Thursday, September 29, 2016

Silent Presence

Have you ever had one of those days where you couldn't wait for it to end, but then it never did? That's me right now. I'm beyond tired, but there is an endless supply of things in my head, a never-ending stream of thoughts and feelings and thoughts about my feelings...then feelings about my thoughts, and so on. And here I am.

The only thing I know to do is write, only what's bothering me isn't something I can write about. I pray, and that helps...but it doesn't "fix it." I actually woke my husband from his comatose slumber to help me...but guess what he said? He had the audacity to tell me to hand it over to God. Can you believe that? After years of praying for him to step up his spiritual game...I was semi-appalled when he actually gave me solid Biblical advice. My husband can usually "fix" things for me himself.

So, here I am pecking away at this keyboard wondering if it's worth it to go to bed at all since I need to be up in less than four hours. In college, I would stay up and take a nap after my noon class, but I'm not in college nor am I any longer the age of most college students. I try to sleep, but the kind of peace needed for a calm rest alludes me. Probably because I'm still carrying the burden. What was that my husband said about casting my cares and worries and problems on God? God's bigger than my situation...I believe that, right? But why would he even take my worries? And what are "cares" anyway? I'd settle for feeling numb for a while, long enough to recuperate the strength I'll need to pick my cares and burdens back up tomorrow...because of course I'm going to carry them around again.

My particular burdens might be disappointment, a heart-wrenching sadness, and this empty feeling in the middle of my heart that steals my breath away....but, your cares might be frustration, anger, and physical pain because you actually punched a wall. A guy on the bus could have a completely different set of cares: emotional pain from a broken heart, fear of failure, and wounds from a childhood abandonment. You just never know...

I believe that in the invisible, spiritual realm, our "cares" are visible. The guardian angels must cringe when they're assigned to watch over the guy with three suitcases of "cares" strapped to his back, but even the most put-together person will carry around a pocketful of cares.

So, what did I do? First, I did one of those "open to the Bible and point at a verse" experiments, only I didn't point to a verse. Instead, I pointed to a title or heading within the'll never guess what it was...I actually laughed out loud. PATIENCE IN SUFFERING. Ugh! The passage of scripture didn't apply to me, but still....come on! Next time "open and point" produced James 5:13, "Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise." I already tried the praying, so I began to focus on the praise part of the verse, and you know what? I actually have something very big to be thankful for...we got an offer on our house today. I hadn't thanked God for that yet because I was too busy crying or thinking about something else or feeling sad. But, as soon as I shifted my focus...I changed almost immediately. Today, I had forgotten to be excited about something I had waited for so long to happen because I was consumed with a form of grief that completely robbed me of my joy. So, yeah! The burden got smaller. It's still there, but when my focus changed...the "care" became lighter to carry. The last "open and point" delivered this verse, "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." And, that helped too. I did wonder something about that verse though, some information I may get from God someday if I remember to query him about it: "Dear God, it would help me a lot more if You would've left out the old part of the verse and it read: train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it." But today, the "old part" of the promise is in there as an encouragement I needed to hear. Funny that I hadn't actually pondered a verse I'd read at least a hundred times the way it truly read before this moment.

I put away my Bible, somewhat refreshed. And I could almost fall asleep, so I reread a poem I wrote last night. And the words spoke to me today, almost like God gave them to me yesterday because He knew I needed to hear them today even more than when I wrote them...maybe this poem can help one other person too...

"Silent Presence"

Sometimes there are no words for feelings.
Sometimes feelings are too strong for only one person to carry.
Even so, I am here.
I might be silent, but I'm here.

Sometimes time heals wounds.
Sometimes grace does.
Most wounds do heal though...
With enough proper care and rest.
Patience heals.
Peace heals too.

But, sometimes the healer comes in the form of grief.
What an unlikely salve God has given me to use.
Even so, I am here.
I might be silent, but I'm here.

We're all in this life together, my friends. So, let's practice a little casting today!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dare to Go Deeper...Our Kids Need Us!

Assuming your kid has grown up in church, would it surprise you if your child didn't know the difference between an apostle and a prophet? Seems kind of basic, but you might be surprised. I heard a Christian school parent say, "oh, like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John" to a comment about our kids studying the minor prophets in Bible class. So, yeah...

