Listen…

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It’s tomorrow, you guys.

Tomorrow night I will stand on the stage with those other 12 beautiful people up there and tell my story.

I never cry when I read it, but I am hoping the adrenaline and extra emotion of standing on stage don’t mess with my tear ducts. I know I will cry during the other stories though. So I am packing tissue in my handbag. You should too, if you’ll be there.

And I hope you will.

It’s hard to explain Listen To Your Mother to anyone who has not experienced it. It’s stories of motherhood. Live readings. But it’s so much more.

If you’re reading this, you might start to get it…at least how important story-telling is to me and why this is such a big deal. I publish pretty vulnerable stuff here because I want to be heard…to matter…to have been here someday when I am not here anymore. Story-telling is how we preserve our history and our culture. Speaking my truth out loud in front of live eyes and ears is another level of witnessing that I am not used to.

I am good at writing my thoughts, hitting publish, and leaving it up to you to read or not.

Standing in front of hundreds of people and reading my story is different. I know you hear it then. I know you see me…and my words. Being there for the reaction is so different than hitting publish and hiding from my computer.

Yet…I want you there.

This is my “thing”.

I was never an athlete and have never asked anyone to come cheer me on for sporting events. I was in the occasional play at church and I was in band, but I didn’t expect people to come watch those. So this is my thing. This is what I want you to see. Because this–this storytelling with my words and my voice–this is my talent.

And for those of you too far away, I know you’ll be there in spirit.

So tomorrow.

(tickets are on sale here for $16.95 or at the door for $20)

Six World YA Lit Books You Should Read NOW

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It’s been awhile since I wrote about what I’ve been reading, which is actually funny because I have been reading more than I ever have before. In fact, I am on book 22 for the school year! Crazy!

Anyway, in the last month or so, I read six Young Adult Lit books that fall under the category of “world literature” and “historical fiction” because my 8th grade classes would be choosing between them for their final class book of the school year. Each of my five classes has a “book club” centered around each of these books. So far, it’s a wonderful experience, and I think the fact that the book are so darn good is has a big part of that.

I really love historical fiction, but I admit I hadn’t read much YA historical fiction until now. And of course reading six titles, probably qualifies as binging on it, but I am Ok with that. I highly recommend all of these titles to anyone 13 and over, so let’s get into the books…

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson 

Based on stories friends and family have told her, Edwardon bases her book in Alaska in the 1960’s when public schools were unavailable to the majority of children who didn’t live in a main city. Before 1976, students who wanted to attend high school had to travel hundreds of miles to boarding schools. In My Name is Not Easy, Luke (whose real name is not really Luke, but something too difficult for white speakers to pronounce) and his brothers–along with other children including Chickie, Amiq, Junior, and Sonny–are sent to Sacred Heart School where they realize that the students–Eskimo like them, Native American (Indian), and white–segregate themselves in the lunch room almost as if some sort of war is going on. The staff at Sacred Heart forbid use of native language and push to assimilate the children to a white, Catholic culture, but the students main goal is just to survive school and get back to their families.

I not only loved all of the characters in this book, but I knew many of my students would identify with having a name and culture that society may not understand. Many of my students may feel that they have to push their own culture behind them at school.

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

Engle tells the story of Cuba’s struggle for independence through poetry through the eyes of characters in the middle of the action, mainly Rosa–known to some as a witch for her knowledge of holistic healing with herbs. The story begins with her childhood learning the different powers of flowers and plants, and it follows her as she becomes a nurse to those injured–from both sides–during Cuba’s fight against the Spanish empire. The setting is mainly near the concentration camps where former Cuban slaves were sent. While the poems are mostly from Rosa’s point of view, some are also from the voice of Lieutenant Death, a slave hunter who has a particular vengeance for capturing Rosa. The character of Rosa is based on Rosa Castellanos, an historical heroine known as “la bayamesa”.

