Baby Elephant

I want you to imagine a baby elephant at a circus. Got it? Okay.

ChainedWhen a new baby elephant is brought into the circus, it has a heavy iron shackle attached to its leg, and that shackle is attached by a chain to a long iron peg that is driven deep into the ground. For a time, our baby will pull and strain to the point of injuring itself to get free. Then, with the help of the trainer’s crop, it will learn that it is hopeless to fight. Hope will be driven out. Our poor baby elephant is a captive.

Our baby elephant will learn the lesson so well that when it is grown, it will not even need to be shackled. A simple rope with a short wooden peg in the ground will be sufficient to keep it captive. That baby will have grown up into a massive, powerful beast, but it will still be held captive not truly by a flimsy rope and a peg, but by its own belief that it is trapped. It is held captive by its own belief that it is still weak and small. It is held captive by its own lack of hope.

Then, something might happen. Lots of things can trigger it, but there may come a day for our elephant that it realizes that it is not small or weak. It will realize that it can no longer can be held by a rope and peg. It cannot even be held by a shackle and chain. And our baby, now  massive and powerful, certainly cannot be stayed by the trainer’s measly crop anymore.

This realization of freedom is a dangerous time for our elephant. When that shackled strength is loosed, the captive can turn on its captor. Years of being held can spark a rage in our elephant that will be hard to deny.

Here’s what is important for our elephant to know. Elephant, you are free. Free. There is no more shackle. No more chain. That trainer’s crop can’t hurt you. You are big and powerful and can’t be hurt anymore. That is, unless, Baby, you decide to be a captive of your own anger and rage. The shackle is gone, Baby, and you are FREE to walk away and be rid of your chains. Or, sweet Baby, you can choose a new set of chains: you can choose to stay at the circus of your own anger and hurt. You can be your own main event. Don’t mistake this for freedom, Baby Elephant.

You are free, you big, strong Baby Elephant. Walk away from the circus. Choose freedom. Choose hope.

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March 22, 2015 · 11:05 pm

Open Minded

Working on a bible study this evening, I came across this gem of a scripture. I started to make this a Facebook status, but quickly realized that it was too big.

openmindHere we go: remember when Jesus has been resurrected, and appears to the disciples and his disciples are all ‘What the what?’ and ‘How are you here?’ and ‘Are you, like, a ghost or something?’  It says in Luke 24:44 ‘He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”’

In other words, he says ‘Guys, I told you all this. Why I had to leave. That I was coming back. That it would be three days. What it all meant. Don’t you get it?’

But they didn’t get it. Just like we don’t get it today. Or more like, we do get it, but we can’t keep it. If I concentrate really hard, I feel like I can grasp the enormity of GOD, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the whole thing, but it is so fleeting. And then I feel like, ‘Hm, I wonder what’s on TV’ or ‘Hm, I wonder why the world works the way it does’ or ‘Hm, look! A squirrel!’ And I lose touch again with the magnificence of God.

Now to the bit I wanted to share with you tonight:

Luke 24:45 ‘Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.’

Oh. My. Gravy.

That! I want That! Open my mind, Jesus, so that I can understand your scriptures!  The truths that are in your Word are the most important things! The best things! The things that really truly actually matter! But I feel so feeble because even though you have already told me these truths, I cannot stick with you. I think about lesson plans, and what groceries I need, and my kid’s nagging cough, and dozens of other things that are important, but for this earthly life. It is so easy to convince myself that all those earthly things are the most important things and Your truths, well, they are just Sunday morning things. I, like those disciples, lose track of what You have told us over and over: “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”(v 46,47)

So I want THAT. I want you to open my mind so I understand the scriptures, because I obviously can’t do it on my own.

I want that. Please.

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We are your teachers

Tuesday morning, I sat with six thousand other Round Rock ISD educators in Round Rock’s Dell Diamond baseball stadium, participating in the school district’s annual convocation. This is an event at the beginning of the teacher prep week before the start of school where a school district brings together all of its teachers in one place at one time to officially welcome them, inspire them, and kickoff the school year. It was an event kind of like a big pep rally, with each school dressed in its colors, lots of cheering and high energy, speeches and well-wishes.