Let's talk about what growing up in church means for kids these days. First of all, my oldest baby girl was born 20 years ago, at the beginning of the push for big programs to replace the traditional Sunday School snore fest. I remember the "Sunday School" of yesterday...mainly because my family were the "every time the church doors are open" church-goers. So, I memorized the kings of the Old Testament, which ones over Israel in its entirety (Saul, David, and Solomon), then which kings were Southern and Lower Kingdom kings. I remember memorizing the books of the Bible (Old and New Testament) every single year. I sat in a wooden chair or at a desk and learned about the Bible, God, Angels, Jesus, the Tabernacle, the Fruit of the Spirit, the Beatitudes, the 12 Apostles (more if you count Paul and the one who replaced Judas), and I learned about Biblical prophets, judges, priests...and the difference between them. My kids didn't get that. They got flashes of the miracles of Jesus...they got Creation and the Flood (with great interactive graphics because their imaginations probably wouldn't picture the Tree of Life or the Ark's cubits correctly). My kids didn't learn the "book work" of the Bible; they got the fun stuff. 

No wonder my oldest child barely knew anything about Solomon (she knows more now)...but seriously guys, we rarely expect our kids to know much at all about the Bible beyond the (incorrect) application of Jeremiah 29:11. Oh wait...for all you parents with child athletes, there's also the Ephesians 4:13 nugget for success. I mean, what do kids these day really need to know beyond John 3:16 in order to tell their friend about Jesus anyway...

I'm not saying the children's programs aren't "better" than they used to be. They are better in a lot of ways, but having a "video game" type of children's program doesn't mean it has to be vague in application, always happy, or benign in conviction. I'm sure there are still a few places out there that teach the meat of the scripture every week, but let's be honest about the quantity of these hypothetical places. Seems like we've replaced the quality of Biblical knowledge our kiddos get at church with top quality multi-media programing. At least we don't have bored kids. Right? 

At least there's that.

Last month, my youngest daughter at the ripe old age of 11 wept because she thought she didn't understand the Bible. I asked what she was reading and stopped panicking when she said "Revelations." She was worried that if she didn't understand what she was reading that it meant that she really didn't believe in God, or Jesus, or a multi-eyed, six-winged angels of terror guarding a throne. We talked for a while, and I told her to start with John or Matthew because those books, in my opinion, give a good overview of the life of Jesus. She's currently reading the last chapter of John (several verses have been highlighted in bright yellow)...The main thing is that she's excited about reading and learning...and she's even using a regular old paper copy of the Bible and totally managing without any fanfare. I mean...she's not even using an digital or online version of the Bible!!! 

Parents...we cannot blame the church when our kids don't know the difference between a prophet and an apostle...I mean, we could blame the church, but we're the ones "serving our time" in the classes on Sundays. Some of us are even the ones choosing the curriculum and regulating the Sunday children's programs. We have no choice but to blame ourselves; after all, we are the ones God entrusted to bring up our own precious children. Us. We. The buck stops with the parents. We are the ones who can speak up and change things in the churches...and, we can get serious about teaching Biblical principles and knowledge at home. Some of us leave the Bible education to a Christian school. Usually the subjects are sifted through the lens of Christianity, but,'s a school, and they also teach Math, Science, PE, Art, Music, History, Spelling, Reading, Grammar, Spanish, etc.! So don't bank all your money on a school that's main focus is to  provide a regular education in a Christian setting to also be the main (and sometimes only) influx of Biblical teaching for your child. 

When children have a grasp of who God is to them: their creator, their good Father, their friend, etc., they want to follow Him and believe in Him and dwell with Him. Once a child learns about God, he often opens his heart to Him. But, kids need to know who God is, and we must be the ones to stand in this gap and teach them. I need to stand in the chasm of spiritual ignorance for my own children; it's the huge gap I've ignored because I created my own false security when I dropped them off for an hour and fifteen minutes in a classroom at church (once a week) and expected someone else to give them the meat of the Gospel. 

See...the Sunday School of my day eased the load of Biblical instruction that was always supposed to the parents' responsibility. The thing is the "old way" of doing Sunday School (and having children sit in the main service) made me more knowledgable about God, BUT my parents reinforced Biblical principles and knowledge at home. My dad read to me every night from a huge book of Bible stories, and my mom prayed with us. I noticed my mom's Bible open on the kitchen table a lot of mornings, and my Dad served others in the church and led his family by example. My kids may have seen or heard this from me, but not enough. 

