Monday, January 31, 2011

Let Go and Let God

A Peaceful Retreat
Castaway Cay  2010

Numbers 6:26 NIV
"The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."

"How are you today, Mrs Durham?" the girls ask as they greet me in the morning. An hour later, one of the football players wraps his arms around me in a bear hug as he heads into my classroom.

At the lunch line, I greet each student,  and I get smiles in return. At the end of the day, my former juniors pass by my room and briefly stop on their way home. "We love you, Mrs. Durham! Have a great evening."

It's so easy for me to lose sight of all this kindness from students around me. I deal with discipline problems nearly every day, so I forget the kind, soft words of love spoken to me by students who like me.

I wonder why this is? I wonder why I remember the negative moments before I remember the good? These girls and the boys, who smile and share their kind warmth with me help me make it through my day, but I get so focused on my work, and my troubles, and my petty problems, that I forget to appreciate the joy and love they share with me.

Is it human nature to focus on the bad in life before the good? Sometimes it takes so much energy to be positive and upbeat, and I fail miserably. 

I sure haven't hit the mark the past couple days at work. I have let circumstances control me instead of controlling the circumstances. I have felt like the victim instead of taking charge of the situation and allowing God to give me wisdom and strength to endure.

It's so much easier as a human to whine like a baby than to take the high road and let God be in control.  If I could only find that perfect peace and let Him guide my steps.

If I could learn to stop raging in anger on the inside when events go wrong and let God calm me and take charge, then my life would be easier. 

Again and again I fight my temper and the anger and the negative outlook when I can't control events in my life. I still have trouble letting go and letting God.

I need to pray and pray for help, and then I'll be able to hear the positive messages of love around me more loudly and focus less on the negative.
Lord, help me focus on the positive messages in my life, so I can be at peace.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Daddy's Shoes

Little Lori Before She Strayed from the Straight and Narrow
Circa 1961
Ezekiel 16:10 NIV
"I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments."

I started at the back of the sanctuary at the end of Sunday morning services. I must have been three or four years old because I wore a beautiful dress and shiny black shoes with frilly white socks mom had put on me before Sunday School that morning.

I had watched the boys play this game, and as always, what was good for the boys seemed good for Little Lori. I knelt on the polished wooden floor behind the last pew and looked ahead of me. I almost laughed out loud in delight. I saw an open sea of emptiness ahead of me. The polished wood and my cotton dress were made for each other.

My knees bent and little toes pushed me forward. I glided two pew lengths ahead.  Whoo-hoooo.  Who knew I could "swim" underneath these pews?

Going to church had just taken on a new meaning of fun for me. I bent my knees and shoved against the floor even harder the next time.  I went forward faster.

I was having the time of my young life. I was already making plans for the next rotation under the pews once I reached the front row.  In fact, I started to aim my gaze forward. However, I saw a pair of giant shoes in front of my path that were not budging.

I gulped. I knew those shoes. Those were daddy's shoes. For the first time, I began to wonder if there was a rule against sliding in a clean church dress under church pews on a dusty floor that I had forgotten about. 

Apparently there was. Dad met me at the end of my journey, picked me up by one hand, took me to the parking lot, where he spanked me and had a talk with me I never forgot.

Needless to say, my days of swimming under church pews were over.

Throughout my life, there have been times I have recognized the "shoes" of God.  His signs are all around me if I open my life to them. 

My conscience is one way God keeps His presence felt. I know right from wrong, and all God has to do is twinge my conscience, and I remember dad's shoes.

God has a way to keep me from swimming on the dusty path, just like my dad did. Even though I had fun, I was not doing what my parents expected from me. 

God expects more from me, too.  I need to be aware of His presence and keep an eye out for His signs or a pair of giant shoes in front of my path.
Lord, Help me bring honor to you and follow the path you have laid out for me.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What is Success?


New York City
October 2010 
Proverbs 16:3 NIV
"Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed."
My biggest challenge as an English teacher is to overcome negative attitudes my students have toward my subject. Once I can eliminate those, then I can begin to teach the kids new ideas and show them how they are capable of learning these concepts, including writing a coherent paragraph. 
Many of my students have lost faith in themselves and their ability to succeed in English.  Even some adults I meet for the first time will freely admit their dislike for English.
It wasn't my favorite subject in school either, and had it not been for a wonderful teacher my senior year in high school, I wouldn't have selected it as a career. However, because I struggled with it and then learned how to succeed, I want to help others find success with English who are struggling with it.
I believe God put me in this field for a reason. I know I have touched many lives as a teacher that I would never have been able to touch otherwise.  One dream I had was to go into the mission field. That has been fulfilled, in a way, through teaching.
I tell my students they can make a difference in the world, and they can succeed in English. I am a cheerleader in many ways, not just a teacher.
In my own life, I turn to my family, friends and God to encourage me and help me succeed with my goals.
One of my favorite quotes about success is by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is a different view of success than many people in today's celebrity-driven society possess, but it reflects what I hold dear. It is below:
"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." 
How I define success and if I include God in my pursuit of success are key issues to consider on my life's journey.
Lord, let my life be successful in your eyes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Can You Read Me Now?