About halfway through, the Canyon Vista Middle School choir came out to sing for us. I can only imagine how intimidating it must have been for this group of twenty or so thirteen year olds, standing about where the catcher and umpire would be on this minor league field, facing backward into the crowd. As you might guess, they started out a little timid and subdued. I have spoken to a crowd of a couple hundred before, and it is nerve-wracking for a seasoned speaker like me. But six thousand people? Even I would have been shaking.

They didn’t need to be worried, though. It wasn’t just a crowd of six thousand people. This was a crowd of six thousand teachers. This was a crowd of six thousand whose job and calling was to encourage and cheer on students. The choir’s lack of confidence quickly stirred something amongst our ranks. Slowly, one by one, the teachers from Canyon Vista began to rise and clap along with their campus’ students. Then, across the stadium, a few at a time, teachers stood to clap along and sway with their beat. Before long, the entire stadium full of people was on their feet clapping along.

As this was happening, the choir was transformed. With the crowd encouragement and involvement, they became louder, more confident and more animated. Smiles and emotion appeared on their faces as they poured themselves into the performance. They finished triumphantly, to loud, long applause.

Even as it happened, I realized that I was witnessing a metaphor for teaching. This is what good teachers do. Sure, we impart knowledge, we teach skills, but in reality, a teacher is only successful if we are able to connect with our students. We support, we cajole, we encourage, we scold, we lecture, we push, we persuade, we prompt, we coax, we drag, we stand on our heads– in short we do anything we can to motivate our students to believe that they are capable. And then, when they bravely commit to trying something that they have never done before- be it fractions, performing in a play, or a spelling test- we stand and cheer and let them know how absolutely delighted we are by their success, no matter how small, because students need this beyond any academic knowledge that we might impart to them. Students need to know that we believe in them, we are proud of them, and that we knew they could do it all along.

And so to the students, welcome to the school year! We are your teachers, and we are already on our feet cheering for you! Have a fantastic year!

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When I’m 64

It was a night when I just didn’t have any more to give. I had been giving all day long, answering a thousand questions as a mom then as a high school teacher, then home to answer more as a mom. It made my temper short and my mood sour as I got dinner ready to put on the table. Despite how much I loved my family, all I wanted that night was quiet. Instead, the dinner table was loud and chatty and squabbly. There was a constant stream of chatter and questions and laughter and silliness that I couldn’t seem to tolerate. The table wasn’t different than any other night; I was different.

I did what I usually do in these moments- I internally reminded myself that I was really going to miss this someday. I reminded myself that I would regret it if I disengaged and let this moment pass without being present. I knew that in twenty years, I would want to have this night, in all its loud, raucous glory, back again to savor.

Suddenly amused, I thought about that idea. What if I could go forward in time and invite 64-year-old me backward in time to sit at this table? What a gift that would be! I imagine that 64-year-old me would jump at the chance. What would it be like?

Now I listened to the table banter with fresh ears. 64-year-old me would love to hear the oldest, the little professor, over explain and analyze everything. She would remember what a young scientist he is, how funny he could be, how curious. She would make him stand up so she could remember what it was like to have a son that came just above her nose.

She would remember that her daughter’s cheeks were the softest things she ever felt, and that her blond hair was as fine as corn silk. She would remember how she had the slightest of lisps and that she clamored the hardest for her mother’s attention. What year will my daughter stop doing that? 64-year-old me would know.

And the little one. 64-year-old me would be overwhelmed by the grin that lacked those two front teeth. What a brief window that grin existed in! 64-year-old me would be so delighted to be able to see it again, and hear this littlest one tell her tales of first grade life. 64-year-old me would love the recollection that this one- the little one- was the true comedian in a family of funny people.

Their chatter would be music, their laughter would thrill, even their squabbles would be precious. 64-year-old me would want that dinner to go on and on and on. But it would end soon enough. Dishes would be cleared, cookies would be eaten, and they would troop upstairs to get ready for bed. It would be over, 64-year-old me would return reluctantly to the quiet of 2034.

