The Ties That Bind

I was recently asked in one of my devotionals, to write a list of the people in my life who  are my closest friends. Outside of my family, I was encouraged to acknowledge the people in my life, with whom I can count on. I was then encouraged to reflect on their characters. It didn’t take long to realize that the most influential people in my life have one thing in common: God.

95896116_883583788713908_4852034144953171968_nIn my younger years, I had friends that I enjoyed from Youth Group. I had one in particular named Martha, who I went to camp with each summer. We would run through the corn fields behind her home, crawling on hands and knees, following paths and eating raw cow corn until we were sick. I remember one Sunday when we tried to share a camp song in front of the congregation. We were so nervous that we couldn’t stop laughing. I loved spending time with my free-spirited, life-loving, friend who enjoyed the outdoors and God as much as I. To this day, we keep watch over each other via social media.

95821222_703206753785953_5931605622553313280_nIn High School, my best friend was a rebel named Laura. I loved her and she loved me. We were complete and total opposites but we complemented each other perfectly. Until my JR year in High School, I didn’t really have a best friend. I had a lot of friends that I enjoyed- some more than others, but Laura and I were inseparable. I was her yin to her yang and vise versa. She was brilliant, catching on to new concepts with such great speed, that I was in awe. She was a talented artist, who captured life in a way that I never thought about. A free spirit, natural athlete, and hilariously funny, she complimented my weaknesses. She was a believer. As a child, she attended the Catholic church. I loved how she would quiz me about my faith. It made me a stronger believer because I needed to search the Word in order to answer her challenging questions. The only real difference between us, was that she was an extreme extrovert and LOVED any opportunity to gather. I did not. Sometimes her extroverted self would get into trouble, so I took to inviting her to my house on nights that I knew there was a party. She would almost always choose an overnight, in order to milk cows and feed the animals with me. She loved it. Her parents were goat farmers and she thoroughly enjoyed farm work. Sadly, a few years ago, Laura was killed in a car accident on Route 1, and in a blink, she was gone. I pray that she is in heaven enjoying the greatest party ever, drawing, playing soccer, and making everyone laugh.

My parents have always said, “find a friend who is like you or who you most want to be like”. They also reminded me often that just a handful of genuine friends were much better that a whole bunch of acquaintances. So that’s what I looked for as I entered college.

In August of 1984, I walked tentatively into the Lord Hall parking lot with my flute under my armpit, for marching band sign-ups. My mother was with me. Little did I know that the first person that I met would be my future roommate, not for freshman year, but my sophomore year. She said, “It says here that you play the trombone.” I responded with, “Not very well.” Long story short, Mom drove an hour south to fetch my trombone.

I loved college. It was stressful and challenging. Education is not easy for me. I have always had to work really hard to get good grades. However, I have a really strong work ethic, that carried me through. Growing up on a dairy farm trained me well for the rigor of academia.

My social circle in college became the “bandies” who watched over one another like siblings. They were silly and sincere, making me feel talented, even if I wasn’t. I played the trombone (with lots of help) in the marching band during the Fall semester, and then played the flute during the Spring, until my schedule wouldn’t allow it. I joined the Honorary Band Sorority (TBS) in 1985 and our pledge leader was the same young lady who convinced my mother to go home for the trombone in the Fall. Carol didn’t know it then, but I was watching her. “You need to find a friend who is like you or who you would like to be like,” rolled around in my brain. At the end of my freshman year of college, I asked Carol if she wanted to be roomates for the following year, and she agreed.

In the fall of 1985, Carol and I moved into Ballentine Hall, an all girls dorm, across from Jenny and Cyndy. When an opportunity arose early on, to get a local apartment together, we snatched it. So off we went to 13 Fellows Place, located within walking distance of the University. While at Ballentine, we were also introduced to a bright eyed spunky gal from the county named Lynn. I remember saying, “if an opportunity arises and we can take on another roommate, we should ask Lynn”. So when Cyndy moved out the following year, Lynn took her place.

When summer arrived, Joann came to us, needing a place to stay for a summer course. We had gone home for the summer break, so we sublet our apartment to her. The problem was that we absolutely loved her, and encouraged her to stay on for the school year. Our two-bedroom apartment was very full… of love, excitement, talent, encouragement, and genuine kindness. All 5 of of these women were and still are people that I admire. What do they have in common? Faith. I have praying friends who pray for me, encourage me, and help me to be the best version of myself. To this day, I could call any of the 5 of them and they would move heaven and earth to help in any way they could. I have no doubt about that.

As an adult, my friendship group (outside of my family) continues to be fairly small. I have lots of friends at church, at school, and within the community, but I’m talking about raw intimate friendships where you can empty your pockets, put it all on the table, and feel safe & comforted. You can cry, yell, not be judged, and receive good Godly advice.

One, is a teaching partner of 13 years. 45770683_10216228761505773_5992801974444097536_nTo this day, I can’t really talk about how much she is missed. We complemented each other, and I enjoyed every precious minute of working with her. Teaming with Nancy continues to be the highlight of my teaching career.

 

 

God brought Jodi and I together about 22 years ago. Although I cannot dance, my daughters can, and their teacher and I became very close as a result of hours and hours, which led to years and years of time together at the studio and competition trips. I’m so glad that the dance connection, created a lifelong friendship. She allows me to reach out to her during desperate hours of confusion, frustration, and fear. She’s often what I need, even when I don’t have a clue what to ask for.

