A Word for 2015-2016


I love education.  I am truly and deeply committed to learning as a value, as a lifelong virtue, just like kindness or honesty.

I took advanced placement calculus as a senior in high school.  It was my best AP score, and my college transcripts show that I earned college credit for calculus, as well as a couple more AP tests I took.  I don’t think I use calculus in my daily life; I don’t know what the practical applications are.  And yet, I firmly believe I am a better teacher (and would also be a better real estate agent or nurse or business owner) for having taken calculus.  And French, and chemistry, and my beloved English literature and composition classes.

The specifics of the content don’t matter as much as learning how to learn, learning how to master new things, learning how to tackle challenges.  Learning to value curiosity, creativity, diligence, and tenacity.  These outcomes of a good education are much more valuable than the actual content.

This deeply held belief is one part of the foundation of who I am.

And this is the time of year to intentionally remember who I am.

I am not the one who always wanted to be a teacher.  I have not felt, in these last 10 years of teaching, that I am “living the dream.”  Many teachers say this is their calling, but I don’t.  This is perfectly okay.

My calling is to build community, to establish and nurture relationships.  My dream is to be a force for love and kindness, to leave the world a little better than I found it.

There are many jobs that would be excellent places to express this calling.  And one of them is in the arena of public education.

It’s so very easy to get caught up in the “elementary education” of it all.  Data, reading levels, computation strategies, bubble sheets, pre-assessments, lesson plans, running records, number talks, shared reading, conferring with students, workshop model, project-based inquiry learning…  The district I work for does all of this pretty well.  (Except bubble sheets.  I don’t have anything good to say about bubble sheets.)  But it’s so, so easy to slip into the belief that one of those things, whichever one I’m talking about at the time, is the purpose of my presence in a classroom.

Lots of things are important.  Lots of things can be effective.

But the purpose of my presence in my classroom is the same as my purpose in any other room on earth:  love, kindness, building community, establishing and nurturing relationships.

In a word:  connection.  Nothing means anything without it.

May this be my word for this school year.  May I build a classroom community with deep connections.  May my little classroom family be a force for love and kindness in our school family.  May they take what they learn in my classroom and be little forces of love and kindness in their families and friendships.  May I bring kindness and connection to my relationships with my team and my colleagues.  May I continue to nurture the connections with friends and family through these busy 10 months.

May I return to remembering this word (and all the meaning it holds) whenever I need to.


The theme of my life the past few days has been:  You can’t capture something in a photograph.

But I keep trying.


The heat and humidity of July transform my view into a lush, green, vibrant scene full of life.  Oh, how I love this place I call home!  I’m not spending much time on my deck this summer because a family of swallows has built their home up near the ceiling when I wasn’t paying attention.  I don’t want to evict them when they’re just trying to raise their children.  Full disclosure…also because it freaks me out when they swoop at me.  My tomatoes are dead because I stopped watering them, and it’s worth it to not be dive-bombed by angry bird parents!  So I will happily enjoy the view from indoors until they migrate for the winter.


A couple of months ago, the pastor at my church was describing spiritual gifts, and he described musicians and “conduits of the Holy Spirit.”  He said that when we play or sing, we allow ourselves to be a channel for God’s presence to flow through us into the people who are listening.  That perfectly describes my experience of playing music…not just at church, but so many of my experiences with singing and playing over the years.  I feel a power and divine presence sometimes that I often try and fail to describe.  Pastor Mark labeled it accurately.

Sometimes I don’t know how to choose a church, how to keep committing to be a member of this community of believers week after week.  Sometimes I don’t know how to decide if a point of disagreement is a reason to leave or not.  Sometimes I don’t know if the fact that I respect the pastor and love the ministry outweighs the fact that I am supremely uncomfortable with this church’s stance on one issue.  Sometimes I don’t know if this church thing is for me at all, when I’m really more of a “rogue Jesus follower” and I like it that way.

But when I sit with the view you see here, when the Divine is flowing through me and filling the room with power and presence…it feels like none of that matters.


