Thursday, May 30, 2013

Slowly But Surely....

Eight weeks ago I started on a journey........

A journey to a LESS STRESSED ME.........

The road has been brightly lit, but a bit bumpy and full of many caution and stop signs.

When I started on the Stressed-Less Living Bible study I really expected to learn ways to eliminate or wipe out the many stresses in my life, but I have discovered something much greater than that. I have discovered that involving God more in my daily life, my daily thought processes, and my decision making will not necessarily ELIMINATE my stresses, but it will better enable me to deal with them.

On Sunday, my minister delivered a sermon based on Romans 5, verses 1 through 11. What he had to say spoke directly to my heart. I have no doubt that God had delivered the message to him at just the right time for me. It meshed very well with what I had been studying in this Bible study.

Any doubts that I might have had flew fleetly away when I opened the daily Bible reading on Proverbs 31 today and discovered that it was the EXACT SAME TEXT. When I sat down in front of the computer this morning, I had asked the Lord, "Please help me know what to discuss in my blog this week." In that one moment, as I looked at the screen, I knew that God had sent me the text for my weekly post.

You see, this passage deals with patience, experience, and hope.

Romans 5
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

I had been suffering through my stress...... through my life for a very long time. There were points during the last year especially when I just wanted to say, "Let this crazy bus STOP! I want to get off!" I had cried out to my friends, my family, and my colleagues, but it took a lot of suffering before I finally discovered this Bible study and learned that what I really needed to do was cry out to GOD! Within the last 8 weeks, I have learned that only God can provide me with the inner peace that I so badly craved.

At the same time, I also learned, as Romans 5 verse 3 says, that my suffering produces perseverance. All this time I think I wanted God to eliminate my stress, when what I really needed to do was use that stress to develop my stamina- my ability to deal with stress. Because that is what will ultimately produce my character and therefore- my hope.

That is where I now stand. I stand in hope-

Hope that with God's help, I can better make choices about where to delegate my time and energy-

Hope that I can continue to be helpful and a hard worker..... a provider for my family.... but that with God's help I can face my stress more calmly simply because I have involved him in the process.

I am still on my journey.

It is going to be a long one, but if I continue to take one day at a time. I WILL slowly, but surely, reach my destination- a TRULY Stressed-Less ME!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's a Small World......

My daughter just returned from what will definitely be one of the high points of her life.

Last Tuesday, she and several classmates, along with some dedicated teacher "managers", headed out to Destination Imagination Global Finals. DI, as the insiders call it, is a competition event that encourages creative thinking and application of the problem solving process. Students from across the globe compete at local and regional levels, advancing to the global or international event that closes out the year. The global competition is held in Knoxville, Tennessee and lasts for a full week.

Kari left us on Tuesday of last week with a large dufflebag full of clothes, some snacks, a camera, several rolls of duck tape, and lots of expectation. (That is Kari in the pink and blue duck tape dress in the picture below.)

While at the event, she met students from across the globe. Her team was matched up with a "buddy team" from Shanghai, China and the other team from our school was paired with a team from South Korea. They got to eat food from other nations and learn about other cultures. More importantly, they got the opportunity to develop one-to-one relations with people from other countries.

Students came back to the little rural community we live in with a much broadened understanding of the world. They saw and heard firsthand what life was like halfway across the globe. I doubt that any of our students will ever get the opportunity to actually visit China or South Korea or any other countries that were represented at this event, but this week allowed the countries to come to them. Now, when our students sit in their English or social studies classes and discuss events that occur in these locations, they should have a more personal context to help them understand the lessons being taught.

The Earth may be 7,926.41 miles in diameter, but Destination Imagination just "shrank" the world for these students. The event itself may have lasted only one week, but the effect that the experience will have on my daughter and the other students who attended is likely to last for a lifetime!

Students pin trading- This was one of the things they enjoyed most. 

Here they re-enact one of the "challenges" they faced during one of their camp experiences. Can you tell that everyone was having FUN?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Change of Attitude


As the mother of a teenager, I have heard that word a lot in the past 5 years. Even before she turned thirteen and officially entered that life stage of  "teenager",  her father and I would often hear our daughter utter "Whatever" as her response to something we told her. We always knew that the word signaled an attitude somewhere within her- an attitude that meant that she had put up an invisible wall and no longer wished to carry on any form of a discussion with us. This sometimes would get in the way when we were trying to impart some piece of what we viewed as life wisdom.

As I read this week's chapter of Stressed-Less Living, I realized that I also have attitudes. In particular, there are 2 types of attitudes that tend to get in the way of my receiving the full blessings from God: an "I Can Do It" attitude and an "I'm not good enough" attitude.

