Surviving the Valley Series

Surviving the Valley Series
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Sunday, April 11, 2021

A Full Plate

Well, 2021, you have definitely filled my plate this year, and we're barely a quarter into the year so far. The abundance of items on my plate seem to overwhelm me more than serve as perhaps the nourishment and refreshment I had hoped for. And the more I try to simplify and prioritize and limit the options in front of me, some giant spoonful comes out of nowhere and adds more. 

First off, there's school. Teaching during a pandemic makes me want to laugh and cry all at the same time. I mean, honestly, it's like watching a train derail over and over again. No matter how many times you pick up the debris, set the train back on the tracks and try again, the tracks just aren't set properly to keep the train moving forward. Period. And the destination is pretty fuzzy by now because you know you just don't have all the necessary variables to get your train to where it was supposed to go. And then every time I have some bright idea that just might work, I remind myself that it would require more time and attention than I physically can give. So I step back, knowing that my body and mind can only handle so much. Not to mention that I have family and friends that need my time and attention, too. 

While we're on the subject of what I'm physically capable of, that brings me to another several mounds that got unexpectedly heaped upon my plate in the last three months. I came out of the year 2020 still recovering from a hard three weeks of COVID that left me pretty weak and dealing with some pretty serious sleeping issues. I started 2021 with a regular annual doctor appointment to find blood pressure and heart rate issues that I'd never experienced before. When I mentioned my sleep issues, my doctor referred me for a sleep test to see if perhaps sleep apnea could be an underlying cause, while I also started on medication for blood pressure for the first time in my life. 

Extra doctor appointments on an already full plate did not help matters, raising my anxiety level, definitely not helping the blood pressure and heart rate. 

When I visited the sleep doctor, I heard words like tachardia, EKG, cardiology and got a little freaked out, until she said that untreated sleep apnea could eventually lead to those things. Soon after, I heard the diagnosis of severe sleep apnea and suddenly had to come up with quite a bit of money to pay for a new sleep machine and mask to start sleeping with. But if it meant I could actually sleep and might avoid all those words from the first visit, then I was good with it. 

At first all seemed to go well, until the insomnia returned and we realized my blood pressure and heart rate issues had not gotten any better. In fact, my heart seemed to race even more than before. So my body became a science experiment while we tried different doses of different medications, trying to help me sleep, stay calm, and have a somewhat normal blood pressure. My doctor referred me to a cardiologist, but gave me hope that perhaps the medication would do the trick and I would not need to see the cardiologist after all. 

That hope didn't last long, after a few scary mornings with a racing heart, a 911 call at school, an EKG done right in the nurses' office at school, a day spent in urgent care, and a few days working from home not knowing if I suffered from a heart condition, if I was having a bad reaction to the meds, or if I was having anxiety attacks--or all of the above. Oh, and my hair also started falling out in clumps, just adding a little more anxiety to the mix. I got in to see the cardiologist pretty quickly, who got me on the right dosage of meds that finally started working, and who told me what I suspected all along. COVID. She said she sees at least one to two new patients every day who are experiencing the same thing after having had COVID. So apparently my COVID saga continues. 

So last week I had yet another doctor appointment, took yet another sick day from work, and had more tests done on my heart, and at the moment I'm currently charging a heart monitor that I have to wear for for an entire month. As if I didn't have enough wires, tubes, masks, and machines next to my bed to keep up with to help me sleep, now I have a heart monitor and device to keep charged and connected to me at all times. It's all a bit overwhelming, to say the least. 

And did I mention I have family and friends, too? A marriage that has needed extra care and attention the last couple years. A son that's taking a little more time than expected to grow and mature into an independent young adult. Another son off in college, trying to find the right balance of dependence and independence. Parents who also went through their own recent trauma/saga of COVID. Two friends fighting against cancer that decided to return. Two friends who very unexpectedly lost their husbands. Medical bills. Financial concerns. Job frustrations. Vehicle issues. Ice storm damage. One heaping serving after another, making my head spin, my heart hurt, and my mind race, taking me right back to that original sleep issue. 

