12/29/11

Featured Blog: What Happens When You Stop Running

Don Miller's been one of my favorite writers since my sophomore year of college when I first read Blue Like Jazz at the prodding of a close friend. I've read every one of his books since, and I follow his blog. Last year Nate and I drove to Colorado Springs one afternoon after school to hear him speak. This summer we road tripped to Portland (where he lives) and visited the pub he writes about in his book (The Horse Brass Pub) and attended a church service at the church he helped plant--Imago Dei in downtown Portland. Some might say I'm obsessed. But I can't help it. He's earnest, witty, pragmatic, and not super preachy. So, I'm featuring his blog tonight--in particular, the post he put up today called What Happens When You Stop Running.

A lot of his stuff sticks with me, but this one really hit home with me today. I don't like confrontation (who does?!). When hard times come, I tend to act like I don't care and then fill my life with a million things in order to keep my mind busy so I don't have to deal with the difficult things. Eventually though---I crash. The crashing isn't the worst part. Actually what's worse is surveying the damage (like Don mentions in his post) after the crash. The end of a year tends to make a person reflective, and lately I can't help but reflect on the damage I've caused to my relationships with friends, family, and my husband. I feel like I've been sitting on broken glass staring at mangled steel for the last few weeks. Honestly, I don't even know how to begin to clean this mess. I just know I have to get up off the glass shards because they hurt too much.

12/25/11

Blessings

As usual, it's been a busy Christmas season for us. So far we've celebrated with my mom's side (including my grandpa who made the long trek to Nebraska from Texas), my dad's side, and my husband's immediate family. We live far away from our families, and we don't always get to see them as much as we'd like; I'm grateful for the time we've had to spend with all of them. In past years, I've struggled immensely with holidays and have seen them as a reminder of what I don't have. This year has been different. During some of our traveling, Nate and I took time to talk about how blessed we are. It's easy to dwell on what we don't have, and sometimes I tend to do this. But as I drove down highway 30 with my hand in my husband's, listening to Christmas music, I was overwhelmed with all God has given us (in no particular order):
  • Salvation. I am overwhelmed by the gospel message and am thankful for those in my life who have aided in deepening my faith.
  • Stable finances. We've been blessed with a sense of frugality and have in turn been able to give to our church and missions, save money, pay for graduate school for both of us without taking out loans, and take a few trips here and there.
  • A healthy marriage. Our relationship is certainly not perfect, but over the past five years we've grown as a couple and have learned more about what it means to have an Agape kind of love.
  • Fulfilling jobs. Working with kids every day is maddening but is the most rewarding experience I've ever had.
  • Supportive and loving family and friends. We can count on our families for just about anything, and we consider some of our friends to be family. I can't imagine going through life without these people.
If you're not able to celebrate with those you love, if you're experiencing an emptiness, or if life has brought about unexpected changes that leave you feeling alone and restless--I hope you can find peace in recognizing and thinking about all you have.

12/18/11

26.2 Miles = Daunting


A few days ago I started reading Hal Higdon's Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide (4th ed.). I needed to read something to give my mind a break from thesis work and to prep me for the marathon. To be honest, I've been pretty nervous about it lately. For the past week questions have been flying through my mind: Can my body even handle the impending beating it's sure to receive during training? How will I manage teaching, writing my thesis, and training for a marathon? Am I disciplined enough in my eating habits to prepare my body for averaging 30-40 miles a week?

It may seem shallow, but my biggest apprehension this week is swapping the speed I've gained over the past 6 months for stronger endurance. This weekend I logged ten miles--6 on Saturday and 4 today. And though my run Saturday sucked (a dizzy spell forced me to stop for a few minutes at mile 4 to gather my wits), my run today felt good, but I couldn't help being a bit disappointed at the 8:07/mile pace that showed up on my Garmin at the end of the run. Up until Thanksgiving I ran my 4-4.5 milers at 7:45/mile and earned a PR during the Turkey Trot 5k: 23:21. So, to see an 8:07 pace hurt the 'ole ego just a hair.

The more I read, the more I learn that a first-time marathoner's goal should be simply to finish. I think this will be difficult for me because I like running fast, and my ego likes seeing low times. But if I want to accomplish my goal of running 26.2 miles, my training will need to slow down due to the massive amount of miles I'll be logging. My ego will simply have to be set aside until after May 6th....

For now, I guess I'll focus more on miles than on speed. My training officially starts on December 27th...scary! Until then, I'll continue to run simply to enjoy myself. On another note...I am in the market for new running shoes to swap in with my winter training shoe (my current racing flat already has seen between 540-600 miles). Any suggestions for a durable marathon shoe?

12/12/11

2 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself

A colleague of mine tweeted a link to this blog featuring a post titled: 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself. Typically I avoid anything that appears to be a self-help column; I just don't enjoy reading about how to live a better life unless it's coming from the Bible. But because I respect this colleague, and she generally tweets about quality articles; I took a few minutes in between grading quizzes to skim through it. I don't agree with everything on this post, but there were two tips in particular that stuck out to me:

I am so guilty of this. Perfection runs deep in my blood. For as long as I can remember I've worked to be the best in whatever I do. In elementary school I devoted my free time to becoming the best gymnast; a few years down the line in high school, I spent hours at the track hurdling. This devotion eventually led to major injuries and burnout. By middle school, I was done being a gymnast. I had enough. My senior year of high school I tore a muscle in my hip and decided against surgery (because a large part of me was simply exhausted and wanted a break), ending my dreams of running collegiate track. Now my perfectionism has seeped into teaching. I've overwhelmed myself with trying to be the best in my career. And though I believe it's healthy to have personal drive, I fear that my anal mentality will be what drives me out of the teaching profession.

That last sentence segues nicely into this next tip. It's so hard not to desire to be everything to all 90 of my students. I want to reach EVERY kid. I know it's not realistic, but somehow I can't bring myself to come to grips with that fact. I also want to be regarded highly by my colleagues and peers; I want people to be able to come to me when they need help. But just between you and me, I'm tired of trying to be everything to everyone. My husband often gets what's left of me at the end of a week (which isn't much!). That's not fair to him.

Despite the self-help nature of the post, these two tips give me something to chew on as I wind down one semester and begin to gear up for another....

12/11/11

Counting it all as garbage

This year I've started helping with the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) program at school. We meet Mondays at lunch to read and discuss the Bible and pray. Every other week I give the lesson--tomorrow is my day to lead. This FCA thing is a huge step out of my comfort zone; I still don't feel qualified or comfortable leading kids in a study of the Bible...especially in front of Shane (our head FCA guy) who I consider to be a great spiritual leader. So I've been spending some time this weekend praying about what God would have me talk about. Last week Shane talked about the difference in being a believer and a follower and what our lives must look like in order to be a Christ-follower. The lesson stuck with me throughout the week, so I wanted to follow up with his lesson tomorrow. Here's what God's laid on my heart: Philippians 3:3-11.

In this section of Philippians, Paul writes about all the good stuff he's done:

"I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel [God's chosen nation] and a member of the tribe of Benjamin [Israel's first king, Saul, came from this tribe AND this tribe and the tribe of Judah were the first to return to Israel after the exile demonstrating great faith]--a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. As for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault" (Phil. 3:5-6).