At first glance the "I Can Do It" attitude might seem a positive thing, but allow me to take a minute to explain what I mean and I think you will understand the negative connotation that it actually holds. Too often when faced with a problem, I say, "I can do it! I can take care of this! Here is what I am going to do." Sounds good.... right?......

WRONG! Something is missing. When faced with the problem I took it into my own hands and failed to stop and include the most important person, GOD. The solution that I perceive as the correct one may not be the one that God intended. Sometimes when I jump in and try to take care of it.... things just get worse and I end up enduring stress and strains that I might not have, had I just turned things over to God in the first place and had faith that he could... and would... provide a solution.

Then there's the "I'm not good enough" attitude. That one rears its head a LOT in my life. I have doubts about my appearance, doubts about the quality of my mothering skills, doubts about how good I am at teaching, and this inner feeling that I am not as good a wife as I could be because my house is not as clean as the ones I see on the internet. One of the morning shows earlier this week did a good job explaining how the worldwide-web creates feelings of insufficiency in women like me. We go online and see the blogs of mothers who spend literally HOURS baking and decorating a child's birthday cake and then we run to the nearest superstore for a commercially prepared one, all the while feeling guilty. We sit down to cruise through Pinterest and we see pin after pin of some amazing craft or organization idea that another mother has posted. Inside our heads we think, "That's a great idea... if I had the time or the talent, but I could never do it." It's a lot like peer pressure, I suppose. We see others who are seemingly "Super Woman" and we want to achieve that status too.

Through this week's readings I have come to realize that if I am ever to overcome, or even decrease, the stress within my life I am going to have to turn down the volume on those two attitude voices and crank up the volume on God's voice. Philipians 4:8 says it best:

I need to focus my thinking on godly thoughts. Instead of focusing on the piles of things that my children leave around the house, I need to think about how thankful I am to have a wonderful home in which to live and raise my family. Instead of thinking enviously about someone else's talent or idea, I need to think about what my own God-given talents are and how I can use them for his purpose. Instead of jumping in and saying, "I'll take care of it!" I need to take the situation to God in prayer and allow him to either provide a solution in his own time and way OR wait for him to show me the path that he would have me to take.

Don't get me wrong. It isn't going to be easy. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to have that total trust in someone else, even if it is God. For too long, I have been independent, stubborn, and even bull-headed. That isn't going to change overnight, but with God's help and continued Bible study and prayer it WILL change.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Seeking God

Pride- That was one of the topics on the discussion list this week in the Stressed-Less Living online Bible study. I sat down to look up the definition of the word and WOW! I was hit right between the eyes with a lightning bolt!

As a teacher and a mother I had always focused on the definition of pride which revolves around building your self-esteem. That would be definition number 3 at
a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one's position or character; self-respect; self-esteem. 

And then there was definition number 4: 
pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself: civic pride. 
The lightning bolt hit me when I looked at definition number 1: 
a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc. 
I have always taught my English students that the FIRST definition in the dictionary is typically the most frequently used one. If this is the case, then PRIDE has a very negative connotation most of the time. 

As I read Chapter Six of the Stressed-Less book, titled "I Can Do it Myself.... or Can I?" I found myself becoming a bit uncomfortable. This chapter focused on how our pride sometimes adds to or creates our stress. I think that is a big part of my problem. I often find myself jumping in and accepting a lot of duties that I do not HAVE to do. With more things added on my plate, my stress level increases. I can't get things done as well as I might have, simply because I am over-stretched. When I don't do well at something, I feel even more stress.

Why do I do these things? Why do I take on the extra responsibilities? Probably for a combination of reasons. 

I take on extra paid responsibilities because I have always felt that it would mean more money to help pay bills for my family. After all, isn't that a parent's job.... to provide for the family? Through this Bible study I have come to realize that when I do this, I am actually jumping the gun... accepting a role or a job when I have not stopped to consider whether it is something that God sent my way or even planned for me to do. Even worse than that, accepting these jobs is sometimes a sign of lack of faith on my part. Instead of praying to God about the debt and having faith that he will provide, I find myself taking on yet another duty at school, attending another paid seminar, or squeezing in time to make another craft item to sell, trying to take care of debt on my own.

Even worse, I have to admit that PRIDE is a big reason that I do things. I want to be THE ONE who was in charge of that successful program. I want to be THE TEACHER who prepared and taught that wonderful unit. I want to be THE PERSON with "the answer" to whatever the problem or question was.

