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Thursday, January 21, 2016

My child, your best is enough!

Today at school there was a big celebratory trip for the kids that earned it. My oldest daughter always earned this little reward for being a good student and getting good grades. In order to obtain the prize, you have to meet several criteria. I didn't even know this was happening today in the middle school my son attends until my older daughter told me after my son got out of the car at school.
Later, I saw a "selfie" post from a few of his closest friends on the bus, while on their way to this little trip. (Thankful we have staved off the social media craze... for now! )
Here's the thing, I think being rewarded for your efforts is awesome! But, here's the other thing, sometimes it takes less effort for some people than other people. For instance, my oldest has always had a really easy time in school. Growing up, school came very easily to me, also. But, school doesn't come easily to everyone. And, unfortunately, when you're in your teen years it's hard to see beyond the environment of school and your peers. My son is smart! He has always been intelligent. The hard part is, his intelligence looks a little different than mainstream intelligence. Also, he had some things he has had to overcome along the way in his school career. At the end of the last semester, when report cards went out, my son texted me to tell me he had all A's and B's. This was cause for MAJOR celebration at our house. Not because I ever thought he couldn't do this, but because I know how extremely hard he had to work to get there. Because I know that getting that B in math has been a huge struggle for him on many levels.
I saw the look on his face at the beginning of school when he asked me if he was in the special ed class for math. He's not in special education, but he is in that class to get some individualized help he needs. I'm grateful for that! I'm so grateful for the school system where we are, and the way they have worked with him to help him overcome his hurdles. My son falls in that grey area of not qualifying for school services, but struggling enough that it is much harder for him in some areas than other people. So, that can make getting resources and help a little tougher. The school system we are in has really, really worked with us. But, at 12 years old, no one wants to be in the "special ed" class. No one wants to feel different. No one wants to be left at school when all of their friends get to go on the special reward trip.
Stay with me, here,  I am NOT saying this trip shouldn't happen! Like I said, my oldest always went on this trip and I was happy for her. But, I look at both of them and I see even though she may have better marks in school, I also see that she hasn't had to work very hard for it like my son has. And, so goes the education system. So goes life!
It is hard to find the justice in it all. We've all heard the old saying: "life isn't fair." And, that can be true. But as a mom all you really want is for your children to get what they have coming to them! Sometimes, that means discipline. Sometimes, that means extra help. Sometimes, that means rewards!  But, struggles?
Nothing in this life has taught me more about God's love for us than having my own children. I just imagine that God looks down on us sort of the same way we look down at our kids and watch their lives play out. In life, it is so easy for us to start looking around at everyone else and wondering, "why me?" Why am i dealing with this particular thing? Why am I not as good as that person? Why did you not give me the gift that you gave them? But as I mature in my faith, I have started to understand that God has a plan, and that every one of my struggles has built me to be the person He wants me to become. I now understand that I am just living out my small part of the plan God has for this world.  I can look back on my past struggles and insecurities and understand how they brought me to where I am now. I think, though, it is a little harder for us when it comes to our children, isn't it? We don't want them to struggle! If it's struggles they have coming to them, then we don't want to see that! Why is it we don't trust the fact that God allows our children struggles the same way he allows us our struggles, in order to mold them into what he wants them to be? Of course, that's what He is doing! And, for us parents, the charge is for us to present to our children a picture of Christ.
So, what is a mom to do when I look at my sweet son and see his discouragement?  When I know that he has worked so, so hard but didn't achieve the same reward everyone else did? Well, what I'm going to do is reward him myself - in my own way. It won't look the same as everyone else's reward, it won't be in the same timing, and not everyone will see it the way everyone saw who got to go on the trip at school today. But, isn't that how our spirituality goes? Sometimes God rewards us when no one else sees it. Sometimes he gives us different gifts than everyone around us. Whenever we look around and feel inadequate, we need only go to God. Because, every time His answer to His children will be: My child, your best is enough. In me, you will always be enough.
If I do nothing else with this parenting gig, I hope I can instill in my children the ability to know that in Christ, they are always enough.  And, for all you parents out there who are watching your kids struggle and fight for everything they get, but over and over again watch them fall short of their peers. Over and over, see that look of discouragement on their face.  For every parent who feels helpless, watching your child get left out, left behind, or left without - know this: in Christ, YOU are enough, too. I know you don't always feel like it, but you are.  You can fill in those gaps, and you can advocate, and you can pray, and you can encourage.  And, when you feel like you can't anymore, God will give you what you need.  Because, most certainly, when WE are not enough, our God IS. He was, He is, and He always will be.  Go to Him.  Teach your child to go to Him!

And, never forget that we are raising people here.  We are not raising students.  There is certainly a whole life after school where our "other learners" will be brilliantly polished and will stand out and shine bright!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Called to the Office

My decision to become an early childhood education administrator did not come from a place of burnout. This morning I spent the first hour or so of my day working in a classroom to sub for a teacher so that she could go to a meeting. I loved it so much, and it rejuvenated my passion for what it is that I'm doing. I've heard people say things like, "I just couldn't go back to the classroom at this point." Or, "I just couldn't  be in a classroom anymore.  I had to get out."  I'm not judging! I commend people for knowing their limitations!  It's just that, for me, that was never the case. There is absolutely nothing I love more than to sit and have a conversation with a four year old, observe children in the classroom and analyze their development, hold a baby or toddler and pat their little back, or make a parent feel comfortable leaving their child for the day. The fact of the matter is, it's what I was made to do. And, I could probably easily say that being an early childhood teacher came much easier to me than being an administrator.

