Kind Words

”Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Most of us have likely heard or said some version of the above. It is often used to help kids cope with unkind words. But the truth is, words can hurt. What if we placed more emphasis on using kind words instead of simply ignoring the unkind ones? The results are much more powerful.

It’s impossible to understand the impact of kind words until you’ve been on the receiving end. Today I was on that receiving end. Wow! I didn’t know how much I needed those words until they were spilled out.

A simple text from a sweet friend saying, “Just thought you should know how valued, appreciated, and loved you are.” Tears came quickly, causing the remainder of the message to blur.

This thoughtful expression was overwhelming. It provided much-needed encouragement. It also reminded me the best way to teach the importance of using kind words is by example. Allow them to pour out, and affirm those on the receiving end.

This time of year, it is easy to put my head down and move full speed ahead. End of the school year activities, tired teachers, anxious kids. We can feel summer just around the corner. I can’t think of a better time to slow down, look up, and let some kind words flow.

Something to Say

The following essay was written for a Writing Contest hosted by Positive Writer entitled You are Enough.

http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-you-are-enough/

I believe each one of us has something important to say.  Valuable ideas, opinions, and questions are always hovering at the forefront of our minds. The decision to keep these thoughts inside our head, say them out loud, or write them down is personal. But once we decide to engage in this process of writing, the freedom experienced far outweighs any prior apprehensions.

Whether typed on a personal tech device or handwritten in a journal, the simple act of writing words down gives them life. Suddenly we see them in a different light. Simple ideas once floating around in our head instantly become concrete-combinations of letters in black and white ready to be read over and over, edited and expanded.

Once words are given life, we have another choice to make. Will our words remain private or will we find an appropriate platform for sharing?  Some may remain unread until we are no longer living, leaving behind insights intended only for those closest to us.  Others we may choose to display freely for anyone to read.

My family recently received a wonderful gift of words. After the passing of my Aunt Pearl, numerous precious pages written in her own handwriting were discovered by her children. Did she consider herself a writer? No-yet her words, beautifully describing her life, her hopes and her dreams, provided comfort during a time of grief.

Certain words, however, need to be shared in the present. Not only for the writer’s benefit but also the unexpected help they may provide others. A strong likelihood exists that other people are coping with the same life challenges and fears, yet have not found the courage to give their thoughts life.  Your words may provide the encouragement they need.

I was extremely nervous about sharing my personal story concerning depression in written form.  Typing those confessions gave them a new sense of reality.  Once I took the next step and clicked the publish button, a flood of positive responses arrived. Others suddenly felt free to tell their personal stories, and their powerful words provided the realization that I was not alone in my struggles.

What happens when we choose courage and allow our words to make a positive contribution to this world?  We won’t know until we write. Don’t be afraid!  Your thoughts have great value. And once put into words, they help tell your story-the specific set of life experiences belonging only to you. No one else is exactly like you, and someone out there needs to hear your words, your insights, your story! Get busy writing!

Something important needs to be said which only you can say!

Contagious

Morning car duty, the day after our first elementary choir rehearsal, one of my favorite fourth graders hopped out of his car with a big smile. Running over he gave me a big hug and chimed, “Choir was so much fun yesterday! I told my mom and dad that you almost cried when we sang Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” A tad embarrassing but he was right-I did get a little teary.

Same day-first hour-fifth grade. I showed students one of the new puppets I had ordered for my younger classes. Just delivered and so cute! The students smiled and I heard some awwws-that’s all it took. I began telling them how much the little kids love the puppets and how I wished I’d had puppets when they were in kindergarten and first grade.

A fifth grade boy spoke up, “Mrs. Morris, I’ve never seen an adult so excited about puppets before!” Well, guess what? I soon had twenty-something fifth graders asking to play with puppets. Of course I said yes.

What a sight! The biggest kiddos in the school using the cutest animal hand puppets, singing along to Carrie Underwood’s The Champion. Priceless!

