Love to Hope

This was not the subject I planned to write about immediately following Christmas. But I could not ignore the story. A local news headline read, “Toddler critically injured by a gunshot.” None of those words belong in the same sentence, yet here they were again.

An innocent 18-month old baby, sitting in the backseat of a car, had been shot. I don’t know the whole story. Just that someone shot a gun into an SUV and a bullet struck the child.

The shooting occurred the day after Christmas, near my school.
I quickly checked the location of the incident, wondering if I knew the family. Faces of students immediately came to mind. Did they have younger siblings? I didn’t know.

Further investigation showed this specific apartment complex is not one of my school’s neighborhoods. But it was very close.

For a brief moment, I felt relief. And just as quickly, guilt. The reality is a child was shot. And whether or not I have any connection makes the story no less tragic.

I began to wonder. Would my reaction differ if I had known this child or family? Would my anger and sadness lead to action? And if so, what possible action could I take?

Too many unanswered questions. Too many stories repeated. Too many children left with overwhelming emotional scars.

Being a teacher, I sometimes witness the manifestation of these scars. Withdrawal, aggression, and fear top the list. All lead to an inability to connect with others. An inability to trust. An inability to love or be loved.

I teach in a building full of individuals who love every day. We set expectations while recognizing the need for grace. We challenge students while also advocating for them. We mostly smile during the day and sometimes cry at night. I know this is true in other schools as well.

So, how do we continue? Especially in the face of such heart-wrenching stories. We hook arms, grit our teeth, and hold each other up. Remind each other of our purpose. Offer reassurance that what we do each day matters.

We love in hopes of making a difference.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
Romans 12:9

” Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

Choosing Hope

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

This verse popped up on my notifications last week. I read and re-read it several times. The recent stories of mass shootings and violence in the news forced me to stop and consider its meaning.

I have always tried not to live my life based on what might happen. That mindset leads to fear and worry, which then increases my anxiety. Not an easy task, but a goal.

I learned a long time ago; I cannot keep my husband and children safe. They are not with me 24/7, nor should they be. Experience has shown that even when they are with me, bad things still happen.

I used to worry about them because of high school violence. Gart was a high school principal, my kids were attending high school at various times. High profile mass shootings in high schools were unbelievably common.

Then my list of places to worry about grew longer. The same horrific events happened at the elementary school level. Stories of precious little children killed, their teachers attempting to protect them were heartbreaking.

I am an elementary school teacher. As such, I witnessed the ushering in of intruder on campus drills. I had difficult conversations with young students who should not be worried about someone entering their school to harm them.

And now? The worry invades not only my school but also the church, shopping malls, concerts, clubs. No place is off-limits. Despite this fact, we cannot remain locked up in our homes and avoid contact with others.

What is the answer? I’m not sure. Gun control and mental health top the list of conversations and news sound bites. Lawmakers bicker back and forth but offer no real solutions. Watching the news brings feelings of desperation.

Yet, I must choose hope. Hope must lead to action. Action must lead to loving my neighbor, no matter where they are from or how they look. And that is only the beginning.

“For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14

That may seem like a simplified answer for such a terrible problem. But sometimes change begins with one step toward someone else. Suddenly, we are not walking alone. And if we continue walking together, hopefully, others will join.

As this school year starts, my children will be in new places. My two oldest are embarking on teaching careers at different high schools, my future daughter-n-law also teaches at a high school, and my youngest begins college.

Of course, I pray for them and want them to be safe. But even more than that, I want them to live each day to its fullest. Not being afraid of what might happen, but working to be part of the solution.

So, my goal for this year? Not to let worry and fear overtake me. That will require prayer, trusting God, and looking for the good in each day. I will look for it in the faces of my students. They deserve a future filled with hope and love, not fear.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Look to the Future

As I sit in a waiting room waiting to have a mammogram and ultrasound to check out a spot, I notice words along with the flowers on my pretty pink gown. I snap a picture, zoom in and see the word future.

So interesting. All week I’ve been talking to my students about how their attitude today affects their future. And here I sit with this word on my pink gown. So, what is my attitude at this moment? Honestly, I’m a little nervous. I keep telling myself it’s probably nothing. I’ve been through this before. But there’s always that nagging thought in the back of my mind. What if it’s something this time?

Our conversations at school stemmed from learning the song “Look to the Future.” I’ve been singing this song every day with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. It’s a positive, upbeat song and I love the lyrics. The chorus says:

Look to the future
What do you see?
I see peace, and plenty, and harmony

My favorite line from the song is-Tomorrow’s world is made from words of today. For me, this line means we must live in the moment while recognizing today’s impact on the future. Initially, the words today and future seem to contradict each other. But they actually create balance when viewed together.

These discussions with my students are very much like ones I’ve had with my own children. You cannot make decisions today based on what-ifs, especially if the “what if” is followed by something negative or some terrible fear. Focusing on all the things that could possibly go wrong makes it difficult to see any hope for your future.

We certainly shouldn’t live today afraid of what might happen tomorrow or five years from now. There’s no peace in that. However, we must take responsibility for our words, choices, actions, attitudes.

So how did my conversations surrounding this song impact my current situation? They provided the perfect reminder, along with the word on my pink gown, not to worry. Yes, the question still looms-What if it’s something this time? If it is, I will be ok. I will continue to live one day at a time. That’s all I’m promised anyway. And with that perspective, I can look to the future with hope.

FYI-My test results were good. Follow-up in 6 months to make sure there’s no change. Also, my mom is a breast cancer survivor. Always get your regular mammogram. It is so very important!

Hope, Love, Hate

Hate: hostile actions motivated by intense dislike or prejudice.