A Nice, Quiet Place to Study
Rye, New York  2010

2 Corinthians 1:13-14 NIV
"For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus."

At first, the train moved imperceptibly from its position, then, a jolt shook us as we hooked to a line of cars ahead of or behind us. High pitched squeals of metal on metal indicated the slowing of our impact as we added cars to the procession. 

Once the engineers completed their adjustments, the Austrian Railways (ÖBB) train pulled out of the station on schedule.

In 1980, I studied in Bregenz, Austria. My friends and I looked forward to our three-day weekends to travel on Eurorail passes to neighboring countries. Although we had second or third class accommodations, we were just excited to be on the train.

One day I caught a local train to a hat factory near Bregenz to buy my brother an Alpine hat. While there, I spoke to a woman trying on hats. We talked for some time before she paused and asked what part of Germany I was from as she couldn't place my accent. When I told her I was an American, she refused to believe me.

As a student, I felt proud of my fluency. As a human, I felt proud of my ability to relate to her in her own language and culture.

After seven years of studying German in school, it took me a little less than six weeks of total immersion to become familiar enough with the language to be able to reach the point where I could pass as a German with a strange accent. 

Every language has its inherent learning curve.

Right now, we have a student at school who is new to us. He is from a country in the far east. He speaks limited English. My friend, the ESOL teacher, talked to him about his progress taking notes in English class.

He responded, "I can't read the notes on the board." 

She told him he needed to assume responsibility for his learning and move up closer to the board, so he could read the notes. 

He stopped her, "No, that's not it. I can SEE the notes. I can not READ the notes."

The student is in the process of language acquisition. Having lived it myself, I know he has a long road ahead of him.  Certainly total immersion in the language and culture will help him, but it will take much dedication from him, too.

I'm this way with my Bible right now. I can SEE the verses, but I can't always READ the verses.  I have to use study guides and listen in church for help interpreting what's in front of me. I have to spend more time immersing myself in study of the Bible in order to be able to understand God's will for my life.

It's easy to see something; it's not so easy to understand it.

That's where individual accountability and hard work takes place.
Lord, help me grow in understanding of your Word each day.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

God Bless the Child

My Name on my Birthday Cake
June 2010

Isaiah 43:1 NIV
"But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine."

It usually takes three weeks to learn my students' names, and now, after the start of the new semester, I have learned them. 

However, I have a problem. I can't pronounce some. If I can call them by last names, then I "cheat" and do that. However, sometimes the first and last names are both impossible.

Students don't seem concerned about getting my name right. I answer to anything close to "Durham". However, they are less forgiving if I mispronounce their names.

I gathered some quotes about names, which demonstrate the importance people have placed on names.

The first one comes from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

This next one is from Arthur Miller's, Crucible:

John Proctor:  "Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!"

I have a colleague who gave birth to her son yesterday. As of last night, his first name was still officially listed as "Nameless". 

A mutual friend who visited her at the hospital yesterday told me she and her husband had wanted a girl. Someone told them they would jinx their chances for a girl if they picked out boys' names, so they didn't.

When their third son was born, he was dubbed "Nameless" until his name could be selected.

However, God has already named him. His parents just need to figure it out. God was with "Nameless" in the womb and claimed him and named him there.

What a miracle. His birth and his name are uniquely his, and God was with him throughout the process.
Lord, bless the babies as they begin their new lives.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Working for the Future

Allie's DNA Science Project
Proverbs 14:23 NIV
"All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty."

She had been stretched out in the hall outside my classroom working on her study guide for her approaching unit test over short stories with her classmates. The end of the bell was approaching, and I had just checked her answers to make sure her study guide was accurate.

She stood up, stretched, raised her arms to the ceiling and yawned, then bent over to gather her belongings. She paused at the study guide, held it up and asked, "Mrs. Durham, are we going to have more work like this tomorrow?"

I smiled, "Well, you have a test coming up. We have to review. You tell me."

She frowned as she walked to my door. "Awwww-but these are so hard!"