57079821_10217385059332496_2801563594737582080_nI also have a long-time friend who checks on my family and I nearly every day. Alton lives in Tennessee, but he used to work as a custodian at our school about 20 years ago. He moved to a warmer area, but continues to make our family a priority. When he comes to Maine to see family, he brings cleaning supplies, clothes from southern thrift stores for the kiddos, and a hot cup of coffee for all of us. I’m not sure who looks forward to his visits more: Rusty or I.

I thank God for my many friendships, most especially those that make me a better me. Some friends drift in and out for a season. Others remain. Today I thank God for those that I can call out to in a moments notice, and I know they will move heaven and earth to support me in my time of need. 78850471_10220407380324307_2637549561186353152_oThank you Gail, for your quiet devotion to uplifting me when I am drooping. We walk a similar path, and your passion to encourage me while remaining faithful to God is paramount to my survival.

To the others that lift me up in so many ways, I have say thank you. I just want you to know that no matter where you are in my circle, I am so grateful for your contribution. You are most definitely part of the ties that bind and you do not go unnoticed. You make me a better human, and for that, I am so thankful.

So today, on what seems like the 976th day of quarantine, wherever you are in my circle, I want you to know that you are loved and appreciated more than you will ever know. Thank you for being a friend.

 

Nothing to Say

Time just keeps moving on, and I have found myself short on words. I don’t know what to say or what to think. I suspect that I’m in good company.

Despite recent world events, I have had the best year. I’ve had the sweetest little class this year. My peers have been so kind and encouraging, and I have looked forward to my days at school.

And it came to a stop.

I have mixed feelings. I have often said, “I’d give anything to stay home with my favorite man.” Now I’m home and I feel terribly guilty. I miss my babies. I’ve been asked to move to on-line teaching, which is challenging. I feel like a dinosaur and I miss the face to face contact with my children. Phone contact, emails, text messages, and Google Meetings don’t take the place of the classroom.

Go home.

This is the beginning of week 6 of the social distancing/quarantine/stay home order. I think we are doing the right thing. We can’t ensure that children are going to participate in social distancing or practice hygiene. Heck, adults are struggling with it. How can we expect children to follow best practices?

Practice safety.

So during this pandemic, as we try to understand COVID-19 and what is safe and what is not, I will try to follow the rules of the day. Quarantined with two grandchildren, and three adults, I follow a new routine filled with Homeschooling, binge watching Call The Midwife, looking forward to the next on-line meeting, and Facetime with family that I cannot see and miss terribly.

Surprised.

I’m surprised that I am not worried. For the past 7 years, we have learned to take one day at a time, not to plan too far in advance, and to enjoy each and every moment. As much as I miss our “normal”, I enjoy being home with my family.

Pampering helps.

Thankful.

I am thankful for my faith and God’s promises to me and to my family that no matter what, He will be with us. More than anything, in this time of uncertainty, I know that I will spend eternity with many of those that I love most.

May you all find JOY amidst uncertainty and comfort in knowing that God is still in control even if the world is not. May families be reunited soon. Until that time, may God lay his hand of protection over our sweet babies.

 

Simply Sitting

Today is the last day of the year, and naturally, a day of reflection. So as the snow flies, and I watch Fried Green Tomatoes for the 50th time, my mind wanders.

“How is he?” is a common question and a little difficult to answer. He’s mostly okay, but to be honest, there have been some subtle changes.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, Frontotemporal Dementia is caused by damage to the frontal and/or temporal lobes at the front and sides of the brain by the ears. These are the areas responsible for our behaviour, our emotional responses and our language skills. Damage to the left side affects language and the right side, behaviour.

A person with behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia may appear uncharacteristically selfish and unfeeling. They may behave rudely, or may seem more easily distracted. Other early symptoms may include loss of inhibition, ritualised behaviour (eg tapping or repeatedly walking the same route) or compulsions and a liking for sweet foods. It is much more likely for those around the person to be aware of these changes than the person is themselves.

In a small number of people with frontotemporal dementia, the first symptoms are problems with recalling the names of objects and understanding words (semantic dementia) or with producing fluent speech (progressive non-fluent aphasia).

As frontotemporal dementia progresses, differences between these types lessen: people with the behavioural variant develop language problems and those with language problems develop behaviour changes.

Each person’s experience of frontotemporal dementia will be different, but on average people live for six to eight years after symptoms begin. In April we will reach milestone (year) 7.

Although we have seen many of the “typical” changes, it should be noted that my favorite man is not “the norm”. For example, he built a deck this summer and a “He Shed” addition to the back of the garage this fall. He still reads, follows politics, watches movie series, and follows the plot so long as it doesn’t become too complicated. He watches Youtube videos when he needs reminders about how to fix things that are broken or to build things that need building.

This Christmas Eve was the first service that my favorite man didn’t attend in 32 years of marriage. While I struggled to swallow, I forced myself to praise God for the blessings. Although anxiety keeps him from large gatherings, he still bakes, decorates, wraps gifts, keeps the fire going, and the house clean. Best of all, he still knows the kids and I.

This year for my birthday, my favorite man bought himself a fish tank and yesterday we traveled over an hour away for neon fish to fill the gigantic tank. $200 later, he became the happy Papa of 12 new fish, and a “fish playground”. Placing his chair next to the tank, he has enjoyed chatting with his new colored friends. Last night, he even snuck into the livingroom to turn the lights on to insure that they weren’t scared. He just melts my heart.