I'm so glad God gave me the word RECEIVE this year because it really does give me the right filter as I see my plate get fuller and fuller by the day. If God put it on my plate, it must have a purpose. It may not look appetizing or feel nourishing, but it's part of His "diet" for me, giving me some sort of energy, strength, perseverance, training, empathy, understanding, improved health, faith, etc. that I am going to need for the journey ahead. It's not an easy perspective to take or one that I automatically go to, but I'm working on it. Or should I say, God keeps putting that word in front of me, reminding me to open up my hands to receive what He's trying to give me. To eat everything on my plate if I don't want to miss out on dessert afterwards. 

Well, the heart monitor is fully charged, so I guess that's my cue to go. Lesson plans and creative grading await me so I'm ready to tackle another week at school, chasing that miracle that will keep my train moving forward. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Spring Break 2021

Last year's spring break brought a change no one expected, being extended for a week, then another, and then leading right into forced virtual learning for the rest of the year. All the state testing canceled, and we saw that public education could definitely use some reform. 

It sent everyone's minds reeling on the need and the opportunity to redefine public education. Especially now that we knew our kids would not return to school the following year with the same skills they normally came with. 

My district decided to take the plunge and change a few things up with our calendar, and though it's led to a lot of confusion, I think everyone can benefit from the change. We moved toward the concept of year round schooling, with our model of it, though. Basically, they take about three weeks out of our summer and build those breaks into the year instead, shortening the regular summer, but giving us some much needed time to breathe during the year. Rather than summer school, kids that need the extra help or the chance to take a class can do so during those intercession weeks, rather than waiting until the end of the year. Teachers can make some extra money if they choose to teach during those weeks or they can take advantage of the time off when most people aren't off. So this year we already had an extra week of fall break in October, and now we just finished a two week spring break. In a year where teachers are stretched dangerously thin and are at the point of burnout, I definitely needed the extra week off to power up for the rest of the year. (There is so much more that needs to change in education, but this was a step in the right direction in my opinion.)

So with that being said, I went into my first ever planned two week spring break without a single plan, other than to rest and recover from the most hectic and challenging school year of my life. David came home for the first week of it for his own spring break, and then the second I found time to relax and refill and think about school as little as possible.

Here are a few pics of the adventures and gifts God brought my way:

Shamrock Shakes. Little Boots approved. :)
Time to sit outside and journal with my favorite drink.
Changing up my normal coloring with watercolor pencils. Love them! 

Family bowling outting. 

A partial fireplace heater insert that Mike brought home for my back porch....
...that he fabricated into this very unique piece of outdoor furniture. A coffee table/fireplace heater/cat cage! I absolutely love it and am amazed at his creativity and resourcefulness. I will be spending many spring mornings and evenings here just chilling. 

A breakfast outting with a friend I haven't seen in person for a whole year! (Forgot to get a selfie with her, though!)

A nine mile bike ride around a lake with my son, my favorite biking buddy. First time on my bike since before I got COVID in November. 

Hanging out with one of my favorite buddies, mostly just playing card games at the table. 

Making a cute, fun spring craft with my Mom. After COVID hit her home at the end of January and then she got so sick, I hadn't been able to see or visit her for about six weeks. So I made sure to not take this time together for granted. 

Finding someone else's "trash" as my new treasure to take back to school. :)

Two long morning coffee dates/talks with another dear friend I hadn't seen in person in a year. 

A long walk with Mike at our first stomping ground where we lived our first four years in Texas,
while sipping on drinks from the newest coffee shop that just opened. 

And then one more meet-up with my Mom for a BOGO deal.

Notice a theme or two? A little coffee/chai and some one-on-one time with people close to my heart. including my kitty. I also took my dad to my writer's group with me one evening, and then had dinner with my parents another evening, but I didn't get any pictures of him. He's working on trying to start his own blog now, so stay tuned. I'll share when he gets it up and running. 

