Hard-hatted contentment

I was convinced I’d be Teacher of the Year in no time. Make that at no time. Eventually, I made my peace with that. I concentrated on doing a good job and learning to be content. I loved Blaise Pascal’s take on contentment in his Pensées:

[…] we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.

Of course, the Apostle Paul learned the secret of contentment the hard way: beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, and imprisonment. And I thought I had a rough time of it with impossible classes, papers to grade ad nauseam, and unreasonable colleagues!

In Living Beyond the Daily Grind I*, Chuck Swindoll addresses the “grind of discontentment.” He asks the reader to consider what Jesus’ life would be like if He were on earth today, and whether He’d be content or not.

If Jesus were to live on earth today, where do you think He would be employed? What kind of car would He drive? How much money would He earn? Do you think He would periodically fly first class? Would He ever feel the slight sting of discontentment? Why? Or why not?

No, this wasn’t God’s chosen era for Jesus to live on earth. But here we are, as His ambassadors now—His hands, feet, and voice. Swindoll’s questions are a great priority check.

Finding the ideal place for Jesus to live isn’t as easy as you’d think. In the United States, our weather maps focus on—you guessed it, the United States. I admit I was a bit surprised that French weathermen started with France and put North America last in the weather review. We are not the center of the universe in everybody’s eyes, so Jesus might not pick the United States! Wherever He wound up—Israel? Venezuela? China?—I think He’d choose a city because modern cities feature a cross-section of the population. In the New Testament, Jesus touched all strata of society, and I’m sure He’d do the same today.

If Jesus had a home base, it probably wouldn’t be a wealthy neighborhood. He’d be a working man in a lower income area, but not necessarily a slum. Although He could choose any noble trade, I’ll make Him a carpenter. Prior to beginning His ministry, I see Him working with a passion to bring joy to people through His craft. He wouldn’t build any old dining room table but the perfect dining room table with a well-loved family in mind. The enthusiasm would be ten times what Joanna Gaines exudes when she conceives a design idea with Clint Harp!

Maybe Jesus kept working as He taught. Just think of the possibilities a construction site would offer for parables and memorable images. In addition to the wise man building on a rock and the rich fool craving a bigger barn, He could talk about hard hats, bulldozers, window washers, and realtors.

A true minimalist, He wouldn’t own a car. He’d find flexibility in using public transportation and allowing others to drive Him around. After all, in the New Testament, He walked, rode in fishing boats, and borrowed a donkey when He needed it to make a prophetic point.

As someone who touched everybody’s lives, Jesus would occasionally fly first class, but not for comfort’s sake. He’d be after Zack up there, who was itching to see Jesus. Of course, this would draw the ire of the folks roughing it back in coach. Don’t their sacrifices entitle them to Jesus’ attention?

Would He be discontent? Never. The temptation might have come but would never be indulged. Jesus would have had such a clear sense of purpose for His life on earth that He could be content in all circumstances.

Jesus was driven, but in a different way. Am I? Are you?

___________________________

*Swindoll, Charles R. Living beyond the Daily Grind. World Pub., 1988

Wringing out the Old Year

I went to bed before midnight on New Year’s Eve. I’m not into ringing in the New Year.

Lately, though, I “wring out” the old year. (No, I’m not alluding to the unusually wet year we’ve had here in Northern Virginia.)  I don’t evaluate the year as it ends and set perfectionistic goals for improvement. Been there, done that. No more.

Having a word or a scripture verse for the year–or both–is popular now. A writer could get behind that, right? Not when her internal editor transforms one word into three and insists on alliteration to boot. Imposing a verse on myself at the beginning of the year feels too much like a resolution and smacks of legalism.

Over the last three years, though, a wonderful verse has burst onto the scene of my life midway through the year. The concept would pop up in Bible study and in my quiet time, and then again in a book I was reading. What was the Holy Spirit up to?

With His help, the verse and theme of the year took hold of me in the spring or summer and ushered me straight into the New Year.  Whether  “official” or not, they were inescapable. God was working in this area of my life, and He was encouraging me to cooperate with Him so that I could grow in grace and in the knowledge of Him.

So, I am wringing the good stuff out of 2018.

Last year in Bible Study Fellowship we studied Romans. It’s a complex book, but I’d studied it before. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this glittering treasure in chapter 6:

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. (Romans 6:6-7, New Living Translation, emphasis mine)

Wow! As a believer in Christ, sin has lost its power in my life! I don’t have to do what sin tells me to do. Revolutionary.

