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The Joy of Serving

My church has made the commitment to feed the hungry downtown one Thursday a month.  Different groups in our church sign up to prepare and serve dinner to a minimum of 100 needy individuals.

My small group took its turn last Thursday.

I’ll admit to a bit of trepidation at such a daunting task.

Over lunch last Sunday, we firmed up our plans.  There were a number of trips made to Sam’s Club for supplies…

David, my friend Barb’s husband, and one of our small group leaders, Tracy, met at the church around 2:15 and began preparing the sauce.  I got there at 3.  Others slowly drifted in after they got off of work, and we also enlisted the assistance of Barb and David’s son and Tracy’s daughter (they are engaged, by the way).

David prepared twenty-five pounds of meat for the sauce, adding his secret blend of spices to the mix.

He and Jim, another of our small group members, cooked up thirty pounds of spaghetti.

I opened the packages of noodles for David.  Please be impressed with my kitchen skillz.

LOL.

Tracy proved to be the master of the garbage disposal/rinsing station.

We all have our special talents, you see.

It didn’t seem like long before everything was ready, and we loaded up our vehicles and headed downtown.

As we pulled into the parking lot, something stirred in my heart because, in front of me, was a line of people waiting for our arrival.

I’ve got a confession to make.

I’ve led a somewhat sheltered life.

The blinders are slowly being removed though…every year more come off as I teach the neediest of children in the direst of situations.

Still, looking at the people in that line and knowing that we were providing what would likely be their only meal of the day…perhaps their best meal of the week…well, I just don’t know that words can adequately describe exactly what I was feeling.

We had a lot of help setting up our table, and each member of our group assumed a spot from which to serve.

Before we began, though, Tracy spoke to the group of people, serving up the most satisfying food they would inhale that day…God’s Word.

A special thanks to this amazing man.  Tracy and his wife have been godsends to the Mr. and me.  They repeatedly invited us to their small group late last Spring.  I didn’t really want to go because I’m painfully shy sometimes, but Tracy continued to find me at church, hug me, and make me feel loved.

That’s just who he is, and his wife, Lisa, is the same way.

After the devotion and blessing, we began.

This is when the fun commenced!

I know that sounds strange, but honestly, that’s what it was…fun!

As each person came through the line, I heard my friends, Jeannie and Barbara, both literacy coaches in my district and some of my biggest supports (not to mention mentors to me), interact in their sweet Southern way with each person as they served up the salad and dressing.

The Mr. and I served the spaghetti.  As each person stood in front of me, I greeted him/her as I would any of my students…looked the person in the eyes…and asked how he/she was.

Some looked surprised to be acknowledged so personally.  I noticed that people would stand up straighter after looking me in the eye.

We passed the plates down to Lisa and others serving up the bread, cookies, and drinks.

We didn’t skimp on portions, and the people in this group seemed genuinely surprised.

We had so much food that we encouraged them to come back through our line for seconds and thirds.

We began making to-go boxes for them.

We even served up spaghetti to the cutest puppy ever (don’t be judging).

Some of the members of our group interacted with the patrons as they ate.

It wasn’t long before the crowd began to disappear…where to, I have no idea.

We broke down the tables and made plans to go to dinner as a group.

We chose a Mexican restaurant.  I doubt I’ll be able to look at spaghetti for a while.  LOL!

Lisa took the leftover food to the Rescue Mission so more hungry souls could be fed.

First, though, we returned to the church to finish cleaning up and return the serving dishes and utensils to their proper homes.

We finally made it to dinner around 8:00.

The feeling was jubilant, and we analyzed things we could have done to make it better.

Overall, though, there was a feeling of joy.

We shared conversations we’d had with those we had served.

I cannot tell you what a bonding experience this was.

Over the last year and three months, I have grown to deeply care for those in my small group.

Each individual has his/her talents.  We celebrate each others’ triumphs and cry for one another when things aren’t so good.

