Journeys of the Heart

Sunday, October 7, 2018

THE IN-BETWEEN PLACE


Have you ever felt like you don't fit anywhere?




 I think most of us have felt that way at one time or another. Perhaps you identify with awkward middle school memories choosing a seat on the bus or the anxiety of finding a 'home' table in the high school cafeteria.

But it gets more complicated when we grow up. Especially when things change unexpectedly.


For many years my persona was wrapped around being a teacher and a mom. My children all attended the school where I taught, and I was part of a school family and a professional learning community.


For many years my husband was a successful businessman, and we enjoyed an upper-middle-class lifestyle with globe-trotting vacations and fancy parties. I congratulated myself for being a successful member of society, and I felt grateful to be among the lucky ones.





Over the years almost everything has changed. Our firstborn son died of cancer, our lucrative business perished in the great recession, and our second son died in an accident. Several other health and financial blows followed in quick succession.


I went from being able to critique ski resorts around the country to someone who puts groceries back, puts off dental work, and wonders how I am going to pay my hospital bills.


Now that most of the fancy props are gone, things that used to matter don't seem so important anymore.


 I am in an in-between place.


I am re-assessing my purpose in life, and I sincerely doubt that it is supposed to be to get all of the stuff back that I used to have.


I turn away more and more from what the world expects of me, and I turn my face towards God, asking Him what He wants from me.


Looking at the recent news is a reminder of the huge gaps in this world.


 Sunami and earthquake survivors in Indonesia walk among the rubble that used to be their homes, mourning their dead family members.





A businesswoman critiques which app delivers her food and make-up in a timely manner.


Homeless teens and young adults in our city hope to have a drop-in center soon.


Quarterback Jameis Winston will make $21 million in 2019.


This is not the world that I want to fit into.

But if I hadn't been humbled, I doubt that I would be looking so hard for God's will. Now I strive to be more like the apostle Paul.


Philippians 4:12 

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I was walking my dog yesterday, and I met a woman who also lost a child to cancer. We paused on the sidewalk while our dogs sniffed and we spoke about our children. We had just met, yet we were able to converse at an intimate level about heaven and eternity. 

We were standing in the gap between this world and the next, the in-between place.

I hugged a friend yesterday who had just celebrated one year of sobriety. 

We were standing in the gap between regret and hope, the in-between place.

The in-between place is where the buzz of the world subsides and the voice of God is heard. It's where we let go.

Philippians 4:13 

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength








Tuesday, September 18, 2018

3 THINGS YOU CAN DO IF YOUR CHILD GETS IN TROUBLE AT SCHOOL

I spent more than 30 years as a classroom teacher. I have also raised three children and helped to raise a grandchild. When it comes to misbehaving kids you could say that I've seen every trick in the book.





What most parents don't realize is that the kids know how to work the system better than we do!

I'm writing today to empower the guardians, parents, and grandparents of kids who struggle. There are definite steps that you can take to steer your child towards a better educational experience.

1. Make sure that you have all of the pertinent information.

This is especially key if your child has a disability or a medical diagnosis. The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that your child has the right to equal access to his or her education in the least restrictive environment. You have the right to check your child's file to see if he is being accommodated properly.

Does your child have an IEP(Individual Education Plan)? Is it being followed properly? For example, an ADHD child who has frequent breaks built into his plan is almost guaranteed to act out if this need is ignored.

Do not feel too intimidated to ask for this information to be carefully explained to you. That is what guidance counselors are for. Receiving a form to be signed isn't the same as having someone sit with you and answer your questions.

 Sometimes information may be presented to you in a conference room with 6 or 7 staff members looking at you. This can be very unnerving and it is not unreasonable to request a one on one with a teacher or faculty member that you feel comfortable with. If you are not comfortable with a teacher, you are within your rights to ask for a counselor or administrator to be present.



Is your child properly placed? I recently spent time in a middle school classroom where an extremely bright and fluent student was talking and ignoring the teacher. The teacher was painstakingly going over vocabulary that this child already knew. He was clearly bored, and I knew that I'd get a little stir-crazy myself under those circumstances.

