Finding Ways Through Math Anxiety

Today I write from two perspectives, well maybe three. I write as a teacher who has helped many students fill gaps in their learning of mathematics, as a parent who has watched her own children struggle, and now as a home educator using all I know to help fill gaps for my children. The struggle is real. As a public school educator responsible for teaching state standards, I realize how quickly the pace truly is in many of our schools. Teachers are slammed with data comparing their students with others and many times are made to feel like losers themselves. While there have to be math teachers out there rocking it, there are also math teachers struggling. We may find ourselves in both categories. But without a doubt, every year I taught fifth grade, my classroom was filled with more students lacking foundational math skills than not, and we can’t hope for growth unless we slow it down and address it.

Truthfully, I had my own personal struggles learning math as a child. My pace of learning math was much slower than my peers. There were teachers who were willing to help me in my primary grades which is why I never quit, but I missed out on recess for scoring low and was the victim of a teacher trying to reteach subtraction the same way over and over even though the method made zero sense to my six year old brain. But in high school, when the instruction felt completely foreign, I’d quit trying to learn and my anxious thoughts took over. My self talk was very negative and if it wasn’t for peers who understood, I wouldn’t have continued to try.

Ultimately, I did not want to be a math failure. I truly wanted to understand and succeed academically. One thing I started to do for myself was to continue taking notes and put question marks even when instruction ceased making sense. So when my friend would reteach a lesson to me after school, we would go back to those specific questions that were marked. This saved me! I stopped shutting down during instruction, took responsibility for my learning, and learned how to ask specific questions to find connections that were missing in my mind. These are ideas I’ve always tried to teach my students, too.

Teaching fifth grade math for years, most of my students came to me lacking foundational skills. However, learning to see natural signs of avoidance and discomfort was second nature. Math anxiety is real. Seeing students shut down immediately while transitioning to math was something I always looked for and talked about. Over the years, students told me my math instruction was the first time they understood place value or multiplication or long division. But I can honestly tell you that to get those students to that point, there were bouts of panic, tears, and anxiety to overcome.

Now I’m seeing it first hand with my children as they learn math, too. But my oldest child, now in fifth grade, is why I want to address this today. She has always been a strong student but started exhibiting behaviors of avoidance last year in the fourth grade. Her behaviors stemmed from not understanding and often led to her being in trouble. At the time, I thought she was being rebellious, but now as we re-enter into those math skills, her anxiety rears itself in the form of angry outbursts, tears, and stomach pain. To counteract this, I reassure her it’s okay if she uses her fingers (I’m 38 and still do sometimes), I remind her it’s okay to make mistakes, and more than anything, there is no hurry. She is safe with me. She doesn’t have to worry about not knowing the answers all the time, making mistakes is a natural way of learning, and I’m right next to her to help when she is facing confusion and self-doubt.

My teaching career has shown me that the longer our students face an inability to form necessary connections in their math foundation, the more anxious they feel and will be less likely to ask questions. Their behavior can become erratic and they will do anything they can to avoid math. If not addressed by us as their teachers, the less likely we will help them grow in their gaps while they are our students.

When we see struggling students, there are things we can do immediately to help lessen our students’ anxiety:

Teach them how to breathe through their anxiety and let them close their books or notebooks.

Go over examples explicitly and don’t rely on things they “should already know.” Show them how to write this in their notes, too.

Let them use their fingers! Eventually they will pick up patterns and not need to (or maybe they always will) but if they need their fingers, let them use them! What is the big deal about using fingers, anyway?

Remind them that making mistakes is okay. The process is more important.

Rely on small group instruction and even individual instruction when necessary.

Review, review, review before going on!

Model making connections during instruction.

Use real talk with your students. Acknowledging that I struggled and found a way through it has helped many of my students throughout the years.

Today, I helped my own child in place value and using algebraic skills. I talked her down from the ledge of anxiety and frustration. Because she didn’t quit, she gained in grit. I stayed close by at first and then walked away so she could do more on her own and learn a process after showing her some examples. It was amazing to watch as she pulled out her math notebook (that she started on her own) and begin writing down what she knew she would forget. I helped her mark some areas with more explicit examples so she could return later and truly understand.

The process started out a little painful. She lashed out more because she’s in the comfort of her own home. Admittedly, I used a few choice words before reigning in and realizing she was acting out from anxiety. Math instruction can look messy and we talked about that. She was able to voice her frustrations from previous years and her mom teacher just listened without judgement. We won today and developed more perseverance. That’s a win for #MathMonday!

What do you do to help your students or children gain in math through their anxiety? Let’s continue the discussion!

Here is a little story my daughter and I put together using the Book Creator App! Enjoy!

