Patience

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It’s past bedtime on a Sunday night. We sit on the couch, me sandwiched between my two precious children. One of them presses two bony knees, hard, into my thighs. I never realized exactly how much a kid’s knees could resemble the ends of tobacco sticks, ready to hammer into the ground of my flesh. The other child puts clammy bare feet onto my legs from the other side. 

I have not read one word of the Bible story, and already I want to scream.

I say a quick prayer out loud, and I soldier on. Before I can read five verses, my son has his hand in the air like he’s in his classroom. When I pause and ask what he wants, he says, “Did they have sponges in the Bible time?”

My daughter stops our reading to express surprise and outrage over the story we have read so many times. My son raises his hand again to ask what it means to gamble. At this rate, we will never get through this one single Bible story, much less reach any conclusions about its importance in our lives. My voice has become a monotone, unless the quiet irritation curling around the flat edges is actually noticeable. The flame of my impatience is lighting up this story for me. If we could just read through to the end and get them in bed. If this could just be a tidy, neat experience. Story, prayer, kiss, bed. Then I could crawl onto the couch with my computer or a book and go to bed at a decent hour myself.

But this is when I have to stop, and it’s a full stop that’s needed here. Why on earth am I reading the Bible with my children anyway? Is it to check off a mental list? Okay, taught them something about God–check. Or is it because I actually want them to know who God is, to love him most, to choose him for everything in their lives? Of course it’s the latter, and if that is true, then I need to do two things: first, I need to suck it up and have merciful patience with every single question; and second, I need to show them what relationship with God looks like through relationship with me.

I’m grateful that God convicts me when I need to back up and start over. And I’m grateful that my kids love me enough to give me another chance when I don’t do it right the first time. I don’t want to abuse that trust. Sometimes, that comes through apologizing and starting all over again. 

Patience does not come naturally for me, and, sadly, it’s often the people closest to me who understand this best. But God’s word says patience is a fruit of the Spirit. I trust that with time and prayer, he will also develop this fruit in me.

I will trust Him every day, in every situation. I will let him grow patience in me, and faith, and love. I will believe the promises God has given, and I will trust Him with the answers I can’t begin to predict, and I will get to know God more and more, understanding who He is and how fully He loves me. And I will continue to delight in God, who still surprises me with good things.

The patience to walk with God in my ordinary days, trusting Him to show me where to put my feet next, is one of the beautiful gifts He is teaching me to receive. And I am grateful for it.

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Photography–Week 1

After my first week of my learning project, I am doing a fairly poor job. This post should have been made and posted over the last weekend. Despite my blogging failures, I actually have done some photography work, and here’s what I’ve learned from my first week of learning how to take better pictures.

  1. Requiring myself to publish my progress is motivating for me. I did not do a brilliant job of starting the next day, like my post said. In fact, I didn’t do much but push the reminders aside in my mind all week long. But by the weekend, when my computer was gone and I felt super guilty for not writing, I finally felt pushed to begin perusing some YouTube videos to see what I could find out.
  2. There are so many resources. I skimmed a few, mostly looking for good info in a relatively short time frame. I was watching videos while my kids ate breakfast, so I wanted information that got to the point instead of meandering through side conversations and too much giggling, I was pleased to find several informative videos that fit the requirements.
  3. There really are simple tips to get better at this craft. The video on which I spent the most time mostly centered on the importance of tapping the screen to focus the shot and then raising or lowering the brightness on a scale beside the focus box. Intrigued, I tried it out on my ancient iPhone and was surprised that I’d never noticed the brightness scale. I took some really awful pictures of my son while I played with it. The video also talked about the angle of shots and how the wideness of the frame affects the picture. These are all things that should be easy for me to practice with, and I did work on it over the weekend, although all my practice shots were pretty terrible, which is why I am including none of them here. I have a lot of work to do.

I want to continue to practice with these tips over the next few days, and also to find another video to watch, and to check out one of the websites. Photography is a topic that truly has a wealth of resources, so I will try to be selective and choose wisely. Hopefully by weekend, I’ll have a photo to share!

Barbara Brown Taylor

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In January, my husband borrowed a book from our pastor. The book was called Home By Another Way, and he loved it so much that he let me borrow it before he was done. I took it with me on a work trip to San Diego, and I found it the perfect, soothing end to each day, as I read a short sermon in bed and then turned out the light, leaving the book on the empty side of the bed while I slept, its very presence a comfort. 