Paul certainly has a reason to boast and think pretty highly of himself. Like Paul, I feel like believers--especially longtime believers--slip into this mentality. We think about all the good stuff we've done whether it's mission's work; being raised in a Christian home; being a moral person who makes good decisions and is involved in all the right activities; our regular attendance at youth group, church, Sunday school, or FCA...etc. When we think about all of the good stuff we've done, we tend to think all these things make us righteous and better in God's eyes. But immediately after Paul lists his credentials that really are incredible and would impress the socks of both his spiritual and non-spiritual friends--he writes:

"I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law, rather I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith" (Philippians 3:7-9).

We will not gain right standing with God based on what we do. Our salvation rests only in faith in Christ. So Paul considers everything he has done as garbage. But Paul doesn't stop there; he continues with:

"I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:10-11).

And this is the tough part that begs a response from us as Christ followers. Are we willing to suffer and share in Christ's death so that we can experience the same renewing power that raised Christ from the dead? My life is pretty cushy right now. I've got a good job, a loving family, believing friends, stable finances. I'm not suffering right now. And lets face it, nobody wants to suffer. But if I'm going to take my belief in God one step further and call myself a Christ follower, then my life should look radically different than the world. Paul writes that he WANTS to suffer and share in Christs bloody death on the cross. This makes me stop and think: What am I willing to give up and count as garbage (even if it causes painful suffering) in order to gain Christ?

12/9/11

Featured Blog: The Journey To India

We're blessed here in Ogallala to have incredible friends. It took awhile...something like two years! Nonetheless, each friendship is unique. Our new found friends Jim and Kristin are good natured and sweet and seem to always think of others before themselves. Drew and Amy are a solid Christian couple who have (despite our young friendship) already shared with us in joys and hardships, prayed with us when times were tough, and are always ready to lounge around in sweatpants with us. Ryan and Tracy are who we call when we want to unwind and have a good laugh. Ryan is one of the most unintentionally funny guys I know. His wife Tracy is down to earth, sweet, and not afraid to work hard--something I really admire. We don't have to go out and do something fancy to have fun. We're happy sitting around a kitchen table swapping stories, laughing. We met Ryan and Tracy through Bob and Shannon who have quickly grown to be our best friends here in town. I have a hard time even explaining our friendship as it's unlike one I've ever had before. Not only are they fellow bookies, music lovers, and NPR nerds, they're just all around good people. They're honest, unpretentious believers. Shannon is as straightforward as they come! She's a ton of fun; she's not girly (girly is a quality that tends to freak me out just a bit) and has experienced a lot of life. She's someone I've come to respect. Bob has opened me up to a world of new music, challenged me to think deeper, and has been a good confidant. He's also a helluva cook! Together they make an amazing couple: genuine, hospitable, and a host of other adjectives that slip me right now.

That's why I'm happy to share the link to Bob's blog: The Journey To India. In February, Bob will travel to rural parts of India where his team will help provide free medical services, work to strengthen the local church, and share the gospel with non-believers. Check out his blog if you're interested in learning more about God's work in India through Bob. And if you're the praying kind, send up a few for him. I know he and his wife both have apprehensions about this trip. Pray that they would abandon worry, pray about everything, and offer thanks to the work God is already doing (Philippians 4:6). Pray they'd both experience the kind of peace Paul talks about in Philippians 4:7. And don't forget to check out Bob's blog!

12/7/11

Adoption Update: Rising Hopes

In the middle of teaching about dependent clauses yesterday afternoon, my cell phone rang, vibrating my entire desk. Whenever my phone rings or vibrates during the day my throat tightens and my hands shake with anticipation hoping it's the adoption agency with good news. Usually it's a telemarketer, so I don't get too worked up anymore. Casually, I sauntered to my desk and checked the caller ID. "Unavailable" read the screen. Without skipping a beat, I kept teaching. Soon, my phone buzzed once indicating a voice mail. While students were doing board drills, I asked my para if she minded if I checked my voice mail in the hall. "This is Kim with the Nebraska Children's Home..." began the voice mail. Immediately tears filled my eyes. I hung up the phone, ran into my room, begged my para to cover for me, and I fled to Nate's room. I grabbed him so we could listen to the voice mail together. "Your profile..a couple...medical condition with the baby...give us a call back"---the adrenaline in my body wouldn't stop pumping, my limbs tight, my heart racing. We couldn't call the agency back right away since we both had classes to attend to, so we agreed to call during the last period of the day (our free periods).

I think it's some cruel, unwritten rule that caseworkers not answer the phone whenever prospective adoptive parents call. I left a message and tried to go about the last period of the day, working haphazardly, my mind wondering to all the possibilities that lay ahead.

The bell rang at 3:05 and students filed into my room for Extended School Day...I meandered around the room, explaining problems, giving make-up quizzes, answering questions, settling students in. At 3:15 my phone buzzed. The caller ID read "Unavailable." I answered--despite the fact seven students were watching me. The caseworker began to spell out the details, and I tried to tune out the seven rowdy kids and focus instead on her words. Using flailing arm movements, I tried hushing the kids...and failed. I asked the case worker if she would please hang on, ran into my co-worker's classroom next door, and blurted out (in front of another teacher and a student), "It's the agency...please cover my class!" Within a matter of seconds I was scribbling down two pages of medical history, trying to get every detail down.

From there, everything's a blur.

The caseworker called to ask if she could share our profile with a couple whose baby was due December 24th. The couple seemed like a great fit for us, but the baby had major medical issues. Originally we marked we were alright with these issues, but it's protocol (and a good one at that) for the agency to inform prospective adoptive parents of these situations prior to handing out profiles to birth parents. It was decision time. We had the chance to take a risk and share our profile with this couple or not. Saying yes meant the possibility of having a child by Christmas...allowing me to fulfill my dream of being a mom and of giving kitschy Grandma and Grandpa coffee mugs to my parents as Christmas gifts. But it also meant parenting a child (our first child) with major medical issues that we knew only a little about. Saying no meant we go back to waiting...something I'm terrible at.

Last night Nate and I prayed, cried, prayed more, read Bible passages, cried, talked, prayed, and cried...until 12 AM when we made our decision. We prayed after we made our decision and held each other tightly until sleep came.

This morning I showered and readied for work in a daze. During my quiet time this morning, I cried and prayed that God would make me strong in my weakness (Paul's prayer in 2 Corinthians 12), that our decision would bring Him glory.

It's back to waiting for us. Another Christmas spent childless.

I started my first period class this morning while choking back tears, the insides of my cheeks raw from biting them in order to keep from crying. Recognizing my somber, unstable demeanor, my students settled in quickly and focused the entire period. I'm glad I stuck out the day at school--no matter how maddening my job can be, I love my students. The day was easier to get through because of them. When I got home from work, there was a package in the mailbox from my mom containing a card and a book of encouraging Bible verses (though we did not share yesterday's events until now), and an early Christmas package of goodies from Trader Joe's from our good friends, Micah and Amee. It's funny how God works...He used the people we love in our lives to bring us joy and comfort at just the right time.

While the past 24 hours have been frustrating, confusing, exhausting, etc---I feel a strange sense of peace tonight. Maybe it's because I have no more tears left to shed, but I suspect this peace has more to do with God and less to do with me.

12/3/11

Sharing the Road

Nate and I started our running journey about four-five years ago in Kearney. We were tired of being sedentary slugs, so we downloaded a 5k training guide and ran/walked our way to our first 5k. We ran several 5k's until the spring of 2010 when we walked/ran our first half-marathon. Since then we've ran 10k's, a 10 mile race, another half-marathon, trail runs, and several more 5k's. I don't post this because I think I've earned bragging rights; rather, I'm proud of the hard work we've put in to our journey. I'm especially proud of my husband who doesn't even really enjoy running all that much. He runs to stay in shape and because it's an activity I enjoy. He's a trooper---I mean it, because I haven't always been the best running companion. My competitive nature has really taken a firm grip on me this year.