Let me spell it out: The command to bring kids up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord was given to parents. God gave children to parents (not schools and churches), and we need to take the command to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord seriously. Most of us are failing to teach our kids about the Bible...about Biblical characters and their timeline...about spiritual gifts...about actually submitting to and following Jesus. We excel at helping kids feel good about Jesus. We teach them about love and do a good job with grace and compassion as well. But, do our kids know how to hear God's voice? Do they know who wrote Ephesians? Do they know the things you learned in Sunday School?

Dare to go deeper. 
Dare to lead your kids deeper. 
Dare to dig deeper yourself. 
Dare to dig deep enough to uncover the belief.
Dare to believe God for the relationship He longs to have with you. 

p.s. Good idea alert...Last year, one of my kids read the book of Proverbs by looking at the calendar date. If it was the 10th of the month, she read Proverbs 10; it works out nicely because Proverbs has 31 chapters. She got this idea from a remarkable teacher who encouraged her students to start reading the Bible this way. The main thing is to start reading...begin learning...take the dare!

p.p.s. Part of what prompted this post was the lack of resource material out there if you wanted to start going deeper. The Bible should be the text, of course, but many of us want/need to follow an outline or have supplemental guidance. The material I did find for middle school aged students is, I suggest spending time in study on your own then sharing that with your kids. I'm doing that...starting with Judges. If I can do it, you can too.

p.p.p.s. I feel a need to write that we currently attend a church without a bunch of hoopla in the children's department (or the youth either)...the children's ministry servants and pastors and small group leaders are excited to share with our kids personally each week, and this is one of the many reasons we love our church. :)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Circles: Sometimes We Need to Say "No."

Sometimes when I write everything comes together seamlessly, smoothly. And I read it back and think "did I write that? Because it's actually pretty good." Other times, the words swim in my head. Swimming a type of stroke that never reaches the shore. Thoughts, feelings, daydreams, hopes, fears, sadness, joy...all colliding in a jumbled mess of words that don't make sense. Maybe I'm being a little melodramatic...I did watch the movie, Inside Out, with my kids tonight...but, you know what I mean.  Sometimes, we know what to say, and sometimes there's just too much to say and it all comes out in a tangled mess of redundancy. That's me today (tonight, or whatever you call 4:30am when you haven't gone to sleep yet). 

Why? I want to know why. Why can't I just fall asleep? Some people can sleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. But, I can't. Maybe because sometimes, I need to empty my soul first. On the bright side, the inner turmoil brings me to a quieter place, a place where I get to know God. He hears all about one kid's social struggles, one kid's attitude problems, one kid's heart cry, one husband's work load...and then there's me trying to carry it all. I don't even know what my own personal struggles are sometimes because I'm busy "fixing" and praying and fretting over other people's problems.

My friend Mary Beth once told me about these circles, invisible circles around all of us, circles that hold within their border the things and people we're actually responsible for and to. Sometimes my circle is crowded because I steal things from other people's circles. I actually do that a lot. For some reason, I get it in my mind that the grocery sacker's forgotten lunch is somehow my problem. Or, the stray dog that keeps running from me requires my continued chasing until I get it into my car (which never actually gets accomplished). I am a problem borrower. My own inefficiencies remain hidden most of time. I will almost do anything for anyone, but I've had to remind myself lately that just because I can do it doesn't mean that I should. 

I'm learning to ask this question before I commit: Is my emotional tank full, or is it empty? If the answer is "empty," then I need to rest for a while instead of always "doing." Sometimes, you have to say "no" so that you can say "yes" later. Then, in the meantime, let yourself off the hook...that's the hardest part.

There are things other than actions to say "no" to, emotional things like shame and peer pressure, judgment and fear. Negative attitudes we have about ourselves do not belong inside of our circles. Don't let people who foster negative thoughts stay in your circle or speak into your life; tighten the borders of your circle of responsibility. The circle analogy helped me process being okay when I forget (and my child also forgets to ask me) to sign a school planner. Because if it isn't signed, she WILL live, and so will I. Truthfully, her school planner belongs in her circle anyway, not mine.  Negativity of any kind does not belong in anyone's circle because it's the opposite of God-honoring. *Ephesians 4:29-32, "...Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them...Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander...instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you." If anyone (including ourselves) brings you down instead of lifting you up...that voice does not belong in your life. Sometimes there's damage done within our circle boundary...from people close to us, and in those times we need to rely on God enough to let Him "tighten the border" for a season because it's a privilege and an honor to dwell in my circle. 

