All Things New

Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him, all you peoples. For his loving-kindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Hallelujah!

Psalm 117

From death to life. From grief to hope. Resurrection.

Easter Day reminds us that those who are cast down will be lifted up. That those things having grown old are being made new again. It is a reminder that all things are being perfected and made right by the hand of God.

For all of us today, my prayer is that God will meet us in our need, continue to restore the hurt and fear and grief in our hearts, and bring new life from what has become withered and tired within us.

Praise be to God!

O God, of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look on your whole church with loving-kindness. In peace, carry out your plan of salvation for us. Let the whole world see and know that those cast down things are being raised up, and things that have grown old are being made new, and you are bringing perfection to all things that you have made through the power of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Adapted from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle

To Hell and Back

In less than a month, Charlie and I will celebrate three years of marriage. It has been a beautiful unravelling and weaving for me, learning how to build a life with another person. Here’s a glimpse into what made me fall for him in the first place.

On our road trip to Philadelphia this summer, Chapman and I wore out some of our favorite albums. From Thomas Rhett and John Mayer to Maren Morris and everything in between, by the end of the six-day experience, we had a road trip soundtrack that was GOLD.

While driving through farmland and hillsides in Pennsylvania that week, a song came on that quite literally took my breath away and nearly forced me to pull the car over.

Smoke was coming off my jacket and you didn’t seem to mind. I left a long trail of ashes and you said, “I like your style.” Now, heartbreak ain’t a competition but I took it in a landslide. The skeletons I wanted to bury, you liked out in the light.

As the words faded in and soaked into my mind, gratefulness and grief simultaneously rushed over me. You see, when I met Charlie, I was coming out of a season of real heartbreak and loss. Because of choices I’d made – some not-so-wise and others best-decision-evers – much of what I’d known life to be as an adult was smoldering, and there were parts of me that felt as if they’d been burnt straight to the bone.

My heart was bruised and sore. But my Rescuer had pulled me out of the fire and I was fighting my way back to the kind of life I wanted to build for my kids and me. But life was really tough, y’all. I’m sure you’ve had times in your life like this, too. Those nights when you bawl yourself to sleep out of sheer exhaustion or loneliness or fear or a mix of all of the aforementioned and plus some. It’s heart-wrenching, right?

You didn’t save me, you didn’t think I needed saving. You didn’t change me, you didn’t think I needed changing. My wings are frayed and what’s left of my halo’s black. Lucky for me, your kind of heaven’s been to hell and back, to hell and back.

Sitting across the table from Charlie on our first date, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that he was deeply religious and came from a strong family, that he loved his kids and was devoted to important relationships in his life.

At least that’s what he told me.

I was ready to find the lies and run for the hills. So many people before had stretched the truth or failed to hold up their end of the relationship or ghosted me altogether, and I was ready to add his name to the list.

But that never happened.

Day after day, week after week, this handsome man kept showing up for me and serving me and just loving me. And I came to believe – after years of pain and doubting – that love like that really is out there for us.

Charlie saw me – and still sees me – as a whole person. He embraced – and still embraces – those parts of me that I don’t want anyone to see.

I don’t have to hide myself from him. I don’t have to worry if my past or my brokenness is too much for him. When my demons come calling, because they do and probably always will, he really doesn’t bat an eye. He stands with me in that fight and reminds me of things that are true.

The safety and acceptance and home that I’ve found in Charlie is something I’d never thought I’d find. And even though life is still tough in many ways, I’m so thankful that I get to walk side by side through it all with this man.

Lucky for me, his kind of heaven has been to hell and back.

IMG_9265
Photo courtesy Erin Alaine Photography

Embracing Our Children Through the Tween and Teenage Seasons

IMG_0752Today is my younger boy’s birthday. He’s turning eleven and I am so excited about the man he’s becoming. Parents talk often about cringing and bracing themselves for the middle school and high school years with their kids, and I get that. But several years ago, I read a post by Jen Hatmaker on parenting teens and it gave me so much hope about what life could be like with my two sweeties as they are growing into men.

In her thoughtful and insightful essay, Jen writes about how parenting teens is the “best Mom gig yet.” She encourages parents to “stop imagining that aliens will take over” their children when they turn 13 and instead embrace the idea that as our children grow into their teenage years, there is SO much about them that still remains the same – their humor, their personality, their talents and proclivities… all of these things that are so special and treasured simply start to take on deeper roots.