When Satan says, “You might as well give in. I won’t leave you alone until you do, but then I won’t bother you anymore,” he is lying. I don’t have to give in. Hallelujah! What freedom!

I can’t escape freedom. Sometimes God reminds me I’m free so I can simply enjoy my status, and sometimes He allows me to practice declaring my freedom by choosing to obey Him. There’s a clear purpose to my freedom, as it says in Galatians:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

We are set free with the intention that we stay free. What grace! How can we not grow in it?

What word and/or verse have you wrung out of 2018? How do you ring in your New Year?

Happy New Year from Pam, Angie the dog, and Mindy the cat!

 

 

The Praying Dog Walker

Is it wrong to enjoy praying?

No.

No, it’s not wrong, but that doesn’t mean I always do.

Growing up, we prayed in King James English and said a memorized grace at meals. (I confess I resorted to that memorized grace a lot as an adult, too.)

In college, there were group prayers where I spent most of the time thinking up what I was planning to say and trying to sound spiritual.

During much of my adulthood, I enjoyed journaling and those journals often morphed into real prayers. Praying in the car on the way to school worked for me then, too.

But I’ll confess to years at a time that were close to prayerless.

In His grace, God didn’t let me stay that way. Eventually, I had to pray.

Fast forward a few years to the present.

I still struggle. I love the idea of praying continually, but do I have to wade through an checklist-2077022_640interminable list and feel guilty if I leave someone out? What do I do with the “are we done yet?” in the back of mind, or the thoughts about my grocery list?

 

 

Visuals help. I “pray around the country” for family members and unsaved friends, going in different directions for variety’s sake and zooming off to a foreign country on a tangent, then back again.

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I pray when I walk Angie the dog or when I’m driving. I’ve given myself permission not to finish in one sitting.

I’ve tried a schedule with a different focus on each day, but I always feel like I’m leaving someone out. Scratch that.

A couple of weeks ago, as part of our Wednesday night study on spiritual warfare, our pastor, Josh Daffern, discussed “Praying on Purpose.”  One of the strategies he described was to pray a word for someone, letter by letter–a sort of mnemonic device. (Hang in there. ACTS never worked for me, either.) His first word was PURPOSE. You can check out the recording of the study to hear how he used it, along with a great story.  I guess this process is somewhat addictive–in a good way–because Josh went on to generate several more words!

I got hooked, too. I couldn’t stop thinking of words. At last, a different focus for people and situations–something to make my routine, often burdensome list fresh and exciting. When a word popped into my head, a prayer was born, letter by letter. It was easy to tuck a quick but meaningful prayer into a stray moment.

Here’s how I used LEADERS to pray for our nation’s leaders.  You might come up with something different:

L-Pray that they will LEAN on God’s wisdom and strength.

E-Pray that they will lead with EXCELLENCE.

A-Pray that they will be ABLE leaders.

D-Pray that they will be DEDICATED to serving God and their constituents.

E-Pray that they will have ENCOURAGERS in their lives.

R-Pray that they will LIVE RIGHT. (Thanks, Pastor Josh, for R.)

S-Pray that they will be SAVED.

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What can you do with THANKS? (See my answers below.)

Before you grab a notebook and pen and go crazy, let me tell you why this has been such a liberating strategy for me:

  • Since I live in a world of words, this process automatically puts me in “pray continually” mode.
  • As I use little bits of time throughout the day to pray, I connect more often with God.
  • I avoid meaningless repetition because I can change the mnemonic when things get stale. I don’t dread a particular category on my list.
  • When I forget what a letter stands for, I’m prompted to think of a different meaning–hence, more variety.
  • If you pray in a group, with a spouse, or with your children, generating words to pray would be an engaging activity. You could even use a person’s name as a springboard for prayer.

No, my prayers haven’t become one giant acrostic, but this strategy has answered a need in my life. I hope you’ll try it, too.

It’s okay to enjoy prayer.

Let me know how it works for you!

Here’s what I did with THANKS:

T-TANGIBLE blessings; H-HEAVENLY blessings; A-ADVANTAGES; N-NATURE and creation;

K-KINSHIP with Jesus; S-SALVATION.

 

 

The Singing Dog Walker Is on the Move Again

A lot has happened since the Singing Dog Walker last checked in! I’ve decorated the house for Christmas and purchased many of the gifts. This weekend I resolved to get my blog ready for e-mail newsletter subscriptions! Rah! Rah!