I laughed, "Yes, but when you were in Kindergarten, tying your shoes was hard. You're a Sophomore now."

She smiled a devious smile back at me over her shoulder as
she entered the room, "Ah--I didn't tie my shoes! I had velcro."

My 15 and 16 year old students are balking at doing the hard work required to meet my standards in the classroom. To some degree, their behavior reflects their age. To another degree, it's their own laziness.

Yesterday we had a "reality check" as I collected all the papers they had turned in to me, and I put on top of the stack of papers a grade print-out for each student.  I highlighted the grades that were missing, and I highlighted their class average.

I stapled all these papers together and gave them to the kids. I told them I would call home as a follow up to make sure their parents received the print-outs and the papers. I told them to have their folks sign the print-outs and return them to me. I called 28 families last night.

I reached a little over half of my parents. We had wonderful conversations. Today, after parents spoke to their children last night, my students decided hard work might benefit them.

I didn't like having to pull the "Parent Card" on the kids. I usually give them a week or two to get used to a new class and a new teacher before I bring in the folks at home, but when parents and teachers work together to help kids, then it can be a good situation for everyone.

One day, these kids will grow up and realize they will have to learn to tie their shoes, and there isn't a short cut like velcro for all of life's problems. Sometimes, only hard work will bring us a profit and success in life.

Yes, they will get more challenges from me each day; I won't apologize for stretching their brain muscles.
Lord, help me remember when I have to work hard I am working to bring glory to you, and I am doing your will.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Who's Your Daddy?

Unto These Hills
Cherokee, NC  2008
Exodus 1:1 NIV
"These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family."

I'm the unofficial historian on my father's side of the family as my mother's side has kept impeccable records.

However, there is one strand I am stuck on: the Cherokee branch. 

The older generation failed to write down names of the Cherokees for us younger ones, so I'm at a roadblock.

However, when I visited Cherokee, North Carolina, with my family and friend, Anna, from Turkmenistan, in 2008, one of our jokes was how I seemed to be related to every one in town.  The resemblance I had to the residents of Cherokee was much closer than any other town I'd visited. It was uncanny.

I had been to Cherokee as a child with my parents, and I remember standing next to a man dressed as a chief welcoming people into town. He told me he could see my Cherokee heritage.

In 2004, I was encouraged by Holly Mcclure, a Cherokee author living on St. Simons Island, who grew up in Cherokee, North  Carolina, to represent the Cherokee Nation and to tell their stories in Turkmenistan. 

The English teachers from Turkmenistan had discovered I had Cherokee ancestry and asked me to tell stories about the Cherokees. For the first time in my life, I needed to live that part of my heritage. Holly gave me the courage to embrace those roots.

In Turkmenistan, in 2008, the U.S. Embassy brought a Native American dance troupe to Ashgabat to tour the country for the Fourth of July. I spoke to a Florida Seminole woman, who addressed me as her "Cherokee Sister". 

I was astonished. She didn't distinguish how much blood I had in me. She just acknowledged my heritage.  I felt like I had opened a door to a new world I had never known before.

I have such a small amount of Cherokee blood in me, yet if I knew the name of my ancestors who were on the Trail of Tears in 1838, then my generation of siblings and cousins could be the last of our family line to officially join the Cherokee Nation.

I wish we had a record of names, like those recorded in Exodus, but we don't.  However, I can pay tribute to all my ancestors as I represent the true "American Melting Pot" Jean de Crevecoeur described in 1783.

I have within me Scottish, Irish, English, French, German, and Cherokee lineage. My family is diverse and came to America at different times in different ways. I don't know all their names, but I am trying to find them and record them for generations who follow me.  

Of course, my ultimate lineage leads me back to my Father in Heaven. His name is Abba. And He named me and knew me before I was born.  So all I'm doing as the family historian is filling in the gaps from Him to now.
Father, Thank you for the diverse backgrounds and personalities of the individuals who have contributed to my existence. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

God's Comfort in a Time of Need

Allie, Jade, and Blue
January 15, 2001

John 11:19 NIV
"And many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother."

We woke up this morning to discover one of our cats, Blue, had died in her sleep last night. Her brother, Jade, was lying partially on her, protecting her, until we could take care of the situation.

Jade and Blue were littermates. Blue was the runt of the litter and always needed Jade's help. He was her protector.

Whenever I got mad at Blue for making a mess in the house, or when I raised my voice at her, Jade was at my feet telling me what he thought of me. Needless to say, they both would get tossed out into the garage to think about their house manners and consider who was boss.