I, who was hesitant to become a part of this group, do not know what I’d do without it.

They stretch me, as evidenced by our experience with feeding the hungry.

They pray for me, on a moment’s notice, as happened last week when I requested prayer when Chicky was interviewing for a new teaching position closer to her house.

Feeding the hungry was an extension of what we’ve been doing for each other for the last year…finding joy through being selfless.

It’s love in action, modeled by God Himself when He sent His Son.

The Legacy of the Table

Once upon a time, there were two sisters.

These sisters loved each other very much.

They were each others’ main playmates, and they spent many, many hours coloring and playing games at this table…

Much laughter and, most likely, many arguments (as is the way with siblings close in age) were exchanged at this table as the girls grew up.

The table eventually came to reside in the eldest sister’s room, and it was there that this sister stayed up late many nights before her wedding writing thank you notes for the beautiful wedding presents that were pouring in.

Both sisters got married, and the eldest one was the first to have children.

Not long after her own daughter was born, this sister acquired the table.

It was time for a new generation to create memories.

The daughter and son that soon followed whiled away summer days coloring and playing games.  They built castles out of Legos and had Hot Wheels races off the table.  Many mid-afternoon snacks were enjoyed at this table, sometimes with Mama and other times with friends.

After a number of years, the table and chairs, which had been, by this time, whittled down to two from the full set of four that once existed, found their way to the attic.

The children had long outgrown them.

The daughter grew up, moved away to attend college, and began her grown-up job.

Meanwhile, the chairs and table sat, lonely, in the attic.

Until today…

When the eldest sister’s daughter requested them for her kindergarten classroom…

Where a new generation of little ones will begin creating their own memories.

They may find themselves like the original owner of the set, the eldest sister, whose happiest memories are tied to the fun experienced at this table…where a less-than-ideal home life may be offset, if only in small chunks of time, by the laughter shared with other little people.

The eldest sister’s eyes filled with tears when her daughter requested that she make that trip up to the attic, for she knew that the legacy of the table would continue.

Look Straight Ahead

The Mr. and I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago.  Our locale?  This place…

I do have plans, at some point, to blog about our adventures, but today, I wanted to focus on a little lesson I learned while on one ride.

During one of our visits to Epcot (I say “one” because we went there four different times…a story for another day), we used our Fast Passes for the ride Mission Space.

There are two options for this ride…green and orange.  The orange is the more intense option.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you.  Had it been my choice, we would have done green.  I get car sick and have issues with rides that mess with my head.

The Mr…well…he likes fast, thrilling rides.

So, we did the Orange option.

While you’re waiting, there are all kinds of warnings about not riding if you’re prone to motion sickness, not riding if you have heart issues (I don’t but feared I’d develop them after the ride), etc.

I kept commenting about being scared…so much so that the couple who were set to ride it with us started looking at me sideways.

Uh huh.

So we get onto the ride, and Lord Have Mercy!

I didn’t mention that I’m also claustrophobic.  Look at this thing…

Pictures courtesy of Google (I was too freaked out to take pictures)

What you do is sit in your seat, pull down the shoulder harness thing, and the Disney attendant closes you in.  Then, the control panel in front of you MOVES FORWARD to close you in even more!!!

I was a nervous wreck.

A video plays beforehand giving suggestions on how to deal with motion sickness issues.

I payed close attention, much like I do when flight attendants give safety instructions before a plane takes off.

The video suggested that the best thing to do during the ride would be to look straight ahead.  It said not to look to the left or the right…not to look down…not to close your eyes.

And then the ride started.

The ride is a simulation of a trip to Mars, beginning with takeoff.

The screen in front of you is your window outside.

I felt as though I was in a rocket on the launch pad looking up (because these thing are vertical).

My stomach dropped as we “lifted off” and entered the upper levels of the atmosphere.

Then, there was the floating feeling of weightlessness.

