Following Makes the Follower

I’ve just read another article defending school teachers. It’s the millionth  (probably zillionth) published, rapidly going viral, well deserved justification of my profession. Really, there’s so much written which credits teachers as heroes that I’m having trouble figuring out who the villains are. Exactly who is panning American educators, laying the blame squarely out our feet for the very downfall of Western Civilization? Admittedly my research on this topic is grossly limited because no one is liking and sharing the blog posts which bemoan teachers for being lazy freeloaders.

Teaching wears me out. It’s hard work. And ladies and gentlemen, I am not lazy. Here’s a little known fact that I always want to scream from a rooftop when I hear teachers criticized—the skills, people. It takes an unbelievable amount skill to deliver a lesson well. Communication, intuition, classroom  management, on your feet decision making, maintaining discipline—SKILLS. And that’s just the delivery of a lesson.  That’s not to mention the interpersonal skills it takes to develop relationships with  your students and create a welcoming atmosphere for each class, even though at times you’re met with fierce resistance.

Now, how about planning? When I first switched from teaching English to history, I sat at my desk and cried because I had no idea where to start. I’m not sure about other teachers, but I do a fair amount of research for history presentations. It’s very time consuming. Then, you have to be creative, even a little artistic at times. Technology? Heck, yeah. You better be on top of that.  Time management? Indispensable. Planning is just a fraction of what a teacher does in the mislabeled “planning period”. Teachers act as their own personal assistants. We type, copy, distribute, and file every document ourselves.  In 45 minutes, I may have a stack of papers to grade, a couple of tests to run through the copier, an assignment to type, and five or so emails to answer in addition to all the research and lesson planning. Then there’s the matter of personal business. More than once, I’ve spent the bulk of a planning period playing phone tag with my doctor’s office.

But here’s the kicker, folks. You can’t simply have nominal familiarity with each skill. To be the teacher that apparently we are all expected to be, you have to master all these skills.  What’s a perfectionist like Mrs. Beasley to do? Well, let me tell ya. I feel a lot of pressure. All the time. At least once every school year, I have something like a nervous breakdown. The kids know I’m a basket case and discuss it when I’m not around. It’s embarrassing. I thought it would get better when I left public schools for Christian education, but I have a unique gift for not letting things go.

All this pressure has given me mixed feelings about my career as a teacher. I love planning (the creative part, not all the clerical stuff) and presenting. I truly do. I enjoy my students. But my heart’s desire was always to be a stay at home mom.  As a young adult, I never envisioned my children in daycare, or in full-time pre-K classes, all so that I could put in my time teaching other people’s children during the day and have nothing left over for my own in the evenings. I thought it would get easier when my children got a little older. They’re in the first and fifth grades now, and I chase my tail now more than ever. I’d love to quit my job, run my household, be more available to my husband and children, and write.

I’m sure that sounds cynical, but I promise this post has a happy ending. I’ve returned to teaching several times because of circumstances. It took a lot of years for us to finally have a family of our own. Every year that I returned to school in August felt like a slap in the face. I simply wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t miscarried. Those years were long and bore the ever present specters of brokenhearted loss and freaking out over test scores. Public school, I don’t miss you.

For a few years after we first adopted, I quit teaching and worked part-time. This I could manage. But, Todd’s call to plant a church is my call to plant a church. It’s that one flesh thing, I think. The first time that he suggested I go back to teaching school full-time so that he work on a church plant, I lit into him. It was not my finest hour as a wife, I confess. Amazingly, the Lord went to work on me, and I’ll never regret the decision to move, go back to work, and plant Renew Church. I might choose an easier schedule, but I love my school and I love my students.

Unfortunately, my spiritual gift is wearing my feelings on my sleeve and blabbing my thoughts and opinions to anyone with ears, so it’s no secret how hard teaching full-time is for me.

Luckily, my principal and I have a good working relationship, one characterized by my frank admissions that teaching wears me out and I’m pretty much always overwhelmed. He knew the day he interviewed me that I’d hoped to move on from teaching eventually. That he still hired me is better than any trust building exercise. Over time, I’ve conveyed my deepest concerns about my employment without holding much back. I’m a better wife and mother when I am not obligated to a full-time job. It plays on my conscience to be deprived of the time and energy that I’m sure should go to my family. Recently, he waved me into his office to ask me how I’m doing. I had a miscarriage a couple of weeks before school started. It’s been a hard year.

We had an honest conversation. We always do. He knows that I would like to be at home more and have time to write. He knows that I have to work to support us while we plant the church. He knows that more than anything, I wanted my baby. I assured him that, as worn out as I get, I’m all in. “I know,” he said. “You’re committed to these students.” Thank you for that, Mr. G. I’d like to think that each and every nervous breakdown has been for the greater progress of the gospel.

Then he said something that I wasn’t sure I could accept.

“You’re going to have to be OK with the fact that God called you to teach. I know it’s true because He’s using you here.”

See, this is a problem because that was a really nice thing to say, and I can see that you’re my biggest fan, but that’s not what I wanted to hear.

Also, that’s the second principal who told me that I’m called to Christian education. It’s the second time that I doubted (and resented) this assessment of God’s will. That conversation has hovered over my thoughts since that day. Honestly, it depressed me a little. And irked me a lot. I’d like to determine what God’s telling me to do, thank you very much.

A few weeks ago, I was writing a bible study lesson for my small group when God placed a startlingly simple truth under my nose. What makes a follower of Christ? It’s the following.

