigned) to their highest of highs, and if they would only listen to me, I know they would be on Principal’s Lists and receive high honors all the time, right?  Wrong!  As God’s Word, says, “Train a child up in the way he should go…..he should go….that means that while one child may be meant to go in one direction, another child might be meant to go in another direction based on God’s own anointment of gifts to each and every one of HIS CHILDREN.

We often get thoughts in our self-righteous heads that we are the ones who have all the answers, and we can take our children where they need to be in order to be successful.  We tend to forget that God’s plan and an individual’s success story might lie in a whole new place than the one we have conjured in our heads.  One of my favorite inspirational quotes reads as follows:  “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.  The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?”………Albert Einstein was credited with this inspirational quote for a long time; however, there has been plenty of controversy stirring as to whether or not Einstein is actually the author of these words.  Regardless of the actual author of this quote, the last question of this quote sums up my two introductory Bible verses perfectly.  Not everyone is born to win a full scholarship to an Ivy League school.  Not everyone is born to become a top executive earning six figures a year.  Not everyone is born to make advanced scores on every test thus helping to win their particular public school district certain accolades and credits.   There are students I have taught who would not accept a “B” on a test if their lives depended on it.  When those students of mine earn that full scholarship to a top Ivy League school, my cheering can be heard for miles.  In addition, I have taught students who did their homework every night, never gave me one ounce of a discipline problem, and worked on every assignment with as much blood, sweat, and tears as they could muster and were credited with a well-deserved “B” or even a “C.”  When those students of mine come to me and say they want to start their college career at a community college with plans to transfer to a four year college as soon as they can, my cheering, again, can be heard for miles.

The next time we feel compelled to put a bit of pressure on our children, please stop and think.  Are you applying pressure that will be good for them, or you applying unnecessary pressure for your, not their own good?  I remember the pain of attempting to learn a new skill as a child.  The struggle was real!  Yet, the teacher decided to say to me, “oh you can do this, you’re just being lazy….”  Lazy am I?  I so wish I could witness that particular teacher struggling to do something I know I can do very easily!  I would so want to echo those words to her.  Ponder for a moment about something you have seen someone else do so easily; something you know in your heart you flat CAN NOT DO!  Are you lazy, slow, or lacking effort; or is this particular “something” a struggle for your own unique personality and possible genetic make-up?

God gives each of us a blessed gift from His hands.  God also entrust our children’s emotional and physical beings to our love and care.  Let us always train a child in the way he/she  should go based on what we can easily see and understand as his/her own anointed gift given by God’s grace.  We must never stop growing or become complacent, and all gifts or talents can be cultivated and improved.  However, it is crucial to ensure our energy we generate towards others in an effort to enhance that cultivation stems from a place of humbling ourselves before them as opposed to raising ourselves to a holier than thou place above them to meet criteria we feel is vital.  It is even more vital for everyone to be appreciated for their own unique masterpiece!

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They Really Hate You! (or do they?)

Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome; and desire to do something, typically accompanied by unease.  In my experience, anxiety equals the complete absence of rational thought.  Not someone who is spontaneous or likes to make others laugh as I do, but someone who has a continuous web of lies being fed into their soul by irrational, evil voices in their heads.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.”  I venture to guess that the reason so little sufferers receive treatment is due to their lack of knowledge about anxiety and not recognizing they possess the illness.  While I, along with my fellow anxiety and depression sufferers, can go on and on ad nauseam about the countless different perspectives of our own battle with this mental illness, today I want to focus on the thoughts, feelings, and impulsive actions my anxiety has caused in my life for the past ten years.  My first panic attack occurred not long after my second son was born, and after some research and retrospective thought, I believe my anxiety had lain relatively dormant for most of my life through a series of coping mechanisms I had developed throughout my childhood and early adulthood, only to be triggered by a very serious bout of postpartum depression.  While I can pinpoint my specific onset and contributing factors, there are millions of other depression and anxiety sufferers who have no clue as to how and when their own mental illnesses began to grow within them.  I also must add that there was a time when I would scoff and become very impatient with people who claimed to be anxious or depressed.  I would look at their world from the outside only to offer judgment and reprimands using phrases such as, “there is nothing wrong with you!” and “what in the world do you have to be depressed about?”  My opinions and compassion have since radically changed in the wake of my own experiences with anxiety and panic attacks.  My eyes were finally opened to the pain, frustration, and fear of the voices in one’s head feeding a web of lies which trigger the rapid heartbeat, profuse sweating, inability to breathe and insanely irrational thoughts.  I can also look back and understand how certain coping mechanisms can cause true damage in a person’s life if proper help, treatment, and recovery is not attained.