Today we ran in the cold, snowy, and extremely slick Jingle Bell Run in North Platte...
I had all intentions of keeping today's run relaxed, so I left my Garmin in the car and told Nate I'd run with him. About one mile in to the race I spotted two women 400 yards ahead of me in ridiculous looking tutus. I can't let those tutus beat me, I thought. I told Nate and Kristin (another Ogallalan running with us today) that I had to beat the tutus. So I gradually picked up the pace, slowly gaining ground on the tulle-adorned women. I thought my competitive drive would stop when I passed the tutus, but it didn't. Soon, two runners, who had reached the turn-around point and were on their last mile and a half, passed me going the opposite direction towards the finish line while I still hadn't reached the turn-around. It drove me crazy, so I kept running, picking up the pace with every step, trying not to slip on the icy roads. All I could think about was passing the person in front of me. I'd pass one person and focus my eyes on the next. When I crossed the finish line I was winded and expected to feel satisfied. I had, after all, ran a decent race despite the elements and had done a nice job of pacing myself without my Garmin. But I didn't feel that satisfaction. I came out of the chute and walked back towards the road, looking for my running partners I started the race with: Nate and Kristin. When I saw them coming around the last corner, I felt terrible for letting my competitive streak win out over my original commitment to run with my husband.

This isn't the first time I've done this to Nate--I've left him behind on long runs in town and during several road races. I think what I struggle with the most is the conflict I have between wanting to run competitively and desiring the same companionship we had when we began our running journey. It's hard for me to accept that we're at two different levels. I need to learn to curb my competitive nature once in a while and simply run with my husband, not ahead of him. I'm hoping marathon training will teach me this because I know I will not be able to run more than 6 miles at my usual pace, and I will need a running companion to keep me accountable for squeezing in long runs. As a great man (my husband) once said, Running isn't always about PR's--sometimes it's about sharing the road with the others.

11/29/11

Swallowed in Thesis Land

Tonight I read through UNL's Theses Guidebook and added deadlines to my calendar....and the gray hairs are now sprouting like crazy. I'm not sure I've ever felt this overwhelmed before. In addition to my thesis, I'm helping to plan two youth writing festivals, training for a marathon (WTF was I thinking?!?), planning for a course I'll be co-facilitating at UNL this June, teaching (duh), and still praying for an adoption placement.........I feel swallowed.....

Here's a basic outline for my thesis (modeled after the National Writing Project's Monograph Series):

I. Problem

a. Research surrounding the problem

b. The problem in my own classroom

II. Solutions

a. Research surrounding the solution

b. What I did to address the problem

III. Student work/community feedback

By the time I go back to school after Christmas break, I need to have the three highlighted sections finished. Which means my Fridays-Sundays and probably all of my holiday break will be filled with reading and writing. Yikes. Yikes. Yikes. My class project and data collection will take place from January-March. Because the preliminary copy of my thesis is due to my committee the first week of June, I'll devote March-May to more writing. My oral exams will be during the last week of June then it's revising and filling out paperwork until July.

I am excited to write, research, and dive into academic work again (I do actually like doing this work...it's just the juggle of everything that's overwhelming) but am afraid of failing....and of the emotional meltdowns that are sure to come along the way.

So for now, it's to the books for me...

11/27/11

Sianara (for now) Facebook

I've been a Facebook user since 2005, but today I deactivated my account for an indefinite amount of time. If you have a Facebook account you may have experienced the hold that it can have over your time. Logging in to read the Newsfeed for a few minutes often turns into an hour wasted. There are benefits to Facebook: it's allowed me to network in my career, stay connected with family and friends, and has given me a break from reality. Unfortunately I am weak and don't have the willpower to just stay logged off, and because of all the commitments I've accepted, I need to maximize my time.

As of now I'm looking forward to the distance. I need time to re-group, and eliminating the distraction of Facebook is (I think) just what I need at the moment. So I guess I'm back to an antiquated form of communication: email.

Struggling With Sin

In my quiet time this morning I read Matthew 26, and I really keyed in on Peter's denial of Jesus. Of course my first thought was (like it always is after I read this passage), After spending that much time with Jesus, after seeing all He did, knowing He is the Messiah--how could Peter deny Him three times? Fortunately, God brought me down to reality by revealing all the times I've denied Jesus: ignoring clear opportunities to share the gospel, giving into sinful desires, making deliberate decisions to live in a way that is not glorifying to God...I was feeling pretty crappy after this.

Then I flipped over to Romans 7 and 8 and read about Paul's struggle with sin (7:14-8-3). For some reason I always take comfort in reading about Paul's war with sin--the battle between right and wrong. It makes me feel human. Paul was an incredible warrior for God who is a testament of His matchless grace, and even he struggled with sin. Our struggle with sin is a war; Paul states:

"I have discovered the principle of life--that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?" (Romans 7:21-24)

Sin is waging a war within me. Just because I'm a believer and know and love God's word doesn't mean I'm immune to sin.

"Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord [...] So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin's control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins" (Romans 7:25, 8:1-3).

I cannot win the war over sin on my own; God knew that, so He sent His son to become flesh--to endure temptations and suffering and die a bloody death in order to redeem us. Later, in the book of Hebrews, Paul declares:

"So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most" (Hebrews 4:14-16).

As long as I'm on this earth, I will battle against sin. It's a consequence of Adam and Eve's decision back in the garden. But...there is hope. I can take comfort in knowing that (though I don't deserve it) because I've made a decision to follow Christ, I am redeemed. In the moment of struggle I can reflect on God's sacrifice and go boldly and with intentionality to Him in prayer for assistance in helping me to make right decisions.







11/20/11

Outstanding Young Choral Director of the Year

Nate and I after he received his award...ignore my cheesy smile!

I spent Friday in Lincoln because my husband received the Nebraska Choral Directors Association Young Choral Director of the Year award! A good friend of mine from high school and her dad (both are choir teachers) nominated him for the award and worked to gather all the letters of recommendation which I'm sure is time consuming work. I truly believe Nate is deserving of this award. He works tirelessly to place his students first in his job--politics are not a priority for him and furthering his career takes a backseat to doing what's best for his students. He doesn't get a lot of recognition for his job, and I think he has sometimes felt undervalued. But he is amazing! Here's a short list of what he he's done in his six short years of teaching:
  • Directed a K-12 choir program in Elm Creek for two years and a 6-12 choir program (with jazz choir, show choir, and musical) in Ogallala for four years
  • Was a clinician for a middle school music festival in Colorado last year and will be a clinician at two honor choirs this winter
  • Has had several students selected for the All State choir (too many to count!)
  • Took two groups of students to Chicago to perform at various locations
  • Is currently serving as the high school Repertoire and Standards Chair for NCDA and has become active in the organization this year...he is very concerned about supporting young teachers in particular, and does a great job of blogging and maintaining their Facebook page encouraging and promoting intellectual conversations.
  • Almost completed a Master's Degree in Music Education
I'm sure I'm forgetting something! But the list isn't as important as how much he cares about his students. His passion for kids is my inspiration. Watching Nate receive that award was one of my proudest moments as a wife. He's truly deserving of the award! Congrats Nate!