Before that I didn’t know much about Barbara Brown Taylor except for what I had heard from Jen Hatmaker. On her podcast, Jen concludes episodes by asking a question she borrowed from Mrs. Taylor:  What is saving your life right now? It’s a fabulous question, and was a favorite part of Jen’s podcast for me. When Jen actually interviewed Mrs. Taylor, I found that podcast episode to be excellent–spiritual and fun and thoughtful all at once, much like her writing. 

Then our beloved pastor gave this book to Joe, and I loved the sermons I read–quiet, careful, spiritual. I felt myself stretching, my heart widening, my mind shifting, as I started to look at the concept of faith in new ways. This woman, I realized, was one to keep an eye on.

I never finished the book. When I came home, Joe took it back, and he returned it before I finished. But now Barbara Brown Taylor was on my radar. At Half-Price Books, Joe brought me to a shelf that held several of her volumes, and I chose Altar in the World, reading a chapter or pieces of one at night before bed, letting her wise and considered thoughts soothe and challenge my soul. It was so good that I was sad to finish it.

One of my favorite parts was where Mrs. Taylor discussed a vocation. She told the story of when she was praying about her own work, and she heard God say that she should do whatever she wanted, as long as she loved God. It was breathlessly freeing to me and, I think, to her. Like many people, I struggled for a long time with the question of what God wanted me to do for a career, taking for granted that when I found this one thing, I would do it until I retired, as my parents did. But I have moved several times, and keeping the same job for my entire career would have been impossible. For many of us, jobs shift, sometimes by choice and sometimes not.  I wish I had realized when I was sixteen that the important thing was to love God and not worry so much about the one work for which I was destined. I imagine I would have still chosen the same field, but it would have lifted such a weight in the decision, and maybe some of the anxiety that hovered over me for so long.

Recently I ordered Mrs. Taylor’s book Leaving Church. Like Altars, it connects strongly to the natural life and relates to readers through the senses. I never was much of a nature girl, but over the past few years, I’ve been paying more attention and recognizing how I see God more and more through the world he created. I want to open my eyes more all the time, always seeing more of him. Barbara Brown Taylor’s words create the images and feelings that bring me there.

I’ve been searching Amazon for more ideas of her books to read, and I plan to start relieving the local library of their selection. But with Barbara Brown Taylor, I am fighting my natural urge to hoard, to grab everything she has written and pile it by my bed, to work my way greedily through every night. I feel the inclination to read slowly, to savor her words, to experience them with my senses, if possible.

I think she would approve.

Learning Goal: Photography

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For my first month-long learning goal, I want to learn about photography.

In some ways, this seems like a questionable goal. I am not planning to be a professional photographer, and I probably have the same photographic experience as everyone else of my generation–35mm guesswork leading up to an explosion of photographs every day on the iPhone.  I use those iPhone pictures for everything–to record special events or the kind of mascara I want to buy or books I see online that I want to check out later or posters that have dates I need to remember. It’s a rare day that I’m not taking a snap of something, even if it’s just a silly filter shot in Snapchat.

But while I take a great quantity of pictures, that doesn’t say much for the quality. I know I’ve improved over the years, because I rarely have just blurry shots anymore, and things tend to be centered. I give at least a passing glance to lighting or to whatever might be in the background. I play with editing, at least as much as Instagram or my basic photo app will let me, and I have opinions about what looks good. But I am nowhere near expert level, and while that’s not my goal, I would love to have at least some level of artistry in the pictures I take, as well as some skill with more advanced photo editing software. 

All of this is why I’ve decided to begin my learning experience with photography. 

According to the Personal Learning Challenge, as outlined in Katie Martin’s book Learner-Centered Innovation, I need to begin with four things.

  1. A goal for my learning. My goal is to take better pictures, but how will I know if I’ve achieved it? Success looks like at least five photos by the end of this four-week time frame, each one intentionally taken and edited as a piece of art, and they need to be not just shots I might throw on Instagram, but photographs I would be satisfied with framing for my home or office. These photos will be taken on my iPhone, since that’s the medium I use most, with strategies applied that I learn in this month and editing software either already on my phone or downloaded as an app. I also want to learn to take better pictures with my actual camera, but I will see if I have time by the end of the month to look at that. For starters, I will just focus on my iPhone.
  2. Identify resources. I started by checking YouTube, searching for “how to take better iPhone photos,” and I found a number of videos, most of them short and manageable. I’ll start there. I did the same thing for editing photos. I also remember that there was a free email course I did several years ago about taking better pictures, and I saved the emails. I will check my mailbox for that. A simple google search also turned up a number of websites with tips.
  3.  Begin learning. I plan to start tomorrow!  Weekend gives me extra time to start checking resources. I hope I can remember
  4. Use social media to share my progress, connect with my network, and get feedback and support. Can this blog count as social media? I might share something on Instagram, but I’ll definitely be back here every week to update in a quick post each week.