Once, Russell was rearranging boxes in the garage not long after we had moved in this house, and our garage was our storage shed.  He was deep in the maze of boxes and could not easily trace a path out of it. He had been out there about thirty minutes when I heard a terrible commotion and hollering taking place in the garage. Since I was in the house, I couldn't figure out what was going on.

I ran to the door leading to the garage, opened it, and doubled over in laughter to see Jade trying to climb up Russell's leg screaming at him the whole time. Russell was precariously balanced on that one leg, about to fall over.  He had his hands full of boxes and no where to put them down. He was yelling at Jade trying to explain he was not after Blue. 

I looked at the far end of the garage to see Blue sitting with a rather affronted look on her face glaring at Russell as if he had tried to grab her against her wishes. In essence, Jade had trapped Russell, and I had to call Jade off of him. I think Blue had set Russell up, but it was so typical of how Jade was always there to protect his sister.

Allison has been crying all day. Blue was her favorite of the cats. She named Blue when she was a little girl. We buried Blue in the backyard and said some words over her this afternoon.  We even tried a verse of "Amazing Grace". 

Jade is depressed. Death is hard enough to discuss with humans, I sure don't know how to talk to a cat about it.  He has paced the house and the garage looking for his sister. His usual behaviors are missing tonight. Even in sleep, he is not acting his normal self. 

Allie asked me if he'll get over missing Blue. I told her I hope so in a few days. He just needs a lot of tender loving care. 

People who don't own pets don't get the chance to witness this love animals have for each other. 

I know there are other topics I should be thinking about tonight, but all I can do is look at my sad cat and wish I could make him happy again.  Time will heal, but how do I tell that to Jade?  Allie can understand it, she has lived it before with another cat we owned, but still, it'll take time for us to move past Blue's death.

In the meantime, we have appreciated the loving messages of family and friends who have reached out in comfort to us, and we look to God at times like this to comfort us as well.
Dear Lord, Thank you for our pets who bring us such joy in life.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

This is God's World

Winter Equinox Lunar Eclipse
December 21, 2010

Psalms 89:11 NIV
"The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it."

Several years ago I escorted a handful of students to a national speech and debate tournament in Chicago. The uncle of one of my students worked for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and arranged for a "behind the scenes tour" for us when we weren't competing.

My student's uncle worked as a field researcher and scientist, often spending many months in the wilds of remote areas of the world hunting new species and cataloging them.

He escorted us through back room vaults of the museum where the remains of species were classified and recorded. The location of the world from where they were discovered, the date of their discovery, and the name of the scientist who had located them were all meticulously recorded.

He showed us a sample of the notes he kept in his journal about the discoveries he had made. He told us new discoveries were made on a regular basis, and we still don't have every species on the planet cataloged.

Whenever I read news reports about a discovery of a new species, I think of my former student's uncle and wonder if he is the one who found the species, or if he knows the scientists working on the team that made the discovery.

In November 2008, a teenage girl discovered a small supernova in the Cassiopeia star constellation. These types of discoveries seem to happen to ordinary people every year. The heavens and the Earth are full of surprises waiting to be discovered.

However, God already knows all about these surprises. He placed them there. God has tended to the needs of the species here on Earth and he has seen amazing events in the universe.

I always look forward to reading about new discoveries of God's amazing world. He has created a world filled with a variety of species from the microscopic to the stellar. 

The world is beautiful and spectacular, and each new discovery deepens its beauty.
Lord, thank you for all you have created for us to enjoy in the heavens and on Earth.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ask, Seek and Knock

Georgia Aquarium
Luke 11:9 NIV
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, the youth at church enjoyed singing, "Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God." The first stanza went like this:

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Hallelu, Hallelujah!

I found the melody and lyrics hypnotic and soothing. I especially loved singing it acapello around a crackling campfire with the stars shining overhead; crickets chirping in harmony. Bullfrogs adding bass in the distance. Dying logs dropping down into the fire onto others causing red sparks to fly high into the night sky above us as smoke wound above our heads heavenward in unison with our voices.

I recall those moments. I felt close to my companions. I had sought and found God then. He was in our midst. We didn't have to look anywhere else for Him.

I wish it were so easy these days to feel His presence. Then I wonder, how hard am I seeking the answers I am looking for?  How actively am I participating in my own faith walk?  Am I being accountable to God?  Or am I expecting Him to just hand the answers over to me?

In education we have a phrase called "wait time".  It refers to how long we pause to allow students to reflect on an answer before we rescue them.  I even have to keep other students from jumping in to help their peers.  Students don't realize how important wait time is. 

