A Tribute to Teachers

This is the time of year we all envy teachers. Can I get an amen?! Those lucky duck people packing up their cubicles to enjoy two months of summer vacation. As the academic year comes to a grinding halt and schools finish their end of the year assemblies, examinations and celebrations, we all feel that little green monster of envy rear it’s ugly head.

Ah, if only I had been a teacher…

Two months of vacation just as the weather is getting nice….

If only…

*Cue the eye roll as they come just near skipping out of the school doors*

Yep. Every summer I utter the exact same sentiment, especially as I pack my bags for summer camp with a bus load of junior high students. Oh dear, that joy is waiting just around the corner for me – if I survive a week of VBS with one hundred elementary students on a summer induced, popsicle licking, outdoor playing, high! Yay for being a Children’s Pastor!

If I set aside that envy for a few moments though I also feel remarkably grateful for teachers. Reflecting on my own school days there are several memorable teachers that I recall with a array of emotions.

In an elementary school, just before the bridge of the St. Genevieve River, there was a Mr. Gould who I recall with a chuckle because my dear friend Tammy nearly drove him around the bend during my Grade 6 year.

There was also a Mrs. Young who introduced me to the Brown Bear in Grade 2 – the same Brown Bear who is now the star of my son’s favorite Eric Carle book.

Later, in Junior High, there was a Mr. House who dragged us all through Grade 9 social studies all the while carrying a brief case who’s lock required a plastic knife to stay secured. We were merciless in our fun making of that dear man.

High school brought a host of teachers I also cherish. A Mr. Young who cried as he sang to our graduating class a song he had written just for us. That jolly man was a follower of Christ and, while I detested World Geography, I adored his love of laughter both in and out of the classroom.

Mrs. Powell was quiet and gentle but brilliant and brave as a teacher of the sciences, and the Vice Principal of our school. She endeavored to help us to enjoy learning, even if we did not quite share her love for the periodic table and the infamous pi.

Mr. Fudge the math teacher – my memory of him is this:

“Mr. Fudge, show me again how it works. I don’t understand.”

“Ashley, you got the right answer.”

“But Mr. Fudge, I don’t know why.”

“Ashley, but it’s right.”

And so on… until the bell would ring and I assume he only managed to get through half of the material he had intended to teach in that 50 minutes. He would get so exasperated with me in that class, and to this day I loath math of every kind. Yet he was from the Bay, knew my folks quite well, and always managed to encourage and speak poisitively to me every chance he got.

Mr. Tulk in Enterprise Ed challenged me academically with a sarcastic streak I would come to experience more fully in my university days under the tutelage of one we affectionately call Doc.

And speaking of university, there were a few colorful characters there as well. A Dr. Faught who resembled one Indiana Jones, a Dr. Masson who was the only professor to give me a C in my entire education, and a linguistics professor, who’s name I can’t recall, just simply that I loved every moment of every fascinating lecture.

Over a decade removed from my high school graduation, I do not recall Mr. Fudge’s math equations (ironically) or any of Mrs. Powell’s chemistry formulas. In retrospect, the greatest lessons they imparted could not be scribbled on a whiteboard in varying degrees of legibility. Rather those lessons were inscribed in my character and are written all over my deeds and words every day.

Face challenges and overcome them.  

Yes, in fact, you can do it. Don’t give up.

I believe in you.

Your future is as big as you can dream.

You matter. Your life counts.

Yeah, that’s the kind of stuff that really counts. That’s the above and beyond kind of stuff that makes good teachers great teachers.  Those are the messages I pray some day down the road a passionate, gifted teacher will pour into my little son’s life. Those are the messages I endeavor to speak into every person of every age I have the privilege of encountering and walking with in a journey of faith. Our world needs that stuff loudly spoken and boldly lived.

My dear teacher friends, enjoy this summer vacation. Sit back often, simply relax and drink an ice cold lemonade; do all the things that late night correcting and stressing over falling behind students has prevented you from enjoying.   Refuel the tanks of your mind, your heart and your patience. Come September, they’ll flood the building and your senses, new bookbags just waiting to be broken in with heavy textbooks and pristine runners waiting to leave marks on a newly waxed school floor. But above and light years beyond that, their hearts, minds and futures will open to a new chapter and you will have the privilege of helping to inspire the stories that will be written on those blank pages. You. Yes, you.

