How to appreciate a teacher

All over the country, the school year is winding down.  Kids ache for pools and play dates, moms seek refuge from lunches, alarms and homework checks.  Most everyone is longing for a different routine (or, a lack of one).

Teachers, too, enjoy their summer break but some of us will miss your child an awful lot.  Parents are doing a great job raising kids and I, for one, have enjoyed the fruits of those labors.  Throughout the year, I have laughed daily with them, listened interestingly to their stories and observations and cheered them on to better work.  I have challenged their ideas, absorbed their critiques and tempered their moods.  They’ve written me notes, drawn me pictures, texted me questions and tagged me on Facebook.  All this time and energy your child has received has been done joyfully.

No doubt your child has had a teacher that has earned a thank you, but you’re not sure how to.  So, how do you thank a teacher?  Well, parents ask me so I thought I’d share with you what I share with them.

1. Take a cue from your child.  My students know I like my chocolate dark, my cake layered and my notes specific.  My favorite thank-yous are hand-written notes from the kids that recount some happy moment, an inside joke we share or a favorite memory.   I save them and take them out to reminisce.

2. During the school year, my evenings are spent grading and planning and my lunches are rushed affairs, often gobbled while standing up, walking to the printer or returning an email to a parent.  A gift card to a coffee shop or lunch spot is perfect because summer is when we catch up with friends or former students.

3. Since most of us are those who love words, a simple & sincere word of thanks is often more than enough.  A warm squeeze, big smile and a thank you is appreciated.

Teachers are always investing in kids’ lives and more than likely they’ll spend a good deal of their summer reading, gleaning for ideas and thinking about the fall and how to make it an even better year. Even if you don’t have kids in school right now, it’s never too late to thank a teacher who you had years ago.  As I tell my kids at the end of every year, I’ll always want to know how you’re doing.  I’m sure that’s true for your kids’ teachers, too.

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The folly of a plan B

Recently, my daughter plowed ahead with something she’d planned even though we advised her against it because of a number of factors she didn’t want to consider. The goal was to host a number of kids for an evening at church so that parents could go out.  Her previous evening was a big success but on Memorial Day weekend, we thought the crowd might be kind of slim.

Sure enough, the opening minutes clicked by and those surrounding her realized we needed to have a plan B.  So, we suggested one and reality demanded we implemented it.  What a major buzz-kill for her to have to alter her plans! The crew of girls had set up multiple games and worked on getting the sound and video up and running.  Sigh.  Instead they played, danced, ran around and shed the responsible-girl persona they were more than willing to be that night for a more free, wild little girl persona.  Way more fun!

Soon we were piled into vehicles on our way to fro-yo utopia.  We belted out One Direction songs and all of us, even the driver (who will remain nameless), knew all the words.  On the drive down, my daughter rode with girls who had not known each other previously but found they had lots in common.  The chatter was vigorous and constant.  As we debriefed later, I commented that maybe we didn’t choose a plan B but rather God showed us His plan A for the night.

We’re all living God’s plan A for our lives. Sometimes we might be tempted to freak out, pout, complain, whatever, when things don’t go as we planned.  Especially for us who are planners, this is tough, but there’s another way.  My sons used to watch a sit com where the main actor would press on his chest and say, “I got this!” when anyone showed concern that something wouldn’t get done.  For months, whenever I’d ask them to do anything, they’d do the same and say “I got this!”  Sometimes they did; sometimes they didn’t.

God always does.  When we experience something other we planned, we might be tempted to think that our lives have been derailed (guilty) and we have to find and follow another path.  I don’t believe that anymore.  Though we experience heartache, pain, injustice and the downright confusing choices of others, it’s all plan A.  I’m moving in the direction of asking God sooner to make me sensitive to His goals for me in those re-directions.  It’s much easier to find peace with His plans as they enfold. After all, He’s “got this!”  A good bowl of fro-yo doesn’t hurt, either.

Blessed to suffer

Did she mean to title this ‘Blessed to suffer’?   Yes, that’s what I meant to write.  Very few people, in the midst of their season of suffering, exclaim, “This is great!  Bring it on, Lord!”  Even though everyone suffers at some point in their lives,  most people aren’t going to say they’re blessed to do so.  Before you’re tempted to think I’ve achieved a level of spiritual mastery, think again.  When I’ve suffered, I’ve done my share of bucking and snorting.  But I’m okay with it as long as I have perspective on the other side.

Yesterday, I was on my way to a summer job interview and an eagle flew right towards me.  Noted, Lord.  If you’ve read my eagle story from previous posts, you understand.  Also, I feel my heart lifted from a burden I carried for too long.  When I try to attribute it to the myriad ways I attempted to alleviate the suffering, I can only give the credit to God, who, in His mercy, “showed His wonderful love to me when I was in a besieged city”, my own heart and mind.

Truthfully, it’s hard for me to write about these things.  I’m working on my transparency, but I’m finding that when we go through our ‘stuff’, the process of dealing with it and then the testimony we have afterwards is most likely what God has in mind for us.  So I’m trying to embrace it more and would love to dialogue about it with any of you.

