The yearbook will not be postponed!

It was a week that began with a full moon and ended with Friday the 13th. The week before, our school secretary joked that we all needed to prepare for a doozy of a week. Little did we know it would literally be the last week of traditional school. Sigh.

When we left school Friday, March 13, to embark on the unknown of COVID-19, I heard some of my seniors in the hall say,

“This could be our last day of senior year.”

And it was, at least in the normal sense of school. Since then, we’ve been living the virtual life.

It is all so bizarre.

That last day at school, our principal, in a school-wide assembly, told students and teachers to take everything home because no one would be allowed back in the building, and he concluded with a statement that we now remind ourselves of daily:

“Don’t make this about you. You can be disappointed, and I understand that, but this is not about you. It is about all of us and doing the right thing for everyone.”

My seniors understand those words, as does my daughter who is a senior at a different school, and they will all do the right thing. They have no choice really, but the sting and reality of those words have settled hard on these smart, creative, big-hearted, dream-carrying, fear-of missing-out, young adults.

Through their eyes and screens, their senior year of “last times” has become their senior year of “disappearing times,” for all proms, spring sports, and graduations are now officially, indefinitely postponed.

With all of this disappointment, uncertainty, and even anxiety at times, one thing is for sure!

The yearbook will not be postponed!

As an English and journalism teacher, our book delivers in late June, so we cover everything from August to May.

How will you cover prom when it has been canceled?

How will you cover spring sports when all seasons are canceled?

How will you cover graduation when no one knows when that will happen or how?

Well, when you’re teenager, high school literally, for better or worse, consumes your life, so it is my duty as the yearbook adviser to go against my principal’s advice this once and make this book all about them!

So, after revamping my senior English classes for the rest of the semester, I called my technology directory first thing Monday morning to ask for help in accessing our server of photos. Since he was an essential employee, he was allowed in the building.

This man spent his morning on Tuesday copying our entire 2020 Yearbook folder of pictures from the server to a huge external drive. Then, he delivered it to my home mailbox! It pays to always be nice and make friends, especially with the essential people!

On Tuesday morning, two days into our new virtual school world, I had a Zoom call with my three editors and shared my ideas with them and listened to theirs. IMG-9171

Together, we cut and combined some spreads and created a couple new ones. For example, baseball and softball now share a spread spotlighting each senior and their career in the sport, and we now have a COVID19 perspective spread.

After making the ladder right, we created two questionnaires in Google forms, one for all students grade 9-12 and one only for seniors:

Please help us complete the yearbook. Your responses and pictures are very important! Please answer these questions and email pictures to materdeijournalism@gmail.com with your name in the subject line.

I also sent an email to all spring coaches and cc’d the athletic director and principal:

Hello, everyone! I need your help, please. As my students and I continue to work on the yearbook, we are determined to keep spring sports pages in the book.
However, we will be covering the sports differently. We want to spotlight seniors and their “career” in the sport, complete with quotes and pictures. We also thought we could get quotes from potential freshman who have longed to play for MD but won’t be able to this year.
What I need from each of you as soon as possible is the following:
1. Names of seniors who would be playing this season
2. Name of a freshman who had hoped to tryout for the team
3. Your answer to at least one of these questions:
  • As a spring coach, what advice do you have for the young athlete who may not get to play this season?
  • As a spring coach, what will you miss most about this season if your team doesn’t get to play?
  • As a spring coach, what were most looking forward to this season?
PLEASE take the time to respond to this email. Our yearbook is counting on your perspectives as coaches 😊

My design editor began creating a couple new templates that basically had no copy block and no main dominant in the traditional sense, and I set up weekly zooms with the entire staff. We also created a shared document for each staff member to record their to-do lists and items accomplished.IMG-5488

In our GroupMe app, students post when they need help or when they have checked a spread or if they need something from me.

By the end of the week, I requested via email to all faculty and staff and students to send in pictures of their new normal–from teaching and learning to exercising and connecting with family.

To date, we have people responding to our questionnaires and sending in pictures, and I have plans for this third week of virtual life to post a picture challenge to all our school’s social media platforms. Each day, I will ask for pictures of students’ and teachers’ new normal and their perspectives on living life this way.

Our plan may not be perfect and we may not get everything we envision and our spring spreads won’t quite look like the other seasons in the book, but we will not give up on telling our school family’s story.

We create the history book for our school, and COVID19 will not rob our #MaterDeiFamily of our stories–even if those stories are under quarantine and told through texts, snaps, zooms, and Google forms.

Keep your focus, everyone! Be smart, healthy, safe, and grateful every day, and don’t forget:

We each have the power to change the world for the better. . . one story at a time. Peace.