In order to disciple, we teach all these different facets of the Christian walk—pray, study, worship, serve. Don’t conform. Be transformed. We flesh out all those simple truths into a litany of specific obligations. Attend church—be there. Join a small group—get real.  Sing in the band—serve in the way that gives you joy. Teach Sunday school—volunteer when no one else will. Go on a mission trip—stretch yourself. Surrender to the ministry—make church your job. Plant a church—even if it’s crazy. Surrender to missions—go where no one else will.

So much stuff. Am I simply picking what works for me and my situation? Why do some women get to stay home but I have to work? And, how do I know I’m not called to something even bigger, like foreign missions? And, if I have a passion to write and it is really fulfilling to me, can that be my call?

A week or so later, I was teaching European imperialism to my 9th grade history students. The presentation includes details of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion between 1899-1901. As we discussed the massacres of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians, I told the students that one question plagues me every time I teach this unit.

Why does God call some to all that hardship—in this case to be the victims of unthinkable atrocities– but He called me to Baptist Prep?

Funny. Those words—called me to Baptist Prep—that actually came from my mouth. OK, it’s true. If I felt that God had some other plan, that’s what I would do. Also, in comparison to martyrdom, teaching seems so easy. Even funnier, the next thing to tumble from my lips was that startlingly simple answer. What makes a Christ follower is the following. He leads. You follow. Period.

I have a friend who might have made an awesome school teacher, but she is now a missionary in Ecuador. She’s single. Her heart’s desire is to take God’s Word to women in the jungle. He led her there. She followed. It never crossed my mind that God might ask me to follow Him, as a single woman with no children in my future, into missions.

I have a another friend who would much rather be a missionary in Africa than teach school. She owns a salon, her day job, if you will. But she’s also  fundraising for African Christian Outreach for no pay at all. Someday, she’ll be in Africa full-time. She can’t wait for the day that Jesus leads her to Kenya for good. I’ve always been kind of relieved that He never led me to Kenya.

I have another friend who works in a nursing home and I can tell that those patients are richly blessed to have her there. She is amazing, so compassionate and genuine.  Me? I’d rather teach school, or go to Africa, or to a jungle, or teach school in an African jungle, than work in a nursing home. I kind of have a phobia of nursing homes. Please God, don’t lead me there!

What those women do seems so difficult to me. Yet, I’ve heard from my friends again and again, “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t work with kids every day.” They might be really relieved that God didn’t call them to teach writing to eighth graders (which is hard, I can tell you).

The strongest spiritual influence in my life, my mom, was a teacher for a short time. I’m sure she believed when she was in college that she would teach for a lot of years. But God led her to Bible Study Fellowship International, and she followed—first as a class member, then in leadership in the children’s program, and finally she became a teaching leader. I’ve always been astounded at the influence she had because of BSF.  When I was a kid, I just thought she gabbed on the phone with her leadership circle a lot. Years later, I realized  that it was her ministry which she conducted over the phone, in leaders’ meeting, and giving her lectures. She taught hundreds of women over the years, but also personally mentored many of her leaders. She also mentored me. Things would have turned out very differently for a lot of people if my mom had gone a different route.

Jesus led my husband to plant a church. Todd followed—and brought his family along! Jesus led me back to teaching. I followed. I’m going to trust Him that our choice to make our lives here will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel—that a lot of lives would turn out differently if we weren’t following where He leads.

In His authority, God carries out His plan. Maybe where He leads you is where you will have the most influence—where your presence will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel. And guess what? That’s hard work, no matter what it is. Going to China or the jungle, teaching or a nursing home—if you’re there to proclaim the gospel, it will never be easy. What is it that Jesus said to do before you follow? Oh, yeah. Deny yourself. Take up your cross.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mom of a Bullied Teen–

I hugged your son today.

With all you’ve been through, I doubt those words even make a dent. But I’ll give it a shot and hope that if I lay bare my heart, something good will come of it.

Two things make this hug kind of remarkable. My years teaching in public school taught me that hugs are a BIG FAT NO NO—never ever touch a child, we were told. Still, I gave absolutely no thought to what was appropriate. I just reacted, I guess. He should know how loved he is and I needed to express the grief I feel—and have often felt—over his situation and others. So sue me.

And then, if I believe what I’m told by those who know and love me best, I’m not a hugger in the first place. Admittedly, I withhold affection when I’m not sure it will be reciprocated. No need for worries in this case—your son is genuine. I’m sure he never turned away a hug. And that, perhaps, is what prompts this post.

I’m sure you feel we haven’t done enough. How can I explain why meanness can’t be prosecuted? How does the teacher address eyes rolling? A snicker? Students use disrespect for humor across the board—they tear down their friends. They tear down their enemies. In one situation, their words are purely for laughs and meant to be harmless. In another, it may be harassment, but it’s not always obvious. It’s hard to sort out what’s teasing and what’s torture in the middle of a lesson.

As I composed this post in my head, I tried to identify what I’m really feeling. I’m just so sad. My heart breaks for him, for you, for your family. But more than that, I feel so helpless. We’ve talked ourselves sick about bullying issues and what to do about it. I applied myself to this situation in particular. It feels completely beyond my control and like a complete personal failure all rolled into one.

apple dictionaryWhen I started teaching years ago, I held to an idealistic view of my role. Struggling students just need encouragement. My words can make a difference. I can do this. I can turn lives around. I’ll just be the best cheerleader they’ve ever seen and love those kids to a better tomorrow.

