Posted in Living Peacefully

My Call to Courage

I just wanted to hide out. That was basically my career goal two years ago when I took my current position as a Pre-K teacher at a nationally accredited daycare. I even remember saying, “This will be a good place to just lay low for a little while.” I’d been hurt or burned or whatever you want to call it just one too many times in 3 years. So I took a job for which I was eminently overqualified. It seemed kind of like my penance for being a failure at things I love to do.

It’s been a long two years. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve made some wonderful friends. I’ve given it 100% every day and I’ve been successful. But I haven’t been fulfilled. I haven’t really “shown up” the way I am capable of. Then a few months ago I stumbled on someone that I probably should (and would) have had on my radar if I was really living life.

God bless Netflix!! After binging for a few hours on some mindless sedative to desensitize myself to the horrors of daycare, I finished my show. The next recommendation/preview was for Brene Brown’s The Call to Courage. I had only gotten a few minutes in when I realized this woman has been stalking me. More research would only convince me that it is truly creepy how she nails my dysfunction.

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The more I listened to her and read her work, the more I came to terms with the failures I have endured. She described my pain and act of receding into myself better than I could have ever done so. If you haven’t read Rising Strong or watched her Ted Talks I highly recommend them.

***DISCLAIMER*** If you aren’t a big fan, that’s fine – we can disagree. However, I’m not interested in debating any of her research or theories. I’m feeling pretty confident for the first time in a long time so don’t ruin this for me.

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Doing this work and owning my “difficult story,” has been a life changing event for me. So much so that I am stepping out again to lead, dream and minister to others.

I’ve accepted the position as Director of Main Street Preschool at First Baptist Church of Tucker, GA. This half-day program is celebrating its 50th year of ministry to Tucker and the surrounding area. I’ll be training, caring for and mentoring around a dozen teachers. I’m beyond excited to finish my time in my current position and start this new chapter of my life. Now let me answer some questions…

Are we moving to Tucker? Nope. It’s going to be a 30 mile commute one way. You heard me right. 60 miles round trip.

So this must be a pay raise right? Wrong again. I’m cutting back to part-time and accepting a 1/3 pay cut.

Have you lost your mind? I really don’t think so. Sometimes something just feels right and now is one of those times. We’ve always been committed to living authentically and simply. While I’ve been embracing part of that equation, I don’t think I’ve really been practicing my values because I’ve definitely been choosing comfort over courage. Hiding out to prevent being hurt again hasn’t worked. If anything, the hurt and shame of failure has putrified. Only by working through the story, owning it and risking the arena again can I be made whole.

I’m sure we’ll have more exciting things to share as we enter this new chapter of living courageously and authentically. I appreciate your support and prayers as I begin this new part of my story.

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Posted in Living Peacefully

A Dream for Sparrows

Dreaming is dangerous business. When one dreams, a risk is taken to open the mind and heart to possibilities unknown. Dreaming most usually requires embracing uncertainty. And dreaming can mean failure. The last time I took a chance on a dream it ended in failure.

For this reason among others associated with it (unwrapped through years of counseling) I have made it a habit not to dream. Instead, it had become my goal to be one who would “live quietly in the land.” (Psalm 35:20) Living a simple, low profile life seemed the safest option for a soul so scarred and afraid. I took a simple job that I am most over-educated and over-qualified for. I work an hourly wage with no benefits and live hand-to-mouth. I abandoned all ambition and goal-setting in favor of subsisting on as little as possible in order to draw as little attention to myself as required because dreaming proved too dangerous a proposition.

But something has awoken a part of me I thought long dead. Recently, as I have been driving my bus full of children along the semi-rural west Cobb County roads in the early morning, I find myself lost in a dream. Maybe it is due to the picturesque landscapes or just due to necessity to drown out the din coming from the seats behind me. I tend to think it happens when I become focused on what I am teaching when I return to the learning center where I instruct Pre-K students until early afternoon.

As the sun is dawning on grassy fields, I try to recall the day’s lessons and skills. My favorite times have become when I am teaching our units on conservation and environmental awareness. I find myself imagining being able to go further than the constricts of my classroom and curriculum allow. I wonder what it would be like to teach these things on the land, alongside creation. And in my mind, suddenly, I am teaching “creation care” together with conservation.