He has spent the day cooking chicken with his new air fryer, 2 at a time and the Christmas tree has come down. Secretly, I think he’s anxious for me to return to school on Thursday so that he can get back to normal. Hopefully he will return to his nap schedule and back to baseline. But if he doesn’t, it’s okay. We will recalculate and love him through it, just like we always do.

So today, I’m simply sitting. I’m thinking about how my husband is the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ve been so blessed to have been a part of his life for 38 years.

So for 2020, I pray that he continue to beat the odds and that the Lord continues to lead us by the hand one day at a time. May you too, be blessed by God and have a new year that is mostly okay.

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Choose Your Hard

Life is hard. I have recently been reminded that everyone has their hard times. Honestly, it’s been a huge “ah ha” for me over the last few years. I think we all get into a mindset, and think that we are the only ones on the planet who struggle, but in reality, we have a lot of company.

People are always telling me to take care of myself. Ever since our children became adults, well-wishers tell me to find my passion, find a hobby, and enjoy freedoms that I couldn’t enjoy to the fullest while raising our family. The problem is that I don’t know how to do that. Please don’t roll your eyes- I really don’t. I haven’t played my flute since college (1987). I don’t knit, crochet, sew, or draw. I am definitely not a games and puzzles type of person.

So, my dilemma has been: How am I going to take care of myself, especially when life is hard? Two years ago I began to make some changes. Honestly, it began because I was a stressed out mess. I was 50 pounds overweight, my knees hurt, my stomach hurt, I was tired all the time, and depressed. I had good reason to be in the state I was in: life was hard. Really hard.

Through the encouragement of friends, family, and my doctor, I worked to gain control over the one thing I had control over: me. I couldn’t control my husband’s illness. I couldn’t control my aging parents and their challenges. I couldn’t control my crazy classroom, or the challenges in my adult children’s lives. I also couldn’t control how people treated me. But, I could control myself and my obvious sugar addiction- yes people, this is a real thing.

I started to find things that brought me joy that had nothing to do with food. I like travel, sappy movies, taking walks, sitting by the ocean, reading in the sun, lighting candles- fruity smelling ones are my favorite.

Everything is hard. I decided to choose my hard, and that was to get healthy in an unhealthy world, with a whole lot of unhealthy choices.

My hard now includes drinking at least a gallon of (unflavored) water a day. That was tough in the beginning. I love crystal light and bubbly flavored water, but I knew that just plain water was best for my body. It was doubly hard, because I am a teacher and we have limited time to use the restroom. It also includes getting 7 hours of good REM sleep a night. I go to bed at 9:00 pm every night, and I get up on week days at 5:30 am. According to Fitbit, this is still my hard. I do well most nights to get 6. I am generally awake/restless for 2 1/2- 3 hours every night. My biggest hard is that I am trying to eat clean: real foods, with very limited carbs & sugar and keep my calorie intake for weight loss to around 1000 calories/day. When I am trying to maintain, I try to stick to 1200 calories a day. I use a free app called: Lose It to track my nutrients. My goal is to eat 60% fats, 30% protein, and 10% carbs each day with no more than 25g of carbs after fiber intake is factored in.

Things I have learned:

  1. Most everything has carbs in it. I can even go overboard on vegetables. Vegetables like corn are very high in sugar.
  2. Most fruits have too much sugar in them. I need to stick to berries and eat them in small amounts. Melons and watermelon have the highest sugar content.
  3. I cannot eat potato, rice, bread, pasta, or sugar.
  4. I really can’t cheat. For me, one small bite leads to finishing the entire package and it takes a week to get back on track. What’s worse is that I get a belly ache that keeps me up at night.
  5. Organic Protein for my coffee, Quest bars, sugar free jello, 2g sugar yogurt, Progranola 12g protein (on line), cocoa dusted almonds, cottage cheese, bacon, eggs, broccoli/cauliflower and ranch are my best friends.
  6. I need to go easy on cheese as it is high in protein but calorie dense.
  7. I have to step on the scale every day and record my weight even when I know that I messed up. I have to own it, otherwise I get off track.
  8. I feel better when I eat just 2 meals a day: lunch (noon) and supper (5:00) with a mid-afternoon snack.
  9. I have to meal prep on Sunday and plan ahead for the upcoming week. My husband helps me with this. He’s amazing.
  10. I need to always have prepackaged snacks and meals ready to go. Hard boiled eggs, pickles, and beef jerky are my friends when on the road and in a pinch.
  11. I can eat pre-packaged sandwich meat and hotdogs, BUT they are full of salt and my weight will go up temporarily. (Chug water.)
  12. Zero carbs does not equal zero sugar, and zero sugar does not equal zero carbs. I need to pay attention to the labels.
  13. I need at least 20g of fiber every day to keep things moving. For me, that isn’t even enough.
  14. Vitamin D3 needs to be added to my daily routine if I can’t get 20 minutes of sun each day, as well as extra magnesium. (I’m currently looking into this.)
  15. Stop eating at 6:30. Brushing my teeth helps me to quit.
  16. Fasting between meals is actually good for your body. It’s okay to be hungry.

The biggest things I’ve learned is that weight loss isn’t about exercise. It’s 100% what goes in my mouth. Yes, I need to exercise, but if I want to get the weight off and keep it off, I have to monitor what goes into my mouth.