I’m excited to do this, and to really pay attention to what it’s like to learn something new.

Lifelong Learner

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Surfer riding out for a wave in San Diego

I’ve been an educator for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of changes. But some of the biggest changes have been within myself. When I was in college, one of my favorite education assignments was writing my Philosophy of Education, and over the years, I’ve tried to take time to pause and update that philosophy, to make sure that I was still teaching and working out of my why, to make sure that I still knew why I was in the business in the first place, and to see if anything had changed in the way I thought and felt. Things did change, of course, but the core was always the same: to help students. I wanted them to know they were safe and loved; I wanted them to have a connection with me or other adults in the building; I wanted them to discover the magic of reading and writing. 

But the ways that I went about accomplishing these things changed drastically. In the beginning, I clung hard to the same ways I’d been taught, and to the things I had loved to do as a student. I graded carefully but often out of ignorance, my focus sometimes on the points instead of the work, and I gave a lot of feedback, wanting students to have a chance to revise and learn and grow–feedback that probably most of them never read. I was mostly just trying to keep my head above water by doing what I’d seen other good teachers do.

Revision and second chances were always important to me, as were authentic learning environments and audiences. Student passion was also important, and I tried many things over the years to help focus on these things or leverage them in the classroom, but I often felt stymied at my own inexperience and inability to create the results I imagined. I was frustrated at the amount of work we were all doing without the results I thought should be appearing. I tried new things; I tweaked old things. I was always improving, but I still wanted more for my students.

I read constantly, looking for new ideas. Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Tom Romano, and Jim Burke were favorites, and they all influenced me and changed my teaching. But I began this particular school year reading Katie Martin, and almost immediately my book darts were flagging so many pages. This year, our Central Office bought copies of Ms. Martin’s book, Learner-Centered Innovation, as a book study for the Learner-Centered Design Team. As I read her book, pieces of things I’d been learning from school visits and project-based learning trainings began to fall into place. I was especially interested in what she had to say on how it is we learn, and how because teachers often aren’t aware of their own learning processes, they have a hard time teaching students how to learn. She introduced the Learner Challenge with her college students, in which they picked a passion to explore for six weeks, used all the resources at their disposal to learn, and reflected on the project on their blogs. 

I’ve been trying to explain to my own children how to let go of the perfectionism trait I unwittingly handed down, and get them to embrace the idea that mistakes are fine and imperfection is not doom. “This is how you learn,” I tell them. “School actually exists to help you learn.” They don’t get it, and how would they, when I expect constant correctness from myself and struggle to model learning for them?  

My goal is to try the Learner Challenge for myself. I want to choose a project, announce it here, and then post my reflections near the week’s end to hold myself accountable. My ultimate aim is to be a better learner, but also to be able to recognize and talk about how I learn, in order to understand what students go through and to be able to help them. 

I’ll post an initial introduction to the project, outlining my goals and ideas and how I will define success in the end. If you’d rather read about reading or travel here, don’t worry–this will be an extra, weekend post, so it won’t interfere much with regularly scheduled programming.

I can’t wait to get started with this project, and I really can’t wait to get started learning.

Reading With My Guy

Before my son was born, we were buying books for him. Of course, he already had quite a collection in the books that had first belonged to our daughter, but we wanted him to have his own books too, things that were selected just for him. We bought Are You My Mother? and Little Golden Books and a strange book with waxy pages and no actual words, just bright animal pictures, designed for babies to chew and bend. I never thought that one was so brilliant, but he loved it.

Like his sister, he loved books and loved to be read to, and I spent many happy hours reading to him. But I always felt a little sad for him too, because while he got the special companionship of a sister while we read, it also meant that he missed out on the time when it was just the two of us and a pile of books. His sister was still little enough that when she wasn’t reading with us, she would always need something, so instead of having unlimited hours where he could choose what he wanted to read and how many times, he was often told, “Just one more.” I wondered about the effect this would have on his reading life, but despite the often-interrupted nature of his early experience with books, he always loved them.

As he has grown and his tastes have developed, he has clearly defined and very specific book interests. Funny literature is a must; bonus points if it has potty humor of any kind. This kiddo loves to laugh. Sports books are favorites, especially if they are about baseball, but he will pick up a book about any sport, saying, “I need to learn about golf/soccer/rugby/ultimate Frisbee.” If a book can combine sports and jokes and potty humor all together, it is his absolute sweet spot.

