Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking Back at 2013

At the close of each year we usually like to reflect on what took place in those 365 days. As I look back I know there were accomplishments, disappointments, laughter and even some tears. Maybe your reflections are similar.

I was listening to the radio the other day and heard a song that sums up 2013 for me and maybe for you too. No matter what we went through God was there. He has never forsaken us. As we enter 2014 remember that He will be there for you just like He has been in the past. 

Our God is faithful. 

No matter what we go through in 2014 with joy we will be able to say Never once did we ever walk alone!

Never Once - One Sonic Society

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you;
 he will never leave you nor forsake you. 
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deuteronomy 31:8

Monday, November 25, 2013

The musings of a girl on the eve of her 25th birthday…

This post is pretty vulnerable, but I wanted to share my heart hoping that you too will put your life into the hands of the One who created it.

Tomorrow I am turning 25.
I am not sure how I feel about that.

On past birthdays I could not wait to take on the new number that marked not only the growth in age, but in height and intelligence and hopefully beauty. I was so impatient some years that I would adopt the ½ year method to tack onto my age. I wasn't just 9, I was 9 and 1/2. Something about that ½ made me feel taller like all the things I wanted to be were so close, almost close enough to reach.

This year the feeling I am experiencing, about turning a year older, is foreign to me.

I always secretly mocked the women who dreaded their next birthday. As if a number represented their impending demise.
Now I am scared that I am turning into one of those women.

What is it about the number 25 that makes me feel heavy almost sad?

It may have something to do with the fact that my mother gave birth to me when she was 25, but I think it is much bigger than that.

I think it has something to do with the vision I had about the number 25 when I was younger.

I thought the number 25 was a ticket to a happy life or something crazy like that.

I guess I envisioned that by 25 I would be married. If not that, I would at least be in the best shape of my life with amazing long flowing hair (not sure why this is important). I would be keeping my own house and planning for a family and I never really figured in a career…it didn't seem to matter.

Seems pretty absurd, I know, but ironically these wishes haven’t really gone away.

Here I am sitting in my parent’s home, my bed is one foot away from my sister’s and my hair is taking FOREVER to grow out. I have a career, but no guy is in sight.

Life is not what I imagined. Any other day I love the fact that I live with my parents. I enjoy sharing a room with my sister and I enjoy teaching! So why do I feel dissatisfied now?

I am trying to see it as a reminder that God has the plan, not me, and His plan is ultimately better than I could ever imagine.

So once again, as I always do when I find myself low and dissatisfied, I look to the heavens and lift my life to the sky. It is heavy and I struggle under its weight.
I hold my breath as He takes my offering and cradles it in the palm of His hand. I think I see Him smile or at least I hope I do.
Before He pulls His hand away I realize I am still holding my breath and everything in me screams “No, take it back! He might drop it!” But I stand still, mesmerized as He closes His fingers around this, my greatest gift.
Now I must wait. I let out a small sigh at the thought of that word. Wait. The word seems to float on the breeze. How many times must I hear it? Wait.
“But waiting is so hard,” I whisper, looking at the cold ground.
I feel the rays of the sun warm my shoulders in what feels like an embrace. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done. Autumn leaves swirl around me, carried by the cool breeze. Be still and know that I am God. The wind picks up swirling around me, whispering in my ear.
“I wait for you, Father,” I say to the skies. “I know you will answer me.”
The wind whips around my legs, my shirt, my hair. I lift my arms to let it surround me.
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. These words seem to be spoken directly into my very soul.
I smile and let the sun’s rays warm my face. I breathe deeply of God’s presence and rest in the knowledge that what He has for me is good and greater than I could ever plan out myself.

“Thank you.” I whisper as I walk through the crackling leaves. In awe of God’s love and filled with hope for tomorrow.

Ps: It is amazing how writing out a face to face scenario with my Heavenly Father brought me such amazing peace. You should try it sometime. ;)

Monday, September 2, 2013

First Day of School. Bliss or Blues?

Well, it is that time of year again. School is back in session. As a 7th grade Reading teacher who has entered her second year of teaching I have officially become a part of the norm. Yes, I am still excited about teaching, I still look through my rose-colored glasses from time to time, I am usually optimistic; however, I agree with those who wish we had a longer summer, longer weekends, fewer students, etc. You just come to a point where you are tired. You think that getting 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep should cure that, but it doesn't because you eat, sleep, and breath your students. Figuratively, of course. For example, I often have dreams that my students (especially the sneaky, slightly annoying ones) are running around my bed at night. But that is another story for another blog, preferably a psychiatric one.

