For Teacher Eyes Only

How can we foster an environment where all children learn? If you were on a boat and it began to sink, you’d never save only those within your reach, would you? You would go into a survival mode that ensured every person made it to dry ground. Shouldn’t the approach to education be the same?

Our children come to us from various backgrounds that require us as educators to enhance our vision of the classroom. We need to create environments that students feel comfortable despite their level of knowledge. Are we giving options for sharing what they know, what their dreams are or what kind of day they had? Maybe sharing aloud is not their strength but hand them a pencil and paper and you’ll have a masterpiece. Without understanding our kiddos, we will constantly struggle to find where to begin implementing instructional practices.

But there are so many needs! Yes. Thinking through your class and ensuring that all students are able to express their understanding will create success. The work upfront will take some time but the payoff is rich. The classroom should not be based on teacher desires the room to look like but on student needs-both academically and emotionally.

There is a framework: Universal Design for Learning. It works and you’ll find that what benefits one, can help all. You can do this and your students need to be saved off that sinking ship. We can’t afford for even one not to make it.

A Summer Reading

bittersweet

A few months back on a train ride home from D.C., I finished the book “Bittersweet,” by Shauna Niequist. I highly recommend reading it. Each chapter challenged me to the core. What an amazing writer.

One particular section focused on deciding what we will and will not do in life. So I made a list. As this list materialized, things were pretty lopsided. I saw that I basically take on every committee, outing or activity that comes my way. In itself, it’s of course not a bad thing. I love work, church, my friends and all the other things on that list. I realized that this busyness was taking me away from my family.  Getting to know my girls and show them how to love is right about up there as one of the upmost important things in my life. Being so busy, we were together most of the time. But they need me fully present not just there.

As a little girl, I remember always wanting to be with my family. I simply wanted to spend time with my Dad, Mom and Nanny. (My grandmother lived with us until I was 15). Riding in the truck with my Dad going to his job sights and eating off the food trucks was the best. I actually loved the regular Saturday room cleaning days with my grandmother. We would fold every drawer and clean the closet until it was organized. Each shelf was dusted with joy as I did it with her. I tried to be with my mom every second I was able to. I loved sitting with her.

If I think about it that way, I feel like I have been missed the boat a little as a parent. I spend so much time organizing activities for them instead of just being with them.

The girls loved having us coach soccer. Our favorite days are now spent watering the flowers wishing the kids were wearing bathing suits because they are covered in water.  I love our neighborhood because all we do is hang out in the driveway. Someone will be out soon to play or chat with.

I am not saying at all that I regret for a second anything I’ve invested my time in. I enjoyed teaching my students and my career. I am so thankful for each moment teaching those kiddos new things. I love studying Special Education and working with a team that supports our local schools. All of that is a big part of who I am too.

I love Thursday nights at church with our women’s groups at Willowdale. I need time for me. Reading about Jesus and learning to serve Him is one of the best parts of my week. Praying and reflecting keeps me very grounded. For five weeks, we actually studied about this very topic. Creating margin in your life. It is such a gift. One we often forget that God spent the seventh day creating it.

I really needed to learn to make space for what was important. I can’t tell you exactly what I started saying no to. But I do feel so invested in the life of my family. I made a list of their favorite things my kids like to do while I was on that train a few months back. It’s so easy to make them happy. Ice cream, nail polish, soccer balls, books and tickle fights.

I am blessed. I can’t think of a better time to embrace this. Bring it on summer. I am going to soak up each moment.

 

P.S. Please still invite me for wine and coffee. I still really need that time with you too!

Living with purpose

Living with purpose. Created for a reason. Chosen to be a wife, mom, daughter, sister and friend. These ideas have been swirling in my mind.

Most days I wake up and complete my daily routines. Coffee, reading, making lunches, getting ready, work, cleaning, playing, dinner, homework, bedtime with my babies and lounging with my man. Sure, throw in a soccer practice, piano lessons, Bible study or a coffee date but honestly, I’m pretty darn predictable.