So, take a lesson from your own notebook today….

Don’t give up.

You matter. Your life counts.

We believe in you.

You know that’s the good stuff– we got it from you.

Why I Don’t Want to Change the World

At the completion of my high school education I was fairly certain that I would in fact change the world. Yes. Me. Little me in rural Newfoundland and from the tucked away Northern Peninsula, no less. I had a vision of what I thought God had intended me to do; I had my sights set internationally and I pictured big stages, cross cultural environments and fascinating stories that would awe and inspire others to also embark on their own world changing, life altering journeys.

It’s hard to blame me really. In Junior High we sang worship songs like “History Makers” and well-meaning youth leaders spoke words over my life like…

You’re going to do GREAT things.

You’re going to CHANGE THE WORLD. 

God has BIG PLANS for you.

And I wanted every one of them to become reality. If I’m honest, it was that very promise of God’s big plans that saved me from making a few monumentally disastrous choices during high school – thank the gracious Lord for that. Beyond that, however, it made me brave and unrelenting in my pursuit of God and greatness. I prayed big prayers.

Lord, wherever you want me to go, I’ll go.
Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.
Here I am, send me.

I was pretty holy, huh?

Fast forward to today. I’m fairly certain that junior-high-me would be gravely disappointed with 2017 me (although my hair is a slight improvement – thank heavens and the invention of the straightener). There are barely the faint remnants of that world changing, history maker in the milky mess of mothering and the tedious task of church scheduling. There have been days when, in waiting for the coffee to brew at the dawning of another daily grind, I have wondered silently where I so extravagantly missed the mark.

How did that ambitious, aim-for-the-extraordinary, girl get swallowed up in ordinary living “back home”? 

I’d like to say that the thoughts dissipate like the sugar that swirls in the steaming cup of joe but the truth is that those questions taunted me for several years. I wrestled with the tension of what I’d been told, what I’d pursued and the place the Lord saw fit to settle me. How in the world does one reconcile all of that?

It’s been a journey and a humbling one at that. A break-me-down-to-the-bare-bones and build-me-back-up journey where I have rediscovered the upside down and inside reality of the Kingdom of God, and what’s truly important.

Sometimes it infuriates me but today I am so saddened to see it wreak havoc on those around me. I see my own peers – in ministry and otherwise – still pursuing world changer status, devastatingly disappointed and discontent at the ordinary job God has given them in an ordinary place. They never seem to find joy or fulfillment. They are disillusioned, as I have been, by those grandiose ideas about the future, and afraid that they will be insignificant in the world, in history, to people and to God. And so we all fight and scratch for position, let envy and jealousy consume us, make choices out of our selfishness instead of God’s leading, all the while grumbling and whining like children denied candy at the local convenience store. All of it is robbing and stealing from us the good, the peace, the joy and the hope God longs to lavish on us as His children.

I know. I’ve heard myself say the words to our own teens and I wish I could take them back, those big-plans and great-things words spoken with the best of intentions. I’ve been part of perpetuating the problem myself in another generation. I wish instead I had said…

Be faithful. Be constant.

Serve humbly. Give generously.

Love so profoundly it alters the atmosphere.

Be present to the people who matter most.

Let your life and your body – literally everything about you – be an open vessel that God pours into and out of to the broken, hurting and oppressed right in front of you – whether their skin is midnight black or milky white, whether their pay check triples yours or makes you look like a millionaire, and whether the stain of poor choices lines their faces or poisons their hearts.

If you do that, you won’t change the world – at least it won’t seem that way. Because those things, those little, tiny, insignificant things happen when no one else is watching, when no one else is around. There aren’t big stages to highlight people who are unwaveringly faithful. There aren’t big awards for people who serve humbly. Most of the time, those are just ordinary people from ordinary places living ordinary, Kingdom of God lives here on earth.

In a world where teens, and even children, are just aching and literally dying to be known and valuable, when a person’s worth is so questioned, can we just stop with the over-inflated ideas about life purpose and the will of God!?! Can we stop pressuring them to be world changers when Jesus just invites them to follow Him and be like Him?

I haven’t lived thirty years yet, and I don’t know what my next ten, twenty or more will hold. I still dream and I still pray big prayers but I don’t want to change the world anymore. I want to be deeply faithful, truly excellent and overflowing with the unconditional love of God. Right here. Right now. In this place. In this season.

