Posted by: Andrea | April 7, 2011

Loving Our Teenagers

It’s been pretty emotional around here lately, as the high school just down the road has lost two of its young students over the last two weeks.  The death of a teenager is always a tragedy, but what a horrible blow for our community to lose two so close together, and even more heartbreaking that one of them was lost to suicide.  Although I did not know either of them personally, I do have several former students who were very close to one or both of them.  It’s broken my heart to watch them have to go through the terrible grieving process over a friend while so young.

I’ve been very thankful for my teacher Facebook page recently, which was set up so that I could keep in touch with students.  It has proven to be an invaluable tool the past few days as I’ve tried in some small way to offer encouragement and support to these kids while they are hurting.  I feel at a loss as to what I can really do to help, but even sending them a message to offer words of support or check in on how they are doing has seemed to be somewhat helpful.  I so wish I could do more, though.

This blog post is a plea from me, a teacher who absolutely loves her students and cares so much about them, to please, please, please offer an extra measure of love, encouragement, and support to any teenager in your life right now.  Just a simple ‘I’m proud of you’ or ‘You are special’ or ‘You are loved’ will mean more to them than you can imagine.  I know that you parents are already doing that, but if you’re not a parent, but do have contact with children or teenagers, please know how far your simple words of support and encouragement will go in a young person’s life.  These kids are dealing with so much more than we are aware of and need to know how special, unique, and loved they truly are.  Although they may not show it, they are aching for your loving concern and influence in their lives.

I saw this quote on a blog recently and love it:

“Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager?  I remember criticism for dress, facial expressions, music choices, friend selection, chores, just everything!  Babies and toddlers receive so much positive affirmation, affection, and encouragement, but if often dwindles away by the time the child is a teenager.  Remember when your toddler was learning to walk?  You probably encouraged them even when they fell down.  Try to do that when your teen makes a mistake.  Teach them to repair the mistake, encourage them for trying, and let them know you have confidence in them and that you’re there to guide them.”

Jesus, thank you for the young people you’ve placed in our lives.  Help us to love them well.  Help us to be a source of loving encouragement, support, and positive influence.  And as we pour into their precious lives, I thank you that we will be the ones who end up being so greatly blessed.

 

Posted by: Andrea | March 31, 2011

Proud Teacher :)

Ok, I have to brag on this student of mine…I just can’t help it!  I wrote about him recently and the big turn-around he’s made over the past few weeks, and I’m so proud to say that he just keeps improving!  This week this sweet young man who struggled to pass math for most of the year made an ‘A’ on a quiz (!) and brought his overall average up to a ‘B’!!  This is definitely not something I saw coming a couple months ago!

In addition to that, yesterday in our tutoring group, he took the initiative to sit with another student who was struggling on an assignment.  He sat with him for a few minutes and patiently explained the steps of each problem the student was struggling with.  I almost cried when the other student came up to me and said, “You know what, he is really, really helpful!!  He explained things in such a great way and I really understood what he was saying!”

Once again, the Lord is reminding me not to ever give up on these kids; that there is always the possibility of a sudden, amazing change.  We teachers have been given such a gift of opportunity to love on the students God has put in our care and to help them, in even a small way, to discover the incredible potential that may be hidden within them.

Budget issues or not, I love being a teacher.  And today I’m a very, very proud one. 🙂

Posted by: Andrea | March 28, 2011

Middle-of-the-Night Perspective Change

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night, my mind full of work stuff, as has often been the case lately.  I go through these moments of feeling uncertain at what is to come and have to go back to the Lord in prayer to get proper perspective again.  I got out my journal and, feeling a little anxious about changes next year, decided to make a list of ‘positives’ and ‘negatives’ that pertain to those changes.

As I began compiling the list, I immediately received fresh perspective as I began to see the list of positives far outweigh the negatives.  I was reminded while writing that many things I had prayed about over the course of this year are some of the very things that will be affected next year. Although I am still sad about many of the changes overall, I am beginning to more clearly see the hand of God in all of this.

He further encouraged me as I opened up my Bible and began reading Psalm 89.  He stopped me in my tracks at verse 11: “The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.”  Talk about perspective change!  The same God that I love, serve, believe in, and live for is the One who created all things.  He is the God of everything, from huge things that blow my mind and I’ll never understand, to the tiny everyday things that affect my emotions and my faith.  He is God.  He is trustworthy and He is faithful.