This past Sunday as I listened to my pastor talk about being chosen. I realized that we all have been chosen for a purpose. When God created this beautiful creation, He had me in mind. I love that. I have meaning, even on those days when everything goes wrong. I spend so much time in the predictability that I often forget the important piece of living with purpose for what I have been called to do.

I was chosen to be Jeremy’s wife. What an honor to be loved by this gentle, funny, loving man. We were chosen to raise two sweet little girls together and show them how to live out their life with purpose. Would I ever teach them to live predictable lives with the same routine without thinking through what their greater purpose might be? Never would that cross my mind.

If that is unacceptable for me to teach my children, why am I sometimes completely satisfied with living life without the focus as to what I am here for?

Lately I have been asking God to show me what He wants for me in the next few years. I love where I am at in life. There is no better place than at home with my family. Working and supporting individuals with disabilities teaches me something new every single day. Promoting awareness on mental health and speaking as an advocate has turned my shame into peace. Soon I’ll be diving into the graduate world of Urban Affairs and Public Policy. All of this has purpose. I don’t know what direction He will take me in but I know that is not for me to decide. This is God’s work that I have been honored to carry out for Him.

Let me clarify. I enjoy my routines. I think we all need them. They just can’t drive us to forget that we each have something to give to the world around us. We all are gifted differently with unique talents that create a beautiful masterpiece when we work in harmony. Your smile and hello may be the only one a stranger sees all week. It’s not always the big stuff but in the little things we do as well.

Veenema-47Each season of life may present something different. Sometimes our plate is full and joyful. Other times we may be riding on the back of a friend because our load is too big too carry. Wherever yours may be right now, I hope you find peace knowing that you have meaning. Don’t go through life thinking that your routine is meaningless. It may be in the everyday that your life brings purpose to another.

The power of words

The power of our words. It’s almost scary of what can happen when we open our mouth to talk. I remember my grandmother wise words of “It’s better to say nothing, if it isn’t going to be nice.” She lived this so well. I look at my life and can think back to multiple occasions of wishing I had listened better.

“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” –Proverbs 13:3

“Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.” —Proverbs 21:23

“Spread love everywhere. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”              -Mother Theresa

Nanny, Mother Theresa and Solomon (or whoever wrote that part of Proverbs) are onto something. I don’t think that we even need these words to convince us that this is true. Has responding to a situation with negativity ever resulted in making it better? Have you ever fixed your relationship with a friend by cursing or spouting off whatever comes to your mind? Did that jab at your spouse or co-worker make life better or more peaceful? I’d be shocked if you said it did. It’s just common sense!

Then why is it so hard when we are angry or wronged? I am the first to admit that for some of my life, I probably had a comeback if you attacked me or someone I loved. I would not always choose to ignore it or find a way to make the situation better. But I have worked hard. And still need to.

Over the past few years, changing my responses has been progressing. But now, this particular problem for me typically comes out when I’m tired or stressed and guess who gets the brunt of that? My sweet husband. I’m not really just talking about throw down fights. For me it can be not saying anything. It might be a quick complaint of how I would have done it differently. But seriously, how rude is that?

Here are some stupid examples of this and I am embarrassed to admit it but this is the truth and I’m living out loud with you people now. So I’ve learned that when man does the dishes and puts everything back in the wrong places and you cannot find anything while you are cooking the next time, who cares. If he folds the clothes who cares if it looked more like it he was clinging on for dear life in a tornado? He did it out of love to help me. I’m sure he’d rather be watching television or out golfing. A simple, “Thank you” or “I appreciate that, babe.” Not, “Um, thanks.” “Could you do it like this next time?” I’m learning. I really am. This therapist we used once gave me a really good advice and I’ll never look at those kind of things the same way.