Please follow me on my journey of self-destruction brought on by anxiety and panic from my middle son’s four month birthday to my present day living in recovery…

At one time, I worked twelve hour shifts, three days a week in a local Baptist Minor Medical Center.  The pay was decent, the job was basic, and the benefits were great!  While it may sound great to have four days off during the week, sometimes my late nights at the clinic would stretch until almost 1:00 in the morning.  I would be driving home only to have to wake up at 6:00 with a three year old and a four month old.  The noise of happy, healthy little boys was enough to make even the calmest of people beg for just thirty minutes of silence, but the pressure of the late nights, plus postpartum depression, plus underlying anxiety pushed its way to the top of my physical being.  Every nerve in my body was on edge!  Anger and frustration would rear its ugly head in the most inopportune places over the simplest of issues!  The only way I knew to suppress my anger and growing anxiety was to take my boys out of the house every day for some type of activity or shopping.  When they were distracted by the outside world, they were a bit easier to deal with, and the strangers coming up to me telling me my boys were so adorable gave my mood the “quick fix” it needed to be happy.  Another quick-fix I began to enjoy was shopping!  While shopping for myself and my boys does not sound like a bad thing, when you are shopping as a way to deal with anxiety and panic attacks, it is just as dangerous as an alcoholic trying to numb their pain through the empty bottle!  My husband and I both worked and made decent money; however, with two boys to feed and bills to pay, we needed to manage our money and extravagances like every other middle class family.  Buying new things for my boys, seeing the smiles on their sweet faces (yes, even my four month old who loved getting new loud toys), and getting trendy clothes for myself to cover up my out of shape body gave me the same high a cocaine addict experiences with each new freshly cut line to snort.  Sadly, with the euphoric high came a mountain of debt that I am just now able to payoff to a certain extent.  My family and I are still reminded of my compulsive shopping addiction every time I have to pay off one more credit card I maxed.

Those of you who suffer from panic attacks can relate to calling an ambulance to your home or being rushed to the ER by a family member, because you are sure that death is imminent.  I became friends with the local fire station crew; because at least three times a week, I made a frantic phone call to them.  Each call held the same message:  my heart was pounding out of my chest, I think my aorta is ruptured, and my body is dying even as we speak.  Each time the wonderful paramedics arrived, they were very patient with me as they did their job of checking my blood pressure, my pulse, talking me down, etc.  These phone calls became another self-help addiction to suppress my true diagnosis: anxiety.  I had people rushing to care for me, focus on me, and lift my spirits by giving me kind, compassionate words of encouragement.  The paramedics also gave me the “quick-fix” I needed to feel better about myself.  In the same way the local paramedics also arrived quickly to help me feel better, the doctors with whom I worked took on the same meaning in my quest to suppress my irrational thoughts.  Case in point: I am sitting at my desk listening to a patient explain their symptoms of whatever particular illness has befallen them.  My neck would start to ache, my head would start to spin, and my breathing would become rapid as I began to feel I had the very same illness this particular patient was describing.  I would abruptly excuse myself and run to a doctor who happened to be between patients and beg for a quick check-up.  Each rush to a check-up was the same as the one before, “Amy, you are fine!  Now come on, and get back to work.  We have people waiting.”  Just after my five year anniversary working with Baptist, I had no choice but to resign.  My third son had been born, and my anxiety had reached a point that I could no longer imagine leaving the comfort of my own house.  Not long after my resignation, I woke up one day and had the epiphany that I simply could not live like this anymore.  Others were growing tired of me, and suddenly, I was tired of me too!  CHANGE HAD TO COME QUICKLY FOR ME TO BE COMFORTABLE AGAIN IN MY OWN SKIN!