An old Newsboys song came to mind that I haven’t listened to in a long time.  I played it and absorbed the truth in the lyrics of this song.  Some that especially ministered to me:

“You are the author of knowledge.  You can redeem what’s been done.  You hold the present and all that’s to come. Lord, I don’t know where all this is going or how it all works out.  Lead me to peace that is past understanding, a peace beyond all doubt. You are the God of tomorrow, turning the darkness to dawn, lifting the hopeless with hope to go on; you are the rock of all salvation.”

I love how God meets us right where we are at, speaking to us in many different ways, reminding us of who He is, of His incredible faithfulness and love toward us, and no matter how big or small something is, that He holds it in His hands and is working it all out.

My season of change is honestly a very small one compared to the ones many people are facing. My prayer is that no matter what your season looks like, as you seek answers and new perspective from the Lord, that He will comfort, reassure, and bless you with the reminder that in all things, He is faithful, He is trustworthy, and He is present.

Posted by: Andrea | March 26, 2011

School Budget-Cut Heartbreak

Reality has definitely hit.  The state budget crisis is very real, and every school district is beginning to feel it.  When we first were told about the projected multi-million dollar budget cuts for our district, we were all very anxious, nervous, and worried about what would come.  I made a decision to not dwell on the ‘what ifs’ though, but to instead trust the Lord, knowing that He led me to this job, He is sovereign, and He always works things out somehow.

I’ve followed the news in unbelief as neighboring school districts began making plans to let teachers go and even close some schools.  Our district began feeling the punch this week as over 200 employees were told that their contracts would not be renewed for next year, and many, many wonderful teachers suddenly found themselves facing a scary future of unemployment and uncertainty at what is to come.

My heart has been broken for the teachers I know personally who have been cut and ache for the students who won’t be blessed to have them next year.  This has been a very emotional week, with more to come, I’m sure, as more changes and cuts are revealed.

I feel very thankful to still have my job, and although things will be different next year, I continue to choose to trust the Lord and look for the positives and things to be thankful for.  Even though my job will change some, I love that I will still be able to teach 6th grade at a school that I love, with people I adore, admire, and respect.  This has been such a wonderful school year, and I trust that next year will be equally as blessed.

Please say a prayer for the ongoing budget discussions at the capitol.  Our lawmakers definitely need all the prayers for wisdom and wise decision-making that they can get. Please also say a prayer for our school principals and administrators who are carrying a very heavy burden right now.  And if you know a teacher, principal, or other school employee, please take a minute this week to send them an encouraging email, write them a little note of appreciation, or just give them a hug.  It will mean much more than you can imagine.  And if you are one of those school employees, hang in there! I hope you know how very loved and appreciated you really are.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

Posted by: Andrea | March 20, 2011

In Case You Need a Smile…

It’s the last night of spring break, and I’m surrounded with piles of papers to grade, but somehow I just can’t seem to focus enough to get anything done.  What does a distracted procrastinator do in this situation?  Something completely unnecessary of course….blog!

Today I came across some pictures from Botswana that I haven’t seen in awhile that have just warmed my heart today.  These are just too cute to not share.  Enjoy some African cuties!


African children = Beauty.

*There are so many more where these came from.  There’s a pretty good chance you’ll see some more of this goodness in the near future. 😉

Posted by: Andrea | March 14, 2011

Extra Free Time = Lots of Heart Searching

You know those times when the same topic keeps coming up in conversation after conversation and you realize that maybe God is trying to get your attention on something?  That’s been happening to me recently, and it’s resulted in quite a bit of heart searching.  In the last two days I’ve had multiple conversations with people about my time in Africa, and many questions have been asked that have caused me to dig up memories and experiences that I haven’t thought about in quite a while.  And that brought up all kinds of emotions…and inspired this post.  Please forgive me while I do some psychologizing. 🙂

I don’t know if everyone is like this, but I have found in my life when I make a painful transition out of a season that was very special to me, I seem to deal with the ache in my heart by pushing it aside and trying to quickly ‘move on’ to life’s next chapter.  It’s so hard to dwell on what was, and it honestly just gets to a point where I’m tired of feeling sad.  The unhealthy part of that process is attempting to remove something from my heart that God has used to help shape who I am.  It’s impossible to get rid of it, and I shouldn’t try to push it to the side.  I actually need to embrace it as being a forever part of me.