I’ve actually recently challenged myself in this area with one of my kids. One of my offspring tends to push the limit. Boy is it easy to respond in annoyance or frustration. We met with a lady (yes, another therapist) about our parenting for her and found out that our response was the exact opposite of what she needed. It actually broke my heart to know we went that long. She needed gentle, kind words to show her what she needed to do. Even when she did the exact opposite of what I asked. I now calmly ask her to take a break until she was ready. I gave her space and walked away if I thought I was going to jump out of my skin. This stuff really worked for her. I also work on the Positive Behavior Support Project so I have no idea why I did not apply it to my parenting. I need to listen to the research for my personal life as well.

It’s been about 6 months of this and it actually helped us a lot in our relationship with her. By no means do I have a perfect kid and have totally fixed the situation. But, I have learned from this little creature that I really do need to love like Jesus. At the end of the day, that is our calling. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. Loving Him and loving others was His greatest commandment.

We can’t take our words back. We need to love with all our might and clench our mouths and ask for strength to keep them closed when it’s going to be ugly. Sometimes, I need to pray hourly if it’s been a bad day or this house gets grumpy mommy. Loving my family well is part of my purpose.

So, I am challenging myself to run this race with gentle words that can only lift others up. I’ve seen this in so many areas recently and as I look back through the years. I hope that I continue to find this area important. Our relationships are absolutely worth holding our tongue and shutting our traps. Even when he buys neapolitan ice cream because it was on sale and all you wanted was chocolate peanut butter cup. Just saying. It’s still dessert!

Replenishing your soul

Why is setting time aside for ourselves so incredibly hard? It doesn’t matter what stage of life we are in but we all need to replenish our souls. For me, I need to time reading quietly, praying, listening to music and walking my dog under the stars. When I crowd my life with only details of a busy day, it’s almost as I don’t have the space to get anything done well. This not usually a pretty situation. The way I end up giving to people becomes rushed, forced and sometimes less quality than what I really want. The way you get down time may be totally different but I know you feel me and most likely need it.

When I miss my time, the gunk comes out when I least expect it. I recently had the kind of week where there was no time to breathe. One evening, I captured a few quiet moments to shut my eyes and daydream while planning the next few days. Then Jeremy and I had an everyday conversation. I forget what he even said but I just short circuited and got upset with his opinion. (Sorry, honey. I completely forget what it was about or I’d show how irrational I was in that moment.)  It wasn’t what he said that I was troubled by, it was that I had no room left to engage with him. The most important person in my life got the brunt of my business. I could fill this page with a list of moments that my 3 darlings have felt the ramification of this problem.

Jeremy and I try to wake up earlier to have our personal alone time. Note the word try. I need to listen to that alarm and get my behind out of bed. Snooze is not my friend. Those moments of refueling are necessary. A calmness and peace always result in those moments. I never regret getting up to read and meditate on what God is sharing with me over my cup of coffee. I always regret not doing it. Always. By taking time out to hear His voice, everything that does not matter fades away. I sincerely get clarity of His purpose for me. My priorities get shifted and I see what is before me that day in a different way.

Whether this time of life gives you 5 minutes or an hour, make time for yourself time to create the space. It’s going to look different for everyone. When my kids were little, I took a longer shower and that was what I needed and some days all I could get. Now I can take 20 minutes in the morning for reading. If I’m on it, I might even get tabata workout in. I try to end the day with a walk around the neighborhood staring at the stars. Do what you can. Find out what you need to get that replenishment. Ask a friend to help, if needed. I promise you will be glad you did.

 

Disclaimer: Stop using the snooze button. The weekends are my only exception because there is nothing better than sleeping in. I try to do that as long as my kids let me or until a German Shorthair Pointer sits on my face.

Getting real with my mess

Oh, the lovely discussion of self-worth. This is a huge barrier for me daily.  Most of my life I have battled with this issue. In high school and through college, my athletic performance was where I placed my value of self-worth. As you can imagine, my feelings would change quite a bit depending on opinions of others, the numbers of goals scored or what the newspaper said about me. When I became injured and could no longer play, I was completely lost. This shallow personal vantage point of my identification was imbedded in my thoughts, actions and behavior.