My health is 100% mental. I have to keep my head in the game and stay strong. My trick: prayer. I have been praying that the Lord help me to be a good steward of my life, which includes my finances, my time, and my body. I have to remember THE WHY when it gets hard. I need to remember that no matter what happens, I do have control over one thing, and that is me. My health matters so that I can take care of others. If I’m not at my fittest, I am not going to be any good to anyone else, especially when the heat gets turned up another notch.

I follow the online lifestyle recommendations of Christy Nickel, called The Code Red Revolution, though admittedly not to the letter.  I particularly enjoy the free YouTube videos and podcasts. The best part is that she is a Christian who is transparent, and isn’t afraid to share some of her challenges. Life has been hard for her too.

So, as we enter this season of feasting, family, and food, I am going to have to choose my hard, walk past temptation, and remember THE WHY. I have to make my health a priority so that I can be the best I can be for the people who depend on me. So, if you see me pass by the sweets this holiday season and reach for some veges with dip, give me a nod, smile, and a thumbs up. I’ll do the same. Honestly, it will make my day.

Thank you Christy Nickel for helping me to “choose my hard” and to “remember the why”.

 

 

 

 

A Song In My Heart

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This week I was able to wear sandals to school. It was a big deal after a very long winter. The snow is finally melting. I’ve seen some sunshine, and taken a few walks.

One morning I was blessed with eight deer grazing on the back lawn during a sunrise. Despite some rather challenging circumstances, these blessings have carried me through the first week back after school vacation. Moreover, I have had the opportunity to have rich conversations about faith, hope, and love with some special friends and family. This has improved my mood, and as a result, I’ve been playing the radio and tapping my freshly painted toes to the radio.

As I sit in the window overlooking the valley, my first thought is that I am thankful for spiritual supports and friends who “ironically” show up at just the right moments. In my travels, special songs seem to hit the spot at just the right moment and the lyrics “talk” to my soul like the sweet dance of the ocean waves. Another coincidence?

This week I have been listening particularly closely to the David Crowder Band. “I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory… and how great Your affections are for me.” My heart melts with the message that He loves me no matter what and that He is jealous for me. It leaves me wondering why? What’s so great about me?

My recent “ah ha” is that everyone goes through crap. Some people’s pile is deeper than other’s, but we all have it and it all stinks. The difference is that those who profess faith are watched more carefully than others. Observers want to see how I respond to trials and if I “walk the walk”, and “mean what I say”. It’s how observers can tell if my belief system is genuine so I have a huge responsibility.

Another recent realization is that sometimes trials are not about ME. Perhaps I’m being used by my Maker to teach others a lesson. Wow! “If it’s true, you use broken things, then here I am Lord, I’m all yours.” (Matthew West) I’ve been broken, twisted, stomped on, and dragged through the valley. I mess up regularly, and am absolutely not a perfect example. However, I do try each day to live my life in a way that is honorable and glorifying.
There is nothing special about me, and I don’t say that to fish for a compliment. I have money challenges, battle with my weight, fight internally with jealousy, and my self-confidence wanes just like everyone else. I know that I am not the most talented teacher, parent, wife, sibling, community or staff member, but I just keep plugging along. “Though I fall, He makes me new…He pleads my cause and rights my wrongs. ” (Lauren Daigle)
I often pray for relief. I’m not going to lie. I am no different from anyone. I have a sweet friend praying desperately for her dog, doubly challenged by the recent passing of her mother. She is faithful, and kind, and doesn’t deserve the pain. I have another who is up to her eyeballs in the evils of the world and her family is saddened by recent events in the area. Why? Why do the faithful, the ones who live each day, trying to live as an example of faithfulness find themselves drowning? “When he doesn’t move the mountains or part the water, as I cry out to him, I have had to learn to trust”.  (Lauren Daigle)

His love surrounds me. I need to keep doing what I am told to do and trust that God has this all figured out. He is using me for His glory. My only hope is to trust in my Maker because he is the anchor and his love surrounds us in the eye of the storm.” (Ryan Stevenson)

There is a better life to look forward to. What a wonderful promise that I will live in eternity separated from the evil and sadness of the world. He is a “pain taker, way maker, and a chain breaker.” (Zach Williams) “See ya later”, will be a whole lot easier to say than “good-bye” and it’s my job to demonstrate to all that I am in contact with, the blessings and promises of our Lord. I have to ask myself, that if He guarded me from hardships, how could he use me for his good work?

I have to keep moving forward, and cast my fear into the fire. “Fear is a liar, he will take your breath and stop (me) in (my) steps”. (Zach Williams) “There is power in the name of Jesus” (Jesus Culture) and I prefer to follow Him. What if I’m all wrong? I’ve lost nothing and learned to live as a more quality human being, but if I’m right, I have everything to gain.
So if my faith gives me courage to face each new unpredictable day, and gives me comfort and hope in an eternal life with those I love most, and reminds me to love everyone- even the ones who have not earned it, or hurt me, I have lost nothing. So today, I thank the music ministry that has reminded me in lyrics that stick in my brain throughout my daily routines, that God loves me, and that there is “power in the name of Jesus” (Tasha Cobbs). You’ve kept me sane. Thank you.
“The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes”
(Matt Redman)
“When we realize we’re helplessly dependent on God, we’re in a good place”  
(Lisa Appelo)

Thankful November

It is dark out. Why am I awake? It’s Saturday. I thought about returning to bed, burrowing under the mound of covers that we have on our bed. “The stove is out. Coffee sounds good. I wonder if my favorite cup is clean?” takes over my mind, and I’m now awake. Sipping my favorite warm drink between the ears of my pig cup, I am reminded that it is November.