By the grace of God, recovery was presented to me by way of Celebrate Recovery.  Celebrate Recovery is a 12 step, Christian based recovery program for anyone who is suffering from addiction or mental illness.  I took what I learned from Celebrate Recovery, my own Sunday School class of friends, a series of self-help workbooks I completed in the privacy of my own home, and complete determination to recover.  The next thing I knew God began to do a work in my heart!  A wave of emotion began to crash over me as I forced myself to stay in my home with my three boys for the next several months.  When the urge to leave the house came over me, I would go quickly to the local park for a quick walk and then instantly back home.  When I would rush to my phone to call paramedics, I would force myself to put that phone down!  Instead, I texted my husband to reassure me that I was okay and this wave of anxiety would pass.  In the midst of my recovery steps, I began to see that my anxiety was a direct result of unresolved anger, sadness, and unforgiveness.  I had to stop pacifying myself and face these feelings of pain.  I learned that in order to “heal it,” I had to force myself to “feel it.”  Facing things from past hurts of being bullied by friends and family for my speech impediments to my parents being overly critical of me to my high school days never quite meeting my expectations to holding on tightly to anger towards so many people for so many reasons all the way to my family’s own issues with addiction and depression, I had to face it, feel it, and let it disperse into the thin air of a past I can never change but can forgive as to not hinder my future.  I also understand that I may never be completely healed from anxiety, but I will also have the tools available in order to live a healthy life with my Achilles’ heel of anxiety.

Fast forward with me to present day Amy Chrestman.  As I prayed to God for a change in my life, I prayed specifically for my career path.  I wanted a job in which all of my left of center quirky personality traits could be used, and I wanted to be someone special and important.  I always had a twinge of jealousy when I heard people talk about their college degrees, so after much, much prayer God steered me to return to college, get my master’s degree in education and begin teaching.  While completing my degree, I worked in the local high school as the Alternative Learning Center teacher, which basically meant I kept the kids who were in trouble busy with school work while I worked on my own.  Trying to learn the ins and outs of the education world of today, my anxiety would sometimes rear its ugly head.  The voices in my head would tell me I’m not as good or brilliant as this teacher or that administrator and maybe this was a mistake.  I would try to soothe myself by telling myself I needed to change to be more like the wonderful teachers I had observed, but guess what?  That tool never works!  I had to embrace who I was and be the teacher God wanted me to be.  My mentor at grad school gave me the best advice to move forward in my teaching career.  She said, “Amy, if you begin to emulate other teachers in every way, even if they are great teachers, then eventually one of you will be unnecessary.  Be the teacher you were meant to be.”

I suffer from anxiety, and I am finally at a point where I am embracing my illness.  Like my friend who suffers from drug addiction: acknowledging his illness allows him to keep the power over the illness and not succumb to the dangers of it.  There are days I find myself feeling completely elated and knowing I am in the exact right place at the exact right time, whether I am enjoying a lazy day at home with my three sons or standing before my class explaining the importance of grabbing the readers’ attentions when beginning a new piece of writing.  Then there are other days when I seek the validation of others when I am feeling the core shame brought on by the lies anxiety feeds me.  The voices in my head tell me, “They don’t really like you; they aren’t your true friends; they are only being polite when they smile and greet you in the morning; you will never be a great teacher; you will only be good enough to keep your job, so they don’t have to bother replacing you.”  I had an anorexic friend who told me that although she is in recovery and eats healthy every day, she still refuses to eat dairy products.  Something about dairy triggers the skewed image of being fat.  Anxiety affects me in the exact same way with certain issues.   To this day, I am unable to ride an elevator.  I never had this issue until my anxiety was triggered and came on full force.  I see an elevator, and I see a death trap!  To this day, I feel so ashamed to go to one of my high school reunions.  Why?  I do not look like I did when I graduated high school.  Thinking logically, no one looks the same as they did when they graduated high school.  My anxiety tells me that no one wants to see me, because of that fact.  To this day, I feel ashamed to tell anyone I returned to college at a later age to receive a master’s degree and change career paths.  Why?  I can honestly say I am not sure, but the core shame is there.  So as I write these words, I am going to try a recovery tool called, “embracing strength and vulnerability.”  I will be strong enough to push through my fear of exposing my shame and allow myself to be vulnerable to possible negativity that may or may not come as a result of the following words.  I will be Reese Witherspoon at the end of Legally Blonde; Romy and Michelle at the end of their own high school reunion.  In case you haven’t seen these movies, all of these characters saw the necessity of embracing who they are completely, and the result was not the catastrophe they had built up in their minds.