I imagine a group of rowdy four and five-year olds wrist deep in a worm farm. I think about what it would mean to have them compost their food scraps from snack and lunch – or put them aside to feed them to goats, sheep and a pig. I envision teaching them where their food comes from and how to care deeply for that place. I can picture guiding them through planning, cultivating, planting, caring for and harvesting vegetables. I realize in my mind all the real life skills I would be teaching as I did this thing. Before I know it, I am driving the bus through the center’s driveway and it is time to stop the dream.

I still know that it is dangerous to dream. I am happily embracing living simply, quietly  and peacefully in the land. However, day by day I feel myself detaching from reality more often so that I can re-enter this place of my imagination. In that place, I feel peace, happiness and purpose. There is not really an “ambition” attached to this place – only that it be a place of safety where “even the sparrow has found a nest.” (Psalm 84:3)

Very recently, we found a small nest snugly constructed in the corner of our raised herb garden. In it we found five round, pink eggs and a sweet mother bird who has chosen our place of refuge as her own. While some might find this a nuisance, we took it as a high complement from creation that we had been found worthy of such honor. She trusts us. We must be quiet enough, simple enough, peaceful enough for her to find faith in our space.

It feels as if the world at large needs more places for sparrows to find a nest. Maybe it isn’t wrong to dream of becoming that place.

Posted in Living Peacefully, The Autism Gospel

Unmet Goals: An IEP Story

Our Individualized Education Plan turns 15 years old this year. While most of my time now is spent looking toward our immediate future and how we will transition out in just 18 months time, I always get reflective after our annual meeting. This year was no different.

I was surprised to find, as we were cleaning up old language and editing parts of this adolescent document, that many of our goals are no longer needed. We no longer need mathematics goals. His writing goal that was once in place because of such weak expression is obsolete because his teacher notes that he now “writes with voice.” Because he is reading at or above grade level, reading goals could also be deleted. In general, Noah’s 3.5 grade point average has marked him as a success of the Special Education System. This child who was once predicted to never read, write, or speak is now expected to receive college scholarships.

But some of our goals still go unmet. Objectives are still in place to assist with general anxiety in the classroom. Articulation goals may stay in place for Speech because the “r sound” still eludes. And the ever-daunting Social Skills Objectives remain as they have for longer than I can remember.

Among them, “Noah will initiate conversation with peers….”

As the team honestly assessed Noah’s lack of interest in this area, one of his teachers spoke up with a story that still has me pondering. It seems that not long ago Noah witnessed an accident in the hallway. One of his peers accidentally tripped another student as they knelt in the hall to adjust their books. The boy who fell became immediately angry and moved toward the other with raised voice, ready to fight.

Noah’s teacher said, “Before I knew what was happening, Noah stepped out between them and began to try and diffuse the situation. Noah said, ‘We all need to relax. He didn’t do this on purpose. I saw it; it was unintentional. This was just an accident so we don’t need to fight about it.’”

Noah the Peacemaker, unwilling to “initiate a conversation with peers” (a.k.a. small talk), is completely willing to speak into the middle of conflict to stop violence and make amity. Everyone smiled and a silent understanding was reached that perhaps this unmet goal wasn’t the tragedy it seemed.

Noah will speak up when it is necessary. He will speak truth. He will speak reconciliation. He will speak harmony. He will speak resolution. He will speak compromise. He will speak peace.

But he doesn’t do small talk. This goal remains unmet. And I think I am good with that.

Posted in Living Peacefully

Proverbs 30

Let us ask no more of this world

Or it’s institutions and empires.

Let us only seek the One who

Gathers the wind and wears the waters as a garment.

 

Let that Truth be our only shield and refuge

From this place of exile.

We will speak of it carefully but boldly,

Our hope and redemption.

 

Let us only ask that we be faithful,

So we may know neither riches nor poverty.

Together, let us believe that our daily manna

Will sustain and nourish.

 

In this place of humility we can trust

And be faithful to the promise of Resurrection.

Our poverty will keep us mindful of the needy,

That we may be His hands alongside them.

 

Let us speak Shalom into our lives as Enough,

So that we will not consume mindlessly as

The grave, barren wombs and drought blighted land.

Let us not burn through our lives thoughtlessly like fire.