Maybe that’s just the Kool-Aid of public education talking, and a side order of 20th century psychobabble. I’m more jaded now because I rarely saw changes in those days. The student whose school life was miserable on the first day of school tended to spend the last day in pretty much the same dark hole—or worse.

Now, I know there are exceptions. I’ve read the stories—even one recently about a teacher who adopted one of her students. Teachers do make a difference. I know it’s true.

Sure, I want to be a good teacher. I want history to come alive in my classroom and for previously disengaged students to be rapt by my lectures, hanging on every word, taking long draughts of truth in my presence. That’s the goal for every good teacher, and I sincerely hope I get there. But, in my heart, that’s not the difference I hope to make.

Your son, for so many reasons, represents many children who have passed under my nose in my career—who live with persecution day in and day out. This is the difference I want to make. Real change. Broken hearts healed and guilty hearts repentant. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. All of these truths I am charged with teaching—I want to see it make a difference. Right now. Today. For your son.

As sad as I’ve been this week, I realized that a change has been made, and it isn’t a small one. Your son made the difference. For me he redefines the victim—

That kid has guts. I hadn’t thought about it that way before I met him, but a few of my students over the years were downright courageous. Every day, they came to a school that they hated, pulled themselves together, put smiles on their faces and tried for the umpteenth time to make a connection with other students.

Never once has your son shrunk back in the corner in silence for fear of being criticized. Every single day, he participates. In fact, some days I feel like I’m teaching just to him. So I thought back to others, and yes, it is a pattern I see repeated over the years. I’ve known students who could easily have found some safety crouching in the shadows, but that’s not how they chose to handle their problems. They are talented and creative and consistently made positive contributions to the group—even when the group was unappreciative.

He is warm, genuine, kind, and helpful. This is the thing that is drawing some of those former students to my mind and resurrecting this sorrow for kids I couldn’t rescue. I loved having them in my class. They were the ones who chased me down to tell me a story or just say hello. They were the ones who gave the hugs that the administration warned us about. They were the ones who were worried about me when I had a bad day—and did what they could to turn my day around. Your son lights up the room. Not one of his smiles was wasted on me. Not once.

As I’m wrapping this up, I keep asking myself, “Now what?” For the Christian educator, this should be obvious. I love my students. I love the ones who are broken and the ones who did the breaking—and the gospel is for both. I see more preaching in my future, praying more and more for the Holy Spirit to bring conviction on my school. They will never know how destructive their sin is—and the sure judgment awaiting them—if they aren’t told.

“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.”         Matthew 12:36 (NASB)

Then, for all the smiles and joy and life that students like your son bring to our schools, I share the same gospel. They must hear from me—relentlessly–that Christ loves them and they cannot be snatched from His hand. Maybe, with a little work, I can overcome my concerns over boundaries and punctuate the truth of His love with the occasional hug. So sue me.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.       Ephesians 3:19 (NLT)

No Small Miracle

Well. It’s no small miracle that I’m actually writing today. Ever since I went to She Speaks last summer, I’ve been wanting—needing, really—to get time alone to write. But, I returned from the conference and, having not been home in two weeks and staring nine months of teaching in the face, dove into a pile of work and I’ve been at it ever since. If you’ll forgive me a slightly overused metaphor, teaching is a marathon. I’ve been running—looking longingly to each weekend for a break only to find housework and a landfill of laundry that refuses to be ignored. This is why I keep saying that I was made to work part-time. But, God be praised, I love my job. All 40 hours a week of it!

One thing I took from She Speaks had nothing to do with writing and everything to do with teaching. We were treated with presentations from many fine writers, speakers, and publishers. For my life, I can’t remember who this speaker was or what point they hoped to make. The scripture was Acts 3:6-10, where Peter and John encounter a man crippled from birth who asked them for money. “Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’”

From the moment she read the verse, I zoned out—went to a completely different place. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have, I give you . . . Jesus Christ . . .”

enlighted_firm

“Huh,” I thought to myself, “that reminds me so much of a typical day in the classroom.”

Follow me on this, especially if you don’t teach. Educators are bombarded all day long with requests—rather, thinly veiled demands—for what students think they need.

I’ve scheduled a test, but they have a game so, ya know, studying is just a bit inconvenient.

We have a chapter to cover, but they’d prefer to watch a video. And make no secrets of their preferences.

The project is due Tuesday, but couldn’t I just move it to Friday? Pretty please?

What?? A test the Tuesday after spring break? That’s just not fair—even if you have covered all the material and told us exactly what to study! Doesn’t she know we’ll be on vacation? Mission trips? Asleep?

I had a student in Texas who was a master at needling me about this stuff. She was a great student, and we got along famously. She had a nasally quality to her voice, so even though I truly loved her, most of my memories of her are probably her least flattering moments. The child could work a nerve. “Mrs. Beeeee-zzzlyyy!! Five paaaaa-gessss? Couldn’t we just write two? We have a math test tomooooooorrrrrrrowwwwww, can’t we move our quiz to Thurrrrrrrsday? I love your class, Mrs. Beasley, but this stuff is sooooooooooo borrrrrinnngggg!!”

teacha

Hey, teachers, how rich would you be if you had a dollar for every time you wanted to say, “And this is a picnic for me, too, Cupcake, let me tell ya. Now, find someone who cares or tell the wall. Beasley out.”

I have to say—that I rarely unleash the full force of my sarcasm on some poor unsuspecting student is no small miracle. Congratulations. To. Me.