He’s big enough to read to himself, and he’s quite good at it, but he is a really social person, and he vastly prefers to read with someone. He leans hard toward someone reading to him. He likes to stop and talk about what’s going on in the middle of a paragraph or a sentence, asking questions or proclaiming a character weird. He will stop and tell me, shaking that little blond head, what the character could have done or even should have done, and why he thinks mistakes were made. I love the insights into his character I get from reading with him. 

I also love the voices he does when he agrees to read with you. I’ve never read the story of David and Goliath when I thought it was particularly funny, but it’s hilarious when he reads it. He roars Goliath’s voice and has a particular laugh for the giant that you can’t hear without smiling. (I make no claims to its Biblical accuracy by the time he’s done with it, but it’s unquestionably funny.)

Even though his reading life at the beginning was different from the way I really wanted it to be, I love all the ways he has made it his own. I am thankful that I don’t have to worry yet with him that he won’t want me to read with him. It is our joy, our pleasure, our treasure.

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Just tonight, when told to pick out a bedtime story, he brought back thirteen Elephant and and PIggie books, sorted carefully into a “graphic novel,” with a clear beginning and end. I was impressed with his organizational ability and the decisions he made as anthologist here, and we read the books aloud together, switching off voices and characters. Even though I was super tired, we read all thirteen chapters, to his gleeful delight.

It appears that the  love of books isn’t formed by one experience or one person, and the village that has raised him has been a literate one. He collects books like he collects baseball cards, and he carries them to my lap at night, one at a time, ready to enter a baseball game, or a train ride to Hogwarts, or a world where he might actually be Sherlock Holmes. I love going anywhere with him, including that exciting world of his imagination, and I hope he always lets me hitchhike along for the ride. He has soaked in the love of reading as the rest of us have, and it’s in him to be a reader, however he will want to define that.

Reading With My Girl

My daughter and I have always read together. She, like her mother, had an early love of books, and we spent hours reading the same books over and over. “Again,” she’d say, and we’d flip back to the start of Hop on Pop or the Dr. Suess alphabet book and go again. She had so many favorites. I loved reading to her, and I loved when she started reading to me. The line between when she actually read and when she had memorized the book is blurry but beautiful. We spent years reading and reading and reading.

By late kindergarten and early first grade, she was reading simple chapter books on her own, and while we still read together, her reading was taking a natural life of its own. I loved that for her; I loved watching her read Elephant and Piggie books out loud and laugh hysterically. I loved that she would pop off with lines from her favorite books at the dinner table, apropos of nothing. I loved that as my son got older, he would quote back at her, and some nights our table became a hilarious mishmash of children’s literature.

I felt pretty confident that she would always like books, but I worried a little that as she got older, she would stop wanting me to read to her. After all, I loved to be read to as a child, but by the time I was a teenager, that joy was over, and now, having someone read to me is tiresome. I was sad at the thought of losing that time with her.

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But I was gratified and happy to find that her love of being read to is not dying off. Even as she devours books in her own room, she enjoys reading with my husband and me in books she wouldn’t have chosen to read alone. She loved The Westing Game when Joe read it to her, and she and I have gone through the first four Harry Potter books together. Right now, we are on the last chapter of A Wrinkle in Time, and although she has proclaimed every chapter really weird (and I actually agree–I remembered liking this book as a child, but now I can’t really fathom why), she has begged to read just a little bit more, turning those big brown eyes on me with her most pitiful pout. Maybe it’s just a ploy to stay up later, but really, I think it’s the power of books read in community.

I don’t have that in adult books anymore. In high school or college, my literature classes read books together, and there was always someone to discuss them with, even if my classmates were pretty much always complaining about them. My husband is generally game to read whatever I give him, provided I am selective–I am always careful to choose things he would actually like. But he reads them when I finish, and while I love our conversations, I rarely have anyone to talk about my favorite books with while I’m bubbling over with emotion from what I just read.

So that’s another thing I love about reading with my girl. I love the closeness and the companionship, but I also love the book talk. We finish a chapter of Wrinkle, and we send a Voxer to my sister, who is reading it virtually with us. It’s a way to get to talk about books and to teach my daughter how to talk about books. It’s our own private book club, and I absolutely love it.

I don’t know how long she will want to snuggle beside me on the couch, her bony knees knifing into the sides of my legs, a little smile on her lips as I attempt to read in character, but I’m so glad she does now. I hope that as she grows up, even as she pulls away from read alouds, she will still want to share her books with me, still want to talk to me about what she’s reading. I picture us book-darting our favorite passages and sharing them over a giant plate of french fries with ketchup, laughing and discussing and connecting–to our books, to our lives, to each other. 

It’s a conversation I hope we’ll be having all our lives.