Check Your Heart, Christians.

Over the last months, I have witnessed more of my brothers and sisters in Christ get seduced by politics. Some of them have pledged their allegiance to rhetoric of hate and false patriotism. Some of them have fought against other brothers and sisters, proclaiming that those who support the “fill-in-the-blank” political slant are supporting a movement to destroy the Church and life as we know it as Americans. Others have been led away from the Truth by putting their hope in politicians to rescue the nation from a decline into injustice, postChristianity, and destruction. More than anything, they have lost sight of the Gospel.

In my humanity, I’m grieving. I’m confused. I’m hopeless.

I worry about the state of the Church because I have witnessed brothers and sisters clinging to the idols of liberalism and conservatism alike. In December 2020, staunch Trump supporters and QAnon disciples participated in The Jericho March, a horrifying mimicry of “the Biblical story of the Israelite army ritually marching around the walled city of Jericho” (Dreher). In his article from The American Conservative, Rod Dreher outlines the March which included passionate oratory from Eric Metaxas, author of a well respected biography of martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, conflated speeches that combined Christianity with nationalism, and a disturbing use of a shofar (a horn used in ancient Jewish religious ceremonies) that was painted red, white, and blue and called the Trump Shofar by some in attendance.

Some Christians even defend this event and others like it because they feel justified in defending democracy and Christian values in America. They are sadly lost, misled, and deceived. They have heard “what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). And they are looking for vindication from perceived injustices, but instead of seeking God, they are getting caught in the trap of conspiracy theories, nationalism, and conflated lies.

On the other side, things are just as dismal and frightening. Christians can be easily persuaded to support social causes because of the call in Scripture to defend the weak, fight against injustice, and to love our neighbors. We want to protect the plight of the orphan, we want to help the refuge, we want to uplift the outsiders. We are reminded in Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Sometimes this call to act justly and to love mercy leads to the idolatry of social causes. We may confuse social justice with the Gospel message and get lost in doing good works without making sure that these causes are inline with the Gospel and with the Holiness of God. This may not seem too bad to some; however, if we are excusing sinful behaviors in order to defend the outsider, then we have forgotten that God is a holy God. Politicizing moral issues and social justice can lead to excusing sin and condoning antiBiblical actions and mindsets. And sadly, minimizing the effects of sin can lead to the belief that since God loves all people, hell doesn’t exist. There are no consequences for sin and heaven is for everyone. This completely guts the Gospel message that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) but that through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all can be saved and redeemed from sin and an eternity apart from God.

Today, I call on my brothers and sisters to check their motives, to ask themselves some difficult questions. First, why are you supporting a specific political candidate or political party? We need to remember that all men and women are flawed and no political party is perfect. All men and women can be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Jesus Christ. However, if a political candidate is speaking hate and division, then we need to consider their witness to the world, especially if they are claiming to be a follower of Christ. Hate and division have no place in the Kingdom of God. Love and unity are central to the Gospel message and must be the message that Christians around the world are proclaiming into a lost and dying world.

Second, what are you doing to advance the Gospel message? Are you spending time loving your neighbor, even your neighbor who is different from you, who your political party argues is your enemy? God does not see Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. God sees individual people who are made in God’s image. To God, each of us are precious in His sight. If we continue fighting against one another, instead of loving one another, we will let the real enemy win: the enemy who is seeking our complete and utter destruction for eternity.

Finally, where are you getting information that you believe and that you act upon? Are you spending your time scrolling through social media, hoping to find something that confirms your cognitive biases? Are you spending your time reaching into the dark web, hoping to find conspiracy theories that justify your feelings of hatred and fear of the “enemy” of your political party or political ideologies? Or are you spending your time, leaning into to the Father, looking to his Truth so that you can push aside all of the messages of division, politics, and temporary distractions?

In the end, I would rather be wrong about my own politics than to be wrong about the Gospel and how I love my neighbor. I would rather find out that the conspiracy theories were all correct than to destroy my witness in the world for Christ Jesus. If our political beliefs are more important to us than how we advance the Kingdom, then the enemy has already won.

Let us collectively repent for having hearts that are conflicted because of what we have seen in the news. Let us collectively repent for allowing ourselves to be distracted by political ideologies that are contrary to the Gospel. Let us collectively repent for spewing hate toward our neighbor, whoever our neighbor may be. Let us love one another so that the world may know Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

Selfish Choices Lead to Lost Lives

Part of living in community is experiencing the consequences of other people’s actions. This happens in the community of our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and our churches. On a much larger scale, this can happen in our individual cities, our states, our nations, and ultimately, other people’s actions can affect the entire world.

