Control During the Chaos: Wholehearted Living

In my journey to find out how to live wholeheartedly I have come to realize that I cannot be the one in control of my life. If you read my last blog, you know I like a day that goes as planned. As a classroom teacher I like control over chaos. Yet, can I even call myself a classroom teacher if my classroom has been shut down since March and now I am teaching remotely until further notice?

Schools are a hub of communities and the health of a school dictates the health of the community. Jefferson Jr. Sr. High School, the school I work for, serves a population of amazing students who typically fall into these categories: hispanic, poor, black, homeless, and traumatized. Educationally it seems like when we place a grading standard next to their work it seems like they come in far behind their district counterparts, but they are more than that, they are fighters, dreamers, and creative young men and women who inspire me to do more. As a teacher I know that it is not where a student is today (What he or she knows), but where I can take that student tomorrow. My goal is for all my students to become life long learners so when I hear out in the community how far behind our students all are because of the Covid chaos closing the traditional school model, I cry. I have had great successes and great failures in teacher and last school year was no exception. I only hope that this school year is more than the chaos building toward the restart. Lately I have been having dreams about all my students because I miss them. But even though I want to have lunches with them and catch up on their lives, I want them to remain safe so their families too remain safe.

But with all of the restart talk axious thoughts keep creeping in. I want to be the one who makes the call over what goes on in my life. I do not want schools to reopen because I do not want to see my students or coworkers endangered.  Last spring was a hard semester for me as a teacher (and I know for my coworkers as well) as I missed seeing my students and then academically many just stopped doing their work.  I understand that it was difficult for the parents at home with their children and some of my students were forced to stay home in abusive situations or in homes without any food or where abuse takes place.  Schools offer a safe place for many people, but to open up, we will endanger the lives of our student’s communities, and us teachers.  Typing this stirs my anger so often I try not to take part in any of the conversations on the various restart times. 

However, chaos can be the best place to learn. Back when I was in the classroom the entire day I would have beautiful lessons with perfectly planned out steps. I am sure my students learned as they answered my questions, listened to my explanations of the lesson, and then read or write as they processed what I was guiding them through. But I know that they learned best when the class felt a little chaotic. Now, I don’t mean kids standing on desks or anything like that, but when we would have conversations. As much as I would try to plan in collaborative conversations, they worked best when they were organic and organic is messy. An organic classroom looks like one where the students are given a task, they interact with their peers, maybe they do get up on their desks, maybe they walk around and find out the answers that they are looking for. Sadly, I missed out on an entire semester of messy conversations with my students as Covid-19 took over and if we are back in school, I am not going to be able to have a literally or metaphorically messy classroom at all. My students will have to sit in their desks, not talk, and definitely not interact with each other. But worrying does nothing. God is in control, so much so that as I typed this blog up, my school district announced that we are no longer starting in person, but will be online. All my worry has done is steal from me. So why try to control, it doesn’t lead to wholehearted living.

Therefore, I am giving up control of my my life and because of that I can take a huge breath and relax. When I give God my desire to control my life, I can be saturated in him and live wholeheartedly. Each morning in prayer I ask God to father me in how to surrender so I may live in his freedom. This has been a true adventure because each day I tend to hop out of bed and sit down at my metaphorical command center and say engage, only for God to remind me that he is the captain of my life. Like the other morning when I woke up as the sun started poking its way in through my window. Everyone, including my dog, was still asleep, but I couldn’t force myself to fall back to sleep. Why God didn’t give us a secret turn off switch that lets us sleep, I am not sure. Or maybe he did. It’s called giving everyone and everything to him at all times. So I had to let go, be gracious to myself and about an hour later Gryffin, my dog, yelped and I was pulled from a deep sleep. That’s what it looks like to let go and when I let go I am able to live wholeheartedly. Living wholeheartedly means I choose to live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Fruit of the Spirit). Life in these is a life full of freedom and joy.

When I give up control and practice the Fruit of the Spirit, I respond to the decisions my school district makes differently. I am patient and know that God will work through each action. I am not perfect at practicing these nine ideas, but that’s what this journey is meant for. When I start to feel anxious I want to remember to be more of a loving, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled person because that is what it looks like to be wholehearted.

When I give God control in my classroom, like I did on March 13th, miracles happen. Our entire staff found out on Thursday that we would be moving to remote teaching after our normal two day weekend. Jeffco, my school district, trusted that we would do our best, even though Denver Public Schools gave their teachers three weeks to figure out how to best reach their student population. I felt a little panicked, but decided to listen for a minute. Calmly as my students came into the classroom for what would be the last time that Friday, I handed them a copy of Anne Frank’s Diary and an empty journal for them to keep track of their thoughts. Over the Spring semester at home, my 8th grade students read about Anne Frank’s struggles with isolation and about her hope for a better future. Each day they also wrote about their own struggles and hopes. At the end of the semester I had them type up their journals and publish them as their own accounts of what life has been like for them while stuck at home. Their writing was vulnerable and beautiful. I am so proud of the work that they did. Last semester might not have been ideal, but my students learned about the writing process, they were challenged to read (and even without me by their side, I know they did because I read their thoughts on her life which were deep), and they had fun. My hope is my students become more loving, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled people because of what we went through together last semester. I know that this can happen again if we decide to do the right thing and keep our students home.

14 days might sound drastic, but New Zeeland has gone over 100 days, so why can’t we set our goals high in order to protect our students and our community?

School starts tomorrow. I am teaching from home for the time being, but no matter what comes my way I hope I offer hope, love, peace, joy, and healing to those who I come into contact with because I know there are people who have been filled with fear through this time of chaos and there are people who completely disagree with my beliefs on schools not opening up. I want to be a part of the healing instead of the hurt. I have emailed all of my students and so many of my kids have responded about how excited they are to be in my virtual class. I hope I can make this year a meaningful one for them.