I'm a terrible wife and forgot my camera at home, but my mom was there to snap photos as was Nate's entire family. So, as I get them, I'll post them :)

Merging Place Consciousness with Social Action

Note: As promised, here's another post about my thesis :) This is a brief, scattered overview of the project my English 9 students will be engaging in after Christmas...another post will follow about my intentions/goals for the project.

This morning I watched an amazing Ted Talks video (see below) where Natalie Warne, a 20 year old, shares her journey of catching the activism bug at the age of 17 which caused her to devote the next few years of her life working as an intern for the organization Invisible Children. Natalie refers to the people she worked with along the way as " Anonymous Extraordinaries," people who work to make a difference without want of recognition for their actions. I've decided to start my unit with this video clip. After discussing the concept of activism, I'll allow students to brainstorm local people and agencies who are "Local Anonymous Extraordinaries." Students may struggle with this, especially if they or their families are not connected to the community. So, I'll have to come up with my own list as a way to spark discussion. Once we've generated a pretty good list, I'd like for students then to interview these people who are quietly, yet passionately making a difference right here in our own community and then create a journalistic style piece of writing featuring said activist. My plan is to model this off a few different projects. The first is the Foxfire Project, popular in the 60s and 70s in Appalachia in which students recorded stories told by their elders. The second is from Central City native, Wright Morris, who used photography and writing to capture the essence of local places. So in addition to writing, students will candidly photograph these people and/or their work. If all goes as planned, I'll set up a class blog for students to post their pictures and compositions so we have a giant collection of "Local Anonymous Extraordinaries." I'd like the blog to be linked to our school's webpage and the city's webpage as a way to promote the good work our citizens do.

After this portion of the project is completed, students will launch into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" and our study of the Civil Rights Movement in order to introduce them to Dr. King's four steps for non-violent direct action (which are awesome, practical steps to follow when trying to spark change). Then, my favorite part of the unit: students will choose a local issue to research and support. Students will be required to act on an issue that is important them. In the end, students will create a visual presentation that includes background information about their cause, an overview of what they did to help and photos to prove it, vocabulary they learned along the way, and they'll end with what they learned in this journey. These will be presented to community members during our Social Action Project Night that students organize.

Here's the Ted Talks video I referred to earlier:


11/18/11

Theis Update

Note: The next few posts will be devoted to my thesis. I'm in the process of "working out" the beginning part of the class project I'm using to write about in my thesis. I'll break the posts up so people aren't overwhelmed by the nerd wavelengths radiating from my writing :) I'm posting my thoughts here because I'd love feedback on how to make this project or my thesis more effective.

On Friday I met with my amazing thesis committee on campus at UNL. There are three faculty members helping me with this huge project, and they have been nothing but a healthy balance of encouraging and critical. I admit, I'm still nervous about this undertaking. I don't feel like I have anything to add to the intellectual conversation surrounding place consciousness and social action as a way for students to invest in their communities and hopefully appreciate the place they come from a little more. I feel comfortable researching and utilizing these concepts in my teaching, but writing about it in a coherent way and sharing it with three of the smartest people I've ever met is a different story.

Nonetheless, on Friday night I utilized some free time at The Mill to throw myself headlong into researching. Place consciousness and social action are topics I've studied throughout my Master's program, so fortunately I have an adequate grasp on the concepts and have read many of the major pieces written about the topics. But tonight I began Gregory Smith and David Sobel's book Place-And Community-Based Education in Schools. I confess--I'm a total geek and love reading books about pedagogy. I'm two chapters in and have already begun to scribble down ideas. Since school started I've been grappling with how to merge place consciousness with social action. I've treated the two as separate two entities for the past two years. In an attempt to make my social action unit more effective, I want to merge the two. So the next post will outline my idea (it's tentative, and I need feedback on if this is really getting students to think locally and appreciate the local before they move to make change)......

11/16/11

Featured Blog: Jo. Sew. Cute!

I've been procrastinating tonight like no other. I should be packing my bags for my trip to Lincoln tomorrow. Or writing my informed consent document for my thesis to send out to parents. Or preparing for my thesis meeting that's on Friday. Or replying to the 15 emails sitting in my inbox regarding the youth writing festival. Or doing the sink full of dishes...you get the drift.

On Facebook tonight I saw a post about a local craft show this weekend where a former student of mine (Jordan) is selling some of her cute handmade items. I clicked on the link and it took me to her blog.
I browsed through a few posts and closed the page swelling with pride. I'm thrilled to see one of my students pursuing her passions and writing about it! As a writing teacher I try to instill a love and passion for writing in my students. I know I won't convert everyone. But when I see students using writing to pursue passions, I can't help but smile...and then write about it :)

Check out Jordan's blog to see her products; just in time for the holidays!

11/14/11

16 Again

While in high school, one of my favorite hobbies was finding new music and listening to it for hours. God Speed You Black Emperor!, Death Cab for Cutie, Ani DiFranco, Modest Mouse, Dashboard Confessional, Ella Fitzgerald, Bright Eyes....these musicians and others make up my childhood. Many of my best memories revolve around music...like the first time I heard a Simon and Garfunkel song.

I was 16--a junior in high school, leaving my friend Alex's house in Dan's Aerostar van. We had time to kill before my 11:00 curfew, so we sat in his van and listened to "The Sound of Silence." Part way through the song I sat back with my head resting on the car seat, eyes closed, letting the music surround me. Later that year a friend and I took a road trip to Lincoln to visit Homer's Music Store downtown. We found the Simon and Garfunkel greatest hits, but neither of us had enough money to buy the album ourselves. So we did the only sensible thing: we pooled our money together to buy the album, and we shared it. A year later her dad died, and at his funeral my friend made sure the funeral home played "Bridge Over Troubled Water" though the cheap, crackly speakers didn't do the song justice.

My first "real" concert was a Rilo Kiley concert at Sokol Hall in Omaha. While visiting Homers in the Old Market earlier that year (notice a trend?!), one of the shop employees handed me Rilo Kiley's CD, The Execution of All Things. I fell in love and bought every album after that. When I found out that Jenny Lewis and her band were playing at Sokol, I loaded up my Taurus with three friends, bought enough Clove cigarettes to last us the weekend and had a beautiful evening dancing, singing, and smoking. That night we all crashed on a friend's dorm room floor and left the next morning with smoke in our hair and memories in our head, our feet still tapping to Rilo Kiley songs.

And tonight I feel 16 again. As I dig through a friend's Spotify playlists, I find myself resting my head on the back of my couch, my eyes closed as I let the music surround me.

11/13/11

Spotfiy

If you're a music lover and haven't checked out Spotify yet...then you are lame. Just kidding. But really, you should check it out. It's an online music streaming service that allows you to search artists and add them to playlists. We've upgraded to Spotify Premium so we can download playlists to our iPods and listen to them when not around an internet connection (for example: on our runs). You can also make your playlists public, allowing you to share what you're listening to with Facebook friends or other Spotify users. I love this feature because it allows me to hear what my friends are listening to and find new artists. Take a few minutes and check it out; I'm confident you won't be disappointed! And if you want...click on the links to check out my playlists: Chill, Jesus, Running mix, School.

11/12/11

26.2 Miles

Registration for the Lincoln full and half marathon is one month away. For the past two years, Nate and I ran the half-marathon, and it's been a blast. The first year was an emotional experience for me as I never imagined myself accomplishing a goal like that. Last year we ran it with Nate's sister, Amy who had never ran a half before. It was exciting to be a part of her journey. This year I've decided to register for the full-marathon. 26.2 miles of pure agony. Believe me, I know it sounds nuts. When I first started running distances four years ago, I NEVER pictured myself running a full-marathon. In my mind, only crazy people paid $75 to run 26.2 miles and risk losing toenails.