In my late night brainstorms, I often read to quiet my mind. Tonight, I read from a book I hadn't picked up in over 5 years. I read all the underlined places from the last time I read Henry Blackaby's On Mission With God. Here's the nuggets God patiently used to strengthen my circle borders and clear my soul:

1. p. 107  God often has to move us out of our comfort zones to serve Him better. 

2. p. 140 Each trial you face equips you to accomplish your mission with God. You may not understand why you must go through one more trial when you think you are already prepared for anything. The Father, however, knows what further character development you need to match the assignment He has for you. If you are facing a test or a trial right now, look at it closely to see what it is God wants to teach you through it. 

3. p. 166 Even knowing the mistakes you would make, God chose you.  *We are not random. Your life story matters.

4. p. 96 Often God uses the one who's overlooked. 1 Samuel 16:7, "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

God doesn't usually tell us what will happen. That's why it's called faith. So, look around your circles. Clean out the clutter. Tighten the circle, rein in the borders. Then, pour your life into your circle. Forgive mistakes. See the heart first. Rest when your tank is low. And, say "yes" more than "no." 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Writer Writes All the Time: Stained Like Glass

I have stories and voices and ideas at work in my head constantly. That's how it feels to be a writer. It might start in a Sunday sermon or on a train ride to Chicago. The thoughts can be an avalanche leading to a whole book or a trickle that ends up as a prayer or a short story in a journal.

A writer writes...all the time. On napkins, on magazine covers, in the notes app on a phone, on a notepad beside the bed (this one's good for recording dreams). I find scraps of paper in the bottom of my purse, post-it notes on cabinet doors, and important thoughts scrawled and left as a bookmark. For me, writing is the easy part. The problem is in the compilation because organizing written material takes the most work. Time is needed, patience too...then add in a supportive family, and I have the ingredients needed to follow one tale to completion. 

My bucket list is a tad shorter now because I recently crossed "write a book" off the list. The singular thought that became Stained Like Glass was birthed in my mind eight years ago, and the book has given words to one of the voices in my head. I don't mean to make myself sound crazy, because I'm probably's just the only way to describe what it feels like to speak words for a person who doesn't actually exist. This is the essence of writing fiction. 

Stained Like Glass is a story about a teenage girl named Kady who experiences a life somewhat typical of a modern era teenager, but her story is universal too. Although Stained Like Glass lies within the YA (young adult) genre, it could also easily fall into several other Fiction categories: contemporary, coming-of-age, Christian, and chick lit.

Stained Like Glass has it all. Mystery. Life-changing Decisions. Loss of friendships. A mysterious pregnancy. Parent/Child Relationships. Choices. A Struggle with Faith. Bullying. Injustice. Even a Little Romance. Kady's journey is told in first person narrative, and minus a glimpse found in a few notes, hers is the only POV (point of view) the reader hears. Stained Like Glass has an uncommon format in that it's Kady's dated memoir where she chronicles her thoughts and feelings as well as the events of her senior year. In the beginning of Kady's last year of high school, we find her heartbroken after her boyfriend's betrayal. Socially, Kady is a popular star athlete, but her life spirals downward when her health fails...when she finds out she's pregnant with no recollection of how she got that way. Then, after ridicule from her friends, judgement from her church, and a shunning from her Christian school, Kady doubts her faith. She feels isolated, heart-broken, and misunderstood. There are so many twists and turns in the book, but things begin to look up for Kady when anonymous letters of encouragement from a mysterious Messenger remind her that she's God's masterpiece.

As I ponder how the book will be received, I have to admit that I really don't know. I promise there will be at least one spot in this book that will push a button for each reader. Stained Like Glass pushes my buttons too. If the book becomes nothing else, it will be a great place from which to launch discussion and healthy debate. The book is told through Kady's lens of Christianity and touches at least briefly on social topics such as music, clothes, profanity, underage drinking, consumption of alcohol in general, premarital sex, adoption, God's sovereignty, date rape, denominations of Christianity, abortion, authentic faith, and homosexuality.