 

Instead, let us dwell on the splendor of Creation

And on our part in its care.

Let us be given to one another fully,

Even as we are fully known.

 

Let our lives always be attentive to the

Smaller things.

Allowing mustard seeds, sparrows,

Bees, and hummingbirds to occupy our ambition.

 

In this way we will live in the palaces of kings.

 

 

Posted in The Autism Gospel

Can You Drive?

I never really knew how old she was. I never wanted know her like that even though no part of her inspired fear; her gentleness was evident to all. What my sister and I did know was what we had been told – that she was “special,” and “more like a little child.” We spoke to her each Sunday at church, more because of her friendliness than our manners. Once we grew to be teenagers, the topic of conversation would begin to follow a single thread for the remainder of our years together. On The List of Things I Wish I’d Known to Do, stopping to really spend the time with her makes the top ten.

Her name was Sadie and she was probably about 10-15 years older than me. Through her thick glasses she would scrutinize us happily as she made conversation each Sunday after services. I confess that sometimes we avoided her, not having any experience or education about how to communicate with people like Sadie. But when I approached driving age, she sought me out each week to ask the question that seemed to burn in her consciousness: “Can you drive?”

I would answer according to the circumstances of the time. “No,” before I was permitted or licensed, and then “Yes” later. This was her conversation starter each week: “Can you drive?” I remember thinking that this must be all she knew to talk to me about. I now know the reality of how defining the answer to that question is for people like Sadie.

When I began to accept all the things my own child, who is affected by disability, would probably never do, driving was at the top of the list. This isn’t just because it is another rite of passage for young adults, which I would miss out on. It wasn’t until I started my life as his advocate that I understood how the ability to drive delineates every opportunity open to them for their very precarious futures.

Driving means potential employment, independent living, a bank account, and all the amenities thereof. But not being able to drive, well, the options suddenly narrow to a trickle. It means living near or with family. Or, it can mean living in a city center so you can have access to public transport. For some, the easiest answer is early placement in a group home with employment in a sheltered workshop. The answers of how to live as a person with a disability when you can’t drive are varied (and possible), but our potential was definitely limited.

My sister and I used to laugh on the way to Sunday afternoon lunch at the Piccadilly Cafeteria as we chanted, “Can you drive?” Then it seemed like such a silly question. But on this side of life, I hear her saying “Can you drive? Because I can’t and it has changed everything for me. Tell me about driving. Is it fun? Do you like it? Can you go places? What kind of places do you go? Would you take me?”

When Noah announced that he wanted to learn to drive because he knew it would be important to being an independent adult, we realized that he knew the limitations he would face without a driver’s license. It’s been tough. It’s a very social activity (more about this later) that taxes his mental muscles each time he gets behind the wheel. But we’re 8 months into the process and Noah is driving.

But each time he gets behind the wheel, I see Sadie’s giant smile and kind pair of eyes hidden behind thick glasses. I see her awkward stride making her way up the aisle, or through the streets of our town. And I hear her plaintive plea – “Can you drive?”

And I whisper, “Look Sadie, we can drive.”

Posted in Living Peacefully

Resurrection

What was once shiny and beautiful

now is consigned to scrap,

the discarded leavings of achievement’s better way.

Wasted and abandoned she waits,

having been relegated to an obsolete residue

only success can leave in its wake.

With nothing of value to offer,

forsaken by her trade,

she is without purpose and forgotten.

 

Oh for a moment when

she might be found!

Reanimated with purpose,

recreated to hope again for usefulness,

she could shine out a

promise remembered.

Again loved and made new,

she might be redeemed and restored.

 

Covered with rust

she awaits The Resurrection.

Posted in Living Peacefully

Ecclesiastes 7

for Jason

 

Let us make a life together.

Now at the end of all ambition,

Pride, and shame

Let us make start as we should have done.

 

Let us choose wisdom

Looking not at former better days,

But instead choose an inheritance

Free from the anger of what might have been.

 

Let us not forget our sorrows

But know them, so that we can

Be made rich by sadness of countenance

That will make our hearts glad.

 

Let us remember our riches as we

Dig and plant in simplicity,

Counting ourselves fortunate at the plunder of

Our collective and painful sagacity.