I've got one more day before heading back to school, and so far, I plan on spending it quietly at home, resting as much as possible, soaking up the solitude so I can finish the last quarter of the year strong and recharged. I'm so grateful for this two week break to give my mind the reboot it needed. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Psalm 23

 Psalm 23

The Lord is my Shepherd.
 My leader, my protector, my guidance, my source of help, my source of nourishment, the One who takes care of all my needs each day.
I lack nothing.
He takes care of my every need. He is constantly watching out for me, looking ahead, making sure I am not in need of anything at any time. When I keep my eyes on my Shepherd, I don't have to worry about anything because that is His job.
He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside the still waters.
He knows where the grass is greenest so I can lie down to rest. He knows where the waters are still so I can be refreshed and quench my thirst. When I've reached the green pastures, he makes me settle for awhile to lie down and get the rest I so desperately need. He leads me to the still waters, meaning they may not be where I expect them to be. I can't search for my own still waters--that vacation I planned might not provide the refreshment I'm wanting or needing. He will guide me to the still water that truly refreshes. I just have to follow. 
He restores my soul.
He brings it back to its original condition and value, the way He designed it. He wipes away all the impurities that covered up my dignity, value and worth, making me shine with brilliance again, just as He designed me to. 
He leads me down paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
 My life points back to Him. The path He leads me on will draw more people to Him. When my life is all about me and my pleasure and comfort, it holds little to no meaning to those around me. When my life is all about pointing others to Him, my life holds incredible purpose.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
Valleys are only pathways to get from one location to another. We walk through them, but we don't settle there. Sometimes the valley is the only way to get to the main destination, so I have to trust that My Shepherd knows the best way there.  Many times a stream will run through a valley (providing a quiet place to refresh myself). Shadows only appear when there is light in the darkness. The shadow of death means that light exists. 
I will fear no evil
Fear is just the assumption that something bad or unpleasant is approaching.
For You are with me.
My Shepherd just became personal as I address Him rather than talk about Him. He is always with me, before me, beside me, in front of me, behind me, all around me. He leads the way, while watching out behind me at the same time.
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
He holds a rod to fight off and destroy my enemy. He uses His rod to correct me and keep me on the right path. He holds the staff, giving Him authority and power. He's the One in control, and the enemy must bow down to Him. His rod and staff comfort me, giving me the strength, support, and security I need to endure through the valley. 
He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies
While still in the valley, He prepares a table for me. He invites me to dine with Him, to feast with Him, to spend time with Him, all the while my enemy watches. What he meant to destroy me, God still uses to bless me, to honor me, to give me dignity, to draw me nearer still. He nourishes me and refreshes me as His guest of honor at the table with the King.
He anoints my head with oil.
He heals me. He purifies my head/mind to keep away the pests and distractions that so easily get entangled about me, overwhelming me and preventing me from seeing straight. He sets me apart for a divine purpose.
My cup overflows.
His blessings are endless. He pours so much into my cup that I don't have room to contain it, so it overflows into the lives of those around me. My life overflows with abundant praise to Him and love for others as a reaction to his abundant love for me.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. 
Surely, most definitely. Things of value and eternal purpose, deep loving-kindness will pursue me, chase me every day of my life. 
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 
Forever starts now. I long for heaven, but the Lord is here now. Every time I worship Him, praise Him, gather together with other believers in His name, and spend time in His presence, I am dwelling in the house of the Lord. The whole earth is a sanctuary. Wherever I am, I can find Him. 

He indeed leadeth me. 
And so I follow. 
One minute, one hour, one day at a time. 
As long as I keep my eyes on my Shepherd, 
I know my needs are taken care of 
and my life holds value.

I needed this reminder today as I woke up feeling stressed and defeated once again trying to teach as effectively as I can during this pandemic year. Perhaps you needed it, too.

Thank you, Jennifer Rothschild, for helping me see just how intimate this psalm really is. No better person could have written it besides David, someone who could truly understand the perspective of a shepherd, a sheep, and a king. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

You don't know what you got

 . . . until it's gone.