#OneMonthGoals Reflection

This past August was my first round of #OneMonthGoals. Read here for how I stumbled upon Michael Matera, Educator and Author of Explore Like a Pirate, and his encouragement to join his movement one month at a time! His goal was different than mine, and others who gave it a go had their own goals. It has been refreshing to see other people doing things we’ve been sitting on for too long. We finally put in the action required!

The discoveries I made this month are priceless. The lessons on real self care will stay with me forever and continue to help me grow. The encouragement of people supporting me was awesome. Thank YOU for joining me this first month and I hope you will be encouraged to start your own journey, too.

Celebrating a personal challenge!

My initial goal for August was to spend 30-35 minutes, three times a week, at the local gym that my husband and I pay a pretty chunk to every month. That meant that I had to get over myself and come to terms with my insecurities. It meant that I had to be purposeful about how I spent my time and make sure I was scheduling time for myself, which as a mom of five, is a challenge all on its own. There are women in my life who have made their health priorities and to those women, I applaud you! Your examples mean so much and watching you has encouraged me more than you could know!

Benefits of starting my #OneMonthGoals journey:

I surpassed my goal of 30-35 minutes! By week two, I enjoyed my workout so much that they have lasted at least one hour.

Found out how incredible it feels to challenge myself physically and feel good about it within.

Feel more comfortable in the gym setting and know more about some of the machines.

I’ve become my number one cheerleader. I learned early on that the guilt and negative self-talk would not get me anywhere. So, I just started using positive talk, like I would my friend, and it pushed me beyond what I thought I could do. Even now, my mindset has shifted and my thoughts towards myself are that of a healthier-minded person! This is transformative!

I finally understand what self care really looks like. It’s not giving in to every guilty pleasure. It’s doing what’s best for me even when I don’t feel like it. It’s carving time for myself to do what I need to do. It’s allowing myself the grace I’d give to anyone else, and understanding that even when I fail or fall behind, I’m not a loser. Self care is surrounding myself with supportive people and being supportive of others who have goals.

Feeling confident inside & out!

I’m going to keep working on #OneMonthGoals because it has helped me stay accountable and encouraged. My September goal is to try one new thing at the gym that I’ve been too scared to do for a myriad of reasons. I know I want to play basketball, do a water aerobics class, and who knows what else! I believe by the end of the month, I’ll be more brave and fit. It’s exciting to think about!

Another benefit of completing my #OneMonthGoals is showing myself that I can finish something that seemed too hard in the past. I enjoy exercising! My kids are seeing me take care of my health and that is something that will speak to them as they grow up. Jogging on a treadmill with a smile on my face is not someone I thought I’d be, but here we are, folks. I predict by August of 2020, my reflection on this past year will be one of tremendous pride, growth, and gratitude that I’ve only had a taste of so far!

It’s not too late to join me! What will your #OneMonthGoals look like?

Learned how empowering it is to put myself on the priority list! Created an inspiring playlist helped, too!

#VintageAugust: The More Things Change….

The more things change, the more they stay the same is illustrated by a young man’s social media posts on FaceBook. Monty Kane is an actor who is using his talent of recreation to educate his audience that though our country has made major strides for equality, we still have much work to do. If you follow his #VintageAugust posts, you will see how history continues to repeat itself through systemic racism. You can feel his passion as he recreates for #VintageAugust. He’s not just trying to make a name for himself, he’s celebrating the men who came before him so he is able to do what he is doing now. #VintageAugust is recreative art through pictures of men who lived through slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement. He said he likes to weave history in the present to show the similarities. He’s had mostly positive feedback, but wise beyond his years, feels that for those who don’t understand, it’s because they had a whole lifetime of growing up learning something different. He is not trying to change people’s minds, he just wants to celebrate the history that paved the way for him. For anyone who cares about humanity, #VintageAugust is not easy to see and read, but he is hoping the discomfort we feel will push us to see life in our century from the lens of a Person Of Color. What you do with this information is up to you, but he’s bravely and vulnerably allowing his art to be a catalyst of transformation.

Here is Monty Kane’s latest recreation of BoJangles, a man who fought for better acting roles for African American actors while he made a living by his simpleton roles.
Photo Credit: Monty Kane

As a teacher, it thrills me to read someone’s writing and research as he explains why he chose the recreation and tells about the time in history. That’s why I asked and he agreed to have a Skype interview! Though I am almost two decades older than Monty, I am learning so much through this process. His #VintageAugust clearly makes the case that we need more than a month of Black History and Black History is not just for Black People. The history he showcases is a history meaningful to us all.