Oh, this sky.  As beautiful as it is in the photo, it was even more glorious in person.  You cannot easily contain the size of the sky in a photograph, can you?


“Dig deep.  Find your way to your soul.”  –Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl, Beautiful Creatures

I want.  I want more.  Everyone wants.  Money, food, sex, possessions, fun, achievement, admiration…  Want is definitely a part of the human experience.  It’s inescapable.

And yet…

We mostly try to do the impossible.  To escape the wanting.  To quell the craving.  Even to shame that wanting part of ourselves.  To say to the part of ourselves that craves, “This is not acceptable.  This is not good.  I must extinguish this wanting.  I must learn not to crave anything at all.”

This dissonance between who I am and who I have believed I am supposed to be is in my story.  Is it in yours?

Sometimes it’s about food, sort of.  On Sunday morning I had a frozen caramel latte (extra shot, no whip of course!) on the way to church.  Around noon I was on my way to school to work in my classroom for awhile, and I wanted another espresso drink.  I really, really craved one.  I was hungry for more of that milky coffee flavor, and I knew another dose of caffeine would motivate me through a few hours of work when I’d rather be at home.  So I drove through Starbucks and got an iced caramel macchiato.

You would think the voices in my head would say, “You don’t need that.”  Or, “You shouldn’t spend your money on that.”  Or, “You shouldn’t eat that much sugar.”  But they don’t.  It’s my money and my body, and those choices are mine to make.  It’s not that I believed that I was making a healthy or financially responsible choice.  It’s just that guilt and shame weren’t present in the decision making.

No, the voices were actually saying:  “You shouldn’t want this.  You shouldn’t crave this.  You shouldn’t be hungry for more.  Why are you always hungry for more?  Your desires should fit in the boundaries of moderation.”  The guilt and shame is not about the food.  The story of the expensive coffee is one, small, mostly uninteresting part of a larger pattern.  In your story, you might replace the expensive coffee with binge-watching a TV series, or playing a video game, or shopping.  The hunger is human experience.  The object of the hunger is just details.

“I am a hungry woman.  I am hungry for love, for acceptance, for belonging, for meaning.  I am desperate for God.  I am aware of the aching abyss inside me of which many have written.”  –Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself

What if this hunger is not a brokenness, but my true, beautiful nature?  What if God made me this way so that I would not be satisfied with myself, satisfied with this world or with the empty things we find here, but always wanting more?  What if my always wanting more is meant to show me what God is like, always bigger, always more than I can experience?  What if this always wanting more shows me what I am, as an eternal being, as a soul who one day will not be confined in an earthly body?

“What we need is a relentless appetite for the divine. We need a holy ravenousness.”  —Jason Todd

This ravenousness is beautiful.  It gives me a great capacity for life, for love and fun and achievement.  It keeps me moving forward, always growing and changing and learning.  It shows me what my relationship with the divine can be, what I can be.

So I encourage you, as I encourage myself:  Go deep.  Let the hunger be big, let it be beautiful.  Dive into the insatiable abyss and seek what your soul is truly wanting.

Making Space


Television and blu-ray player, off duty!

And so it begins.

Giving up TV for Lent has become the standard by which all my other Lenten practices are compared.  The first year I tried it, I had a gentle yet spiritually transforming experience.  This year, I want to do it again.  I don’t know what God has in mind for me in the next six weeks.  But I know why I want to do this.

The Rules:  When I am home alone, I will not watch TV six days a week.  This will also include DVDs and any form of online video (Netflix, etc.).  One day a week, to be decided upon each week as my schedule allows, I will be free to watch whatever I want.  When I’m on the treadmill at the gym, I am free to watch Netflix on my phone or whatever.  And any sick days or snow days are total exceptions.

Why give up something for Lent?  Everyone who does it certainly has their own reasons.  My purpose is simple:  I want to give up something that I don’t really need but isn’t inherently bad, and watch to see how God fills that space.