I think God gives me wait time to do brain work and spiritual work on my own.  I have to grow muscles.  My kids always complain how hard it is to write, and I answer it's because "you aren't used to using your brain muscle. You have to exercise it, and then it'll get easier to write."

If I'm not growing in faith, then I'm not exercising my spiritual muscles. It isn't easy to pick up a devotion book and read a chapter and answer questions. That takes some time and self-discipline.

However, I like to read, and I like to think, and I enjoy thinking about new ideas, so I only have myself to blame if I'm not disciplined enough to read the devotional books I own and work in them.

I was once asked what is my priority in life. I was told the way to find the answer was to ask myself two questions: Where do I spend my money, and where do I spend my time? 

Am I truly seeking first the kingdom of God, or am I just going through the motions?
Dear Lord, help me to get more serious each day as I grow in my faith and my walk with you. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Watching and Praying

Atlantic Ocean  2010

Genesis 25:21 NIV
"Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant."

I read inspiring stories all the time of people who have had prayers answered. A lost child was found. A wounded soldier was healed. A family rescued from a flood.  A comforting dream about a deceased family member. All these are just a few events of many where God has answered the prayers of people in need.

I wondered tonight, how long do we have to wait for prayers to be answered?  Isaac did well with his prayer for Rebekah, and she became pregnant after God heard his prayer. They seemed to receive an immediate response.

I can remember though, as a child, praying for patience. Ask my students how well that worked out for me today. I'll just say the full moon was tough on all of us. Obviously, I'm still waiting for the ever-elusive "perfect patience in the heat of the moment" prayer to be answered.

I prayed in college to have my writing accepted for publication. Thirty years later, my prayer is about to be answered.

However, I have also had God immediately stand the gap for me on Sundays when I have gone up front of the congregation and led the Children's Moments at church. If He weren't there with me answering my, "Please, God, help me get my point across to the kids this morning" prayer, then I would be a mess.  I'm so glad He answers that prayer immediately and not thirty years later.

I don't know why we are put through the fire and tested on some of our prayer requests. I examine what I am praying for and make sure the wording is reasonable. If it is, then I need to have patience and faith in God.  There are people in the Bible who had to wait a long time to have their prayers answered, and some people didn't get what they thought they were going to get when they prayed.

We see through a glass darkly on Earth, so our answers here are incomplete. I can only trust God and hold on until His perfect timing reveals to me His perfect plan for my life.
Lord, help me to hold on to faith and hope as I wait (patiently) for prayers to be answered.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

No Greater Love

Summer 2010
Animal Kingdom Resort Orlando, Florida

John 15:13 NIV
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

My students and I read two stories today about honor and loyalty among friends.

"Two Friends," by Guy de Maupassant is about two older gentlemen who lived in Paris during the siege of the Franco-Prussian war. Hungry and missing their favorite pastime, fishing, they received permission to fish outside the city limits one day. 

The rest of the story reveals what happened to them. As the tale concluded, my students were divided on who had predicted the ending and who had been surprised by it. 

However, all of them were touched by the loyalty the men displayed to each other when their friendship was tested.
When I asked if they had friends like this in their lives, some of them answered, "Well, it depends which one--" The class had a good chuckle, but the truth was out. They knew loyalty is a tough quality to hold a friend to when tested.

The Greek myth, "Damon and Pythias" was the second story we read. It's about best friends who lived in Sicily in ancient times under the rule of the cruel tyrant, Dionysus. Dionysus accused Pythias of trying to overthrow him and sentenced him to death.

Pythias begged for time to get his affairs in order so his family could be taken care of first. Dionysus refused unless he could get someone else to stand in his place. Pythias immediately asked his friend, Damon, to stand in for him until he could return.  Damon willingly took his place of danger.

Dionysus, who had no friends, was amazed by this act of friendship. However, he taunted Damon. He told him Pythias would desert him and allow him to die. Damon replied the honorable Pythias would return unless death or misfortune delayed him, and in that case, he would be proud to lay down his life for his friend.

I don't want to spoil the endings of either story.  They are both online to be read. My students had lumps in their throats at the end of "Damon and Pythias" even though they told me they could see the conclusion unfolding and thought it was predictable.

I have thought about my track record in friendship tonight. I like to think based on past experiences I have proven my trust and loyalty as a friend. I hope I have been a help and support to my friends.

But there are events in life I haven't experienced yet with others. With God's wisdom, I believe He will lead me to face whatever comes in life for my friends and show me how to help them.  In the meantime, I lift my friends up in prayer.

I have read stories about people in Tucson, Arizona, who died shielding their friends and family members from bullets.