Aren’t you glad I didn’t quite make it? More information on my stories and an option to subscribe to my newsletter will be here soon. In the meantime, Angie is walking and I am singing again.

Here’s what’s been happening to us:

Angie continued her rehab for her TPLO surgery and mastered the water treadmill:

Shortly before Halloween, Angie was bitten by a dog that had escaped her collar. God answered my prayer, “Lord, please protect Angie!” The other dog owner flew into action quickly and little Ang escaped with a couple of puncture wounds that healed fast. We hit the trail again pretty quickly, but for a few days she sniffed the scene of the crime, and I did a little less singing!

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We had a dusting of snow before Thanksgiving.

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Mindy the cat kept warm through it all.

Mindy keeps warm

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, I did some cat-sitting for two teacher friends, which is always fun. I celebrated Thanksgiving with dear friends from my community group at church.

Angie got her “Master’s degree” in rehab when she graduated for the second time. I will miss the wonderful team at the Veterinary Surgical Center Rehab in Vienna, Virginia. We will go back for a visit when Angie’s in the mood for a car ride!

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Doesn’t Angie look pensive as she contemplates her future?

Her “awards” are: Golden Paw Print, Just Keep Swimmin’, Step Master, Ninja Warrior, and Beam Me Up (for laser treatments?).

Our community group at church had an early Christmas potluck party last weekend. Beware of game organizers who hand you a gift and a pair of oven mitts!

opening gift

I’m not whining, though. These wonderful folks are my family.

no whining

And so, the Singing Dog Walker and her sidekick Angie are on the move again, bundled up and waiting for Christmas. See you soon with information on how to get my newsletter! Stay warm!

 

The Singing Dog Walker–Part 4

I grabbed Angie’s leash, collar, and harness, stuffed them in my purse, and ditched the umbrella. Anything to save time. It was 3:20 and I’d said 3:00.

I stepped up to the long counter in the emergency room and the receptionist greeted me.

“I’m here to pick up my dog, Angie Green.” It’s not like she was away at boarding school for a year. This was just two nights of medical boarding while you went to a wedding. And now she’s coming home. Relax.

“What was the last name again?”

“Green, like the color.” Am I really that hard to understand? It’s just one syllable. Common name.

“Pet’s name?”

“Angie.” I relaxed the talon-like grip on my purse strap and sighed. No “Oh, yes, Angie! We love Angie.” Usually, they say something like that. Oh, well, they did say she was a sweetheart when I called earlier. I’m sure they were nice to her.

“Have a seat and I’ll let them know you’re here. It’ll just be a few minutes.”

I handed over Angie’s paraphernalia and sat down in the seating area. The gentleman to my left watched football on the TV suspended above the desk. I kept my eye on the door through which the tech would enter, bringing Angie, released from captivity. Poor girl. Had she felt abandoned?

Staring at the posters in the hallway grew old after a few minutes. I could check the score. Don’t recognize those uniforms. What?! The Redskins are ahead? No wonder the guy is so intent on the game.

Another man entered through the main door, leading a large dog who sported a red and blue bandana decorated with white stars. Tongue out, the dog grinned at us. His owner sat down at the opposite end of the long waiting room. “Sit. Good boy. Down. Yes, good boy.”

Flurry of activity. No Angie, just people coming and going behind the counter. The Redskins are still ahead. Wonder if I should bother learning some of the players’ names this year.

A client entered and exchanged a couple of words with one of the receptionists, then helped himself to two cans of soda from a fridge under the coffee machine close to Bandana Dog.

Bandana Dog stood up. Uh oh.

“Sit. Good boy. Down. Good boy. Yes. Relax.”

Bandana dog complied happily. His owner sat back and relaxed, too. No wonder.

I checked the score and the poster on the wall about supporting dogs rescued from Hurricane Harvey. Wonder if they’ll update the poster after Hurricane Florence. Where is Angie?

Wait. Was that a skittering of doggie claws in the hall?

The door opened and Angie burst out, sliding and skittering over the three-foot distance between us. She threw herself at me, then stood on her hind legs in a move that would have made her surgeon wince.  It should have earned an “Off!” from me. Instead, I let her squeeze between my knees and I kissed her shiny black head.

I tried to listen to the tech as he recited what meds Angie had received. “Do you have any questions?”

“No, thanks so much.”