As the back to school process begins there is that feeling of excitement with the occasional nervous feeling of bats flying around in your stomach (butterflies are too nice and sweet to describe this feeling). Usually, before you can begin the school year you have to go through some kind of training. We call it "staff development". So for a week you repress the nervous flutterings of the screeching bats, get out your multiple notebooks, pens, and highlighters and settle in for a long week of: learning school procedures, participating in team bonding activities, arts and crafts, setting up your room, pump-you-up speeches from the principals, piles and piles of hand outs, and butt-numbing seats in every venue, just to name a few. The week leaves you worn out and wondering why this isn't possible:

 When staff development comes to a close and you can barely think (because your mind is so full of information that it is oozing out of your ear) you begin to wonder who your students will be. Will they like you? Will they be nice? Will you end up pulling as much hair out of your head this year as last year? In your exhausted stupor you envision sweet students who do everything you ask, who already know how to read, and who look like this on the first day of school:

Isn't he cute? This is a student who is eager to come to your class and learn!! A MIRACLE! He is a studentswho will use "please" and "thank you" and who will love you because you are his teacher!! 

But then you remember you teach 7th grade and those students are hard to come by. Your students will more than likely look like this on the first day of school:
Nope, you don't have the sweet smelling, polite, hugable elementary students. You have the sullen, moody, chip-on-their-shoulder tweens who when they hear the word "Reading" automatically envision putting a picture of you with a bulls-eye in their room to use later for target practice.

Yep, teaching middle school is another animal. As a middle school teacher I don't expect the hugs, the cards, or the candy. As a middle school teacher I have to demand that my students say "please" and "thank you" because once they get past six years old no one expects it of them. I have to remind them to sit up straight and at least pretend like they are listening to me. Middle school students are challenging to say the least.

So why do I do it? Why do I teach 7th graders? I will get to that in a minute. Back to the first day of school.

Once the first day of school rolls around you don't want to get out of bed.

But you know that this is the career you have chosen and your Principal is counting on you. There is no use resisting. It is going to happen. The bell will ring and the students will come.

And as class time comes closer and closer those bats turn into elephants in your stomach and you feel like panicking and wonder if you can leave the building without anyone noticing because...

In a matter of minutes, or even seconds, you go through the stages of grieving. First you're in denial that summer has ended at all. "This must be a dream," you tell yourself. "This must be a dream." Then you morn the loss of your summer...

And then as the bell rings and you take a deep breath you put on your "TEACHER" hat and open the door with a smile. Because whoever said "don't smile til Christmas" doesn't realize that it is impossible for you not to smile.

And when some of your students enter looking clean, excited, and greet you with a "Goodmorning, Miss G____!" You know that you are in the right place. Choosing to teach middle schoolers was a good choice. They are a challenging age, but you are up for the challenge because that moment when what you teach clicks with is the most exciting feeling you've ever felt. A feeling that makes up for the elephant turned bats. You are where God wants you to be.

And then lunch rolls around, you're exhausted, and thinking that the parents of these children probably looked like this at the bus stop. 

Yep, now you are stuck with their precious kiddos for 9 months while they hang out all day in their pjs.

So, whether you are a teacher, parent, student, or you do something else meaningful with your life...remember how teachers feel stuck in a room with 25 precious children ALL DAY LONG. While you are thinking about that teacher pray for him or her because we can use all the prayers we can get!!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Prairie Song by Mona Hodgson

The first step in a challenging journey is often the one that means the most. 
Though it means saying goodbye to the beloved friends and spiritual mentors of her St. Charles, Missouri quilting circle, Anna Goben is certain that she needs to enlist her family in the Boones Lick Company wagon train. The loss of her beloved brother in the Civil War has paralyzed her mother and grandfather in a malaise of grief and depression and Anna is convinced that only a fresh start in the Promised Land of California can bring her family back to her. Although the unknown perils of the trail west loom, Anna’s commitment to caring for her loved ones leaves no room for fear—or even loving someone new.  
During the five-month journey, trail hand Caleb Reger plans to keep a low profile as he watches over the band of travelers. Guarding secrets about his past and avoiding God’s calling on his life, Caleb wants to steer as far from Anna as she does him, but she proves to be just as he assessed her from the beginning— independent, beautiful trouble
Led by a pillar of hope, the group faces rough terrain that begins to take a toll on their spirits. Will the wilderness of suffering lead them astray, or will the gentle song of love that echoes across the prairie turn their hearts toward God’s grace and the promise of a new home?

~ ~ ~ ~

Prairie Song, a novel by Mona Hodgson, is the continuing story of The Quilted Novellas, which I have reviewed before on my blog.

