Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Teachable Moments

Deuteronomy 6:6-7—And these words that I command to you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 

I have a dear friend who loves to use the term “teachable moments”.  The term originated in my life when I would make a mistake.  I’m the kind of person who internalized and analyzes every mistake I make.  I would let the negativity weigh me down and would dance with depression over one mishap.  However, this friend saw my mental tailspin whenever correction was needed, and he decided to help me change my mindset from mistake to an opportunity to learn; hence, teachable moment.

I have decided to make this phrase one of the mottos in my life.  Being a mom gives me plenty of need for being ready to find teachable moments.  The Scripture above is basically showing us how to do that.  Every day, every part of our day, no matter what we are doing, we should be teaching our children God’s expectations.  This is not limited to parents.  Anyone can apply this to anyone in their lives, because as we know, the world is watching us.  So, truly, we should be looking for teachable moments with everyone in our world.

What does that look like?  In my life, it starts with prayer.  I ask God every morning to make me sensitive to what I am supposed to learn and what I am supposed to share.  I ask Him to speak loudly to my heart when I am wrong and to pull my heart to those who I can help instruct.  In our home, we have ample opportunities to teach.  The television shows we watch, the movies we view, the music we hear are filled with situations and words that can open up great discussion.  We have had seasons where there has been limited time to "sit in your house", but we make the most of those times.  It is so easy to put on Food Network and watching cooking challenges one after another until bedtime sneaks up...and we have done that plenty of times.  What we are trying to incorporate better is moments of real conversation when we do have time together at home.  Setting a time limit for electronics allows for us to be intentional about interacting with the three dimensional world.  I know it can be intimidating to make that time happen--kids can be crazy, spouses can be crabby, and everyone just wants to zone out.  But, I encourage you to figure out a way to have a daily dialogue with your family.  Pinterest in a wonderful resource to find ice-breakers and get-to-talking-games.  One of our favorites is simply the question game.  We start with one person who asks a question, then everyone at the table must answer the question.  The next person asks a question, and so on.  This can be as serious or as silly as you want.  Do not underestimate the power of talking and listening.

"When you walk by the way" my life, I interpret this as driving time.  We spend a lot of time in our cars.  Again, another time where it's easy for the driver to catch up on phone calls or a webcast and for passengers to plug into their devices.  When I am alone driving, I am praying.  That's the time where I know what time I have ahead of me, and I know how much I need to talk and listen to Jesus.  When we are all together, we like to sing and goof around.  I'll go ahead and admit that I am not a person who only listens to Christian music.  My kids are top 40 kind of people, and I do love my 90s music and classic rock.  There are songs that we don't listen to, and I always explain to the kids why we aren't listening to it.  There are songs that we bop along to, but even the tunes that seem harmless often pack some crazy messages.  So, we talk about them.  I am a huge advocate for age-appropriate conversations with children.  I think one of the reasons my children and I have handled the transitions of life well is because we talk.  We talk about things that are hard, sad, happy, confusing, and uncomfortable.  

To give you a little giggle, I'll share with you one story where we tackled an uneasy topic.  We have a Christmas tradition with some close friends where we all go eat dinner at Fuddruckers then go to the Grove Park Inn to look at the gingerbread houses.  When we leave Fuddruckers, the guys take one car, and the girls take the other.  This happened a couple of Christmases ago when every young lady in the car was a tween and on the brink of "changes".  My friend and I were up front, and we could hear the girls whispering.  Cecely was nominated to talk and she said something to the effect of "what's the deal with periods."  HOLY COW!  I am wired to be honest and to the point.  My dear friend is wired to be sweet and optimistic no matter what.  She proceeds to tell the girls about the gift of womanhood and the beauty in how we were created.  She talked about their bodies being prepared to be moms and how wonderful it all was.  Cue me, the realist, who interrupted with a rant about Eve,  and with some facts that weren't beautiful.  It was a hilarious car ride and exchange.  Point being, teachable moments are always present.  Whether silly or serious, TALK!!!  LISTEN!!!  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The New School

I have always been in or around school.  When I was growing up, my Mama worked in the library or pre-K of the school my siblings attended.  When I started middle school, she worked in the local elementary school.  When I was in high school, I would go to her class and help out.  While I was in college, I began substitute teaching.  When my Cecely started school, I substituted until I could get a job as an assistant.  I have always been around and in schools.