Our focus verse for this week reads:

I am trying to do that. I can see that the last 6 weeks have changed me quite a bit. I am taking the time to read my Bible each day, digging into each week's chapter in the Stressed-Less book, and thinking more about God and his will for me. I find myself sitting quietly and listening to conversations, where previously I would jump in and just blurt out my thoughts. I am taking time to carefully put together my words before I do speak them. I am spending more time in prayer and conversation with God and I am listening carefully, closely, for whatever way he chooses to speak to me. I am trying to take a back seat, focusing not on what I   can do, but what GOD wants me to do.

I know that the change won't happen over night. I also know that there will be times when I still jump in to try to rescue someone or something, but with God's help I can change. I just need to refine my focus- placing it on him, his will, and his purpose for me. I need to remember to put God first in my life and in my decision making process. I need to remember to stop and take a breath and ask him, "God is this what you would have me do?" I need to remember to turn my problems over to him and trust in him to solve them or to strengthen me to find the solution. I need to stress less over things and just put my faith in him.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tomorrow is Another Day

I sat down this morning to do the Stressed-Less Living Bible Study with the intent to follow my usual pattern: Monday-Bible, Tuesday & Wednesday- Chapter, Thursday- Blog. God had other plans. Every time I did a new reading, a new idea would come into my mind and I would think to myself-Boy I need to write about that.

First I picked up the Bible to read the chapter in which the focus verse is located. Matthew chapter 6. I found myself in familiar territory. I had often heard the story of the origin of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13). I had often heard that God provides for even the birds in the field. (Matthew 6: 25-26) Then I got to the last verse in the chapter: Matthew 6:34 Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Hey! Wait a minute! Isn't that what Scarlett O'Hara said? This led me into an online search to find the exact words from the movie. (What can I say? I'm an English teacher. I expect citations and quotes to be accurate.)

In doing the search, I discovered that what Scarlett actually said was, "Tomorrow is another day." Regardless of the way it is worded, I think that Matthew 6:24 shows that God shares the same basic attitude. We should not worry about tomorrow, because it is going to come. It is going to be what it is going to be. It will have the same problems, pitfalls, and pains no matter how much we agonize and stress over it in our minds.

While searching for Scarlett's words, I came across another quote that I felt belonged right beside hers. Henry Ward Beecher said, "Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith." I prefer the handle of faith. I need to trust in God's greatness and his ability to provide. He can strengthen me to deal with whatever problems come my way. He can help provide the bridge that will get me over life's pits. He can comfort and soothe the pains and bruises that life inflicts. All I need to do is trust in him and pray to him to ask for his assistance.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Locks of Love

Today my heart is swelling with pride.

Six years ago, my then 9 year old daughter decided that it was time to do something with her hair. She had known a couple of people who had experienced the pain of cancer and we decided that, if she was going to have it cut, she might as well use it for a good cause. A trip to the hairdresser and twelve inches was cut off and mailed away.

About six or seven months ago, Kari told me that she planned to keep her hair long until she could donate it again. With the end of her junior year of high school and senior year looming on the horizon, she decided that now was the time.

This afternoon she had 10 inches cut.
The sweetest thing was the comment that she made on the way home. Like any other teen, she was busy posting pics on Facebook and emailing photos to friends when she turned to me and said, "I feel like I am the blessed one, being able to help someone like this."

She has already decided that, if her hair grows at the same rate, she will be able to donate again when she turns 21. What a way that would be to enter adulthood!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Take Back Your Life

Here is am in the midst of Week 5 of the Stressed-Less Living Bible study. I also find myself in the midst of the last week of the school year. Somehow it seems rather appropriate, as my job is often one of the things that causes me to feel stress.  There have been many times this year when I have said that I feel like a hamster on a wheel, continuously running, going through the motions of daily life, without really enjoying it or taking time to relax. I have so wanted to "Take Back My Life."

I have said before that I think the Lord sent me to this Bible study and I truly believe this. The readings, the discussions, and the study questions have all given me great pause, and this week's is no different.

The first question at the end of Chapter 5 asks, "What childhood memories come to mind that bring back feelings of peace and joy?" Hmmm.... Let's see.....

