Surviving the Valley Series

Surviving the Valley Series
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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Through his eyes

Adopting a teenager is tough, and raising that teenager to be a young adult is even tougher.

I've already said that, many times. This stage of life seems to be harder than all the teenage stuff because I still see that teenager (more like a little boy) stuck inside that young adult body. What looks like laziness and rebellion is actually just a cry to say, "Please. I'm not ready yet. Let me stay here just a little while longer. I'm scared, and I need you."

As much as I wanted to spend more time alone recharging this summer, either writing, blogging, reading, or even cleaning and purging, I had this "kid" that needed a daily schedule and constant entertainment. He refused to take the initiative to get a second job (his main job still paid him all summer), but he lacked the skills to find productive things to do on his own or even find ways to entertain himself. He wasn't asking for video games or things to do by himself. He didn't ask to go hang out with friends. Instead he daily told me all the things he wanted US to do together. Us, as in me and him. What 21 year old wants to hang out with his mom and looks forward to spending a day with her? How could I say no to that?  If he's asking for it, then it's likely that he needs that time.

So we rode the DART to Dallas a couple times to visit museums and stop for coffee/drinks on the way back. We drove to Houston and stopped for Colombian food together. We celebrated Colombian Independence Day at a local Colombian restaurant here in town. We went to the movies together every Wednesday. We went to all the free concerts in the park and went Chick Fil-A hopping one day to get free entrees because we dressed up like cows. We played a lot of Skip-Bo, went thrift store shopping, went out for ice cream, and just spent a LOT of quality time together.

I felt like God really pressed on my heart this summer to try to see life through his eyes (Juan's). He's only been here (and been part of a solid family) for six years. We only have six years of memories built up with him. He's only had six years to learn from us, to observe us, to love us, and to know he's loved by us. Of course there are skills that are taking him a little longer than his peers. Of course the reality of adulthood scares him and makes him want to regress to a younger age mentality. Of course the money and time management aren't there yet. And the more I try to push him to accept those responsibilities, the more he pushes back because, quite frankly, he's just not there yet.

Then one day recently, it hit me hard how much I really haven't understood his perspective. We were watching the movie Freedom Writers on a DVD at home. In case you've never seen it, it's a true story about a beginner teacher who goes into the inner city and, after flubbing up immensely in the beginning, she finds a way to truly connect with her students in order to reach them. She studies their lives, gives them a safe space to journal, visits their homes, takes them on trips, and pretty much gives her entire life to her students in order to reach them. She gets herself into all kinds of trouble as a teacher, but she successfully connects with her kids and ends up inspiring them to actually finish school and go on to higher education. In fact, one of those students spoke at our school convocation last year and vouched for her, saying that every single one of them went on to become somebody--many who are now teachers, doctors, and lawyers. Kids who the rest of society had given up on. Kids who thought they'd never amount to anything or break out of the cycle of poverty, drugs, and gangs that their families had been a part of. Kids that I, myself, would have been terrified to teach.

I've always seen that movie from a teacher's eyes, wondering if I would ever be willing to sacrifice and risk so much for the sake of my students. I always thought the movie was about the teacher, as you can see how I just described it to you.

And then I watched it with Juan.

And I realized that the movie wasn't about the teacher to him. He identified with the students. He talked about watching the movie in the orphanage many years ago and how they all identified with those students. They lived a life so similiar to the students in the movie. They related to them. While I saw the movie as an inspiration, reminding me of the opportunity I have as a teacher to make a difference in my students' lives, he saw the movie from the perspective of a student whose life could change so radically if one teacher would just invest in him like she did into those students.

It was eye opening. The way he related to those kids reminded me of how differently I see the world than he does. It made me see that perhaps I should stop trying so hard to get him to see himself from my perspective and start trying harder to see things through his eyes.

I missed the first 15 and a half years of his life. Sometimes he fills me in on memories. Sometimes he opens up to tell me his stories. Sometimes I ask questions. But that's fifteen and a half years that a different system raised him and shaped his world view. I can't expect that merge of worldviews to magically work out together after only six years.