But as this speaker was presenting—and I’m completely missing the point of what she’s trying to say—I saw the connection between the cripple and my students. They think they know what they want. They think they know what they need. But what they’re asking for is a fix. What they want will no more meet the deep needs in their lives than a band-aid will cure cancer. I could make some adjustments to give them ease, to make things more comfortable, but it absolutely will not make them better students and they’ll be further from the goal than the day they first entered my classroom.

So often I can’t give the students what they’re asking for at any rate. They just want things to be easy when I’m supposed to put them through their paces. But I have something they need— and they don’t even know to ask for it. Language arts, history—these are just vehicles that God has provided for me to share with students what their souls truly crave.

I have Jesus, and they need Him.

It’s no small miracle that I so keenly feel their need. I used to approach teaching from the rather entangled, obscured view of my own perfectionism. Never did I feel that I was accomplishing anything. And likely I wasn’t. What a miserable way to spend an otherwise fun and rewarding career. Today I see my life—all of it—through the lens of what Christ did for me, and all the blessings that are mine because of the cross. Now, instead of focusing on my performance and how the students’ performance reflects poorly on me, I’m more concerned about reflecting the glory of my Savior and inviting my students to know and follow Him, deepen their devotion, and abandon the things that compete with their love for Christ. Sometimes in class I can’t wait to get to the biblical principle in my lecture—it’s like a “fire shut up in my bones”. I don’t want to hold it in!

No, students, I can’t reschedule the quiz, move back the deadline, show a video instead of lecturing. What I have, I give you.

I have Jesus. I was blind, but now I see. I was once darkness, but now I am light in the Lord. I was dead, and now I live. It’s. No. Small. Miracle.

darkness and light

 

 

 

 

The Redemption of Super Mess

There are two quirks in my personality that cause me the most grief. They have the combined effect of turning me into a complete mess.

  • I’m terrified of feeling overwhelmed.
  • I always bite off more than I can chew.

I try. Really, I do. But invariably I get in over my head so that, naturally, I’m overwhelmed. And, oh yeah, since I’m a perfectionist, even if I’m not having to tread water to stay on top of the work load, I find ways to ruin even manageable responsibilities. So…make that three quirks that cause me grief.

That’s why I quit teaching school full-time. And then, because a perfectionist can drown teaching even just part-time, I quit teaching altogether.

“She’s Super Mom!” Eden said to her daddy the other day. And he agreed. Gosh, I love them. These sweet compliments were traded between bites of a meal which I did not prepare. With the addition of my new full-time teaching job, our lives are so crazy that finding a few minutes to buy groceries is a tremendous feat of organization, patience and energy. I have not these gifts. Not having wholesome, healthy meals prepared for my family is fodder for my beat-yourself-up-mercilessly gene. It sure is sweet that my family is not as hard on me as I am on myself.

Like so many summers before, school started even though I wasn’t ready. Honestly, I’ve tried to cut myself a break because it wasn’t entirely my fault that I wasn’t ready. I spent most of the in-service week before school started without a computer. We started a ladies bible study the week I went back to work. (It was awesome.) We had our very first church plant worship service the night before school started. (God is awesome.) The weekend before I actually had students in the chairs, I managed to go for a long run, write lesson plans, put my classroom together, and buy some new clothes so that I wouldn’t disgrace myself wearing the rags in my closet. I continued to not beat myself up as I got up at 3 A.M. on the morning of the second day to get my lesson ready. OK, I was a little irked with myself, but I did have a good week.

Still, I am too busy, and I’m overwhelmed. I sure don’t feel super.

And then God gave me this…

I ran 17 miles today. Don’t ask me how I harangued myself for settling on 17 instead of 18! (I may have had an epiphany this morning, but I’m still a work in progress.) Lately, I’ve been circling downtown Benton for my long run because it’s about the only place around here that somewhat flat.  At various street corners downtown, markers have been placed in the concrete stamped with famous quotes–ostensibly to inspire or maybe bring a smile to your face. Since my regular route is around downtown, I’m sure I’ve read all of them 100 times. Today, on about my 10th lap, I stomped over the following, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.—Abraham Lincoln.”

How nice. Honest Abe and all his wisdom. Makes me so proud to be an American. And even more proud to be a Christian since Jesus actually said it.

Yes, Abe made the speech “A House Divided.” Right. Got that. But when he borrowed the principle from Jesus, his audience most likely read enough of the bible to know who Abe was quoting–unlike the well-meaning person who stamped it in concrete at the corner of Main and South.

I chuckled about this for half a block. Then it occurred to me that I’d run over this little error again and again for the last year and never noticed. A falsehood—a half-truth—has been laid down and preserved. It’s meant for us to take it in—even subconsciously—as we pass over it and glean whatever wisdom it has to offer. But it’s not exactly true—and for a Christian, very often the source determines the validity.

I pass over falsehoods and half-truths repeatedly every day. Lies that say I have to be perfect. Whispers that claim my best doesn’t measure up. Stamped on the very core of my being is a little fib that says even a tiny slip-up is a crushing failure. I walk right over it. I stand on it. It is foundational to the way I view myself and everything that I do.

This morning, though, God made it pretty clear that those things are not true and He isn’t the source of it either. My life is plain ol’ normal—mom, wife, school teacher—nothing super hero-ish about it. There’s nothing spectacular about my background or my education. I do a few things well, and lots of stuff I don’t even attempt–just like anybody else. I’m pretty ordinary.