And then we realize just how much we took for granted. 

A year ago we never dreamed of living a life without huge sporting events, big social gatherings, hugs, physical proximity to others, family events with more than immediate family, face to face conversations without fear of contracting or spreading a virus, shared meals, potluck dinners, parties, buffets, etc. 

Not more than a week ago we never knew how much we took heat, electricity, and water for granted until we were forced to experience one of Texas' coldest winter weeks ever without all of the above. 

Five years ago, two very dear friends (who don't even know each other) joyfully entered an anticipated life event side by side with their spouses only to face unimagineable grief as they found themselves in those celebratory events suddenly alone. 

A friend just celebrated her sweet mother's birthday, saying we'll celebrate right once things settle down. Things like COVID that keeps families spread apart, temporarily living life on pause, pushing back all plans to be together in order to keep everyone safe. But three weeks later, that sweet mother joined the celebration of angels in heaven rather than celebrating with her children and grandchildren "once things settle down."

I didn't know how much I took a simple breath for granted until I had to gasp for one just to climb into my own bed while sick with a secondary infection from COVID. 

A year ago, I didn't know teaching all my students in one classroom was something I should even take for granted, until I find myself now mentally and physically stretched trying to teach kids on two sides of a screen, some in front of me behind masks and transparent plastic walls with others sitting somewhere at home, distracted by all sorts of noise and interferences beyond my control. 

We just don't know what we got until it's gone.

Today we breathe in the fresh, warm Texas air with a little more gratitude. We conserve the lights and the water a little less reluctantly now that we know what it's like to run out. 

I climb in to bed and take a deep breath with a thankful heart because I know what it's like to struggle for that breath.

I cherish time spent with others these days, six feet apart or not, because you don't know how quickly it can all be swept away, leaving only memories in its place.

Things like COVID, sudden illnesses, car accidents, and a Texas snowpocalypse take a lot from us, but they actually do us a lot of good. They may shake us, but they wake us up to the reality in front of us, reminding us to realize what we have . . . before it's gone. 

Looking around with my eyes and heart a little more open these days.

Friday, February 19, 2021

You are what you eat, you see what you're looking for

 As I said in an earlier post, I've been studying and meditating over the 23rd psalm recently, and it's had a very deep impact on me.

Just as the saying goes, "You are what you eat." That applies not only to what you put in your mouth, as I learned in the Daniel Plan (and am currently convicted about not following), but it also applies to what you feed your soul. 

God prepares a feast for us every single day, if we'll just come to the table and partake of it. It doesn't matter where we are, what life stage we're in, how we feel, or what circumstances surround us. He prepares the table daily. He's always there, always present. On the mountain or in the valley, His love, mercy, compassion, and goodness are there--we just have to look for them. You'll always find what you're looking for.

I love studying words, especially biblical words. My favorite Bible studies are the ones that dig deep into the meaning and context of the actual Greek and Hebrew words used when the Scripture was written. I also love teaching the Love God Greatly studies that just study one verse at a time because I have the opportunity to teach other women how to do the actual word research themselves. 

I love writing words, especially in a poetic way.

So it doesn't surprise me how much this particular portion of Scripture captivates me. Jennifer Rothschild, one of my favorite Bible study teachers and authors, did an excellent job taking me through each and every word in the 23rd psalm, getting me to pause long enough to really reflect on what each verse meant, giving me time to chew on each line, savoring the message behind the words. The entire psalm together truly brings me a feast at the table with the King. 

I used to think that life was a series of ups and downs, of mountains and valleys, of seasons of blessing and seasons of loss. But between a recent sermon I heard from Josh Howerton pointing out that life is like a pair of parallel railroad tracks, with the good times and the bad times simultaneously existing, and this particular psalm pointing out that God prepares the table even in the middle of the valley, I've gained a whole new perspective on life. Yes, suffering may last only for the night, and  joy comes in the morning, but God's goodness can still be found in the night. His treasures are still there for us in the darkness. They're always there. We just have to look for them.