This book was both beautiful and devestating. I had forgotten home much I love to read narrative poetry, and how quickly the actual reading goes. The imagery and  just sensations this book oozes are wonderful and terrifying. I went back and re-read some of my favorites. This book is in English, but a Spanish version is also included. Many of my students are hungry to read in their native tongue and lots have family in Cuba. I knew this would be appealing to those kids.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

This is book is a dual narrative about Salva–one of the Sudanese Lost Boys–and Nya. Salva’s true story begins when he is eleven years old in 1985. Salva is separated from his family when fighting comes to his village in Southern Sudan. He has to walk for days in hope to find his family. He struggles to find food and people. He ends up walking for seven years before ending up in a refugee camp. Nya is a fictional character whose story begins in 2008 when she is also eleven years old. She has to walk to a pond that is two hours away twice a day to provide fresh water for her family. Her story emphasizes the lack of clean water in Sudan and the importance of family. In the end, Salva and Nya’s stories cross making a very important push for Salva’s cause of bringing clean water to South Sudan.

This was the first book of the six I read and I remember closing it and thinking, “these books are going to leave me emotionally drained.” I was right. Reading Salva and Nya’s stories was like going on these walks with them. And although I knew Salva survived to create the Water For South Sudan project, I kept thinking, “this is it. He can’t survive this.” I knew this book would appeal to the widest range of students, and since its the shortest, easiest read many of my reluctant readers chose it and are loving it.

Climbing The Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

Vidya is fifteen and dreams of going to college. But she lives in British-occupied India during World War II. Her family is loving and supportive and fairly liberal, encouraging her to be what she wants to be. However tragedy strikes and they are forced to live with ultra-conservative relatives who believe women should remain uneducated, serve men, and wait around to be married to a good family. Vidya is miserable, but she secretly breaks the rules and ventures upstairs to her grandfather’s library to read books she is not supposed to even touch. Here she meets Raman who treats her as an equal. When her brother leaves unexpectedly, Vidya is suddenly forced to think about the political situation in India and what she can do to hold on and make her dreams reality.

This is totally a “girl power” book. Venkatraman bases her characters on family members who have told her stories of growing up in India during this time period, and I was excited to see some of my strongest girls chose this book, and have already commented that they are totally loving it!

Far From Home by Na’ima B Robert

This was the last book I read of the six and I admit to needing to take a break from reading after this one. For one, I had binge-read six historical fictions in less than four weeks. Secondly this one made me think and I just needed the time to reflect before diving into something new.

Part One of Far From Home is Tariro’s story.  She is fourteen years old, lives in Zimbabwe on her ancestral grounds near the baobab tree that she was born under. Her dad is the chief, she is in love with the brave and handsome Nhamo–things couldn’t be better. Then white settlers arrive and violently and tragically drive her and her family out of their home into new areas zoned specifically for the blacks.

Part Two is Katie’s story and takes place twenty-five years later. Katie is also fourteen and lives on a farm in Zimbabwe near the baobab tree. She loves her family, her exclusive boarding school, and her home. Then disaster strikes when the second War for Liberation occurs and natives begin to reclaim their land. She is forced to leave the only hone she has ever known and go back to London with her family.

It was hard for me to feel sorry for Katie at first. Her relatives had been the ones to drive the natives off their land! But as I read, I understood the complexity of it. Katie, herself, had not been involved in the relocation. This home was where she was born and raised. It’s all she knew. Plus as the entire story unfolds she learns about white privilege and humanity.

While it is worlds away from us, there are definite connections with today’s society here in the United States. It’s a more difficult, longer read, so only a few of my higher reading level students are tackling this one, but so far they are enjoying it and I am enjoying the conversations that are coming out of it.

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

This one affected me the most out of all the books. This is the true story of Arn, a survivor from the Cambodia Civil War during the 1970’s. He was eleven years old when the Khmer Rouge invaded his village, killing the upper-class and educated and separating the rest of the people into work camps. Arn was sent to a work camp that was also where they took prisoners and slaughtered them. He was forced to work with almost no food or sleep and witness the horrific murder of many people–some of whom he knew. If the kids reacted, they were also killed. Arn eventually volunteers to become a musician for the propaganda-like revolutionary songs the Khmer Rouge has them play. Later, when the Vietnamese invade to help the people of Cambodia, Arn is forced to join the Khmer Rouge as a child soldier.