It was surreal.

It made my head feel funny.

Oy vey!

I felt a panic attack coming on but knew I didn’t want to cry out and embarrass myself.

I started breathing deeply and tried to talk my way through it.

Then, I decided to put my head down, close my eyes, and ride it out.

That is when I remembered the instructions in the video…

Look straight ahead…

Stay focused…

Don’t look to the left or the right.

I made the decision to trust the advice, and you know what?  I survived without an issue.

I did think the ride would never end, but I talked to myself as I do when I’m nearing the end of my C25K training (another subject for another post) run when I think I’m almost out of gas and can’t go another step.

When we finally landed on Mars and the ride ended, the couple beside me looked over and asked if I was okay.

I was.

I was so proud of myself for sticking it out!

As the Mr. and I talked about it later, I began to reflect.

I couldn’t help but see a tie-in between the lesson I’d learned with something I’d like to teach my students.

My students, struggling readers, often see their challenges as insurmountable.

Many have never passed our state reading exam and have always been in Intensive Reading.

They become overwhelmed with tasks and react in different ways.

Some get distracted, looking around to find something more interesting to do.  Oftentimes these students begin causing distractions.

Others use avoidance tactics by closing their eyes while putting down their heads and giving up.

I’m going to tell them the story of this ride I “survived.”

I’m going to use the same pieces of advice to encourage my students to stay the course…to trust me by looking straight ahead and staying focused on what is in front of them…not feeling overwhelmed by the challenges in front of them…staying in tune with the goal of landing safely in the land of reading literacy.

With the new format of a tougher state test, they are going to need every piece of advice they can get!

A Little Hodgepodge, a Little Reflection

I’m back at it…participating in the Hodgepodge.  I’ve been off the grid a bit with this here blog, unable to bring myself to pen the many thoughts of my summer life.  Honestly, I think I’ve just needed some distance from the laptop.  I’m beginning to come out of the rest-induced fog, though, so here I am!  Play along by joining up with Joyce!

1.  When I look at the sky I feel________________________________________.

When I look at the sky, I feel small.  Honestly.  I know that I am but a mite in the larger picture that God has designed.  Not that I am inconsequential, mind you.  I just know that I am but one speck…one pixel…in His masterpiece.

2.  If you had to run for political office, which one would you run for? Do you have any real desire to actually do this?

If I had to run for political office, I would run for Governor of the state of Florida.  My first mandate would be to require every single law-making official to spend a month in a teacher’s classroom.  Oh, not any classroom, mind you, but a classroom comprised of the very neediest children…children who live in poverty…who are lucky to have one adult living at home…who have reading problems…who go to school hungry.  I’d like these officials to take notes on how hard the teachers works to engage these children…how much money out of their own pockets the teachers spend to feed, clothe, and educate the students in the classroom…how much time the teachers spend outside of their contracted hours to research lesson plan ideas, contact parents, and make exemplars for students to follow.  As leader of this state that ranks very low on test scores, I expect that this would be the best mandate ever, and no longer would the lawmakers pass ridiculous ordinances that are unattainable because, perhaps, the lawmakers would be knowledgeable about what really happens in a classroom.

3.  What scent makes you think of home?

Home, for me, is where I currently live, thus the smell of dog makes me think of home when I’m away.  heehee

4.  How often do you take a step back to think about where you’re headed in life? Do you need more or less self-reflection?

I reflect CONSTANTLY!!  As a teacher, I won’t grow if I don’t!!!  I reflect on my teaching practices and everything else associated with my profession.

On a personal level, I am constantly reflecting on myself…namely the example I set as a Christian.  That’s the hardest for me because I desire to show people what a life led by God looks like.  I fear I’m not always good at this.

There’s a fine line you can cross between self-reflection and critique.  I don’t believe that God intends for us to down ourselves.  That’s where I struggle because of my desire to be perfect.  I think that learning to self reflect without being negative is key for me.  (I’m whispering, “Good luck with that” to myself as I type this.)