To be honest, it makes me angry that there are times when other people’s poor choices affect my life in negative ways. I try to live my life in such a way that my choices affect people in a positive way, but I cannot trust that everyone chooses to live this same way. I am far from perfect, and I know that my words and my actions have hurt other people. However, I hope that these choices have made small ripples in the lives of those around me. I also hope that these choices have only affected those closest to me. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how much of an impact, both positive and negative, my choices have made on the lives of others. At least, not yet.

In the midst of a global pandemic and a polarizing presidential election, I have seen more and more how other people’s poor choices can affect large groups of people, including our entire nation in the United States. I cannot say without a doubt that the information that we read and hear from the mainstream media is 100% accurate. I am not that naive to believe everything that I hear because I recognize that every media outlet is biased.

Despite the fact that the media is biased, I do choose to believe health officials when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. I choose to trust the medical wisdom that journalists provide through the informed advice of organizations like the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and my local health department. I choose to believe that it is best for us to keep our distance from one another, to avoid large gatherings, to wear masks when we are with people outside of our immediate family, and to wash our hands regularly.

I am not ignorant to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has not been politicized. Of course it has. This has happened in all avenues of government, from small town politics to the Oval Office and Capitol Hill. Sadly, the American public has suffered because of the lack of a central message when it comes to mitigating the spread of COVID-19. We have heard mixed messages from government officials, including the current presidential administration. We have been told that it is safe to shop, it is safe to rally and demonstrate, it is safe to go to school, it is safe to fly. Yet, here we are with 13.4 million cases and over 266,000 COVID related deaths since March 2020. The numbers have not stopped growing, and in fact, they have skyrocketed since the beginning of November.

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

Today, I read an article about what I would consider to be a “control group” when it comes to the practice of mitigation strategies based on the advice of health officials. Currently, the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma has experienced very small percentages of COVID cases and COVID related deaths because their tribal leadership put strict mitigation policies in place in the spring of 2020, including mask mandates and protecting their elderly population. They have not experienced any shortage of PPE for medical workers, and they have been able to share PPE with surrounding non-native communities in Oklahoma, a state that has experienced a frightening increase in COVID cases due to loose mitigation restrictions.

This isolated example of the Cherokee nation demonstrates that when there is a strong central message about something as potentially dangerous and devastating as COVID-19, that groups of people can follow the plan and help to prevent unnecessary tragedies within a community. This example is not isolated to the Cherokee nation as we are seeing similar cases in nations like Vietnam where strict, early lockdowns and mask mandates has helped to curb the spread of the virus.

Now, of course, any skeptic can choose to disregard data from any other nation, especially a nation that has had a history of government policies contrary to our own in the United States. However, I choose to stick with the science that suggests that social distancing, avoiding large groups, and mask wearing curb the spread of COVID-19. I also choose to believe that a nationwide plan would be more effective than the chaotic approach that has happened in our nation. And I also believe that the reason for our high positivity and death rates is due to people making bad choices because they have chosen to disregard science and follow politicians.

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

I am tired of facing the consequences of ignorant people. When it comes to a global pandemic, individual communities can make a huge impact on whether or not the virus spreads. Sadly, one of the wealthiest nations in the world has had a disjointed response to the pandemic based on political games. And we are losing this game.

So who has suffered from those who think that mask mandates are unconstitutional? Health care workers like doctors and nurses who are witnessing PPE shortages and increased numbers of patients with more serious symptoms related to COVID.

Who has faced the unnecessary effects of those who continue to host large gatherings with no social distancing and no mask wearing? Teachers and other educators who have to continue providing quality education while wearing masks, meeting virtually with students, and facing criticism from local politicians who are threatening to further cut school budgets.

Who has experienced tragedy from irresponsible political rallies and unsafe political demonstrations? Small business owners who have to lay off employees, shut their doors, and file for bankruptcy.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Today, we are all dealing with the backlash of bad choices from our federal government to our average citizens. We are losing loved ones. We are losing jobs. We are losing hope. And I am angry. I’m tired of other people’s choices affecting me in such a tragic, horrible way.

Stop complaining about losing your rights because you have to wear a mask in Wal-mart. Stop arguing about whether you should reschedule or cancel your holiday parties. Stop making your bad choices and ignorance affect everyone around you.

Think outside of yourself. Protect those who are at risk of complications from COVID-19. Wear a mask for others. Stop making this a political problem when it is a health crisis. People’s lives are literally on the line.

Life of a COVID-19 Teacher: The Truth

As more schools are beginning to return to in-person instruction, many are going to be adopting a hybrid or blended model which usually includes a “day off” from students so that schools can be cleaned and teachers can plan and grade.

Don’t be fooled: this is not a day off for educators. We are still working, sometimes more strenuously than we do when students are in class. If you want to know what it’s really like, I encourage you to keep reading.