Talk to your child about their schedule and their teachers. Are they getting in trouble in certain classes or in everything? Is there a bully, or a perceived enemy in the room?

2. Advocate as a Team Player

Teachers are teachers because they love kids, but they get tired and over-worked just like everyone else. They sometimes miss things or make mistakes. However, it is much more effective to work with them than to complain about them.

The greatest successes that I have had in turning around bad behavior were when the parents knew what was going on in my classroom and bought in. This involves work on your part, but isn't your child worth it? If the teacher has the child on a point system or behavior contract familiarize yourself with it. Talk about it at home. Set goals. Offer rewards.

If your child gets in trouble, and there is no class system, ask for one. The guidance counselor can provide models.

When a child knows that you and the teachers are working together as a team he is less likely to misbehave.

If you are uninvolved it's much easier for a child to play you and the teacher against each other. Trust me, even preschoolers know how to do this!

This brings me to my third, and most important point.

3. Make Time

If your child were sick, you would take a day off of work to take them to the doctor. So if their behavior is unhealthy, take a day off to observe the classroom. Let the teacher(s) know ahead of time and plan your strategy together.

Younger students will appreciate the attention, but older students, especially middle-schoolers, will be completely embarrassed. This can definitely work in your favor!



When your child gets in trouble it's tempting to just yell and send him to his room with no electronics, but that doesn't get to the root of the problem. Whatever communication system you have worked out with the teacher should be discussed daily with your child. 

Take this opportunity to praise the positive, and process the negative. Hold your child accountable, but do it with love. Expect progress, not perfection.

Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."

From time to time, there may be teachers that you or your child clash with despite your best intentions. Of course, unprofessional behavior should always be reported, but sometimes it just boils down to a personality conflict. In cases like this, don't miss the opportunity to allow your child to experience a real-life lesson. Sooner or later he or she will encounter that difficult boss or co-worker.

Remember, a child is a precious gift that God lent to us for a short amount of time. Don't shortchange your time together. Take back your power as a parent.

Psalm 127:3 "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward."

Are you having issues with your child at school? I'd love to hear about it. Perhaps you have a success story. I'd love to hear that as well. Please comment below.



Friday, August 31, 2018

3 WAYS TO LET GO AND LET GOD

We were sweating and grunting, hauling out stacks of debris from my sister's garage: Moldy boxes of outdated books, floor mats from cars sold long ago, ancient toys from grown children, dusty binders stuffed with paper— a professional development agenda from 1993, coursework from 1981, and receipts from companies that no longer exist. To get to them we had to trip over piles of sports equipment that hadn't seen the light of day in years.




And it wasn't even her stuff. It belonged to her spouse, an aspiring hoarder. "I'm ready to kill him," she sighed, "He never throws anything away." Ah, it was the stuff divorces are made of.

  • The First Way to Let Go: Get rid of things that hold you hostage.

Let's face it, some things are sentimental, but if you find yourself with an unnatural attraction to objects that are 50% mold, there may be a problem. Or if you can't see the floor, and your philosophy is 'more is better' it could be an addictive personality kicking in.

It may be time to ask for help—preferably, from someone with zero emotional attachment to your stuff. That was my role for my sister. Funny, how easy it is to see other people's junk.

Sounds, a bit like sponsorship doesn't it? 

And when we were done, even Harry the Hoarder(name changed) admitted that he felt better.

I can't help but think of the parable of the rich man who wasn't willing to get rid of his stuff in order to follow Jesus.

  • The Second Way to Let Go: Accept circumstances as they are today.

This is harder than dumping physical items. When people tell me that everything happens for a reason I will admit that I sometimes have the urge to slap them. Perhaps the boss isn't getting nicer, the bills aren't going away, ungrateful kids suddenly didn't start sending flowers, and crazy Cousin Batty is still, well—batty. 

