What Will Tomorrow Bring?

All day I’ve kept myself busy at home, properly sheltered in place. I worked during the work hours, attended meetings online, and planned lessons for the future.

In the afternoon, when work was done for the day, instead of indulging in my newest daily pleasure—what I call The Walk Up the Hill—- I stood in the sunshine on my front porch and ate ice cream.

It was thrilling, holding that little cup of rainbow sherbet while looking up at the clear blue sky. I took my time, tasting the variety of flavors while listening to the sounds in the neighborhood. When I’m in my front yard, it’s usually to rush from my car to the front door and vice versa. I like to say hello to the neighbors who are friendly—because we do have some that are not. But that’s another story.

Today, a friendly neighbor walking her dog passed by and remarked (from at least 5 yards away) that she was wearing her hole-y pants today because well, why not? I don’t know her name. I should know it. We laughed, and I replied that I was wearing pajama pants because, well…why not? When she came back around a few minutes later, she stayed all the way across the street this time.

Maybe I shouldn’t confess to people when I’m wearing pajamas. But really…who wasn’t in their pajamas today?

The evening passed quickly with an interesting homemade dinner, a nice Zoom meeting among friends, and a few rounds of double solitaire with my husband. Now, all is still….the hum of the refrigerator is the only noise I hear, other than the typing of my keyboard and this odd pulsing heartbeat rush I hear in my left ear every once in awhile.

Before going to bed, I checked the news online. I wish I hadn’t. Rule #1 of Sheltering in Place During the Spread of a Highly Contagious Virus = don’t check the news before bed time. But I did. Fear slithered in a bit, and I felt my breath become captured by a renewed sense of urgency.

But I have vowed to not give in. I will not give in to this fear.

The truth I have right now in this moment is that right now in this moment I am okay. So I will think on that. And when I think on the future, I will not think of the worst what-if-this-happens or what-if-that-happens in regard to myself and my family and friends. Instead, I am going to think on what am I looking forward to tomorrow.

What am I looking forward to tomorrow?

So many things. A waterfall of life-giving things that bring joy and comfort and calm.

Stretching when I wake up. Entering the stillness of the kitchen on a brand new cool morning. Reaching for my coffee mug, and then….oh, the hot, sweet coffee. Praying. Saying good morning to my husband while attempting to make him smile. Watching my dog practically do cartwheels to get to her breakfast. Eggs…I love eggs. Listening to the morning announcements on my job’s Facebook page. Seeing my colleagues’ beautiful, dedicated faces through the computer screen for our daily meeting. The kids. I get to see my students tomorrow. I get to see their smiles in those little boxes on my Chromebook, and maybe I’ll almost-cry like I did last week when I heard them read aloud for the first time in a week and I was so proud of them that my heart was going to burst. They are handling this whole distance learning thing with such maturity…and courage.

I could go on and on.

That’s my saving grace tonight. I’m stopping fear in its tracks by thinking on all the little things that for years I’ve taken for granted. But as many of our freedoms have been temporarily taken away in order to help save lives, we still have so much we can look forward to. We have riches that we didn’t even realize we have—in all the good things that are still all around us, every minute of the day. Can you see your good things? Are you looking beyond what you can’t do to see the beauty in what you can?

I hope so.

Tomorrow night, instead of checking the news. I will pray—for the ones who are sick, for the families who have lost loved ones. I’ll pray for our world, for its leaders, and for this virus to be under control. I look forward to praying. For when we pray, I know God is listening. That’s amazing.

Good night, friends. May your tomorrow be as bright as the light that shines from your heart. Don’t let anything dim it. People need your light to keep keepin’ on.

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.        -2 Timothy 1:7

 

 

 

A Letter to Struggling Writers

Dear Struggling Writer,

What would happen if you stopped putting so much pressure on yourself? Would your work crumble? Would it disappear? Would it turn out to be more awful than you already think it is?

Or would you be giving yourself more freedom to create…to allow space to let your words play and breathe and explore?

What would happen if you put what everybody else thought into a giant trunk, locked those assumptions away with a key, and shoved it into the garage to simmer for a month or two? Or how about forever?

Would you then be able to free your mind of the caution signs and stop signs and upended draw bridges and traffic jams of your thought process? If you could just write a sentence without hitting the brakes, without wondering if you’re going to get pulled over by the judgment police….wouldn’t that be…amazing? How liberating that would be!

And what about perfection? wHaT. abouT. thAt? Can you let go of it?

Just a thought, dear writers. Just a thought. Let’s work on this.

Let’s not let pressure, fear of what other people think, or perfection get in the way of pouring out your soul or sharing a good story.

You are good enough, you are bright enough, and you have time enough.

So get it done. I believe in you! We’ve got this.

