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...


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.


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:


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)......


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!


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.



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.


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 :)


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


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.


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."