I am Amy Chrestman.  I am loud, sometimes obnoxious (okay, I’ll use it, but I hate that word!)  I have a bad temper, which is only exacerbated when my anxiety levels are high.  I returned to school at the age of 35 to earn a master’s degree in teaching with the prayer I would be in the education world by the time my youngest child starting kindergarten.  That prayer was answered full force by the way!  While most teachers with whom I have the pleasure of working are either edging toward retirement, moving to a higher plain of their education careers, or in the prime of their teaching years, I still seek advice on class management, differentiating my lesson plans, and I am hardly teacher of the year.  I will be probably be good enough to be voted teacher of the year when I am one year away from retiring myself!  But that’s okay.  I must seek love from those who want to love me for who I am, not who I am not!  By the way, nothing is as euphoric as my current students telling me how much they love my class!

My anxiety might always keep me in a continuous feeling of uneasiness, but my God will always remind me I was created on purpose for His purpose.  I never wanted to be “this person,” but maybe a teacher who had never experienced pain and anxiety would not be as equipped as I to give students the emotional as well as academic support they need to be successful in an English Language Arts classroom.

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Baptism: Requirement or tradition?

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of attending a Christian church within our country’s very lengthy Bible Belt, let me explain the basic traditional aspects of Christianity’s path of salvation.  The general order of a person accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior usually follows this scenario:  Person realizes the need to let go of the things of this world and embrace the overpowering love, grace, and omnipresent Son of God; person has a heart to heart talk with the local pastor; person makes a public appearance at the end of church service to “show the world” they have decided to follow Jesus; person is baptized with family, friends, and fellow church-goers looking on in admiration and love.  My middle son reminded me that tradition has nothing to do with my spiritual relationship with God.

My three sons and I were taking a short day trip to a Safari Park Zoo.  It is a beautiful reserve for wild animals and humans to interact as animals are allowed to approach slowly moving vehicles in hopes for a bite of grain.  On our morning drive to this Safari Park, we were cruising swiftly down the interstate and suddenly our path was met with a torrential thunderstorm.  Thunder, lightning, and heavy, heavy rains forced me to slow my driving speed to a crawl and look for exits off of the Interstate to wait for the storm to pass.  Once we were out of the rain and the sun began to peek through, my middle son shared his thoughts with me.  Basically, he informed me of why the rain had slowed and our safety was secured for the rest of the trip.  He had prayed silently in his mind for God to take care of us and stop the horrible rain.  I encouraged his desire for prayer and asked him his personal thoughts about the Holy Trinity.  Very enthusiastically, he stated his fervent believe in a Higher Power we call God and the blessed Son Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the world’s transgressions.  Being the squeamish child he is, my son also explained how he hates the thought of Jesus’ nails in His hands and feet.  However, the certainty of why Jesus died and His meaning to the world was very true in my son’s eyes.  However, in the midst of all of this, my son shared that he is too scared to be baptized.  I thought this was strange since he loves to swim, which includes jumping off diving boards and swimming underwater quite a bit.  The basis of this fear stemmed from the thought of another person holding his face and submersing him in water.  While I tried to explain that is was not scary, my son would not be shaken.  He held a strong belief in the Holy Trinity and the importance of said Trinity in his life, but his decision to refuse baptism was just as strong!  My oldest son defended his brother’s choice with a simple, “He just doesn’t want to be baptized and that’s okay.”  The more I thought about it, I realized that my oldest boy was right.  While most Christians make the choice to be publically baptized upon giving their lives over to the teachings of Jesus Christ, baptism is not imperative for one’s salvation.

I was raised to believe in Jesus Christ, and during my childhood and even young adult days in the church, I witnessed way too much tradition.  The nonsense on which certain people chose to focus really caused “shape-shifting” in my heart and soul.  Let me explain.  My heart and soul never left the desire to live for Christ.  I am a true Christian, and I practice my faith daily.  My shifting occurred when I began to see how people who made an appearance in church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, and every other Bible study were some of the most judgmental, holier than thou, “it’s all about appearance and tradition” Christians I had ever met.  I can’t count the number of times I heard the phrase, “we have to do it this way, because we always have in the past.”  Two particular situations really stand out in my mind.  The first situation caught my attention in hindsight!  When I was about twelve, I distinctly remember hearing two people very close to me trash talking a girl who chose to come to church in jeans and t-shirt.  I was told she was disrespecting the church and needed to get herself together before returning.  Church was a holy place, and people need to dress as such.  Yes, it is customary to wear our “Sunday best” when attending any and all events which occur within the church walls.  However, there is no law that states a person is beneath receiving the love of God if one chooses to wear jeans and a t-shirt!  The second situation occurred when I was a young adult preparing to attend a wedding shower the following week for a church acquaintance.  At the last minute, the church abruptly decided the shower will not be held in the church fellowship hall due to this young bride being pregnant at the time of her shower and subsequent wedding.  I was informed that if the shower was held in the church fellowship hall, then others outside of the church might think the church was condoning or accepting premarital sex.  In addition to these two blatant displays of humanistic judgment, every single worship service was almost exactly the same.  Every one sat in the same place, the church leaders conducted service the same way, and my absolutely favorite tradition…people parked in the parking lot in the same parking place every week!  Now we all see a certain degree of tradition with every church service, but how many of us have witnessed a church begin to fall apart over a disagreement regarding the carpet color!