So here's to a new year with a fresh perspective, working harder to see things more from his eyes while still helping him see from my eyes, too.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

So thankful

Have I said already how thankful I am to have a chance to teach 2nd grade again? After I got that phone call from my principal that he "had to move me back" to my 2nd grade team, my whole demeanor changed. I suddenly had ideas flowing all through my head and felt so much enthusiasm to get back to school this year.

All those ideas I'd "tucked away for next year" came out, and I'm really very excited to start this year.

Yes, I went back to school the very day we got the okay that the building was clear (well, okay, so maybe a day BEFORE we got that clear), and my teammate and I have been working hard every single day in our rooms.

Here are a few pics of what I've gotten set up so far.

My Dual Language wall
(We change languages every day for certain things, so everything is color coded in blue for English and red for Spanish)
 A new concept I'm excited to implement in my room for Reading stations. We've always done a Daily 5 rotation with five different stations, so I merged the concept with the five points of a star. Each station involves a different aspect of reading, and when they incorporate all five aspects together, it makes them a STAR reader. I'm hoping they will see how each aspect is equally important to their Reading proficiency. 
 My new calendar that I found at Big Lots. The kids always struggle with the words before and after, so I am hoping that this linear type of calendar system will help them see what day/month/number came before and what comes after. They also really struggled last year to remember the difference in how to write the date in Spanish and in English, so I added a hanging date that they can flip back and forth from English to Spanish. 
 My table all set up to work with my small groups, with my English and Spanish word walls behind it and a new little Reading cart (to keep me organized) that my teammate didn't want. I finally organized and labeled all my cubbies, too, so I'm feeling pretty good about the start of the year. 
 I had a really cool center system years ago to give my kids more use of all the manipulatives in the room, plus it kept kids fully engaged at all times and kept them from fighting over who got to use what manipulative. I didn't implement the system last year because I'd been out of second grade for so long, and I regretted it. So I'm super excited to use it again this year, and I'm super happy about adding more pink to my decor (all the pink tubs I found at the Dollar Tree).
 My nephew made this lego table for David when he was little with the lego roads that we had growing up. I have no place in my house for the lego table now that David's outgrown it, but I've used it in my classroom for years, and it's always one of the kids' favorite centers. This year I'm calling it the Engineering center, which actually fits well with several of our Science units. 
 The red bin is another favorite center with magnets that they can build things with. The pink basket is where I toss all the graded papers and notes that the kids will file in the cubbies for me, and the blue basket is for my Math bags that I learned about in a training years ago that completely revolutionized how I taught Math. Last year I didn't have a chance to make them up, and I completely regretted that, too. So this year, we're making them the first week. 
 The back is coming along slowly. I'm doing more community supplies this year because last year was chaos with all their little school boxes--too easy to sneak stuff from home that they shouldn't have at school, so I'm still trying to plan out how to store everything and still make the room work efficiently. 
 When our school was under construction last year, they removed all of our carpets. I am very sensitive to certain sounds, though, and I cringed every time I heard a desk move--which was all day long. So I read on a teacher group to put heavy duty felt on the bottom of the desk legs and wrap it with a rubberband. Several suggested that they use their Reading group colors, so I did that. It adds a little color to the room, and I can already tell a difference in the amount of noise the desk makes when it moves. Yay!!!!

I can't believe that my next 22 little ones (thankfully not the little little ones) will be coming through my doors with their school supplies before the end of next week. I'm ready for them. :)

I'm so thankful for the extra time my teammate and I have been able to work at the school while it's empty and quiet, and I'm so very thankful to be her 2nd grade teammate again. 

Not the day we had planned (Warning: a tear-jerker post)

Today didn't turn out at all like we had planned.

Juan and I are in the last week of our summer vacation, which means I am soaking up every chance I can get to work in my classroom while the hallways are still quiet and I can actually concentrate, but I'm also trying to squeeze in every last minute of quality time with my family. David is still recovering/resting up from his recent mission trip (which now added even more to his social schedule, with all the new friends he made), and Mike's work hours are a bit different this week due to his store starting a remodel.

So today we all planned to scatter. I got up to work in my classroom until lunch, and then I was going to spend the afternoon with my parents to see a new ministry opportunity that recently dropped in their lap. The boys went to help someone at church move some furniture, and then they considered trying to meet up with their cousins in the afternoon. Mike had to be at work by noon to work until early evening. We'd all meet back up at home sometime tonight.