When I became a mother, my performance-based value system did not change. It was the setting and people that I performed for that did. Instead of worrying about pleasing my teammates, coach or parents, it was my friends, my family or teachers. I remember picking up my oldest daughter from preschool when she was two or three years old. I was talking to her teacher and shared with me how shy she was compared to the other kids. She went into areas of concern that she had despite her sweet disposition. I was extremely defensive. I was not surprised by the shyness by any means since my husband is introverted. But this conversation is just an example of many opinions I would continue to hear about my children. These opinions and conversations became my new viewpoint. This inaccurate view a teacher had on my daughter really shook me. I even knew she was wrong. But despite that, I cared about what kind of mother this lady considered me to be. I think we can all relate to this as mothers or fathers. What milestone are they at? What parenting style did you choose? Do you wear your baby? Are they reading yet? I mean seriously, the list could go on for pages.

I won’t even begin the dissertation of my issues in the workplace. That is where you will find my greatest dysfunction of value. At home, I have this amazing man, that now keeps me real when I am going down a windy road with my kids. However, at work, it’s just me and my agenda. Get it done and do it right. I don’t want to just finish a task. It really needs to be essentially perfect or I am really hard on myself. There is no pressure to be this way at all in my working environment. It is just my enormous weight that I choose to carry most days. I am taking another area of my life that I love and making it into something that is defining who I am. The whole time I am leaning on myself. Doing it on my own strength.

Ugh. This pattern is not healthy. I’m not writing here today suggesting that I have an answer to the problem of this value system and that all is dandy in my world today. I am definitely getting better at it. I do give these areas over to God and place them at His feet. But I honestly need to do it more than just the morning and evening. It’s an hour by hour, minute by minute situation for me.

I know where my worth needs to be placed. I know how it’s supposed to look. But, I struggle. I am seeking my acceptance and worth in people not in my Creator. He is all that matters. Everything I do is only intended to serve Him. But somehow, I try to make it about myself. What I need to accomplish and get done.

The song “Lord, I need You,” by Matt Mahar has been such a great conversation with God. I pray and worship while singing this song.

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here, I find my rest
Without You, I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You
Oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense
My righteousness
Oh, God how I need You

Where sin runs deep
Your grace is more
Where grace is found, is where You are
Where You are, Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
Yes, where You are, Lord I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Lord, I need You
Oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense
My righteousness
Oh, God how I need You

Teach my song
To rise to you
When temptation comes my way,
When I cannot stand
I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay

I rest assured that I have grace. That I am enough without having to perform. I pray that as I raise those little girls, I can guide them to learn with me that there is only one vantage point that matters. I cling to Him and know He accepts me despite this mess I bring to Him daily, minute by minute.

If you want to hear the song, click below.

https://search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?hspart=GenieoYaho&hsimp=yhs-fh_ds&type=a1440685521479216&p=i+need+you+lord+matt+maher+lyrics

Fog

Here’s one reason not to rush from one place to another; when you are rushing, you may put your foot on the gas when the turning lane arrow becomes green and your light is actually red. You may hit the car in front of you at a very slow speed. This may result in a nice headache and a few aches and pains. Seriously, you may. That was my Tuesday.

Honestly, my body feels fine but wouldn’t you know the stress of this incident has seriously put me in this fog? Not quite sure how to describe it other than a fog but I’m definitely not the happy girl I was earlier that day. The night before I was laughing with friends and hubby, feeling so carefree. Getting all ready for spring gardening plans and thinking about the date we have planned for this weekend. But, although this little bump was not a BIG bump like it could’ve been, it’s really has shaken me up.

I don’t know why I have this emotion. All I know is that if I did not email my boss telling her that I would be at work the next day, I probably could have laid in bed all day. I wouldn’t call what I am feeling a depression by any means but it did get me thinking about when I was.