All of these stories from my past reveal one main thing:  people’s focus when it comes to Christianity can often become so scattered and scarred by tradition, personal preferences, and mainly, PRIDE.  We forget the true point of darkening the church doors!  We go to glorify God, give thanks for our countless blessings, and seek wisdom for areas in which we are lacking.  For the time being, my son is making a conscious choice to not be baptized, and as far as I am concerned, my son being dunked in water is completely irrelevant when it comes to his true choice to live for Christ.  I want my children, as well as myself, to be heavily involved in church and service to our community, but I also want to make sure our hearts remained focused on “What Would Jesus Do?” as opposed to “What Do I Have To Do To Keep My Onlookers Happy?”

When we stand before God for judgment, it will matter not what clothes we wore to church, how many sins we committed on a daily basis (Jesus took them all away on the cross), or whether we were submerged in water, sprinkled with water, or were baptized at all…living for Christ equals having a kind, loving heart for all creatures created in His image.

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The key word in this beautiful picture is “meaning!”

Why God? WHY?

Has a personal tragedy overtaken your life without warning?  Did you feel completely snowballed and unable to cope with the shock and pain?  Pain, tragedy, and devastation are a part of everyone’s journey.  Expecting the unexpected is something most people do not want to embrace.  Instead the questions “Why God?  WHY?!” seem to penetrate our souls during times of overwhelming trauma.

Scripture promises everyone two things:  life on this Earth is short, and life will be full of trouble.  Hardships and anguish come to everyone, and by the way, if you think you do not deserve the hand you are dealt, just remember Jesus did not deserve His crucifixion.  Yet, it was part of the Father’s plan.  The next time you want to question your circumstances or cry out, “I can’t believe this is happening to me!  What did I do to deserve this?” I’d like you to remember the story of my friend Josh Howard.

The entire Howard family is known as a “racing family.”  It is a beloved sport which has been passed down throughout the generations.  Bethany Hamilton often says she has saltwater in her veins, giving a tip of the hat to her love of surfing.  Well, if that is true, the Howard family has every essential piece of hardware and compound of a good racecar driver coursing through their veins.  As little as I know about racing, I would have no clue as to what those essentials are, but regardless of my limited knowledge of racing, the Howards were, and are perfection in a sprint car on a dirt track being cheered on by thousands of screaming fans.

One fateful night, October 25, 2007 to be exact, Josh Howard was in a sprint car doing what he loves: RACING TO THE 1ST PLACE FINISH ON THE DIRT TRACK.  His sprint car was lightening on the ground, taking the curves as smooth as a whistle in the wind.  In a span of time no more than 60 seconds, Josh’s car hit a snag, flipped over, and sent him crashing upside down on the outer edge of the track.  Tragically, this crash broke Josh’s neck, permanently damaging his spinal cord.  As a result, Josh is now a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair.  He regained movement in his shoulders, arms, and hands; however, the rest of his body is no longer under his control.  While I chose to use the word “tragically,” to describe the accident itself, it is imperative to understand that Josh did not allow his life to become a tragedy.  And I do emphasize the word allow.  My friend Josh made a choice.  Either let this accident define his life or accept the accident as part of his life as he moved forward.