An abundance of emotionally charged moments fill the pages of Stained Like Glass. I seem to cry in a different spot every time I read it. Each memoir entry is titled; some are a few sentences in length while other entries cover several pages. Some of the emotional hurdles Kady faces are when she faces the school board members as they expel her or when she finds out her initial prognosis from the doctor. Kady faces tough decisions about her pregnancy, and some of her own family members reject her. Choice and free will are thematic throughout Stained Like Glass, and these themes play out as Kady contemplates God...also when she chooses what to wear, who to have relationships with, and who will adopt her baby. In addition to a minor character's beautiful redemption, Kady herself chooses to forgive the unforgivable wrong done to her.

I personally love Kady's story because there is something new and different to mull over every time the book is read. I suspect more time will be spent thinking about Kady's life than actually reading the words. Stained Like Glass was written to make you think...and to semi-force you to contemplate--if not decide--what it is you believe. 

I hope you enjoy Stained Like Glass, and I look forward to answering questions and fielding commentary about the book. 

Stained Like Glass is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle (digital copy). If you live near me, I'll personally have copies of the book on September 9th and would love to deliver it to you personally. Just let me know. 

In the near future, I will endeavor to write discussion questions for each chapter which will help those of you who are using Stained Like Glass in your book groups.

Thank you so much for the support! God bless you...Kari

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Return to Eden

I'm a thinker. And a feeler. Have you ever taken one of those personality inventories to figure out more about yourself? I've always been hungry for information about myself which is weird in a way because I should be the one who knows myself best, right? Well, I do, but I have to admit there are times when I let myself down like when I forget to put the clothes in the dryer because I was too lost in a book...and times when I amaze myself like when the TV warned "there's tornado activity over Longview Lake...take shelter" but instead of heading to the basement, I head to the porch. We are all different...even identical twins are different.

So...I've spent a while thinking about things, same as everyone else. For someone (me) who doesn't even watch the news, I found my fair share of public service announcements and articles on fb concerning politics, church  burnings, and rainbows. I read them actually, in abundance.

This slant, that angle, his opinion, her plea...and I kept waiting. Waiting for my feelings to kick in. I was thinking about things for sure, but nothing changed for me...nothing was getting me fired up like everyone else seemed to be. My heart went out to the families and communities where God's people were being slain either for their race or religious beliefs...or both, and I join many who pray for the transgressors and murderers to receive what they justly deserve. But the only emotion I felt besides compassion over the past couple weeks was frustration.

Frustration, yes...that's the best word.
Because I'm so tired of the back and forth.

Frustrated when rainbows impose on red and white stripes. And, also frustrated by hateful posts against fellow Americans -protected by the red and white stripes- who found joy in a political victory that was important to them.

Frustrated that the General Lee's flag will be removed (I'm still sort of in love with Bo Duke). And, also frustrated that we still fly a flag to commemorate a time when brother fought against brother.

Frustrated by Christians who judge what we consider to be a "big" sin while spending money they don't have. And, also frustrated that the word "Christian" is becoming synonymous with "bigot."

Frustrated that Christians presume to judge non-Christians in any way. And, also frustrated that people lump all Christians into one category...after they argue that there are "different kinds" of Muslims.

Mostly, I'm tired of being stereotyped...frustrated that harsh, non-loving Christians are part of my assigned persona when I say "I'm a Christian." Because I AM a Christian, one who follows and loves my God desperately...but I'm uniquely different too.

Out of my frustration, some clarity emerged.

Was I fearful when marriage became legal for same-gendered couples? Absolutely not. This is why...I was the same the day after it happened as I was the day before the 5-4 vote. It's simple, people. The calm Spirit of peace within me was the same because God never changes. This is NOT the end of the world, nor is it a utopia of marriage equality.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8

Furthermore, after trying to search for answers within and without, I must admit that I do not have qualms about political marriage equality. Shocker, right? Not really, if you know me. I've never believed that a marriage should be defined politically anyway, and I've been outspoken with a few of you about my belief that the marriage covenant between God and man should not be synonymous with a legal marriage. It's apples and oranges really.

Think about the Garden of Eden, did God have Adam and Eve stand in front of witnesses and sign a paper? No. Their union was NOT a binding legal document that allowed them access to each other's health records and later, custody of Cain and Abel and Seth....what it was...was a promise to God and a promise to each other to help one other through life. Adam and Eve didn't get married in our traditional sense, they made a promise, a covenant, with God.