There are other stories in other places around the world every day that don't make the headlines of parents, friends and even strangers who lay down their lives for others.

What an amazing gift. What a legacy to fulfill for the person who has received that gift of life.
Lord, thank you for your Son who gave His life for me, and thank you for the countless, nameless heroes around the world who give their lives to save others everyday.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jealousy, Thy Name is Jade

Ridiculous Jade

1 Samuel 18:9 NIV
"And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David."

As I write tonight, Precious, one of our younger cats, sits on the armrest of my chair advising me on my thoughts. Since her days as a kitten, she has been in love with the laptop and the computer screen and loves her place by my side as I write. 

Her "big brother" Jade is pacing around my chair on the floor in a jealous fit. He's not used to sharing me this time of night, and his eyes are wide open and dark. His tail is stretched taut, and he's restless. As I call to him, he comes only so far toward me, spies Precious, turns away, and pouts.

Now both Jade and Precious have stretched out on the bed within two feet of each other. The baby is content and happy. Her elder is sniffing a stuffed animal and shooting her dirty looks from behind it.

I never tire watching the interaction of the cats around me. Jade, as the only male of four cats, believes he has first dibs on me. The others believe they have just as much right to my time as he does. Several fights have erupted at times over this point. It is so ridiculous.

I imagine God looks down at me at times and thinks the same thing. "Really, Lori, what are you getting so upset over this for? You're being ridiculous!"  I know I disappoint Him when I become self-centered and focused on myself. When I put my needs first instead of other people's, I get my life out of balance.

I have my share of pity parties at times, and like Jade, I have to fight jealousy.  I guess this just proves I'm human.

I strive to be better each day. I want to be better. With God's grace and love, I will continue to try to improve, so I don't look as silly as Jade does when he is jealous.
Lord, help me to focus on you and all you would have me become.

The Season of Singing

Savannah, Georgia
Spring 2004

Song of Solomon 2:12 NIV
"Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land."

I have no skills with flowers. Years ago, after I raised a batch of healthy weeds outside my house in Kentucky instead of the flowers I had carefully planted,  I made a promise to plants and flowers: I will leave you alone and let you live if you stay away from me.

This arrangement has worked well until kind-hearted people have given me plants through the years. Let's just say I managed to kill a cactus, and from what I understand, that is fairly hard to do.

However, I have always loved flowers and deeply admire people who can grow them and keep plants in and around their houses.

My love of flowers began as a child with the field behind our house, which was filled with wild flowers. I'd pick my mom Queen Anne's Lace and Morning Glories and every other kind of wild flower I could find in the field.

I loved to romp through the paths of that field before it was subdivided and became backyards of homes.  When we moved into the neighborhood, it was all mine to explore.

As more neighbors moved into the subdivisions, and as I had to walk by the homes of talented gardeners on my way to elementary school, mom's flowers were elevated from wildflowers to tulips or roses I spotted growing in a stranger's flower bed. 

At five years old, I didn't quite understand the concept of theft of property, all I was focusing on was gifting my mom with beautiful flowers. The neighbors just happened to be the providers of the rainbow-colored flowers I brought home.

Sadly, one day I picked flowers too close to home.  I found them in the next door neighbor's garden.  She was not happy with "Little Lori" and my mom and dad got an angry call from her about my behavior.

I had to go next door and apologize to her for picking her flowers. At the same time, I have to admit I was eyeballing her flowers as I walked to her front door, figuring out which ones mom would like the next time I picked some. 

I think the apology ended my life of crime as a five year-old flower picker.  Mom's flowers were wildflowers again, and unfortunately, I never figured out how to grow my own garden.

Thankfully, florists can deliver, so mom still gets her flowers from me throughout the year.  I wish I could send them to her every day. She deserves them, but I can't.

Spring will be here in a couple months.  I love seeing the flowers as they make their own rainbow on God's world. They bring such color and hope with them. The season of singing does seem to begin with spring.
Lord, thank you for the colorful flowers you give us to brighten our lives.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Patience of Job

Patiently Waiting to Open His Gifts
Christmas 2010
Proverbs 19:11 NIV
"A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense."

I had prepared a lesson on homonyms to present to my peers in the teacher training class. We were all about to enter high schools to student teach, so we practiced lessons on each other. I was the third person to teach a lesson, and so far, the others had done well. We had been compliant students and helped the one presenting by being model students.

As I took center stage in the classroom and began my lesson on homonyms--words that sound alike but are spelled differently--my classmates began to laugh. I'm not exactly sure why the word struck them as being so hysterical, but my lesson began to unravel at that point.

