"Smile or Die!"

I realize that this post might make me seem like a cynic or a pessimist. But, I'm okay with that. Please note: my goal here is not to offend anyone, but to explore the concept of unrealistic optimism.

Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich explains the craziness of the concept of "mandatory optimism and cheerfulness" in this RSA Animate video. Though she focuses a lot on the corporate world in this lecture, I think she's onto something. Sometimes I feel the pressure to be unrealistically positive in my everyday life, in my job, with my family, with my friends, and even (at times) with my spouse. Throughout our struggle with fertility and in struggles with my job, I've conversed with close friends and family and have heard more than once---"stay positive." Though I do think these people are being somewhat sincere, I am at odds with this mantra of positivity. After hearing it time and time again I begin to think that something is wrong with me if I am not feeling positive. I begin to think that I am the only one in this miserable world feeling...well...miserable.

I've been reading a book called Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Adoption Loss. I actually just finished it this morning--it's an enlightening book, good for anyone to read, even those not struggling with infertility, miscarriage, and adoption loss because, to be quite frank, these issues are more common than most are aware. It's from the perspective of a woman who has truly struggled with all three issues, and the book is saturated with scripture and sound biblical advice. But that's not the point of this particular post---actually, in one chapter the author mentions what grief looks like in the Old Testament---people displayed grief by extreme weeping and tearing their clothes. She writes, "There was weeping and wailing. For a whole year, nobody expected you to look or be the way you were. How wonderful! But in our nutty society, the person who 'keeps it together,' who's 'so brave,' and 'looks so great--you'd never know,' that's who is applauded" (Saake).

I'm not proposing we go back to Old Testament displays of grief that last a year long or even more--but, I do think there is a pressure in our society--especially in the Evangelical sector of society--to be unrealistically positive--that a glimpse of grief is sometimes equivocated to a lack of faith. Saake writes, "The Bible does not say to cheer up the bereaved, but rather to 'mourn with those who mourn.' Christ does not say we grieve because we are deficient in faith, but rather [in Matthew 5:4], 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted [not rushed].'" What a concept--mourn with those who mourn.

Maybe I'm the only one who feels the pressure to give the canned answer of "Great!" with a cheap smile plastered on my face when someone asks how I'm doing, when really how I'm doing is far from great. Maybe I'm the only one who feels like people question her faith when grief is displayed. But maybe not. Maybe we could all invest in people a bit more---maybe we could all look for and encourage an honest answer to the question, "How are you doing?" Maybe we could all use a healthy dose of reality: there will be negativity, hard times, and grief in the world---and it will affect us--and it's okay to feel less than positive sometimes--it's okay to mourn with those who mourn.


Merry Christmas!

Hope you are all enjoying your Christmas! So far we have celebrated with Nate's immediate family, my dad's family, my immediate family, and will celebrate with my mom's family tomorrow. We've had so much fun playing games, laughing, eating, and enjoying the company of family. This is truly my favorite time of year. I am so grateful that God sent his Son to die for us--to offer us salvation.

Here is our Christmas letter we created this year. I spent at least 20 minutes trying to figure out how to embed the Word doc into this blog---then I asked Nate to try, and he figured it out in 10 minutes! What a tech. genius :)

Hope what is left of your Christmas is blessed!
Christmas Letter2b


Engaging students

Author's note: This post is a fragmented collection of my thoughts based on the Ken Robinson video I posted earlier today.

We are teaching a generation of students whose attention spans are pulled in a million directions in their everyday digital lives--and then we punish them for not focusing in school. When I notice my students not focusing, it is generally because I am teaching boring material in a way that is not conducive to the way these digital natives learn. I struggle with this. It exhausts me to think about how much energy I exude when teaching some groups of students. Changing activities every 10 minutes, creating lessons that contain visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components every day is worth it, but is time consuming and strenuous. I have often wondered if I can keep doing this for 20 more years. I fear that I can't...

I've heard many teachers, journalists, and government leaders lament the fact that students' attention spans have dropped exponentially with the rise of a digital age. But why do we focus on this? I don't think we can change it, and I don't think it's a battle even worth fighting. We have to teach our students in a way that will wake them up and rouse their senses. But it is exhausting! So what do we do? We change the way education is done."The current system of education was designed, conceived, and structured for a different age" (Robinson). This is a daunting task......

Standardized Testing: What's Our Priority?

Author's note: This post is a fragmented collection of my thoughts based on the Ken Robinson video I posted earlier today, an op-ed from NPR (see the link below), and a conversation I had with another Nebraska teacher.

Standardized testing, I fear, is creating a generation of test-taking robots who have little to no capacity for creativity or critical thinking. What standardized testing often does is strip critical thinking down into a multiple guess testing method. Why? Because it's easier to grade and monitor. I understand that we have to find ways to monitor student learning, student growth---and the easiest way to do this is by objective testing that can be scored by a machine. I understand that our country's education leaders are feeling the pressure to catch up with South Korea, Japan, China, and other countries. I read an op-ed on NPR's website a few weeks ago that ranted about our country falling behind to other countries and the need to "restore excellence to America's schools" (Rothkopf). And while I agree with what much of Rothkopf is arguing for, I don't understand why we would stoop to this level of standardized testing in order to "restore excellence to America's schools." Sure these tests may close the gap between us and South Korea, but this also encourages conformity in students. One of its priorities is to get students to perform at the same level: proficient. There are many problems with this: who determines what proficient is? And does a multiple guess test measure proficiency? Do we see students' thought process on an assessment where they click a series of boxes or fill in a series of bubbles? So what is our priority: creating a generation of creative, critical thinkers or creating a generation of students who can make educated guesses? Sadly, I believe our country's focus is the later. I fear what public education may look like in 20 years. I hope teachers, students, parents and government leaders will rise up and continue to fight against this. Doing what's easiest (creating a test that can be scored by a machine that will ultimately decide if schools, teachers, and students are proficient and successful) isn't always doing what's best.