November. It’s amazing how one proper noun can make ones heart race. For us, it means: “batten down the hatches! On your mark, get set, go!” We moved to the mountain 9 years ago, Thanksgiving weekend. We had no idea what to expect and spent a very cold winter huddled up around the fireplace in our breezy, new to us, home.

 

Nine years later, we have learned how to tighten up the house. Never will we ever be that cold again if we can do anything about it. This leads me to Thankful November.

Sometimes I get so caught up with where I am going, that I forget to look from where I’ve come. I concentrate so hard on not looking at the past and moving forward, that I don’t celebrate the growth and change that took place along the way.

Recently my favorite man and I have been enjoying the “oldies”. He has figured out how to mirror his phone to the TV and we have been watching videos from musicians that we enjoyed when we were much younger. I’ve been saving them to Spotify on my phone so that we can play them in the car on our trips together. To name a few, we have listened to Anne Murray, Randy Travis, George Jones, Brooks & Dunn, George Straight, and his favorite: Reba McEntire. I love how YouTube figures out your interests and continues to put similar items on the screen. It is amazing how music has reactivated lost memories for my husband.

At one point, I looked over and he was wiping tears from his eyes. Concerned, I asked him if he was okay. We were listening to “Healing Waters”, by Michelle Tumes. She has an absolutely gorgeous range, clear, and beautiful. He said it reminded him of his mother and the CD we replayed over and over for her in the hospital during her last days. Although sad that he was teary, I was happy that the song brought his mother back to his mind. She’s been gone for 17 years.

We have also been watching Little House On The Prairie in the evenings. They just don’t make Prime Time TV like they used to. Shows like Hee Haw, The Waltons and Lawrence Welk were clean family friendly shows that displayed healthy value systems. Mostly “happily ever after” with a lesson to be learned, we ended the day feeling thankful and optimistic. More than anything, the series has brought back a flood of memories for my favorite man. As a result of watching Little House, he has talked about Bonanza, and Highway To Heaven. He has googled the history of each of the characters and given me tidbits on the lives of both the actors and original characters for which the Little House books were written.

75369309_10220217798017444_8258874479850029056_nRecently I have told our doctor that my favorite man has an internal motor that will not stop. He is always puttering. He has an internal drive to run our home like a small farm, because that is what he knows. It is so engrained in him to be busy, that he is either doing a project, drafting a project, or finishing up a project at all times. Number 3 of 6 children on a small dairy farm, work was never “done”. You were just done for the day. I truly believe that this is what is keeping him with us and why he is as clear as he is today.

Last fall he worked diligently to prepare a living space for the kids downstairs so that they could be a watchful eye while I returned to school. This spring he built a beautiful deck out front so that we could entertain family and enjoy the gorgeous view from the balcony. This fall, he created an addition to the back of the garage, to house wood pellets and lawn/garden equipment. In between, he filled his days putting the finishing touches on projects, working on the many gardens that he created, and mowing the lawn. He will not quit, and that is what is keeping his mind with us.

He’d really like us to leave him alone. Although he misses people, he’d rather be alone. He likes to know that we are around, looks for us if we are out of sight, but would much rather have us go away. So the challenge is to be around to help and keep a watchful eye at a distance in order to keep him safe, but give him plenty of alone time. (It’s a delicate dance.)

So, as the sky starts to lighten up and my coffee cools, I am thankful. As I look forward, I am reminded that the bills from his building projects will eventually get paid, but I have  limited time with HIM. My days of building projects and multiple trips to Home Depot will one day be a thing of the past just like the music and the old shows. So I need to relax, let him build, take one more trip to Home Depot, and realize that one day these memories will be great comfort. The “Healing Waters” which cause a flood of tears will be walking through the lumber isle of Home Depot, and looking up at the mountain to the 7 1/2 acre “farm” that God gave to my husband in November of 2010.

So on this Thankful November, I thank God for Knowing that my favorite man was going to need more projects than he could keep up with in order to heal a broken heart. The outstanding bill at Home Depot reminds me monthly that he is still with me, doing what he loves, for the person he loves most in this world. Like Pa on the show Little House on the Prairie, he does what he does, for me.

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“Lord, help me not to be so forward thinking, that I forget to look back from where I came. And Lord, thank you for my favorite man: his motor that won’t stop, the Home Depot bill that reminds me that he’s still with us in mind and body, and his intense desire to take care of his family. Thank you for our “farm” that keeps him active, for music that makes him cry, and shows that bring back memories of days gone by. The blessings that you pour over our home are undeserved but appreciated so very much. Amen.”

Philippians 4:11 “…for I have learned that whatever state I am, I will be content.”

Life In A Fishbowl

I was chatting with a young lady yesterday who has undergone gastric bypass surgery and lost an incredible amount of weight. Surprisingly, she shared that she has never been as self conscious about her body image as she is right now. I told her that it was because people are watching her carefully. We are curious, and proud of how she is changing her life to take better care of herself. All eyes on are her as she makes this personal, yet very obvious journey.

I get it. I too, live in a fishbowl.

I’ve undergone some major changes myself, over the past few years. Mine haven’t been quite so obvious. Mine have been mostly on the inside, unseen and barely noticed by the layperson. It has been a very personal, painful journey for about 10 years with some very significant valleys. It has left some very deep scars from wounds that are easily reopened, leaving me fragile and weak.

The enemy wants me to feel afraid, lacking confidence, whispering all sorts of lies into my soul. But with a whole lot of prayer, studying, and coaching, I am slowly and carefully taking my life back.