Last year when we ended the school year in such a scramble, going completely online, never getting any kind of closure with that particular class, I was determined to see God in it. I looked for Him, and I found Him everywhere. Sure, the year held so much loss and discomfort, but it also held abundant blessing and opportunity.

This school year, on the contrary, has been an uphill battle, leaving me stuck in the valley more often than not. I started the year optimistic and determined, but the daily struggle has wearied me and taken a toll on me physically. Some days it's hard not to see all the negative all around me and wonder how much I can physically and mentally keep on pushing and fighting through the constant stress. It reminds me a lot of our family's trek through the adoption process twice. I kept my focus on the mountaintop, making it the ultimate goal, until I got to the top of the mountain and looked back. The treasures I held dear that  proved to be the most valuable in my future came more from the experience in the valley than from standing at the top of the mountain, having achieved my goal. The good was always there, running parallel with the struggles in the battle. 

This valley of a year isn't leading to a mountaintop teaching experience any time soon. The political war raging about me isn't going anywhere, even with the election over. The threat of COVID will be around for a long time, no matter how quickly they can make the vaccination more easily available. As if the year didn't hold enough challenge, then God decided to literally freeze Texas in our tracks for a few days, leaving devastating effects all around me. Struggles and battles are always going to exist, but so is the goodness of God. If I keep holding my breath till the battle's over, I will have missed out on the treasure (the nourishment) I needed to carry me through the next battle, which, by the way, has probably already started. 

We go from grace to grace, from one hard time to the next, abounding in God's strength and favor. 

I've got two more days of my study of Psalm 23 before I can share the feast that God shared with me over the last two months. For now, I'm going to take my eyes off the mess of my house, the busted pipes, the mounds of laundry needing to be done, the empty grocery shelves, the scattered work schedules, the trauma my students have likely suffered over the last week, the heartache several friends are experiencing, the cancer that my friends are facing, the never-ending hateful political comments on Facebook, the morality crisis in our nation, the sick parent struggling to get well, the constant threat of COVID, the painful ingrown toenail (just being real), the struggle to parent an adult child whose emotional age does not match his physical age, the financial concerns over several unexpected bills, the lingering long-haul effects from having had the coronavirus, the unrealistic and unethical expectations of teachers and students during a pandemic, the 20 parent conferences I need to schedule and hold virtually over the next week, the five English writing samples I need to squeeze out of my non-English speaking students over the next two weeks, the lack of connection with friends and family over the last year, the cold temps, the missed vacations and celebrations, the longing for spring, etc., etc. (you get the point). Instead I'm going to open my eyes and look for God's goodness all around me, yes, even in this valley of a year. 

Today, I'm thankful for this time (on a Friday) to sit by the fire and just think, write, and process (notice I said write before process--because writing is how I process). No wonder I get so flustered when I don't find time to write. 

Thanks for reading. I hope you feel God's warm embrace around you today. Think I'm going to go make a hot cup of chai to accompany me beside the warm fire on this 6th unexpected day off (while my hard working husband and son work on fixing our pipes). 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Teaching during the pandemic of 2020/21

Students, Students Everywhere

Students are here
Students are there
In class or in bed at home
They join from anywhere.

One day at school
The next day online
"Connecting from El Salvador? 
Sure, I guess that's fine!"

Some days they work hard
Other days they only play
Some have structured learning
Some don't connect all day.

Routine and consistency
No longer can exist
I suggest a daily schedule
and give a daily check-off list.

We try to have discussions
With both groups at one time.
We try to use our whiteboards
to add twelve nickels and a dime.

But with muffled conversations
Behind masks and plastic walls
And one who turns their camera off
While another shows off her dolls.

To actually hold all their attention
And really drive the concept in
I admit defeat so often
And have to teach it all again.

Where rigor once held meaning
And practice happened every day
We now barely scratch the surface
As we learn in this new way.

Everything takes longer
Both for the students and for me
A simple daily warm-up
Takes the normal prep times three.