I’m so thankful for my two years living in Botswana, as well as the prep time leading up to it.  I’m thankful for the many, many experiences I had while living in such a different culture, learning a new way of life, building relationships with such beautiful people, and pouring my heart out for the kids and teenagers the Lord allowed me to teach and minister to.  Although I knew it was time to move home after my two years there, I still had such a huge hole in my heart for all that I was leaving left behind.

Because of not wanting to hurt anymore, and because of this unnecessary pressure on myself to move on, as soon as God revealed a new love for teaching middle school, I found it easy and safe to begin focusing on and pouring myself into this new calling and life chapter.  This is not really a bad thing in itself, except that I was simultaneously pushing Botswana aside, figuring it was just time.

Having all of these conversations recently about my experience in Africa, along with shedding lots of tears while looking through a friend’s pictures recently, has really caused me to consider how very much I still love the country of Botswana and the amazing people there.  It is still so much a part of who I am.  God used my time in Botswana to change me in many, many ways.  I have to embrace that and realize that a part of me will always be “Botswana Andrea”.  And that’s a very good and special thing.

God uses every experience in our lives to help mold us and grow us into who we are today.  I am sure there are others out there who can relate on some level to this process of pushing things aside and trying to hurry on to life’s next season.  I just want to encourage you along with myself to just slow down, do some heart-searching, and appreciate every single thing about the experiences we’ve had, appreciating who they’ve helped us become.  And let’s give ourselves permission to feel the pain of loss, realizing it really is ok to miss those life seasons and special people, while also embracing and loving our current season of life.

I know it’s cheesy, but this old song I learned in Girl Scouts has come to mind. “Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other’s gold.”  My mom used to use this song to encourage me after moving to a new school that it was ok to make new friends and that it didn’t diminish the value of the friends I already had.  I believe this same truth can be applied to every special experience we have in life.  We can have new experiences, but still appreciate the old ones, recognizing the incredible value they both have in our lives.

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves…” Anatole France


Posted by: Andrea | March 9, 2011

Unexpected Student Ministry

One of my favorite things about this school year has been the opportunity I’ve had to co-lead an FCA-like ministry for 6th-8th graders at our school.  Once a week I help facilitate a time of Bible study and prayer with a few students, and typically it is me who walks away feeling inspired and challenged by these kids.  Every single week they just blow me away with their insight and wisdom as we dive into scripture together.

Last week we tackled a very challenging chapter in the book of James.  There were understandably many questions about the meaning of the directive given in James 4:9,”Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” One of the first questions asked was, “What does this verse mean?  Does it mean that God wants us to be sad?  To not have joy?” We discussed this some and whether that would be consistent with what we know about God.  They all agreed that no, the verse doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to have joy or to be sad all the time. The other teacher that I co-lead with reminded them to think back to what we’d already read about in James and put that together with what we read in this chapter. There was a prolonged time of silence as each of them processed through this.

My jaw almost hit the table when our youngest participant, my own sweet little 6th grade student, timidly spoke up.  She so sweetly explained, “Well, it kind of seems like the people James was talking to weren’t really living right and were maybe making some bad choices.  Maybe this verse means that they are finding joy in the wrong things that aren’t helping them get closer to God.  I think it means that we shouldn’t find our happiness in things that are keeping us far from God, but should be sad about those and find happiness and joy in God and living right for Him.”

Ummmm, what??  How in the world did a 12-year old have that kind of insight??  I’ve been involved in several studies on the book of James and I have to say that I’ve never heard an adult have that kind of insight into this verse.  I left that morning just shaking my head in amazement, something that’s becoming typical after my time with these kids.  What an unexpected joy to have the opportunity to actually be ministered to by my own precious students (who I have to remind myself are only 12-14 years old!)

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

Posted by: Andrea | March 8, 2011

A Teacher’s Joy

I had the sweetest moment today with one of my students that I just can’t resist sharing.  This student has struggled so much this year in many ways, both academically and behaviorally.  However, in the last few weeks he has suddenly turned a corner of sorts.  Suddenly he has become much more concerned with school, with doing work correctly, and with making good choices.  He’s actually even become a positive influence on his peers in class, encouraging them to behave and helping them with things they aren’t understanding.  I’ve been so proud of him!