Here is an example of a usual Wednesday for me:

  1. Get to school at 7:00 and prepare for my Google Meet classes with my three blocks. This includes sending out an announcement with an agenda of what we will discuss. This might also include preparing materials to review for students to see virtually.
  2. While waiting for my students to come to my Google Meet at 8:00, I grade any assignments that were submitted overnight, I respond to emails from students and parents, I check attendance from the previous day (this means checking Canvas to see who has logged in since the previous evening), I send reminder emails to students who have not checked in or submitted assignments.
  3. I host three Google Meets during the day from 8-8:50, 9-9:50, and 11-11:50, typically with only a few students in attendance for each class. One of these meetings includes working one-on-one with a student who has difficulty transitioning from one item to the next. Oftentimes, I walk him through finding assignments on Canvas, opening assignments in his Google Drive, giving step-by-step directions for assignments (multiple times), waiting while his Wi-Fi or the school Wi-Fi catches up with what he is trying to complete, and catching up with him from the week before.
  4. During my planning period (10-11), I put lessons together on Canvas for the next week, which includes posting directions, attaching Docs for them to complete the assignments, and a walk-through video explaining the directions for students who need audio directions. I add rubrics for assignments that need them and insert graphics to try to make the assignments more engaging.
  5. After my Google Meet with each of my classes, I eat lunch, usually taking only about 15-20 minutes because of the ever growing list of things I need to do.
  6. From 12:30-3:15, I continue posting assignments, updating grades, responding to emails, conferencing with individual students about writing or research assignments, calling home, checking attendance, sending student email reminders about assignments, checking in with counselors and administrators about students who aren’t participating in classes, updating my Google Slides with directions for my in-person students (because, yes, I teach Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday), looking ahead at the next part of my unit plans to prepare new lessons for a few weeks out, participating in required school meetings (virtually or in-person), preparing materials to send home to students who do not have Wi-Fi, and on and on.

Some people think that Wednesdays are days off for teachers. Again, looking at the way that I use my Wednesdays, teachers are using every minute in the day to provide the best possible education for their students, regardless of the fact that we see some of them in-person only two days a week and others we see when they attend Google Meet or individual conferences.

Understand that some of our students never check in for virtual meetings, they do not respond to phone calls or emails, they do not complete assignments (even when we print assignments for them to complete on paper and prepare packets for them weekly). Understand also that teachers will be responsible for doing whatever we can to ensure that students have multiple opportunities to complete assignments so that they pass our classes, including providing 2-3 alternate modes of delivery for them (virtual, on-paper, and contract).

Please tell us again that teachers’ jobs are easier this year because we are teaching virtually or because only a quarter of our students are in our classes at a time. And we are doing all of this without any hope of a COLA raise this year or in the foreseeable future.

Virtual Education: An End to Learned Helplessness?

During my first few years of elementary school, I struggled with reading. I don’t really remember how I learned how to read, but I know that it was difficult for me in first and second grade. Part of that might have been because my home life was in chaos with my parents’ divorce and the fact that I attended three different schools as a second-grader. I don’t know exactly what changed other than an encouraging teacher in third grade, Mrs. Saremi.

My mom tells the story that when I was a baby, the pediatrician told my parents, “Because of the problems she will have with her vision, she might have a difficult time in school.” My parents asked people in our church family for prayer, and other than the first few years of elementary school, I never really struggled in school. Of course, part of that might be because I learned to develop grit – the ability to persevere despite obstacles in life. I became the type of person who wanted to prove people wrong. I thought to myself, “Ok, doc. You think I will struggle in school? Let me prove you wrong.”

This school year is a difficult year for educators, students, and families because of obvious reasons. Educators are trying to figure out how to teach virtually, blended, and a variety of both. We are all brand new teachers, learning new technologies, making more phone calls and sending more emails than ever before, and posting announcements that give the same information over and over again.

Students are learning a new way of learning. They are not used to learning from home with all of the distractions that their home life might bring to their education. And to be honest, some of them are drowning in assignments only four weeks into this new school year because they haven’t learned the power of time management. Yet.

Parents are learning how to best support their children. They are talking to teachers more often than in the past, seeking ways to understand what each teacher wants from their child. And multiply that by the number of children they have at home, learning in this new environment.

There is a psychological theory called learned helplessness that many of us develop when we face trauma. This may cause us to give up in certain situations even if we have the ability to overcome some type of obstacle. Sometimes students learn this behavior if they have difficulty with certain aspects of their education. And unfortunately, some educators and parents have enabled children by providing them with support that they may not always need. The worst example that I saw of this behavior was a tenth grader who would not do his work in my class one day because he did not have a pen or pencil to complete his work. Instead of asking for a pen or pencil or getting up to get one, he waited until an adult in the classroom brought him a pencil. This is learned helplessness in the classroom.

