Thursday, August 29, 2013

Life Interrupted

I have always been one of those people who plans things. I try to make at least a mental list of the menu for the week. I am usually planning my next unit for school well before it is needed. Before my family goes on vacation I like to know which spots we will be visiting and I usually have a daily itinerary. It just makes sense to me. My life has been one long plan...... with one major exception.

Beginning in my late teens I experienced a heart arrhythmia. At first it was only a few quick beats that lasted for only a few seconds. When I felt it the first few times I didn't think much of it; I blamed it on too much caffeine or stress from college. However, over the years the increased heart beat would continue. I couldn't know when it would happen or where I would be. During a physical I mentioned it to the doctor and he said that it was a common thing in young women and that it should disappear by the time I turned thirty. (At the time, I was in my twenties.)

But it didn't go away, as I grew older the arrhythmia kept happening AND on top of that, the episodes became more frequent and lasted longer each time. I learned to hold my breath or drink cold water to help my anxiety minimize and therefore the heart beat would slow down. After giving birth to two children, the heart problem really began to worry me. I mentioned it to my doctor and, on at least two separate occasions, he had me wear a heart monitor. It showed nothing..... not one single blip out of the ordinary. I began to wonder if maybe I was causing the problem.... Was I worrying too much about something? Was I doing something that I shouldn't be?

I did have witnesses to the episodes, so I didn't completely think that it was all in my head. My husband had been with me many times when my heart would simply start racing. Once it happened in my classroom with students present; I just sat down and said, "Give me a minute." They could tell that something was wrong and sat silently until I was ready to continue. (That is saying a lot for middle school students.) It also happened once during a faculty meeting and the principal would not let me drive home, even after my heart returned to a normal rhythm. Instead, he phoned my sweet hubby to come and get me.

This sounds like a lot, I know..... but keep in mind that these episodes were spread out over 20 to 25 years. During that time the doctors and the monitors were NEVER able to verify a problem.

That all changed in 2008. It was nearing the end of the school year and I was hard at work preparing my middle school students for the upcoming end of year testing. I am one of those teachers with a reputation for pushing and pushing and pushing to get the best out of my students. I just don't give up. I will try quizzing, reteaching, games to help with review...... You name it, I have probably tried it over the years. This hasn't always pleased my students. As for them, they either like me or they don't. At the time, I had a lot of students who DIDN'T..... they didn't like giving effort, they didn't like work, and I required both. As a result, my time in the classroom was often wrought with a lot of "attitude" from some of my students and a lot of displeasure from me. I would often go home frustrated and tired, sometimes wondering why I had even become a teacher.

The week before spring break I developed a sinus infection. Here in Kentucky, that is nothing new. Almost all of my family members are afflicted with an allergy to something. I visited the doctor and was given my usual prescription, a Zpac and a shot. The doctor told me to hold off one day before beginning the Zpac, since the shot would kick in first.

The next morning I took my first dose.

I had taken Zpac before, many time, with absolutely no problem. I figured I would end the course of medication during spring break and return back to school as usual, ready to finish my preparations for testing. Again.... that was MY plan.

All day, I felt a bit unusual and toward the evening my lower back began hurting. I thought that maybe I had just been on my feet too much that day or something, so I tried lying on the couch for a while. After a bit, it became apparent that reclining was NOT helping, so I got up and began walking around. It was quickly becoming very painful and I couldn't keep the discomfort hidden from my husband. Given the position of the pain and the extreme level of it, he thought I might be passing a kidney stone. He had experienced the pain of those himself and had previously been hospitalized for the problem.

As the pain grew, we both knew that something had to be done, so we called his sister to watch our children and he rushed me to the nearest hospital. They got me into the emergency room and on a table. They hooked me up to all types of monitors and started checking me over. It was then that MY plan went haywire and God's plan kicked in.....

Suddenly, with no warning, my heart beat shot up to over 200 beats per minute. When that happened the attendants stopped worrying about the possible kidney stone and instead tried to slow my heart down. I don't remember how long it took, but I do remember the sense of panic in the room, two shots of Adenosine, and two hits with "the paddles". When my heart finally skipped a beat and returned to its normal rhythm they admitted me to the hospital and decided to keep me to see the cardiologist.

Over the next few days I was picked, poked, prodded, and transported to a second hospital. At that hospital they ended up doing heart ablation, which took care of my heart arrhythmia.

A few days later I found myself walking back into school---- walking a bit slowly, but I knew that I had to plan for my return.  I wasn't exactly looking forward to it. After all, I was still experiencing some soreness and I certainly wasn't looking forward to the "attitude" group.