But I’ve answered an extraordinary call. God has put me in a lot of roles recently that I’ve hardly felt prepared to fill. I agonize over all the details, all the people who are depending on me, whether or not I can live up to the commitments I’ve made. Yet God sustains and strengthens. He loves and fills up and transforms. And for whatever reason, He blesses me to be a part of what He’s doing. I can offer up what I know is a complete mess to God and He makes it useful.

Someone’s life is going to be different because I was here…being a mess…

I’m not sure I can run that 26 miles. Today I confronted a very real fear that my body just isn’t up to it. And yet, I’ve made 63% of my fundraising goal. Someday soon, a cancer patient will have assistance paying their bills because I was a complete mess after my dad died and decided to do something good.  If you have a few extra bucks, you can click on my fundraising page to make a donation and change lives with me! I need $1875 to reach my goal. Small donations are HUGE!

Every day I juggle all the myriad tasks that make up my teaching job. Want to know something really cool? I love those kids. I hardly knew them a week before I wanted to wrap my arms around the whole lot. God put me there to love and disciple those kids. I’ll do it. I’m an absolute mess, but I’ll do it. The lesson plans will be posted late, the copies won’t be printed out, I’ll be pulling my hair out because I just keep dropping the ball when people are depending on me, but someone’s life will change forever because I answered that extraordinary call.

And finally, the proverbial kicker…I am back to working full-time after I swore I wouldn’t. My husband can now answer God’s call to plant a church because my job provides for our financial needs. Lives will change. Mine already has. Thank you, God, for redeeming the mess.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.         Ephesians 2:10

Little Big Momma Gets Her Back to School Freakshow On

It’s my last day of summer. No, I don’t live in one of those northern, unforgiving environments where it might top off at 60 degrees before blizzard season hits. I live in one of those southern, unforgiving environments where the forecast usually calls for a high around hellish. On a good day, we are treated to mildly hellish with a chance of showers.

Summer is over because I’m a teacher. I feel a little as if this summer signifies the closing of chapter entitled “Rare and Elusive Sanity”, as I’m back to teaching full-time for the first time since May ’06. Realistically though, I’ve always been neurotic, regardless of the work hours, and I frequently teeter on the edge of the abyss. I never exaggerate. And I’m not at all sarcastic, either.

The big question is, am I ready for school to start? I’d love to give a decisive answer, but my brain is a house divided. Periodically in my on/off again teaching career, I’ve mourned the loss of stay-at-home-mom-dom. As anger is part of any grieving process, naturally I get mad at God.

“You’ve robbed me of these precious years with my children!!!!” I would cry, defiant fist held high. “Think of the children!!!”

I imagine this response from the Almighty, elbow resting on the side of the throne, chin in hand, replying tonelessly, “Really? You wanna go there?”

Hmm. Probably not.

First, I can’t say that I’m always the best steward of my time. This summer, I’m juggling time with the girls, a mountain of work to do in preparation for school, and stealing time to write. We’re coming dangerously close to having a leadership team together for our new church, and I will be assisting with a women’s bible study for the next couple of months. Without really thinking about whether I had time or not, I started training for a marathon and fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I’ve got stuff to do. And yet, this is how I spent my morning–

In my defense, an open bible was sitting right next to me on the bed the whole time. I did read it...

In my defense, an open bible was sitting right next to me on the bed the whole time. I did read it…

Before we hit the road for Texas a few weeks ago, I attempted to get the house good and clean. “No one wants to come home to a dirty house,” my mom used to say as she handed out assignments for the kids to complete. Ewww…she’s right. We want to enter a clean home after a day in the car.

So I set about accomplishing this task, after a couple (or three…maybe more) monstrous tantrums at Wal-Mart wherein I had to explain to that sweet, well-meaning stock boy that the five year old shrieking on the aisle 5 floor was not lost. She’s just…mine.

And that’s how it’s done in the summer. Spend a few hours at the pool, have your will to live ironically sucked out of you at the mega chain which claims to help you “live better,” and then try to force a chore list onto your cherubic heirs.

I endured a couple more tantrums because my older daughter, who has always been a little OCD about cleanliness, chose that particular day to decide that she no longer likes to clean and most certainly is NOT mommy’s little helper. Well, excuuuuse me. This is the child who got in big trouble–more than once, mind you–for cleaning her sister’s room without permission. Without my permission. Without her sister’s permission–i.e., throwing away things (artwork) that look like trash and any item (toy) that she can’t find a place for because “she doesn’t even use it!” Good heavens, child. I can’t even get away with that.

Then Little Sister makes a good show of her temper, and I was about to cave because, who am I kidding, I can do it better in a fraction of the time. But suddenly, a miracle. She decides that cleaning’s not so bad with frequent costume changes. She scrubbed the bathroom in her finale outfit. It was stunning–the outfit and the bathroom. I wouldn’t have to re-do it. Huzzah!

Pause the drama for a quick pic.

At this, I can finally turn my attention to the kitchen, which has been too long neglected. While I’m holding my nose, digging through a stack of dishes out of a filthy sink, Eden is vacuuming with a machine whose filter has likewise been neglected. It is doing a fine job of sucking dog hair from the floor evermore blowing dust out the back.

I hung my head in shame at the realization that the backseat of my car is cleaner than my house. Maybe after a day in the car we should just…stay in the car. It’s a miracle God trusted me with children, much less staying home with them all day, year-round.

But today, I moved things along by promising a trip to the pool. I finished up the above nonsense on Facebook and turned my attention to my journal, which is really the only way I can pray with the kids in the house. They had continuously interrupted everything all morning and sure didn’t slow down because I was in talks with God. Emma Kate was babbling excitedly when I finally rose from my bed work station. Then she said something kind of garbled–like the teacher in the old Peanuts cartoons–something about mouthwash and Big Momma.