When talking about systemic racism, the argument “that was a long time ago” is often used to excuse ourselves as white people from responsibility of creating necessary change. But Monty’s own life reflects that our public systems, especially our schools, are still very oppressive for People Of Color (POC) as he recalls his public school education that took place in the 2000s. Growing up in urban Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he had a positive and strong upbringing by his mother and Grammen. Grammen is the name he gave his grandmother when he was a youngster and could not say “Grand One” clearly. He said they really didn’t have much but he felt like he had everything because of the love poured out on himself and siblings.

Monty Kane’s Mother

But his schooling? Not so bright. When we discussed the challenges Monty faced as a young person, he said it was a lack of resources. In high school, he transferred to a charter school and there were 8-10 students per class as opposed to the 30-40 students per class at his public school. That’s when he realized there were other schools with smaller classes, library databases, and caring adults who could help students figure out college, which became a possibility as learning came to life after he transferred to his new school. He really got into his education, even though math was difficult for him and he realized he was considerably behind from not gaining skills his entire k-8 grades. He had a lot of catching up to do! BUT he did. And the math teacher that helped him, Tom Mlynarek, is his friend to this day. He described that in public school he was falling through the cracks, and whether he was doing his work or not, he wasn’t learning much and no one seemed to care. But at his new high school, it was opposite. Again, as an educator, this means so much to hear from a young person’s perspective. This highlights the lack of equitable experiences for many living in urban areas and the desperate need for a systematic overhaul so all children have the tools necessary to succeed in life. Although Monty was able to leave a failing system, thousands of other students were not. He said he was not aware of the lack of resources until he attended a school that was able to support his learning needs in the ways it counts for young people!

It was probably through a hashtag during Black History Month over a year ago that I first came across Monty’s work on Facebook. Have you ever met someone and just knew they were destined for great things? Well, that’s how I would describe my friend, Monty Kane. At the time he was a college student, but as of May 2019, he is a graduate of Cardinal Stritch University. I celebrated this milestone along with him through social media.

Before this August, I’ve watched him recreate scenes from the show Martin and laughed because he nails him every time. I’ve watched him sing, laugh, and act realizing I’m watching a young star come up! The more he put out there for us, the more I wanted to know the story of Monty’s life. And while listening to him describe it, I see how he has defeated every stereotype thrown at him. Though he grew up with a single mom, she was not weak, nor was his grandmother. He had everything he needed. He did not choose a gangster lifestyle, and has kept away from drugs, including alcohol. He thrived in school and learning about African American culture was among his favorite studies. He’s faced setbacks and learned from them. He appreciates the Men and Women Of Color who came before him.

Photo Credit: Monty Kane

Monty says he has always loved acting. His first gig was as an infant, starring as Baby Jesus! By age five, he knew acting was for him. He acted in community theater and used it to help give back to his hometown. They would collect hygiene items or canned goods for the homeless in lieu of selling tickets. After high school, he studied at a culinary school because he thought that was a safer path and he was good at cooking. He didn’t share with everyone that he really wanted to go into acting, but the same week he left culinary school, someone shared with him about Cardinal Stritch University and how their theater arts program was amazing. He wants to share that it’s good to have a plan B, but don’t have a plan B until you wear out Plan A. Plan A was acting and he realized that there wasn’t going to be joy in his life unless he pursued his passions. So as a young man, his love of acting plus giving back to his community has been his drive.

Monty Kane’s Grammen

The more he spoke in our interview, the more I could see the legacy of his Grammen and Mother living right on through everything he has done in and with his life. As a public school educator, I know hundreds of young people. I can tell you that he stands out as a young man fiercely determined to see his dreams come to light. His talent is beyond the superficial. He is already a role model for people of all ages. Our country needs the kind of strength emanating from his art. It will bring forth much needed change if we allow ourselves to grow through the discomfort. Our young people still need for us to fight for equitable resources and opportunities in education. History curriculum needs to embrace our minority heroes who helped build this country up to the amazing nation it is today so our students see themselves as part of a living history and continue the work. Resources, smaller classes, and counselors helping students visualize a productive future with their talents is priceless and necessary. Monty Kane, through his life and art of recreation, is proof we all need to be putting in the work to fight and change the oppressive systems that still exist.

Photo Credit: Monty Kane

Follow Monty on his Facebook Page The Monty Kane Project which features original skits and recreated scenes: https://www.facebook.com/TheMontyKaneProject/    

Monty’s next play is Alabama Story and its based on segregation: https://www.facebook.com/events/2341943099398616/?ti=cl

#OneMonthGoals: Self Care

Something amazing has happened as I’ve pursued my #OneMonthGoals of using my gym membership at least three times a week for 30-35 minutes each:  I finally understand the value of self care! I’ve been reading about it and asking others about their self care goals, but very rarely giving my own serious consideration.  And to be honest, I think my idea of self care was more along the lines of self-indulgence more than caring for my body.  