But a funny thing happens when acceptance kicks in. We stop fighting and we begin to see new possibilities. When I couldn't change my husband's depression I discovered new places to kayak. I went out on the water and prayed for him. He is slowly getting better and I have really nice biceps for a grandmother.

Me, kayaking the mangrove tunnels near my home in Sarasota, Florida.


When my daughter battled her addiction, we wound up raising a beautiful grandchild for 4 years. I had unlimited access to mentor her and shower her with love. I chose to focus on what I could control. 

Philippians 4:12-13
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Sometimes we don't see the value of difficult circumstances until years later. That unreasonable teacher that I had in second grade, the one who always put me in the corner without a chance to explain, made me a more empathetic teacher. She taught me that children deserve to have a voice.

She also taught me that it's not nice to dump someone's brand-new crayons into the yucky school box full of peeled, broken, and chewed up Crayola stumps.

  • The Third Way to Let Go: Relationships—Contribute, don't control.
You may have noticed that the points in this blog are presented in increasing levels of difficulty. If you were tempted to throw out your significant other along with the used sports equipment in the first paragraph you are not alone!

When a relationship becomes toxic we are the ones who must make a change. When I first became sober my husband wasn't. It became necessary for me to take time out from the relationship. At first, he expected everything to stay the same. It was the beginning of many cold showers for him.

Our Alanon friends have much to teach us about detaching with love and setting appropriate boundaries. The love part is the key. Otherwise, we feed our destructive emotions.

I had to get out of the way and let God deal with him. He became sober in his time, not mine.

The hardest relationships I've had to let go of are the ones I've lost through death, specifically my two sons who died at 14, and 21 respectively.

 The good news is that I can apply these principles to my grief. I can't control the fact that our boys are no longer with us, but I have trained myself to reflect on all of the exciting things we will be doing in eternity.

Most importantly, I share this faith with others. I try to contribute to their faith and hope.

Another way to look at it is letting go of people, places( physical, emotional, or spiritual) and things.

How about you? What are you struggling to let go of?



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

TRUST YOUR MIRRORS: Reflections of God in Recovery


The rent-a-truck dude handed me the keys to a rather large truck, and my sister hopped in beside me.  I instinctively reached to adjust my rear-view mirror, and oops—there wasn't one. Moving vans don't have rear-view mirrors, because they would be totally useless anyway.




Maybe there is a lesson in there somewhere. I know I have spent way too much time looking back on my life, beating myself up for things that are over and done with. Hmmm, maybe that's why they call them moving vans. You have to move forward.

We were moving furniture for our elderly mother, who is downsizing. Along with the truck I had three nephews with young backs. But I wasn't used to driving a truck with no rear-view mirror.

What the truck did have were really useful side-view mirrors. Each mirror has two images, one tracks more distant objects, and the other affords a closer view at a slightly different angle. The idea is to use both images to navigate safely.

But, when I had to glance behind me to change lanes, I wasn't looking directly at the traffic. I was only looking at a reflection of the traffic. I had to trust these mirrors.




God works a lot like that. We don't get to look directly at Him. We have to look for things that reflect His glory.

The Bible is His best reflection. The inspired words are a how-to manual on life. Everything from how to raise your kids, manage your money, and forgive others is covered. 

The problem is I want to stick my head out the window and see for myself. But if I do that I don't have my eyes on the road, and I might crash.


Jeremiah 17:7 


“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him."

The rooms of recovery are another great reflection of God's glory. When I'm feeling utterly devastated and alone, someone else magically expresses my deepest thoughts. Then, they get me to laugh at myself, as only someone in a similar situation can do. 




Bouncing ideas off of fellow believers is another way to have God's guidance reflect back to me. That is like glancing in the smaller mirror that reflects the tighter, more intimate angle.

This is especially true when I have to back up. My sister, Maureen, had to get out of the truck and signal to me so I didn't ram Mom's garage door. At times we all get to those places where we have to reverse directions. We need a friend or a Bible passage to get us outside of ourselves and provide a new perspective.