What a gift that would be to give 64-year-old me! Then suddenly I was thunderstruck by this realization: a gift had been given, but not for 64-year-old me, but from her. She had come back in time to give me her eyes, her ears, and her perspective on a life that I was too tired for that night. The gift was given to 44-year-old me. Watching my family- her family- through eyes twenty years past this season of life made the mundane precious. It was a gift a 44-year-old needed that night, one I will keep close in my heart.

 

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Open Letter to Taylor Swift

Dear Taylor Swift-

spring2013 026My 8 year old daughter Emily and I attended your concert this weekend in Dallas. It was her first ever concert experience and I fear it was a mistake to bring her. You see, now the bar is set so high for performances that she will likely never reach it again.

I want to thank you for being a class act. I am an overly protective mama, and I can feel comfortable encouraging my daughter in her love and adoration of you. I can (and do) say to my girls ‘Look how pretty she is. And look at her clothes and her make up. She is pretty without being inappropriate.’ Thank you for going against the grain of the rest of the modern, oversexualized culture targeting preteens. Free piece of advice: Don’t screw that up.

spring2013 028I also want to thank you for giving me this night with my girl. She will never forget being there and watching her hero out there singing. You were her main event. I bought a ticket, too. But, Taylor, while I enjoyed your performance very much, my main event was watching my daughter watch you. She won’t forget that night because of you, but I won’t forget that night because she and I shared that delightful time together. Thank you.

This year has been a tough one for my girl. Third grade has been the tipping point for what is ‘cool’. It is no longer cool to be the nice girl. It is no longer cool to stay out of trouble. It is no longer cool to be polite and respectful. So for a very sweet ‘good girl’, this was the year her peers seemed to turn on her in a lot of ways. It has been tough to watch her navigate it.

Third grade also is the year when it is hard to be different. Before, being different meant that your peers ask questions truly out of curiosity. Now, differences are seized by peers as chances to be critical and sometimes cruel. I understand why. At this age, the playground is a kill or be killed environment. It always will be. If you are picking on someone else, it reduces the chance that someone will pick on you. I don’t mean bullying (in my opinion that word is WAY overused). I mean the small catty, cutting things girls (and not too few boys) say. Being different means giving them a topic to talk about.

So it was a particularly hard year to be identified as having dyslexia, and having to participate in a pull out group with a special teacher each day. She never complains about the extra work, she just doesn’t want to be different. ‘I wish I could go to a school where everyone has dyslexia,’ she has told so many times. Then, it became a difficult year to be the only kid in her class to get braces. It has just kept piling on. It has been so….. difficult.

spring2013 023And so, Taylor Swift, when you broke out singing ‘Mean’, I am sure you probably wondered who was singing so very extra loud on the front row of Section 327. It was Emily and her Mama, singing our guts out, releasing our frustrations at this rough, tough year. Thank you for being the soundtrack for her life.

Someday, I’ll be, living in a big ol’ city,  And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Someday, I’ll be, big enough so you can’t hit me, And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Why you gotta be so mean?

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The Long Silence

4889090049It has been so long since I have posted. It hasn’t been on purpose; I have just been having a long silence. It has been a silence from me to my readers, but also a silence between me and God.

I had the most amazing summer of my life last year. I blogged about it in a series called Summer School. All summer long I felt like God was taking me by the hand and showing me amazing works and wonders, each lesson more stunning than the last. It was a breathtaking time, one filled with deep and profound spiritual growth. I was so glad that God made me aware of it in the moment because all too often these realizations only come after the fact. But it was as if God was saying ‘Here, Nicole. Now. Be awake; be aware. Be present.’ And I was.

Summer ended, school started, and I was so looking forward to this school year, my first with all three of my kids in school. I sat ready, eager, pen poised to write at His command. Finally, I thought, no distractions, just me and Your will. I will do as You please!