First time to go one full hour! Super intense!

But yesterday, as I was pushing myself on the treadmill to go the full hour and get in three miles before my time was up, there was so much happening inside my mind: 

  1.  I was using positive self-talk!  I was cheering myself on, letting me know that I was proud of the work I was putting in.  I let myself know that it was okay to push away the negative talk as it came and just be in this moment.  I was my own cheerleader.
  2. I realized that I NEED this time. Yes, it is a privilege that we have a gym membership.  It’s a privilege that I’m not working full time outside my home and this year I can take time to work on my health because along with our membership, my kids are also busy playing and exercising–away from me! 90 minutes to focus on my health and get fit feels dang good for all of us! 
  3. I am not worried about weighing in.  I have flunked so many diets and began and quit them throughout my life and one thing that discouraged me was getting on the scale. I would not eat before weighing in or I would cancel out anything good when the scale did not reflect what I hoped it would.  These last couple of weeks, I’m focused on transformation. I’ve learned that the change I want in my life comes with putting in hard work and keeping it going. The weight will eventually come off if I commit to being active, but that $%$% scale has no hold on my mentality! 
  4. I enjoy sweating my butt off!  My thoughts are clear and my determination to love my body as it is today is something I’ve struggled to embrace for a very long time.  Even when I’m not at the gym, I’m moving more at home or wherever I am.
Chose this tee because it describes the transformation happening inside and out!

Buying some cute workout clothes, another privilege, has made it more fun, too.  I chose outfits that were comfortable and inspiring, AND my pants also hold my phone so I can enjoy my favorite music uninterrupted. I always give glory to my Father in Heaven for all good things in my life and this is no exception.  Staying accountable to my friend who put this challenge out there, Michael Matera, is also part of my success. As I’ve posted my #OneMonthGoals on Facebook, I’ve enjoyed all the encouragement from my friends! THANK YOU for supporting me! It really does mean a lot. 

I’m a large woman.  Going to the gym has never been easy for me.  I can’t afford weight loss surgery and honestly, I’m afraid if I go that route, I’d still return to old habits that have kept me unhealthy.  It would be incredible if this inspired another person to take action using small steps! 

So along those lines…. What will your #OneMonthGoals be? 

One Man’s Journey to Extend Humanity at the Border: Another Man’s Prayer Answered

By Melody McAllister & Ryan Murphy

In early July, Ryan Murphy (known in his circle as Murphy), husband of Kelly, and father of three, put a Facebook shoutout for anyone who wanted to accompany him to the McAllen border for a missions trip to be of service for the migrants being detained there.  All summer long you have probably seen many mission trip photos from countries all over the world, but this mission was different. This one was intended to be in our home country, and as a resident of Texas, practically his backyard. My only claim as Murphy’s friend is pretty loose.  We are friends of friends, joined together because we love Jesus more than our politics, and we want to show what it means to live that kind of faith out loud.  

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:18

So when Murphy put his call out, it was already on my heart to find a way to truly touch the lives of migrant children and adults at our southern borders. I had been praying for a way to really help another human, more than giving money to immigration lawyers, although giving to RAICES is very helpful. I was hoping it meant I could join his group and travel to McAllen, TX, but that just wasn’t in the cards for me right now. Murphy gave me information about the trip and said he would fill me in on everything and we both hoped this would lead to more trips to the border. He was glad to fill me in on his plans, and I felt compelled within my spirit to give financially, though he did not ask that of me, and I entrusted him to use the funds for however it needed to be used the most. He left July 21st and returned July 25th with two of his friends, Ryan Uran and Vanessa Trevino, both whom are bilingual, which made genuine communication with the people they wanted to serve, possible.

After the trip was over, Murphy called me and filled me in on the entire trip!  We talked for almost an hour about how the events they experienced unfolded. There is so much going on at the border, that while I touch on, I would have to study the law intensely before giving an accurate account. But there is one story that we want to share with you: the story of one man,*Pedro, and his daughter *Julia, from Honduras (names have been changed to protect their identities).  Anyone could easily discount this duo as lawbreakers, illegals,or aliens, and never give them a second thought. In fact, under our current presidential administration, those entering our borders are being processed as criminals. But after reading the story of their journey to the United States, we are hoping you’ll see dignity, hope, and value in the lives of those sacrificing everything to be here.  We hope their story will help to cut through party lines and politics and restore humanity to the thousands of people daily trying to reach our shores. Many loud voices are constantly shouting for us to be afraid of these people, that they are here to steal our jobs and cause terrorism. And while there will always be evil wherever there are people, we believe that most people face the perils of coming here to experience the paradise we know and love as The United States of America. 