Why TV?  It’s not too important or unimportant.  It’s something I use to deal with stress and tiredness and boredom, but not something I can’t get through the day without.  It’s something I enjoy, but I don’t have a deep passion for.  And most importantly, it fills up more space in my life than its value deserves.  TV sucks away my time without my awareness.  It prevents me from feeling (and dealing with) loneliness or boredom.  Its absence would leave a nice large space for God to fill.

Why allow TV one day a week?  I don’t have a spiritual answer.  The truth is, the first year I did this, I ended up continuing to leave the TV off several days a week for many months after Lent was over.  I felt like it taught me how to put TV back in a space in my life that matched its value to me, rather than overtaking my life and my home without me realizing it.  I’m afraid if I go completely TV-free, I will want to do nothing but watch TV when Easter comes.

Why make exceptions for running on the treadmill or sick days or snow days?  Because whatever gets me on the treadmill is worth its weight ten times over!  And if I’m sick enough to stay home, I’m already as miserable as I need to be, and anything that helps pass the time until I feel better is good.  I’m not sure I will make an exception for snow days…but we probably won’t have any more anyway!

How was day 1?  Why, thank you for asking!  ;)  It was lovely, but not life-changing.  The TV and blu-ray player are unplugged until Saturday.  As you might expect, I went a little overboard the last few days, knowing this was coming, and my housework has been neglected.  So day one was mostly about dishes and laundry!

February Goals

If it's going to be winter...it needs to look like this!  So sparkly and bright!

If it’s going to be winter…it needs to look like this! So sparkly and bright!

I’m celebrating a snow day today.  “Celebrating” is the right word.  A snow day is an unexpected holiday marked by extended pajama hours, increased warm beverage consumption, and a high quantity of fiction in the form of TV, movies, and books.  That’s how I celebrate, anyway.  Today on the schedule: Firefly, Serenity, and Castle.  I’m in a Nathan Fillion kind of mood.

A review of January:

-I planned to make myself addicted to exercise by thinking about the good feelings, the immediate gratification of doing some good hard work.  It worked for about a week.  I think I need to combine the “good feelings addiction” with the habits involved in making a workout part of my day without much effort.  I’m also thinking about the practical things that can become obstacles, such as the fact that the gym I belong to is a 15-20 minute drive from my apartment.  I’m not ready to make any changes, but I’m going to keep thinking on this.

-I spent time outside.  It was awesome, and must continue.  The value of absorbing sunshine and seeing nature is immeasurable.

New Goals for February:

-For the body…  Green smoothies!  It’s time to get back on the wagon.  My true goal is to drastically reduce my consumption of sugar and things that turn into sugar in my body, such as white flour, processed potato products, etc.  But sugar is crack, and I can’t just stop.  If there’s one thing I know, it’s that trying to DO something is much easier than trying to STOP doing something.  And the more fresh fruits and veggies I eat, the less sugar I crave.  So in February, I can eat whatever sugary, processed, insulin-producing substances I want…but I will also have a green smoothie.  Every day.

-For the spirit… “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”  I know how much better I feel emotionally when my space is clean and organized.  In fact, an hour of cleaning is sometimes worth more than an hour of sleep.  I love apartment living partially because it’s a small space.  The putting away and cleaning takes a very small percentage of my time.  But it still so easily gets neglected…as with most people, I imagine!  This month, every day, no matter how late, I will spend 15 minutes cleaning up the kitchen, picking up the house, and doing whatever other cleaning and organizing I have time to do.  I have been curious for awhile to find out how far 15 minutes per day would go.  Over time, would I be able to keep up not only with dishes and picking up, but also the housecleaning?  Let’s find out!

“You’re lost in the woods.  We all are.”  –Inara, from Firefly

January Goals

A drizzly December afternoon at Lake Zorinsky.

A drizzly December afternoon at Lake Zorinsky.

After two full weeks off, I’m recharged and eager to go back to work on Monday!  I’m so glad I decided to not bring any work home or go into my classroom to work these two weeks.  Being fully free to live in the moment was more refreshing and healing than “getting caught up” or “getting a jump on things” could ever be.  This rediscovered enthusiasm was well worth any consequences that Monday morning brings.