Or so we thought.

Instead, we all came together right before noon at the vet to tearfully circle around our sweet dog, Minnie, before she took her last breath. We knew she had a large tumor in her abdomen that would have beeen too risky to try to remove surgically. We knew her time was limited, so we just decided to love on her and let her live as long as her body would allow before she started to suffer. We never thought she'd live as long as she did after they discovered the tumor, so we're grateful for all the "extra" time we had with her. She was a fighter, a fiercely loyal and loving companion. She'd follow us everywhere and would stay as close to our side as possible, many times right on top of us. She slept with David every night, either on his bed snuggled beside him or on top of his legs on the couch. Whenever David was gone, she'd snuggle up on a blanket right beside Mike's side of the bed. She sure loved both of them. She also loved to stand by Juan's couch and let him rub her back with his feet. If dogs have a love language, hers was definitely physical touch.

I sensed something different in her eyes this week. She seemed sad, so I am wondering if she was in pain, though she never wimpered or anything. I just had this feeling. The other night, she paced the living room, looking for a comfortable place to lay, but all the couches and chairs were taken. So I got up off of my chair, and she quickly curled up into it. I don't know why I felt the need to give her that comfort all of a sudden, when the rug on the floor would have been fine. But I did. It's like my heart was telling me she didn't have many evenings left. Then last night I had a heart to heart talk with her (you know you talk to your animals), and I found myself telling her how strong she was and what a fighter she was. I told her that we knew how much she loved us, but that it was okay if she needed to let go and stop fighting.

Today her body finally turned on her, and when her legs suddenly couldn't hold her up anymore, we knew.

We sure did love her.

We never planned on getting her. We found her brother, Mickey, in an ad shortly after the adoption failed and couldn't wait to go get him as a companion for David. But when we got there, I noticed the runt of the litter running around and knew I wanted her, too. So Mickey came home with Minnie, and she's been the sweetest addition to our family ever since.

Now my heart is aching for Mickey, who lost his sister, and everywhere I look, I am reminded that Minnie is not there. She's not laying at my feet as I type. She's not following me to the bathroom and all around the house with every step I take. She's not laying in front of the refrigerator every time I need to open it. And I'm not going to find her laying on top of David when I wake him up in the morning.

I sure will miss her sweet spirit around here. I am thankful, though, that I don't have to worry about something happening to her while we are all gone at school and work. I am thankful that we all got to be together with her this morning and that she was surrounded by love. I'm thankful she didn't have to suffer or feel alone and abandoned. I'm also thankful that one of us did not have to be alone to say goodbye to her for the rest of us. 

Here are a few pics to always remember her. Sorry if I made you cry. This blog is more for me, than anyone, so I can always look back at our memories and read about them.


Last November (when we thought we were losing her)

Our two baby girls in the house

The picture is fuzzy, but she was dressed up as a cow for Cow Appreciation Day. :) We made a joke that she wanted some Chikin "Minnies".

 Minnie is the one on the right below.
 And on the left in this one. 
 On the right again. She's always in red.

She lived a good life and was always loved. We will miss her so much.

Thanks for letting me share about our sweet girl.

We parted ways after meeting up at the vet today. Mike went to work. I spent the afternoon with my parents. Juan went to hang out with his cousins. David went to hang out with his church friends, including many new ones he met on the mission trip. We all are grieving our sweet girl in different ways. I'm home all alone now for the evening, so, of course, I'm expressing my grief in the way I know best, by writing. I couldn't settle down for the night without sharing these memories of her. 

I warned you it was a tear jerker. 

Saturday, July 27, 2019


 This kid. This sweet, baby boy. 
Here he is at daycare, barely two years old. 
We'd just moved to Texas, and we had a whole life ahead of us. 
Kindergarten wasn't even on the horizon.
 How in the world did we make it to senior year? 
Look at how he and his girlfriend went off to camp and didn't even plan to wear matching college shirts to the school they very well might attend together.
 Here they are getting ready to go to Colorado with him sporting his new letterman jacket, knowing Colorado might actually have temperatures conducive for it. 

And here he is getting ready for his senior yearbook picture.