Depression makes it so hard to get out of bed and feel some sort of worth even with the most amazing husband and two precious little girls. Even despite having a great job, amazing co-workers, friends and family my whole life, you could still have found me in fetal position many nights trying to find some sort of good.

About 2 years ago, something changed for me. I can’t tell you one specific thing that occurred but, I stopped getting depressed. I no longer need my light box in the morning. I am still facing situations that are not exactly ideal. If I am honest, there are situations in my life now that are actually more difficult than they were years prior. But my mindset has shifted.

I attribute it to giving up doing life on my own strength. It obviously wasn’t working anyway. I cannot pinpoint when the day was but I have turned over the wheel to someone WAY stronger than me. I need to rely on Him and use my tool kit for dealing with struggles.

I need medication. Don’t think that I am at all suggesting I am cured. I am a strong advocate for finding good medication and counseling for mental health needs.

But, my perspective is very different.

I may be in a fog but I will not let it overtake me anymore. I will get up, straighten up the house and return my emails. I will walk my dog even if I don’t feel like getting off the couch. I will jump at the chance to grab coffee to talk about what the heck I’m feeling. (Thank you, friend. You made time for me on your busiest of days. I have no idea how God placed you in my life like He did but I am so thankful.) I got to the university, did my thing, taught my class and came home to my precious bunch.

Even as I am writing, I don’t feel happy but I still have my joy. I know that His plans  are perfect. He is teaching me that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness are so much more valuable than anything else I can pursue in this world. (Galatians 5:22, 23) I will pursue those. Not saying that I have them all. Not saying that I have  this figured out at all. But that is what He has given me in Jesus. I rely on His strength now.

It may be foggy out right now but I’m going to push through. I’ve got Jesus, coffee and my crew. I haven’t been let down yet. Things may be foggy and it may be hard to see but there is Someone who has overcome it all.

If you have no idea what I am referring to and my experience with depression, here’s my story.  https://wednesdaysmusings.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/my-name-is-susan-veenema/

A St. Patrick’s Day gift

I have been struggling daily as I transition without the morning sunlight. Pulling myself out of bed has seriously been a job. My disorder reminded me this week that every single day is a gift. Every day. It might not always be easy but I need to embrace it good or bad.

My family was so excited to dress up for St. Patricks Day. It was planned the night before. I wore my green pants with pride and my girls had their green bows and socks with their little school uniforms. Jerm wore his green polo. He has a polo for every holiday. We love any reason to celebrate. It’s something that makes the daily routine a little less mundane.

Today  I pried myself out of bed, down the stairs. I drank my coffee and got through the daily fog. I kept watching my children’s eyes sparkle as I did their hair. As I went through my day, something kept coming back to me: why don’t we treat every day like St. Patrick’s Day? (If this is not your favorite day of the year, just work with me.) Where is the daily excitement? Why don’t I always have that sparkle like my girls did this morning?

I know we all have tough situations that may not be easy. Please don’t feel as though I am trivializing the tough realities of life. I face them myself.  But, each morning is new. Each day is a gift. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. I’m not trying to be a downer here but isn’t it true?

Think of your daily gift. Maybe it’s a chance to try again after a tough fall at work. A day to call that friend after a conflict. Another day to love. To give your all. To live out your calling. My friend wrote about purpose. How exciting is that?! We all have one. You aren’t just a placeholder in this thing called life. Check Viv out at https://wednesdaysmusings.wordpress.com

I’m not saying this is an easy. Crap happens and life can be tough. But let’s remind each other that there is tomorrow. We will get through this. We can’t do this alone and we need each other.

This sleeping in has taken me away from my early morning time with Jesus. I can feel it. But I have people in my life that are pulling me through this darkness. Showing me  and reminding me of life’s joy.