A quick reflection on my December goals:

-I brought my lunch!  For about two weeks straight it was a Lean Pocket and an orange, but still.  Cheaper and marginally healthier than school lunch or fast food.  I did not every pack all my lunches for the week on Sunday night, but several times I packed 3-4 days worth to keep in the fridge at school.

-As I knew it would be, making daily quiet time was the most important goal of the year.  There is nothing like the constant overwhelm and persistent feeling of guilt that I could have done better and worked harder (otherwise known as just a typical week or month in the life of a teacher – and many other jobs, I’m sure) that make me aware of my need for power, peace, and competence beyond my little human self.  I felt that December was a month of intense spiritual growth and I want more.

New goals for January:

I have thoroughly examined the habits and practices that make my job more manageable, and I intend to continue them:  Leave at 5:30.  Don’t take any work home.  Schedule blocks of time to dedicate to predictable categories of tasks.  Leave the classroom ready for tomorrow.  Use to-do lists in a way that makes sense and is effective.

But here is the cold, hard truth:  I am not superhuman.  I am not omnipotent.  I’m just, you know…me.  I cannot accomplish more in a day than a human being can.  Yet, that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  My humanity is expressed in mind, body, and spirit.  I have a job that engages my mind very well.  I love it, I love being good at it, and I find it meaningful and worthwhile.  And while I want to continue to grow as a professional and improve my effectiveness in the classroom, it means nothing if it kills my body and spirit in the process.

So…for January, my two goals will be directed toward body and spirit.

-For the body:  I must exercise.  I will say it again, I must exercise.  It relieves stress, elevates mood, and increases energy.  And that’s just on the day you do it.  Never mind the benefits of doing it for a bunch of days or weeks or months in a row.  I’ve tried lots of things to make exercise a part of my routine, and still it comes and goes for a few weeks or months at a time.  So instead of focusing on how to make it part of my routine, I’m going to focus on those immediate benefits.  For better or worse, things become part of my routine without effort if they feel good:  Drinking coffee.  Zoning out in front of the TV.  Calling my sister.  Journaling.  Checking Facebook.  Eating something sweet at the end of a meal.  Cleaning up the kitchen before I go to bed.  Obviously, some of these habits are “healthier” than others!  But what they all have in common is that they feel good and those good feelings make me want to do them again.  For the month of January, I’m going to think about and seek out that feeling of having just had a good hard workout.  That warm, cozy feeling of getting home from the gym, taking a hot shower, and putting on clean pajamas.  Or that happy, energized feeling of a morning workout followed by a big cup of coffee.  I’m not going to make rules for myself regarding when or where I exercise.  I’m simply going to try to help myself crave those feelings.

-For the spirit:  I feel it would be beneficial to spend more time outside.  In the daytime.  I never see daylight in the winter, Monday through Friday, except when I’m on recess duty.  (I’m not sure that counts.)  Today I watched Mile…Mile and a Half, a documentary about hiking the John Muir Trail.  I recently read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  I’ve been thinking about a day this past June when I went wandering in the woods at a retreat center near where I live, and made rare peace with all manner of stinging, spraying, biting, or just wild creatures that usually feel threatening to me.  “You and I will both walk in these woods this morning,” I wrote in my journal, “and we will both go away unharmed.”  I’ve been thinking about my experiences hiking in and near Arches National Park in August, experiences that made me brave, made me aware of my strength, and left a soul-deep impression.  Perhaps I am learning what so many people seem to already know:  Being outside is live-giving and soul-nurturing.  One cloudy, drizzly Sunday afternoon last month I walked around the east loop of Lake Zorinsky, 4.5 easy miles of paved trail, wandering as quickly or as slowly as I felt like going.  During the month of January, I want to do something like that each week, whether it’s an entire Sunday afternoon of hiking at a nearby state park or just a 20 minute walk around my neighborhood.  Maybe I will even get to go sledding on a snow day…it is winter, after all!  I will spend intentional time outside, for the simple purpose of breathing the air and soaking up the sunshine.