Currently, learned helplessness is a luxury that none of us can afford. Because of the limited access that students have to educators, some students are in need of learning grit. Along with some educators and some parents, they need to unlearn learned helplessness. They need to seek out the resources they have at their disposal. They need to become advocates for their education and their futures. Developing tenacity and perseverance are necessary in overcoming some of the obstacles that we are faced with in life. And right now, we need to be tenacious. We need to persevere. We need to persist in this battle against apathy, depression, anger, frustration, loneliness, and ignorance.

I learned at eight years old that reading made me come alive. It gave me an escape. It gave me hope. It gave me insight. It gave me compassion. It challenged me. It helped me to develop grit.

In elementary school, we had competitions for silent reading throughout the year. We could earn prizes for meeting certain goals in our reading, and I wanted to be the best. I decided that I wanted to read Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, a book that was 384 pages. That’s a lot of pages for an eight year old, but I put my mind to it. I didn’t allow my struggle with reading, my sometimes messy home life, or my own insecurity to stop me from reaching my goal. And when I finished the book, I was so proud of myself for reaching the end. It didn’t matter what the prize was for reading the most pages. In fact, I don’t even remember if I won a prize. The prize for me was reading a book of almost 400 pages at eight years old.

Some people might think that I have learned the power of positivity to overcome obstacles in life. That’s not true. I don’t subscribe to unnecessary positivity because I have found that sometimes positivity becomes toxic if it’s not grounded in reality. I am a realist. I struggle in life. I cry. I yell. I curse. I have moments when life feels fragile, like tissue paper. But I move forward because at a young age, I learned grit.

Grit acknowledges that life is hard, but grit does not allow for learned helplessness. And right now, all of us need some grit. We need to put aside whatever excuses we have. We need to seek the resources that we need to move forward. That doesn’t mean this will be easy. It will be difficult. But it will be worth it in the end.

Teachers are Not Superheroes or Villains

Over the last few weeks, I have heard and seen various opinions about what life is like for teachers returning to teaching after five months away from their classrooms. As usual, some people continue to blame teachers for the complications of virtual and blended learning formats, not taking into consideration the fact that some of us did not receive training on a learning management system until one to two weeks before students “returned” to school. Others think that we feel less stressed out because some of us are teaching to empty classrooms, virtually connecting with our students through various interfaces instead of in-person.

Both are wrong. The problems are not our fault, and no we are not happy to be teaching to empty classrooms.

As usual, others seem to think that they can speak for educators. Bureaucrats and politicians have been doing it for years, so how about everyone else in society?

We need to hear from educators themselves. However, there are reasons why we aren’t talking.

Some of us aren’t talking because we are scared. We are scared that we might offend someone from our school board, our administrator, our HR director. We are scared that if we aren’t having as many difficulties with the new LMS that our co-workers will be angry at us for making this seem like it’s easier than it really is. We are scared that people outside of the classroom will speak for us because they apparently know what’s better for schools than the educators who are on the front lines every day.

To be honest, I’m tired. Just like everyone else during this pandemic, this political nightmare, this social crisis, this natural disaster of a year. I’m tired.

Teachers are just like everyone else. We are not superheroes even though right now we are being tasked with the responsibility of solving problems that are not ours to solve.

We are not trained to solve all of the technology problems that might arise with a new LMS, with bandwidth restrictions, and with remote learners who still don’t have Wi-Fi access even though this is 2020. And yet, on the news, it seems that if a school system is having difficulty with part of this new virtual environment, it must be the fault of educators. We didn’t prepare enough. We didn’t practice all of the things. We didn’t make sure that all of our learners had devices and Wi-Fi. There cannot possibly be any other reason why schools can’t get with the program with reliable and 100% virtual classroom environments for 100% of students.

We are not trained to manage the emotional and social well-being of all students. The very concept of SEL or social-emotional learning has only been around for about twenty-five years. However, most educators have been given little to no training in SEL strategies in the classroom. Even the most well-meaning teachers are not fully qualified to help counsel every student who is experiencing the same trauma as the rest of society in the midst of a pandemic, a contentious political election, rampant social conflict, and terrifying natural disasters.