Murphy and his two friends, Vanessa and Ryan, began their mission at the Catholic Charities of McAllen, a mission helping immigrants after they have been processed by ICE.  This mission sits across from the bus stop that will take thousands of people to their sponsors, mostly family members who are here legally. This charity gives each person a set of clothes, food, toiletries, shoes if necessary, and pays for their bus tickets out of McAllen.  This is where the trio worked to go through clothing donations the first day. But what they discovered is that they loved being near the children. Children who were sick and exhausted from a long, arduous journey. Children who had not felt like children for weeks…or maybe longer depending on life in their home countries.  

Murphy, Vanessa, *Pedro & *Julia stop on way to Fort Worth.

One child, Julia, found her way into the affections of Murphy and Vanessa with her shining personality (before the last day, Ryan Uran had to leave). She wanted them to teach her English. She already knew some and decided to practice on them. Murphy and Vanessa spent the last day with Julia and all the other kids, but when it was time for them to leave and return home, Julia didn’t budge. She pleaded with them not to go. Her father, close by, came over to thank Murphy and Vanessa for all the time they poured into his daughter and he explained that they were on their way to Tulsa, OK. Through the interpretation of Vanessa, these Hondurans’ story came to be known to their new American friends.

What came next can only be described as wisdom from the Holy Spirit. For Murphy felt compelled to drive this duo to Oklahoma himself, as it was only a few hours from his own home.  Pedro could not believe this invitation but accepted. Murphy went through the proper channels and was granted permission to take them to Pedro’s sister, who would be sponsoring them.  This saved the charity two bus tickets for two more people, and it gave Murphy and Vanessa even more time to build human connections with two people many of us would never have given a second thought.  

Vanessa & Julia

Murphy described that as soon as they left the charity, both new passengers were glued to their windows in disbelief of the beauty of cars passing by, fast food restaurants, houses, and things that are so normal to us, we would never dream to label as beautiful. To them, they saw Heaven.  Murphy looked back at a silent Pedro, with tears streaming down his eyes, as he looked upon Julia, who had fallen into a deep sleep next to him. A kind of sleep, he explained, that she had not experienced for four weeks on their journey through Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and finally, here.  

They dropped Vanessa off at home and because they had started this long drive in the late afternoon, Murphy asked Pedro if they’d like to spend the night with his family outside of Fort Worth, Texas.  At home, Murphy’s wife, Kelly, got their guest room and bed ready for their visitors. When they arrived, their daughter took Julia and played with her, like little girls play, with makeup and hair, and clothes galore.  Murphy’s daughter was happy to give Julia some of her clothes. Murphy recalled they all slept in late the next morning, but Julia slept in the latest. One can only imagine the peace she finally felt being loved on, being fed, feeling valued, having a warm shower to herself and feeling clean for the first time in weeks.  

Before the kids woke up, Murphy and Pedro had coffee and breakfast together. They spoke mainly about Jesus and the church. You see Pedro is also a Believer in Christ, an Anglican to be exact. He shared his frustrations of the institution of church in Honduras, mirroring much of the wealth driven ministries of our own country. Yet his faith was strong and Jesus was his reason for caring for his family. His faith pushed him to leave the country he loves to this new land that would offer respite, resources, and ultimately safety. They talked about how God loves the immigrant. Pedro asked for Murphy’s Google Translate to say a long sentence, Pedro said, “I have no words to thank you for what you are doing for me and my daughter, but what I do know is that our Father in Heaven has perfect gratitude for you. There is so much Peace in your house, a house that I do not know. Here in this house that I do not know, I feel as If I have been here many times before. The Peace I feel is priceless.”

Pedro & Julia are ready to head to his sister’s house in Tulsa after an evening of respite.

Later that day, Murphy loaded up his new friends along with two of his children and they took them to Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Pedro recalled more of his thoughts to Murphy When I was on the road to the United States and saw my daughter sleeping on the floor, I asked God for help on my trip into the United States. Yet, I never imagined that God would present Himself in such a direct way through you to help us. At the Center in McAllen I was pleased to meet you, and knew God had introduced us, because I am sure that you are people with God in your hearts.” 

The thought of riding the bus to Tulsa, and not knowing English well meant Pedro was afraid he wouldn’t have made it to his sister’s house.  Murphy’s invitation to take them to Tulsa was an answer to Pedro’s prayers. It was God showing him that he was valued and loved by His Creator.  Pedro felt seen. 

When they made it to Pedro’s sister’s house, Pedro’s sister greeted them with weeping and overwhelming joy, saying she was so glad God had brought them home. On the journey home from McAllen, Pedro had shared with Vanessa that Julia had never ridden a bike before because he was never able to afford one. When Julia walked into the house, her aunt surprised her with a brand new bike to celebrate their arrival!  