Whole Heartedness: One Day At A Time

At the start of the year 2020 God gave me a series of words: Saturate, Wholehearted, and Beautiful Adventure. I knew this year April and I wouldn’t be adventuring through Europe, standing at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, but I knew God wouldn’t stop bringing true joy and wonder into our lives. And then the world seemed to fall apart. Yet, I will rejoice because in all of the chaos God has reminded me that he is good.

These words were inspired by a conference I went to in November lead by John Eldredge and the Wild At Heart Team. He said if you want to get your life back you must live differently, he goes deep into this topic in his book Get Your Life Back (I strongly suggest it). I have taken up the challenge and so here is more of what I am doing. I touched on taking one day at a time in my last blog, but now I want to dive deeper into the idea. This is my first step to living Wholeheartedly and finding the Beautiful Adventure God has for me.

I am taking each day at a time. This has helped me sleep and let go of the anxious thoughts the world tries to force into my life. I’m alive today. I can breathe today. I can see beauty today. God is in control today and His love for me today remains as strong as it was the day before. How can I not rejoice when I remember how much I am loved. As I have been taking each day at a time I have been using the One Minute Pause App to help me refocus my thoughts and give over everything and everyone to God. How ground breaking is that idea. I open up an app and instead of scrolling through a newsfeed that feeds my fears I am reminded to give over everyone and everything to God, who wants to help us. In his goodness he is allowing us to let go of it all and reminding us that he will take care of it all. This simple app is helping me get my life back.

Honestly, this is easier to claim that I do, than to actually do. I love routine and so when my day goes a little unplanned I feel anxious. My typical schedule, before April and I got our dog, looked like this: Wake up by 8 so I can spend an hour in prayer. I have written out my prayers and read my bible everyday for nearly 20 years. Next I drink water mixed with spark. If it is a weekend day (or a Covid day) I go for a walk. If it is cold or the weather forces me to stay inside, I try to read for an hour or more. Lunch comes next and after that I try to workout. If I can keep this schedule going, dinner and a little TV in the evening, followed by plenty of scrolling on Facebook. Then to bed and a little journaling before April and I pray and turn off the lights. If school is in session add in plenty of teaching chaos followed by coaching basketball, cross country, or tennis, but since Covid has stopped all of that, add in checking emails from students and setting up video chats to help answer questions.

But that’s hardly how my days ever went over the spring and now they never go like that. Gryffin, my awesome little Australian Shepherd, has disrupted all of that. He wakes up at 6:45 so even as I am on summer break I am making sure I go to bed at a decent hour. He loves to strut around the house in the morning with a toy in his mouth. Next I take him outside so he can dash around the yard. April and I have been sitting on our Adirondack chairs in the cool of the morning enjoying Gryffin’s antics and doing our devotionals. Gryffin loves taking walks and so with a gentle “Let’s Go!” and a tug on the leash we adventure out into our neighborhood. He recently has found out how awesome rabbits are or at least he thinks that they are awesome because he tugs on my arm asking if he can be their friend (or eat them). When we return from our walk I let Gryffin nap while I spend time in prayer. Days like these can be as redundant or as adventurous as I let them. However stress and chaos always seem to sneak their way in.

So instead of thinking about if I will be able to go on a hike tomorrow, meet with a friend tomorrow, or do the same old same old tomorrow, I am taking it a day at a time. Maybe I’ll sit by the garden and throw the frisbee for my dog. I have started to pause during my day and invite God into my time. I am giving over to him everyone and everything I have picked up (both the good and the bad). Often times I can stress about if I am going to be able to spend time in prayer, like I need to check a box off some list in order to please God. Who knew that praying everyday for nearly 20 years could cause stress. Who knew that my desire for a good walk or a short run could wake me up in the early morning and not let me fall back to sleep. It is in those moments that God reminds me to take each day as it comes. He feeds the birds and he causes fields to bloom with beautiful flowers so why worry about what I might want to schedule?

Elevation Worship sings in their song, My Testimony, “If I’m not dead, You’re not done, Greater things are still to come, Oh I believe!” I want that mindset. Even if my day doesn’t go as planned, I know I am alive, God is not done with me, and greater things are to come. Their song Won’t Stop, is a banner for my. life. They sing, “I know a breakthrough is coming, by faith, I see a miracle, Yes, my God made me a promise and He won’t stop now!” Each day I fill myself with worship music because their promises ring true which keep me going each day. God will bring a breakthrough and the best is yet to come.

I have not been able to go for a run since Gryffin growled his way into our lives and some days I am not even able to go for a walk (and if you have read any of my blog posts you know how I feel about walking and how healing it can be for stress) but if I am taking each day at a time I am able to remember that God is providing enough for me each day (this rings true for when I am stressing about sleep too).

A couple of Saturdays ago I missed my early morning walk. Things seemed off, but then Gryffin and I were able to go for a hike. The day had been busy and then all of a sudden my schedule was clear as if God said, go. We followed and instead of sauntering around our neighborhood, we were taken out into the wild. It was quiet and in the quiet God reminded me that his beauty is enough treasure for each day. Then he surprised me with an amazing sunset. I would never have seen that if I had worried about what my day needed or fretted over not going on my morning walk.

Remember God is in control. None of us know what will happen next. No one knew a pandemic would shut down our country and that we would be spending so much time at home this year. So why worry about what happens next? I would rather remember that He is leading me and fathering me. Each day he is giving me a gentle tug on my heart and saying, “let’s go!” Each night when I lay down to sleep, I can either choose to fret about tomorrow, or remember that he is in control and has a beautiful adventure for me.