Learning to teach adults and develop teachers has been much more of a learning curve for me than learning to work with children. Working with children comes extremely natural to me. Leading a circle time with 3 year olds is no problem for me; it feels completely natural. However, standing up in front of a group of teachers giving a presentation is a little bit horrifying! 

When I was working in a classroom, I felt so blessed and grateful to have the career I had. I kind of likened it to a professional athlete. I absolutely loved what I was doing, loved going to work everyday, and felt so very passionately about the work I was doing - plus I got paid for it! How often can you say that? (Although, without quite the compensation that professional athletes get!) The thing is, money is never what drives me, so salary really didn't play that much of a part in the rewards of what I was doing. I just felt blessed to be paid for what I loved! God called me out of that, though.  Now I would maybe compare what I'm doing to an athlete deciding to coach!

When my current position came open I looked at it for a long time before I ever decided to apply for it. It wasn't the right time! This wasn't the plan. Eventually, it was the plan. But not now. Not MY plan, anyway! After I finally applied and interviewed and was selected for the position, I had a choice to make. For me, it was a no-brainer. God was calling me to go, so obediently I said I'll go. I was excited! All the things that I was going to be charged with doing sounded like things I would love to do. It was an adventure, it was scary, and I was ready! (Or, so I thought.)

A little while into this position I started to doubt myself. Was I really equipped to do this? What was I thinking standing up in front of over a hundred people to talk? The first time I felt my neck turning red the way it does whenever I'm talking in front of people, doubt crept all over me! What made me think I could do this? The first year was tough. Not to say that I didn't love what I was doing, but it was just so far outside my comfort zone! I had supervised people before, but not on the scale I was supervising them now. So many times I thought am i doing any good? Am I supposed to be in this spot? Wouldn't it be better if I just went back to a classroom and did what I knew I was good at? Not to toot my own horn, but I was pretty darn good in the classroom! And I knew that. I felt like I was successful in the classroom. It came natural to me, I just got it, and children usually respond to me. Being able to see where a child is at developmentally almost just came as a gift to me. I say all of this not to brag on myself, because I don't think it's my doing that I was good at that; I truly believe that's the way God made me. I say this to you to tell you that I felt very comfortable being in a classroom as a preschool teacher. Being an administrator wasn't quite as comfortable to me! But, every time I would have those doubts God would talk to me and His still small voice. He would say to me, "I put you here. I will equip you with what you need to do this. I'll tell you when I'm ready for you to move." I would love to say that I never doubted that still small voice. I didn't move, because if I've learned anything in my life, I've learned the only time you're successful is when you go where God tells you to go. But, I still wondered over and over again: am I supposed to be here? I felt like Moses. I wanted to say God, this is the kid who could barely form words in kindergarten! Remember me? I'm the one that writes so well just because I never could express myself verbally! What are you thinking with this? I'm just the grown up version of the little girl that got upset and cried every time someone looked at me wrong. How do you expect me to be a supervisor of all these people, and handle all these difficult situations, and keep my emotions at bay? Are you sure I'm the one you need here? But every time, his answer was the same. I put you here. I need you here. Just stay. And, so I stayed.

It's gotten easier! My neck still turns red when I talk in front of people. However, I just try not to let it bother me like I used to. I don't know why it happens, but it just does. And I just go with it. God called me to the office. Quite literally. I miss the classroom! I miss playing with kids during the day, I miss analyzing their development, I miss dictating their stories, I miss the hugs, and I even miss wiping their sweet little noses! My baby is now 7, and so I just miss being around little kids, in general! I just want to rock somebody to sleep every day! Ha!

The fact of the matter is, though, God called me to do the work I'm doing because of the passion he gave me for it. I loved knowing that I was having an effect on so many children's lives in the classroom.  Now, I am charged with the ability to make changes in so many more children's lives! Now it's indirectly. Now I'm training other teachers. But, it's where I'm supposed to be. I'm learning every day about managing and leading. Yes, I'm an oldest child, but I'm not your typical bossy, everybody follow me type of person. I think I have a lot of leadership qualities, but they're very quiet. Which is kind of how everything is with me - I've got some big stuff going on a lot of times, but I'm just really quiet about it. Ironically, I have figured out that a lot of the very things I felt like made me ill equipped to do the job I'm doing now, are the very things that actually make me pretty good in the position I'm in. For instance, the fact that I'm slow to speak actually comes in handy whenever I'm dealing with difficult situations with staff or parents.

I have grown more in the past three and a half years of my career than any other point. I have learned that the most growth happens when your really being stretched and, let me tell you, God has stretched me in the past few years. And as hard as some of those times have been, and as many times as I thought: "I just kind of want to throw in the towel here!" I didn't. From the time I decided to work in early childhood, I knew that this was my ministry. No, I wouldn't say it is anything as noble as mission work. I haven't been called to leave everything I know and go off to some foreign country. But, God called me for sure. He ignited in me a fire for what I do, and he called me to do it for Him. And, so I did. And, when He called me up to the office, and out of the classroom, I followed Him. And, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life! I say all of this to you to express that if we can learn to just rely on God, to quit questioning His motives, and just follow Him where He takes us, won't we be so much more content? And, for sure, we will be rewarded! Those rewards are not necessarily going to be monetary, they're not necessarily going to be fame and recognition, but it's something so much more precious! Knowing we are helping carry out His plan, and we are doing the work He created us to do, is by far the most rewarding thing I have found in this life so far. I wouldn't say it's easy all the time. But as the old saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy!

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”  Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”  God said to Moses, “ I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘ I am has sent me to you.’ ”
Exodus 3:11-14 NIV