  • Family picnics at Berheim Forest- Mom and Dad would pack sandwich bread, chips, and lunchmeat into a cooler, load the whole family into the station wagon and we would just go walk around the park, pause by the stream, eat our sandwiches, and feed the ducks some of the leftover bread
  • Trips to the ice cream store- On hot summer evenings it would sometimes get a bit too hot for us to fall asleep right away. (This was back before we had that wonderful thing known as central air conditioning. The only comfort we had was a slight breeze that would blow through the open window.) The three of us kids would usually be in our pajamas already, but fighting bedtime and sleep. Dad would once again load us into that old station wagon and take us on the short trek to the neighborhood ice cream parlor. Minutes later we were lounging in the back, licking away on our favorite flavored cone.
  • Sunday afternoons with family and friends- Sunday mornings meant Sunday School and church, but Sunday afternoons meant relaxation. We often had church "family" who would come over to our house to dine and visit. I can remember making homemade ice cream while the minister and my father played horseshoes. I also remember playing games in the backyard with other children from church while the adults sat around on the front porch. 
  • Cleaning the church- Mom and Dad were the couple who went on a weekly basis to clean the church and get things tidied up for the next week. We kids often went with them. My job was to roam through the aisles of the sanctuary and collect the cast-off Sunday bulletins that had been left behind. I would roam up and down each aisle, being sure to remember to ruffle through the hymnals for the sheets that got tucked in between the pages.
I could go on and on- there are thousands of wonderful memories. I did notice two factors that were common threads through all of them- Family and the Church. It seemed like there was always someone from church who would pop in at just the right time, kind words, a sweet dessert, or a smiling face. It also seemed that Mom and Dad were able to take the few minutes each day from their busy lives to spend time focusing just on us kids.

One lesson that has become apparent to me this week, is that I need to get back to those two common threads. I need to spend more time in thoughtful connection with God, I need to truly get connected with my church family, and I need to devote more time to my own family.

It is so easy to just keep working, trudging along on that hamster wheel that I mentioned earlier. I have always thought that rest came easy to people; it was something that you just did naturally. You worked and worked until finally your body gave out and you just RESTED. I have discovered that this is not the case. When you get on that hamster wheel and it keeps going round and round, it is EASY to maintain that momentum; you just keep working, walking, and going around in circles- complaining and griping the entire time. It takes effort to step aside and leave the wheel, take some time to read the Bible, pray to God, and spend real relaxation time away from work and stress. It isn't easy- BUT it sure is worth it!

I want to get back to the roots of my peace and joy: God and Family. I want to continue my Bible time and begin family Bible study each day. I want to make the time to join the Women's group at church and become active. I want to do simple things with my kids, like those family trips to an ice cream store. I want to reclaim my life and make it better than it has been. Dear Lord, help me to Take Back My Life!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

School's Out..... School's Out........ Well, ALMOST

This week is Teacher's Appreciation Week. Ironically, it is also the last week of our school year. As I sit here, I face only two more days with my eighth grade classes. Two more days of, "Please sit down." Two more days of, "WHY don't you have a pencil?" Two more days of teenage drama. Two more days of maintaining my sanity.

Actually, this year has not been as bad as I expected. For the MOST part, my students have really tried. I have pushed them hard and I can honestly say that the majority of them have met my expectations.

It is about this time of the year when students start asking, "Mrs. Baker, will you miss me?" My standard answer is "I don't get time to miss anyone. When I send one group out the door, another one comes in."

Because of this, it is also the time of the year when I start trying to wrap my head around a new school year, with new students, new expectations, and new units of instruction. I have always been one of those "fuddy-duddy" teachers who attends trainings in the summer, plans the first month of lessons, and comes in at least a week early to get my classroom all organized and ready.

You see, teaching was always my first choice of career. My mother kept one of those little books where she would keep my report card and student work samples and I would write things at the end of each school year: height, weight, what I would be when I grew up. When I look back through that book I see the same word written each year, "Teacher."

As I finish yet another year in my chosen career, I do have a few insights to share with anyone who might be contemplating a career in education:

  • There will be bad days, those days when nothing you seem to try works. At the same time, there will be good days, the days when you will walk out the door with a smile a mile wide and a dancing lilt in your step.
  • Try as you might, you will NEVER make EVERYONE happy. There is no way to completely meet the expectations of every single parent, every single student, and every single administrator. Resolve to try, but be willing to accept the fact that there will be days when you think that the whole world is dissatisfied with what you are doing.
  • Teachers really DO have a lasting effect. Teaching middle school students, I have come to accept the fact that the majority of them don't have school at the top of their priority list. Let's face it, many of them don't have it in their top ten. There are a lot of students who think that my only goal in life is to find another assignment that will torture them and require some of their free time.  Give those same adolescents a few years to grow up and they will come back to thank me for what I tried to do for them. Several times a year I will have former students who stop me in the grocery store line to apologize for their behavior as a seventh or eighth grader and to thank me for trying to educate them. It just takes some time for them to realize it.
I have not been the perfect teacher, but I have tried to do what God asked in Titus 2:7.

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,

As I close out this school year and prepare for the new one, I ask that God would be with me and continue to help me to be the best teacher that I can be; not only one who instructs in reading and English, but serves as an example of character and a testimony of God's love.