I began reading Prairie Song during a stressful part of my summer (staff development). Thus, the book was like a tall glass of refreshing water at the end of a hard workday. It was a blessing to read. Not just because I was beginning to become stressed about school starting, but because it is a well-written novel. The length of the book gave Ms. Hodgson time to develop the characters well. Since I had read The Quilted Novellas Two and Three prior to this novel I was familiar with the main characters, Anna Goben and Caroline Milburn. Both women are strong and independent. They rely on God for strength and help. During the novel they learn about hardship while being pursued by two leading men. The love stories in this novel are charming and the way the characters learn more about themselves and how to lean on God for understanding and direction is moving.

I suggest that any reader interested in this book read The Quilted Novellas first to get the back stories of the characters. However, if you want to delve into this novel first you should not find yourself confused. It is just my preference to read books in order. :)

If you enjoy Christian fiction this novel is a must read! I am whole-heartedly looking forward to Ms. Hodgson's second book.

Thank you to the author for a delightful read and to the publisher for a free ebook copy in exchange for an honest review!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Forever Friday by Timothy Lewis

Every Friday, a postcard.
Every Friday, a love poem.
Every Friday for sixty years.
Adam Colby is just doing his job, sorting through the unsold Alexander belongings after the estate sale. He is unprepared for what he finds in an old photo album, overlooked by the bargain hounds and treasure hunters—six decades of postcards and poems from Gabe Alexander to his wife, Pearl. The mystery of the Alexanders’ love entices Adam, a man unhinged by divorce and puzzled by the depth of commitment that he finds in the unabashedly romantic cards.
Forever Friday invites you to travel back in time to the early twentieth century Texas Coastal Bend where a young couple—Gabe and Pearl Alexander—are swept up in a miraculous love. As the heartwarming, pulse-quickening story of their relationship develops through Gabe’s poems, the Alexanders reveal a new way to consider what it means to be truly devoted to each other. Could the secrets of their love affair, laid to rest twenty years ago, hold the key to one man’s future?

Once again I have had the privilege of reading a book not yet released. Forever Friday by Timothy Lewis was a treat to read. You can get your hands on it on September 17, 2013. 

Adam Colby, the main character, gets to do what all of us can only dream of! Adam Colby gets his hands on an album of old postcards written with words of love from a devoted husband to his wife. (I have personally always dreamed of finding old letters written back and forth between a couple who had a rich marriage.) Timothy Lewis does a masterful job switching between "present day" (for the novel) and the days of Gabe and Pearl Alexander. The reader is able to experience Adam Colby's journey through learning more about how the Alexander's marriage lasted and experience the great love story of Gabe and "Hutch," as Pearl is affably called.

As a single woman, who has thought about marriage a lot lately, this book definitely made me jealous of these fictional characters who have a honeymoon that spans some 60 years. Gabe and Hutch's relationship is not without struggles, but they always remembered that "they were two hearts commanding devotion."  

As you read this book you will be touched by Gabe's weekly postcards to Hutch. Each postcard illustrates his devotion and with each new postcard my heart sighed a little. Just to give you a glimpse.

"Beneath midnight stars
Caressed by spring's pure breeze
Two lovers strolled
Hand in hand
While waves lapped moonlit sand
Connecting souls."
Forever, Gabe

While this book is written by a Christian author I did not find the message of God's love or Christ very strong. The emphasis was placed more on angels. Gabe and Hutch are said to have faith in God, but they seem to cling to each other more than openly sharing their love of Christ to the reader. However, the story teaches the reader how to choose to to have a forever love everyone dreams of, but do not quite understand how to capture. This message is certainly needed in a culture filled with quick marriages and even quicker divorces.

If you are looking for a good read this fall Forever Friday should definitely be on your list.

Thank you to Timothy Lewis for an inspiring novel and to the publisher for a free copy in exchange for a honest review.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Most Important Dance Ever

This past weekend I spent some time visiting my cousin. Before I went on my trip to see him I decided that I would get out of my comfort zone as much as possible during the trip. It started with driving three hours away by myself (I made it!) and ended with going two-stepping. 

Not only had I decided to get out of my comfort zone that weekend, but I continuously prayed that God would be closer to me and that I would learn more about Him through each experience I went through. It is amazing that when you ask God to draw close to you He really does! I never would have guessed that dancing would teach me more about my relationship with God.

* Wow, if my (very traditional) grandmother were to read this she would either fall over or fall to her knees praying for me. Thankfully she has no access to the internet. ;) *

Sunday night, as I learned to dance, I realized that I had to surrender control to my partner. The moments where I didn't follow his lead, or when I tensed up (or thought too much--I tend to do this a lot) we would miss a step or lose contact. But when I allowed him to lead me we moved smoothly and I ended up making moves I never would have imagined I was capable of.

