May is for Superheroes: The Teacher Homestretch

I’m exhausted.

Last week I had a student ask me if he could play me a song on his nose.

Befuddled, I nodded. They didn’t teach me how to answer that question in college.

He proceeded to place a finger on the side of his nostril and create a rattly humming sound as he “played” me a very unique rendition of Jingle Bells. I stood there in the hallway, questioning my life, and listened. Listening turned into singing as I joined my student in the medley. There I stood in the middle of the hallway, performing a nostril duet to a Christmas song.

Tomorrow is May 1. The official start of the homestretch (according to the calendar based on my opinion and perspective).

Like most teachers, I am looking ahead to the last day of school like it’s a light at the end of the tunnel. A shining beacon of hope that calls me to keep walking as the days feel impossibly long and the list of spring commitments grows impossibly more extensive.

I have reached the point where I would rather pull my hair out than say “Bummer” one more time.

Yes, Timmy, it is a bummer that you tied your shoelaces together and now you can’t walk.

I probably say “bummer” as many times as I hear my own name in one day (70,000).

I’ve reached the point where I have heard about so many lost teeth that when they tell me they lost a tooth, I tell them “I hope you find it” and laugh hysterically at my own joke.

It’s the time of the year that I’m questioning everything:

Can I do this? No, like seriously; is this actually possible?

Will I make it until June 14? Will those around me make it until June 14 having to deal with me?

Am I actually losing my mind or does it just appear that way in every facet possible?

I am so tired. Everything in me wants to auto-pilot the next 30 school days, getting through them with caffeine and a prayer. And while I will use both of those things in excessive amounts over the next month or so, I really want to fight the urge to mentally check out.

As summer break draws near and even as the curriculum winds down, those kids still deserve the best version of me. I think it’s possible to still look forward to summer yet live mindfully over the next 6 weeks.

In many classrooms in my district, we have been focusing on mindfulness with our students. With so many distractions, being present in the current moment is now something that really has to be taught, especially to some of our children who struggle behaviorally.

If I am going to practice mindfulness over the next few weeks, I am able to still be excited for summer, however I can’t be living there.

I can look forward to the pool time without inflating the floats and sleeping on them nightly.

The kids in front of us in May need us as much as they did in September. It may feel like we have nothing left to give: no ounce of creative energy, no ability to write another learning objective, no patience to respond kindly when a student still hasn’t learned an appropriate time to ask to use the restroom.

But the month of May is where the inner-super-hero comes out. Somehow we do it, year after year. We make it until the last day of school, sometimes with sanity hanging by a thread, but we do it.

We are going to make it. We are. The goal I am putting in front of myself is to not wish away each day, because the days go fast. The year has been like a  movie roll: month after month changing the calendar in the front of the room wondering, “How did we get here?”

I don’t want to wish away the years of my life, looking only forward to the next chapter (no matter how needed or well-deserved it is).

Even the day that feels the longest flies by and the years whiz past right along with them;  I don’t want to wish them away.

The weeks that are left, as exhausting as they will be, still have little moments that are going to feed my soul. They will have giggles and “aha” moments and new discovery. They will have dry markers, broken pencils, squirrelly behavior and probably some tears on my end and the students. But we are going to make it because that’s what we do.

Finish strong, stay in the moment and caffeinate regularly. Recommended dosage is 4 cups a day. Superheroes need their fuel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Has Gone

 

On rare occasion I get into the type of mood that can only be described as the “Perfect Storm.” I am overly caffeinated and faced with a large chunk of time to myself (which is why this is so rare) , when suddenly it’s like all the clutter around me becomes unbearable.

All at once, instead of seeing specks of dirt, I see mountains of grime and skin cells and coffee rings. The crumbs on the floor come to life and speak to me, taunting me for eating pretzels in bed again. The laundry I haven’t put away turns into accusing shouts that I am the worst person in the world because I own FAR too many clothes and wear none of them.

The piles around me begin to close in and the room spins and traps me in my own personal nightmare (not to be dramatic).

95% of my life I live in the land of piles.

Piles in my bathroom. Piles in my car. Piles in my classroom.

Piles are THE BEST because you can make things look neat and organized, but truthfully under the stack is an old kleenex, a magazine for 2007, last year’s tax return and 30 days worth of junk mail. Piles are the perfect tricksters to make people think you have things under control.

Every 2-3 months, my roommate will gently move my beautiful piles into my room, forcing me to confront the issue.