I have received some mixed (unsolicited) opinions about where my children go to school.  Some people in the public school system can't believe I would have my kiddos in a charter school.  Some people who share our same faith values don't understand why I would allow Cecely and Titus to be in a non-traditional, "liberal" school.  I have had the advantage of working in a variety of school environments.  Being the parent of a child with special needs and an IEP (individualized educational plan), it is imperative to be in a school where she can get the support she needs and is given opportunities to shine.  Having been told by public school educators that she had "plateaued" and wouldn't be able to make growth led me to take her out of school and spend time homeschooling her.  When my first husband left, I lost the option to homeschool and had to work full-time.  I have loved the public schools my children have attended--they were filled with amazing educators.  However, the public school system is over-extended both with resources and staff.

So, this is me addressing why my kiddos are where they are in school.  Francine Delany New School for Children is an incredible place.  Cecely was able to enter school there last school year.  When I filled out her application, I prayed over it.  I had my closest friends and family praying, too.  I wanted to KNOW this is where God wanted her.  If she didn't get in, it would be ok.  She would go back to public school, and I would fight like heck to get her the services she needed.  Thankfully, her number was drawn, and she was able to begin her 6th grade year at Francine Delany New School for Children.

I remember our first IEP meeting.  It was the first time I had sat down with every professional and teacher who was working with Cecely for an entire meeting where the adults were working with one another.  The physical therapist was talking with the science teacher about what things she could do with Cecely to help her with her science work.  It was the first IEP meeting where I didn't cry; well, where I didn't cry tears of sadness but of joy because I finally felt I was being heard, and Cecely was being fought for.

Titus was hoping to get into Francine Delany, but he was nervous because he was used to his old school.  We were doubly blessed when Titus was able to begin his 5th grade year there this year!  Titus is on the other end of the academic spectrum.  He needs extra challenges so he doesn't get complacent.

So, I'm going to just hit some of the reasons our family LOVES Francine Delany New School for Children:
  • It is a social justice school--this means our kids are learning about and talking about real issues that are currently happening in the world and learning from issues from our country's past.  This leads to deep conversations at home, and I believe this is helping prepare our children to handle the real world as they grow up.  They aren't staying in a bubble.  They are going to learn  how to love and minister to people who think and believe differently than we do.
  • The teachers and staff ROCK!!!  They love deeply, they care greatly and they are incredibly talented.
  • It is a safe place.  Cecely can be Cecely, Titus can be Titus.  Cecely is not pointed out for being "different" or "slow".  She is loved on by the whole school.  Titus can wear his athletic wear and hats everyday, matching or not, and no one is concerned about it.  The teachers are caring and encouraging.  The kids are kids...not little adults...I love that.
  • It is a creative place.  Cecely can be a poet.  She is encouraged to share her thoughts and be expressive.  Titus can learn to be creative.  He has begun to write and share emotions that have been bottled up for a few years.
  • It is a community.  People care about one another.  They know each other.  The check in with each other.  They encourage one another.  
  • It is a fun place!  This school is full of adults who fully believe in learning to be engaging and fun.  The activities in the classroom are enjoyable.  The conversations range from light-hearted to challenging, but even the "hard topics" are wrapped up in love and are often given touches of humor.  
  • It is where my kiddos want to be.  This has been the 1st school year where BOTH of my kiddos come home from school speaking of how much they love their class, their teachers, and their school.  They don't want to miss school.  They want to be there whenever the doors are open.
  • It is where God wants my kiddos to be.  It isn't a Christian school.  It's not a traditional school.  But, it is where He has them--for a reason!
Thank you, Francine Delany New School for Children staff, teachers, volunteers, and everyone else for how you love Cecely and Titus, how you care for your children, how you use your gifts and talents to teach, and how your excitement for life is contagious! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Parental Paradox

Parenting...such a loaded word and heavy concept.  Being a parent is by far the toughest, most complicated, and overwhelmingly exhaustive job I have had.  But, being a Mama is without a doubt the most rewarding, exciting, and uplifting experience of my life.  I have been so very blessed to have given birth to 2 amazing kiddos, to be the step-mom to 2 creative young ladies, to be the bonus Mom to an incredible young lady and to have 2 more little ones waiting on me when I get to heaven.  All I wanted to be when I was younger was a Mom; and I am grateful that God has allowed me this gift.