 

Let us listen as the Towhee calls us to

Nobler paths seldom trod

When we were seeking ourselves in

Accolades, acumen and praise of humankind.

 

Let us never pass a day without noting the

Growth of our hands’ simple work

Or the nest of the Warbler

Which needs our protection.

 

Let us be thankful for crooked paths

Traveled with the best of intention

Leading us to places of

Quiet and peace.

 

 

Posted in Living Peacefully

Making Small Talk & Neighbors

 

They pulled in late on a September Saturday afternoon. The house next door had been vacant for months, and we were glad to see a truck roll up the steep driveway that is a twin to our own. It was our energetic Labrador that made introductions, immediately tearing across the short space between houses and lapping the truck in joyful circles. My husband apologetically introduced himself (and Maxine) and welcomed them to our neighborhood.

It was apparent from the dress of the mother and older girls that this family was Middle Eastern. In friendly, broken English the father introduced himself, his wife and children, and shook Jason’s hand. It was a small start to what would become an intentional relationship. It was just small talk.

A few days later, Jason noticed them piling trash at the street. Since we live outside the city limits, we have to pay for a trash service. Day after day, they moved trash from the street to their home, not understanding why it wasn’t being picked up. Jason went over, motioning and mimicking through the language barrier until he made sure they understood to call the number on our trashcan for service.

When I asked Jason how the conversation went he replied, “I just don’t want him to think we’re those kind of people.” He wanted them to know we cared, but the language barrier was so great and our conversation so small.

We noticed the mother or father walking the youngest child, who is around nine or ten, to the bus stop each morning. They would watch furtively over their shoulder and stand several yards away from the other children who were waiting for the same bus. Again, in the afternoon, one of them would wait at the stop – within eyesight of their house – to retrieve her.

It wasn’t until around Halloween that we realized their apprehension was for good reason. While working in our garage one day, I noticed some boys headed up their driveway. I thought it was unusual, but just figured they were visiting the youngest girl. Soon, I saw the boys run across my yard as if the devil himself was after them. This happened a few more times during November, until one day around Thanksgiving I heard one of the teenaged daughters step onto the porch and scream until the boys were out of sight. I ran into the yard to help, but she was distraught and the boys were gone. That day, Jason and I resolved to be the kind of neighbors they needed.

Months passed with only waves and smiles across our yards – but we were far more intentional about it then we’ve ever been before with other neighbors. Then one afternoon my doorbell began frantically ringing. I opened it to find the youngest daughter, distraught and in tears. She’d gotten off the bus to find no one at home and couldn’t get in the house. She wouldn’t come in, but did accept the use of my cell phone. She called to learn that her parents would be some soon and had gotten stuck in traffic. We sat on my front steps and talked about her school, riding the bus, and what she had for lunch at school. Just small talk until her parents arrived.

The next time her parents were gone when she got home, she didn’t ask to use the phone but just sat and talked with me. I told her that I was glad she came to our house when she needed help. She replied, “My parents say your house is a safe place if I have trouble.” I was glad our small talk was working, but I wasn’t sure if they really understood just how much we were glad they were our neighbors.

Then we got the sign.

We put out our sign on a Sunday afternoon with little fanfare. That evening we heard some noise in the yard and looked out to find our neighbors and many of their friends taking pictures of our sign with their phones. Honestly, we just weren’t sure what to think about their interest.

When the doorbell rang the next afternoon, I assumed my friend had gotten off the bus to an empty house once again. When I opened the door, I found two of the daughterstreats with radiant smiles. With arms extended they offered me homemade pastries and this explanation, “We made this for you to say thank you for the sign. We want you to know what it means for our family that you are telling the neighborhood you are happy we live here. These are from Egypt, our home. We made so you know we are glad to be neighbors. We have never seen a sign like this. Why do you have it?”

I told her that we belong to a peace church and that many of us were putting these signs in our yards. When she asked what I meant by peace church, I went on to tell her that we believed in truly loving our neighbors in word and deed. Then, I told them what we believe following Jesus means. They are Muslim, but they smiled and said, “This is what our world needs now.”

We continue to make small talk. Last weekend, they asked us to get their mail while they are out of town in May – at least we think that is what they said.

We’ve made small talk. It’s a small sign. These have been mustard seed moments. Loving our neighbor in small ways that make a big difference, at least on our street.