Something in me changed this year. I spent most of the summer and all fall running with our XC team and training for the Market to Market, so my times, form, training habits, and endurance have all improved tremendously. And this year, for the first time, I've truly enjoyed running. Sometimes, the thought of going on a run after work is what gets me through my day. Pushing myself each day to reach a new goal is invigorating. But on Thursday morning I set out at 6:00 AM in below 30 degree weather to run 3.5 miles, and it felt terrible. My legs felt heavy and my arm movements choppy with all my cold weather gear. My lungs burned and snot dripped down my numb face. My fingers burned from the cold air despite the gloves covering them. My stomach screamed for food, and the further I ran, the more I pissed off I grew. I kept checking my pace on my Garmin to find myself running an 8:09 pace--almost 10-15 seconds slower than my typical pace for that distance. And in my mind I kept thinking, "If you can't handle this, you can't handle a marathon." The thought played over and over in my head--the whole 3.5 miles. For the first time since June, I questioned my decision to run the full. Thursday was a real blow to my confidence.

But today as I read through some of Matthew and Romans, I'm having a change of heart. Lately I've been contemplating a lot about Christ's sacrifice. I can't imagine how difficult it would've been for him to live here on Earth---a perfect being surrounded by imperfect people, many who doubted Him and eventually crucified Him. And as I contemplate this, the more I am convinced that I have to follow through with running the full-marathon. I am confident that it will be one the most difficult tasks I have ever completed. Juggling my marriage, teaching, writing my thesis, planning two youth writing festivals, and whatever else comes my way will be insane. Abandoning sugary, processed foods and cutting my caffeine intake will not be easy. Oh and winter running will blow. Treadmills are my worst enemy, and if my run on Thursday is any indicator of how my body handles cold weather--then I'll be in for a rude awakening during the winter months of training. But...putting my comforts aside to honor God with my abilities is more important. After my run on Thursday I read Matthew 16, and these verses stuck out to me: "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it'" (Matt. 16:24-25). I know Jesus is referring to pledging our entire lives to Christ, and I don't mean to take the verse out of context, but I feel like this will be my verse for training for this beast. My goal is not to run the marathon in record-breaking time or to beat anyone, it's simply to honor God with my body. I want to push myself to new limits where I will be forced to rely on Christ as my only source of strength (Phil. 4:13).

This year's race is on May 6th, and I'll start training in January. I'll post updates here not because I think any of you want to read about it! But more as a way to chronicle and work through the journey for myself. Finally, if anyone out there has training tips to share, don't withhold them. This is uncharted territory for me, so I'm open to suggestions :)

11/8/11

What's Keeping Me Up Tonight?

I had all intentions of being asleep by 9:30 tonight, but it's 9:51 and I'm just starting a new blog post. Why? Because I've been reading adoption and infertility blogs for the past hour, and now I can't shut my brain off. Here are my fragmented thoughts as I try and empty my head in order for sleep to consume me:

The holidays are fast approaching, and while I love this time of year, it's also one of the most difficult times. Three Thanksgiving's ago I had my first "baby breakdown." I remember it clearly: Nate ran to Wal-Mart in Grand Island. When he came back, he reported that his best friend from high school and his wife, who had just married a few months earlier, were expecting their first child. I don't remember my immediate reaction. But I do remember a little later I left my mother in-law's house and drove aimlessly around the neighborhood. I eventually parked the Jeep a few blocks down, outside of the old Engleman Elementary School. I leaned my forehead on the steering wheel and cried, letting the tears fall on my helpless hands resting in my lap. Jon Foreman sang through my speakers, "So I'm not sure why it always flows downhill / Why broken cisterns never could stay filled / I've spent ten years singing gravity away / But the water keeps on falling from the sky" (full lyrics and video embedded below).

So for that reason, Thanksgiving has made me anxious. Celebrating the holidays with Nate's family is sometimes tough as we are the only childless couple of the bunch. Playing with other kids often breaks my heart as I am reminded that we don't have kids and may never have this blessing. I know it seems selfish. I can't explain it...if you've been through this, you know what it's like. It's gut-wrenching. The kind of feeling that closes off your throat and makes it hard to breathe.

I'm nervous to travel back to Columbus for Christmas. My entire extended family will be celebrating together, this time with my cousin's new, beautiful baby boy. I fear running into my two best friends from high school. Celeste now has a five month old baby, Joshua, and Hannah will have a new baby by then. Contact with these two girls--my first best friends--has really taken a dive lately. It's crazy how impacting infertility has been on all areas of my life.

I have about two weeks to prepare my heart for the holidays and brace myself to withstand a storm of emotions.

I'll close with the song I alluded to earlier. It's a good one. Very mellow with beautiful lyrics.



"The Cure For Pain" by Jon Foreman
So I'm not sure why it always flows downhill
Why broken cisterns never could stay filled
I've spent ten years singing gravity away
But the water keeps on falling from the sky

And here tonight while the stars are blacking out
With every hope and dream I've ever had in doubt
I've spent ten years trying to sing these doubts away
But the water keeps on falling from my eyes

And heaven knows, heaven knows
I tried to find a cure for the pain
Oh my Lord! To suffer like you do
It would be a lie to run away

So blood is fire pulsing through our veins
We're either writers or fools behind the reigns
I've spent ten years trying to sing it all way
But the water keeps on falling from my tries

And heaven knows, heaven knows
I tried to find a cure for the pain
Oh my Lord! To suffer like you do
It would be a lie to run away
A lie to run
It would be a lie
It would be a lie to run away

It keeps on falling
Water keeps on falling from my eyes

And heaven knows, heaven knows
I tried to find a cure for the pain
Oh my Lord! To suffer like you do
It would be a lie to run away

11/6/11

Craving God

I spent my weekend with 500 high school kids at this year's Weekend of Champions, sponsored by the Nebraska Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). I have to admit--I was not thrilled about the weekend. I should be more honest: I did not want to go. I went out of pure obligation. As you can tell from my previous entry, last week was not my best teaching week, and if you know me at all, you know that I am not a fan of huge social events. They make me sweaty and uncomfortable. But I knew God was pushing me to go. Each morning during my quiet time I prayed about going trying to persuade God that I had too much to do. Of course, God can't be persuaded....

So I went. And now that I'm home and had the chance to take a warm shower and eat something other than carbs, I can look back on the event with a clear mind. I am ashamed of my selfish attitude going into the weekend. It was beautiful to watch that many high school students come together and worship. On our way home, we asked the kids what they learned, and hearing what God taught them was worth the lack of sleep and any awkwardness I felt. Throughout the short time I was pushed closer to God through worship, the speakers, fellowship with other coaches, and time to spend in the word and reading more of Crazy Love. And here's what I've learned:

Lately I don't crave God like I should. I want to be crazy for Jesus like I was when I first was saved. I want to be madly in love with Him. I want to love Him more than I love my husband, more than I love my job, more than I love my students. I want the kind of craving for God written about in Psalm 63:

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night...

Then, being the pragmatic person I am, I asked myself--how can I have this desire for God? God heard my thoughts because I was reading in Crazy Love tonight and in it, Frances Chan references James 4:8. I flipped to James 4 in my Bible and found three stars (I always draw three stars next to pivotal passages) etched in pencil next to James 4:7-10:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up in honor.

Tonight as my husband and I walked the streets of Ogallala and took time to catch up with each other, I was in tears as I lamented over how far I've drifted from God since I've become a teacher. Fortunately, God is gracious (Ephesians 2:4-5)....