So, we have two issues here. One, does everyone deserve to marry any adult human being in order to have marriage rights? As an American, yes...because in a political realm...equal rights are afforded to all free subjects within our government. Two, should Christian pastors whose beliefs contradict blessing a union between same-gendered couples be forced to do so? No, they should not...because they too have the American right of religious freedom. Which brings me back to my point that spiritual marriage covenants and legal marriage unions should not be viewed synonymously.

Solution? Churches should return to Eden and to facilitating a covenant between two people who want their union sealed and blessed by God, no paper to sign. And, that settles it. Let legal marriages be done in courthouses. Christians can choose to do both if they want.

Why does this seem so simple to me and yet no one is bringing it up? After all, isn't that the real Christian argument that no one can force God to bless a marriage? God still wants to make marriage covenants with us and our spouse, but then's truly a rare thing to have God in a marriage today...easier to sign a piece of paper and pretend God blesses that.

If anything, all the political changes and turmoil will separate the wheat from the chaff. Because it's not normal to be a Christian anymore. Isn't that the point anyway? To be set, let's start by thinking as much about what's happening in our world as we feel about it.

God has not changed since Eden, we have. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Go Beyond the Bucket

We all get caught up in a trend especially if it's for a good cause.  Whether it's jumping rope for heart health, a 5k for this or that, or some fundraiser for such and such.  Or  having a bucket of water dumped on your head by someone near and dear to you while someone else videos the event.

Usually, what we donate money to is a cause we believe in.  A cause we know something about.  A cause that affects us personally.

I was challenged to support ALS research by my brother who had the awesomest video ever...the bucket to his loader at work dumped more water on his head than any other video I've seen, seriously, the loader usually scoops a load or dirt or mulch that fills the whole back of a truck bed.  I know my brother knows what ALS is and he would love to see the disease wiped out.  So why did I struggled for more than my 48 hours to accept his challenge?  Not because I was thinking of a way to top his awesomest bucket challenge video, but because I actually felt badly about doing it.

I couldn't explain the way I felt.  I talked to my husband about it several times, and he ended up telling me to just donate money instead.  What I ended up doing was picking up my copy of Luckiest Man by Jonathan Eig and rereading the biography of Lou Gehrig...drinking ice water as I read...and donating money.  I couldn't get over the uneasiness of the bucket of ice.  I wanted to get into the hype and show my outward support for ALS research, but I couldn't get there.  I posted a post promising that the video of my ice bucket challenge would be shared once I completed it, but I might never do it.  I'm still thinking about it.

I've known 3 people whose lives have ended because of ALS, none of them family members but all of them friends or relatives of friends.  Here's the some point this ice bucket challenge seems trivial in comparison to the suffering ALS brings.

Imagine one day you hold a vase of flowers only to have it slip out of your hands because you can't grip the vase anymore.  Or, imagine having an itch on your arm but the muscles in your other arm have deteriorated in a way that doesn't allow you to scratch your own itch.  Or, the muscles that allow you to chew and swallow were too weak to...chew or swallow, what then?  The muscle that allows you to take in the very breath you breathe just isn't strong enough to let you inhale.  ALS is not a quick death, and at the end of the suffering when the body is void of muscle leaving skin and is not a physically attractive death.

I'm in no way judging the ice bucket itself.  I'm contemplating the motives of the ice bucket bearer.  Are you accepting the challenge because you're really going to educate yourself about ALS?  Did you actually donate toward the cause?  Did you choose people to challenge who would take the challenge seriously?  Do you really care more about the people who have and will have ALS more than how many views your "Ice Bucket Challenge" video gets?  Do you even know what ALS is, even in general?