My first parenting adventure took place when my sweet Cecely was born.
She was premature.  She was born not breathing.  She was very sick with colic, jaundice, and acid reflux.  She went through her toddler years behind the milestones in everything but verbal skills.  When she went to pre-K, we began the path of neurologists, occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy due to a diagnosis of mild cerebral palsy.  When she began school, we started the journey of academic and psychological testing.  As her Mama, I hated seeing Cecely being reduced to a piece of paper filled with charts.  I still hate looking at her IEP paperwork and seeing where her "dots" line up with other children.  I want to say, "she may be below grade level in reading, but she is so funny.  She may struggle in math, but she loves everyone."  It is so difficult watching a Cecely struggle--when I know the depth of who she is and what she brings.  I want her to have the BEST life possible.  Thankfully, we are in a place and at a school where she is so well supported, and we are very thankful.

When I was carrying Titus, I was carrying twins, but I lost one baby.  Titus was born healthy and happy.  Developmentally, he has always been where he needs to be.  We recently began the adventure
of braces and oral surgery.  Titus' mouth has a billion issues.  This past week, Titus had major oral surgery.  We knew what was needed and new what to expect, at least on paper.  I went back with Titus before his surgery.  I have noticed lately how big Titus looks in his football uniform on the football field.  But, when I went back with him to the operating room, he looked so tiny.  The nurses allowed me to stay with Titus until he fell asleep.  I stood beside him, holding his hand, trying to make him laugh, and encouraging him the best I could.  In my mind, I kept telling myself to hold it together...don't cry in front of Titus.  When his eyes finally closed and his breathing leveled out, the tears flowed freely from my eyes.  I stood there for a few seconds looking at this sweet gift and how tiny he looked.

My heart tightened in my chest as I walked to the waiting room.

In a short amount of time, my mind went to one hundred different places.  Memories of my past and my family's history of accident filled my brain.  I thought of all of the times my Mama had to watch my siblings and me go behind a medical door.  When I was in high school, I started having issues with my vocal chords.  My Mama would go with me to every appointment, even when those
appointments were out of town in Winston-Salem.  She would sit with me through every test.  When I had the test where a tube was ran down my throat and into my stomach, and a monitor was placed on my stomach and another on my heart, my Mama stayed beside me through those 24 hours.  She helped me push food down per the directions of my doctor.  She cried with me as I cried when the food would get caught on the tube and I would choke.  She sat across from me in the exam room where the doctor took 9 long needles and pushed them into my throat.  She held my hand as I had to sing while the needles pressed into different parts of my neck.  She laughed at my feeble jokes that I tried to make while in pain.  She stayed with me as I was wheeled into the operating room to have my neck cut open and my vocal chords exposed so the doctor could figure out what was going on.  There were many things my Mama could not attend when I was growing up because of her work schedule and going back to school; but, I was reminded this past week that she was at every medical appointment.  When I received my diagnosis of Crohn's Disease, my Mama was as involved as she could be.  I lived far away during the beginning of that diagnosis.  But, Mama stayed in communication with me, and she learned all she could about the disease.  When I delivered both of my babies, my Mama made the 7 hour drive to get there as fast as she could.  When I lost my fourth baby, she drove into town as soon as she could armed with movies and snacks.

There have been many times in my life where I have been overwhelmed by very loud life lessons.   Seeing Titus in fear then pain, broke my heart.  At the same time, I was trying to imagine what it was like for my Mama all the times she saw my siblings and me hurting.  This week, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I am allowed to be a Mama, and that my baby boy is recovering slowly but baby girl is thriving in her school.  I am reminded of the love my Mama showed me.

