Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Lessons Learned for a Lifetime

The recent appointment of a new Department of Education head and the move of the governor of my state to research the public school system in my county has caused me to think much about my education.  I have a lot of friends who are public school teachers and friends who teach at private schools and even at higher educational institutions.  It's not an easy job but every teacher is shaping the future of every student they teach.  Heavy weight to carry around for one person.  

As I've ruminated on this, I've come up with five teachers throughout my educational career that have impacted me for a lifetime.  Let me say there have been many more, but these were the first to come to mind, and span my education from kindergarten to MBA.  Most of them don't know the impact they made and some are no longer on this earth for me to tell them.  But I hope this post encourages you to share with a former teacher of yours the impact they've made.  Or, if you are a teacher, you'll read this and say "You know, this day stinks, but I may have just changed a life today."  Without further ado, here is my five featured teachers...

Mrs. Juanita Gass - Mrs. Gass was one of my Kindergarten teachers along with Mrs. Jacobson.  You really do learn a lot in Kindergarten and I have to admit, I did.  I remember distinctly on election day going into a cardboard voting booth to vote for what Kool-Aid flavor we'd have for snack time and my flavor won! (It was grape)  It instilled in me that my vote really does count!  The lesson learned from Mrs. Gass was unconditional love and how she wouldn't keep any child from being included.  It wasn't until I was 28 that I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, but even as a 5-year-old, I would wear out after walking a distance.  One day we took a field trip to the Zoo and I couldn't walk the entire way.  Mrs. Gass carried me on her shoulders the remainder of the Zoo trip.  She didn't have to do that, but she did.  I'll never forget that.

Mrs. Lily Kruetzman - Mrs. Kruetzman was my 3rd grade teacher.  She was one of the most jovial people I knew.  She'd laugh and we always had fun in her class.  One day, I came to school and my jacket's zipper was stuck.  I couldn't get out of my coat.  Mrs. Kruetzman saw me struggling and being the independent soul I wouldn't ask for help.  She came over and said, "I can get you out of that jacket!"  She quickly pulled it over my head, which clearly I hadn't thought of.  Her next phrase was, "There's more than one way to skin a cat."  She taught me that when you can't do something, or are in a pickle, there is always a way to get out of it, or make it work.

Miss Kathy Leonard - Miss Leonard was my 7th and 8th grade Core teacher.  In Junior High, Core Class was where you spent a good chunk of your day and I was thrilled to spend it with Miss Leonard!  I almost lost it when I found out I had her again in 8th grade!  Miss Leonard was another fun-loving teacher and was single.  I thought she was the coolest.  In 8th grade, she was working on additional education and used us as her guinea pigs for creative teaching techniques.  We did some of the most innovative activities to teach concepts.  We even held our own courtroom one day.  The lesson I learned from Miss Leonard is that you can do anything and don't have to be married to do it.  I don't think this was her main intent, and I didn't realize that lesson until I was older.  And even today as I'm still single and a career woman, I think of Miss Leonard and her inspiration of having fun and being successful being single.  

Mr. Lance Springs - Mr. Springs was my Junior English teacher.  During that year, we had to write a pretty extensive research paper - 25-30 pages on a topic of our choice, but we had to use 3 book references, 20 periodicals, and 1 special source, such as a newspaper or personal interview.  Now, keep in mind this was WAY before the Internet, so this was no easy task.  I presented him my topic choice, which was the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.  He said to me, "I'll approve this, but I doubt you'll be able to find the adequate sources."  You never tell me "can't" and I was on a mission.  Not only did I keep that topic, I received a 96 on the paper.  During my Senior year, I was his Teacher's Aide, so I felt like I reached a new level by proving my abilities to him.  The lesson I learned from him was "you can do anything you really put your mind to."  I don't know if that was his intent in his comment to me, but somehow I think he knew my personality and knew I would put forth my best work when challenged.  To this day, I still take a challenge as serious as I did that research paper.