Then it hit me! The enthusiasm of a fourth grade boy had been contagious.

There was a positive attitude domino effect at work. This cycle continued for most of the day, the most encouraged I’ve felt about my teaching so far this year. Don’t misunderstand, not all days work this way. I’m not attempting to paint a “perfect harmony little cherubs singing” portrait. Nor am I anywhere close to being Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music.

Truthfully, it took the excitement of a student to adjust my attitude. And if this one student has the power to do that for me, how many students and colleagues should I be able to influence?

Attitudes are contagious. And I can either spread one that is positive and encouraging or one that is negative and frustrating. Here’s to having an attitude others want to catch, not one they try to avoid.

Champion

What is a champion?  The word often brings thoughts of athletes, winning the ultimate game.  Webster’s definition includes warrior, fighter, defender, one fighting for the rights of others, and lastly the winner of a competition.  Although I like the order of those descriptions, there is much more to this idea of being a champion.  Or at least there should be…

Do I think of myself as being a champion in my role as wife? Mom? Teacher? Friend?   Truthfully, no.  But what if I did?  After all, each role is important and has the power to influence and encourage my family, friends, students, and community.  What if I consistently worked hard at improving my skills in each role?

The official music video for Carrie Underwood’s song “The Champion” (feat. Ludacris) does a beautiful job of expressing the broadness of this word.  Included in the lyrics are invincible, unstoppable, unshakable-mixed with images of hard work, honesty, integrity, and sacrifice.  People from all walks of life, facing every kind of challenge imaginable, working hard,  persevering.

I love watching my students’ reactions to this video.  Of course, the song is energetic and exciting.  They love to sing along.  When I ask what people they notice, the answers are all over the place-football player, swimmer, surfer, soldier, someone with cancer, a person with prosthetic legs-you get the idea.

What they don’t usually notice, however, are the students, teachers, parents-doing everyday things.  They are students.  As I like to remind them, doing school is their job.  But do they consider themselves champions in that role of being a student?  This is not a naturally occurring thought for them-or for us as parents and teachers either I’m afraid…

It’s never too late for a new mindset, right?

So where to begin?  The answer will be different for each of us.  For me personally, maintaining motivation is a constant struggle.  Lack of sleep, feeling tired, possibly getting sick-anxiety levels begin to rise leading quickly to negative thoughts-I don’t think I can keep doing this, am I a good teacher, have I been a good mom-a rapid, downward spiral pulls me away from the much-needed motivation.

Sometimes the spiral slows with a prayer, a deep breath, a confession of feelings to a trusted friend. Other times it requires tears, and possibly a nap.  Thoughts begin to refocus. A successful lesson, an encouraging word from a colleague, and a reminder that what I do has value, and therefore requires hard work.

Eventually, the search for motivation begins all over again, and I look for ways to make changes and improvements in my chosen roles. And who knows? Maybe there will be that moment where I feel like a champion.

Even better–maybe someone who crosses my path will feel like a champion.

 

The Simple Things

This morning I was running late for church.  Normally I arrive at least ten minutes early so I can double-check my piano music-make sure all the corners are turned up, everything is in the correct order-then I have a minute to breathe.  Well, today that routine was completely thrown off.

As I quickly walked in, I knew I had to skip my music checking system and rush upstairs to the choir room for warm-up.  Of course, they had already started so I sleeked in and quietly sat down at the piano.  While playing their vocal exercises, I found myself taking deep breaths, trying to calm the anxiousness that came from being completely out of balance.

As we headed downstairs to rehearse with the orchestra, the director spoke with kindness, expressing that she also was having a rough morning.  Knowing someone else was willing to admit that they felt off-their-game helped my tension begin to fade.  I felt a little better.