In return I have gotten silence. Deafening, disturbing silence. At first I didn’t notice and just kept squeaking along. (My apologies for everything I wrote after September of last year.) I was forcing it all, trying to make my words be coherent and meaningful. They were neither. After a few months, the silence I heard from God threw me into a sullen depression. I was in a very cross mood for… oh, three months or so. (Sorry, Rusty. Sorry, kids. Sorry, world.)

I argued with the silence. (What do You WANT from me?) I felt ashamed of the silence. (What have I done to offend You?) Then, I returned the silence. (………….) Where it had so recently been so very easy, it is now uneasy between my redeemer and me. And I have no idea why.

So this silence has led to my silence. I have long held that no blogging is better than bad blogging, and lately there has been nothing good.

But this thought occurred to me tonight: I am so very uneasy with this silence. I am so very uncomfortable with His absence. Ironically, though, this is where I am drawing my comfort. You know when you hurt yourself seriously, like a sprained ankle or something, and there is extreme discomfort to walk on it, but relief at that pain, because your ankle still works? That’s how this feels right now. I don’t like that I feel so uneasy about God right now. But I like that I am uneasy about Him. It means that whatever is going on, it isn’t permanently damaged. It still works. It’s still there.

Silence broken.

 

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The Wrong Crop

This week I have been thinking about Thanksgiving and, more specifically, the harvest. Maybe you have seen in the news stories about how many of the biggest chain stores are moving up Black Friday shopping to start on Thanksgiving. In the last few years, some of the stores opened at midnight on Black Friday; this year many of them are opening on Thanksgiving at 6 or 7 pm, some even earlier. Although I am not a big fan of Black Friday shopping, I know a lot of folks really enjoy it, and really look forward to it as part of their holiday. But opening the stores on the evening of Thanksgiving is a big mistake. Let me tell you a story about an iguana to help me tell you why. Stick with me here, it’ll be worth it.

When I was teaching junior high science, the teacher next to me had a pet iguana named Sam. Sam was about three and a half feet long and lived in the windowsill of the classroom. As classroom pets go, she was pretty awesome. She was not caged because she was not a flight risk. She sat there in the sunshine or under a heat lamp, never really moving, but adding an air of ‘nerd-cool’ that every good science room needs. Her dietary needs were simple, and the cafeteria ladies were happy to set aside the fresh fruits and veggies she ate.

There was one strict rule about feeding her though. She was never, ever fed iceberg lettuce. Evidently iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value for an iguana, and not only that: if she was exposed to this iguana delicacy she will lose her appetite for all other foods. She would gorge on iceberg lettuce, but still starve to death. She would eat it TO THE EXCLUSION of what was actually good for her. She was enticed by the wrong crop.

Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest.  The harvest feast is not only food. It should be of all our best crops- family, time together, laughter, togetherness, and most of all the thankfulness for them. It is a great thing to take a day to be thankful for these things. They are the ‘crops’ that are good for us. They are the ones that really matter. They are the ones that really ‘feed’ us.

Black Friday shopping is fun. And I know that to a lot of us, it might feel good to escape your family early on Thanksgiving Day to go shopping, or even go with them as part of the holiday. But starting that consumer driven, materialistic, tradition of Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving says something about us as a culture. It says this: being thankful isn’t important enough to have its own day. It says that skipping being thankful in favor of getting more meaningless, useless things is okay with us. Thanksgiving is a day of feasting, and by skipping it we are harvesting the wrong crop. We are harvesting and consuming a worthless crop (iceberg lettuce) to the exclusion of what is a good crop (nutritious iguana food).

One more thing for those of you who aren’t convinced and think ‘Oh well, people can do what they want’ or ‘I can celebrate and still shop!’. I was at the Walmart yesterday and as I was checking out, I asked Sara, my cashier, if she now had to work on Thanksgiving. She is working from noon until 9 pm. Her Thanksgiving is ruined. She averted my gaze and blinked away tears when she told me that it was her first Thanksgiving away from her 4 year old and 7 year old sons, but that she had no choice. America, we are harvesting the wrong crop this year.

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