Thankfully, according to Counseling Today, there is on average one school counselor per 455 students in public schools across the country today which is higher than the recommended ratio from the American School Counselor Association. However, it has taken school shootings and an increase of teen suicides for schools to have access to that many counselors. And now in the midst of the chaos which is 2020, many in the U.S. are proclaiming that sending students back to schools is best for their social and emotional well-being. In preparing K-12 administrators to return to school this fall, the Centers for Disease Control suggested the following:

  • Schools are crucial to the infrastructure of communities, providing a safe and secure environment for children
  • Schools provide critical instruction and academic support
  • Schools provide support for the whole child – emotional, social, psychological, and intellectual

I agree with all of these roles for public and private schools. We are a crucial part of our society as a whole. However, we are often vilified because we do not seem to do enough, or what we are doing is not fitting a particular religious or political worldview.

We are tired. We are under appreciated. We are undervalued. Please don’t speak for us. Please do not blame us for all of the nation’s problems. We are not your scapegoats.

Today, it seems that people either think that educators are superheroes or villains. We are neither. We are human beings with human feelings. We are fallible creatures who do not know all of the ins and outs of all of the new technology. We have families and social lives. We are experiencing the same trauma as everyone else in this messed up COVID world.

And we are unique individuals who have chosen to spend our lives educating our nation’s children. We love your kids. We want the best for them. We want to have them all back in our classrooms. We miss their jokes. We miss their awkward moments. We miss their laughing in the cafeteria. We miss their music in the hallways. We miss their smiles and their tears.

We are not happy that they are at home, learning in this weird environment. We are not less stressed because our classrooms are empty or almost empty.

More than anything, we are tired. Just like everyone else. Please give us grace. Give us patience. Give us time, and we will get this figured out.

But please don’t speak for us. We have voices, just give us time to figure out how to use them again.

Bibliography

Bray, Bethany. “One Counselor Per 455 Students: Nationwide Average Improves.” Counseling Today, American Counseling Association, 10 May 2019. Electronically accessed at https://ct.counseling.org/2019/05/one-school-counselor-per-455-students-nationwide-average-improves/#:~:text=Across%20the%20U.S.%2C%20there%20is,three%20decades%2C%20according%20to%20ASCA.

“History.” Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2020. Electronically accessed at https://casel.org/history/

“Preparing K-12 School Administrators for a Safe Return to School in Fall 2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Aug. 2020. Electronically accessed at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/prepare-safe-return.html

Even Though…

The last five months have been difficult for most of us. Over the last five months, many of us have experienced a trauma that we never expected to experience in our lives. We have undergone different stages of grief because our “normal” lives have been upended. Along with the changes to our “normal” lives, COVID-19 has brought to light inequities that some of us thought no longer existed in our nation. We have been reminded of our nation’s history of racism and classism as some groups of people have experienced lack of medical resources and those who have to work to survive have been shoved to the front lines as essential workers.

Some of us have also experienced personal tragedy during the last five months. Perhaps a family member or close friend has died from complications due to COVID-19. Maybe a loved one has lost a job that has put undue financial stress on the family. Some may have had to say goodbye to a family pet or two during this time. And others of us have struggled with depression or anxiety perhaps for the first time in our lives. Sadly, a few of us have had questions about our faith.

As I was reflecting this morning on the last five months, I felt a weight on my spirit. We are hurting, we are confused, we are lost, we are angry. Some of us are trying to be hopeful, but it is difficult to stay positive when it seems that each day brings another stress or another tragedy. Just this week, millions of people on the East Coast have lost power due to Tropical Storm Isaias, and at this point, many of them will not have power restored for at least a week. In normal circumstances, it can be an irritation to lose power. However, given the last five months, losing power could be the one thing that pushes someone over the edge emotionally and psychologically.

It just so happens that over the last few weeks, my daily Bible readings have come from the exilic period of Biblical history. This includes the Babylonian captivity and the eventual destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. This includes the prophecies of Jeremiah, most well known as the weeping prophet. To put it mildly, the exilic period of Biblical history can be depressing, especially if our focus is on the tragedy and consequences that the people of God experienced during this time.

This morning, my readings moved to the prophet Habakkuk, one of the lesser known prophets of the Bible. Habakkuk prophesied during the time period before the fall of Jerusalem, when the elite of Judah had been taken as captives into Babylon and the poor had been left behind. During the first two chapters of Habakkuk, the prophet calls out for God’s help, feeling despair that God is not listening. The prophet feels abandoned by a God who said “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”

However, in the third chapter of Habakkuk, the prophet is reminded of God’s salvation. He is reminded of God’s goodness and God’s glory. His hope is renewed even though all that he sees around him is desolation.