IMG_1334Naturally, I’ve been thinking about Luke today and what makes him special. All his life, Luke has been enthralled with animals and nature. From hunting for bugs with his brother in our backyard and petting every.single.animal he comes into contact with at the park to caring so well for our rescue dog, Ollie, and researching leopard geckos for literally months in preparation for getting his own, Luke thrives on being around and caring for creatures (humans included). As he’s getting older and dreaming about his future, my boy is thinking very seriously about pursuing work in the field of veterinary medicine. He has plans to become a veterinarian and one day own his own practice. And I’m telling y’all right now, if that’s the path he chooses, Luke will rock it out. (And also, maybe he’ll help me pay off my student loans once he hits the big dolla bills, ’cause I’m fairly certain I’ll still be paying on them.)

As a mother, it’s special for me to see his childlike love of animals grow and bloom into a tremendous life calling to care for animals and their families. And this is one reason why parenting tweens and teenagers is so special: I get a front row seat to my child’s flourishing.

But here’s the catch: This front row seat means nothing if I’m not paying attention.

I read yesterday (in a Cooking Light magazine of all places) that, according to a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, “people who documented and shared their experience on social media formed less precise memories of those events.” That is, the more I try to capture special memories with my phone and share them with others, the less I’m actually going to remember them. Further, the study also showed that taking photos and videos for social media actually lessens a person’s enjoyment and engagement in the moment.

As I reflect on this, it makes sense. If what I care about most is getting the best shot from the most flattering angle while my kids grin and bear it, am I really engaging with them and enjoying them? Probably not.

On the flip side, if I’m just grinding through life and not making an effort to spend intentional time with my kids apart from church, school and extra-curricular events, I’m not paying attention either.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not gonna stop taking pictures of and with my kids and our experiences. I’m also not going to pack our schedules so full of events that we don’t have time to rest and just be. But I think it’s important to strike a balance.

As my boys make their way into a new season of life, I’m making changes in an effort to be more present and to show up and engage in a more meaningful and intentional way. For me, that means putting my phone aside and letting the memories in my mind and heart be enough. It means taking the long way home to see something out of the ordinary just because. It means saying no to some really fun and exciting things so that we can say yes to time with each other.

There are things about my sons getting older that scare the crap out of me, if I’m being completely honest. But the thing I want to remind myself of and really live into is this idea of embracing my sons in their teenage years instead of rolling my eyes and bracing myself for the difficult things that are sure to come.

IMG_1336

So today, on Luke’s eleventh birthday, I look forward to the middle school and high school years in our future, praying that we continue to grow in our relationship with each other, that I continue to build transparency and honesty in how we communicate, that I continue to apologize when I’m wrong and offer grace and understanding when he is, too.

To me, these are some of the hallmarks of a healthy mother-son relationship, and I’m so honored that I get the chance to do this life with my two boys. Knowing that they are growing and maturing makes me want to soak up every minute I can.

On Love and Belonging

This past week, I had the honor and true privilege to train at the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in Atlanta, Georgia. For you non-educators out there, RCA is a non-profit private school that mostly serves students from low-income households. Co-founded by Ron Clark and Kim Bearden, the school also actively trains educators from all over the world on how to build a learning community bursting with light and student engagement and a family-like connectedness that I’ve never seen before. I heard about Ron Clark eight years ago during my first year of teaching, and it has been a dream of mine ever since to see this special school and learn from some of the best educators in the world.

rca1
Students at the Ron Clark Academy | Photo by Teach Me, Teacher

As I spoke with RCA teachers and students over the course of two days, the thing that stood out to me most was the true love they had for each other. And as I started to pull back that truth a bit, I noticed something else: the adults at RCA exude this humble self-assurance that is downright intoxicating.

They are not perfect, nor are they proud. They are not stuck up or high-and-mighty, as we used to say in my family. But RCA educators know themselves. They are assured of who they are and what they are capable of and what they are there to do.

In this moment of realization, something clicked in my mind. I learned from Brene Brown years ago that in order to truly belong anywhere, I must first belong to myself.

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.