Hate is such a powerful word. When it is encouraged and allowed to grow, the results are devastating. When our kids were young, we taught them not to use that word, especially when referring to another person. Yes, there are times we might not like someone. Everyone does not have to be our best friend. However, to say you hated someone-that was never acceptable.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the release of the movie Schindler’s List. To honor that anniversary it was re-released in theaters this past weekend.

My husband and I saw this movie when it originally came out. Even after 25 years, I remember feeling like I couldn’t move when the movie ended. I was crying, of course. How could I not cry at the sight of so much hate?

It is still difficult for me to imagine how such atrocities occurred and continue to occur in our world. Yes, I know they happen.  And movies such as Schindler’s List make sure we don’t forget the past. 

Love: an intense feeling of deep affection.

I also know there is love. I’ve witnessed its outpouring on others and experienced it in my own life. And yet…the hate still remains.

As Gart and I watched this powerful film once again, this time with our three grown children, different things stood out to me. There’s a particular scene where Jewish people are being put on trains for transfer out of the work camp, most likely to Auschwitz.

Oskar Schindler, a German businessman, sees the people peering through the small windows, gasping for air. He asks the Nazi soldier in charge to give him water hoses and begins to spray water into the cars, providing a small bit of relief.

It may not have seemed like much. Perhaps a sip of water. A moment of cooling in the middle of cramped, unthinkable conditions, crammed into a train car like cattle.

I walked through one of these train cars when visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  Small, dark, cramped. I can’t begin to imagine the fear which filled the air as those doors were closed.

The man in charge asked why Schindler wanted to spray this water. Why he would offer them even a moment of hope. His response was, “Humor me.” But there was desperation in his eyes. He knew he had to do something.

Hope: grounds for believing that something good may happen.

Mr. Schindler started out as a businessman, interested only in making money. But in the end, he helped save the lives of 1,200 Jewish people during the Holocaust. There are some 6,000 descendants from this specific group of people.

Near the end of the film, Schindler becomes inconsolable, anguishing that he did not save even more people. He was presented with a gift, a ring, with the inscription, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”

That is hope. Hope which leads to love. Love which will eventually overcome hate.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

Lifting My Head

“But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” Psalm 3:3

I have not considered this verse in a long time. Reading it in the past always reminded me of the song, “Thou, Oh Lord,” by Lisa Ireland. I’m not sure when I first heard or sang this song, but the beautiful overlapping melodic lines and powerful words are easy to recall. I can hear them in my head right now…

Take a listen. https://youtu.be/_aYRfUmGpmo

When this verse popped up on my phone today, I thought of the song for a moment, but then my thinking took a different direction. Three clear ideas came to mind-birth, sickness, and death. These notions shifted my focus to the last phrase “lifter of my head.” It’s an unusual phrase, certainly not one you hear every day.

The first thing that came to mind was a newborn baby. I pictured new parents, cradling the head of their precious little one. The baby does not yet have the strength to hold its head up. The mom and dad are the shields, protecting until the child grows stronger. I’ve experienced this feeling of responsibility with my own children as I held their tiny heads in my hands, keeping them safe.

The sweet image of newness was quickly followed by the idea of frailty and illness. Many of us have taken care of someone who is sick. Too weak to even lift their head, needing assistance to take a sip of water. If you have had the opportunity to help in this situation, you know it’s not easy. Here I’m reminded of my mom’s battle with breast cancer, and the assistance she required following surgery.

Finally, I pictured the end of life, the process of dying. A time when we are once again reminded of our weakness and frailty. If ever we need someone to lift our head, this is the time. What a comforting gesture, providing a shield against our fears. This one is the most difficult, one our family faced together as my father-n-law bravely battled cancer to the very end.

“The lifter of my head.”

In each scenario-birth, illness, death-this sweet phrase brings much comfort. Such reassurance in knowing there are people in our lives who love and support us during critical times. Even more so the knowledge there is a God who is concerned with each of these moments. And that He places people in our path to demonstrate this love.

While at my weakest, I do not have to be afraid. When I am unable to lift my head, help will come.

Blanket of Snow

What is it about snow?  There’s a crisp excitement in the air.  Kids are laughing and smiling.  This beautiful white precipitation is a rare occurrence in Oklahoma.  And when we do have snow, it’s usually at odd times.  One particular year it snowed on both Halloween and Spring Break!

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Today was one of those days.  November 12-Fall hasn’t even officially arrived yet.  A little early for snow, but I’ll take it!  I smiled the entire drive to work this morning.  Those beautiful white, magical flakes floating in the air, blanketing the ground. My spirits were lifted, and there was a pep in my step that’s been missing lately.  I found myself stopping to look outside at every opportunity, snapping pictures.

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I wonder why snow has this effect?  Maybe it’s a reminder of clean slates, fresh starts, second chances…forgiveness.  Things we all need at different times in our lives.  Experiences which blanket us with peace and contentment.  Experiences which give us hope for each new day.

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And just like that, the snow is gone.  Will that pep in my step disappear with the melting snow?  Possibly.  Or perhaps I will allow the memories from today to stay with me, reminding me that tomorrow is a new day.  A day full of possibilities with chances to start over or try again.  An opportunity for forgiveness where needed.

The stresses of this life can be unexpected and overwhelming.  I don’t know about you, but I find myself needing that blanket of calm more and more often.   If we stop and watch the snowfall, no matter how brief, just maybe we will find that peace we so desperately seek. Remembering the impact created by that beautiful blanket of snow.

Time

Hanging on to its coattails as it flies by… faster with each passing day.

 

Time passes quickly

Years like months

Months like days

Days like minutes

Not logical

Yet true

 

Holding on tight

Wishing years would slow

Months would stretch

Days would linger

With no result

Passing more quickly

 

I must respond

Dream changes each year

Plan work each month

Find good each day

Hope for the future

Embrace this moment

 

“Secret ‘O Life” James Taylor