Sir Ken Robinson Speaks: Changing Education Paradigms

A few months back I posted a TED Talks video from Ken Robinson called, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" Here's another video that has had me thinking all week--it's worth your time to watch it. I've watched it at least ten times this week and have been working on a series of blog posts based on concepts presented in the video. I'll post them one at a time, so check back for more.


Finding Opportunity Amidst Difficulty

Today the journal prompt for my English 9 students was an Albert Einstein quote: "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Between struggling with infertility to frustrations in my job---I'm learning a lot about finding opportunity amidst difficulty lately. To be honest, when we first struggled with having biological children I couldn't see opportunity in that difficulty. I had a one track mind and was devastated that we might not ever get that opportunity. Earlier this year when troubles struck at work, I'd grow so angry that I could barely do my job. I didn't look for opportunity. Instead, I focused on how pissed I was.

Today was a rough day. We had a pretty heated staff meeting at work, physically I haven't been feeling well, and I've been dwelling a lot on growing our family. When I found myself feeling like I was going to blow my top, I walked into my classroom, shut the door behind me, took a deep breath and began organizing papers (normally I run when I'm frustrated, but because I was in work attire all I could do was clean!). Eventually I looked up and saw the Einstein quote on my board. It started to put things into perspective. I went on a run when I got home to clear my head and began thinking of all the opportunities I have in my life right now: because we can't conceive our own children--we get to adopt a child; my job seems like a really stressful place right now--so I have the opportunity to be that joy and light that my students and co-workers need. I've identified the opportunities; now the hard part is actually doing something about it--taking that step to act on these opportunities. It won't be easy, but I think it's worth it.


The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Over Thanksgiving break I started reading the book The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I hadn't read it since I was in elementary school, but I remember loving The Chronicles of Narnia series. I often spent my recess time in the library of St. James Elementary School, reading from The Chronicles books. Some nights I would stay up well-past my bed time, hiding under the covers with my book and book light reading into the early hours of the morning. The books captivated me as a child.

Reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe again was incredible. The story was better than I imagined it! I found myself giggling, gasping, and sobbing as I read through this book for the second time. In fact, last week we were laying in bed--Nate had been a sleep for about 30 minutes already, and I kept reading. I was to the point where Aslan was killed by the witch and her people all while Lucy and Susan watched from afar. As I read, I sobbed. This wasn't just a tear here and there--I was hysterically sobbing. But I kept turning page after page. Eventually Nate woke up and asked me what was wrong. In between gasps of air, sniffling, and more sobbing I muttered, "The witch killed Aslan. It's exactly like the crucifixion." This didn't seem to affect Nate too much as he stared at me for about 20 seconds longer and then fell back asleep!

This book had new meaning for me this time around. I was reminded so much of the sacrifice God made by sending Jesus to die for us--this is what drove me to uncontrollabe crying last week. The book is filled with parallels between Aslan and God and the witch and Satan; it helped me remember how poweful and just our God is. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe has climbed back onto my list of favorite books. If you haven't read it, or it's been awhile---pick it up. You won't be disappointed.



Currently it's 7:20 AM on a Tuesday, yet I am still in my pajamas. No I'm not sick...we have a late start due to icy roads! I took advantage of this time to really spend some time reading the Bible. It's funny because yesterday morning as I was getting ready for work, I ranted to my husband about not having enough time to grow in my faith, be a good wife, be the best teacher, research and do my homework in preparation for my thesis, and stay sane. And today we have a late start; God must have grown tired of my grumbling.

This morning I sat down to read the book of Micah by the light of the Christmas tree---I'm ashamed to admit it, but I have not read through Micah in its entirety. I am intimidated by the Old Testament. But--I'm glad I read through this short OT book today. My Bible has an awesome intro. to each book; in the intro. before Micah it described our society's overuse of the words love and hate. It's incredible how many times I use these two small words in my everyday speech. Because of their overuse, "We no longer understand statements that describe a loving God who hates sin. So we picture God as gentle and kind--a cosmic pushover, and our concept of what he hates is tempered by our misconceptions and wishful thinking" (Life Application Study Bible). This got me thinking about how I look at God's punishment, how he deals with sin. The Old Testament is filled with displays of God's wrath on sin; it seems like each time I read through some of these I grow uncomfortable. Maybe this is why I've strayed from reading books in the Old Testament--maybe I am uncomfortable with these accounts because I don't really have a good understanding of a loving God who hates sin.

As I read through the first five or six chapters I found myself wanting to stop because it was so gloomy. But I kept reading for some reason. And when I reached chapter seven I felt a relief--I began to understand a little more God's purpose for His wrath against Jerusalem and Samaria. More than that, I feel like this sort of gives me a hope for what is to come in our world. Sometimes I get so frustrated with all the crap that goes on in our society, in my community, and even in my small social rings (that I am sometimes guilty of being a part of), but in Micah 7 God promises to lead His people out of darkness. Micah declares:

"As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against him. But after that, he will take up my case and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies. The Lord will bring me into the light, and I will see his righteousness." --Micah 7:7-10

In a nutshell---I am learning that our God is one who is loving, yet hates sin---and this is okay. I am learning that I need to be patient like Micah and wait for God to bring me out of darkness--while I'm waiting, I need to examine myself, repent, and be faithful. If you haven't read through the book of Micah, I encourage you to read through it. It's eloquent, practical, and thought provoking. I'll leave you with one of my favorite songs, Equally Skilled, from Jon Foreman (lead singer of Switchfoot) whose lyrics are from Micah 7.