I am anxious to "come close to God so that God will come close to [me]." I want to have an intimacy with the God who created us, the God who sent his son to die a bloody death "as an offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ" (2 Cor. 5:21). And to do this, my priorities have to shift and sacrifices need to be made. Here's what I'll be working on for an indefinite amount of time. Please hold me accountable; check in on me to see if I'm sticking to this:
  • Spending more quality time in the Word--my goal is to saturate myself in the gospel for the rest of the semester.
  • Cutting out alcohol from my life. I don't drink a lot; I'll have a beer or a glass of wine with my meal once a month because I like the taste. But, there are times when I've given into temptations to drink more than I should. And, it's not glorifying to God, so why do it?
  • Cutting back hours spent on my job. I think this will be the toughest challenge for me. For the past four years I've invested my life into my career...it's been my focus and my center and has pulled me away from Christ. Cutting back may mean maximizing my time more at school. It may mean assigning less essays. I'm still trying to figure out how to implement this one...if you have any ideas, pass them my way :)
This is just a start. But throughout these next few months, I'm hoping that I can gain that intimacy alluded to in Psalm 63 so that I can praise God better, love others more completely, share the gospel more freely, and become less like the world and more like Christ.

11/2/11

Running In Place

Author's Note: This isn't a pity post. I'm not looking for words of encouragement---I'm simply self-reflecting.

I love running, but I hate feeling like I'm getting nowhere when running. Of course I'm not referring to literal running this time...

This week of teaching has been incredibly frustrating. Actually, this year has been my most challenging year so far. I feel like I finally have a decent grasp on the content I'm teaching, and I've got some cool units and lessons worked out. But I seem to be running and going nowhere. I'm trying to lead my kids to improvement, growth, etc. and some of them are running right with me, while others are following close behind. But many are back at the starting line and don't seem to have budged. This is usually how it works in education---but I'm a little nervous about...actually, I'm terrified at the high number of kids I still have on the starting line at week 12 of the school year. Yesterday I sat at my desk during my plan period with my head in my shaking hands and tears streaming onto my keyboard...all out of frustration. I don't know what to do to motivate some of my students. I've tried positivity, engaging lessons, pep-talks, mixing up the content of my class, heart to hearts, personal letters, group work, solo work, projects, quizzes, lectures, grades....it's only November, and I've already used up my best tricks. I know I can't reach every kid (though I'm going to try), but I honestly feel like I'm failing as a teacher.

I love teaching, but this year I'm struggling to be positive as I head to work. I'm exhausted by one in the afternoon and my body aches by seven in the evening. By eight I want to be in bed. I usually experience this feeling for a short time in February, not November. It worries me. I don't know if I need a change of venue or a change of career. I pray each night God would give me a joyful demeanor and patience as I prepare for the next day, but it's hard to maintain this past noon. I'm not sure how much longer I can keep pouring energy into kids with no return, no gains, not even a glimmer to tell me they're "getting it."

10/22/11

It's catching up with me again...

Author's Note: My thoughts are fragmented tonight resulting in a post that doesn't seem to have any unity. I'm okay with that, though...I guess I just needed to get some stuff off my chest.

An old friend of mine from high school emailed me today. I haven't heard from her in quite awhile, but she wanted to check in to let me know that she's fervently praying for our adoption process. I'm not going to lie, it was nice to hear it. I'm a little surprised I'm even typing this because for some reason lately, people have been catching me all over town, in school, at XC meets, etc. and have asked about our adoption progress. I know people mean well, but it's awkward when this happens because we have nothing to tell. But for some reason, the email I received today didn't bother me. Maybe it's because it was from an old friend who, at one time, also struggled with trying to conceive. But I think the reason it didn't bother me is she wasn't asking for any information or updates. She was simply emailing to let me know that she has been praying for us....

******

I haven't thought about our adoption too much. I pray for the process just about every day, but it's been awhile since I've sat down and really thought about it. But last night as I was laying next to my husband, my mind drifted to the subject I've pushed out of my mind for the last three months. I wondered if at that moment any birth moms were reading over profile letters grappling with their decision. And the thought broke my heart. I cannot imagine how difficult of a decision it would be to make an adoption plan for a child...

******

My throat is tightening as I grit my teeth and bite my bottom lip in an unsuccessful attempt to fight back tears. I've missed rejoicing with my best friend as she welcomed her first baby into the world this last summer. My relationship with my other best friend pretty much fell off the face of the earth with the announcement of her pregnancy nearly nine months ago. My house feels empty and quiet--the spot in our kitchen where I planned to place a high chair is now a resting place for dirty towels waiting to be taken to the laundry room. As the holidays approach and we make plans to visit family, I grow nervous thinking about meeting my cousin's new beautiful baby boy and the emotional response I might have to it all. I am still deeply affected by our infertility and tonight it's catching up with me, catching me off guard.

10/19/11

State Bound

Last week at our district XC meet our our girls' team came in 3rd while our boys seized 1st place; their finishes were enough to earn both teams a spot at state. It's been quite a few years since we've fielded an entire girls' team and even longer since both teams qualified for state. I am extremely proud of our kids and feel blessed to have the chance to take 15 awesome kids to state on Friday.

I'm still learning the ins and outs of the sport and of coaching in general. Since I started teaching four years ago, I've wanted to ease my way into coaching athletics, but with my Language Arts background--I was quickly pigeonholed into the speech and drama department. So when the head coach approached me two years about helping him out, I didn't think twice about saying yes. I feel blessed to be able to work alongside and learn from a Christian coach who is focused on developing runners who are focused on simply doing their best to honor God with their talents and abilities. I'm grateful for the opportunity to run with kids and get to know them on a new level. I love watching kids push themselves. Back in September, one of our 7th grade runners who finished the race in the back of the pack approached me afterwards with tears in her eyes and said, "I'm so proud of myself, Mrs. Helzer--I didn't walk at all this race...I did my best!" I gave her a hug and told her I was proud of her, too--and she started crying right there on the golf course because she was so happy. It was a sweet moment that I don't think I'll ever forget...all because she pushed herself to do her best.

I don't always know what to say to kids as they're running at meets (run faster just seems too obvious); I can't diagnose the reason behind kids' aches and pains (I knew I should've taken Anatomy...), and I haven't quite figured out how to develop the "perfect" workout schedule ("go run" probably isn't specific enough). But I do know that I've enjoyed my time as an assistant and am hoping to have more years ahead of me to learn and develop as a coach.

If you're the praying type--here are a few requests as we head to the state meet:
  • Pray that our kids would be focused not on winning but on simply doing their best and staying focused on what truly matters.
  • We have a few kids who are hurting this week (shin splints, sore muscles, etc), so pray for relief from the pain and that they may remain injury free so they can run their best.

10/16/11

Kicking Bad Habits: Worry

I have loads of bad habits. Among many, I floss my teeth in the living room, leave half-drank mugs of coffee all over my house and classroom, let the dishes pile up to an overwhelming amount, and sometimes my mouth gets out of control. But the one bad habit I have that's beginning to get in the way of me and God is my constant worry. In short, I am a fretter. I always have been, but the habit seems to be growing worse and worse as I grow older and add to my responsibilities. Here's my list of daily worries:
  • Am I an effective teacher?
  • Am I doing enough to honor God with my life?
  • Is my marriage all it can be?
  • Am I eating balanced meals? (This seems stupid, but I seriously worry about this every day!)
  • Am I bad wife because my house is messy?
  • What if we are never placed with a baby?
  • Will I ever earn my Master's?
  • Where will we be a year from now?
  • Will I have time to run today?
Many of us are held captive by worry. It keeps us up at night, drives us to do crazy things, and ultimately pushes us farther away from God. Really, when you get right down to the core of worry---you'll find that it's a selfish act.