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Music: It Makes Us Feel Better

What’s your song? What tune do you go to when your heart is troubled, or when you need to dig deep to find some joy?

By last Wednesday I’d been sheltering in place for about 10 days, and up until then I had been pretty positive about it. I was looking on the bright side, finding humor on Facebook in an unprecedented situation, and I felt that as long as I took precautions I would likely be okay and not get the novel coronavirus.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, I had to go to the doctor for a follow up to discuss the results from a bunch of lab tests and a couple of scans I had taken four to six weeks ago. From November to early February, I’d been coughing non-stop. I had lost a lot of sleep, I was exhausted, and my lungs had been constricted in a scary way. It got to the point where, by January, I needed a couple of breathing treatments and had begun using a rescue inhaler regularly in addition to some other medicines that treat asthma.

I didn’t grow up with asthma. This was all new to me, so I had lived through the winter of 2019-20 more frightened than I cared to admit to myself. Each night for weeks, I would remind myself that God tells us to not be afraid. So I would shove my fear from my mind before attempting to sleep, and focus on other things. Tired as I was, I was able to rest in the peace of knowing that Jesus was there to pray to and that He would shelter me with His love.

A few years back, this would not have been the scenario. For several years in my thirties, I suffered greatly from anxiety. I feared death, and I hated not being in control of things. My husband and I love to travel, but I battled with my anxiety constantly while flying in airplanes, being in teeny tiny hundred-year-old hotel rooms in the U.K., or finding myself in a car where we were driving on the opposite side of the road that we were used to in the United States. My anxiety consumed me and pretty much robbed my joy for way too long. It was like having an extra roommate we had to deal with, the kind who wouldn’t pay rent and demanded squatter’s rights until you figured out a way to kick him out.

Anxiety is real and often comes with a physical response. If you’ve ever experienced it, then you know what I mean. You feel as if you are in a tunnel, and your imagination runs wild with all the what-if scenarios…you think worst-case for every possible situation. There were times during those years when friends or my husband would have to help me breathe through a panic attack. There were nights when I would pace the living room floor, or need to open the front door to walk outside and look at the stars and breath the cold night air just to calm my fears.

I was able to do my job and do it well, and I acted like nothing was the matter. But night time was the worst, once the day’s activities were over and the house would get quiet. Lots of time then to start thinking and wondering. And worrying.

It was the worst of times. It is something I vow to never ever go back to, now that I feel I have conquered the anxiety.

Ironically, those are the years when I paid little attention to music, one of my first loves.

As a young girl, I found that I could escape in three things: books, Jesus, and music. As a musician, music became a part of my daily life. When I began teaching full-time after college and moved to a small town, the music faded away. Coincidentally, my anxiety was born. But I have to wonder if that is a coincidence after all.

Music is so powerful, and right now as we are all sheltering in place…as we sit in our homes or walk or ride bikes outdoors six feet apart from each other, I’ve noticed that music is making a come back.

It’s always been around…from a distance. For decades, we’ve turned the stations on our car radios as we drive and we may turn up the tunes in our homes as we clean house or get ready in the morning, but in this time of quarantine music has reminded us that it has the power to lift our worried frowns into smiles and ease the frustration of having nowhere to go.

The first time I noticed people were turning to music for comfort was when someone shared a Facebook post of neighbors in a city in Italy who were singing in unison from their windows one evening. They couldn’t leave their homes, but they found a way to be united and bring each other joy.

Once our town was told to shelter in place, I began seeing on Facebook hundreds of ways people were getting creative while they were home-bound. Lots of art and home projects, but the thing I’m seeing the most is how music is being shared. Regular citizens are recording themselves at home, celebrity musicians are taking requests through Instagram and Facebook, professional and collegiate musicians are finding ways to collaborate remotely and produce some really beautiful works that are uplifting and that help to ease our minds, and even get us up and dancing.

There’s something about music that hits so many of our emotions. It’s amazing to me how there are particular chords that can match my feelings of joy, sadness, confusion, and even anger. When we hear those chords put together in song, we may not even be having those certain feelings before we play the song, but as we listen it evokes those feelings from us as if we were listening to a story. Words are not even necessary. You just feel it.

So last Wednesday, when I came home from my doctor’s appointment I started having anxious thoughts because I had been out in public and at a medical facility, no less. My imagination was getting harder to reign in and, because of my former experience, I was able quickly recognize the signs that these were nothing but anxious thoughts trying to slither in. But I’ve been committed to not giving anxiety any power over me.

And one of my weapons to fight anxiety is music. The next night, I asked friends on Facebook to list the most beautiful song they could think of in that moment, and before going to sleep I listened to each one. Halfway through the first song, my mind was calmer. By the end of the last song, my breathing was steady and I felt contentment and strength.