“Did you just call me…Big…Momma?” I asked incredulously. And what are you insinuating about my breath???

She was too happy about swimming to be contrite. She giggled, “Yeees.”

“Let me tell you something. I’m no Big Momma. I’m Appropriately Sized Momma. The bulges are all…proportional…mostly…” She continues to giggle. Disappearing into the closet, I glance around, and given her assessment of my shape (as unfair and inaccurate as it is), I make a decision. “Girls, Momma can’t find her suit. I can’t get in the water. Shucks and darn it.”

Now we’re at the pool. I’m smiling because the girls are getting along, playing together, and wearing themselves completely out. We’ll be glad for that at bedtime. I continue smiling because there’s a woman here having more problems with her two girls than I am with mine. That little one’s shriek rivals EK’s, which is something most people describe using the words “bloody murder.” It’s okay, lady. Remember the steps. Call your sponsor. See you in group.

At night, I’ve been counting down the waning hours of my summer vacation with a phenomenon I’d completely forgotten about since I left teaching full-time.

Stress dreams.

You’ve had them, right? Anyone? Teachers, haven’t you had that dream in the late summer where you’re going over your procedures with a class of 8th graders on the first day of school and suddenly, to your horror, you realize that you’ve got nothing on but your skivvies? No? Just me?

This summer I’ve had some loo-loos, let me tell you, and the one I’m about to relate goes in the record books. I think its accurate interpretation would have something to do with the fact that Katie doesn’t do stress well and has too many irons in the fire. Here it goes…

In this dream we were staying at my friend Laurie’s house, which is less than a mile from where I live. This would, like most things in dreamland, make no sense if it weren’t for the fact that we stayed with Laurie and her family on about five occasions last year while we were making arrangements to move to Arkansas. I was, at that time, very, very stressed. Back to the dream, I’m feeling all this guilt that we are being an imposition to these lovely friends of ours for the umpteenth time. To compensate, I’m wrangling my children, trying to keep the peace and not be such a nuisance. At the same time, I have piles and piles of books with me, which act as an excruciating reminder that I have got to get out of there and go study. But how could I dump my kids on these poor folks when they have done so much for us already?

At this point, the dream merges with a recurring nightmare that I’ve been having since college, in which I’m late for school but no matter what I do, I can’t get out of the house. Ordinary things like breakfast and dressing take hours. Frantically I check the clock again and again. Each time my anxiety grows and grows. Eight thirty. Nine forty-five. Eleven o’clock…

In this version of the dream, I’m panicking over the hours on Laurie’s clock and trying to get my family out of her door. And just when I think the anxiety is more than I can bear, I realize that I simply can NOT leave the house without my…

Wait for it…

Jogbra.

You read that right. The climax to this drama broiling in my subconscious is the confounded absence of the appropriate women’s workout apparel. I’m turning over suitcases, rifling through closets and bureaus (not mine, remember), and running back and forth to each member of both the houses Beasley and Cox, wailing, “I’m LATE!! Where is it??? Where is my BRA????”

Now, Mr. Sandman, I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’ve had some visits of late from your evil twin, Insomnia, and I’m okay with a bizarre dream here and there. But any latent phobia I may have regarding the availability of undergarments for high impact aerobic activity may stay safely housed in my unconscious. Please and thank you.

People keep asking me, “Are you ready for school to start?” I hardly know what to say.

So tell me, teachers? Are you ready? Feeling pressure? Weird dreams? Let’s hear it!

It’s Not Another Paula Deen Post…or A Classroom Tale of Hate and Healing

I’m not trying to weigh in on the Paula Deen thing. Really, I’m not. Especially because every time I read something about it, my feelings toward her do adjust slightly to the right or left of the issue. We are easily swayed, aren’t we? Shouldn’t we be as easily swayed by truth? Because, in reality, there’s this side of the story and that side…and then there’s the unadulterated truth.

The story I’m about to relate is true—as best I can recall, and I have to change the names. I honestly don’t remember all the names, exactly, and the whereabouts of any yearbook that could jog my memory is a bit of a mystery.

It is one of the best days of my teaching career for a variety of reasons. First of all, I think the kids learned something far more useful than how to score a 4 on the state mandated writing test. More than that, they were vulnerable with each other. And a couple of them were downright gutsy.

It actually started some months before I facilitated this particular lesson. See, there was this African-American student in my class. She was outgoing, smart, and cute, had plenty of friends, took care of her work mostly, and–with the exception of having a bit of a chip on her shoulder and being perhaps a bit mouthy from time to time– was what we teachers call “a good kid.” Let’s call her Vanessa. It’s a pretty name, and yes, I borrowed it from Cosby.

A second key player in the drama that would unfold was a Caucasian student. She was smart, took care of her work mostly, and we all called her a good kid. She was polite, got along with her teachers, and generally stayed upbeat even though she had few friends.  As much as I hate to use an increasingly overused word, I am sure she was bullied. She was overweight, lingering uncomfortably through an awkward stage. As if appearances aren’t enough to condemn a child to thirteen years of hellish and hurtful taunting, she was also what we educators politely refer to as “economically disadvantaged.” If memory serves, she lived in the trailer park that was located right next to the middle school where all of this took place. I’m naming her Mary Ann. In case you’re wondering, I borrowed that one from Gilligan’s Island.