Tonight, in that mood, I decided it was time to get rid of everything and anything I didn’t need anymore.  This was project 1 of many, as I simultaneously texted Max that I wanted to open a new credit card and then rearrange the furniture in my room. He is trained to recognize and talk me down whilst in these moods, so he lovingly told me I needed to focus on one thing at a time. So I went after the piles with a fiery vengeance.

I started shredding mail that was lying around, filling up garbage bags of trinkets and broken phone chargers and sticky notes.

It felt so good to get the clutter out- the stuff I just didn’t need that was taking up so much space.

Then I went into my closet and stared at a pile that has been bothering me for awhile.

On the top shelf of my closet sat eight colorful journals, pages filled with the documentation of my life up until about a year ago.

I haven’t journaled much this year; maybe a few pages, and ironically, the last 12 months have been the healthiest, most life-giving, blessed, beautiful redeeming months of my life, yet I couldn’t bring myself to open the pages and begin to write.

They are the stories I have waited my whole life to tell- full of love and growth and laughter and grace- but I didn’t tell them.

This year was the result of surrendering my life to God and submitting to His plan for me. This year was beautiful. But I didn’t write.

This year, I couldn’t bring myself to journal because I didn’t want to remember where I had been.

Those old journals are pages filled with self-doubt, cycles of sin, destructive relationships, life crippling  anxiety, body image issues and wrong decisions.

Part of me thought that opening those pages again would somehow erase the work God has done in my life the past year. I feel SO totally different than the person I used to be, that even the same process of journaling was too close of an association.

So I kept them hidden.

Seeing them up there would many times trigger a physical anxious response in me.

Opening them meant re-visiting a me I wish I never was.

They have been a pile haunting me for awhile.

Those journals represent darkness, but that’s no longer where I am.

I am walking in the light.

Tonight I decided it was time to let them go.

I stretched up to the top shelf of my closet and I lowered the heavy pile of floral journals.

I thumbed through a few pages and immediately regretted it as I flashed back to situations and memories I wanted to forget. I put them next to each other and I began to reflect on who I am now and from where He has brought me.

He brought me from brokenness and restored my heart.

He showered every dark situation from my life with his beautiful, bright light and forgave me and changed me and made me whole.

He gave me a new standard for living, a new understanding of His word and His law, and transformed a heart hardened by fear into one overflowing with His love.

Back then, I wanted instant change  and relief from my struggles, but instead the past  year I  have begun to understand the slow, steady,  painful process of sanctification.

I’m not sure why I kept those journals. I guess I never even considered the idea of getting rid of them. It was my past and I am stuck looking at it and being reminded of it- the punishment fits the crime.

But I am not who I once was. I struggle still and I have hard days. I battle insecurity, but no longer do I live in bondage and fear. Visiting those pages was like reading the words of a stranger. I do not need to keep those memories as proof of God’s redeeming work in me.

The proof of His redemptive work is in every breath I breathe.

I will sing of His glorious transforming power until the day I die, but I don’t have to live  in the past anymore. I don’t have to punish myself with flashbacks in order to measure my growth.

I loaded up the bags of trash to take out to the dumpster. Typically one for pomp and circumstance, I usually would want some dramatic ceremony to celebrate being free from the past and this giant step in moving forward.

But God’s work in me was not flashy. It wasn’t always pretty. It usually didn’t feel like a celebration. It worked into the top layers of my heart until it penetrated the innermost parts of my soul.

I took a deep breath and I flung the bag of journals into the dumpster.

And I walked away.

Thank you Jesus for setting me free.  I’m never going back.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. 

Jenna

 

 

 

**Also, if you are in a junkyard and happen to find a bag of flowery looking journals, please either burn them in a bonfire or turn the plots of the journals into a made for TV movie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Knowns and The Unknowns

Nothing is easier for me than getting stuck in a cyclone of “I don’t knows.” I spin around and around until I am totally exhausted and have gotten no where.