So as I shut off the light, I left on some music—the six cello suites composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. If you haven’t heard them, they are six songs for an unaccompanied cello. Just the cello sings, a rhythmic and peaceful composition that helps me to tuck all my other thoughts away for the night.

I slept peacefully and woke up feeling rested.

That is just one example of the power of music and how it can suddenly take us on a journey that provides solace in our times of sadness and distress.

Find your song, friends. You will feel better for listening.

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Stay Connected, Safely

Down to one.

For the past fourteen years, I’ve shown up each day at work to greet around twenty to thirty children as they come inside our classroom. I love that first part of the day when the air is fresh and the day is full of promise and hope. I see the anticipation on their little faces as they cross the threshold. Seeing their friends is the highlight of each new day.

I also thrive from calling out “hello” and “good morning” to dozens of other teachers and school staff before the first bell rings. Over the years, no matter which school I’m at or which class I have, we’ve been through a lot, the students and I…the staff and I. Ups and downs. Celebrations and heartbreak. And whether the situation is good or bad, we rally around each other and cheer each other on.

While there have been difficult times that we’ve inevitably faced, never have we been forced to band together for a difficult time….apart. Until now.

Today was the seventh school day that I’ve been away from my students because of the shelter in place to try to stop COVID-19 from spreading. We’ve met in video conferencing a few times, but it’s not the same. We are lucky to have such technology, but the human interaction is simply irreplaceable. I don’t have children of my own to look after, but luckily I have my dog and my husband. But he’s busy with his own job, and my dog doesn’t talk. I’m not even sure she listens.

I also miss my colleagues. I’m grateful for our custodians and other staff members who are still reporting to work to keep the campus clean and operating as smoothly as possible. I appreciate our principal thinking of ways to keep some of our routines going through social media, and I love seeing the dedication and helpfulness of our office, district, and other staff. I’m amazed to see my fellow teachers grow with their technology skills in the span of a week, and I never thought I’d be so excited to “attend” a staff meeting as I am now….online…just. to. see. another. face.

Because my world is pretty quiet right now. And I’m sure yours is as well.

I’m down to one.

Just me.

So, resilient as ever, I’ve found some solutions to share with you if you’ve had enough of it, too. And, no, TV isn’t the answer. LOL

Here are 5 things I’ve done this week to combat shelter in place loneliness:

#1) Call someone instead of sending a text. Hearing their voice is such a treat.

#2) Invite someone for a walk, but walk several feet apart from each other.

#3) Schedule a video meeting with a co-worker, friend, or family member (Google Hangout, Google Meet, Zoom, Vimeo, etc.).

#4) Order some take out and go pick up it curbside–it’s a good excuse to see another human being AND it supports your local business. Make sure to wash your hands!

#5) Check out Facebook. There’s more traffic on there lately because it’s a nice way to check in with people in real time while we’re all scrambling with this new normal.

I think it’s so important to maintain human interaction as best we can. As an introvert, I thought this kind of situation would be easy for me. But I’m finding it’s not.

People still need people.

Stay well, yet stay connected…safely!

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3 Ways to Stay Focused Working From Home

If you’re like me, you’ve been suddenly thrown into working from home. Last week, my days were spent learning how to set up online live video conferencing and checking in with my students who found themselves learning at home on the drop of a dime.

I don’t know about you, but half my time was spent in crisis mode trying to do what I could with what I knew while the other half was spent spinning in circles not entirely sure what to do next.

Monday is ready to roll in again, and now that the initial shock is over I’m feeling more prepared to tackle this new phase of working from home. I learned some things this week that I think will be helpful to all of us who are unused to having remote offices and classrooms.

Here are 3 things we can do to help keep our focus while working from home:

#1 Get dressed

When my boss notified us that we would have our staff meeting in a live video platform connecting from wherever we happened to be sheltering in place, she sent a list of norms for this new type of meeting.

One of them was that we would need to make sure we are dressed as if we were showing up to work. The next day, it was super weird to get dressed for work knowing I wouldn’t leave the house. But I was really glad I did because something about putting on work clothes really got me in gear. Honestly, I think it helped me with my productivity. I’ve noticed that if I’m in my cozy clothes, I’m not feeling as professional. Such a strange mental phenomenon, but there you have it.

#2 Use your calendar

Not long into the week, I noticed I kept forgetting what day it was since I wasn’t leaving the house much. Since I didn’t have my normal classroom routine going on, I originally thought my lesson plan book would now be useless. But then I realized I would be able to chunk my list of things to do more effectively in the blocks of time that my lesson plan book (which is a calendar with lots and lots of space for each day) provided. Rather than a big long unprioritized “To Do” list (or several of them strewn out on Post It notes here and there),  I realized I could work more efficiently if I put all these new tasks in one place in a daily agenda. I don’t know about you, but I like the good old fashioned paper calendar/lesson plan book rather than digital.