I thought I’d share some of  what I’ve learned. Maybe it will help you in your walk.

For those unfamiliar with my journey, my husband was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia in April of 2013, at 47 years old. To be honest, we have seen significant behavior changes for about 10 years. It is a terminal diagnosis and on average, the life expectancy is 7-8 years from diagnosis. The good news is that he is able to stay at home during the day, under the watchful eye of our youngest daughter and our youngest grandchild. He would really like us to just leave him alone, but our resident 2-year old, insists that she be by his side at all times. They are two peas in a pod, and share a similar schedule. We attribute how well he is doing, to her. She won’t allow him to retreat, and as hard as it is, she forces him to stay in the present. He deals with chronic unmanaged pain, with a torn rotator cuff, varicose veins, and a body riddled with arthritis.

I have just begun my 30th year of teaching. I’d love to tell you that it is “old hat” by now and that I do my job on autopilot, but that is not the case. The demands of teaching have increased to an almost unmanageable level, with excruciating expectations surrounding constant curriculum adjustments and changes, test scores, standards alignment, observations and evaluations, goal setting, and behavior management. I love teaching, but the high stakes demands make it the most challenging part of my life. It makes the dementia journey feel like a cakewalk.

Welcome to my fishbowl.

I know I’m being watched. Some are curious. Some are sympathetic, and some want to be in the ring with me. I know there are a lot of people who are quietly and faithfully praying me through, one storm at a time. For that, I am truly grateful.

I too, am working on self care. Brene Brown and Lysa Terkeurst have been my “go to” books of the summer. I read THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION and UNINVITED over the summer, along with a couple really great devotionals. I’ve learned a lot about myself.

I’ve been in a shame storm for a very long time. I am a self reflector by nature, and I have a strong sense of right and wrong. There truly is no one harder on me than me. When I am corrected in any way, I hear: “You are bad,” feeling less than, not enough, and small. This has left me feeling inadequate and like a failure in areas where I once felt confident.

What am I doing to get out of this storm? I’m talking about it and making a plan. Shame cannot survive being spoken.

First, I have been actively leaning into JOY by practicing gratitude and forcing myself to be part of the human race. I want to love and forgive, helping others to see their self worth. I want them to feel loved and lovable. I am not allowing negative self talk with myself or others.

In my classroom this year, I am focusing on what we have control over, especially  kindness and gratitude. I want a shame resilient classroom, and I want to teach the little people that I work with to make the world a braver place. I want to teach them tenacity and perseverance, and to be scrappy. I want to teach HOPE and live JOY. My plan is to help them by creating boundaries, consistency, support, and to tolerate disappointment, because that is a life skill.

I want to develop trust-filled relationships and have a forgiving spirit. This has been huge for me. I didn’t realize that I was harboring such resentment, and that in order to move past it, I needed to forgive those who have hurt me deeply. Lysa Terkeurst reminded me not to resist forgiving because God made me For Giving. When I decrease, God has room to make big things happen. I want to be an example to others.

It takes great vulnerability to feel JOY. I cannot carry around past burdens. I need to let them go, lay them down, and keep walking. I cannot live, waiting for the next shoe to drop. I need to practice gratitude in the moment, one day at a time. According to Adela Rogers St. Johns, “Joy is a step beyond happiness. It is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.”

Shame loves perfectionists. That’s me. According to Brene Brown, it’s easy to keep people like me quiet. We are people pleasers. That’s a problem, because it often leads to self blame: “I’m not good enough.” I am working to recognize shame, and talk to trusted supporters when I feel like I am entering a shame storm. I am working to develop courage, compassion, and connection. I want to resist destructive behaviors when backed into a shame corner and turn it into gratitude.

I want to be courageous and authentic. I want to have self compassion and change the course of my life. I want to be so kind to myself that it overflows into others. I want to set reasonable goals, be flexible, and believe in myself because with God, all things are possible.

I want to add quiet into my life and just be still. I want to read, lay in the sun, watch the waves lap against the rocks, and take a nap. I want to feel alive again. I want to live like I matter and I want to love with my whole heart. I want to be brave. I want to allow Jesus to speak intimately to me because silence allows me to hear the voice of God (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7).

I have been reminded that God loves me and will protect me from trouble. His angels guard me and lift me up with their hands. He will save me from my enemy who has set traps to snare me. He will cover me with his feathers and under his wings I will find refuge. When I draw close to God, he is there. I am not alone. His shelter and shadow comfort me in my loneliness. he lifts me up so that fear no longer has access to me. (Psalm 91). I’m not set aside. I am set apart. I am important, valuable, and secure.

Lysa Terkeurst reminds us me that God isn’t afraid of my sharp edges. He doesn’t pull back. He pulls me close. He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18) If I allow it, God will use my heartbreaks to make me stronger and take me further. Emotions will ease over time and I need to remember that God is protecting me through my rejections even though I may not see it. I need to remember that rejection is not a projection of future failures. It doesn’t label me. I need to adjust and move on.

Rejection piggybacks on physical pain pathways in the brain. Neurologically speaking, that’s why it hurts so much. For me, it’s when I don’t feel like I belong and that I am invisible, which impacts my health and happiness. (A suggestion is that when I’m headed for a shame storm: take Tylenol. I’m going to try it.)