Murphy and his children were invited to eat with them, which Murphy accepted before heading home.  But before they left, Murphy gave Pedro a financial blessing, the money I had entrusted to him for whatever purpose he chose along this trip.  At first, Pedro would not receive the money, what meant to him was a month’s wages. Murphy showed him messages of our exchanges and Pedro agreed to accept, grateful and with thanksgiving. When Murphy shared this part with me, I wished I had given more.  I could not believe that God had literally used our donation to directly help a human being, and it was the answer to my prayers. It was more evidence that our heartfelt prayers were truly from God. The way He aligns our lives together and joins them in such intricate ways is something we could never plan ourselves. 

And though I have never met Murphy, Pedro,Vanessa, Ryan or Kelly, we are linked in being obedient to God.  As all of us are Followers of Christ, and we know our futures are held in His Hands. We are linked through our brotherhood and sisterhood of our Father who sees us as beautiful and worthy.  As a born citizen of this country, I may be recognized by the government of belonging here. But the citizenship of Heaven is open for all of us if we choose. Christ does not discriminate along nationalities, race, gender, or anything else.  Murphy, Pedro, Vanessa, Ryan, Kelly, and I see each other as that, accepted as equal in Christ’s love.  

You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. Exodus 23:9

We do not know what will come of Pedro and Julia.  Pedro was an electrical engineer in Honduras, but will be sheetrocking with his family to begin making money immediately.  He is not here to steal work. He is here to make a better life for his family and he’d like to bring a son over that needs better medical attention.  He is a smart man, willing to use whatever means he has been blessed by God to use to make life better for his family. Can’t we all identify with him? 

The media and politicians are always trying to make us believe one thing over another.  They want us to get caught up in confusion about laws. They want us to be filled with fear. They stir up whatever emotion they can to play us against each other. In our fear and anger we relegate human beings at the border simply as illegals and we go on our way.  We may see them as nuisances.  Sometimes we see them as humans but we have no idea how to help them.  We feel powerless and think our paltry prayers can do nothing.  

But fellow Believer in Christ, our prayers are what tie us into our Father and tie us into each other.  Never for a minute believe that your prayers are useless. God heard and answered Pedro’s prayers and he heard Murphy’s and mine, too.  

If you’d like to be the hands and feet of Christ to migrants at our borders, Murphy’s example has shown us a direct way. We can give directly to the Catholic Charities of McAllen or even plan a visit there to volunteer. After discussing with Ryan, financial donations are best if you want to support this charity. They will use the money to help buy bus tickets for the migrants to their sponsors and for supplies they know they need. Murphy is planning on more trips to our border so stay tuned for this information coming.

But, friend, please notice all the patterns of love shown.  The love of Christ in Pedro, the message we all believe, but see how it is lived out by a man who is not like us.  The promises Christ made for us, citizens of the US are the same and very real for everyone who believes, no matter where they are born.  But also see the love in the trio who sacrificed to make it to McAllen, and in the hundreds of volunteers who help run the charity, daily, so they can be human to many unknown faces.  See the love in those who stayed at home, like Murphy’s wife Kelly, to take care of kids and prepare a place of rest for visitors who were accepted as family members. See the love in the children playing, and in the rest and financial offering.  See the love in those who are here and sponsoring family members. Where there is Christ, His love abounds.  

This story is brought to you to illustrate the humanity people at our borders still need even while others scoff that we should even care about deplorable conditions for those who break the law coming here. This isn’t just an issue of legislation, it is more an issue of our hearts, for those of us who profess to love Christ but fail to take action when it is desperately needed. By sharing this story, we hope more people will see humanity from the perspective of our Father and reach out to be a real light in the darkness.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

#OneMonthGoal

I’m so excited!! Tonight I did something I’ve been thinking and talking about for months! I finally used our gym membership for more than just sitting in the hot tub while my kids swam and for tanning. My goal this month is to use my gym membership for three 35- minute sessions a week. So, I got on a treadmill, walked a mile and then my husband, Mac, helped me on the different weight machines. Took about 45 minutes.

I walked one mile in less than 20 minutes! Wahoo!

I probably wouldn’t have started today but I saw a post from my Facebook friend, Michael Matera, asking anyone who wanted to join him with his own #onemonthgoal on August 1st. His is to run a mile everyday until he’s ran 27 miles in a month. And he admits he is not a runner. When I saw his Facebook request, at first I felt super shy about posting my own goal. It seemed kind of pathetic when I thought of it from other people’s perspectives. But you know what? That is just my negative self-talk. I’m going to be 40 in a year and a half, and starting now will get me to where I want to be health-wise in the future.