God will take care of the rest and I’m okay with that. I’ll leave the world changing to Him – and just maybe He’ll take me along for the ride. 

Find Me on the Fringes

This is the final piece I wrote at the end of 2016 when I took an expected break from Spillin’ the Beans. I couldn’t quite finish writing this piece and simply could not share. The emotions of my season seemed far too fresh and raw to spill the beans on them. It’s been months now since that time and I have found freedom from the weight of the subject to share. There are days of wrestling that remain but I’m learning to work through them. And I would rather share out of my vulnerability for the sake of perhaps helping my sisters along in their own journeys of faith and mothering. So, please see my heart in this one. 

A unique and baffling thing happened to me when my son was born. I found myself in new and strange places that I had never really been before. Places like…

The maternity ward of the hospital – for far too long.
Family Resource Centre – truly my saving grace most days.
Rooms in my own house – spaces that were unneeded and unoccupied.

But beyond those new places that I was discovering with a little one in tow, perhaps the most frustrating of all was the fringes, the outside edge of every place. Like the back pew in church, or just outside the doors of the sanctuary. Standing in the back at a youth camp or listening to the preacher muffled behind a one way window. Shopping on the racks in the mall walkways instead of in the store. Just to name a few.

In the beginning months it was convenient and necessary. I had an almost spy-like ability to map out the escape route in any space. I could locate the bathroom, nursery, exit or empty space in every building, and I found myself gravitating to within ten feet of one or more of them. It was safe and unassuming. If Baby cried or fussed I quickly exited before any attention came my way.

There came a moment though when the fringes began to feel uncomfortable, frustrating and disappointing. Perhaps I became more accustomed to Baby’s needs, more comfortable meeting them, more aware of how normal all of this really was (surprise – most people understand babies cry and squirm and are not remarkably disturbed by it). And maybe I was just missing my old normal, my in-the-middle-of-everything, front-row-seat take on life. But I found myself on the edge one day, painfully aware of how foreign it felt and how much more I needed.

We had prepared to attend a ministry retreat after a particularly tiring week of mothering. I remember standing in my vanity mirror, sweating from the pressure of applying winged eye liner with a baby crying in the bassinet nearby, praying deeply, and with everything in me, “Lord, I just need to meet with you this week. I don’t know what I need but I desperately need you.

On the first night of that retreat, I found myself tucked away in a side room nursery rocking a baby on the floor before the speaker had even finished their introduction. I kept a brave face – I wasn’t the only momma in the room – but wow, my spirit was crushed. Defeatedly I prayed in the quiet, broken part of my heart, “Lord, if you have anything for me, you’re just going to have to find me out here…On the fringes. On the edges.

I’m an emotional creature – more than most perhaps – but I can rationally accept that not all spaces are designed for babies and I can roll with that, even if my stroller can’t. It’s the challenge of my life season to find a new normal, a momma normal – and maybe that means shopping online instead of in-store. But I’m fighting with all that’s in me against occupying fringe seats to the presence of God.

I can’t help but gather from the gospel accounts that mommas have been fighting the fringes for literally centuries. In Matthew’s gospel we catch up with Jesus who has been busy travelling and teaching, with his appointment with Calvary looming ever nearer. It so happened that along the way some parents brought their children to Jesus to bless them. No doubt they had heard of his miraculous wonders and wanted desperately themselves to be close and for their children to receive all the good and blessings Jesus could pour onto them. Those well-meaning disciples seem to do the unthinkable and scold the parents for bothering Jesus, beginning to push them aside. Jesus’ response is the familiar verse we’ve read tucked beautifully into baby books or on cascading wall displays of church nurseries.  Jesus rebukes his disciples with these words:

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” (Matthew 19:14)

And then the Lord of all Creation beckons those squirmy, snotty, crying children and babies to come real close, close enough for the earthly mess of them to touch Him. Those precious children and their persistent parents escape the fringes, come away from the edges. There Jesus lays his hands – the only hands that have ever been fully God and fully man – upon them and blesses them.

My weary momma heart finds comfort and solace in that. He gets it. Really and truly, He gets it. He sees me and He invites me close. He beckons from the fringes to the closeness of His presence, with this little child in tow.

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not on a “rights” kick and I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m just mostly asking for grace. For me and for my son.