I had to keep reminding myself that this story is true, and that Arn does survive and make it to the United States because I kept expecting him to die. Reading this from the lens of a mother and teacher was hard. I found myself putting the book down several times because the imagery was so horrifying. I knew my students would be engrossed in a book about a kid close to their own age having to survive experiences that were too terrible to even imagine. I was right.

All six of these books are about real historical events, many of which we don’t learn about in school. And if we do, it is only briefly covered in a textbook which dates and a few facts. These books humanize the wars and struggles so many children had to endure.

Have you read any of these? Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? (because I am always open to adding more to my To Read pile!)

Climbing Out

It has been six years and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I sat on the edge of our disheveled bed in my pajamas while Cortney got his breakfast ready in the kitchen. My hand shook as I followed the instructions and pushed the appropriate numbers to make an appointment.

“I need to make an appointment for today with Dr. W.”

“What do you need to see her regarding?”

“I think I have postpartum depression.”

“According to our records, you haven’t been in to see Dr. W in over a year, so we will have to process this as a new patient. I’m not sure she will want to see you for this today.”

“I have to come in today. That is why I called at 7am. For a same day appointment.”

“I’ll have to put in a note for her and call you back when she gets in.”

“But I took the day off.”

“We will call you back.”

I hung up and started crying. It was too late to get ready and get to work. Besides, I had already put in for a substitute and made plans. Now what?

At that moment, Cortney came in and asked what time my appointment was. I told him there was no appointment and relayed the conversation I had had with the receptionist.

“That is unacceptable,” he stated angrily.

I cried harder.

“We are calling them back.”

I knew what he was thinking: if I didn’t go in today, I wouldn’t go in. And I had to go in. The night before was one of my worst meltdowns yet and it was the first time I admitted that maybe something was wrong. If I waited, I would change my mind. It had to be today and he wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer.

I’m not sure who called back, but I remember Cortney getting on the phone and demanding an appointment for me…and getting one. Later that day my doctor nodded vigorously as I told her what had been going on: I was mad all the time. I took out all my rage on the people closest to me. I wasn’t sleeping well, but I wanted to sleep all the time. Mostly I was just mad.

She looked at me and said, “normally I would say let’s wait and see, maybe try some therapy, but it’s been nine months of this, right? You did the wait and see on your own. You have postpartum depression, and I am going to suggest an antidepressant along with talk therapy.”

Sometimes I look back and hate that day. My postpartum depression and generalized anxiety are full-blown depression and anxiety (with some OCD on the side) now. Some people have PPD and it goes away. Mine has stuck around. Sometimes that makes me mad.

But mostly I look back on that day as the day I got my life back. The day Cortney got his wife back. The day Eddie got his mom back. That is the day a team formed around me: my doctors, therapist, psychiatrist, family, and friends. That was when I found out who was going to stay with me; the ones who said, “let’s tackle this thing together!”

That was the day I found out I don’t have to do anything in this life alone.

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I credit the internet for helping me know what to look for because I never, ever would have connected my rage to depression. I thought that being mad all the time was just how I felt about having a child–I thought that was what motherhood felt like. I was totally wrong. Katherine Stone and the other warrior mommas of Postpartum Progress saw my blog post about it and rallied around me immediately. Because of them and Lauren’s (of My Postpartum Voice#ppdchat on twitter, I was able to connect with hundreds of women who were just like me–going through the same thing as me.

When I had Charlie, they were right there for me: listening to my fears about my PPD coming back, supporting me as I tried (and failed) to go off my meds during my pregnancy, virtually hugging me and praying for me when I relapsed in the months after Charlie’s birth.  They were there through my pregnancy with Alice. They have celebrated with me as I have avoided a new relapse this time around.

Postpartum Progress is a non-profit that supports thousands of women around the world–including me. Katherine Stone and her staff advocate tirelessly for better support and less stigma related to mental health issues specifically surrounding postpartum women–including me. Their advocacy has saved lives–including mine.