Brene Brown

I’ve known for a long time that those who know themselves in deep and abiding ways are able to better love others with the same depth. But I never transposed that same thinking to my career as an educator.

If I am not working from a place of strong self-acceptance and mindfulness, then I am going to crash and burn.

As I reflected on myself, I started to lean a bit closer to the proverbial mirror for a closer look. Who am I? What are my gifts as an educator? What are some ways that I can bring who I am into the classroom and allow those special qualities in me inspire students every day as they learn? These are questions I’ve never really asked of myself before. I’ve used hundreds of teaching strategies and methods. I’ve gone outside the box more times than I can count to get my students engaged and motivated to learn over the past eight years. But in all of that, I wasn’t considering myself and my gifts at all. And I think that’s really where it should start.

I can pour all of myself entirely into my work as a teacher, but if I am not working from a place of strong self-acceptance and mindfulness, then I am going to crash and burn.

And I have. Year after year after year, I find myself crawling to the end of May like my life depends on it. This might be your experience, too.

Seeing this error is not enough, I know. In order for me to get out of this all-too-common rut, I must be willing to make some changes.

turned on pendant lamp
Photo by Burak Kebapci on Pexels.com

1. I need to re-examine my gifts and talents. What things bring me joy? What am I good at? What about me blesses and encourages others? These are all questions I need to lean into and ask – not just of myself, but also of those who know me well.

2. I need to find my tool. Brandon Fleming, a former educator at the Ron Clark Academy, shared with us on Friday about finding our tool to engage students and bring the classroom to life. For him, it’s debate. For Wade King, Social Studies and Current Events teacher at RCA, it’s music. Each teacher at the Ron Clark Academy has a go-to tool that empowers them to draw students in and actively participate in the learning process. As I rest and recuperate this summer, I will be exploring what tool I need to develop in order to do the same.

3. I need to put relationships at the center. At the Ron Clark Academy, none of the chants and songs and dances and engaging class activities would work without the family-like community they have. I’ve written before about the significance of a positive classroom culture and strong student-teacher relationships. After visiting RCA, I’m an even bigger believer in the transforming power that love and care can have in the classroom.

Several years ago, when I found myself in the midst of a devastating divorce, I found rock bottom. And it was in that place of profound darkness and fear and desperation that I came to truly know and love myself for the first time in my entire life. With the help of a few close friends and family members and my therapist, I worked for years to build a new life, one that is authentically real. I know the power that comes with finding oneself and living in that new light. And I can’t wait to see the changes that take place in my classroom now that I am learning to apply that same life-changing perspective in my role as an educator.

Thank you, Kim, and all of the the other incredible RCA faculty and staff. You have given me a gift that will impact my life and the lives of thousands of students for years to come.

The Storm

 

Dear Ellie,

I recently ended a relationship with someone I loved very much. Things were really good between us for a good while – almost five years – but over the past several months, somehow we stopped being happy together. In every way, he was exactly what I needed. Except this: he’s married.

I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking. He’s not married like everyone else I see is married. He’s married in the “we live in the same house but haven’t touched in years” way. He and his wife even sleep in separate bedrooms, for crying out loud. They haven’t been happy together for a long time, if ever.

What started as a really great friendship between us has evolved into a complete clusterf*ck and now I’m afraid I’ll never talk to him again. 

I’m writing you now because I woke up to an email from him this morning. Promising that he was going to see an attorney and get the ball rolling on a divorce. Begging me to reconsider. Telling me all the things I already know – that we are perfect together except for this small detail.

I’m afraid that I’m not strong enough to end this relationship and move on with my life. I have given him five years of my life and looking back it seems as if it’s all been a complete waste. I’m also afraid that I’ll never find this kind of love again, that every other man I meet after this will pale in comparison to him.

Am I a complete asshole for wanting him to leave his wife for a relationship with me? How do I move on with my life without constantly looking in the rear-view mirror at what I’m leaving behind?

Love,

Dead End Road


Dear Dead End Road,

I am so sorry for your heartache. Ending a relationship with someone you love is one of the most gut-wrenching choices to make. When I think of the five most traumatic experiences of my life, the end of a relationship in one way or another fills the top three spots.

When I was in the middle of my divorce, friends surrounded me in ways I didn’t know friends could. I had no idea how many people really cared about me until I started walking through the fire and they joined me on the road of coals.