Be still my heart. More senior pics will come later in the year, ones a bit more suited to his cowboy boots and jeans personality. He's wanting his highly skilled photographer aunt in Indiana to take his pictures, but we're not quite sure how to work that out yet since we don't have a trip to Indiana planned anytime in the next 9 months. 

I truly soak up every bit of time I can get this kid to still hang out with me. I remember summers being all about hanging out with my buddy. Summer was all about me and David and whatever adventures we could find to do together. Riding bikes, going for walks, swimming, playing video games, going to dollar movies, reading books, playing games like Sorry and Monopoly, making blueberry pancakes every morning for breakfast, etc. Now this boy is constantly on the go, so I have to be ready to drop everything at a moment's notice to spend time with him in between his active church/work/soccer/truck/social life. 

This summer alone, he spent five days as a middle school camp leader in Austin, spent a week at high school camp in Colorado, went on a week-long mission trip in the Valley (Mission, Texas), worked many long, hot hours for a few different people trying to earn the funds for his trip, worked countless hours at Chick Fil-A, spent quite a bit of time with his girlfriend and church friends, and is currently still working on rebuilding his truck with a new/used transmission, among other things, with his dad. As you can see, summer didn't include much mom-time like it used to, but we still found time to squeeze in a quality moment here and there. 

I'm so thankful we love to play games anytime and anywhere, and that we still have deep talks while taking a drive somewhere or going for a walk around the block together. Many nights this summer I've waited up for him to come home from work late at night, and the first thing he says when he walks in the door is if I'm up for a game of Skipbo or Uno or Phase 10. Overly tired or not, I'm always up for a late night game or two with my son. I love that we have such a simple thing as a card game to keep us close and connected even in this busy stage of his life. Of course, an hour or two with a game at a coffee shop is preferrable, but if a late night game is all we have time for, then I'll take it. 

2020 always seemed so far away. I can't believe I'll be buying Class of 2020 graduation decor in less than a year. 

May I not let a single moment with this precious child slip by me in the coming year. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Memories, Reminders of God

One of my favorite features on Facebook is to find memories of the day. What happened in my life on this day a year ago, two years ago, five years ago, and even ten years ago. I especially love to search those memories in the summer time.

June holds all my memories of Colombia--of the first trip we took to meet Julian, of the second trip we took to work as summer missionaries at the Christian school, and of the third trip to Colombia when God gave Juan David back. It also holds all my memories of my sweet friend Madai, a girl we met on our first mission trip to Mexico with this church, who ended up spending many summers living with a family nearby and was like a sister to me.

July holds all of my memories of finalizing Juan's adoption and bringing him home. It holds all my Cow Appreciation Day memories at Chick Fil-A (silly, but fun), and it holds all my memories of our trip to Guatemala on a mission trip and to Spain to reunite with Laura.

Besides the fun cow pictures, all the other memories are vivid reminders of God's hand in our lives.

Even when times are tough, it's hard to forget all the amazing things God has done for us when the memories pop up every day. It's hard to deny that God has been faithful in the past, so we know He'll be faithful again. It's hard to wonder if God is going to answer my prayer for the day when I see so many prayers answered in each memory picture I find of summers past.

If the memories aren't pictures of Colombia, Guatemala, or Spain, then they are quotes or things that I've posted from Bible studies I've taught during the summer.

No matter what, my summer memories always point to God and remind me where to focus my attention in this current season.

So if you're following my Facebook page and I'm posting a series of memories, know that I'm just remembering and reflecting on God's faithful presence in my life. If I repost the memory, it means it contains a sign from God that I never want to forget. The more we meditate on God's faithfulness in the past, the more we're apt to trust him in the day to day.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The summer I needed

I started this summer ready to fall apart. My heart was broken--as a teacher reluctantly moving grade levels, feeling unseen and unheard, as a wife unsure of the future and stuck in the past, as a helpless mom of a young adult child who lacked any sort of vision or self-care, and even as a daughter searching for recognition. I felt depleted and defeated, like giving all I had to give in every area wasn't enough. On top of that, planning ahead (my specialty) suddenly scared me to death.

Mike started a brand new job the day I started summer break, so that meant no vacation or travel plans for us. That was fine since we'd just gone on a cruise over spring break plus we'd lived off of our savings for the last three months, so we couldnt afford to do much this summer. I felt so depleted both emotionally and mentally by the time summer hit that I wouldn't have enjoyed a trip very much, anyway. What good did a plan do if something unforseen changed those plans?