I went to visit Josh in the hospital a few days after his accident, and I was unsure as to how to approach him.  Should I go in and act like my usual crazy self, cracking jokes?  Should I be more subdued, since Josh would probably be in a depressive state and not be in the mood for any antics?  I opened the hospital room door and was greeted with a warm smile and the usual, “Hey girl!  Whatcha doing here?”  The remainder of my visit consisted of watching others who loved Josh come in and out, saying words of encouragement, or cracking a joke about Josh “getting out of that hospital bed and going for a bite to eat.”  That day and every day since then, I have never, and I mean NEVER heard Josh cry out to God about why his life had to take this particular turn.  From the first day I met Joshua Elijah Howard about 20 years ago, I witnessed the birth of his children, the accident, and continue to enjoy a present day friendship with him.  The one continuous factor through it all is this: Josh never lost who he was.  Just as Josh gave his 100% in all aspects of his life before the accident, he continued to give his 100% after the accident.  Josh is hands down one of the greatest people I have ever had the pleasure of calling a friend.  He is a friend who I see as fierce, determined, strong, and unafraid, while remaining loving, supportive, tender, and completely engaging.  Josh knows that he is unable to get up from his wheelchair to throat punch you if you really deserved it, but his mouth still works; and he is not afraid to use it to curse you out if necessary!  His genius mind is still at work as he gives instructions to pit crew members on how to build a specific racing engine or why a certain strategy is futile.  And if he considers you a true friend, he always has your back!  Josh’s story reminds me of the story of another quadriplegic with whom I had the pleasure of becoming familiar.  She is a very talented watercolor painter.  That’s right!  I said she is a painter.  How could someone unable to move from the shoulders down be a painter?  She holds the brush in her teeth!!

We all wish bad things would never happen to us.  But if those bad things turn us into a bitter person and our lives no longer hold meaning or substance, it is nobody’s fault but our own.  We have a choice to accept life on life’s terms.  Sometimes what we feel is holding us back is really just an exaggerated emotion we have trumped up in our minds.  While that emotion is possibly linked to physical hindrances, we are still fully capable of finding the will to make our chosen ways work.

This beautiful poem written by Brigette Nicole sums up everything we need to remember about forcing road blocks, whether they be physical or emotional out of our way to embrace our God-given destiny.

 

“If there is a puddle, jump over it.

If there is a rock, move it.

If there’s a wall, knock it down.

If there’s a mountain, climb it.

Because there will always be hurdles and obstacles in your way.  The important thing is to never let them stop you from achieving your goal or find your way of life.”

 

 

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Which One Is Right?

“There are hundreds of versions of the Bible in the English language. The Bible has been translated into more than 2000 languages.”

I just pulled this tidbit from a quick Google search, because I was curious as to how many various ways the Word of God has been written, re-written, and yet again re-written.  As a child, I often silently questioned why there were so many denominations, spiritual points of view, and spiritual rituals if there was only one true God and Savior for mankind.  While I am not going to go into great detail about my own personal viewpoints of Christianity, I would like to talk about why I think Christianity has been, well manipulated, in so many ways.  And I mean “manipulated” in this context:  “to control or influence a person or situation.”  I do not mean it in a derogatory sense at all.

Consider this scenario:  My fellow teachers and I make it a point to take a Unit test before we present it to our students.  Why?  We want to make sure we are all on the same page with the created test key.  Sometimes it is necessary for us to make small corrections or changes to accommodate lower level learners, and sometimes those small changes are necessary to make the answer choices a bit clearer to even our highest level learners.  When we sit down together to go over the answer choices we as teachers chose for the test, we always have at least 5-7 questions in which we debate an answer.  It never fails!  Our conversations go something like this:

Teacher 1:  I chose answer “A,” because paragraph 1 states this, this, and this.

Teacher 2:  I chose answer “C,” because paragraph 5 infers this, this, and this.

Teacher 3:  No, I think you’re both wrong.  Answer “D” would make more sense, because it covers the main ideas of paragraphs 1, 5, and 9.

Anyway, you get the point.  I have found the same feelings to be true when having discussions with my fellow Christians, especially over “hot topics” such as abortion, divorce, or gay marriage.  However, I have also found that debating Bible verses is completely pointless!  Arguments ensue when there will never, ever be an agreement of opinions reached.  And why do we have to agree anyway?  If all human beings are physically created in the image of the one true God, then it makes sense our spiritual and emotional beings will differ just as physical beings do.  Everyone in existence can point to a Bible verse and say, “I believe in this specific way, because the Bible says these specific words.   Yet, on more than one, even more than two occasions, I can look at the exact same verse and reply, “No, I don’t really see it that way.”  Of course, we have ALL encountered that one friend who will say, “Well, then you’re wrong!”  (My stomach turns to knots, and my eyes roll as hard as they can when I hear that retort!