I don’t know (or remember) the details. But it involved name calling. In the interest of fairness let’s note that Mary Ann endured a lot of abuses which never reached the teacher’s ear. You can call a girl a lot of names and still stay out of trouble. One specific insult almost never results in a punishment of any kind. Call a fat girl fat and if the teacher even hears about it, she’s forgotten it by the end of the class period. In the interest of fairness, let’s note that Vanessa felt, in ways that no white educator can ever comprehend, the weight of persecution at many times and in many ways which likewise are not reported and go unnoticed.

Vanessa and Mary Ann did not get along. For some time, they had been locked in a verbal tit for tat. Who knows where it started? Third grade, maybe? Back me up, teachers. It’s impossible to sort things out when two kids just don’t like each other, am I right? One day it escalated. And escalated. And escalated some more. Insults are traded. The insults take on that deeply personal tone until it’s all just ugly and hateful. Black girl calls the white girl the b-word. White girl’s had enough. She goes for the jugular. She’s only got one bullet left, the n-word, and she uses it.

Though Vanessa and Mary Ann were both enrolled in my fourth period language arts class, I was largely unaware of this ongoing conflict. By the time I learned of this incident, Mary Ann had been suspended for using a racial slur. I don’t recall Vanessa’s punishment, but likely she spent a few class periods in ISS, or in-school suspension, for using profanity. In school speak, that means that Mary Ann’s punishment was more severe.

Months later, I gave little thought to what had happened between these two girls. If it came to mind, it was only to remember that they didn’t get along, would probably never get along, and I could run my classroom more smoothly if I just kept them away from each other. But every once in a while, and I mean once in a big fat great while, something drastic occurs and it almost feels like the earth tipped on its axis one more degree and you might just fall over.

Eighth grade literature often includes The Diary of Anne Frank, a play based on the journal. Here is the perfect opportunity for a teacher to tackle the atrocity of racism. And the perfect way to teach it? A Socratic seminar. For you non-teacher types out there, Socratic seminars are discussions (yes, the name comes from Socrates), but the idea is for the teacher to get out of the way as much as possible so that the students determine the conversation’s direction. Normally, I generate a list of questions related to the text and a theme, such as racism. For each question, the students discuss their opinions until they wear it out or are completely off the subject. Then, I step in with a new question.

I wish I’d kept the questions I’d used that day. It would be nice to have it recorded so that I would know how we got to that place—where kids were willing to tell the truth and risk the consequences. But really, I don’t think it was the question or the careful planning of the teacher. Mary Ann just went for it.

“You all know what happened with me and Vanessa,” she began. And I held my breath. “I said something horrible. The truth is, that’s how my family talks. That’s what they think. But I know it’s wrong. I even tell them it’s wrong. And I try. I really try to think differently.”

Y’all. I thought she was done. The earth had already rocked under my feet, but I’ll be dad gummed if that kid didn’t just plow on through.  She might have sliced a jugular vein before, but here’s the blood transfusion. True repentance. A sincere heart-felt apology.

“I just want to tell Vanessa in front of everyone. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

Right here my heart soared…and then sank a little bit because I knew there was no hope of Vanessa accepting that apology. She was a good kid, but she did have that chip on her shoulder. The social outcast stepped out on a limb, and I was pretty sure Vanessa would sit back and watch it snap. I started running through every trick in my teacher hat—how do I applaud Mary Ann’s actions without making Vanessa feel like I’ve taken sides. Because, let’s be honest, we’ve all listened to an apology before we were ready to respond appropriately. Mary Ann had put her on the spot.

And, predictably, Vanessa narrowed her eyes, set her jaw, and said nothing. There was too much hurt and too much pride to make so convenient an end to the whole awful business.

It got real quiet. It was a little like all the oxygen spontaneously departed the atmosphere. Wide eyes darted from Vanessa, to Mary Ann, to me, and back to Vanessa. Ummm…next question? I didn’t know how to proceed.

Never in my wildest teacher dreams could I have expected this. The student who broke the silence was an African-American boy, a good kid—we’ll call him Michael. I choose that name because he’s an angel, and if you’re wondering, I borrowed that one from Good Times. He made the connection that every teacher hopes for when they run a discussion like this one. He identified with the theme in the play. He identified with the student across the room who is completely different from himself. He then acted on his convictions and said to his peers something that he was in no way obligated to say.

“I actually have the same problem that Mary Ann has,” he said.

I’m pretty sure my knees buckled.

“My family is racist, too. They hate white people. And I know what she’s talking about. It’s hard to resist that. I go to school with white kids. I don’t want to make enemies. But my family expects me to act like they do.”

Something in that room had broken loose, and suddenly it was okay to admit that we all have prejudices we’re not proud of. The discussion continued, and more walls fell, and I was one very proud teacher.

I have high hopes that Vanessa came around eventually. But realistically, forgiveness is a tricky thing. I won’t be the hypocrite trying to remove the speck from her eye. Incidents like this occur—some of them very public—and every one rushes to judgment. If we listen to all the clamor, we might forget that there are two sides of the story. And then there’s the truth. Take a look at Matthew 5:21-22:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Interesting that Jesus speaks to both sides, isn’t it? We are accountable for our careless words and for our anger. Guess what? I’m guilty of both. I was thoughtless and heartless and said things I shouldn’t have. I’ve used words to distinguish between myself and someone else, ruthlessly implying that I’m somehow better. I’ve been the victim of those words as well, and carried the sting in my heart for a lot of years. You know what I found out? Forgiveness is a tricky thing, but not impossible. Jesus forgave me and paid my debt. What I’ve been given, I must give.