5.  July is National Ice Cream Month…besides a cone, what’s your favorite food item to top with ice cream?

Well, I can’t have ice cream because I am lactose intolerant and a vegan (although the hubby and I found sorbet in “France” at Epcot, and we ate it with a cone…delish!).  With that said, my favorite topping would have to be chocolate syrup, which I also cannot have any more, unless it’s vegan.  Still, what a wonderful way to top off this treat!

6.  What might your autobiography be called?

I really like this question.  It’s one I’ve used with my students before and one I’ve considered a time or two for myself.

What would my autobiography be called.  Hmmmm….tough one to answer.

Autobiography means that I get to come up with the title for my own life, so it’s about my perception and not someone else’s.

Hmmm…

I’ll go back to the motto I’ve assigned for my life…

Bloom Where You are Planted
(Or Wither Up)

My Very Honest Attempt at Life and the Antics that Make Me “Me”

7.  Your least favorite mode of transportation? Why?

I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of flying.  I can and have done it, numerous times, but I always hold my breath as well as the side arms…tightly…until each flight is finished.  I think it’s incredible that humans invented a way to move, across the sky, without coming down unless purposeful about it.  The stories of plane crashes have scared me over the years, though…hence my fears.

8.  My Random Thought

I cannot believe that by this time next month, I will be finishing up my first week back at school.  I know the next few weeks are going to fly (pun intended) by, and I’m nervous, as always.  I’ve given myself until the last day of this month to revel in the summer before settling in and getting down to work.  Teachers don’t have to report back until the 12th, but there are a lot of things I can do from home.  So, if you’re looking for me this month, you’ll probably find me in a prone position…on my couch…taking advantage of my opportunities to nap in between bouts of laziness.

Vernal Equinox Shawl

Although it has seemed as though I’ve been sleeping the summer away, I have, in fact, kept myself busy…reading…watching many, many episodes of Alias, AND knitting.

“Sid, Sloan is here,” Marshall mutters in a barely-audible voice. heehee

The Harry Potter group I’m involved with on Ravelry encourages “students” to propose and complete OWLs.  An OWL is a larger project that requires more time to complete.  It’s a fairly big deal to propose and must meet the specifics of the prompt a student selects.

I set my sights on a Runes project…one that required multiple charts.  Enter in my Vernal Equinox Shawl, a free pattern you can find on Ravelry.

Here’s my swatch…

I’d purchased Cascade Alpaca yarn for it during Spring Break.

I cast on May 25th.

The project grew…and grew…and grew.

For the first time in my knitting career, I used lifelines.  A lifeline is what you create when you run thin yarn or thick thread through a row of stitches.  I used quilt thread and ran it through the live stitches on my needle after I finished each chart.  Thank heavens because there were a few times when I had to tink back to fix mistakes, and because the yarn was so thin, stitches dropped.  Fortunately, the lifeline caught the dropped stitches, so I could put them back on my needle easily.

I finally got to the bind off row and got stuck.  I wanted to do the crochet bind off but wasn’t sure how, despite visiting YouTube.  I contacted a sweet friend, and she invited me to her home on her day off.  We spent a wonderful hour and a half together while she helped me figure out the instructions.  Note to anyone doing this pattern…TRUST THE INSTRUCTIONS.  They work out in the end.  In other words, don’t overthink them (ahem).

I began the cast off the next day.  It took me over NINE HOURS to finish.

I kid you not.

I had 652 stitches on the needle and was freaked out that the stitch count wouldn’t come out right.

I had created a chart to keep track of what I was supposed to do…

Fortunately (and surprisingly), I reached the end right on track with the pattern.  God had mercy on me!!!  :D

It took me a couple of hours to block it (pin it out).  I ran my blocking wires through the decrease stitches, making points in the process.