So today, I made sure my legs were shaved. Made sure I had my ankle socks and tennis shoes ready. Put my KC Royals tee on. The most important piece was making a new playlist that would inspire me. I was all set. My husband came home from work, we gathered the kids, and we went to the gym. Our membership plan allows for babysitting while I work out, so there was nothing holding me back. Mac being there with me was the emotional support I needed to step onto that treadmill and realize that no one was noticing or judging me. If I would just stop judging me, then I’d be all set. Turning my songs up as loud as I could, I tuned the world out and got to it. AND I FEEL SO GOOD! It wasn’t pretty, and it was nothing brag-worthy, but dang, I did it. I started.

Note to self: buy shorts that don’t ride when walking quickly, get more light-weight ankle socks, and throw this underwear away because it is all over the place. It might seem silly, but knocking out all my excuses to not work out is something I have to be aware of to keep going.

My girls playing while I did my thing!

I’m going to be posting my #onemonthgoal to stay accountable and who knows, maybe someone will be inspired to get up and go, too. I don’t care about being a size 6 and I’m not the type to turn cauliflower into mashed potatoes, but being proactive about my health is more than just about how I look. It’s about doing all I can to live as long as possible for my kids. It’s about preventing diseases that could be fatal, and it’s about making myself a priority. Knowing my arms will be less jangly will be a beautiful thing, too. It’s ultimately about showing myself that I can do this. One month at a time. You can do this, too. So join us!

What is your #OneMonthGoal?

Teaching Our Littles About Racism & Intolerance

It’s probably the fear of late fees that usually keeps me from our public library, but lately I realized I needed reinforcement. If our president continues to tweet racist remarks, (yes telling people to go back where they came from is racist) then it’s my responsibility to teach my kids something extremely different. It always has been, but it’s glaringly obvious we don’t have any time to waste! I thought I was doing alright with my two oldest children, but I knew it was time to get my youngest involved, too.

So today we read:

Everyone was involved, my ten year old down to my 1 year old. He was very annoying and interrupted a lot, but we didn’t quit. My four and six year olds learned the words prejudice, racism, and intolerance. My eight and ten year olds had good discussion with their knowledge of people and we talked about their friends who look different than us. We also talked about our faith choices and how it never allows us to force our choices on others. We all brainstormed a way we could celebrate other cultures and religions and share what we learn with our friends! We are excited for what will come as we continue to learn and read more.

For personal/family reasons we are homeschooling this year. I was honest with my kiddos that we have to purposely look for others who are different than us to befriend. I know that sounds weird to others, but because they come from a background of having a diverse group of friends, they understood the importance. The book we read today encouraged us to find commonality with new friends and look for opportunities, if they invite us, to share in their differences and then invite them to share in ours.

With my littles, the message of acceptance seems so simple. Could it be this simple in real life, too? Are we the ones who have allowed our prejudice to make it so difficult? I think we all know the answer to that question.

However, with purpose, I pray my children will see life without the intolerance handed down to so many of us.

Give Me Your Song

I made the mistake of trying to play the wrong melody. For weeks I’ve tried to write but the words just clash with the message I want to share. The tunes have all been forced, alien, abrasive….

This morning I listened to my favorite pastor, Bryan Jarrett, give a message filled with grace. He used the story of how King David extended grace to his best friend’s crippled son, Mephibosheth. This man was also the grandson of King Saul, who did all he could to kill David. But Saul’s son, Jonathan, sacrificed his life for his best friend, David. Mephibosheth was offered a seat at David’s table, to have his inheritance restored, and to be part of his family. Not because he did anything to deserve it, but because of the grace his father’s sacrifice placed for him. He could have refused the King but why? Why would you refuse to sit at the King’s table? Why would you refuse restoration? He chose to accept the grace extended.

I chose to accept the grace extended to me, also. God knows these last few weeks how I’ve struggled in my own spirit, how I’ve failed in many of my roles, and how the words just stopped flowing. He extended the grace and I accepted. Why would I refuse such a sweet gift? It wasn’t offered because I deserved or earned it, the offer to let go and fall into grace was offered through the sacrifice that Jesus made for me.

After the message, we listened to music and I drank my coffee. This song “Testify” by the band Need To Breathe played and I wept.

As the words washed over me, it took me back to a year ago when we were struggling to put the pieces back together after my husband’s emergency heart surgery. This song was in my Tahoe as I drove to and from the hospital for weeks. It washed over me as I struggled to stay strong while my kids stayed with my sister, while I pumped for my six month old who wasn’t eating solid food and whom eventually had to stay with my sister, too. The song took me back to the tears of frustration for a trauma I had no thought of ever facing. There was just so much going on, complications and setbacks, frustration, but also I was filled with hope. It was an eternal hope being poured over me as family and friends prayed over us.