I'll tell you what bothered me the most, the thing that got me pensive toward this whole "trend of caring"...when the verbiage went from "I'm challenging" someone to "I'm nominating" someone.  Somewhere along the way, the challenge for ALS awareness turned into a nomination to pour a bucket of ice on your head.  (Not for everyone, just for some)  I asked some neighborhood kids who were beyond excited about being "nominated" to do the ice bucket challenge, "what are you doing this for?"  They said several things (trying to get hits on youtube, trying to get likes on Facebook, trying to get favorites and retweets, and trying to outdo their big sister on her ice bucket challenge idea), but not a single one of the 5 kids mentioned ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, disease awareness...I would've settled for "it's to help with some disease."  Of course, I took the opportunity to give them a 20 minute educational speech about ALS, the people I knew who had the disease, and why it's important to know what you're doing things for instead of just following aimlessly behind a fad or a trend (the teacher in me couldn't help myself).  The ice bucket challenge could've been for anything, any project...they didn't care...they just wanted to get nominated to be like everyone else.

So, do the bucket challenge, but go beyond the bucket.  Seriously, study up on ALS, donate money toward research, and help out families who are dealing with this disease right now.  Love each other beyond the ice water.  Make your life deeper than a nomination or a challenge.

I'll save you some time...Here's some ALS facts from the book and epilogue of Luckiest Man:
1.  Every year, about 5,000 Americans are diagnosed with ALS.
2.  Most patients die within 3 years of diagnosis.
3.  ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
4.  ALS was identified in 1874 by Jean-Martin Charcot, but medical manuals and formal medical courses still did not list it 40 years after that when Dr. Woltman (Gehrig's doctor at the Mayo clinic) started his neurology practice.
5.  ALS involves loss.  Loss of strength, loss of muscle tone, loss of speaking, loss of chewing, loss of swallowing, loss of walking, loss of holding your head up, loss of climbing stairs, loss of breath, loss of weight, loss of life.  It's not all get a few things with ALS: cramping, twitching, and muscle atrophy.
6.  In 1940, a year after diagnosis, Lou Gehrig often asked photographers to prop pencils between his fingers to make it appear that he was busy with paperwork when in fact, Lou could not hold a pencil because of ALS.
7.  Many neurologists still hang photographs of Lou Gehrig in their offices to this day.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Gratitude: It's Bigger Than Being Thankful

Being thankful and having gratitude are similar emotional states, but they're different in the depth of feeling connected to the state of being.  "Thankfulness" and "Gratitude" are synonyms in almost every Thesaurus I found, yet we aren't using the words synonymously when we celebrate a holiday in November or write in a "Gratitude Jounal."

Thankfulness or being thankful usually gets a response like, "I'm thankful for my parents" or "I'm thankful for my food."  When called upon to share what we're thankful for, usually we give a pat, rehearsed answer.

Gratitude goes deeper, and it's more profound, in my opinion.  Whether sharing in a journal or listening to Oprah Show reruns, being grateful dares you to go deeper until you remember the specifics and the reasons associated with just simply being thankful.  "I'm grateful for the way my dad read stories to me at night before I fell asleep" or "I'm grateful for all of the times my mom drove me places before I got my driver's license" are the more specific thoughts one might think of when asked what they're grateful for or if someone read the contents of their gratitude journal.

I'm going to ask you to make a list of the top 5 people who have influenced your life positively, and of course, you'll be thankful for those people...but, I ask you to take it a step further and think of all of the reasons you're grateful for their influence.  Ponder on the things they've done to impact your life and write those things on your list too.  Here's my list of the people who shaped me most in my formative years:

1.  My Parents
2.  My Siblings
3.  My Grandparents
4.  Charline Hampson, caregiver
5.  Dan Cockrell, teacher and coach
6.  "Carrie Ann," my friend and neighbor

Now, you can see that I cheat a little because I give 6 instead of 5, and I have 2 parents and 3 siblings on a single line.  You can do this too, cheat like me, if you have a long list of people to be grateful to for the person you are today.  Also, your list can be longer than 5 people.  The longer you've been alive, the longer your list could possibly be.  If my assignment was to have a list of 14...

7.  William Eric Schooley, husband
8.  My children: Belle, Sophie, and Emirson
9.  My students (4 or 5 specifically)
10.  My Friends (4 or 5 specifically)
11.  My Romanians (2 or 3 specifically)
12.  My Koreans: Grace and Austin
13.  Extended Family (4 or 5 specifically)
14.  My colleagues (2 or 3 specifically)

If I listed out each person's name specifically, my list would be pretty long which is a good thing, but you only need to start with 5 people.  Listing out the specific reasons for gratitude can take time and a lot of thought, but it's a worthwhile exercise for your mind and your can be creative with this part of the exercise.  You can make a list, write a letter, write an essay, make a flow chart, etc.