Forgive his squirming body and busy hands. Excuse his crying from time to time. Listen beyond my shushing sounds. Please look past his saucer like eyes soaking up every detail of you from his perch on my shoulder. I just need to be close to Jesus and I just need him to be there.

I want to encounter the absolute life altering presence of Jesus Christ and I want my son to encounter it too. I fiercely desire for him to have a living, breathing, active life in the Spirit that he has learned to crave by watching my life, inside and outside of our church walls. I have never longed for anything with more passion than I long for him to be there – in mind, body, soul and spirit – when the glory of the Lord shows up.

It burns so deeply in me that it pours out of my heart as salty tears of intercession for his life. But maybe, just maybe, you feel it for your own children and grandchildren. You have that same mix of love, desperation and desire for their precious God-breathed lives.

So please I’ll just ask this once. If you’ll have grace for me, I’ll push past the fringes and pull closer to where it counts with him.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Stop and smell and roses. 

Yeah I’ve heard it too. Except the only rose in my purview these days is a dried up wilted one in a stained vase on my bedroom dresser. Hubby lovingly had gifted it to me on Mother’s Day when he presented me breakfast in bed. I was pleasantly surprised and truly did stop to breathe in its beautiful aroma and all the love with which it was given.  

But then the baby woke and as we always do, we lazily brought him into bed with us and that rose – romantic, siren red – blazed on the dresser in safe keeping from baby but close view. And I haven’t stopped to smell it since. Lets just chalk it up to life. 

I get it though, that cliche. Its an invitation to pause and embrace our present reality; quit the rushing about and just enjoy the place where we find ourselves and the simple pleasures contained within. Yes, I agree. It does sound inviting and refreshing but yet tantalizingly out of reach as I balance this teething baby on my tired hips, while stirring the stuck on pasta and wondering how in the world this mess of madness is getting out the door in an hours time. So close and yet so far away. Maybe I’m just not meant for roses right now. 

Then I see hubby; he’s down there in the baby jail sipping coffee and he lets out an exaggerated puff of air. I can almost see his eyes roll as he says “Not the Peek-A-Boo book again”. Yet within the same breath he starts in for the tenth time this morning on this aptly named “bored” book and with all the enthusiasm he can muster recites the words he knows by heart, all the while stifling the urge to ring a proverbial fist at the friend who gifted this treasure of a book to our son. I laugh out loud at this man who reads theological textbooks for pure pleasure as he stops everything to nurture a love for reading in our son. 

Really you just have to take advantage of those moments when they come.

There is too much fleeting in the world of littles. 

One day they love bananas and the next day they are poison. One moment mommy is a hero and the next she is the worst person who ever lived in the history of mankind. Today he adores reading, books of every kind. His busy hands explore the texture of the pages and his eyes hungrily consume the images contained. Sometimes he can’t even wait for the words to be read; he excitedly skips ahead to see what is next. Everyday he wants to rehearse his favourites and every night new stories settle him to silent slumber. 

So yes, I laugh with hubby on the third round of Peek-A-Boo and God knows we love the works of Eric Carle but for heaven’s sake we know the bear is brown. But in case you haven’t figured it out yet, you never should laugh when it comes to littles. It’s guaranteed to come right back around to get you. That day it did. 

I was on the floor of little mans bedroom folding and sorting an overdue load of laundry. (You know what I mean, a basket of clean laundry that you keep pulling out of until it’s almost empty because you just can’t or don’t take the time to pack away.) Yeah that kind. I was surrounded by piles of little people clothing when his clumsy baby hands plopped Alligater Pie right down on the leaning tower of onesies I had skillfully made. And right there, mid fold with the chaos everywhere his silent invitation was booming in my recesses of my mommy heart. 

Stop and smell the roses. 

Or rather… 

Read me the story mommy, please.
My story. My favourite story. Right now. 

Honest to goodness, he can’t speak but it’s like he shouted or God did. The message got through and I did just what it asked. 

I stopped and, with all the enthusiasm I too could muster, read Alligator Pie, not once, not twice but three times. And then Goodnight Moon at the ripe hour of 9am. All the while he sat entranced from the safety of my crossed legs, us turning the pages together and him gazing with awestruck wonder between the pages and my eyes. 

It wasn’t until later that night I realized perhaps I was meant for roses after all.