Here’s what it looked like when I took it off of the wires…

Here are close-ups…

On Sunday, the Mr. acquiesced to my request for photography assistance.  It was simply too humid to be running back and forth between the tripod and self-timer on the camera, which is how I usually take my knitting pictures.

I’m quite proud of this shawl, so please forgive my crazy number of pictures.

I’m not sure if I’m going to propose an OWL for the Fall term.  The beginning of school is crazy-busy, and I don’t want to stress myself needlessly.  However, I do like the challenge of a larger project.  I also think that an OWL would help me take time out for myself…something I feel guilty about doing because of my teaching responsibilities.  Guess I’ll just have to pray about it.

Either way, I hope you enjoyed the photos!  Thanks for allowing me to brag a bit.  :D

A Kid’s Place

A couple of weeks ago, one of my pastors preached a sermon that resonated with me in multiple ways.

The theme was “A Kid’s Place.”  The gist was that church should be a place that welcomes children.

As the pastor made his key points, I took notes.  It was clear to me that these were lessons that every teacher should adopt for the classroom.

I’m considering making a poster for my classroom with the key points, tailored to education.  It would look something like this (imagine a pretty border and graphics):

This room is a place where…

  • You belong
  • You believe
  • You become

Too many of the babies I teach (even though they are teenagers, they are still my babies) come from environments where they are one more mouth to feed (if they are fed at all), they don’t have anyone there to build their confidence and dare them to dream…so they become what they see the adults around them becoming…dependent on society or addiction to make it through life.

My students know that I am strict.  It doesn’t take them long to figure this out, let me tell you.  By the end of the year, though, I think (and pray) that they feel as though my room is a place where every single thing…every book…every lesson plan…every word I speak…is geared toward their success.

I pray that they feel as though they belong, no matter what their background…that they believe that they can set goals and achieve them…that they can rise above their circumstances to become anything they want to.

Out of the Blue

A couple of nights ago, I had just finished reading my assignment for the Bible study my small group is doing when my phone dinged, indicating I had an email.

I popped on over to my inbox and nearly deleted what I thought was spam.  I’d been getting quite a lot of it lately (I think my school’s email filter was broken).

Thank heavens I stopped myself after seeing a glimpse of the contents on the preview screen.

Here is the email, in full…

Note the smartly placed <3 to protect the innocent.  :)

The student who sent this email is the same precious young lady who penned the uplifting words you might remember reading in this post I wrote the last day of school.

As I read the email above, I started crying, so touched by her thoughtfulness.

I am well-entrenched in my summer routine, I’m not going to lie.

I am loving my lazy summer days that allow me to wake up when I want, pee whenever I need, and, in general, indulge my every whim.

It’s hard to imagine that I’ll be venturing back to my classroom in a few short weeks to begin preparing for my new batch of students.

My student’s email was a timely reminder of the reason why I teach.

In her own words (note that she uppercased the word READING, which she loathed to do last year), I impacted her life.

The wonderful thing about teaching is that I get to do this year after year, with countless students.

Her email energized me and gave me a renewed focus.

Instead of dreading August 1st, my self-imposed “Day to Begin Planning” (even though I won’t officially report to work for a couple of weeks after that), I find myself looking forward to it.

Oh, that’s not to say that I’m not going to enjoy the rest of July, but I’m fighting the pull to begin mapping out my first couple of weeks of school.  In fact, I saw the administrator in charge of Guidance on Thursday when I ran into school for something, and he jokingly said that he was sure I had the first semester planned out.  heehee

As teachers, our goal is to lead students to internalize their education…to take ownership of it and the ways they learn.  Usually, it’s years before they appreciate those who led them down this path.

For the above young lady who has touched my heart so deeply, this process has been accelerated.  She’s so mature…so self-aware…so conscious of what’s going on around her.

I am grateful for this sweet student, and I cannot wait to hug her neck and tell her thank you in person when the new year begins.

 

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