Today this song played and I heard the words clearly. I knew my Father was singing them for me. He began restoring us the minute my husband went into surgery, through his healing, through our new beginning in Alaska, and even today. Then He gave me words and my melody. But it’s a little different today, and that’s ok. To His ears, the melody rings true.

The floodgates opened and grace poured over me. Poured over all of my vanity. Poured out over my stubbornness. Poured over all the things that have kept me from reaching out to Him. Washed my heart thoroughly and put a new song in it.

Safe Spaces Aren’t for Snowflakes

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be presenting at one of the largest educator conferences in our country, #ISTE19.  I’ll be presenting a 45-minute, interactive lecture about Using Edtech to Promote Inclusion and Diversity in the Classroom.  And as I continue editing my slideshow and talking points, those poignant moments when kids were brave enough to bare their souls and share about the labels and context this world had already put on them, flood my mind.  When I get nervous and doubt that I’m the right person to be sharing this message, I have to remind myself that I’m doing this for them and others like them.  Doubts that a white, privileged middle class American woman could offer anything that would help anyone else understand, well that’s a hurdle in my mind. I’m glad for it though, it will keep me humble and away from a know-it-all attitude.

There were times in my career when I wish I was recording conversations about race and culture so I could share with those, like me, who had no clue that young students were developing poor esteems based on their melanin levels.  Once during a guided reading lesson, an eleven year old told me he was Mexican but he didn’t like how his neighbors called him Mexican.  He said it made him feel bad.  This led a conversation around the table about the labels these kids were carrying.  One boy shared he didn’t mind being called black or African American.  Those were nice labels. One boy said he just wanted to be called Abraham, his name.   We chuckled when he said that because it lightened the mood.  I listened.  Honestly, what did I have to offer? I was super green as a teacher in a diverse classroom, and it was my turn to learn from my students.  If others could just hear them, too, maybe they’d see how lethal words could be, how devastating the n-word is for children developing into young people.

Safe spaces aren’t for sissies or snowflakes.  Young people need to share and we need to listen.  It is the greatest professional development…greatest people development that our profession can offer.  We can call it a classroom community, but kids who feel secure and loved will open up and allow you into their lives in transforming ways…for all involved.  My students were excellent teachers.

Diversity in education isn’t just about skin color or ethnic background.  There is diversity in learning styles, teaching styles, preferred communication, and levels of voice to name a few.  That’s why I love edtech.  It reaches beyond the habitual hand-raisers.  It gives everyone an opportunity to shine and share. (My favorite teaching tools are Nearpod and Flocabulary!)  But to reach students, and for them to desire to give us their best, that safe space needs to be in place.  It’s not for sissies and snowflakes, it’s for young people using their voices, learning how to speak up, and feeling comfortable to dust off after failure and keep trying.

This may be old news for you, but if not, and you are wondering how to grow that safe space, I want to put forth some considerations for you:

  1.  What are the assumptions you have about people of color, people who have a different religion, or people with preferences you don’t understand?  Even when we don’t say a word, our assumptions speak volumes.
  2.  How comfortable do you feel being around people who are unlike you?  Do you avoid it at all costs or do you embrace moments where you are in the minority?
  3. Mellody Hobson, in her TED Talk, suggests us to not hide from what makes us uncomfortable but to tackle it head on so we can get “comfortable with being uncomfortable” as that is where growth and success take place.
  4. Lastly, are you open to talking about current events that are weighing heavily on your students, even when you don’t understand the reasons?  When we listen, I mean really listen, we will learn so much about our students.

From personal experience, growing up in white America, we are taught to be color blind, keep away from talking about race relations, and thank God that we live in a better time where everyone is treated equally with the same opportunities as anyone else.  But talking and learning from others who grew up with a different perspective of America, we have a lot to learn.

For minorities and marginalized people, the opportunities aren’t always as plentiful and more walls have to be climbed for victory.  For many, using their voice to fight inequality gets them labeled with all sorts of stereotypes, and it’s easy to grow weary in the process.  If we allow ourselves to own this reality of different perspectives, yes in this great land even, then it’s easier to see what our students need from us.  We can help them achieve what they need to for the success they are looking for.  When we care enough to see past our assumptions, and our minds grow too large to house the dangerous misconceptions about others, we will naturally want to form that safe space for our kids.  It’s not built from physical materials, it starts with the connections we allow ourselves to form when we can see a child for the beautiful being in front of us with God-given talents and abilities.  We will do anything for that child. We will give that child a clean slate on a daily basis.  We will teach our hearts out.  We will water his/her dreams by creating moments and opportunities that ignite curiosity!

We will build that safe space for them.