First to prerecord it
Then to assign it virtually
Then to teach in person
And translate as need be.

I harp on kids to finish
And beg for work from kids not there
Teaching in this model
Has become a huge nightmare.

I feel so ineffective
When I see the gaps and holes,
Knowing so many different factors
Lie outside of my control.

I lay awake at night
Wondering what else I can try
This concept seems so ridiculous
Should I laugh or should I cry?

I know that when I'm stretched
There's a purpose up ahead.
One day I will look back
And see just where it led.

Meanwhile I press on
And do the best that I can do.
Praying for daily strength and wisdom
From the One who carries me through.

Students here, students there
All leaning on just one me.
Taking time today to care for my own needs
So I can be the best I can be.


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Winter storm 2021

It's funny because 2021 has felt like a winter storm ever since it started, at least from a teacher's perspective. Now I sit here in my quiet, dark house (to conserve energy) with only candlelight by my computer, listening to the fire crackle in the fireplace, watching the rare Texas snow gently fall outside, and I feel calmed by the actual winter weather. 

It means I can stay home, I can extend my morning quiet time in the Word, I can talk some things out with God, I can rest by my purring little cat all curled up next to me, I can write this blog, I can catch up on school work, I can plan lessons . . . I can stop hurrying, I can think things through, and I can rest.

Truthfully, I will forever look back at the year 2020 as a gift to my soul. It reminded me of my need for quiet and solitude to really feel alive and regenerated, to feel like I am able to be my best self and give the best of me to others. Not everyone is wired like me, so the loss of physical connection with others and the forced isolation did a number on their social personalities. Not me. It refreshed my soul like no other year of my life. 

That's not to say people don't matter to me. I just connect with people in a quiet, deep way, and I thrive on spending time one-on-one with people or in a situation where we have opportunities to communicate often through writing. I am much better with my words when I have a chance to write them, and I tend to get choked up when there are too many people or my voice gets swallowed by noise and other voices louder than my own. I listen and observe most of the time, and then I find a quiet place to reflect and process all the information I've just taken in. I give my students 30 minutes of quiet, peaceful music every day to do the same, and they say it's their favorite part of the day. I may not be that fun, energetic, playful teacher that others are, but my kids and my colleagues know where to come when they need a moment of peace. 

This year has proven to be the polar opposite of 2020 for me, as teaching in this new reality has made me feel like a scattered mess. I struggle to concentrate, my mind constantly runs, and I have little to no time to be alone, to embrace a silent hour to thoroughly plan a lesson or figure out how to reteach a concept that my students didn't grasp well. Sadly, those re-teaching lessons seem to be necessary more often than not these days because trying to teach two separate ways (in person and virtually, sometimes both simultaneously) is nearly impossible and is just not effective. Nor can I be effective when I'm expected to do both in the same amount of time as I was once expected to just teach a full in-person class, and with students that change back and forth from in person to virtual on a weekly basis. We need consistency, routine, and daily practice to really internalize what we're learning. With this model of "choosing" what days I go to school and what days I learn online (when most of my materials are left at school), I, as their teacher, am left to meet expectations of what and how my kids are learning that are just beyond my control at this point.  I see the gaps get bigger, and no matter how much I problem solve, plan, collaborate, try new ideas, I still feel an incredible sense of defeat. I am a teacher, and I want to be effective in what I do. When something doesn't work, I go back to the drawing board and find a way that it will work. I've had difficult years where particular situations called for particular ways of teaching, and I've had successful years where all the dynamics just worked well together. But in all eighteen years of my teaching career, I don't know that any other year has left me feeling so defeated. 