So I challenge everyone today to embrace others’ perspectives with respect and love.  There is nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree; furthermore, if that is the choice made in order to keep harmony among your people, then make sure you agree to disagree with love in your heart.  Women who have been through an abortion felt as strongly as the one opposing the abortion that there was only one right answer.  Maybe they regret their choice, but maybe they do not!  My friend who believes with all of her heart that it is imperative to be baptized in order to enter the gates of Heaven will never be swayed by the story of the thief on the Cross, but her belief does not warrant a dismissal of friendship or even an open debate.  I was raised Methodist; my mother was raised Baptist; my father was raised Church of Christ; my cousin was raised Lutheran; and a few of my aunts and uncles practice Catholicism.  Along with a few friends, I have studied Native American religious traditions and Jewish philosophies, after all, my great-grandparents were German Jews!

Which one is right?  Tell me what you think in the comments.

The Dead Carcass Relieved My Guilt

Psalm 147:5-Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.

Have you ever found your stomach in knots, your palms sweating, and your brain spinning at about 100 mph as you try to figure out the solution to a problem you know is out of your hands?  There are moments in life when there is simply NOTHING YOU CAN DO.  Things happen; we see the results; and we somehow have an overwhelming urge to fix everything right here right now.  The problem is we can’t fix it right here right now.  So what do we do?  We worry ourselves sick, instead of trusting in the all knowing, all seeing God.

Labor Day weekend, 2016, my three horses died within minutes of each other due to a sudden illness: botulism.  Botulism is a type of food poisoning which usually leads to facial and body paralysis.  I questioned my vet until I couldn’t think of one more question as to why this might have happened.  The only thing my vet could conclude is this:  I had given my horses grass clippings which had been brought to me by my father-in-law in a sealed garbage bag.  The bag had only been sealed less than a day, but the vet said it was possible that bacteria had developed from sealed moisture in the bag, and the horses ingested it.  My guilt overtook my emotional and physical being causing emotional outbursts, quaking, and inability to focus on the simplest of tasks.  I could not believe I had been the cause of my beloved horses’ death.  But keep in mind, my vet told me there was no way to prove anything.  It was just a theory.  But since it was the only theory she provided, I immediately accepted it as truth and began to react!  One week later I decided it was time to take a rake and break down the huge round hay bales which I no longer needed to feed my horses.  As I got closer and closer to the bottom of one bale, I noticed a relatively small, but very visible black blotch.  I looked closer and realized I was seeing a rotting animal carcass covered in maggots.  Yes, it was very gross!!  A new theory suddenly hit me!  I ran inside, called the vet, and had my theory confirmed.  An animal had somehow gotten caught in the hay bale, thus causing the entire bale to become toxic.  All three of my horses had eaten from it, sadly resulting in the botulism which took their lives.  Had the animal crawled in there and died?  Had it gotten caught in the bale as it was being processed for sale?  Who knows?  All I knew was in that moment, my guilt began to slowly fade away.  My sadness and devastation still existed, but my guilt left as I realized this was a fluke accident over which I had NO CONTROL.

How many times have we done exactly what I did back in 2016?  First of all, we worry about situations knowing full well we have no control over the outcomes.  Second of all, once a situation has reached its conclusion, we still worry about what we should have done differently.  Thirdly, our physical beings begin to react negatively to the negative emotions we continue to carry, instead of abandoning our care to the loving God who is the only all knowing, all seeing.  Once I realized I was not to blame, my physical being began to heal as my emotional being began to heal.  But why did I wait to just accept the situation as it was?  Regardless of what had happened to make my horses sick and die, there was no way to reverse what had happened!  That is the conclusion we should all reach sooner than later to save our emotional and physical bodies from breaking down and hindering us from moving forward with life.

If you are in a situation right now which has you worried sick, LITERALLY WORRIED SICK, stop yourself!  Pray to your loving God.  Ask Him to handle the situation.  As Him to move you forward in the proper direction.  Take His lead as opposed to jumping forward with only your human emotion to guide your way.  Not everything is as seen on the surface.  You may move forward using only your human heart (imperfect, sinful heart) as a guide, when you really should be moving forward in a different direction (or maybe standing still) using the only all knowing, all seeing God as your guide.  We think we know everything, when we really know nothing.  Think about your last ah-ha moment when everything came into focus, and you understood perfectly what you should have been doing all along.  Did you waste time, resources, and worry on the wrong thing?  The next time you have the urge to fret, think about this:  accept life on life’s terms.  We can only do the best we can, and our best is good enough.  If the situation works to your advantage, wonderful.  However, if the outcome differs from what you want it be, accept it and still give praise to God.  What He has waiting around the corner for you is probably 100 times better!  God knows everything, including you.  He knows you better than you know yourself.  You do not have to wait for a physical, visible, tangible thing (like a dead carcass) to relieve your emotions.  Make the decision to trust God in whatever situation you find yourself.  He will never leave you nor forsake you!