Habakkuk’s reflection on God’s goodness in Habakkuk 3 is what we need today:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,

and there are no grapes on the vines;

even though the olive crop fails,

and the fields lie empty and barren;

even though the flocks die in the fields,

and the cattle barns are empty,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me as surefooted as a deer,

able to tread upon the heights.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 New Living Translation

Some of us feel as if the fig trees have no blossoms and that there are no grapes on the vines because we have lost jobs, and we don’t know where the groceries are going to come from. Some of us feel like the fields are empty and barren because we have lost loved ones. Some of us feel like Habakkuk when he cries out, “‘Are we only fish to be caught and killed?” because each day seems to bring on a new tragedy, stress, or irritation.

However, today let us be reminded of God’s provision and protection in our lives. Let us be reminded of another exilic prophet, Jeremiah, who proclaims in Lamentations 3, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!'” (Lamentations 3:22-24 NLT). Let us also be reminded of the words of Hosea, a prophet of Israel who warned the people before Israel’s fall to the Assyrians. He calls to the people,

Come, let us return to the Lord.

He has torn us to pieces;

now he will heal us.

He has injured us;

now he will bandage our wounds.

In just a short time he will restore us,

so that we may live in his presence.

Oh, that we might know the Lord!

Let us press on to know him.

He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn

or the coming of rains in early spring.

Hosea 6:1-3 NLT

We are not abandoned. We are not destroyed. We may feel struck down from every side, but our God of salvation is with us. Let us rejoice in the Lord though the fig trees have no blossoms and the olive crops fail.

Why I’m Returning to the Classroom

Over the last few weeks, I have had to make a very difficult decision: do I return to teaching in-person or do I teach virtually? This is the decision that teachers throughout the nation are having to make in light of the widespread cases of COVID-19 across the country. Some teachers with medical concerns have had to make a more difficult decision: do I return to the classroom and put my life in danger or do I resign from teaching or retire early? These are decisions that no one should have to make, but here we are.

Thankfully in my school division, teachers have been given options based on their health as well as their personal preferences: teach in-person, teach virtually but in the school building, or teach virtually from home. Each one of these choices has risks. For teachers who teach in-person, they may be putting their lives in danger by working alongside of students and other educators who may or may not have been exposed to COVID-19. Likewise, students are putting their lives in danger as they are working alongside of others who may or may not have been exposed to COVID-19. For teachers who will teach virtually in the school building, they risk losing the personal connection they may have with their students because their classes may seem artificial as they are teaching remotely while in the same building as their students. For teachers at home, they risk the personal disconnect with students but also the loss of connection with their co-workers and the supportive environment of most school cultures.

None of these options are perfect. None of these options are right for everyone. Each of us are required to make this decision with our specific circumstances in mind: our own health and emotional stability, the health of our family members, the health of community members that we are in close contact with throughout the week. Again, each of these options comes with specific risks.

I have not made my own decision lightly. When I was given the option of choosing what I prefer, my instinct was to say that I wanted to teach virtually outside of the school building like my co-workers with health concerns. I wanted to stand in solidarity with my co-workers who should not go back into a school building until after the virus is under control in my region of the country. I wanted to show that many teachers are uncomfortable teaching in the school building in the hope that my county school board would vote for 100% virtual learning for all students.

But that’s not what happened. My county voted for an opportunity for blended learning for students who want to return to in-person instruction and a 100% virtual opportunity for students who want to remain at home. I will not go into my immediate reaction to the results of the school board vote because at this point, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what I will do this fall as a public high school educator.

It has been almost five months since I have been in a classroom with students. It has been almost five months since I have interacted with my co-workers Monday through Friday. It has been almost five months since I have felt the satisfaction of a lesson well-taught. It has been almost five months since I have seen a lightbulb go off over a student’s head as they have finally “gotten” something. And to be honest, most of me has been very sad about what I have missed.

This school year, I will be entering year 19 as a public school teacher. This school year, I will be entering year 26 as a public school educator, having spent my college years as a classroom aide, writing tutor, and substitute teacher. School is my life. Teaching is who I am.

In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul writes, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.  Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” When I started working in public schools at eighteen years old, I had not yet made the commitment to sacrifice parts of my life for the sake of my students. However, as I began to understand the baggage that my students carried with them and the social context in which I teach, I began to recognize that my role as a Christian public educator was to sacrifice some of myself for them.

When I am in a classroom, I make daily sacrifices. I sacrifice my psychological comfort since I am by nature an introvert and as a teacher, I am constantly “on.” I sacrifice my physical safety since I teach in a society of school violence. I sacrifice my emotional comfort since at times my students suffer tragedy and trauma. I sacrifice my professional integrity since I live in a nation that vilifies teachers. I sacrifice my personal finances since public school have been defunded for at least the last fifteen years.

These are all choices I have made. These are sacrifices that I am willing to make as I work willingly as though I was working for the Lord rather than for people.