I don’t know why people get into debates on social media. I really can’t wrap my head around this one. To my knowledge, approximately zero people have changed their minds due to someone on Facebook lending a countering opinion. I have read a LOT of online arguments, and not ONCE have I read,

“You know, Steve, all of your statistics, links to other articles and sarcasm have totally changed my outlook on this candidate, so I agree with you now. Thanks! ”

I never know how my laundry will turn out. I have made it this far never separating colors and whites  or paying attention to what the buttons say, and I love the rush of adrenaline of mixing them and hoping for the best. #wifematerial

Half the time, I don’t know what I’m doing. Today, I drove off from school with a tub of scissors and a tray of papers and books on top of my car. Feeling fresh in my 2013 Honda Civic, windows down and going a smooth 14 mph, I see a student sprinting after my car screaming my name. As soon as a maintenance truck signaled for me to stop, the student reached my car and breathlessly said,

“I just knew it was you! I didn’t even have to see you! I told everyone, “Oh that’s just Ms. Wiley….she always does this.” (A good reputation is worth more than gold).

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More seriously, I don’t know the answers to some of the deepest, most profound questions in the world.

I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. I can’t answer that for you.

I don’t know everything about my faith.

In fact, there are times I feel like I have more questions than answers.

 

I don’t know how I have done some of the things I have done in my life. Even as a mature believer, I have made choices, said words and gone down paths that led to destruction. I can’t explain how, with Jesus living inside me, I am still capable of choosing darkness over light.

 

I don’t know what will happen if *fill in the blank* gets elected. I’ve read a lot of opinions on this in Facebook threads, but I just don’t know.

There is so much I do not know.

Being a follower of Jesus but having a broken, anxious mind over unknowns is something I have been trying to reconcile.

Much of my time and energy is spent balancing what I do know with the feelings of doubt and uncertainty  relating to the unknowns.

I live in this space between certainty and uncertainty. The pendulum swings back and forth, constantly battling for weighted space in my brain and heart.

The known and the unknown.

They wrestle tirelessly.

Which will get the upper hand in this moment?

Which will I allow to speak into my life louder today?

The known or the unknown?

There are so few things in my life that I can count on as ‘knowns’, because almost everything in this life is out of my control.

Literally anything can happen.

The knowns are precious to me. The knowns are my saving grace when the what if’s are circling and the unknown spin cycle is on “heavy load” (and a mix of colors, whites and hand wash only).

A few things I do know:

  1. The Word of God is true

The words of the Bible bring life.

I have seen it with my own eyes and felt it in my spirit.

My soul can only be deeply satisfied by one thing alone.

If His Word is true, then God is good. God is faithful.

I cannot explain exactly how He will use cancer for good. Or how He brings light out of our darkest places. But He will. And He does.

Because He is good. And amongst the death and fear and heartache, I know He is good.

I’ve tried being cynical. I’ve been intellectual about it. I’ve doubted and questioned and cried.  I’ve been logical about it.

But there is nothing logical about the love of God. And the love of God is the message of the Bible.

Because all the things I do not know or understand about God are microscopic compared to the vast, glorious love and immeasurable grace I come back to every time.

If you don’t know this love, find it in His arms. He is good.

2. God can and will turn my messes into masterpieces.

I have made some giant messes in my life trying to be in the driver’s seat.

Instead of obsessing over every hardship, decision or past mistake, what about throwing my hands up and understanding that He WILL have His way in me. No matter how much I think I am messing it up. If my heart is turned over to Him, I can’t mess it up. He will make sure of that.

God has redeemed my messes and used my failures. I have been humbled before God as I, once again, lay down what I thought was best for me and allow Him to pick up the pieces gently and lovingly.

He has used my story, my mistakes, my weaknesses to point others to His love through the ability He has to restore them in His faithfulness.

3. This is not all there is

This pain. This heartache. This brokenness.

This is all temporary.

When I put into perspective that this life is just a drop in the ocean, my priorities seem to fall back into place. For those who love Jesus, there is better and there is more and there is hope.

Hang on. Press forward.

There are ten trillion unknowns in this world. So much uncertainty and fear.

But if what God says is true, if you truly believe the promises of His Word- the promise that He loves you and He will fight for you and He will let nothing snatch you from His hand- how small, even if large in number, do those unknowns become?

If I believe the Word of God is true, His strength can shine through my weakness, and that this life is not all there is, what uncertainty even stands a chance?

The love that I know is more than enough to go to battle against any unknown that fights for brain or heart space.

I just know it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Fellow Women: 10 Times I’m Not Judging You

“Don’t judge me.”

I say it. My friends say  it. Strangers jokingly say it to each other in passing  (at least I did this week to an elderly gentlemen as he caught me opening a bag of chips in the grocery store parking lot).

Although I am sure this isn’t just a “women’s issue,” I do find it more apparent amongst my own kind.