Here’s another lesson to be gleaned from this. Indeed, words are frequently a weapon of hate, and in our earnest desire to put an end to hate, we attempt to blot out the use of the word. And rightfully so. It’s hotly debated and everyone claims that their take on the issue is more right than the others. But here’s the thing—the unadulterated truth. All the debate—all that noise—is just a fallen, broken world trying to heal itself of the evil of which it refuses to repent. The only way to be completely free of our prejudices is to focus completely on the Lord Jesus. And if you are in Christ, racism is not your cause. Bullying is not your cause. Those things are secondary to your true calling. Your cause is Christ. Pure and simple.

Come to think of it, I never go gentle into that good night.

Well, here it is. Opportunity knocking.  More like bull-dozing its way into the vestibule of my mid-life. I’ve started this blog because…. (slight pause for a deep breath)…I’m a writer. Gulp. I said it.  There is a big ol’ hairy back story that explains the phobia of declaring my writing intentions, a back story which will no doubt make a fine appearance in this and future posts.

If the About page doesn’t include enough interesting tidbits about me, the following are probably more revealing:

Katie is–

  • A total basket case….a snapshot of this beauty will come frighteningly into focus in future posts. I have some former students who can testify to my inability to make it through a 45 minute class period without becoming emotional about something. Last night, I pleased myself immensely by sitting through an entire graduation ceremony without boo-hooing. Short lived joy, as it were. I cried as I hugged the graduates afterwards then sobbed in the car on the way home because I miss teaching.
  • Forty-two. I could smack people on Facebook who wish you a happy 40th birthday and then tell you that your 40’s are the best decade ever. Puh-lease.  I have not gone gentle into that good night.
  • Married to the world’s nicest guy–you know, heismrbeasley while also able to claim the username heisreverendbeasley. I could fill a book about marriage, and actually I plan to eventually. But for now, I cannot over emphasize this: I love Todd Beasley. Period.
  • A mom to two beautiful girls, a seven year old and four year old.  The story of how I became a mother is also book worthy.  We’re adoptive parents and are grateful to a wise and sovereign God who chose us to suffer through many, many miscarriages so that we could be Mommy and Daddy to Misses Eden and Emma Kate.
  • A laughter hog…I think the hardest I’ve laughed recently was at a Phineas and Ferb episode.  I’m always disappointed when my daughters opt for Spongebob.  The hardest I’ve ever laughed at a movie was Get Him to the Greek.  There’s a 5 minute scene in that movie that’s a from your gut, belly-bustin’, total bladder failure but you don’t care because there’s always Depends laugh.
  • An aspiring people person…The project for my 30’s was to quit trying to overhaul myself into an extrovert.  Today I can say to my husband with only minimal guilt, “I have to get away from you people before I LOSE WHAT’S LEFT OF MY MIND. “ Insert audio of the ubiquitous Spongebob in the background, and some of you can easily relate.
  • A life-long learner plagued with the I can’t ever finish anything disease—which is closely related to the genetic disorder, perfectionism. Someday, SOMEDAY, I will finish a sewing project, and I pray it’s the heirloom Christmas stockings and matching Christmas tree skirt I’ve started over and over and over and over…
  • A chronic over-extender who can’t multi-task to save a life and for this reason I’m also an–
  • On and off again school teacher. The multi-tasking element of teaching combined with self-deprecation brought on by hyper-perfectionism wears me out a bit—which brings me to my career goals…

I made a momentous decision in January 2011: to leave the teaching profession for GOOD. Of course, with the clumsy grace that only a self-proclaimed basket case possesses, I simultaneously:  A.  ground my 13 year career into a powder for the purpose of ceremoniously tossing it off the proverbial small town Texas overpass,  and  B. clung desperately to my lifetime teacher’s certificate, repeating the not even all that comforting mantra, “I can always come back to teaching.”

One other disclaimer before you read on, I’m a bona fide, card carrying Jesus freak. I know what you’re thinking, but when you read that I’m a Christian, kindly refrain from assuming that I’m religious. I didn’t bring it up to make anyone feel threatened or to resurrect some painful memory where the church deeply wounded you.  I simply believe that someone died so that I could live, and I’ve put my faith in Him for salvation.  Because this blog is all about facing down my fears (i.e. writing for public consumption), my faith is on the table. For instance, I wouldn’t be doing this at all if I hadn’t met Holly. She was my roommate when I ran the Savannah Rock-n-Roll half marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training last November. I’d been praying about how to get started with this new chapter of my life. I didn’t particularly want to share a room with a complete stranger, but she (is awesome, by the way) encouraged me to give blogging a try and also had a number of suggestions for tapping into my creativity. Some would say it was just my good fortune that I met someone who inspired me. Some would say it was coincidence. This Jesus freak says that I prayed some rather desperate prayers for direction and He answered. It’s perfectly okay for us to agree to disagree.

As far as identifying my goals for the future, I don’t even know what to say. It is a lie to say that I don’t feel a tug back toward the classroom, especially after last night. One of the most talented students of my career told me that I was his favorite teacher. I had already given him a hug, congratulated him and told him how proud I was. Ten minutes later as I was leaving, he chased me down to tell me that I was his favorite. Dang it.  I’m tired of rethinking this decision.

One beautiful thing about running everything by God is that the decision isn’t really mine. When He puts me back in the classroom, back to lesson planning I go. For now, I’m sticking with this–

I’m a writer.