Angie sniffed Football Watching Man’s feet, did a jig, looked up at me, and sat.

She might not be perfect, and she might not have a bandana, but she does have a pink heart ringed with rhinestones on her collar that says, “Angie.”

She’s mine. My little gift from God.

“Come on, Angie. What a good girl she is. Let’s go home.”

On the way home

The Singing Dog Walker–Part 3

Have you missed the Singing Dog Walker? Little Angie has been sidelined over the last few weeks with another CCL tear–this time in her left hind leg. This is the most common orthopedic injury in dogs. She came through her TPLO surgery with flying colors, and today was her checkup and first rehab appointment. We did rehab before, and I was anticipating the royal welcome Angie would receive from the doctor and therapists there.

I wasn’t disappointed. As you can see, Angie rocked her “Doggles” prior to laser therapy. She did a doggie “clamshell” first thing, without being asked, in anticipation of the treat she’d get! (I would have enjoyed clamshells a lot more if I’d gotten treats with each one!)

We’ve taken short walks every day since Angie’s surgery. She attracted a lot of attention in her cone. When she started putting her foot down, her fans applauded her.

I’ve met so many nice people since I’ve become the Singing Dog Walker thanks to Angie. One lady always stops her car wherever she is and comes over to pet Angie and cradle her face in her hands. Today she crossed the street, balancing a boxed cake and a grocery bag. She petted Angie, then paused, looked at me with concern, and asked, “Are you going to have everything you need for the storm? You know where we live. Just come and get us if you need anything–anything at all.”

Angie may be a star, and I’m just her mom and dog walker. She attracts all the attention, but I often reflect on God’s goodness in giving this little star to me, and in planting me in such a wonderful neighborhood many years ago. Back then, only God knew what love and care I’d need over the last few years, and I’m still unpacking the little gifts He gives me every day. Thank You, Lord.

Angie in Doggles

 

Angie in Doggles 2

 

 

 

Pity Party

New teacher Holly Bush of The Jesus Car might have appreciated this poem, which I wrote in 1991 and revised recently.

PITY PARTY

What a day I’ve had!

“Who wants to come to a pity party?” you say.

Then give me something to be happy about.

Make me forget

The gloppy spitballs found on the board.

Give me courage to face the class from you-know-where.

Make me believe

I’m cut out to be a teacher

So I won’t walk straight out the front door

Instead of doing hall duty.

 

“This is the day that the Lord hath made,

We will rejoice and be glad in it,”

Proclaims the plaque on my desk.

It’s only Monday, Lord–

Four more days away from rejoicing.

Today I just want some sympathy,

Period.

 

Just yesterday the preacher asked,

“Where does it say

God wills our days

To be problem-free?”

Then he laid it on the line:

“God’s will is for us to become

More like Jesus Christ.”

 

Hmm.

Could I become like Him

Without icky spitballs,

Toothaches,

And delinquents-in-training–

Those minor annoyances

That fine tune me

And pale in the midst

Of life’s cosmic crises?

 

Jesus, You learned obedience

Through what You suffered.

Did You heal with a headache,

Then rock-pillow Your head at night,

Trying to forget mercenary whines,

Clueless questions,

Sibling rivalry

And Pharisee traps?

Little annoyances–

Pale prelude

To the cosmic work that lay before You.

 

No, Lord, I can’t say I’m eager to sign up

For the fellowship of Your suffering.

Would my bumps and bruises even qualify?

The least I can do right now

As I press on

Is leave this petty pity party.

Fall–behind?

As I drove back from some errands yesterday around three, I had a strange sense of something wrong—out of sync. No dogs trotted down the sidewalk alongside their owners. The neighborhood pool was deserted. I reached for my bottle of water—almost empty. The temperature gauge on my dash read 94, and a perky voice on the radio put the heat index in the hundreds. Gee, thanks! A yellow bus lumbered by.

That was it! The bus. School was in session, but where was fall? When would the little children fly down the street in jeans and long-sleeved shirts? When would Mom bring the family dog to the bus stop and wait for her kids while sipping coffee? When would the grass stop growing and the lawn fill with leaves?

Cool, crisp Septembers in Northern Virginia are about as mythical as White Christmases, but still, I hope for them. The alarm on my “teacher clock” goes off in September and I’m ready for the energy of a new year, even though I walked out of the school door three years ago. Activities at church kick into high gear. Everybody and everything has a meeting the same week. Summer salads disappear from my favorite restaurant, and pumpkin spice beverages appear. (So what if I need something cold and icy?) When I reach the air-conditioned comfort of home, I salivate over catalogs that feature purple boiled wool jackets and plaid skirts. Fall, where are you?