There is a shift in how I am making my goals.  I am more complex than I can wrap my own mind around.  We all are!  I want to be good at my job, to work for this forward-thinking, innovative school district, to be a leader in my team and to do work that is meaningful to me and matters to my students.  But my purpose on this planet is to be firmly, deeply connected to God, to thrive in this body He gave me to live in and use, to breathe in the air and soak up the sunshine of His creation, and to live in community with my fellow humans, His beloved children.  My career is an expression of part of that purpose.  My career is one beam radiating from the source.  It doesn’t give light; it needs light from the source.  How easily I forget.

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  (2 Corinthians 3:5)  (Also, this clip from a recent message at my church made a huge impression on me.  The whole message was fantastic, if you want more.  Of course, I say this several times a month.  My thirsty soul just needs everything it can get, and the pastor at my church is awesome at scripture-based, Spirit-fed, deep-yet-relevant teaching.)

Hold me fast / ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer  (“Hopeless Wanderer” by Mumford & Sons)

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.  (John Muir)

December Goals


(Long-overdue vacation pics coming soon!  Elizabeth gives you a preview:  “Yeah, I hike.  You see my family?  If my parents, grandpa, and aunties do it, I want in!  Wait…what’s going on with all the air hitting my face?  Why is the sun so bright?  And why is it so hot?  Is this what hiking means???  Take me back to the airport.”)

A quick reflection on my November goals:

-Creating blocks of time assigned to general categories was very helpful at work!  I stayed more on top of things that are important but easily procrastinated, like planning guided reading groups.  I found the “projects and tasks” category particularly helpful.  If I finished prepping the next day at 5:00, I picked something off my running list of projects and tasks and got to work.  It made me feel like I had extra time, once in awhile.  Well, not really extra time, but a smaller negative balance on my time, at least!

-BarNoReMo…needs to be in a summer month!  Fifty pages a day???  What was I thinking?  To be fair, I still have five days left, and it’s the long weekend for Thanksgiving, but so far I’ve nearly finished Insurgent.  That’s it.  I’ll try again another time.  Apologies to the poor suckers who agree to lend me books.

-Eat at the table?  What?  I completely forgot about that one.  Oops.  I knew three goals would be too many.

New goals for December:

Let me start by telling you where I’m at these days.  I’m feeling physically neglected – sleep, fruits and veggies, exercise – and spiritually thirsty.  I’m living one day at a time, just trying to make it through the hours and the tasks.  Sometimes that’s what is necessary, but it can’t be my whole life, week after week, month after month.  I want more than surviving another hour or day.  I need a stronger center, a stronger mind-body-spirit to endure and flourish.

I will continue maintaining my work-related habits:  following a general, loose plan for getting things done; leaving each night with materials prepared for the following day’s instruction; and working 7:30-5:30 most days.  But my two goals this month will both be things that happen between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.

-My first goal is work-related, in a way.  I will bring my lunch!  This shouldn’t be that hard.  But I’ve had way too many school cafeteria, gas station, and fast food lunches in the last couple of months.  I have had maybe 8 green smoothies this entire school year so far, and I think I spent 10 straight days this month without a single bite of anything raw and living.  I feel like death warmed over.  Food makes SUCH a difference!  So for the month of December, I will try packing lunches in batches, all five lunches packed on Sunday night and ready for the week ahead.  Fresh fruit, salads, smoothies, sandwiches, soups…whatever it is, it will be better, healthier, and likely cheaper than the alternatives.

-Second goal…and much more important than any goal I have set this year so far:  Reconnect with a daily dose of quiet.  A daily spiritual practice that quenches a thirsty soul.  For me, that means getting up early, lighting a candle, reading a few verses, and a little prayer journaling.  If the one practice that most drives spiritual growth is reading your bible and thinking about it, then my thirsty soul needs more of this practice.

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