Walking toward the piano to prepare for the service, I noticed a note card sitting where my music would go.  Hmm… What is that?  Is it meant for me?  Who placed it there? Questions which remain unanswered.  Yet it was exactly what I needed at that very moment.  A simple note of encouragement-Joshua 1:9 and “Do good.”  I smiled and felt confident in the task ahead.

Reflecting over these seemingly simple acts-kind words from someone who acknowledged my stress and a sweet note from a stranger-I began to think about how many times I miss the chance to do the same for someone else.  It really doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s day. But it does require me to look past myself and pay more attention to those who cross my path.

Easier said than done I know-but a goal for the coming week.

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Robbing the Cradle

I’m sure you have heard the phrase “robbing the cradle.”  Typically it refers to someone marrying a much younger person.  People have teased me with that old saying upon discovering that I am two years older than my husband.  Of course, he never lets me forget that fact, even though two years hardly qualifies in this case.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, my daughter and I met an older couple.  As the wife turned around from the meat counter, she stumbled but caught herself.  She came to a stop right in front of us.  I asked if she was ok and said something like, “Oh, be careful!”  Very helpful I’m sure, but she smiled and struck up a conversation.

We soon learned that this fashionably dressed, white-haired, make-up wearing woman was ninety-three years old!  She shared her age proudly and thanked us as we commented on how amazing she looked.  Obviously, this woman had some spunk.

As we continued to chat, her husband (I assumed) walked toward us.  When something was mentioned about him watching out for her she laughed and said, “Oh yes he does.  Well, I did rob the cradle.”  Now mind you he was not a spring chicken and walked with a cane, but he had a precious smile.  We chuckled as she shared that she was twelve years older than her husband.  I quickly did the math in my head…so, that makes him eighty-one.

Just when I thought the story was finished, she shared more details.  “I was married to my first husband for seventy years.  And (pointing to her husband) we’ve only been married for three years.”  It took a few minutes for my brain to wrap around what this precious lady was saying.  Seventy years of marriage!  What a story!  I would imagine her current husband also had a story to tell, but he just smiled happily as she told hers.

Later I found myself wishing I could have spent more time with this sweet couple.  Many questions came to my mind.  How old was she when she first married?  What had happened to her husband?  Did she have any children?  How did she meet her current husband?  Answers I guess I will never have.  Unless we happen to run into each other at the grocery store again…you can bet I will be keeping my eyes open.

 

 

 

Connections

After just finishing the first week of school, I found it interesting that today’s church sermon focused on connecting with others. Being intentional in greeting people, taking time to make connections…things we too often gloss over.  We all have our comfort zone, the same people we talk to, the same path we walk most days.  The pastor this morning reminded us that we never know what the person standing next to us might be going through. Most of us have been in that place of “needing to be greeted.”

While listening to the sermon, I began to reflect on this past “first week” of school.  In my upper elementary music classes, we listened to James Taylor’s “Today, Today, Today” for our beginning warm-up.  Opening lyrics say, “Today, today, today…I’m finally on my way.”  Students were asked to finish that thought, use their imagination and tell me where they were headed.

Their answers were funny, thoughtful, and interesting-ranging from-to the restroom, to lunch, home, grandma’s house, college, heaven.  And then the one that left the room silent,  “On my way to visit my dad in prison.”   As if that wasn’t surprising enough, another sweet student said almost exactly the same thing.  Serious connections.  Right in the middle of music class, two students discover they share a difficult life situation.  And then I overheard these two precious kiddos connect further as one shared they were actually in foster care right now.

I knew at that moment what we were doing was important, but didn’t really give it much thought after the fact.  The week was long, there were so many things to get done.  I was so tired.  Today’s church sermon reminded me of the importance of those connections.  Teacher to student, student to student-we all need each other.  And if I expect my students to listen and learn from me, I must be willing to listen and learn from them.

Here’s to a week of playing some super fun rhythm and singing games in Mrs. Morris’s music class!  And in the midst of our making music, may we also make lasting connections which will help us through the tough days this life inevitably brings.