Not Another School Supply List!

Christian radio station, WGTS 91.9 has a back-to-school resource guide for parents who are preparing to send their children back to school. You’ll find articles on topics such as spiritual preparation for the year, handling rejection, and homework. There are also notes for kids and teachers to download, and signs for your first-day pictures. Enjoy!

In her Come Have a Peace blog, Julie Sanders tells “Why School Mom Prayers Matter” and shares her ABCs of prayer resource.

Focus on the Family has a full slate of back-to-school resources, with sections on Transitions, Homework Help, and Challenges.

Looking ahead into the fall, parents might want to read up on Bring Your Bible to School Day, which is October 4. This is a wonderful opportunity for your children to exercise their rights and witness for Christ at the same time!

Teachers can easily feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the year—even before the students arrive. Christian educators in public schools face unique stresses. Check out Christian Educators Association International!

Have a wonderful school year!

 

A Year with Mr. Gruff

You just learned the awful truth. Your little Susie will have Ms. Oh-so-strict this year for fourth grade or John has Mr. Gruff for algebra. What should you do?

It happened to me more than once, and I survived. Chances are your child will, too. Mrs. Reed, my fourth-grade teacher, resembled a short, gnarled, weather-beaten tree. Drill sergeants bark; Mrs. Reed growled. I feared the sudden thunderstorm of her wrath when it came to math. We lined up by her desk to have the mistakes in our word problems pointed out. After a growl of frustration from Mrs. Reed and much red ink from her pen, I’d return to my seat, condemned to try again. Math hadn’t been my forte before fourth grade and having Mrs. Reed didn’t change that.

How about a little reassurance here, Pam?

My mother always struck a great balance between advocating for me when necessary and backing up the teacher’s authority. In fourth grade she thought I was learning enough math and not suffering too much, so she didn’t intervene.

The bottom line: don’t overreact and don’t panic if John has a “problematic” teacher. Wait and gather more information while trying to remain unbiased. In time, you may see that the teacher’s strong points outweigh her weaknesses. Depending on your child’s age and personality, this is also a great way to encourage some independence.

Here are some suggestions for a successful year with Ms. Oh-so-strict or Mr. Gruff:

  1. Start the year with an email just to establish a line of communication with the teacher. Don’t complain or even ask questions. Indicate when and how to contact you. Without being threatening, this shows that you intend to be involved in your child’s education.

 

  1. If you still have concerns after a week or two, contact the teacher directly and arrange to discuss the situation face-to-face. Emails discussing problems can be misunderstood without the benefit of eye contact and other cues.

 

  1. At the conference, relax. View the teacher as a partner in helping your child. Get a feel for how Susie is doing in class, then bring up your concern in a non-threatening manner, using “I messages”: I’m concerned because Susie seems afraid to ask questions about her math assignment. I’ve learned that Susie needs to sit near the front of the room near attentive neighbors in order to concentrate.

 

  1. Ask the teacher for her recommendations. Chances are you will come to a resolution without difficulty and leave the meeting with an action plan that will be easy for all parties to live with. For example, if John never seems to understand the specifics of his homework assignment, he’ll write out the details in his assignment book and the teacher will check and initial it. If you object to the book that John’s English class is reading, you and the teacher will work together to find an alternative meeting curriculum guidelines.

 

  1. Discuss the action plan at home and make sure Susie understands what’s expected of her. Email a thank you to the teacher. You can keep friendly tabs on the situation throughout the grading period.

 

  1. If the meeting doesn’t help resolve the situation, you can seek help from another staff member. A guidance counselor could help with relationship issues or even learning strategies. High schools offer peer or volunteer adult tutoring.

 

  1. If possible, avoid going to the school administration. Your protective instincts may tempt you to bring in the “big guns,” but this move may figure into the teacher’s evaluation and create a hostile relationship. In a middle or high school, the department chair may be able to help, or the guidance counselor may be able to arrange a schedule change.

 

  1. Involve the administration when you have exhausted other avenues. Documentation of how you’ve attempted to resolve the problem will be helpful to the administrator.

 

Did you survive a year with Ms. Oh-so-strict or Mr. Gruff? What did the experience teach you?

Do you have any suggestions for dealing with difficult teachers?