The Class of 2020

As I wake early on this Tuesday morning, just like I would any other school day morning, I make the coffee, read my devotional, and go to Google Classroom to double-check the virtual assignments that I posted last Friday.

Last Friday. Sigh. When we left school last Friday to embark on the unknown of COVID-19, I heard some of my seniors in the hall saying,

“This could be our last day of senior year.”MJ-139

It is all so bizarre.

Our principal, in a school-wide assembly, told students and teachers to take everything home because no one would be allowed back in the building, and he concluded with a statement that we will have to remind ourselves of daily for weeks–perhaps months–to come:

“Don’t make this about you. You can be disappointed, and I understand that, but this is not about you. It is about all of us and doing the right thing for everyone.”

My seniors understand those words, as does my daughter who is a senior at a different school, and they will all do the right thing. They have no choice really, but the sting and reality of those words have settled hard on these smart, creative, big-hearted, dream-carrying, fear-of missing-out, young adults.

Through their eyes and screens, their senior year of “last times” is potentially becoming their senior year of “disappearing times”–from prom to spring sports to group bicycle rides to school the last week and much more.

Two weeks ago when rumblings of potential school closings could be heard, my daughter said,

“I will walk across that stage, Mom.”

Now, with rumblings of closing school for the rest of the semester and press conferences that speculate the COVID-19 wave spilling through August, my daughter–who rarely ever makes anything about her–is more than disappointed. She is sad because she sees that stage disappearing right along with her spring break trip and prom and everything else that comes with the end of senior year.

I am that mom and teacher who preaches positive thinking and gratitude and kindness.

What are you thankful for today? When negative thoughts show up in your brain, ask God to get rid of them and replace them with positive. Keep your focus. Be kind. Put on love.

All of these things I say, and yet, today, only two days into the school closure, I don’t have the right words for my girl and my students.

The only words that come to mind are from God, for in Proverbs 3:5-6, He reminds us that we may not always understand everything that is happening, but we must trust in Him and He will direct us.

However, when you’re 17 or 18, and high school is literally your life– you wake for it, you stay up late for it, you celebrate and abhor it–even God’s words seem to sting.

So, as all of us navigate this unknown for our kids, students, communities, and nation, I echo my principal’s words that we not make this personal, that we not make this about ourselves but rather the greater good, and I also cling to God’s words and put my trust in Him through all of this.

IMG-5690BUT, once we are able to give a hug again instead of an elbow bump, and once we are allowed to surround ourselves with more than ten friends, let’s make a promise to the class of 2020 that we will make this right, even if we have to hold a prom and/or graduation in one of our backyards or down the road at the 4-H Center.

Be smart, healthy, and safe, everyone, and let God direct your path. Peace.

The everlasting presence of absence

When my Daddy left this world four years ago, he left a permanent scar on my heart, but I will not allow his absence on this Earth rob me of his everlasting presence in my life. Daddy’s spirit is with me every day; his love and guidance and kindness remain in each of us who still love and miss him.

Today, my brother, nephew, and I ate lunch at Ferrell’s, Daddy’s favorite, and then we played and visited for three hours at Linton beach. We ended the day at Daddy’s tree, the pine tree we planted three years ago when we buried his ashes on his land. It was a good day, and I think we’ve started a new tradition of honoring our Dad by being together and celebrating his presence, his spirit, which lives in each of us, especially in the heart of a three-year-old. I thank God each day for helping me through this journey of grief so that the weight of it does not suffocate me but pushes me to grow in His love.

Filing Cabinet Finds: Part 1

In my garage stands a filing cabinet that has remained closed for over three years, but a few weeks ago on a sunny, Saturday afternoon, I opened the drawers, one at a time to inspect the contents– to sort the items to keep from those to recycle or donate.

Three years ago every item I shoved into this cabinet carried something sacred that would scream betrayal or spray guilt if I did not keep it. Yet, I’ve learned that when you allow yourself time to process, to heal, to seek God’s guidance and counsel, you discover that items in a filing cabinet won’t mend the shattered soul or honor his memory.

With a quick prayer for focus and rationale thought, I delved into the dusty cabinet drawers that now forever contain my Daddy’s scent and sense. From old work boots and t-shirts, birthday cards, Bible study notes, notebooks and folders and more, I exhumed all of it.

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Consequently, this sunny Saturday afternoon project moved me a few rungs higher on the ladder of healing, and by God’s grace and perfect timing, I found treasures of wisdom and creativity from my Daddy.