One of these people I had known since college. We were just acquaintances for years, but even then we shared a strong connection. I was drawn to his intellect, the thoughtful way he moved about his life, the love he had for his child, and, if I’m being honest, how much he seemed to like me. He was married, too. But much like your mister. Over the years, we developed a strong friendship based on mutual respect and care.

As my divorce was finalized, I found myself becoming more and more drawn to this man. I felt safe with him. As much as one can by someone living states apart. It was probably the first time in all my life that I’d felt sheltered by a man who was not a family member. Reeling from a terrible marriage, this feeling of safety and security was something I craved.

It took me a long time, but I finally came to understand the huge mistake I was making by investing so much of my time and emotional capacity in someone who was still at least one foot in his marriage. Looking back, it seems so obvious. But when you’re eyeballs deep in feelings for someone, it is tough to see things clearly.

What was so difficult about this realization was that it came way too late. In the process of trying to figure out what the hell to do with the mess we created, this man and I destroyed the friendship that we had enjoyed for over a decade. To date, it is one of the deepest, most profound losses of my life.

Love is something that moves freely between two people. It is not forced, and it is not compelled.

Dead End Road, you are not an asshole for wanting this man to leave his wreck of a marriage for you. But it doesn’t really matter what you want for him. What matters is what he wants for himself. You could be the perfect woman, everything he needs, but you will never be able to convince him to love you fully. Love is something that moves freely between two people. It is not forced, and it is not compelled.

So I would encourage you to shift your focus to the second question you ask: How do I move on with my life without constantly looking in the rear-view mirror at what I’m leaving behind?

At the heart of your letter, Dead End Road, is a profound need to be loved. I can say that because I know exactly what that feels and looks like. This man – and any other person for that matter – will never be able to love you the way you must love yourself first. For me, it meant that I started some intense self-care practices that I used during my divorce. I made a list of all the things that brought me joy or calmed me or made me happy, and I committed to doing at least one of those things every day. By taking care of myself, I was able to shift my focus from the man I cared about to what mattered more than any other relationship – the relationship I had with myself.

I also reached out to safe female friends who loved me and who had earned the right to hear my shame story. I knew that these “move a body” friends would not judge me, that they would look me in the eyeballs and be willing to hear every guilt-filled detail without wincing or rolling their eyes. I knew that they would walk with me down the path to my own healing, and that we would all be better for it.

I’m now almost four years down this path, and while it has not been easy, I have learned so much about myself and about what an authentic, loving relationship should look like.

IMG_9265
Photo courtesy Erin Alaine Photography

I am now married to a man who is one of the most devoted, sacrificing, forgiving people I have ever known. The love we share is rich and full and imperfectly perfect. He sees my flaws and loves me all the more. And you know what? He is 100% dialed in to our relationship. He’s not tied up in anyone else’s apron strings. He’s willing to do really tough things to love me well. I trust him completely.

The work that lies before you is worth it, my dear. It is grueling and will make you want to bawl your head off every now and then. But on the other side of that hill is a whole life full of whole love, and it’s waiting for you.

During that broken-hearted season in my life, these lyrics from a song by Mumford & Sons entitled “After the Storm” were a soothing balm for me. I hope they will be for you as well.

But there will come a time, you’ll see,
with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart,
but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart
and flowers in your hair.

I believe that all of our past experiences come together to create the people that we are – beautiful and broken and altogether breathtaking. As I’ve grown in my understanding of failures in life, I’ve learned that the only true way to be restored is to embrace them, to hold them tightly to our chest and let them shape us into stronger, softer, deeper feeling people.

You see, Dead End Road, you’re not on a dead end road at all. While the path you’re on might not be clear right now, there is so much more life and love in front of you. One step in front of the other, I’m sure you’ll find your way. And women like me who have walked this same road are standing on the sidelines cheering you on.

On my wedding day a little over a year ago, I wore a flower clasp in my hair to honor that difficult season, to pay homage to the woman who was broken and hurting and trying to find her way to a healthier, more love-filled life. Now, when I see that clasp resting among my other bridal jewelry on our dresser, I will think of you, too. I’m rooting for you, my sister.

Ellie

If you want to reach out to Ellie, you can contact her here.