Then there are those people or unexpected events that cut us off. I was merging onto a highway and an impatient woman decided she just had to cut in front of me because she might have to reach the adjacent shopping center 5 seconds later than she had hoped. 




Since I literally had nowhere to go, those mirrors became my lifeline. The brakes and the horn were extremely useful as well.

We arrived safely at our destination. Prior to our trip, we had taken a searching and fearless inventory of Mom's furniture so we knew what we were keeping and what we were getting rid of. We had 12 stepped mom's house.

I wouldn't have gotten very far without my mirrors.

James 1: 23-24:  "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."

How is God reflected in your mirrors? Comment below, and I will share them in a future blog. 

From the comments, I will randomly select one winner to receive a free copy of one of my books!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

3 REASONS TO TEACH THE BIBLE TO CHILDREN


Eight-year-old Rico sat in a chair with tears running down his cheeks. He had just shared his prayer request at the Vacation Bible School where I am teaching. "My Dad goes to the gas station every day and buys drugs from a man. He promised me he would stop. He even pinky sweared."



Reason #1: Today, more than ever, children need to hear a message of hope.

With the huge family burdens that many children carry, it is not surprising that they act out and have trouble in school. After more than 30 years in the classroom, I have seen the steady decline. They are losing hope, and they feel like they must fend for themselves.

Rico's story is not unusual. But he is more fortunate than many. He is spending his summer learning about God's love, and the power of prayer. 

Jeremiah 29:11

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Rico has heard the story of Paul, who used to be a bad guy when he was Saul. We studied the story of Zacchaeus who was once a greedy man. He has also learned about the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to forgive him. This summer the children have heard true stories of the saving power of Jesus Christ. Rico is learning to place his hope in the divine.

Reason #2: Children need a sense of identity.

Charity's dad is struggling with drugs, and her mom has disappeared. Currently, Charity lives with her grandmother, but she has been back and forth numerous times. Without a stable home life, Charity struggles with her identity.

 She is intelligent, engaging, and has a wonderful sense of humor. She is one of those kids I can engage in light-hearted banter that goes over the heads of others. This summer I have had the privilege of teaching Charity that she is a child of God. While her family dynamics change, her identity in Christ is unshakable. 

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,"

How many Charity's find their identity in social media, gangs, and TV? Without sound, biblical teaching, the kids are going to look elsewhere.




Reason #3: The Bible teaches coping skills.

One day in class we were discussing how the Bible teaches us to be slow to anger. Jacquin, who had been removed from a game earlier for poor sportsmanship, smiled sheepishly, "Yeah, I got to learn to do that."  We were able to discuss his behavior calmly, and I complimented him for his insight.

As Christians, we know that the Bible has a lesson or a story for just about every problem imaginable. But, are we intentionally and purposefully exposing our children to these applications?

It is easier than you might think. There are numerous resources just a few clicks away. Here is one with free materials: Truth for KidsJoin a bible teaching church, and invest in discussion time with your children.

Here is a resource for Christian teens: Christianbook.com.

We plan our meals, our budget, our vacations. We need to plan biblical life lessons for our children as well.


What has worked for you? Share it with us.




Sunday, July 15, 2018

THE REAL VICTIMS IN NICARAGUA ARE THE CHILDREN

Little Ivy lives in Nicaragua. Without money for shoes, supplies, or a uniform, she and her single mom were resigned to the fact that attending school was beyond their reach.


Ivy




That was until Nancy and Unto Me International came along. Unto Me International is a child sponsorship program that helps struggling children and their families in Nicaragua.

In addition to providing school supplies Unto Me International has feeding, construction, and scholarship programs. They repair or build new homes for the children's families who live in crumbling homes with leaky roofs.




As the children age, they have the opportunity to participate in the ministry's Frontline Program. They learn English, study the Bible, and mentor the younger children. If they complete the requirements they are eligible for college scholarships.


Children at Unto Me International's ministry center in San Benito, Nicaragua.