So what have I decided to do? Given the choices I have been offered, I want to be in my classroom with my students. Even though this school year will not be the same as it has been in the past with all of the mitigation plans in place like masks, plexiglass barriers, and six-foot social distancing, I miss being in a classroom with students. I miss our interactions. I miss class discussions. I miss their ridiculous jokes. I miss them.

And more than anything, I want to offer them hope. I want to help them feel safe. I want to give them comfort. I want to distract them from the mess that has been the last five months. I want to assure them that things will get better.

Because they will get better.

Be Encouraged: Stand Firm

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches around the world needed to find new ways to connect with their community. During the spring and early summer of 2020, my husband and I put together a Bible study for our church members and community members who wanted to continue discussing God’s Word together. Now that our Bible study is over, we wanted to make these materials available for anyone else who wanted to study the books of 1 and 2 Peter.

This is Bible study resource is a compilation of the materials that we put together for our Bible study participants. In the book, you will find daily reflections on different sections of each chapter of 1 and 2 Peter along with daily reflection questions that will help guide your understanding of each section. These questions will also help you to connect Peter’s words with your life today. We encourage you that as you use this resource that you keep notes of your answers to the reflection questions in a journal or notebook. We also encourage you to create the habit of prayer journaling while you study 1 and 2 Peter. It is always encouraging to see the ways that God has answered our prayers throughout our study of His Word.

We hope that this book will bring you comfort and hope as you await Christ’s return, but more importantly that it will encourage you to stand firm in the faith as you face many obstacles as a follower of Jesus Christ.

You can find copies of Be Encouraged: Stand Firm on Amazon in both a digital format and a print format. Follow the link below to the Amazon bookstore.

An Open Letter to the Class of 2021

Dear Class of 2021,

Last spring, the class of 2020 had a very difficult ending to their senior year. They missed their senior trip. They missed prom. They missed graduation practice. They missed senior picnic. They missed a traditional graduation ceremony. They did not get to say good-bye to their favorite teachers and staff members. They did not get a final look over their shoulders as they left the school building as students for the last time. It sucked.

As I think about your senior year of high school, I am anxious about what you may miss out on because of a virus that we still don’t quite understand. The Virginia High School League has already voted to postpone all sports until early winter which means that there won’t be a first home football game this fall. This means that homecoming will look different this year than it has in the past. Because we cannot all meet together for an assembly, the first day of school will not include you walking across the stage after all of the underclassmen have taken their seats in the auditorium. Hopefully, only the beginning of your senior year will look different than what you imagined as you prepared to finish high school. But we cannot guarantee that the end of your senior year will look any different than it was for the class of 2020.

This school year will not be normal. No matter how school starts this year for you, it will not be a normal school year. You will either take my class 100% virtually, or you will take my class with a modified schedule of a few days at school and a few days at home. Both ways are abnormal for most high school seniors.

Sadly, there are things that we will not be able to do as a class because of the way that school will resume this year. I am already trying to decide what the essentials are for my course so that you can get the best senior English experience possible. Trust me, I’m going to do all that I can to make this last year of high school meaningful for you when it comes to the class that I teach.

But unfortunately, I cannot be the teacher that I have always been. At least not right away.

I don’t want to list all of the ways that I will need to change my teaching because I really don’t want you to know what you will miss out on. You are already going to miss out on so many other things that I’m sure you have already thought about. I understand. I am mourning those things with you since my son was a graduate of 2020.

All that I can promise you is that I will do what I can to prepare you for the next stage of your life. When I started teaching senior English fifteen years ago, I understood the responsibility that I was taking on. I accept the fact that I have the privilege of helping my seniors prepare for college, a career, or the military. Not everything that I will teach you this year will seem relevant to you right now. However, I promise that what you will learn will include practical skills but also life lessons about how to be a good human being. I try to instill in all of my students that they have a voice, and my job as an English teacher is to help you to know how to use that voice. Sometimes this means reading things that other people have written as a way to understand how other people use their voices. Sometimes this means writing about your life journey and determining how your life experiences affect who you want to be in the future. Sometimes this means looking at the world around us and identifying things that you want to change.

As we look forward to your senior year, I am hopeful. I hope that our new normal is not too stressful for you. I know that some of you have anxiety disorders or clinical depression. Some of you may be very open about those mental health concerns, and some of you may be hiding them. But they are very real, and I understand.

I know that some of you have physical ailments that may cause you to need to learn remotely for a while. I understand, and I will do all that I can to communicate with you so that you can be successful in my class. I am hopeful that we will develop a strong rapport as teacher to student that will help you to use your voice to advocate for yourself not just now but in the future as well.