Dr. Karen Rush - Dr Rush was my last professor during my MBA studies.  She was the professor of my last class before graduation - the capstone class.  Our biggest assignment was an analysis of a company using everything we'd learned in our MBA studies.  When I got my paper back, she said, "Have you ever considered getting your PhD?  This is great work and you'd do well in PhD studies."  Now, my PhD friend, Paige, is praying me in that direction, but for now, pursuing my PhD isn't on my radar.  But hearing those words encourage me to never close the door on any possibility.  I said at one time I'd never get my MBA and - boom - I have it.  I'd love to teach as an adjunct one day to see if it's something I'd enjoy and Dr. Rush has offered to help me in any way she can.  

I'm thankful for my education and for all the teachers who invested in me.  Hug a teacher today.  You are where you are, in part, because of them.  

Monday, January 30, 2017

The One That Got Away

As we traverse through life, we always seem to reflect back and wonder "what would life be like if things had taken a different path?"  Or, "what if I had married that person instead of the one I'm married to now?"  It's human nature to ask these questions.  I don't often spend time ruminating on things like this because I believe in the sovereignty of God, so what happens is His Plan A for my life.  Even if that Plan isn't the plan I'd have chosen.

Spoiler alert:  If you haven't seen La La Land, I'd suggest you stop reading now if you plan to see it, as spoilers are to come.  

On Saturday, I saw La La Land as part of my annual Oscar challenge to see as many of the nominees as possible.  I'm behind this year because at the time of the nominees' announcement, I'd only seen one of the Best Picture nominees.  I had seen three at that point last year.  I've got a lot of ground to make up and not much available time to do it, but I'm Type A, so off I go.  

I went into watching this movie thinking it was a new take on the old movie musicals, like Singin' in the Rain, with a modern-day twist.  But, it wasn't that at all.  Oh, there's music and dancing, but the plot is interestingly different and "heavy" causing much contemplation.  

Mia, played by Emma Stone, and Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, meet in the strangest of ways and you follow their relationship for a full year.  After that year is over, it appears their paths may go in different directions, and the movie picks up five years later.  I won't get into details on what happens, but let's just say the path you expected, didn't happen.  Then, you get a complete flashback of an alternate path chosen, wondering, "did this happen?"  And then, realize what you saw originally was reality.  These two people had dreams become reality, dreams they encouraged each other to achieve, but didn't get to reap the benefits together.  

I've thought about this movie a lot since Saturday.  I've gone from contemplative, to melancholy to bittersweet.  Maybe because this hit too close to home for me.  I've had people in my life that encouraged my dreams and though I may be living them now, they aren't part of my life to enjoy the benefits.  But maybe that's the point.  People are in your life for a season...and for a reason.  And they aren't in your life for the long haul.  

The one that got away maybe really didn't get away at all.  Maybe they were in your life to make you reach for your dreams, affirm you where you felt like you were lacking and you both are now living the life always meant to happen.  If you saw La La Land, I'd love your perspective.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2017: Renewal

Each year I chose a word to focus on throughout the year.  I'm not a fan of resolutions - because I break them in about 30 days - nor am I the best goal setter in the world.  I'm an extreme Type A perfectionist, which means if I'm going to set goals, I best complete them, and in record time.

Last year's word was contentment and I can say that the year really proved out as a great learning ground for that word, especially the last three months.  As I prayed and thought about what my 2017 word would be, I decided upon the word Renewal.  The definition that rung true to me for this choice was "the replacing or repair of something that is run-down, worn out or broken."  See the last three months of 2016.  That was me.

Life is always busy, and with my full-time job, ministry roles at my church, and maintaining some semblance of a social life, this introvert gets a bit overwhelmed and overstimulated.  The word Renewal seemed to be the perfect word to focus on for 2017.  I need time to renew myself spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally.  If I don't do these things, then I'm of no good in all those roles I outlined at the beginning of this paragraph.

How would I accomplish this?  One of the things I've learned over time is saying "no" when it's hard and I want to say "yes."  Even when something is a good thing, it may not be the best thing for me.  I can easily get overextended and over-committed of my own doing.  When I was getting my MBA, I did a much better job of saying "no" because I set boundaries to be able to continue my life as normal as possible and still do school.  Now that I don't have an educational degree to help me keep that boundary, I've lost it.  In 2017, if I tell you "no" don't take it personal.  Remember that I'm looking to recharge and renew myself.