It was spring break so there was no one else there.  As I entered my room I saw my room literally COVERED with notes and well-wishes. There were signs and cards scattered all over the walls. The dry erase board was littered with signatures and "I miss yous".

Nearly every single student had signed somewhere...... even those who had been giving me attitude.

NOW I was ready to return........ I was needed.......... I was missed........... I was appreciated.

Looking back on it all now, I think that God used this entire episode to take care of two things: He presented me with the opportunity to finally get my heart issue resolved and he also helped to remind me that, though students complain and whine from time to time, they truly do have a heart. They may not always appreciate my efforts, but they know that I am there for them and I mean well.

In the years since, I have taught a new group of students each year. Some of them have been "tough" and some of them have been "joys", but ALL of them have been liked. I make a point each year to tell my students exactly that..... I may not always like their behavior, but I DO LIKE them!

My carefully laid plans were interrupted, if only for a week or two by God and HIS plan...... and I am all the better for it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Yes Lord............

Lately I have been feeling a bit insignificant. I am just a mother, just a wife, just a teacher. I live and serve the Lord in a small Kentucky town that is like so many others. We have paved roads, electricity, and telephone. Most of my students even own cell phones.

For so long I have thought that being of service required something extraordinary- a mission trip, giving up your home and moving, doing something that was totally out of character just because God asked.

Well, I am here to admit that I was wrong.............

Sure, I can do any of those things and they would be in service to God, but if the opportunity doesn't come my way, I can still serve him right here, right now.

A couple of years ago, I made plans to retire from teaching. My papers were filed, I had visited the retirement office several times, the school presented me with a retirement plaque, and I had cleaned my room and shared the supplies that I had stockpiled over the years. THEN...... the axe dropped. Technicalities stepped in and my dreams of sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch were shattered. As reality set in, a small voice inside me said, "God isn't finished with you yet." Even then, the message did not sink in to my brain.

Over the past year, I have done some mental calculating..... Here in Kentucky, teachers can retire after 27 years of service, though they will not get full retirement benefits. In order to maximize your retirement dollars, you must teach until age 55. For me, that would require 34 years of teaching experience.

Last year, several times, my peers and I discussed the state of education and how it was affecting us as parents, family members, and individuals. Many times I uttered these words. "I would have to teach 6 more years. I don't think I have that many left in me." 

I realize now that maybe I have been stating that sentence incorrectly the entire time. What I should have said is, "I would have to teach 6 more years. I will have to wait and see if that is what God wants."

All of this time I have been focusing on me and what I wanted...... I wanted to stop having to deal with all of the paperwork, I wanted time to do things that I want to do, I wanted to be able to go when I wanted and just LIVE. I almost hate to admit how selfish it all sounds.

I have noticed a difference this year though......

I am not as dissatisfied with my job. The paperwork still exists...... there are still those students that I have to really stand over if I want work done...... there are still the other things that demand my time and attention. Yet, for some reason, I don't feel the stress and strain that I used to feel.

I think that I have finally REALLY turned it over to God. I have finally said, YES LORD.... I am here to teach, for however long you wish. Show me when YOU are finished with this stage of my life.

With the new realization that I AM serving God I am also noticing blessings that I hadn't seen before. Tonight there was a young man who stayed after school to get some extra help with an English lesson. There was a look of gratitude on his face that I don't often see these days. There was a "Thank you" from his mother who probably wasn't used to teachers staying after work if they weren't paid for it. There are the little smiles and hugs that I am getting from a teenage daughter with whom, not that long ago, I was usually in verbal battle.

I really AM serving God..........

As a mother

As a wife

As a teacher

As a role model

For now.................. that is enough.

Lord, when YOU are ready for me to enter the next stage of life.............. show me............ tell me...........

I am ready and waiting to say.................... YES!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Achievement

Today I did something that I have wanted to do for quite a time. My daughter is a member of the cross country and track teams at her high school. For years now, I have watched with great envy as she ran in races all across the state. Even more amazing to me were the many adults who ran right along with her. I decided a while back that I really wanted to attempt to at least walk one of the races and my chance came today.

The route was a 2 mile length road race with only a couple of inclines and declines. The weather was perfect for it too- nice and cool throughout most of the route. I had not done much training, having only walked a night or two in the last two weeks. Nevertheless, I took the plunge and signed up in the 45-50 women's category.

When the starting gun echoed, I plugged in my iPod and took off walking. At points through the route I found myself praying to God to ease the pain in my shins so that I could at least finish the race, but I kept on walking. I shouldn't have been surprised that, even though I had my iPod on shuffle, God found a way to send me just the right words to keep me moving.