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In 2013, Postpartum Progress started a Climb Out event where participants do a climb in their area to raise money and awareness for Postpartum Progress and their advocacy programs. The first climb had 177 participants in 40 states and 7 countries and raised $40,000. Last year the climb had 2,500 participants in 45 states and 5 countries and raised $230,000.

This year I am doing the climb.

I’m doing it to give back to Katherine and Postpartum Progress for helping me get my life back.

I’m doing it to show my kids that I am strong and healthy (and Cortney and the kids are doing it with me!)

I’m doing it to celebrate NO PPD with Alice.

I’m doing it to celebrate surviving.

I’m doing it because I think back at how uninformed and scared and angry and just sad I was six years ago sitting with my hands between my knees in my doctor’s office. I was afraid to say anything. I thought I was a terrible person.

At times, I wanted to relieve my family of the burden of me.

Did you know that the second leading cause of death for postpartum women is suicide?

That could have been me.

But it wasn’t.

So I am celebrating.

If you want to support my Climb or join our team climbing in Grand Haven, Michigan, you can visit my fundraiser page here. The Climb takes place on June 18 (our eleventh anniversary!) and our whole family will be participating!

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Thirty-Great

I don’t remember my 18th birthday.

There are a lot of details from that spring that have simply just left my memory. It was such a busy time: turning eighteen, senior year, graduation, college stuff. But I can tell you what I wasn’t thinking about: what twenty years into the future would look like.

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I never could have imagined what my life would look like as I waited to cross that stage to get my diploma. I didn’t even know what the next six months would be like!

There was a time when I thought getting older and being an adult was the worst thing ever. I wanted to stay young and seemingly invincible for as long as I could. The day I turned twenty, my brother called me and said, “Happy birthday, Old Sister. Don’t break a hip now that you are not an invincible teenager anymore.”

I laughed, but part of me believed that being in my twenties meant I was a grown-up. Oh, how that makes me laugh now! My early twenties were still filled with rented apartments with friends, bar nights to play darts, and sleeping until 1oam because I had nothing before 11am. Ever. Not exactly being a grown up.

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I really had no idea.

On Easter day I turned thirty-eight. Thirty-eight was OLD to me back then. Thirty-eight meant the party was over and it was time to go through the Boring Years.

I had thirty-eight all wrong.

There is nothing boring about being thirty-eight.

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In fact, if you have been following along this week as a chronicle the life and times of the Sluiters on spring break, you know that even boring days are not really boring. No, we are not out whooping it up on a beach somewhere, but life still stays interesting.

I found my very first journal the other day cleaning my closet. One of the entries I read through said something like, “everyone says adolescence is the toughest time in someone’s life, but I really think it’s your early twenties. I mean, who the hell am I and who am I going to end up being? It’s like hanging out in a big ass question mark.”

And that was just it. While I did a lot of silly ridiculous things in my teens and twenties, it was also like living out of boxes after you move…not permanent. Not settled.

I hate hate that feeling. Things need a place, a home. I had disorganization; it makes me feel scattered and anxious. Under the mad fun I was having, was a ball of anxiety and nerves. I was stuck between stupid kid and young adult.

Don’t get me wrong, those years were fun. But I never want to do them over again.

Being in my 30’s has been scary, life-changing, and definitely not boring. All three of my kids were born between my 31st and 37th years. I’ve hit my stride professionally. I’ve read more books in my 30’s than I did in my teens and 20’s combined. I’ve traveled by plane across the country alone. Twice.

I’ve learned a ton about myself in therapy and through writing. Through being Cortney’s wife and Eddie, Charlie, and Alice’s mom.

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Although I now openly talk about my struggles with anxiety and depression, I am much freer than I was back when I wrote that journal entry. I know myself better. I know how to get my thoughts more focused and what to do when I need to calm down due to anxiety. I know what works and what triggers.

Plus I am no longer moving every single fall like in college (two dorm rooms, a house with four other girls, two apartments, and a house my grandparents owned all in less than six years).

Being thirty-eight might be more settled, but it’s most definitely not boring.

Reminder: Tickets are on sale now for the Listen To Your Mother: Southwest Michigan show that I am a part of!

ps. remember my 38 before 38 challenge? You helped me pass that! I received 42 books for my classroom library! THANK YOU!

ps. remember my 38 before 38 challenge? You helped me pass that! I received 42 books for my classroom library! THANK YOU!

Spring Break Day 2

I woke up today to Eddie again. This time it was 9:30 and he was saying, “Mom! Dad says he needs you to get up because Charlie just barfed!”

Not really a good start to the day, although I did get to sleep in, so I suppose there is that.

Upon flying out of bed, we both realized Charlie’s throwing up was probably due to a lot of drainage, and not a tummy bug, so while cleaning up the madness was still gross, we at least were pretty sure we weren’t going to be dealing with barf all day.

Once I got Charlie changed into what he called “something warm and comfy”, I used the bathroom and made myself some coffee. Just as I was sitting down, Cortney goes, “Nice. It’s snowing.”

Lovely.

I made the comment that I was sure it wouldn’t stick.

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Then we got like six inches of snow. That stuck.

This is a joke, right?

The day wasn’t all snow and vomit, though.

Charlie painted some dinosaurs he got for his birthday. He was ridiculously excited and focused. That was a peaceful ten minutes.

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I spent a good two hours in the boys’ closet pulling out all the clothes that are too small for Charlie to be divided between two of my baby nephews. I had mixed feelings as I pulled out clothes that both of my little dudes wore. I smiled as I folded them and tucked them into bags for two little guys who won’t fit into these clothes for another year at least. I was a little sad to send more little man clothes out of my life. I’ve said it before: I do not want anymore babies coming out of my body, but man. I sure do miss tiny little dudes.

Allegedly I hugged some of the jammies and sniffed the Dreft smell on them before placing them in the bags.

When I was done, though, there were two tubs gone from their closet (which is still a wreck and on my To Do list for later in spring break, but I can’t get rid of toys with them home. ahem.)

We also packed up the jump-a-roo today to give to my baby nephew, Max. Closing some baby doors today, man.

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Cortney got groceries today while I fell asleep on the couch during the Little Kids’ nap time. Eddie watched something dumb on Netflix. After nap, Eddie invited Alice to play blocks with him.

I can’t even begin to describe how much I love watching her big brothers play with her. They play so differently with her than they do with each other. They are so protective and so intent on trying to make her laugh and smile. Yes, they get frustrated when she tries to play with their stuff uninvited, but if it’s her toys, they are all about her.

And she looks at them like they are miracle workers. Like they are the ones who hung the moon and placed the stars in the heavens.

Of course ten minutes after Charlie got up from nap (yes, he still naps for about two hours every day. He is four. My kids need sleep), it was loud up in here. It was the witching hour and by the time they went to bed an hour ago, Cortney and I thought our patience was going to pack its bags and get out.

Whew.

I know they say “the days are long, but the years are short.” Today was one of those long days.

I did finish reading my book last night, though. So I started Far From Home by Na’ima Roberts. It’s the last of six my students will choose from to read for book clubs after break. I’ll post about all six when I am done with this one!

Tomorrow is Sunday…and my birthday party at my parents’ house! Yay!

(and I still have to finish my birthday post with all the books that were donated!  We passed my goal of 38 and hit 42!)

Spring Break Day 1

In an attempt to survive spring break, I’m going to try to write my way through it.

Today was the first official day.

I should preface this with the fact that yesterday was my first time as a middle school teacher the day before spring break. I WAS NOT PREPARED FOR THE INSANITY. We managed to get through everything I planned for the hour, but the kids were excited about break and the student/staff basketball game at the end of the day and it was, let’s just say, a challenge.

I left school four minutes after the last bell rang.

Oh, I could have stayed and put the grades in for the assignments I collected, but I threw them in my bag and bolted. Eddie had after school program, so I went straight home to change my clothes and just sit for a moment. Cortney knew my day had been exhausting, so I was greeted to beautiful flowers on the table and a little tub of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer.

My guy knows me very, very well.

I felt that I earned ten days off yesterday.

This morning Eddie let me sleep until just after 7:15am. I mean, yes, I suppose that it’s technically sleeping in when the alarm usually goes off at 5:30am, but it sure didn’t feel like it. I tried to get him to let me keep sleeping for a bit, but his idea of letting me sleep means coming in and whispering me updates about his cat game on Cortney’s tablet. And so I was up heating up frozen pancakes by 8:00am.

Charlie and Alice were at daycare, so at least I could drink my coffee while it was hot. I also had to watch Pokemon. Things had a way of evening themselves out like that all day.

Around 11:00am, the Internet decided to poop out on us which meant I couldn’t enter anymore grades and Eddie couldn’t watch anymore Netflix.

He decided to watch regular TV and do some art. I took a shower.

Then I surprised Eddie and took him to see Zootopia.

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It was such a good movie! We giggled all the way through. We also shared a huge popcorn and orange soda. I may have eaten the bulk of the popcorn, but homeboy downed that orange fanta. I was almost positive he would barf. But he didn’t.

And when we got home, the internet was back on! So I finished up some stuff on my To Do List while Eddie found Cailou on Netflix. I almost threw things at him, but shortly after he decided he should blow bubbles on the deck and do some interpretive dance until his brother came home, so I was saved from that whiny bald preschooler.

I also started the book The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle today. I am almost positive I will finish it before bedtime. It’s so good…and it’s all poems that tell the story of the Cuban struggle for independence. It’s one of six my students will get to choose from for the book clubs they will be starting after spring break. j

And now I am capping off the day with a salted caramel porter that Cortney found for me on one of his beer store trips. Maybe it’s the beer’s fault that I think I will write every day of break. Meh, I’m still going to try.

Happy spring break, yo.

Accepted

Two years ago, I auditioned for Listen To Your Mother. My story was not chosen.

It was hard not to take it personally–not to feel as if they didn’t like me. Since that experience I have learned that Listen To Your Mother is less about the writer/reader and more about the story and how it fits with the show that is being assembled by the producers. Each show needs to be cohesive while simultaneously highlighting individual stories about motherhood. It wasn’t that my writing wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t that I read poorly. It was that my story did not fit that show at that time. I found peace with that.

Last year, I pulled out of my audition. I signed up, but the audition was a three-hour drive away a week before my C-section with Alice. I just couldn’t make a six-hour round trip drive at that point, and I couldn’t really guarantee that I would feel ready to stand up in front of a crowd a couple months later if I was accepted.

This year I was ready. I had a new story prepared; one that I felt better highlighted my experience with motherhood. I also found out that there was a LTYM show closer to me: Southwest Michigan! I stalked every update just waiting for auditions to open and when they did, I was the second person signed up for a slot on Day 1 of the auditions.  Before leaving for St. Joseph that sunny Saturday morning, Cortney asked me if I was nervous. I really wasn’t. I knew my writing was good. I knew I could read it well. If I didn’t get cast, it would be because this piece just didn’t fit with the show. I was at peace.

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My audition went well. It felt good to share my story with Kim and Beth.

Then I had to wait. Since I signed up for the first audition day, I had to wait two weeks before finding out…they were having one more audition day to look for a few more humor pieces.

I am the worst at being patient. I am really like a small child. I kept refreshing my email, “now? NOW? How about now?”

Kim’s email came through on a Saturday evening. I was just getting ready to go out with a friend for a nightcap and I checked my email one more time…and there it was.

My piece was accepted.

I am part of the 2016 Listen To Your Mother Southwest Michigan show.

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I am so excited about this, I don’t really even know how to tell you. This show is so important. It’s so powerful. It’s so…it’s just so! I am honored to be among those who will be sharing their stories this year in celebration of Mother’s Day. And I am privileged to become part of the alumni of those who have stood on that stage.

If you are local to Southwest Michigan, you can find ticket information here.

I hope to see you there.

Pause

Lots of people like to choose one word for the new year. The idea is that that one word guides your whole year.

I have never participated because all the words people choose–things like courage, love, hope, inspiration, etc–feel sort of cliche and not very applicable to me. Don’t get me wrong, people have done lovely things by focusing on these words. They are great words! Just not for me.

As usual, I was just going to start 2016 like any Friday without work: cleaning some things and reading some things and napping. While I napped, though, I dreamed about how I tend to have knee-jerk reactions that I don’t necessarily keep to myself. My worst offense is text messages or emails received.  But I am equally bad about yelling at my kids or making snap judgments about others.

I need to practice “wait time”.

I need to let time pass before reacting.

I need to pause.

As a teacher, I know the importance of the pause. In the wait, something is created. In the pause after I ask a question, thoughts are happening. I let one hand raise. I wait. Another couple go up. I wait some more. A few more hands will raise. Then we proceed. But in the pause others were creating opinions, thoughts, guesses.

In my life I don’t stop and wait enough.

When Charlie smacks Eddie for no reason for the eleventy billionth time, I don’t pause. Instead I grab and arm, I yell about being kind (yes, I see that ridiculousness too. Yelling about kindness. Oh, Katie.) I hustle to time out not waiting for any explanation–in fact, I discourage it by adding, “I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT!”

When I get an email at work (or I suppose from anyone, but really real people rarely email me except for at work…which is a whole other issue. Probably.)  suggesting something I don’t immediately fall in love with, I have a tendency to fire back defensively. I don’t walk away, think it over, let it settle in, and then form a logical, rational response. In fact, my email back is probably too long, includes too many exclamation points, and has an ALL CAPS word or two thrown in for emphasis since the reader can’t see me talking with my hands. It’s no wonder people avoid emailing me.

I know most of these snap reactions are fueled by my anxiety, and I would probably be a lot less stressed out all the time if I could find a way to reel those outbursts in a bit.

That is why I am choosing the word “pause” for 2016.

But not just for the bad stuff!  Yes, I want to pause before I raise my voice at my kids (and hopefully not raise my voice at them), and I want to take time before responding to people on social media or email. But I also want to pause in conversation. I want to pause in work. I want to pause in small moments.

I want to step back from the crazy after-school-routine of emptying backpacks and lunch boxes and sorting homework from returned papers and planners. I want to pause and talk to Eddie about his day while I look at him. In the face. Rather than give him monosyllabic responses while I dump carrot stubs and squishy rejected grapes from his lunchbox, I want to sit down next to him and see his eyes when he tells me about something that made him happy, or watch his face as he tells me about a frustration or disappointment. I want to hug him rather than mutter, “I’m sure you’ll do better tomorrow.”

I want to take a breath when I am feeling overwhelmed. I want to be able to pause and lie down when too much is happening in my head. I don’t want to plow forward just because I feel like a “normal” person would. I want to be quiet and listen to what I need.

The pause has always frightened me a little. I’ve always felt that I needed to fill the silence, react immediately, be more “on the ball”.  I thought that is what was expected of me.

But that is not working for me.

And so I will pause this year.

my light grows dim

Advent is a time of waiting…and a time for hope. I’m off to a rough start in the hope department.

Every day we pull down a day from our Advent calendar. Every day I read a short story from the Bible and a very short devotional. It’s very much like the Jesse Tree devotionals for kids. It follows each of the Bible stories about why we need a savior in the first place.

2015-11-29 17.38.38

Tonight we read the creation story at dinner. About how it was all perfect in the beginning.

At bedtime, Charlie randomly chose a story out of his Story Bible–the story of God telling the prophet Isaiah about a Savior that would come. About “Operation No More Tears.”

I want to believe these stories so much.

The simplicity of the story in Isaiah for this children’s Bible. They put it in the form of a letter from God to Isaiah that he needed to share with people. It spoke of a baby being born to a girl with no husband. Of a man who would be a king, but not look like a king; in fact he would be very poor. He would fight evil, but he would have no swords or armies…or guns. He would be a Prince of PEACE. He would be the answer to all this awful in the world.

As Christians, we believe that was Jesus.

He came; he lived in poverty; he spread the message of love; he was an early adopter of non-violent protest and civil disobedience. Then he died.

We are told he went to hell for all of us, then came back from the dead to let his posse know he was the real deal. He told them to tell the world about him. Then he went to heaven.

We are told he will come back to fix this mess.

I’m going to be honest here. I am having a hard time believing in the midst of all this shit that keeps happening in our country and in the world. I’m having a really difficult time believing that I can pray, have it be heard, and have it mean anything or have any effect.

I love the message of Advent. I do.  And I so badly want to believe that this is how it works: we wait and hold on to hope and then Jesus makes it better.

But you guys? Do you ever have those dreams where you are trying to tell someone something because it’s incredibly important. So you shout, but nothing comes out. Or you try to get to them, but obstacles get in your way or you get lost or your legs won’t move. And it’s not just frustrating, it’s the worst feeling ever. You are on the verge of a full-on panic attack and may even wake up shaking or crying, most definitely sweating.

That is how I feel when I see this crap unfold, and then like a fool, I look on Facebook or the comment sections and see crap like this:

Problem: Here is this thing that people keep using to kill people.
Solution: GIVE EVERYONE THAT THING.

WHAT???

I just feel like we are throwing prayers into the wind. We pray for the victims, shoot we even pray for the shooters, and what happens? More acts of terror.

I feel like a damn hypocrite almost every Sunday. I show up to teach my 2nd and 3rd graders in Children in Worship all the while second-guessing, questioning the very stories and lessons I am trying to impart to them.

A couple weeks ago I told them about Joseph and how his brothers sold him into slavery. The theme of the lesson was that God turns bad choices into something beautiful. If life is a woven fabric, we humans make stupid choices in threads, but God can take those bad threads and weave them into something utterly wonderful.

But I am having a hard time right now with seeing how more violence is going to turn into something beautiful.

I know, I know…”but Katie, it’s not for you to know!”

Well, right now, my eyes need to see…something. Because the light of my hope is running out of oxygen and growing very dim.

In the End

Today marks the end of NaBloPoMo: thirty days of solid, uninterrupted blog posts.

Whew.

Part of me wants to keep going just to see how long I can go. The other part of me wants to slap the first part of me for being insane.

The thing is, I have learned some things from all this key-pounding.

For one, I learned that I can, in fact, carve out a slice of time every day to write. Some days it’s only about 5 minutes, but I consciously take the time. It’s been good for me mentally, I think. I feel like I was able to write about stuff as I thought about it rather than saying, “That would make a good blog post…someday.”

By hitting “publish” every day, I also learned that I probably don’t have to hit publish every day. The fact that I sat down to write is the good part. In fact, there are some posts that could stand to have stayed drafts to be revisited later. They just didn’t quite say what I wanted…or at least not the way I wanted to say it.

Not everything I write is gold, but dang if I didn’t write some good stuff this past month. At least in my lowly opinion it was good stuff. And I learned that writing begets writing. I’m sort of afraid to stop because I’m afraid if I skip a day, I will skip another day, and then a week, and then I will be rarely posting again. When I post only rarely, I start putting pressure on myself to write amazing things every time. So then I don’t post because I think what I’ve got to say isn’t good enough to break a silence of days of non-posts. It’s a stupid cycle.

Writing every day also forces me to think like a writer. Everything I do becomes fodder for a post, and I find myself jotting notes on post its, my planner, and even my hand. I write notes on my church bulletin and on receipts. Sometimes it’s singular words. I had “white church” written on a post-it that I carried around until I wrote about it last week.  Sometimes it’s a topic or a phrase. Sometimes I write a bunch of stuff in a notebook and use that to craft a post. I have been looking at my life through my writer’s lens this whole month, and that has felt good.

Lastly, I have learned…or actually reaffirmed…that I am a procrastinator. I never finished my days post (ok, I never even sat down to write them) until the evening. There were nights when–and Cortney can attest to this–I have been crabby and annoyed because I had  to still write something.

But I did it. Every day I did it.

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