I plowed on through their snickers and comments and tried to stick to the lesson. I cajoled and pleaded with them to work with me on the handouts, which by now they had either balled up and were throwing around the room at each other or had folded neatly into paper airplanes and were flinging toward me.

Still undaunted, I continued to teach. They began to talk among themselves louder and made fun of me. I was confused by this attack by my friends. We had been so polite to the other presenters. This was a grade for me. My instructor was taking all of this in from the back of the room, and I was ill-prepared to know what to do with these Bohemians before me.

Dr. Cunningham finally put an end to my misery and addressed my peers. She talked to all of us about what had just transpired and how I should have handled the situation. She told me I had "the patience of Job" with this group, but I needed to act sooner to discipline them.

Twenty-eight years later, I still am one of the more patient teachers at school, but I have vastly improved on discipline. There is a time and place for patience, but discipline is necessary in a classroom for learning to occur.

In a classroom situation, wisdom gives me patience but also the ability to discern when to act on an offense.
Lord, help me to gain wisdom and knowledge each day to patiently work with my students.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Lesson in Humility

St. Marys, GA
James 4:6 NIV
"But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'"

Early American Literature was one of the driest courses I took as an English graduate student. My professor, a gloomy fellow who had just gone through an emotional divorce, buried himself in his research of the Transcendentalists, Emerson and Thoreau, to get through his difficult time.

I liked him. There was something about his surliness that drew me to his vulnerbility, and I had a way of making him smile when I entered his office to visit.  He and his officemate would put aside their work for a few minutes when I stepped in their office. My prof  looked up at me and would say with as much cheer and a smile as he could muster, "Here comes the sunshine!"

His officemate was a gentle person and a good foil for his colleague's moodiness. They were opposites in personality and life situations, yet serious scholars in their work.  They both have passed away now, but I recall the warmth in the room as I visited the two of them and talked about their work and got advice on my own.

As my Early American Literature course came to a completion, I was confused to discover I had received a B in the class.  It was the only B I had received in any of my grad school classes, and I was certain, based on my rapport with my professor, that he would give me an A.  I went to him and asked about the B. I explained it kept me from receiving all As in grad school.  He listened to me carefully, nodded his head and replied, "Well, it will keep you humble in life."

I have to admit, I wasn't happy, but I knew my tests in his class hadn't been all As. I just thought he would make up the gap. It was a tough and boring course, and I believed because he liked me as a student he would boost my grade.

I learned a lesson from him beyond the classroom that semester.

I have indeed learned humility from him as well.  I can not say I made a 4.0 in grad school.  I made a 3.9 something. I made one B. I was less than perfect. I don't want to be perfect, actually. I don't want to think more of myself or place myself above others. I need to remain humble.

My professor gave me a gift, although at the time I didn't recognize it. He taught me to hold on to humility and to let go of perfection.
Lord, thank you for teachers like Dr. Mortland who taught me a lesson in humility, not just lessons in American Literature.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Angels who Sent Me to College

Lori at a College Mardi Gras Party as One Half of Laurel and Hardy
Circa 1979

Hebrews 13:2 NIV
"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

When I was due to return for my senior year in college, financial problems at home meant I should stay and help out the family.

While working that year in Cincinnati, I joined a young adults' Bible study class and met people who had a direct impact on my future, although at the time, I wouldn't realize the extent of their influence beyond our weekly gatherings and fellowship.

Two of the women in the class, one a teacher, the other my boss at the YWCA in Cincinnati, approached me about finishing my last year of college. I told them it was impossible for the fall. Times were tough, and there was no money to spare. They asked if they found money for me, would I consider it. They believed I had the makings of a good teacher in me and wanted to help.

At age 22, I didn't much know what I wanted. I had met my future first husband in this same Bible study class, and it looked like all I had on my mind was marrying him.  I knew the importance of finishing college, but I also knew how difficult it would be to go back a year after all my friends had graduated.

One day, my friends from church approached me with an offer. Our church was large and many older people there had money they were willing to invest in "good causes".  My friends had vouched for me and my abilities to two women at the church. They pitched my potential as a teacher and as a Christian to the women, who had then decided to take a chance on me.

My benefactors had two conditions for loaning me money. 1) They would provide tuition and my boarding  interest free as long as I never asked for their identity and 2) I was to repay them upon graduation from college in monthly installments.

That was all, and that is how I finished my senior year of college. Two strangers took a chance on me.

I have tried to repay their kindness each day of my life by reaching out to others in need--no questions asked as to how they got into their situations. I only ask those I help to pass along the kindness to others when they are able when their situation in life stabilizes.