I am committed to practicing empathy. Empathy is an attitude of “me too.” EMPATHY  is not having the answers, but having the willingness to sit beside a friend, and lovingly listen. No, “You should…” or “You could…”, just “Me too”. I want to be transparent and show people my troubles, so that they can trust my advice. Sometimes it’s nice to know that someone else has “been there and done that” and lived through it. I want to speak with honor, with peace, and good things. I want bitterness, resentment, and anger to have no place in my heart because what consumes my thinking will be the breaking of my identity. I want to live loved. I am my own exact brand of beautiful and I want to help others to feel that way too.

Come join me in my fishbowl. I’d love the company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wow!

I love the Timehop application on Facebook. It allows opportunities to look back in time and reminds me from where I have come. This week, I was reminded that 5 years ago we received my husband’s cognitive evaluation from the Brain Center. We had escaped from civilization and were spending some time in Florida with our son and his family. We were just 48 years old. I remember feeling relieved that we had received answers, yet terrified.

A whole lot has changed since that point in time. We have met with many specialists, joined support groups, put our affairs in order, and learned a whole lot about the world of Disability and Social Security. We were financially fractured, and are only now showing signs of recovery.

There is a lot of sadness that comes with a dementia diagnosis. Honestly, I struggle with preparing to lose my husband and becoming a widow. My biggest fear is being alone. Yet, I know that it is going to have to be part of my journey. I fear the financial impact. Will I be able to sustain my standard of living on my own? I’ve spent 5 years trying to whittle down our debt so that when the time comes, I don’t lose everything. I don’t know where I’ll live, but I know I can’t stay on the mountain. It’s too much for me. My prayer is that the next family will love it as much as we have.

So many unknowns. I feel like he’s the weight to my helium balloon and when I lose him, I will become weightless and simply flutter off with no real purpose.

On average, people diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia live for 7-8 years from the time of diagnosis, and his diagnosis was retroactive to April, 2013. Every person is different because they all have their own unique medical tangles. My man is what doctors label as “complicated”, so this means that on average, we are down to the last couple years.

That being said, we have been absolutely floored with what he has been able to do this summer. He decided to build on to our north deck and repair the front steps. He watched some YouTube videos and then designed an absolutely gorgeous deck. It was totally not in our budget, and will take us a very long time to pay off, but it is absolutely amazing. He’s still putting on the finishing touches, but it looks incredible!

These are the repaired front steps with a railing.

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This is the addition to our north side.

What impresses me most, is that despite obvious deficiencies, he is still able to do what he loves. He doesn’t recognize most people any more, although he can tell stories about them as we pass by their homes. He has not been able to tie his shoes or drive a car for years. We can’t take him out for long periods of time, because he tires easily. When overstimulated or overtired, he becomes debilitated- shivering, rocking, stuttering, and staring. Yet, he can still mow the lawn, fix the car, repair the porch steps, and build a deck. He cleans the house, washes dishes, and does the laundry.

I am honestly in awe, and I thank God for His blessings. Mostly I thank Him for His mercies and providing clarity so that my husband can still do what he loves to do best. The more we can keep his mind active, the longer we keep him with us. I’ll get the Home Depot card paid off eventually, because what this has done for my husband, far outweighs the debt. I just want him to be happy.

And he is.

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Filled to Overflowing

We celebrated our 32 wedding anniversary on Thursday, and although my husband doesn’t remember anyone who was in our wedding except the two of us, or anything about the day, my heart is happy.

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I can’t explain it. It has been another challenging year in the classroom, yet I can’t help but feel blessed as we near the end of the school year. I feel real JOY.

How can I explain my present state of mind? Honestly, I attribute it to a variety of things. Most importantly. I have spent a very long time in the book of Daniel. It has been one of the best studies that I have done- healing my fragile heart.

Daniel was an educated man who was groomed to become wise counsel to the king. He, along with 3 other men: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were role models from the Old Testament. They faithfully stayed spiritually clean despite many outside challenges. One of my favorite stories was when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace for their faithfulness to God. Observers said that they saw 4 people walk around inside the ultra hot furnace- illustrating that we never walk alone. They walked out- absolutely unsinged. At one point, the king was tricked into putting Daniel into the lion’s den. Not only did Daniel pray, but so did the king who felt terrible. As a result, Daniel walked away unscathed. Daniel’s wisdom and intense, sincere prayer life has been a huge testimony to me. Not only did he believe, but he lived out his deep and sincere faith.

I’ve been trying to do just that. No matter how high the heat is turned up, I have been asking for wisdom, strength, and courage every single day. I have also worked on praying for those who aren’t very nice to me. I have truly worked toward praying palms up. I no longer ask God to take me out of the furnace. I ask him to walk with me.

I’m not saying that it easy. I’m just saying that I am working harder at it. My mom used to say that our best traits are often our worst. I am hyper-sensitive. I have a huge sense of right and wrong, and when I feel like I have done something wrong, I beat myself up over it for a very long time. To say that I an overthinker is an understatement. I hate confrontation and I run from it at all costs. I want desperately for everyone to just get along.

St. John’s Wort is a wonderful thing. I used to take it when I (or another family members) thought I needed it. Now I take it daily. I have also added a miracle essential oil called Copaiba through Doterra. Two to three drops under my tongue in the morning, along with Lavender, Cedarwood, or blends such as Cheer, Serenity, or Balance on my wrists and neck make my day go smoother. I even bought an inexpensive necklace that I can put a couple drops of oil into. I wear it nearly every day. I have also worked hard to get enough sleep, drink boatloads of water, eat more protein, and less junk. All have helped.