As a friend said once, “Life is messy.”  That’s right!  And so are our hearts and minds, but God is nonplussed.  When I feel shocked or ashamed or helpless, all I have to do is cry out.  Then, He does all the heavy-lifting, bringing in the cavalry of blessing, strength and peace.

Want to light my fire? Mop my floor.

Yesterday I heard a radio caller ask for advice about how he could get his wife to give him more attention.  This poor guy sounded so sweet and explained how he had been doing all he could to get his wife a little more tuned in to him.  He had tried flowers and cards – no response.  He’d spent more time with the kids – no response.  He cleaned and did laundry – no response.  The talk show host said, a little snarkily if you ask me, “Gee, the last thing that’d light my fire is to do the laundry.”  I cringed.  Has she not heard of the 5 love languages?

Many people don’t know that we express our love and therefore receive love in five ways, as discovered by Gary Chapman.  Physical touch, acts of service, gift-giving, quality time and words of encouragement are the five.  I wanted that host to support this mans working through the list but wondered why, after 10 years of marriage he didn’t know how to communicate to her in a way that she’d warmly receive.

My husband and I have known for quite some time how we best communicate and receive love.  For him, it’s words of encouragement; for me, it’s acts of service.  This means that our natural inclination is to express our love in the way that we receive it but knowing our spouse’s (or kids or employers or friends…) love language means we need to express it in the way that they receive it.  So, for his birthdays, Fred gets poems and letters of our appreciation and admiration for the myriad ways in which he is an amazing man.  Our kids’ languages are crystal clear so we show our love to them by speaking in a way they will understand, through time and encouragement.

For me, it used to be gifts but in the last few decades, it’s most definitely acts of service.  It was driven home when one day I came home from work during a particularly busy week.  Fred had returned to the house while I was at work and cleaned the whole house.  (He was thankful it’s a small house!)  I walked around in awe as I took in everything he had done.  Wow.  That spoke volumes to me.  Even though that was many years ago, I still remember it clearly.  When my kids ask what I want on Mother’s Day or my birthday, of course I want to spend time with them, but my answer is always the same: “Labor.”  Help me with my to-do list.  I don’t even mind working along side of you!

This also explains why I like to do things for people.  I can feel my heart swell when I write side by side with my students, when I’m doing yard work with my family, when someone asks if I can make them a birthday cake.  When my hands are in motion with an act of service for someone else, they’re letting me communicate my love for them.  Maybe they’d like a card filled with words of encouragement or a gift of quality time, but if you let me do something for you, you’re letting me love you. And for that, I’m very grateful.

Water a kid today

watering plantPeople who know me well know I have a brown thumb.  Oh, they’re nice and point out a rogue plant that thrives despite its bad luck to be found in my yard, but we all know that plants grow in spite of me, not because of me. One big problem: I forget to water!  But every once in a while, I get a plant I know what to do with.  Take my basil, for example.  Every spring and summer I relish having a basil plant in my kitchen window and I feel so cool plucking off those fragrant leaves to use in my cooking.

Knowing that basil needs daily water, I couldn’t bear to let it die when we went away for a week, so I did what any devoted foodie would do: I took it with us.  I packed it in a pitcher, tucked it in the back of the van when no one was looking and off we went.  A few hours down the road, my oldest son finally said, “What is the awful smell?  It smells like socks and dog!!”  The rest of the family admitted they suffered too.  I had to confess.  Meekly. “It’s my basil.  It’s need watering every day!”  They erupted.  WHO TAKES BASIL ON A VACATION????  Ugh, I do –  knowing that our dinners are going to be so much tastier because of it.  That excuse didn’t fly – but the basil almost did right out the window.

Lately, I’ve been watering plants of a different sort.  These are plants I know exactly what to do with.  Despite yearly working with incredibly talented and wonderful kids, every few years or so someone comes along that stands out. I notice something in them that is just a little seed, but I see the opportunity to water it.   Usually detected at age 14 or 15, the seed has been lying latent.  But it’s there.  It’s fun to see it peeking out.  So I nudge the dirt, wonder about its placement, offer it some sunshine and know, just know that someday God will make something strong and fragrant out of it.  I might be the only one for awhile who sees it.  But I’ll keep my eye on it- watering it every day I can.

I’m so thankful that my former students are police officers, teachers, pastors, businessmen, moms, bankers, and pilots.  Many of them didn’t think they’d be able to accomplish 8th grade much less what they’ve done now.  A few of them revealed their dream to me as a teenager and I always told them, “You’ll be great at that!”  And now, they are.  These kids sometimes have no idea what their target is, so I boldly tell them!  Even if its’ just being faithful to the tasks in front of them each day.

Anyone who’s a talented gardener knows that attention, sun and water are the keys to healthy plants.  I’m not sure why I can’t get it right with green things, but I love to do that with kids.  Usually it just takes a keen eye, an awareness of the Spirit’s nudge and a big dose of encouragement.  If I’m truly hearing from the Spirit, I don’t have to worry, He’ll take care of it.  If my ‘plant’ ever smells like socks and dog, well, that’s part of the growing process too, but I know, just know that someday, they’ll be part of a beautiful dish and everyone who tastes it will say, this is so much better because you are here! And all it took was a little watering.