You never know what what a day brings. Maybe you are what gives someone joy in their mundane. Maybe your smile was what made that day special. Or that simple text just to say hi. Let’s celebrate St. Patrick’s Day all year. I like wearing green and who can turn down a reason to have a good IPA?

 

 

The grind

Every weekend I am either weaving my way through a sea of a scheduling or relaxing around the house with my husband, kiddos and the Chemex (If you don’t have one…you are missing out on what coffee should taste like. (http://www.chemexcoffeemaker.com). I’m asking myself, does it have to be this extreme?

Don’t get me wrong, I love planning, activity and being with all those people that I am making plans with, but sometimes I just need to chill out.

This weekend has started out perfectly though. I’ve had all those things. They were in a different order, but nonetheless, it has been great. It is noon on Saturday and so far since I left work yesterday this is what I’ve done:

  1. Hung out with my neighbors
  2. Dinner and froyo with my family
  3. One hour of piano lessons
  4. Bonfire with my sister-in-law
  5. Kiddo letting us sleep in an hour
  6. Coffee with a friend (via Chemex)
  7. Gardening (we can pretend to call it that)
  8. Blogging next to my dog

So, I have decided that I am and will continue to practice being intentional with my time. I will say no to things that make life too hectic but not so much that I don’t have time for the people that I love. Although I am an extrovert, I do need time alone with my book or outside exploring this beautiful creation.  The key word in that sentence that I need re-read is alone. We are all so busy that relationships and replenishing ourselves gets left in the dust.

I remember when my kids were both toddlers and alone meant the bathroom. Actually, I’ll rephrase that, sometimes when I went to the bathroom I got alone time. It really does get better mamas. I thought that day would never come. I promise it does and I really do miss trying to figure out how to get a shower into the day.

Spring is coming and I want to take on this season into the summer with my calendar full of precious memories. Not obligations. I love my job, my neighborhood, my family and friends too much not too look at it any other way.

The process

Sometimes when I get an idea or a thought, it crosses my mind and I question it. Does that really make sense? Did I get enough sleep? There are other moments that are clear directions and steps must be made to follow through because it’s the right thing to do.

I attended a woman’s conference last month and I still can’t think about it without coming to tears. The information that went through this set brain waves are still making my mind hurt and I’ve spent the last while wondering what camp I stand in: ideas or actions. One idea was “God makes all things new….but are we going to let Him take us through the process?” What?!? Are you talking to me because millions around the world were getting the same message and how could this be directed at me?

I should look up the statistic on how many pieces of information we process each day. Let’s just say one thousand. Of course that is ridiculously low but I’m going with it. Out of those one thousand thoughts, how many of them are we taking the time to stop, reflect and respond to? Even if just a few of them were life deep, thought-provoking and life-changing, isn’t it worth it to just process them? The worst that could happen is moving on to the next one.

So, at this conference, Jo Saxton, an amazing speaker that loves Jesus, says that God makes all things new. That means He can change and restore anything in my life. That includes the impatience, need to control and have things perfect, spending habits. (That list could really eat up this entire page so I’m just stopping there.)

I want to be a wife that doesn’t get upset when the little recycling bin doesn’t make it to the big can on trash day and the mom that realizes that my kiddos are learning about life, just like I am. They are not supposed to be perfect either.

I think that we all have those areas that we dislike. What I love most is that when Jesus looks at me, the stuff I dislike is not what He sees. I may carry that. Guilt myself. Feel shameful about how I handled a situation. But, he sees a woman that loves Him and tries to serve Him and those around her the best that she can. All I need to bring to Him is who I am and He will do the rest. Abiding in His perfect love and acceptance. I have already been made new by accepting Him into my life.

So,  I am going to start processing these little treasures a little deeper. I usually find them in books, songs or conversations with friends. I do so with gladness because each one teaches me something. This idea that I’m not defined by my mess is really amazing. It’s only taken me three weeks to realize it. I’m glad I didn’t let that one pass by.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17