**Why I have gratitude for Dan Cockrell, teacher and coach, and the influence and impact he used to shape my life:

1.  I appreciate the way Mr. Cockrell coached and mentored me as my volleyball coach, and because of his enthusiasm for the sport, I grew to love every minute I played in high school.  Mr. Cockrell taught me how to play better by showing me what to do, the mechanics of the game, instead of just telling me what to do on the court. I had great confidence in my abilities to play and contribute to my team because I KNEW Mr. Cockrell believed in me.  I wasn't the typical competitor because by nature, I'm not very competitive, but Mr. Cockrell saw that and taught me to care about winning because my teammates were such competitive people.  Making me see that caring about winning because I cared for my teammates was the way Mr. Cockrell led me to reach my fullest potential on the volleyball court.

2.  I am grateful for Mr. Cockrell's love for his family.  Mr. Cockrell wove stories about his wife and kids into our pre-game pep talks, and we felt like he let us into part of his life.  Mr. Cockrell talked about his wife like she's a princess and the greatest person on earth, and myself and the other girls on the team saw something to look for in a future spouse because we all deserved to be someone's princess one day.  Mr. Cockrell brought his family on our volleyball trips, and he put their needs and interests before his own.  His team did a lot of watching whether he knew it or not, and a lot of us saw a family we'd like to have someday.  I'm sure Mr. Cockrell isn't perfect, but from what I saw, he treats his family better than he treated his own self.  I learned that a meek man can be strong and that selflessness is the greatest strength one can possess because it's the strength to control the selfish side of human nature.

3.  Personally, Mr. Cockrell brought me to a closer relationship to God which is one of the best things he blessed my life with.  I learned first hand what Philippians 4:13 means ("I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.") because he started each practice and began each pre-game chat with prayer.  Mr. Cockrell didn't just go through the motions either, he genuinely prayed for us and cared about our teenage girl problems.  He didn't just stop with prayer, we used to sing before games too.  Most of us were also in choir, but no choir or ensemble I've ever heard or sang in ever sounded as beautiful as those pre-game singing sessions.  I can still hear us singing what is now my favorite Psalm, "As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee.  You alone are my heart's desire, and I long to worship thee..."  I catch myself singing it all the time to this day (even now...I just sang it)  :)

4.  As a teacher, I was touched and am grateful for Mr. Cockrell's extreme patience.  He was my teacher for a computer class (before computers were mainstream) on DOS.  To this day, I have no idea how I passed that class.  Everyday, no matter what happened or how many computers crashed, Mr. Cockrell met me and my classmates with a never-ending smile.  His voice, always kind and gracious.  I aspired to be a person and teacher like Mr. Cockrell was to me, one who could touch lives with kindness and graciousness as I teach.

5.  Sometimes, mere words cannot express how a person touches your soul or speaks into your life until you've moved on.  That's how I feel about Mr. Cockrell.  Even though he stood out in the crowd as a person who genuinely loved others and cared for students while I was in school, I could never truly comprehend what he did for me until I became a teacher and had a family for myself.  Mr. Cockrell never won "Teacher of the Year" even though he should've, and he's not famous although everyone should know him...instead, he still serves others and still works in a high school.  I run into Mr. Cockrell on occasion, and he ALWAYS has time for me even if it's just to ask me how I'm doing.  Mr. Cockrell will be rewarded someday, and his reward will be great.

So...that's just an example of what to do after you have your list of people you are truly grateful to for impacting your life positively.  Now, I have one more challenge...LET THEM KNOW how you feel or how their life has touched yours.  My husband's college basketball coach passed away a few years ago, and I remember that he was so grateful for this man's influence on his life...but, when he passed away, it was too late to tell him.  Many days, my husband wishes he would've written a letter just to express his extreme gratitude.  So, start small...start with one person on your list, then move to the rest.  Get into the habit of being full of gratitude instead of just being "thankful" one day or season of the year.

p.s. Your list can go out beyond people your grateful for in your own life, and you could make a list of important influences in your children's lives.  The possibilities are endless once you get started recognizing true, specific gratitude instead of flippantly saying "I'm thankful for my children's teachers."

p.p.s.  Mr. Cockrell is a real person, and everything I say about him is true too.  I'm in this life to practice what I preach, people!  :)