Most of the time it’s in fun and harmless, but I feel even in the most lighthearted of times, it can reveal a deeper insecurity about ourselves as women and how we want others to see us.

In a society of social media highlighting the very best of others’ lives, we are stuck examining our own monotony, our own mess.

It’s easy to judge ourselves when we are comparing the grind of our daily life to only the smallest, most edited portion of another.

So I propose that we stop using the J word. To ourselves. To each other.

So let me tell you all of the times I am not judging you.

I am not judging you for your messy house. Listen, I can barely take care of myself. It’s exhausting and I have no one to blame but me. Honestly, how does anyone keep a kitchen clean? I make half a sandwich and it’s as if Subway opened a free lunch buffet on my counters open to the public. It’s comical to me when my friends with multiple kids apologize for their mess. I think to my little apartment and how you can’t even see the floor of my closet most days.

I am not judging you for finishing your entire plate of Fettuccini Alfredo and then ordering dessert. Once a colleague gently told me that  she couldn’t take me seriously with the chocolate all over my face. (I had gotten myself into the chocolate fountain that day.) I once snuck into the staff lounge after hours and ate sheet cake in the dark. I double fist donuts on the reg. Need I say more? Get on with your Pasta loving, self.

I am not judging you for your misbehaving kids. I don’t have kids of my own, but I am a teacher. You can be the best parent, grandparent, teacher, or babysitter in the world, but something in the air of a grocery store, restaurant, or any public place in general can turn children into monsters. I don’t think you’re a bad mom or a bad teacher or a bad caretaker when your 7 year old does his best impression of a 2 year old throwing a tantrum. I get it.

I am not judging you for binge watching your favorite show on Netflix instead of doing something “productive”. Because I was once so emotionally caught up in a show that I prayed for the characters before bed. I have seen the entire SERIES of the Office at least 3 times. Do you know how many hours that is? Last night I ate Sugar Snap peas, pretzels, and spoonfuls of peanut butter all in bed while watching Friends. Don’t get me started.

I am not judging you for wearing sweats to the grocery store. There is a reason  there is no documentation of some of the outfits I have worn in public. My running errands attire is “Homeless Chic.” Your sweatpants are classy compared to some of the outfits I have gone out of the house in.

I’m not judging you for not working out. Because yesterday, although I did eventually make it to the gym, I sprawled across my bed audibly protesting the even thought of moving. I yelled to my roommate across the apartment, complaining about my plight of missing motivation. I literally, at one point, rolled around on the floor in agony at the mere thought of moving. Do not tell me that you not working out is more shameful than that embarrassing show I put on.

I’m not judging you for not being organized. I am a teacher and at end of the year I needed to hand back approximately 1,350 papers that I forgot about. They were in no order and represented about 20 classes of students. I literally threw them in a big pile on the floor and the students went “scuba diving” to find their names. Kids were on their hands and knees, slipping on papers and searching for their names.The papers stretched out almost from wall to wall. Don’t talk to me about not being organized. I need an intervention.

I’m not judging your for your emotional meltdown. I have cried in the arms of people I barely knew because they caught me at the wrong time. I’ve started sobbing over tiny details because they remind me of bigger ones. We don’t all have it together all the time. Most of us just try to keep it together sometimes.

I’m not judging you for your relationship problems. Don’t feel embarrassed about the issues you face in your relationship, with your children, in your friendships or your marriage. I’ve been there (minus the whole married with kids one #workingonit). Anything you have been through, I bet I can relate in some aspect. I have sat at my work desk and sobbed during my lunch break over breakups. I’ve muddled my way through a horribly wrong relationship in search of finding the right one. Your problems aren’t worse or crazy. They are normal.

So maybe, just maybe, there may be some areas of my life where I have it all together right now. You may have caught me during a week where my apartment is clean, I washed my hair regularly and chose broccoli over french fries.

But your large plate of pasta has been my half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts in one sitting.

Your messy kitchen has been the trunk of my car that houses enough random goods to provide the essentials of life to a small family.

Your insecurities about how you look in leggings is me avoiding going to the doctor so I don’t have to see how much I weigh.

Your tears have been my sobs.

Your unbelief has been my hours of questioning.

Your mess is my mess.

There is beauty in all of the messy, imperfect parts of you and in your life, me and my life.

Let’s not be afraid to be real around one another. Real is good. Real is powerful.

I’m not judging you.