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By my side

I am so sad. This violent week in America has made me want to fall on my knees and weep in anguish. I don’t want to say much about it, because it already seems like everyone is talking and no one is listening. Believe me, my opinions are no better than yours.

And it is so hard right now to not pick a side. I examine every social media post and wonder, “Are they on my side? Am I on their side? Which side is this?” I am tired of sides. 

So I am asking you now, instead of being on my side, can you be by my side? Would you be sad with me? Can you sit by my side and be sad, too? Can you set aside the risk that you might not be “on my side” and just be “by my side”? Because we all have something in common. We are all sad. We are all heartbroken about the broken, dark state of this world. How about we stop worrying about being on the right side, and start being by each other’s side? 

So please sit by my side while I am heartbroken for the families of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile. They were loved. They will be missed. And that is heartbreaking. 

Please sit by my side while I am heartbroken over the loss of the officers in Dallas. Mourn with me that it was so senseless and evil and sad. Be broken hearted for the families. Remember the survivors and the long road of recovery for them.

Please sit by my side and be sad for mamas of young black kids who have legitimate concern for their children in this world. Be broken hearted with me for Baton Rogue and St. Paul, as they must do the hard work of rebuilding trust. 

Please sit by my side while I am heartbroken for the good and loyal officers who show up and serve to the grateful and the ungrateful. Be broken hearted by the betrayal they feel but ignore.

Friends, it is so lonely to be sad. Sit down by my side and be sad with me. And I will sit by yours and be sad with you.
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Romans 12:14-16 (The Message)
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/94075184@N00/26535825126″>Had a bad day</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licmenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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Dead on a Hill

Here lies America, dead on a hill.

She was a beautiful, proud nation, violently begun with the blood of those who felt that the identity of ‘colony’ – of being a satellite of a far off sovereignty – was not to be tolerated. She needed to be her own.

She stumbled gloriously though history, shedding her own blood and the blood of others for her ideals, embarking on the grand experiment of democracy. Like all good experiments, this required a lot of trial and error, resulting in ragged progress forward and back, tremendous rights and wrongs. When necessary, there was no ally that was her equal, and her large, impetuous heart loved without end and oft times without wisdom.

mast-1130057_1920Her demise came not from outside attack from a greater nation, but rather from a poison born from within. It came when quiet, malevolent buds sprang up in her heart, the sweet smell of which was harmony- that all should agree on all things. Its blossoms bore the dark fruit that was discord, not over things disagreed upon, but for the insistence that harmony exist. But in the grand experiment- and in this world- harmony is not possible.
And so from within America ripped herself to shreds with the insistence that she agree with her schismed self. She died not from the difference of opinion, but from the absolute inability to allow there to exist a different opinion. From this was raised up leaders that represented not her absolute best, but her absolute worst, leaders that thrived on the dark, discordant fruit. Though they should have been outright rejected by all, they were instead championed by her people’s inability to back down from their entitled right to their personal ideals.

An old, old idiom asks the question so very worthy of all our disagreements: “Is this the hill you want to die on?” America has answered.

Here lies America, dead on a hill.

 

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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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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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The Harvest Problem

I was thinking about Thanksgiving coming up next week, and what it means to be thankful. In the first Thanksgiving, they were thankful because they had survived and pulled in their first harvest. That first year of settling and building and planting and growing must have been brutal. When the pilgrims crossed the ocean they did so with no guarantees. Actually, the only guarantee they had was that it would be hard. Leaving behind their certainty in Europe would be hard; crossing the ocean would be hard; settling a wild land would be hard. I am sure that when that first Thanksgiving came around- after they pulled in their first harvest from all their hard work- they were truly thankful. The harvest not only showed that they had survived the ordeal up to that point, it also meant that they had a chance at surviving the winter.

This was true for years and years- whole generations- in our country. People had to work hard, show discipline, make hard decisions during lean times, and survive. Only then did the harvest come around again, making people thankful- truly thankful- that they had survived another year.

I think that a real obstacle to thankfulness in our culture today is that we now live in the age of the 12 month, 52 week perpetual harvest. For most of us whatever we want, we can get right now. There is never a time when we lack anything. We can go to the store, buy our groceries, and have a Thanksgiving meal any day of the year. We don’t even have to have the money for it, because someone is always glad to take our credit card. We don’t have to wait for anything, we don’t have to dig deep and survive anything. We are living in a perpetual harvest. This isn’t true for all of us, mind you, but most of us. This perpetual harvest that we live in can make us blind to its presence. We can really not see the forest for the trees on this one.

You know where I bet some of the best Thanksgivings will be this year? In the northeast. New York and New Jersey. The folks who just made it through Hurricane Sandy and had weeks without power, heat in their homes, or gas for their cars will certainly have some of the most precious prayers of thanksgiving this year. It was a terrible event, but sometimes terrible events are what it takes to wake us from our complacent, plentiful lives.

It can be the loss of a job that makes us thankful for the new one, the loss of a loved one to make us thankful for the time we had, the loss of good health that makes us thankful for our very lives. If we think back, some of us not too far back, we can think of a time when we were forced to survive something. There have been times for all of us when we have had to look around at loved ones and say ‘I don’t have much, but I have you’ and then be truly, really thankful for it. I just hope that it makes up for the times that we are surrounded by plenty but completely forget to be thankful for it, even pouting about what we don’t have.

This year, I have much. I have good health, good marriage, good kids, good friends, and above all a good God, the recipient of my thanks. I am living in the harvest. What I have to remember, though, is to be thankful anyway, and not to be blinded to it, or even by it.

What are you thankful for?

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