A quiet, uneventful summer lay ahead, and I was perfectly fine with that. I could relive my travels to Colombia, Guatemala, and Spain through my daily memories on Facebook and look forward to possibly another grand trip some other time in the future. I didn't even have a Bible study lined up to teach or attend this year.

I spent the first part of the summer doing what I do best when I'm struggling through something serious, shutting the world out and giving myself the time and space I need to process, read, write, reflect, and pray. After surfacing from my books and journals a few weeks later, I found myself randomly saying yes to invitations I might not have always considered. I threw routine out the window (though my personality craves that structure) and just went with the flow of whatever came up each day. In doing so, I felt God pour back into me in many little ways that I didn't expect.

I didn't have the money to spend on a big (or even small) vacation, but I did have the money to meet with at least one friend or family member each week for tea or coffee. I normally go out for coffee with the same two friends all the time, but this summer I had a chance to get together with different friends, like my teammate (who I thought was my ex-teammate), my mom, a friend from Bible study that I hadn't seen in months, my husband, and my sons. I also got to visit and support my dear friends who supported me in Colombia who now live here and own the tea shop I frequented.

With no big plans or goals, no huge home cleanouts or renovations, I could play a lot of card games with my boys and my husband at random times of the day or night, sometimes for hours on end. We also found time to just sit around the table working puzzles that Mike brought home from work. I'll have to say, though rather spontaneous and unproductive, the summer was quite restful.

Since Juan and I both have a teacher badge for work, we took advantage of free movies for teachers every Wednesday. We saw the new remake of Aladdin, Toy Story 4, Men in Black International, Spiderman-Far from Home, Avengers End Game (Avengers-Infinity War at home the day before), and then Mike and I saw Lion King together and Breakthrough. Juan and I also visited a couple museums in downtown Dallas, took a quick trip to Houston to pick up his Colombian ID card at the consolate, and celebrated all of our adoption anniversary dates together (Gotcha Day--June 13, Adoption Day--July 11, Coming home to the U.S.--July 18th, and the day we met/Colombian Independence Day--July 20th), all the days we missed celebrating with him last year while he worked at Pine Cove all summer.

 Dallas Museum of Art

 Puzzle days

 Colombian Independence Day
--11 years since the day we met

Lion King--25 years after it originally came out in animation form (the first movie Mike and I ever went to see together)

 Free tea day

 Visiting the spot where JFK was assassinated

 Klyde Warren Park and the Perot Museum

 More random coffee/game dates

 Sounds of summer concerts in the park

 A quick trip to Houston

 Celebrating Adoption Day with Colombian food, of course

 More summer concerts

More coffee dates

We got our fill of free Chick-Fil-A on Cow Appreciation Day by hopping around to several restaurant locations, and we attended free concerts in the park as a family on Friday evenings. I also attended a first ever conference for Christian teachers called Teacher, Be Still--where I met up with an old friend I hadn't seen in almost 15 years, my study-buddy who helped me pass my teacher certification exams. God gave her to me as a support system when I first moved to Texas, and now He reunited us at a time when we both felt the need for such a conference.

Blanca and I reunited at Teacher, Be Still

I didn't do near the cleaning or organizing that I like to do in the summer--which I may regret soon, nor did I spend much quiet time alone. But besides taking care of all those needed doctor and dental appointments, I rested my soul and body and intentionally spent time with the people around me, for the most part, one at a time. That, my friend, is my style. The randomness, spontaneity, and lack of daily routine, not so much, but the interpersoal time spent with a friend or family member is exactly what I needed to recharge this summer.

I turned in my keys at the end of the school year not wanting to come back. Today I eagerly await to get my hands on those keys to get back into the classroom with a very real peace and serenity over my heart. I am ready for a new school year to begin and for 22 new little ones (some that I've already taught once in Pre-K) to look to me as their fearless leader over the next nine months. I'm so thankful for the opportunity and privilege to teach them, especially the ones I get to teach again. Had I moved to kindergarten, I would have missed that opportunity. I am thankful for every child God has already chosen for my classroom and thankful that He chose me to be their teacher--again.