This week I elected him as student of the week for our team at school.  He might seem like an unlikely choice among students that are usually chosen, but our team has seen so much improvement in him that we agreed this would be a fitting way to acknowledge and celebrate that.  I couldn’t wait for him to find out!

Fortunately for me, this student was in my class today when his name was called.  Seeing this sweet boy jumping up and down and exclaiming, “Yes! Yes! Yes!  I can’t believe it!!!” over being named a student of the week was an absolutely priceless moment.  I wish I could put into words the joy I saw all over this young man’s face.

After retrieving his certificate, he proudly displayed it on his desk for the remainder of math class and noticeably carried himself with just a little more confidence.  To top off his joy, we took a quiz today and he received the highest grade he’s made yet on a quiz.  His reaction?  Exclaiming, “This is the best day ever!!!  First I’m student of the week, then I finished all of my work in class, and now this quiz!  This is the BEST day!!!”

At a time of frustrating budget issues and pre-spring break craziness, I love that God used this young 6th grade boy to remind me that a) There is always hope for a positive change, b) With a little bit of encouragement and positive recognition, we have the power to completely make someone’s day, and c) THIS is why I love what I do.

“The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.”  ~Mark Van Doren

Posted by: Andrea | November 21, 2010

Gratitude

I love Thanksgiving for so many reasons.  Of course I love the family time, the yummy food, and the great football games.  But I think what I love most is the reminder to take time to consider all that I have to be thankful for, something I sadly just don’t do enough.

I recently participated in “40 Days of Thankfulness,” a challenge started by my friend Tisha for us to find something to be thankful for every day for 40 days and share that with others, encouraging them to also recognize things they are thankful for in their own lives.  I loved it!  It was so much fun thinking of different things, even seemingly trivial ones, that I am thankful for each day, and reading others’ posts of the many things they are grateful for, too.  Gratitude really is contagious!

My hope is that long after this official holiday for thankfulness has passed, I will continue to take time each day to recognize things I have to be thankful for, and actually stop to say a prayer of gratitude for those things.  It’s so true that living a life of thankfulness is living a fuller, more peaceful life, a kind of life I think we’d all like to have.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” — Melody Beattie

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Posted by: Andrea | October 31, 2010

Friends + Serving = Joy

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “serve”?  I wish I could say that the thought of serving others fills me with excitement and joy, but unfortunately my selfishness and pride get in the way of that.  I too often go into a situation of serving others with a grumbling heart, feeling too busy, too worn out, or just plain too prideful to be able to serve others well.  I’ve prayed for and desire a heart-change in this area, and I love watching how God is answering that prayer.

Since returning to Austin and my church, The Austin Stone, there has been a new, very important element added to the vision of community groups (small groups/bible studies).  The groups are now called “missional communities” with the idea that we don’t just come together each week to study the Bible and pray for each other or with the primary objective to build community within us.  The charge is for us to build community and strengthen/challenge/encourage each other’s walks with Christ while being on mission together: reaching out to others, serving them, being both inward and outward focused.  I love the heart behind this!

My sweet missional community has been such a blessing to me this year.  Our weekly times together consist of reading and talking about the Word, sharing prayer needs, taking time to pray for each of those, and celebrating answered prayers together. We’ve also found opportunities to serve together in our city, and this is becoming one of my favorite parts of the group!

In August a few of us were blessed beyond words at the chance to serve meals at a local homeless shelter.  Our bodies were tired afterwards, but we couldn’t wipe the smiles from our faces or the joy from our heart.  Such a beautiful experience!  In September we got together and made cards for the kids at Dell Children’s Hospital and shared many, many laughs together in the process. (Most of us are pretty artistically challenged. ;))

This month we got hooked up with a local non-profit organization called “Austin Angels” that lead a monthly service project somewhere around the city.  For October they were going to The Settlement Home, a home for abused and neglected children and teenagers, to hold a Fall Festival just for them with many fun booths and lots and lots of candy!  Each of us volunteering were paired up with one of the teenage girls for the night as we participated in a scavenger hunt, pinata hitting, pumpkin decorating, pumpkin bowling and other fun games, and lots of group dancing!  Again, at the end of the night we were physically exhausted, but our hearts were so full.  Here are a few pictures from our night:


“In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” Acts 20:35

Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of serving others and the joy you give to us in the process. 🙂

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