"'That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life--whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don't worry about these things, saying, 'What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?' These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today'" (Matthew 6:25-34).

I've read this passage many, many times--but it's amazing how quickly I can forget it. The bolded parts stick out to me today. My worry implies two things: that I have little faith and that my thoughts are the same as unbelievers' thoughts. If I am a believer--then I should trust and have faith that God will take care of my needs exactly like He needs to. That doesn't mean I should just kick back and quit trying---as a Christ-follower I have a responsibility to live in a way that honors God, so I should do my best in my walk with Him, my relationships, and my job. It's really easy to tell someone to quit worrying because God commands it. But worry is a bad habit--and breaking bad habits often means we have to replace the bad habit with something productive. So what do we replace worry with?

"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4: 6-7).

We need to replace worry with prayer---not just self-centered prayer, but also prayer that offers thanks for what we have. God promises that the results of this will be an extraordinary peace. And ultimately, for those of us who struggle with worry, that's what we want...peace.

I've never been very good at memorizing scripture. But Philippians 4:6-7 are two verses that I'm going to commit to memory this week so I can begin to kick this nasty habit.

10/12/11

A Different Side of Columbus Day

I am inspired by the many great teachers I've learned from, taught alongside, or learned with. One of these is Ralston High School teacher and Nebraska Writing Project Co-Director, Dan Boster. Dan teaches high school English and is also pursuing a PhD from UNL. He works tirelessly to provide students with a just, diverse, critical, socially relevant curriculum and pours just as much energy into teachers with his work in the Writing Project. I'm also amazed at how he involved he seems to be with his family--when I talk to Dan, I can tell his family means more to him than his job...I respect and admire that.

Today Dan posted this link on his facebook page: Rediscovering Columbus: Students take second look at discovery of New World - Omaha.com. The article features his Ralston students teaching elementary school students about a very important aspect of Columbus Day. Take a gander at it. Then rest easy knowing there are phenomenal teachers in our own state who are inspiring kids and forming them into critical, just citizens.

10/10/11

A Slave to Selfishness

Today I've been convicted of my arrogance; it seems I am a slave to selfishness and it's keeping me up late tonight as I wrestle with where to go from here. Here's a summary of my convictions throughout the day:

Morning: During my quiet time I found myself drawn to John 3:30--"He must become greater; I must become less." I kept thinking about how selfish I have been lately--striving for worldly success and accolades within my career enough that I've made God second in my life. I prayed this morning that I would make much of God this week, that I would focus less on myself and more on God.

Lunch: At FCA, Shane (our leader), preached on why we were made: to bring glory to God. He focused on Isaiah 43: 7 "...everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." We can't do anything to make God look better--He's already perfect, but we can do our best to magnify Him and make much of Him.

Evening: I wasted my time reading stupid crap on Facebook, checking my school email, etc. I knew I should take advantage of the down time to study God's word more...but I didn't. I made a decision to just push God off....again. Finally when I settled in for bed, I cracked open Crazy Love, the book Nate and I are currently reading. And here's what jumped out to me tonight:

"When I am consumed by my problems--stressed out about my life, my family, and my job-- I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God's command to always rejoice [Phil. 4:4]. In other words, that I have a 'right' to disobey God because the magnitude of my responsibilities" (Chan).

And a little later Chan writes,"Both worry and stress reek of arrogance."

For too long to even count the number of weeks or months I've shoved God off because of the "magnitude of my responsibilities;" my life has reeked of arrogance. Sure, I've read my Bible, done the obligatory quiet time, attended church, prayed a few times a day---but when I compare the amount of time and effort I put into my job to the amount of time and effort I put into my walk with God, into fulfilling my purpose to bring glory to Him--I am embarrassed and ashamed.

Chan emphasizes the point Shane made at lunch today:
"The point of your life is to point to Him. Whatever you are doing, God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His. It is His movie, His world, His gift." [Isaiah 43:7, 1 Cor. 10:31]

So...I've got some decisions to make, some changes that need to happen. This isn't going to be a walk in the park....but it has to be done; I've wasted too much time being arrogant. It's time to quit living for myself and start living to make much of Him.

10/9/11

In the Works: Youth Writing Festivals

I am blessed to serve on the Advisory Board for the Nebraska Writing Project. This year one of our projects for the board is organizing and planning two writing festivals for students in grades 7-12. Another teacher from Elkhorn South and I have agreed to spear-head the project. We're having a festival at Elkhorn South in March and one at UNK in April to give students from all across the state an opportunity to surround themselves with other writers and immerse themselves in writing they don't normally get to do at school: screenwriting, science-fiction, performance poetry, photography and writing, writing marathons, etc. and to learn about opportunities to publish their work and have a chance to share their writing at our closing open mic. I have to tell you...this is a ton of work! But...I am PUMPED to be able to do this. I've been emailing people like crazy today about leading breakout sessions and helping with the event. This is such an incredible opportunity for Nebraska students, AND it's a great way to promote the good work the Nebraska Writing Project does to other teachers. In a few weeks I'll be creating a website for the event and designing t-shirts for students to purchase. Be watching for updates...and if you're interested in helping out, shoot me an e-mail :)

10/4/11

"What Teaching Means: Stories From America's Classrooms"

The title of this post is the title of the book in which one of my essays will be published! The book will be published by the Rogue Faculty Press located in Omaha and will feature essays by 39 teachers representing 17 different states. Its release date is April 2012.

85 teachers from 24 different states submitted work for consideration, so I feel incredibly blessed to have my piece selected. The next step will be to work with the editors to make my piece even better and ready for publication. I am thrilled about this experience, but this has not been an effort all my own. My summer writing group, a few close friends, my blog readers (I originally posted my essay on the blog awhile back), and of course...my husband, all provided feedback to me as I drafted the essay...so if any of you are reading this, thank you!

10/2/11

Market to Market

We are home from a successful run at this year's Market to Market Relay. This was our first time running the race, and our team was a hodge-podge of people who hadn't all met before. Many of our teammates met one another in the van yesterday morning at 6:45 when we started. I have to say---I was a bit nervous about finishing in a decent time, being in a van for people we hardly know for 10+ hours, not puking while running, etc. But...it was a GREAT time. We finished the race in 10 hours and 25 minutes---a little over an hour faster than our projected finish time; we ran at an 8:19/mile pace for the entire race. And we finished 123 out of 250 teams!

Here were some highlights:

1. Hanging out with chill people all day long. We had never met Tyler and Nolan; Tim and Analisa were acquaintances before, but we got to know them much better yesterday; we knew Ryan pretty well, but got to know a new side of him, and Lena is an old friend who we haven't talked with in quite some time. Despite being sweaty, tired, and hot--the day flew by because we enjoyed ourselves so much.

2. Watching everyone push themselves to new limits. Some of us ran two legs of the relay, some ran three--but we all pushed it. After Nolan's two runs he said those were the hardest runs he'd ever done. Ryan (who is not a runner and signed up for our team on a whim) pushed himself to the point of puking during his last leg; and as Lena handed the baton to Tyler at our last exchange point, the sheer look of determination on her face was enough to scare anyone away! Nate came across his first exchange point after his 5.41 leg looking like a million bucks; Tyler, Analisa, and Tim (who are all experienced runners) ran excellent splits, pushing themselves to pass as many teams as possible. I earned two new PR's running my first 4.68 hilly run at an 8:08 pace, and my last 2.66 flat run at a 7:54 pace. It was so awesome to cheer on one another throughout the day and witness a new level of accomplishment for each person.