 

Part 1 of the treasures and wisdom found in the cabinet consisted of a draft titled “Food for Thought” and a final copy without a title. My Daddy wrote this during his time in prison–a short but transformative period in his life when he earned his GED, learned hard lessons about family, friends, and foes and found Jesus Christ. The first draft of this piece read like a fill-in-the-blank and may have been an exercise he did in “class.” No matter how the sentences and phrases came to life on my Daddy’s notebook paper, the inspirational and chilling words remain filing cabinet items to keep.

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by Gene Drennan circa 1978-1980

the most expensive indulgence:  hate

the greatest trouble maker:  one who takes too much

the cheapest, stupidest and easiest thing to do:  find fault

the greatest stumbling block:  egotism

the most ridiculous asset:  pride

the worst bankrupt:  the soul that has lost its enthusiasm

the cleverest man:  one who always does what he thinks is right

the most dangerous person:  liar

the most disagreeable person:  the complainer

the best teacher:  one who makes you want to learn

the meanest feeling of which any human being is capable:  feeling bad at another’s success

the greatest need:  Common Sense

the greatest puzzle:  Life

the greatest mystery:  Death

the greatest thought:  God

the greatest thing, bar none, in all the world:  Love

the greatest sin:  Fear

the biggest fool:  the boy who will not go to school

the most agreeable companion:  one who would not have you any different from what you are

the best town:  where you succeed

the greatest bore:  one who will not come to the point

a still greater bore:  one who keeps talking after he has made his point

the great deceiver:  one who deceives himself

the greatest invention of the devil:  war

the greatest secret of production:  saving waste

the best work:  what you like

the best play:  work

the greatest comfort:  the knowledge that you have done your work well

the greatest mistake:  giving up

 

 

 

How about we all take two knees tonight?

imageHow about the athletes and actors who earn millions each year switch experiences and pay checks with our veterans! I challenge these talented people to stop using their “stage” for politics.

I don’t care what you think of President Trump. I care that you are kind and that you use your platform for good. Taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest the President or giving a hate rant instead of an acceptance speech, does nothing to move us forward.

How about we all, including the President, take two knees before bed tonight and ask how we individually and collectively can be a light in this world.

A big special thank you to all military men and women for protecting and fighting for our country, for losing limbs for our freedoms, for battling hellish nightmares so we can sleep, and for dying so that we may continue to live. I apologize to all of you, past and present, who serve this great land, for the ignorance that has clouded your sacrifice.

May God bless all of you, and may all of us find our platforms to uplift and unite.

His Suicide. My Journey.

If you opened up my chest, I’m sure you would see cracks and scar tissue from my shattered heart, and if you could touch my soul, I am convinced you would experience the ache that still longs for his presence. However, if you could sit next to my faith, I believe you would experience the warm embrace of Light, healing, and growth.

You see, two years ago on the evening of May 24, 2014, my Daddy (I’m a southern girl) committed suicide. In fighting through my grief, I’ve come to know deep in my soul that the man who pulled the trigger and robbed his daughter of her Daddy–her best friend, her mentor–was not my Daddy.

That man was one who was alone in his once beautiful mind, a mind that had become a playground of torture and pain, both physical and emotional. That man was one who became lost in the rabbit hole of anger and sadness. That man was one he himself did not want to be but felt shackled to the exhaustion of being.

How did this man, my Daddy, become this other man? For you see, My Daddy was a man of God. He was honorable and disciplined and spent his life helping people. Even before he became a Christian in his mid-twenties, he helped people.

What I know is that my Daddy was broken as a child, but he did not let that stop him. I know that he became a man before experiencing the joy of being a child, but he kept living. I know that he spent time on the dark side until he found the Light.

Once infused with that Light, he walked the walk, and talked the talk. . . until his physical body started failing him. My Daddy was a carpenter and a gear-head and jack of all trades, and all of these things took a toll on his body, but it was his heart that stopped us in our tracks in 2008.

The doctors said he had a valve that needed repaired immediately, and so they did. Yet, his entire sternum fell apart, and they had to build him a titanium sternum. He would have to learn how to breathe differently and move differently, live differently.

So, after a month-long stay in the hospital including a rebuild, many debridements and being dropped by the hospital staff, he returned home to heal, to his home that he built with his own hands–his home that God showed him in his dreams, his castle here on Earth until he received his mansion on streets of gold.

The problem with sending him home to heal was that those all-knowing doctors sent him home with a life-long sentence to prescription pain medication, medication that is a billion dollar industry, medication that provokes depression and requires no counseling–only “piss tests” and pill counting–medication that is so addictive that recently the government has been forced to acknowledge the devilish concoctions and publish a report that says such.