#3 Take a walk 

At work, I’m used to a lot a walking. Teachers stand a lot in the classroom. We walk to get the kids from recess, to the library, to lunch, pick them up from recess again, move around outdoors for P.E., and walk them up to the front of the school at dismissal. Not to mention all the before and after school errands on campus that are necessary, like going to the staff lounge to make copies, drop things off at the front office, or visit a colleague’s classroom to collaborate. Working at home, there are no school bells to remind you it’s time to transition, so I noticed that at home it’s easy to forget to go outside and get some fresh air. So I’m going to set alarms for a few walk breaks to, well, break up the day. It’s a good thing to do all around. Get out and enjoy the sunshine…and if bad weather keeps you indoors go to Plan B—->turn up the tunes and dance!!!

I hope these suggestions help you get through the next week of your shelter in place. The world still needs us, friend, so chin up and have a great Monday!

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

I Am Not A Writer

With sadness, I set down the dish towel I was holding and leaned against the cold, white tiled counter. Outside the kitchen window, a bird sang a melancholy tune that matched my realization. I had been thinking of how much I love to write. I am a teacher by day, but when I come home I find myself writing. About anything, really.

The thing is, I get caught up on whether or not I am truly a writer. What is a writer anyway?

So as I was rinsing a dish this afternoon thinking on how much time this shelter in place would give me to work on my writing, it dawned on me that I am no writer. Or am I?

I tell myself I want to encourage people. But if I’m being honest, so often I’m really trying to encourage myself. I have accomplished a lot of really great things which I am proud of, but there are lots of times when I don’t feel respected out in the world…dismissed. I often feel like I’m just not smart enough or confident enough for others to have faith in my ideas.

I don’t know what that’s all about, or if it’s even true. But it’s what I feel.

So am I just a woman who randomly throws words upon a screen, hoping to be heard?

With writing, there is a lot of inner conflict that I didn’t know I would encounter when I started this blog two years ago. I didn’t realize I’d give too much attention to checking how many “hits” my blog gets. I didn’t know I would crave feedback as to whether or not what I was writing was any good. That wasn’t my original intent. My goal was to encourage. To help others by sharing my thoughts in case they had similar thoughts, and then to inspire them to persevere.

I do get feedback from sweet friends, and I am encouraged to keep writing. But I’m always thinking my writing could just. be. better. So if you have insecurities, writing is one of the toughest things you will ever face.  I am grateful for the ones who Like or comment on my posts. It’s because of them that I keep coming back and share my thoughts. I’m hoping they will be encouraged.

I go to writing conferences, seek inspiration and advice from Facebook groups for writers, and listen to podcasts for writers. But my job keeps me busy, and I’ve never been one of those people who will come home after work and haul their laptop into a closet to stay up past midnight so they can write while the rest of the world sleeps. With my writing, I still struggle with too much of what they call telling, and too little of what they call showing.

Finished cleaning up, I set the towel down and reached for the light switch to turn off the kitchen light….and the question still remained…I couldn’t let it go. As teachers. we teach that writers write to persuade, to inform, or to entertain. I don’t really do much of that.

So I searched and searched, and I caught my breath after reading this list from an article called 7 Reasons Why Writers Write, and You Should Too from The Writing Cooperative:

Why Writers Write

    1. To release their often complex and convoluted thoughts, providing an effective source of grounding and stress release, taking a greater burden off of their shoulders

That. I do all of that. If I let that be my criteria, then I am a writer after all.

Good to know.

Any other writers out there? 🙂

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Challenge Accepted

God gave us hearts, He gave us souls. He gave us personalities and lives, some pleasant and idyllic…but some complicated and tragic. And some of us teeter on the fence, perilously suspended somewhere between fulfillment and discontent. Which are you?

We can choose to conform to all of who others want us to be—demand us to be—or we can choose to be ourselves and not worry so much about who we think we ought to be.

Some of us are like square pegs, and we may never ever fit into the round hole.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

To flee from the formulas, the agendas, the criteria. To breathe and be with God and for God…and not let the people be who we want to please, but instead seek contentment with the Creator? To love like Him and show love like Him and be love like Him.

My heart wants to dance on the white sands of night beaches and be free of alarm clocks and lists. My soul wants to rip the anxious ties that bind it and explore creativity with reckless abandon.

And where do we square pegs fit in this world of ambition and competition and the aspiration of enough-ness…when all we want is to simply be?

Just be.

I know I have responsibilities and I will not desert them, but they do not need to overwhelm my every hour of my every day.  My lungs needs space, my heart needs to maintain its rhythm, and my mind needs rest.

And so I will focus on what needs to be done—but at my own pace, with my own skill, and rising to my own expectations…listening to the voice of reason and not losing sight of who I am.

Just. be. you.

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