Nate and Ryan are actually in the background of this news clip (Market to Market Relay - the Race from Omaha to Lincoln) if you're interested :) Here's a few photos from the event:























These are before and after shots of Ryan...I'm sure you can guess which is which! Ryan did not train much for the event, but he did an awesome job with some brutal runs. His sense of humor was great for our team!











Our team: The Undecideds
Tyler, Tim, Analisa, Ryan, Lena, Nolan, Me, Nate

9/25/11

Stories of Teachers' Impact

If you're a teacher and need some encouragement and validation, or if you're not a teacher--but appreciate the good work teachers do, check out this post I recently published on my PLN blog. It's an excellent tribute to teachers!

9/24/11

Thoughts from Hebrews

This morning I settled in for a cup of coffee and quiet time. My soul has been unsettled this week. One of my favorite bands, Wilco, releases a new album on Tuesday, and NPR had a sneak peak of it a few days ago. It's a perfect album for the confused mood I'm in. In the moment, I thought I was simply stressed. But after my quiet time today, I think it's more than stress.

I've been studying Hebrews, one of my favorite books of the Bible. I've studied it a few times, but this time has been different since I'm in a newer Bible, still void of my scribblings, highlightings, and musings. It's allowed me to look at Hebrews in a new light. Today I studied Hebrews 11 which contains a run-down of the faith greats. This has always been the portion of Hebrews I've keyed in on the most--the stories of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, etc. But today found myself underlining and starring different verses. Here's what jumped out at me today:

"All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did NOT receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:13-16).

I have to confess---for too long I've looked too much like the world. I've been wrapped up in my job, I've focused too much on achieving worldly success, people haven't been as important to me as they should. My eyes have been set not on my heavenly homeland and extending that to others but have instead been focused on what I can do to further my career. I hate that I've fallen into this trap. I felt myself slipping into it last spring, and I've let it sweep me up again. These verses are a great reminder to me that this world is not my home. I have a serious lifestyle change ahead of me. It's not going to be easy.

Here's another set of verses that jumped out at me today:

"By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and hols in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us" (Hebrews 11:33-39).

The verses in bold print have been tough for me. This week I've thought a lot about our adoption. We haven't received any calls yet about meeting any birth parents or bringing home any babies. When we were placed on the list of available adoptive parents back in July, I secretly believed some of the comments people made when they heard we were placed on the list, comments like, Oh, you guys are young, you'll get picked right away! Or, Two teachers--who wouldn't pick you?!? It's only been a little over 2.5 months since we were approved, and most couples we've talked to were on the list for a year or longer. But as crazy as it seems, somehow I thought we'd be picked by now. I worry that we'll never be picked. That we'll remain childless forever. It chokes me up to type that. That's why the bolded verses are hard for me to grapple with. The faith greats I've read so much about did not receive all God had promised them. Some were tortured, others were isolated, and some would've received respite had they only turned from God. But they didn't. They kept their hope in an eternity spent with Him. They knew what God had in store for them was way better than anything they could have here on earth.

My unsettled soul is a result of more than just stress. God's teaching me some tough lessons this week that have shaken me up a bit. It'll take time, diligence, and prayer to struggle through these in order to become all that God wants me to be.

9/16/11

Blogging, Bacon, and Beer

This evening I carried in bags of ungraded quizzes and left behind 27 journals that need read, I have missed one training day this week, there's a sticky note to-do list on my laptop that seems to be growing longer and longer by the minute, the dust layer on the piano is getting mighty thick, the bed has gone unmade for days, I still don't have a location lined up for the 7-12 writing festival I'm supposed to be spearheading, my cough is hanging on strong, I have a presentation next week for some of my former high school teachers (scary!) that is not yet created, the stress of doing the coaches show for the first time (by myself because the head coach is out of town) tomorrow morning is hanging over my head, and my PLN blog is looking pretty sparse. Oh, and I haven't spent any time with my husband this week because I've spent my evenings coaching and grading. I came home in tears tonight and told my husband that I'm not sure I can be the best at everything. I can't be the best wife, teacher, coach, grad student, advocate for the NeWP, writer, runner, etc. I don't know what my problem is. A few weeks ago I made a personal vow to not be ruled by productivity. And here I am again, blogging, eating bacon and drinking a beer in my rickety rocking chair trying to calm myself down. I've run myself to the ground when I still have a marathon left.

It's not necessarily that I feel the need to be number one at everything I do. I have so many interests and so many things I want to invest in, but I can't possibly do my best (which is what I feel God wants us to do) at everything. I confess that I have placed my job first--way above my spiritual walk and my relationship with Nate. I've been a terrible friend and family member. I know there has to be a lifestyle change before bringing a child into our home, and since I don't know when that day will be, I feel the need to prep myself now. But what compromises do I make? There are obviously a few responsibilities and commitments that will stay: my relationship with Christ and my marriage. But how do I decide which role to cut back on?

I'm at an overwhelming crossroad in life...it's not the first time and it certainly won't be the last. So, I'll continue to eat bacon. Just kidding. Actually, I think the first thing I must do is take a break...with my husband. All week I've been running and working, leaving Nate to do sink fulls of dishes. As much as it kills me to walk away from the 160 ungraded quizzes, 26 ungraded notebooks, unfinished lesson plans and projects, I will do that tonight. Tomorrow I'll hit the road running (literally since we have Saturday practice) at 6:30. I'm hoping a new day will help put things into perspective for me.

A Minor Breakthrough

Had a small, but incredible breakthrough with a student today. I have an ELL student in class this year, and we have no ELL services. Needless to say, it's been a challenge! We've relied heavily on Google Translate and the translate button on Google Docs. Today over lunch he came in to my classroom with about 15 minutes left in the period, and I think he asked if he could be in my room. I told him he could, and then we proceeded to have a conversation the best we could. In those 15 minutes I found out that he is living here with his dad. His mom and brother and sister are still in Mexico. While in Mexico and California he witnessed many deaths due to drug trafficking via aviation. This kid is so young but has already seen so much.

Our journal prompt today was: give three reasons why you want to go on living your life. After I translated it for him, he wrote, The three reasons I want to live my life are my mother, my father, and my siblings. He came up and showed me and I wrote, hermoso (which Google Translate tells me is Spanish for 'beautiful') on his page. While my other students took a quiz over figurative language, I asked him to write his story. He typed it up so diligently on Google Translate and then would bring me the paragraphs translated into broken English. My heart swelled today as I read his work and listened to him try and speak in English. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to walk in his shoes, everyone around you speaking a foreign language all day long.

Before this I was frustrated about having this student in class. I was mad that our district doesn't have any services to offer him, I was tired of trying to adapt everything I do for him and then make accommodations and modifications for ten other students as well. I had a bad attitude. But today it faded. Today during journaling time I played Brandon Heath's song, "Give Me Your Eyes." The chorus really has stuck with as I reflect on my minor breakthrough with this student:

"Give me your eyes for just one second / Give me your eyes so I can see / Everything that I keep missing / Give me your love for humanity"

Teaching is exhausting. But this song is a great reminder of how to redirect my crabbiness and try to see situations and people the way God sees them.