I know that some of you may have difficulties in my course for a number of reasons. Some of you have not been successful in an English class before so you already have anxiety starting your senior year, knowing that my class is a graduation requirement. Some of you have learning disabilities that make reading and writing difficult for you. Some of you are still learning English as a language, so reading and responding to academic text is a challenge. I hope that I can help you to overcome the obstacles that will try to get in your way of successfully passing my class.

I know that some of you are angry that your senior year will not be a normal school year. Some of you are angry that you will not be able to play a complete season of the sport your participate in. Some of you are angry that you may not be able to perform in this year’s musical or play, if those are able to happen this year. Some of you are angry that you will not be able to take a specific course this year because COVID-19 has limited our course offerings. Some of you are angry that on top of the expectations that we already have that there will be more, including wearing a mask and keeping your distance from others. I hope that my demeanor will help to calm your anger. I hope that my optimism will help you to see that we can manage things that we cannot control. I’m sorry, but sometimes we cannot control our circumstances. All that we can do is learn how to deal with these situations in ways that are positive and helpful rather than destructive.

Class of 2021, I am hopeful. Let’s all acknowledge that this sucks. However, let’s try to find good things in the midst of this new normal. Let’s learn to communicate with one another so that we can get through this in a way that makes us stronger. Let’s listen to one another rather than blame one another. Let’s promise ourselves that we will try to look at this realistically with a little bit of hope.

What is True…What is Noble

Throughout my Christian journey, there have been several scriptures that I have meditated upon as a way to remind myself of God’s promises. As I was recovering from a year of severe anxiety and depression, I memorized Philippians 4:6-7 while at a retreat that I can say changed the way that I interact with God and His Word. I still remember sitting in silence by a stream, magnificent rocks in the background, when I really read Philippians 4 for the first time. Paul’s words have encouraged me in some of the darkest times in my life, especially his promise that we will experience God’s peace “which exceeds anything we can understand” (v. 7 NLT). What a beautiful reminder of the goodness of God!

Today I was reminded of the next exhortation in Philippians 4, an urgency to change the way that we think. Paul says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (v. 8 NLT). When I was struggling with anxiety and depression twenty-five years ago, these words helped me to change the way that I was thinking about my circumstances. These words also helped me to refocus my life on things that brought glory to God rather than things that added to my anxiety and depression. Just like Paul’s encouragement in v. 6, “Do not be anxious about anything” (NIV), these words reminded me that I did not have to think about things that discouraged me or depressed me. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I can think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.

Photo by Marina Vitale on Unsplash

In the midst of a global pandemic and the uncertainty that comes with it, it can be difficult to think about such things. Personally, I have been very distracted by the news related to plans to “reopen” schools this fall because my own school division is still making the decision of what we will do: a hybrid model of virtual and in-person instruction or 100% virtual instruction. I can honestly say that I do not know what is right for my community. Recently, there have been news stories that suggest that the positive cases of COVID-19 may not be as high as they are being represented. It is unclear whether or not we need to be as worried about the spread of this virus as schools resume this school year. Despite these news stories, I also know that the effects of this virus can be incredibly taxing on people who have contracted it whether or not they wind up in the hospital. I do not want to be infected, and I do not want to infect my co-workers, my family, or my community, especially my church members who are at risk of complications of COVID-19 that could result in their hospitalization or death.

I can feel myself slipping. If I don’t take the time to step back and listen to the voice of God, I could easily fall into the downward spiral of depression. I am tired of people saying that teachers just want a break from students. I am tired of people vilifying my co-workers. I am tired of people saying that the decision to teach in-person or to teach virtually is a political decision. I am tired of people saying that teachers are hysterical and that we are giving into fear. And I am angry that I really don’t get to have a voice. I am angry that people want to blame teachers for the problems we have. I am angry that we are sometimes the scapegoat. And more than anything, I am sad that school will not be the same this year no matter how we return to instruction.

Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

So while I am stuck with all of these emotions swirling around in my heart, God is reminding me to trust in Him. A pastor on my district posted this morning, “Beware: your feelings are often not accurate. If unchecked those inaccurate feelings can greatly damage your faith.” I want my faith to be firm and steadfast. I want to reflect Christ’s sacrifice and love in my community. I want to think about things that are true, lovely, admirable, and pure. I want to be guided by the Holy Spirit so that I can be faithful, so that I can be loving, so that I can forgive, and so that I can continue to represent Christ in my family, in my community, and in all of my relationships with others.

Today choose to seek God’s way for your life. If like me, you are feeling overwhelmed by the news, the false information, the confusion, remember to stop and to seek God’s truth. Remember to follow Paul’s advice to fix your thoughts on things that are “true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8 MSG). Take your thoughts captive today and make them obedient to Christ, the One who is true, the One who is right, the One who is honorable, the One who is beautiful.