I've realized that my relationship with my Heavenly Father is like this. If I hold back a part of my self or try to take over control, life doesn't seem to go very smoothly. I may stumble or feel like I am losing contact with God, but if I give complete control to Him He will lead me to places I've never been. He will allow me to experience amazing things I could never imagine on my own.

When we were dancing I also had a hard time knowing when I was supposed to do something. There were at least a couple of moves that I was actually supposed to place my hand on my partner's shoulder, or duck under his arm a certain way. If I didn't act quickly or accurately we usually got all tangled up (making for some good laughs).

The same goes with my relationship with God. I am going through a stage in life where I don't know when I am supposed to do something. After you've given up control, how do you know when you are supposed to act? Thankfully, much like my dancing partner, God will lead me through the next move and whisper cues in my ear when I need them. He won't leave me out on the dance floor alone and totally confused. He has a plan, He knows the steps and as long as I follow His lead without taking over control He will allow me to experience more than I could ever ask for or imagine.

Ironically, as I started this blog post in the dark last night I read Psalm 37. A lot of the verses in this chapter tie into my theme.

"Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act." 
Psalm 37: 3-5

"The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand." Psalm 37:23-24

The way I see it is that my relationship with God is the most important dance I could ever be a part of. Yes, I often dream about the daddy-daughter dance at my wedding, and my first dance with my future husband, but I am not in that season of my life yet (though God clearly knows that is one of the desires of my heart). So, while I am waiting I will give control over to my Heavenly Father and allow Him to spin, twirl, and dip me to His heart's content. When I stumble I will get back up and look to Him for guidance. When He teaches me a new move I will listen with an open heart. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Broke My Own Rule!

If you were to check my Kindle right now you would realize I have broken my own rule. I am currently reading more than one book. I usually get by with reading one fiction and one non-fiction (or possibly "school" book), but that is not the case right now. I think it is because it is crunch time which just means summer is almost over and there are a lot of great books! So, I am going to steal my sister's idea and tell you what is on my nightstand...although technically three of the four books are on my Kindle.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller was assigned to me by my principal. The 7th and 8th grade Reading department is reading it as a book study. This is one amazing book. I read half of it in one day and plan on finishing it next week. The only draw back is that it is not my own copy so I can't write in it; however, I have solved that problem with a TON of sticky notes and tabs. You should see this poor book it has paper sticking out of each end. There are so many quotes I love from this book, but I will share with you one that really resonated with me.

"I share with my students what no literacy expert could ever teach me. Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters-the saints and sinners, real or imagined-reading shows you how to be a better human being." Donalyn Miller (page 18)

Wow! That get's me excited about this next school year! I hope that I can teach my students all those things about reading!

Your Money Counts by Howard Dalton came to me by way of my dad. He asked that my sister and I read one of Howard Dayton's books this summer and we picked this one. I am very much ahead of my sister in reading by the way! Well, I do not have those daunting nursing books staring me in the face so she has a good reason for not starting this book. I am enjoying this book more than I thought I would. Dayton gives Biblically based financial help through practical examples. His book is very encouraging. I know this will be a book I go back to throughout my life.

I have been reading a lot of Christian fiction this summer. A LOT! Many people would call Christian fiction fluff. I have to admit that among the Christian values presented in this genre there is a some fluff. After I read a lot of Christian fiction I do sometimes get caught up in the romance and the perfectness of it. So I decided to go to something more classic. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Yes, there is still romance, but the language of the novel makes up for it. I really have to use my brain to understand Austen so I feel like it is a bit more intellectual. Now, of course the movie is my favorite so it is easy to picture the movie scenes while reading which helps me understand it a whole lot more. 

The Pursuit of Godby A.W. Tozer came to me through my sister. It was a free download on kindle and she said she really enjoyed it. I started reading several months ago, but recently started over again. What an amazing read! If you want something to challenge you this is what you need. I would recommend it to everyone I know. This book will shake up what you know and challenge you to think higher about you relationship with God than ever before. Tozer reminds me of Jane Austen in that he uses higher language. It takes a little time to understand everything he is writing, but once you understand the rich language your get sucked in. I think I have highlighted almost all of the first two sections. Some people today would say Tozer is old school, out of date, but I would say he is a classic that should stick around. We have a lot to learn from this Christ-follower. Here is one of the quotes I highlighted.

 "We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Our Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed." A. W. Tozer

So these are the books I am reading. Hopefully I can finish all of them before school starts! What are you reading? Anything I should get my hands on? I look forward to your comments.