So when John Smoak, the founder of Unto Me International, came to our church one evening our community listened. He brought photos of children who needed sponsors. "When I saw Ivy's picture I fell in love," Nancy says. Nancy has been to Nicaragua twice to visit and to provide missionary support.

During Nancy's last visit, Ivy, who is shy, sweet, and all girl, showed up at the ministry's VBS(Vacation Bible School) dressed in a Cinderella outfit. "She a little fashionista," Nancy smiles. "But her dress-up clothes are very limited. Ivy's room is bare and simple with a bed, a chair, and a dirt floor." 


Nancy hugs Ivy during her mission trip in 2017


Nancy also met Catherine, a Frontline success story who is now in medical school. Samantha, who is studying business administration, also grew up in the program and she hopes to help run the ministry some day. "Unto Me International is sharing the love of Jesus and building a future in Nicaragua." Nancy shares.

For more information click here.

I was supposed to visit Nicaragua this week. Along with Nancy, John, and a small group of missionaries we had planned to bring gifts and do some much-needed construction, painting, and evangelism. But political unrest in the country has postponed our trip for now. As violence rages in the streets, as usual, it is the children who suffer.

When I asked Nancy to share her most vivid impressions she had two: "I'll never forget our visit to the dump. Families were living all around it, and I was shocked by the intensity of the poverty. They were picking through it daily for food and whatever supplies they could find."




Her favorite memory was a salvation moment: "There was this young man who turned his life over to Jesus. His mom was listening in the background while we were speaking to him and to his little girl. First, the girl wanted to follow Jesus, then when he also made the decision, the mom burst into tears. She said that she had been praying for him for years.  It was such a blessing to be part of it."

I wanted so much to be a part of it this week. I was to bring gifts for 3 children who are being sponsored by community groups at our church. I was eager to be part of a program that doesn't merely give gifts and temporary help, but one that empowers the young Christian leaders of tomorrow.

Galatians 6:2 


Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Now, with all of the political unrest in the country, I wonder how Unto Me International will fare. Will the children be okay? Will they get fed and get to school?

All I can do is pray. I hope you do too.

Have you been on a mission trip? I would love to hear about it.





Saturday, June 30, 2018

REMEMBERING JAMAICAN SOCK WARS

Crouching behind the sofa, I was ready with my arsenal of socks piled in front of me. Suddenly, I leaped up, a rolled pair of socks in my hand, and hurled it towards my 12-year old son, Jarrod, yelling in my best Jamaican accent, "I'll get you, mon!" But I was too slow—a sock ball pelted my cheek, and Jarrod laughed, "No mon, Mom, I got you!"


Like the Jamaican bobsledders, we were warm weather residents doing our own version of a winter sport. Ours was a Florida style snowball fight.

Crawling behind furniture and jumping up like giant whack-a-moles we hurled socks furiously at each other, pausing only to catch our breath and collect our spent ammo for the next round. I always managed to come up on the losing end, but I felt like a winning parent when we'd both end up on the floor laughing. A silly mom and an ADHD son make a wonderful match.

 When our family dealt with separation and addiction, it was hard for our youngest, Jarrod. We released our tension with Jamaican sock wars. I think it started one day when we had watched Cool Runnings and I was doing laundry. And it became a thing, just for my son and me.

I miss you, Jarrod.

It was three years ago on the fourth of July when you had your accident.

While everyone else is watching fireworks this week I'll be avoiding them. They remind me of that night I sat by your bedside. I could see the fireworks from your hospital room. While others celebrated we watched a machine breathe for you. You never woke up.


You always made fireworks in my heart, Jarrod. You were full of action, and energy, and colorful comments. I'm so glad that I got to be your mom. And I'm happy that you are with your brother, catching up on the years you lost.

 I can only wonder about the color and the beauty you see before you in heaven.



While everyone else is watching fireworks I'll smile and cry, and I'll remember our Jamaican sock wars. And I'll think about heaven, where every day is the fourth of July.

 10 And ahe carried me away in the Spirit to ba great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 chaving the glory of God, dits radiance elike a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12    Rev: 21:10-12