Part of the problem is the model of teaching two separate groups, part of it is the time factor of having to teach everything twice (once recorded on video, and then again in person). Part of it is trying so hard to keep both groups fully engaged, part is the constant, never-ending interruptions with technology issues, part is the liberty that both students and parents have taken with the new "option" to stay home, changing the students' sense of structure and routine significantly from one day to the next (which has to be allowed because of the need to quarantine for either having symptoms of COVID yourself or being exposed to someone who does). But I think the biggest problem is that the expectations held over both students and teachers haven't changed. The rubrics that administrators are looking for are still the same. Student growth and achievement is still measured by the same scoring rubrics. The same tests that take away so much actual teaching time are still required and now take double or triple the effort to make those tests doable for our virtual learners, as well, despite the fact that we need MORE teaching time to even think about meeting the expectations over us. And besides that, our students are starving for attention, connection, and relationship right now, so I don't understand why anyone in their right mind would think the lost time and pressure of yet another test is going to benefit anyone. Especially when we know the results will be skewed because not everyone is testing with the same variables in place. Something has to give. We've got to let something go before we convince students that interrupting their already interrupted learning time in order to obtain a test score is the ultimate goal in education  or before we convince teachers that their own lives and mental health don't matter. 


Not a single rubric has been rewritten to give a teacher credit for how she handled the latest interruption, for how she addresses the current mental health pandemic in her classroom, for her innovations and changes to help students learn more self-sufficiency to prepare them for a possible need to quarantine, for her endless pursuit of learning new technology, for the hours upon hours she spends to make sure her students know how to access the digital resources to help them on the days they are not at school in person, or for the ways she lets her students know she loves them and cares about them without being able to hug them or work closely with them like before. Not a single rubric can measure all that these kids have learned in the midst of this pandemic. All we are measuring is what they have supposedly lost academically rather than all they have gained experientially. Our kids, and our teachers, are blossoming with creativity that's not measured anywhere. We've learned to survive and find a new way to teach and learn, but with that should come a new way to measure and define true learning and teaching. 

Teachers are stretched so thin right now, and perhaps the greatest issue I see is that all this chaos leaves no time for our own mental or physical health or to take care of our families' mental and physical health. I have friends and family experiencing huge losses, some related to COVID, some not, that I have no time to reach out to. I have two adult children who need guidance, and I'm not always mentally available to them. I have a husband and marriage that need my time and devotion. I have two elderly parents who have been hit by COVID, and I barely have time to check up on them or take them the things that they might be needing. I have family members I haven't connected with in months, definitely not due to not having them on my mind. I lose sleep, my heart races, my blood pressure rises, my mind races and mixes my thoughts and ideas all together, and then I get up and face another day. Some days I feel like I reached the majority of my kids, other days not so much. Like one of my little girls in class always says, "We just try our best, right, Teacher?"

So, I've been spending about 30 minutes of quiet time each morning of 2021 so far studying Psalm 23, one verse at a time, pondering over each and every word. My son, Juan David, gifted me a gift card for my favorite bookstore for Christmas, and God led me to use it to purchase this study on Psalm 23 by Jennifer Rothschild. I took interest in it a while back and then forgot about it, but I think God knew I needed it for this particular time. He has a way of leading me to just the right study when I need to hear something specific from Him.  

I think one of my favorite verses in this psalm is the second part of verse 2. He (my Shepherd) leads me beside still waters. Still waters are so calming to me, but I realized the verse means more than just the calming aspect of the waters. Sheep won't drink unless the waters are still. Still waters serve two purposes--to give us rest and to refresh us. I literally cannot get the refreshment I need until the waters are still. God knows my job has turned into a human hamster wheel this year, and He knew that I, along with all my fellow teachers, needed to find those still waters again. 

And He sent snow. 

And a snow day tomorrow.

I'll take it. I'll receive it as a gift, a day or two to stay home, to embrace the quiet, and to rest and refresh from the still waters of this actual winter storm.

And then I'll get back up and press on through the valley of this "winter storm". And remember I'm in my school for a purpose, teaching from my heart, whether it's measured by a rubric or not. 

On Friday we did a Valentine scavenger hunt during our Valentine party, and they had to think of someone they loved. They all ran to me and said, "We love Mrs. Alspaugh." They are my why, and God gave each and every one of them to me precisely at this time.