Even greater than those things, I was reminded of the love God has for me, for my children, for my family, for you!  God sees us when we hurt.  He sees our pain.  He understands our hearts.  He gave us the gift of his Son, Jesus.  Jesus lived His life as a human, and He felt the things we feel.  He knows what it is to be betrayed.  He knows what it is to feel physical pain.  He understands anger.  He knows what love is.  He knows what sadness is.  There is nothing going on in my world or yours that our God does not understand.  So, when the emotions and challenges of life overwhelm you, when the tears flow freely, when the hurt runs deep, remember the One who made you loves you so deeply and dearly.  He wants to walk with you through every day of your life--good and bad, happy and sad, joyful and angry.  He loves you!  He gets you!  He's got you!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Letters to the People of Swannanoa

To the amazing people of Swannanoa,

What a wonderful journey this has been.  I am so thankful God allowed our paths to cross.  I came to Swannanoa in one phase of my life.  Through circumstances outside of my control, my children and I went through a very sad time; but, the people of this church rallied around us and walked with us.  You all supplied countless hugs, smiles and encouragement.  You prayed with us and for us.  Through our time with you, we were blessed by so many incredible relationships.  My heart is so full of love for you all.  

When Brian and I began to date, we began to pray that God would let us know when our time of ministry at Biltmore was over.  We have always prayed that our family would be our first priority after the Lord.  Over the past month, God has been showing Brian and me that it is our time to leave Biltmore.  This Sunday will be our last one.  We will be staying in the area, but we are waiting to see where He leads us.  

We welcome your prayers for our family as we go through this transition.  We will continue to lift you up in prayer.  Please keep me posted on how I can pray for you...I LOVE to pray for you.

For the wonderful parents/grandparents/guardians,

I want to express my deepest gratitude to you for allowing me these past few years with your children.  It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to have been able to spend my Sunday mornings with your babies.  Each one of the kiddos I have had the pleasure of spending time with holds a special place in my heart.  Children are an amazing gift from the Lord, and I am honored that He gave me the opportunity to share my love for Jesus with them.  Thank you for making sure your children are a part of the family of God.  Thank you for making sure they are getting time with believers, are learning from God’s Word, are learning to worship, and are learning to be leaders!  I am so proud of your children!!!

As my last Sunday is quickly approaching, I want you to know that I will continue to lift your family and your children up in prayer.  Though we may not see each other every week, I will hold you all close in my heart.  Please know that you are greatly loved and deeply cared for.  I am so thankful for the promise of heaven and the knowledge of having eternity with you all!!!

Please share this message with your kiddos for me:

Dear Kiddo,

God loves you!  I LOVE YOU!!! You are incredible.  You are amazing.  You are special.  You are important.  You were created with a purpose that only YOU can fulfill for Jesus.  You matter so very much.  Thank you for being a wonderful part of my life.  I am so glad that God gave us time together.  I want you to remember of a few things:

1.     Make good choices!  In life, you are going to have so many chances to make poor choices.  When you do, you’ll have consequences that will hurt, but that will teach you something important.  When you make good choices, there will be great consequences and rewards.  Even when it’s hard, make a good choice!
2.     Be bold and courageous!  The world can be scary.  We have to deal with hard things with our families and friends.  We have to worry about bullies.  It can be scary.  But, when you give your life to follow Jesus, God is always with you.  He can give you the power and strength you need to be bold and courageous no matter what!!!
3.     Jesus died for you.  We are all going to mess up (that’s called sin).  The Bible says the price or consequence for sin is death and forever without Jesus.  BUT, Jesus died on the cross for YOU!  Even if you had been the only kiddos ever, He would have died to take your place for sin.  Because, He LOVES you!  He wants you to follow Him.  He wants you to get to spend forever with Him in heaven!

I am so thankful for you.  Keep spending time with Jesus.  Keep praying.  Keep reading your Bible.  Keep asking questions.  Keep singing.  Keep dancing.  Keep learning.  I am so proud of you!  You are AWESOME!

Big hugs to each and every one of you!


Mrs. Amber

P.S.  We have been told that there will be a time of prayer from 12:30pm-12:45pm in the library at ACA on Sunday following the service for our family.  You are welcome to join us if you can.