We Do Our Best, and Our Best IS GOOD ENOUGH

Have you ever felt like a failure?  The fact is, we all have felt that way at one point or another in our lives.  No one is an expert at everything!  Period.  There are subjects we know like the back of our hands and subjects we can only speak of using one or two sentences.  As an adult, we are typically mature enough to regroup and gather our thoughts before they get out of hand.  But as I was taught in recovery, a day in the life of a child is very different than a day in the life of an adult…

I am working hard to prep my students for the upcoming state tests (and I’m not going to sit here and take a big STATE TEST STANCE and ask for input, so you can just relax if your reading this).  My class worked individually, with partners, and with small groups as I strove to help them understand certain areas in which they were scoring lower than they ought.  In the midst of these lessons, one of my students put his head down and covered his head with his hoodie.  I sat down beside him and asked, “What’s wrong, *Adam?”  His reply was short and simple, “I’m missing all of these questions.  I never make high grades on tests.”  I instructed my class to keep working for a few moments, while I took sweet and VERY FRUSTRATED Adam to my desk.  He sat at the table behind my desk with his classroom assignments in his hand.  He had pencil in hand ready to work more closely with his teacher, making the logical assumption that I was going to insist he work with me, so he can grow in his school work.  To his surprise, I chose to do something else.  I took his assignment papers from his hand, set them aside, and said, “Don’t worry about this test.  When you come into class every day, I see you working hard, wanting to learn, and trying your best to concentrate on your work.  That is all I care about.  These assignments are simply showing me how to be a better teacher to all of you.  I don’t want you to think for a moment that this work is a reflection of who you are.”  I continued to ask him how he does in his Math and Science classes (I teach English Language Arts).  He said, “Pretty good really.  The reading just really confuses me sometimes.”  My response, “Hey, man, not everybody is an expert at everything.  My own son struggles with reading comprehension and yet makes straight “A’s” in Science.”  Again I assured him to stop worrying and all I cared about was his effort, concentration, and desire to learn.  He does his best, and his best is good enough!

I will be the first to admit.  All teachers jump for joy when their classes, schools, and districts are recognized for academic achievements.  It is that competitive desire we all have to show how well our very hard work is paying off.  When I announced the highest scoring student on our most recent Case 21 test, we celebrated!  We were all very proud of the high scores!  However, I also make an effort to celebrate the lower scores as well.  My students who have academic hindrances are to be celebrated!  Why?  Because, dang it, they earned that “C” or even “D!”  All children can learn, and all children can grow during the school year, but we must never forget that sometimes that growth is a very, very hard and stressful struggle for our students.

We must be the light that encourages, celebrates, and embraces even the smallest of victories.  Not all students will grow up to be an academic professor receiving tenure.  No!  There will be students who grow up to be like my husband…a machinist (not a machine operator, a MACHINIST), a person who can take a hunk of metal and mathematically and scientifically figure out how to make a work of art to be used by the outside world.  My husband has created various signs, motor parts for race cars, lamps, name plates, and countless other things out of diverse types of metal.  He is not a strong, deep thinking fan of reading.  Is he an unintelligent person?  Heck, no!  It is simply that his strong points lie elsewhere.

I encourage my teacher, as well as my parent, friends to celebrate OUR children.  A day in the life of a child is very different than a day in the life of an adult, and I refuse to allow a child to feel bad about himself/herself due to reading comprehension struggles.  Don’t be that adult who says, “Well, you did well in Math, but that English looks horrible!”  Instead choose to say, “I know you struggle in English, but hey, check out that high grade in Math.  Maybe you’ll be the next Albert Einstein.  He struggled in reading, too, you know!”

My prayer is for all children to embrace who they are, both strong points and weaknesses.  In doing so, the high points will reach even higher places, and the weak points will be accepted, and children will learn to work through them.  It is true for adults, and it is true for children:  We do our best, and our best IS GOOD ENOUGH.  Period!