At the end of the 2 miles, I still had a smile on my face, as witnessed by this photo:

A bottle of water and a short walk to cool down and I was ready to wait for the awards. I hadn't really been sure how many of the women in the race were in my age category. (I will confess that I attempted to judge ages by appearance, but I knew that my guesses were probably well off...LOL!)

20 minutes later and I learned that my daughter had placed 2nd in HER age category and I had placed 2nd in mine!

When Kari heard my time of 33:08 she told me that next year I would make it a 31. I guess that means that I will be doing it again..... For now, I am just crossing one more thing off the bucket list..... Maybe I will add one too.... MAYBE..... just maybe..... I will work my up to RUNNING the route..... We will see.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Palms Up

I have spent my whole life in the church: Sunday School and VBS as a child, youth group as a teen, a young adult who attended Bible study, and now a mother who takes her own children to church and teaches VBS. Throughout those many years I have always had a connection to the women who served God.

The one who stands out in my mind the most was a Godly woman, a kind sweet grandmotherly type who was always there at every church function. She would help teach Sunday school and always had a special dish at each church potluck dinner. She always had a smile on her face and God's love beaming throughout the community through her. If you needed something, you could always call on her. Carrie spent her life in service of the Lord and she meant so much to me that, years later, I would name my own daughter after her.

Over the years I had many wonderful role models, women who devoted much of their lives to God. These women said "Yes" when God presented a need and did so in a seemingly effortless way- without fear, worry, or stress.

Why then, does it seem so difficult for me?

I truly believe that God is an ever-present force in my life. He hears me, comforts me, provides for me, and wants to direct me. I WANT to do his will. I WANT to do his work.

So what is holding me back?

For years, I have felt unworthy- after all, I am just a plain old mother, teacher, wife- one of those who goes through life doing what just comes naturally. I watched my mother get up early to cook and prepare for our family's daily life; Now I do the same. I am a normal woman. I make mistakes. I stumble over my words. I don't always know the right verse at the right time to comfort or help someone. Don't I need to be more than that? Don't I need to be more Perfect? More like those Godly women from throughout my life?

This week, during the "What Happens When Women Say Yes to God" Bible Study I realized that I DON'T!

God doesn't require a perfect woman. God doesn't require that I respond to each situation in a perfect manner. God just requires that I have a desire to serve him and a will to do what he asks.

In my youthful eyes, I saw Carrie as a perfectly Godly woman, but I am sure that there were times when she got out of bed and felt a bit too tired to go to church or a bit too bored with the same Sunday school routine. I am sure that she was not perfect- but she certainly had a perfectly willing spirit. THAT is what I want to have!

Lord, I am here--- hands open--- palms up! Ready and waiting to hear what you would have me to do. Use me to do your will. AMEN

Friday, August 2, 2013

It's That Time......

In a way, it is hard for me to believe that this time has come. It seems like only last week when I walked out that classroom door and thought to myself, "Now it's time for ME!" I had big plans for the summer, most of them being things that I wanted to do just because I had not had time during the school year. Some of them I accomplished; some of them I didn't. Whatever the case, come next Monday morning at 8 A.M. I will be sitting in a teacher's meeting contemplating the next 10 months of my life.

Last night was our annual Back-to-School event with the usual supply distribution, schedule handout, and meet and greet. I found myself remarkably calm about the whole thing. This calmness is a bit of a shock to me. After all, our school has lost several staff members due to retirement and budget cuts, likely resulting in larger class sizes and increased demands on teachers. Within the past 2 weeks our school has experienced the added loss of 2 enrichment teachers, as they found positions elsewhere. Because of this, we face the possibility of beginning the year with at least one of those positions vacant for at least a few days. I have not revised last year's class syllabus yet and I don't have lesson plans down-pat for the first weeks of school, yet I still feel an inner peace.

I think this is largely due to the fact that I now realize I have a full-time support system.

Don't get me wrong.... I always had my husband and my kids here. I knew that they would listen to my complaints, offer up advice, and even try to help with the things that caused me stress, but I had forgotten about the one person who could actually GIVE ME REST. Participating in the Stressed-Less Living Bible study this year has really helped confirm to me what I always knew.... when I need a break there is really only 1 person who can truly give it to me- the Lord.

Matthew 11: 28-30 says

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. 

God WILL give me rest! Exactly when I need it............ I only need to seek him and learn about him. The first part of 2013 has seen me renewing my dedication to Bible study and devotions and it has truly been wonderful!

Being so blessed by the last online Bible study, there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to be involved in the next one. This one will focus on the book, What Happens When Women Say Yes to God, by Lysa Terkeurst. Even though the Bible study begins August 4, it isn't too late for you to join us. You can check the Proverbs 31 ministry for more information. 

Here's a link: