With a crash of thunder I was jolted awake. I fumbled around in the darkness, feeling for the throw pillows and a couple of books that occupy my husband’s side of the bed during his deployment. I tossed the items … Continue reading
We joined the United States Army knowing that it was only a matter of time until deployment would be our reality. My kids and I don’t wear the rank, but I’m learning more each day that “we joined” is an … Continue reading
Twelve years ago I sat, a timid college student, days away from completing my internship teaching seventh grade Science. I prayed that the principal who agreed to interview me for the fourth grade teaching position at the school next door would fall for my confident façade. Apparently she did because a few days later I received the exciting phone call welcoming me aboard.
And now, just like every other year, I prepare to turn in my keys. But this time is different, because this time I may be turning them in for good. The whole experience is bitter sweet. I’m looking forward to learning what it means to be the wife of an Army Chaplain, and I’m over the moon about having more time to spend with my children, but saying goodbye is never easy, and in this case I’m saying goodbye to a piece of myself.
I look back at the past 12 years (9 years teaching elementary students and 3 years teaching high school students) and realize that nothing happened by accident. Every situation, every emotional high and low has helped shape me into the person I am today, and each moment has played a part in preparing me for what lies ahead. From sneaking some crackers to a child who comes in hungry to crying with a child on the last day of school because she doesn’t want to say goodbye. From helping that senior finish an assignment for another class, moments before it’s due so that he can graduate on time, to pushing a student harder than she has been pushed, helping her accomplish more than she knew she could accomplish.
I’m thankful for all that I’ve learned about teaching and about life through my students and through all of those who I’ve had the privilege to work with over the past few years, and I can’t help but reflect on where I started and how far I’ve come. If I were to have a conversation with the 22 year old me and offer some advice, what would I say? I’ve sat in classes and learned about best practices. I have a degree in elementary education and a minor in Spanish along with a Master of Education in Divergent Learning, so surely I would offer advice about reading strategies and differentiated instruction, right? Well, maybe. But what I’ve come to recognize is that teaching is so much more than ensuring that students can conjugate a verb or solve an equation. If I could offer my younger self some advice, it would be this:
- Your students will remember how you treat them over what you teach them. The content is important, but your students will be so much more receptive to what you have to teach them if they know that you truly care about them. Time taken to get to know them and to let them get to know you is not wasted time. It’s a valuable investment.
- Prioritize. While spending 10+ hours at school each day and taking work home every night may seem like the only way to get everything accomplished, it’s not. You will get burnt out and quickly lose your patience, your effectiveness, and possibly your mind. What will really matter in the long run? Do those things, and do them well. If it takes you hours to make something that looks impressive, but it doesn’t add a lot of value, let it go. Save time and energy for your family, your friends, and yourself. You’ll be a better teacher and person.
- You won’t be able to connect with every student, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. One of the greatest opportunities you’ll have as a teacher is the opportunity to walk through your classroom at the wee hours of the morning and pray over each empty desk, each one representing a child (or teenager) who will occupy it that day. 1 John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” Some of those children don’t have anyone else praying for them or cheering them on. Use that opportunity and don’t take it for granted, because it could make a difference in the trajectory of their life. Pray that God will prepare you to help that child carry whatever “baggage” they bring with them to class that day. Whether they steal your heart from day one or are as tough as nails, each individual is worth getting to know, and a little kindness goes a long way.
- Forgive yourself. You will mess up daily. You just will. When you say the wrong thing or have a day—or year—when you can’t seem to get anything right, learn from it and then move on. Forgiving yourself isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary in order to move forward and continue growing.
- Forgive others. Expect a lot out of your students and peers, and you’ll be amazed to see how they rise to the occasion. However, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes there will be things going on that you don’t see or understand, and sometimes they will act like they’ve completely lost their minds. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” What an amazing example to set for young minds to absorb! Holding a grudge is agonizing and uncomfortable. Always make things right and give them a safe place where they know they belong, even after they’ve messed up. This will completely change the climate of your classroom.
- It’s okay to have fun. Everything in life can’t be fun, nor should it be, but great things can happen while having fun! If you enjoy the ride, others are more likely to enjoy it with you.
- Stay emotionally engaged. The emotional highs and lows of teaching can be draining, and sometimes it would be easier to grow emotionally numb. Don’t allow your emotions to control you, but never stop feeling for those around you. Pray that God will give you a heart that loves others and be willing to do whatever He asks to help those in need.
My time in the classroom has come to a close, but these lessons will go with me. I’ve come a long way since that first interview, but I have a long way to go, which brings me to lesson 8–keep growing. I’m so thankful for everything the past 12 years have taught me, but I know the next chapter of my life is going to bring just as many opportunities. I can’t help but wonder what advice the “me” in 2028 would offer to me now? I guess I’ll have to weather the journey to find out.
In actuality, it was real all along. I look back now and see how God has been shaping and forming us, as individuals and as a family, for such a time as this. Lee’s background in the military, my background as a missionary kid. It seems almost too obvious, except for the fact that I was determined to put down roots and grow old in one place. But Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that, “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.…’”
So here’s our story:
When Lee and I were just a couple of kids, right out of college and engaged to be married, we would talk and dream about the future. There was talk of how many kids we would have and where we would live, where we would spend holidays and extravagant trips we would take to celebrate anniversaries. And in all of this talk, occasionally Lee would slip in, “If I ever went back into the military, it would be as a chaplain. I’ve seen the need.” As the years went by, Lee worked a couple of different jobs; they were good jobs, but never anything that he would consider a career, and on occasion he would mention, “I could still see myself being a chaplain in the military one day.”
Then came the day that changed everything. Lee had been working as the discipleship pastor at Fort Mill Church of God for about three years at that point. We had a one year old, an infant, and were expecting our third. We were happy, and we felt like we were right where we were supposed to be, so I was taken aback when Lee came home talking more seriously than ever about the chaplaincy. His father, the senior pastor at that time, had encouraged all of the staff to evaluate their calling and prayerfully consider if the Lord was still calling them to FMCOG or if He had other plans for them. Lee took this seriously. He came home and said that it was time for us to diligently pray about our future and look into the chaplaincy so that we could either pursue it or lay the idea to rest. Over the next few days he and I prayed about this major life decision as we did our research on the subject. I must admit, there was a lot more research than prayer on my side. Chaplain Richard Pace had agreed to call us one afternoon in order to give us information about the job and lifestyle as well as answer our questions. Leading up to this phone call, I had read blogs and articles and anything I could get my hands on related to military life, specifically that of a chaplain’s wife. Lee sat down beside me as we waited for the call. I looked at him with tears in my eyes and confessed, “I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough.” He said, “Okay,” and assured me that we wouldn’t do anything if we weren’t both on board. I began to pray, “God, if this is Your will for our lives, give me peace, because I can’t do this in my own strength.” The phone rang. For two hours we listened and asked questions. We heard much of the same information that had terrified me just moments earlier, and for two hours I experienced the peace described in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” When we hung up the phone we looked at each other, smiled, and I said, “For what it’s worth, I’m all in.” “That’s all I was waiting for,” he replied.
The next step was intense, raising a newborn, a one year old, and a two year old while Lee was working toward a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in chaplaincy, and both of us working full time. A couple of years passed and Lee completed his masters. Two more years of ministry experience were required at that point, so he continued, determined to give his all in his current position while going through the process of getting endorsed through the Church of God and submitting his application to the army that ended up being a document just short of 100 pages. And then the hard part came. The wait. In April of 2015 we finally received the news that Lee had been selected…but his training wouldn’t begin until January of 2016. More waiting. Psalm 27:14 says “Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.” The wait was hard, but we look back and see how God was strengthening us and preparing us during the wait.
And that brings us back to today. The day it became real. I’ve had time to think and process, but today when we made the announcement reality sunk in. While the kids and I aren’t leaving just yet, I am preparing to say goodbye to my husband. That’s assuredly the hardest thing I’ve ever faced up to this point in my life, but the truth is that “If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 4:11.
Thank you, Lord, for your strength. May you receive all the praise. Amen.
The phone rang, shaking me from the pseudo-sleep I’d been drifting in and out of since my alarm went off about 30 minutes prior. “Happy anniversary,” said my mother-in-law on the other end. Oh yeah. It’s my anniversary.
To be honest, I had completely forgotten. I had dropped the ball on getting the traditional 9-year gift of willow, much to my husband’s chagrin, I’m sure. Lee and I stumbled out of bed, wishing each other a happy anniversary and giving a quick peck as we moved on to our normal morning routine. Our kids, 2, 3, and 4 years of age, came running in, greeting us with smiles and hugs as we attempted to match them in enthusiasm. We worked together to get children dressed, breakfast made, and shoes on, then shoes off and back on the correct feet this time. Lee made up his usual silly songs as he folded some clothes and fixed breakfast. I tested my creativity as I made special ponytails for a child who thinks she’s an actual princess.
And so it goes. It’s what we do. Day in, and day out; like clockwork.
Nine years ago today we were walking down the aisle. And now we’re walking down the walkway with Annie, Ella, and David Lee skipping ahead of us. We congregate in the driveway, giving hugs and kisses to the kids as we rush to our appropriate vehicles, then rush back for a forgotten hug, kiss, and quick, “I love you,” to each other before returning to our vehicles and heading off to work. Every day.
Nine years ago today, we were pledging our love to one another. Today I texted to say, “I love you.” He texted back, “I love you too. My alternator died in my car. Can you pick Annie and me up on your way home from work?” Of course I did. “Happy anniversary,” he said. “I was going to buy you flowers, but then my car died.” I responded with, “I was going to buy you a card, but I was stuck in a meeting.”
And so it goes. Cars break down. Meetings run long. Life happens.
Nine years ago today, Lee gave me a ring and made me a promise. He has kept that promise. The promise we made to one another was deeper than flowers and cards. It was deeper than remembering each other on the special occasions and then going back to normal the rest of the time. Those two kids who exchanged rings nine years ago today had fairy tales and fireworks in mind, but God had so much more designed. He gave us a life together. A life that is real. It has real ups and downs, real joy and heartache, and real love that is selfless and true. Our life isn’t glamorous, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m thankful for a husband who works hard every single day to make my life fuller and more meaningful. He puts my needs above his own. He prays with me and for me, and shows me a love that grows with each passing day.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (ESV)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
With motherhood comes pure delight as well as deep discouragement. It brings excitement and frustration. How can something so incredible that brings new levels of joy that I never even knew existed also bring such levels of anxiety? When I was first beginning this journey, I think that on some level I believed that I was the only one experiencing this vast sea of emotions that came with a new little bundle of joy. I now know better.
Over the past four years, since having David Lee (my oldest), my eyes have been opened to something that I never knew existed until having children of my own. I was shocked to discover that entering into motherhood is not always the gracious, welcoming “club” one might have hoped for. There’s no shortage of opinionated people, and whether solicited or not, many aren’t afraid to make it clear that their opinion is the right opinion. Instead of offering much needed support and encouragement, these passive aggressive comments can put a nervous new mommy on the defense and begin feeding the lie that being a good mother means measuring up to everyone else’s expectations; an impossible task.
When David Lee was just a few weeks old, I was sharing with another new mom about the frustration and guilt that came with not being able to continue breastfeeding as long as I had hoped. I longed for reassurance and acceptance. She responded by explaining to me that for her, her child is top priority, so she was doing whatever it took to continue breastfeeding her child. I internalized the implication that my child was not my top priority. Exhausted from lack of sleep and unbalanced hormones, I barely made it home before began to cry, guilt creeping over every piece of me, as if the lack of breast milk would cause my would-have-been brain surgeon of a son to become less than mediocre in life. And there it was… mom fail #1.
After that, there were countless other times when I allowed people to confirm my failure at motherhood. “He’s only 6 weeks and you’re already back at work? I couldn’t do it!,” “Homemade organic food is better,” “Vaccinations could give him autism,””You already have him sleeping in his own room?,” and so on and so forth. Out of my insecurities came a need to defend myself, and I was always left wondering if I would ever measure up.
Taking care of that little baby was arduous and overwhelming, so naturally I decided to add another to the mix, just to keep life interesting.
Ella came along when David Lee was almost 16 months old. I was still completely overwhelmed and sleep deprived with 2, so why not add a third?
Annie came along almost 16 months later. At that time, I had a newborn, a one year old, and a two year old. Yes, there were moments of utter chaos, but with those moments came something wonderfully unexpected. I was so focused on trying to SURVIVE that I began tuning out the negative voices around me. There was less time to think about myself, and with that came an awareness of the fact that there are a lot of moms who feel anxious and overwhelmed, just like me. And when I, like so many other well meaning moms, try to defend why what I am doing is the right way of doing things, I’m not helping anyone.
There was a time when I felt like I had to be perfect. Not only did I want to be a perfect mother, but I wanted to have the validation of those around me. And I wondered why I was exhausted?! Then came the realization that there is no other “me” in the world. There is no one else who is like my husband or my children. Our family is unique. We, as a family, are one of a kind. We were brought together for a specific purpose, and that purpose is to serve the Lord our God using each of our unique gifts, abilities, and even our quirks. It’s not about doing things the “right way” or proving to others that we’ve got it all together, but it is about doing what we do in love, and trusting Him to take care of us when we mess up.
When I hear people defend the choices they’ve made as a parent in a way that is arrogant and judgmental, I no longer feel defensive and resentful, but rather sympathetic. I feel sympathy because I know how draining it is to feel like you have to constantly defend “your way” and win everyone’s approval. I know how emotionally tedious it is to interpret everything that is said as a direct attack against your parenting style. It’s remarkable how liberating it is to discover that it’s my job to love my family the best way I know how to love them, and then just trust God with the rest.
I know that there are some “hot buttons” that really get people fired up, and I do have opinions about those issues, but the only thing worth dying for is Jesus Christ. If I’m going to try to get on my soapbox about something, shouldn’t it be something that lines up with His teachings? 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”
Romans 14:19 says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
I’m saddened to see how many moms are already too hard on themselves. Shouldn’t we be the ones to encourage one another in love, in spite of our differences?
- To the mom who works outside of the home, your kids are so fortunate to have a mom who loves them enough to make the sacrifices necessary to take care of them and go to work each day. You set an example of hard work and dedication, and as you take them to daycare or school you are helping them learn how to be confident and independent individuals. You are working hard to provide every possible opportunity because you love them.
- To the stay at home mom and homeschool mom, your kids are so fortunate to have a mom who loves them enough to make the sacrifices necessary to stay at home with them and spend more time with them during these formative years. You work hard to provide opportunities for them to excel in every area you can because you love them.
- To the organized mom who has everything on a schedule, how fortunate your kids are to have a mother who puts intentional thought into everything you do because you love them.
- To the free spirited mom, your kids are so fortunate to have a mother who loves them enough to jump on one adventure after another with them.
- To the moms who are extremely health conscious or feed your kids ice cream for dinner, sleep with a child’s foot in your face or let him cry it out in his own bed, let your kids roll in the mud or carry wipes with you just in case they step off of the sidewalk and get a shoe dirty…
You are beautifully unique, and God gave you the matchless ability of raising your children in the unique way that only you can. No other mother will mother like you. Embrace it, and choose love.