The other thing I wanted to do was declare a day of renewal each month.  I'd choose a day - preferably not one when I'm working my full-time job - where I'd only do things that renew my spirit.  I would also fast from all social media that day.  I have done this for January and may I say it was an absolutely glorious day.  I started the day off having breakfast with a sweet friend, Martha, who I adore.  Any time with her fills my heart with joy, so this in itself was a time of renewal.  The remainder of the day I listened to podcasts, colored (I'm an adult coloring book fan), read, and watched Netflix.  I started The Crown on Netflix and had no idea how much I'd love that series. I may need to write a post on that at a later date.  All the while, no matter what I did that day, my phone was used only to play podcasts, make/receive calls, and receive/respond to texts.  

What were the results of that day of renewal?  It was good to listen to sermons, and other spiritually-focused podcasts to refresh me.  Pulling away from social media honestly wasn't hard.  What I discovered was social media doesn't keep me focused on my here and now, but divides my attention to include others' goings on.  I may take daily social media breaks more often for the benefit it provided.  

I'm already excited about scheduling my day of renewal in February and looking forward to what God is going to teach me this year.  God can use a broken person, but He doesn't want us to be so broken down we're no good to others or ourselves.  

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: Contentment

In lieu of New Year's Resolutions, each year I pick a word that I focus on for that year.  This year the word has been Contentment.  My word in 2015 was Joy and Contentment was really a byproduct of focusing on the word Joy for an entire year.  Joy isn't found in circumstances, it's found in the strength I receive from the Lord.

If you ask most people, they will tell you they are ready for 2016 to be over.  The political chaos that ensued during this year's Presidential election was enough to make me want to hide under my bed.  In reflecting on my past year, I have to say that I truly did feel contentment even in the most "non" content circumstances.

For the first time this year, I was privileged to be on three launch teams for new books from Lifeway - Looking for Lovely, The Gospel of Mark, and Giddy Up, Eunice.  My participation in these teams has now garnered me the role of a Lifeway Women's Ambassador, which may just be the closest I'll get to being an Ambassador of any kind.  Aside, I always thought it would be the coolest thing to be a Disney Ambassador, but I digress.  Each of these books focused my perspective on the right things.  My devotional life and time spent with the Lord has greatly improved over the last two years and this was aided by my reading and studying with these books.  Contentment is easier for me when I'm clinging closer to the Lord.  Sounds cliche.  Sounds like that Sunday School answer.  I know, you are rolling your eyes.  But really, it's true.  You can't just conjure up contentment.

My dream came true this year of being a guest on a Podcast - What Should I Read Next.  You take a podcast about reading and have me as a guest to talk about it and I think I may have died and gone to Heaven!  I've become more and more obsessed with reading and even joined the online Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club that is led by the host of What Should I Read Next, Anne Bogel.  Reading is my happy place.  I find contentment curled up in my recliner reading and escaping from the world.  As of this post, about 24 hours before the end of 2016, I've read 32 books with a challenge of reading 25.  I'll be upping my goal for 2017 and hoping I blow it out the roof!

You may think with all this goodness, surely it was easy to be content.  But come September, circumstances changed.  The end of the month, my boss announced his resignation.  I'd worked with him for years, but only a couple as my boss.  The news was jarring and I knew would be life changing.  This all occurred during the last week of September, my birthday week.  I couldn't help but think back a year prior when I was celebrating my Golden Jubilee and life was grand.  Not so much this birthday.  His departure meant I would be inheriting more responsibility, which was challenging.

October brought a new boss, which I really do love, and lots of changes as we began to turn our division around.  The reality of all the things we should have been doing but weren't became abundantly clear and some things had to be torn down to be rebuilt.  It seemed daunting but I felt I was up for the task.

The beginning of November, the day after the election to be exact, my company suffered the largest workforce reduction in their history - 25%.  Our local office had 9 folks that were laid off, while headquarters had such a large number they did it as one large group.  Along with another Director in my office, we had to administer the layoffs.  I've been on both sides of that table before - being laid off and doing the deed - neither side is pleasant.  Not only had we just adjusted to a new leader and many changes, we were about to really see life change.