Thank you, my dear angels, wherever you are, for helping me finish my education degree.
Lord, thank you for angels who walk among us.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Their Steak Dinner

Hamburgers for a Birthday Party
June 2010

Luke 15:23 NIV
"Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate."

Whenever I teach the Odyssey and we get to the part where Odysseus' crew of meat-starved sailors arrives at Helios' Island, I tell the kids "pay close attention to actions and consequences". Helios is the sun god, who pastures his prize cattle on the island, tended lovingly by his two daughters.

Odysseus was warned if harm came to a single one of Helios' cattle, he and his men would be killed. Sure enough, it seemed the odds were against Odysseus as he tried to keep his men fed and their thoughts off steak and bar-b-que. Sadly, after a month of high winds that trapped their ship on the island, Odysseus left his crew on their own as he sought solitude to think of a new plan of escape.  

His men had their own plans. They feasted for six days on Helios' cattle.

Helios' daughters made a full report to their father, who immediately filed a grievance with Zeus demanding retribution.  Zeus agreed to destroy Odysseus' ship. 

Of course, Odysseus was horrified when he returned and witnessed the carnage, but the damage had been done. The next day, the sun shone, the weather was fair, they set sail, and Zeus aimed a lightning bolt at Odysseus' ship. Ka-Boom! All of Odysseus' men were killed. Only Odysseus' life was spared since he did not eat the meat.

My students and I discuss the importance of following instructions. Needless to say, some students need work in that area.

God has laid down parameters for my life as well. At times I disagree with His plans, and I go off on my own, like Odysseus' men. Someone (usually John) has to rescue me when I do that.  It's not as if I'm out carousing, but I get overextended, and there goes my prayer time or family devotion time, or Bible study class time, or church activity time.

It would be much easier to follow God, but He gives us free will, and He doesn't strike us down with lightning bolts.

I'm the one who's not putting one hundred percent into my walk with Him. I know this and I KNOW this!!!!  You'd think after being on this planet so long I could get my walk right more times than it is wrong.

Must be stronger... focus on God....listen to His voice and not my own. 
Lord, help me follow closer to you day by day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Remember This for Life

Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

She called out to me for help with the handout she was working on. She had difficulty wrapping her brain around one of the questions and looked up from her desk at me in confusion.  I asked, "What's the difference between a robot and a human? Think about what's inside of us."

She looked away from me, bit her lip, and sighed in frustration, "I don't know...wires? They have wires?" We couldn't get past the wires. This was the third time she had given me this response.

"What else? What do we have robots don't?"

"Uh, blood, veins, bones, a heart, lungs--" her voice trailed off.  I was at my wit's end trying to pull the answer from her.

"Okay--besides the heart, what else--besides physical?" She just looked at me. I gave in and answered it for her, "What about our spirit, our soul? What's in there?"

"You mean like emotions?"

"Yes! Now tell me how we are different from this mechanical house we just read about?"

"We have a soul and emotions and machines don't? We can love and be happy. "


It seems like such a simple concept. Humans have a soul and the capacity for emotions. Robots and computers don't.

We're the ones created in God's image.

I hope my student will remember this answer for life--not just for the test.
Lord, thank you for my soul, which allows me to have a relationship with you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Courage Within

Rye, New York
October 2010

1 Corinthians 16: 13-14
"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love."

One October night, a young girl sat on a small stool in front of the television in her livingroom watching the Wizard of Oz for the first time in her life with her parents when Margaret Hamilton's green face appeared in the hour glass Dorothy was looking into as she talked to her frentic Auntie Em.

The witch's face was ill-defined at first, but soon it became clear and meanacing as she looked directly at Dorothy and warned her she would get her (and her little dog, too). Then she cackled as only wicked witches can cackle.

That was it for me! I screamed, bolted out the room and dove under my bed covers. I heard both my parents laughing behind me in the living room. I was scared out of my wits. How could they laugh in the face of such danger, I wondered? I'll never forget my first experience with The Wizard of Oz.

I thought of the Lion's speech about courage today. It goes like this:

(Cowardly Lion): Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?

(All): Courage!

Although the final part of his speech degenerates for the sake of humor, the Lion makes a few good points at the start.

I don't necessarily wake up in the morning planning something heroic, yet at times, a situation arises, and I have the opportunity to help someone in need. During the tragedy in Tucson, ordinary people found themselves in extraordinary situations that required courage. They put the lives of others before their own safety.

Courage lives within us and is given in love. However, it takes strength of character to be courageous, not a wizard.
Lord, help me to find courage when I need it.