My job is still hard. I often feel like ocean waves slam me against the rocky shore. I never know when the next set of waves are going to come down on me so I often feel unprepared. The demands of the job continue to become greater. However, I have also come to learn that I am no different than anyone else. We all have it hard. Life is challenging for everyone. So, I have taken to noticing eyes: the eyes of my coworkers and loved ones, including those who don’t like me very much. I’m trying to take notice when people need a little extra encouragement, killing them with kindness. How can anyone be upset with you if you are being nice to them?

You know what has happened? When I push through my fears and my sadness, spreading kindness and encouragement, I am encouraged.

Is it foolproof? NO. This week was particularly difficult. I feel like I barely made it through the week. I am battered and bruised. However, I am currently sitting on the back deck with my feet up, listening to inspirational music, looking out over the countryside feeling genuinely blessed.

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I have plenty of reasons to feel sorry for myself, but I refuse to. It’s my decision to choose JOY and be happy with God’s hand in my life, but mostly his promise to never leave me. My glass isn’t half full, it’s overflowing.

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LET’S GET BACK TO FISHING!

A number of years ago, our District adopted the Fish! Philosophy: a technique to make happy individuals alert and active in the workplace. We were inspired by a documentary from a fish market in Seattle, Washington. This market included entertainment from employees throwing fish – sort of like the Harlem Globe Trotters with fish! The positive energy was electric. The fishmongers seemed to relish their work throwing themselves into it with energy, passion and enthusiasm. They made us laugh out loud!

The philosophy included 4 fundamental ideals:

Be There

This is all about being emotionally present for people and being in the moment – not always easy in such a busy reactive world with so many distractions. By being there we demonstrate respect as well as improving communication and strengthening relationships.

Play

Allowing people to tap into their natural creativity, enthusiasm and having fun. Play is the spirit that drives the curious mind as in “Let’s play with that idea!” You can bring this mind-set to everything you do.

Make Their Day

Finding simple ways to serve and delight people in meaningful and memorable ways. It’s about contributing to someone else’s life – not because you want something, but because that’s the type of person you want to be like.

Choose Your Attitude

Taking responsibility for what life throws at you and recognizing that you have a choice of how you are each day and that the choice you make impacts others.

The Fish! Philosophy empowers employees to be more effective in any job. When a team lives the philosophy, they improve their culture and create better results. It improves teamwork, employee engagement, retention, recognition and leadership.

Over time, Professional Development with a focus on Standards & Proficiency Based reporting has become the priority and we have lost opportunities to discuss “minutia”, thus losing the opportunity to strengthen our community. Even grade level team time has strict guidelines, which has left staff feeling lonely.

I’ve been thinking about the evolution of education at over the past 28 years, and I feel strongly that returning to TEAMING and making PLAY a priority would strengthen relationships and create a working environment that encourages 2-way communication and togetherness.

In 1997, staff were encouraged to pair up. We had multi-age classrooms, looping, as well as teaming within grade levels and across grade levels. Teams were designed to help with planning, behavior challenges, and brainstorming- many chose their teammates and some were assigned.

I would like to suggest that schools return to the team philosophy. I would also like to suggest voluntary and involuntary transfers that include placing staff members together that would bring out the best in one another.

There was a time when one Wednesday Staff meeting a month was for 2-person teams to have common planning time. The second was for grade level teams, the third was for building meetings, and the fourth was for everyone.

I would like to recommend PLAY and relationship building to truly utilize the natural talents of all staff members, including support staff. We need an opportunity to get to know one another personally- to laugh and to “let our hair down”. I’d like to suggest game nights, and the type of team building that camps do for trust building. In order for us to BE THERE for one another, we need to get to know one another in an informal setting. Many of us didn’t grow up in “the hood”, and are not part of local gatherings in town. I wonder if a night of play that may or may not include families and spouses would initiate a wonderful bonding experience that would make happier staff. We could watch a movie and have popcorn, play spoons, run obstacle courses, and even go to a local camp to use the mud pits or zip-line.

A happier staff creates trust with one another. That, in conjunction with the encouragement and time dedicated to working with each other would indeed impact the school climate and spill down into our classrooms.

But what if the Fish! Philosophy isn’t enough?

I would suggest that schools return to a clear behavioral support system that takes the control away from the students and places it back into the hands of classroom teachers. We need to focus on holding children to high behavioral standards and have clear guidelines within a behavioral protocol. We worked really hard on that a few years ago, but we haven’t used it for years. We need a system in which staff are not feeling bullied and harassed by students. My sister’s school is using a “Quiet Room” run by a qualified staff member, where children who are having a tricky time can go and quiet down and/or complete unfinished work. They use soft light and soft music, with sensory opportunities and comfortable chairs to de-escalate children, allowing classroom teachers to continue teaching. We know that children do better with clear guidelines regarding behavior expectations with clear consequences. My daughter’s school uses demerits, office referrals, in-school suspensions, and an alternative school placement for extreme behaviors. At the alternate school, they use a “boot camp” mentality with the goal to remediate and return children to the regular education system. In our district, we rarely keep children in for recess, send children to the Process Room, or keep them after school for Detention.

Social/Emotional support with the Fish! Philosophy, Teaming, and clear Behavior Protocol would go a long way to improving moral and communication. I for one want to return to teaming, get to know my fellow coworkers personally, and bring FUN back into the school, while holding children behaviorally accountable.

Fun + Accountability = Happy Productive Staff & Students. Let’s do it!

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