Bottom line: this “medication” is turning loved ones into souls boiling with emotions that have no escape. This “medication” is killing people every single day and leaving families and friends lost, confused, angry, and broken.

I wish I had realized how things were going to change. I wish I had been more aware early on. I wish I had injected myself more into Daddy’s recovery after surgery, but I was playing my role as daughter instead of being my Daddy’s advocate.

I wish. I wish. Wishes, though, don’t mean a thing unless you turn them into prayers. I was praying, but I didn’t even know what to pray. I just wanted God to make my Daddy better. I felt like Daddy was the modern-day Job from the Bible, and I didn’t understand why God was putting Daddy through all of this– and the “all of this” became so much more. It became a spiraling staircase to nowhere, until it became a bullet inside a gun, held by the man inside my Daddy’s body.

What I know now is what I’ve always known but never truly put into practice and given my all to. The truth is in each experience. Each experience has a purpose, a lesson. Since my Daddy’s suicide, I have walked through all of the emotions–anguish, guilt, anger, pity, longing, and on and on, and I still walk in many of those emotions today.

However, with those emotions, I choose to honor my Daddy and my God by being a better person, being a better witness, diving into the Word on a daily basis and praying with power and expectation for understanding and application. It has taken awhile to get my wits about me, and I can’t say that I can make any sense of suicide, but I can and I will make my Daddy’s life AND his suicide matter.

Even though I am not sure what this exactly looks like yet, I do know it means being still and listening, seeking direction, and taking action. With that said, I will not let my anguish and anger lead to apathy or destruction.

My Daddy taught me to think before speaking, to be humble, observant, and kind, and so I will honor him and the wisdom God gave him and the grace God gives me everyday to walk the path He’s made for me.

Furthermore, through my spiritual journey and growth, I am learning to replace the “question marks” and “exclamation points” of Daddy’s suicide, with a “period.” I am striving to find peace in the “period” because there truly are things in this world that will never make sense.

Once I can fully acknowledge and accept that all “why’s” don’t get answered and all “screams” don’t get acknowledged, it is then that I will be able to move forward with passion and purpose and press on to that high calling.

“Pressing on” sometimes happens in baby steps–especially when working through such grief, and last year on May 24, the first year without Daddy, my siblings and I buried his ashes on his land and planted a pine tree.

This year, I will add a bench next to the tree and the memorial stone my classmates gave me, and I will declare that I will be the difference God wants me to be in this world, and if that difference means taking on the vicious, destructive cycle of pain “management,” then bring it on!

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

White Spaces

Despite my Kentucky Baptist upbringing and my barefoot baptism in the muddy river that kisses the small country park in Cadiz, I joined a methodist church years ago because it was a church that my husband would attend. I thought it important that we church together, but years have past and our daughter is now 9, and we need more, more than the obese Methodist pastor who tells great stories on Sunday mornings but fails to follow through when a young impressionable girl proclaims Christ lives in her heart.

So, two weeks ago, Molly Jane had her friend Alyssa spend the night, and on Sunday morning, my husband went Methodist and we went rogue and attended Alyssa’s church,  a Mega church that could probably house 20,000. For this reason alone, my husband would not come with us. “It’s too big.” And that’s that.

After signing my MJ into the computer and walking her what seemed a quarter mile away to her Sunday class, I join Alyssa’s parents in the balcony and fall into the sweet music of the spirit that surrounds this stadium congregation.

After the singing, this new pastor from Texas walked out onto the stage in his jeans and sweater and began telling the story of Ester. Ester, I know the name, but in all my years of attending church, reading the Bible, and memorizing the key verses, I do not recall Ester and her story. As Pastor Jeff explained, though, it’s all about the white spaces and what we choose to do during this space. Will we fret, will we scream, will we sob, will we ignore, or will we trust and wait and make the best of the unknown?

It all just clicked while I sat in the balcony with my friend and her husband. I am in a white space and have been for quite some time. Perhaps this white space would have ended long ago, but my actions, my fighting the space, and screaming and crying on the inside while in this space has prolonged my visit.

How simple. The journey is about the white spaces. Don’t fight them. Embrace them. Curl up with them and listen and wait and learn and grow–all the while knowing that someone else is sharing your same space and choosing chaos or peace.

And the joy is believing that when the white space ends, the clarity begins, one way or another, whether you like it or not. It’s all about you, though, and if you are patient and grateful, you will see the clarity as an increment of your destiny, your path, your answers.

Be ready and accepting. The next white space, the next opportunity for pause and enlightenment, is happening right now.