Since that time, I've absorbed the duties of a complete employee.  I knew about 50% of what he did, and how to do about 30% of his job.  I've spent the last two months figuring his job out.  I'm getting there, but really feel like a CIA agent uncovering what has to be done and how to do it.  I also lost an employee that resigned in December.  It was hard to see her go as I don't have a lot of turnover on my team voluntarily, but one of our competitors recruited her.  Now we're in process of hiring a replacement.

The last three months of this year proved to be a real challenge to my contentment.  I lost sleep, worked long hours, constantly dreamed about work, but yet, I can say, I'm content.  There is a reason why I'm here.  I recalled when my company was first acquired and I begged and cried out to God "why didn't you take me out of this company?"  Five years later, I see His Hand on why I'm there, even in all the turmoil we're in right now.  Learning comes in the struggles.  If life was a bowl of cherries, we'd never know the need for God, or contentment.  If life was perfect, contentment wouldn't even be something we strive to achieve.  

I've seen God's Hand even in the last 3 months to encourage me that He's at work.  Our company had a holiday shutdown starting December 22 and it may have been the greatest thing to happen to us in years.  We all needed a mental break.  We needed physical rest.  But what I know now and hope I remember long into 2017 and beyond, is that my circumstances don't define my contentment.  If God is near (and, newsflash, He is), then I am content.  

With 2017 approaching, I'm looking forward to the new year, like I look forward to a fresh clean notebook ready for thoughts to be penned.  I'm pretty confident in my 2017 word, but I'll reveal that in the new year.  It's making me excited already to think about what focusing on a new word will bring in 2017!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Favorite Books of 2016

As another year comes to a close (good grief, Charlie Brown!), I become reflective, as the title of this blog indicates I do oft times.  I set a goal at the beginning of the year to read 20 books.  I am now at 31 and may read a few more before the year is through, so I feel rather accomplished!

This year reading has become my therapy and way to decompress from that which is life.  I've clung to it more now than ever before and it brings back memories of summer vacation spent in the aisles of my local library checking out books to fall into during the summer, and clutching my Weekly Reader paperwork to make sure I didn't lose it before turning it in.  My reading has brought me back to my roots, and for that, I feel really, really good.

I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorite books of this no particular order....

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand - This was gifted to me and it sat on my bookshelf much longer than I'd liked, but I knew diving into it would be a challenge.  It was, yet rewarding at the same time.  The story of Louis Zamperini as an Olympian and POW survivor from World War II was redeeming and torturous.  I had to take breaks from reading as the POW scenes were hard to take, reminding me of the sacrifices so many made for my freedoms.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - A controversial book turned movie, I really did enjoy reading this book.  Do I agree with the outcome of the characters and all that took place?  Absolutely not.  But it was heart-wrenching and thought-provoking all at the same time.  I read the sequel, After You, which made me like the original more.  

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend - This was my first book after joining Book of the Month Club and I have a theory that your "firsts" dictate your thoughts of those experiences forevermore.  The fictional memoir of Frances Conway, who was a real-life person, kept me intrigued and engaged throughout the whole book.  I didn't want it to end and I wanted to have a conversation with Frances, though I'm sure she has passed by now.  

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - Written in the 1930s inspiring an Alfred Hitchcock movie, I stumbled unknowingly on this treasure.  I was searching for a classic romance as a book prompt from a reading challenge and oddly this book popped up.  I'm oh so glad I did!  This book is haunting, hard-to-put-down goodness that is probably best read in the winter, in a cabin, wrapped up in a blanket with endless amounts of coffee.  I'll definitely re-read this one again.

Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf -  I had to pick one non-fiction in the bunch and this one is it.  Katherine Wolf suffered a stroke in her 20s and this is the story of her life when that happened, her journey through recovery and rehab, and her life now.  Told in exchanging voice between her and her husband, Jay, you hear events from both of their perspectives and their transparency is refreshing.  I love a book that increases my faith in God and this one is a definite read if you are facing insurmountable struggles in your life.

There are many other books I could mention, but these are the five that stick out the most.  For 2017, I'll have to increase my reading goal!  And I may kick off the year re-reading a classic from my childhood that is what I think of when I think about reading, life and the gift I was given in a Mom who fostered that in me - Charlotte's Web.