God? Is that you?

Last week, I was sitting  next to Evan.  He was experimenting with an app on his iPad mini.  It is a disc jockey app that Erik uses very effectively to make some very cool songs.  Evan, however, only knows the basics and usually just makes a lot of noise….cacophony, I would call it.  The app has two “turn tables” on it, like a real DJ set up.  So you can mix two songs at once.  Fade in and fade out or cue up the next song with headphones on.  But Evan just plays two songs at once.  I can identify each song, and, yet, the sound is annoying, unmatched, grating, and unsettling.  Sometimes in life things don’t match up.  They are happening at the same time.  We know what they are….two sides, two issues, two ideals, two procedures….but they are in opposition to one another.  When you live in both realms, it is unsettling, annoying, grating.

The problem is that we really can’t choose what realms in which we live.  Sometimes, our reality and our ideals or values come into conflict with each other.  We have trouble standing for what we know to be true because life around us does not match our convictions.  The cacophony of life does not stop just because we know for what or whom we stand.  And the simple truth, that we must give our lives and our mission over to God, is not always an easy reality.  We are placed on this earth to do the work of God according to the mission He has given us.  Doing so is the only way to true happiness, but somehow the cacophony of life makes our true mission difficult to grasp.  And to be honest, being a Christian and living in a secular world is just plain confusing at times.

Lately, I have really been struggling with some of my convictions….or beliefs or standards or values.  I guess it all falls under the same umbrella.  I can also clearly identify those areas of my life where I do not struggle.  The areas of peace are those where my standards match the standards of the organization…where my mission is clear and makes sense.  This year, I feel very aligned at my job.  I can honestly say that has not always been the case.  I believe my energies are being used for the betterment of my students and the school.  I feel encouraged and supported.  Maybe the beautiful new classroom helps all this.  I have also always felt very aligned in my marriage.  Joe is a perfect partner for me.  Many would call our marriage unconventional.  It really is not.  Yes, he does the cooking and laundry.  I do the finances.  We are a partnership that works.

However, recently, areas of my life that used to be a place of peace have become a cacophony of values and a question of the mission.  What does it mean?  Am I in error?  Is God pushing me to know or do something new?  Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  Some days it is so difficult to know if God is speaking to me or if I am just frustrated, tired, wanting something meaningful.  And other days, it is so clearly God.  One day I wonder if I am incorrect in my convictions.  The next day God validates my stand and mission.

I pray that we can all know and live for our mission.  One thing I know….using my life to help and bless others is never wrong and is always part of God’s mission.   On those days when little of me is left because I gave it all to others, I ask God to remind me I have done good work.

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Recharge, repurpose, rethink

I began writing this blog between sessions at the eTech Ohio conference early this month.  It is the third largest educational technology conference in the United States.  I had not been to the conference in 10 years.  Attending conferences like this RECHARGES me as a teacher and advocate for technology.  For those of you who know me, you know I have used technology in my classroom for a long time.  I am never afraid to try something new in my classroom; however, I only use technology that enhances the lesson and provides good instructional practice.  I find myself constantly RETHINKING what I do and how I do it.   Technology in the educational setting is currently at a very exciting threshold. Any device that connect a student to the Internet can be REPURPOSED as a learning device in my classroom.  Yes, I teach my students to RETHINK how they use their smartphone.  If you are in my class, you can take your quizzes on your phone…if you like.   Great things are happening to connect students to amazing learning opportunities, to allow students to access learning according to their personal needs, and to assess understanding quickly.   I learned so many new tools and ideas at eTech.  Most exciting at the conference was how educational practices were highlighted more than the how-to of the technology.

But, while at the conference, I got to do some even more exciting things that were not part of the planned conference activities.  I was able to follow my students working online back at school and offer suggestions and comments.  It REPURPOSED my time between conference sessions.     I also got to visit my niece Kelsey at OSU and help her learn some new online tools.  Her laptop is not working correctly.  So I gave her my Mac Air book as a back up.  In my home, I use Apple devices.  At work, I use PC devices.  I jokingly call myself bi-platform.  A Mac Air book is like a laptop except it has no hard drive.  It is much like an iPad only in computer form.  Google has created a similar device called a Chromebook.  I rarely access a hard drive on a computer anymore and share most of my documents to a cloud-based server while using the applications offered by Google.  (Yes, I have drunk the Google kool-aide).  There is no need to buy software to meet my needs.  I do it all online with free (or low cost) applications.  All this work can also be done from any device that is attached to the Internet.  So, back to Kelsey and the Mac Air book.

I have had a love hate relationship with this device from the beginning.  Like the Chromebooks, the Mac Air boots up in seconds.  Literally, from off to on takes 8 to 10 seconds.  No hard drive to start up.  However, on the Mac Air book, at least my version, the battery life is horrible.  It is a known issue, but one I missed prior to buying the device.  I usually research more carefully.   So my mobile device is not so mobile.  Kelsey has been battling computer issues.  Her laptop is more dead than alive  Today’s college student MUST have a computer that works.  Lecture notes are posted online; assignments are “handed out” online; and assignments are turned in that way, as well.  So I helped Kelsey RETHINK a possible “life” with my Mac Air–a life with Google instead of Microsoft Word, and I REPURPOSED a device I hated in to a device she could love…or at least until her laptop could be properly fixed.

Isn’t  it amazing that our frustrations can be another person’s joy?  And I know God nudged me that night.  He opened the conversation and showed me a way to love my Mac Air by using it in a way to help Kelsey.  She is not burdened by the buyer’s regret I have.  She loves a computer that works.  And to be honest, I am no longer burdened by the regret of that purchase.  God helped me REPURPOSE a computer and RETHINK my regret.  And in the midst of it all I got RECHARGED.  Doesn’t God do that for us every day?  Isn’t God in the business of REPURPOSE, RETHINK, AND RECHARGE?  I cannot help but think of Mom and how she is RENEWED and alive in Christ.  How her voice and mission was REPURPOSED into this blog.  How writing about what seems to matter REVIVES me.  And I am continuing to look for ways to RETHINK, REPURPOSE, and RECHARGE other areas of my life.

I hope this season leading up to Easter… this dark, cold, windy, quiet, prayerful, hopeful season… brings you new PURPOSE, new THINKING, and a new CHARGE.

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Wow, have I felt lost a few times over the preceding weeks.  So lost, that even trying to write a meaningful blog post was hard.  So, I chose to write nothing….or I just could not find meaning in it all.  But God kept working on me, holding me up, pushing me a little, and hanging around until I figured out that I was not lost at all.

Lost is an interesting word.  Something that is lost is not necessarily gone.  Instead, it is misplaced, out of sight, not in our presence, in unfamiliar territory…..lost.  Doing something new, taking on a new responsibility, moving through changes in life, leaving the familiar behind for better options, solving problems, coming to new realizations… all these can make us feel lost.  But change and renewal and loss are all part of God’s plan.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’”   For me this is the promise that God is in control of those moments when I feel lost….out of control….alone…weary.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Matthew 11:28-29)  Sometimes we are just really tired….and not lost at all.  Or we were seeking our own way instead of God’s.  And when we have been lost and find our way back, God rejoices.  I am so thankful for the lessons God teaches me.  I am learning to see the beauty of adversity.  I pray I can become quicker at turning to God and accepting his will.

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Grace is sufficient

Some days we feel very imperfect.  Other days we feel like we are causing more harm than good.  Sometimes we just throw up our hands and say we have had enough conflict for now.  Today is one of those days for me.  I feel very flawed with little patience and with no desire to be helpful.  And in this moment of weakness, I heard God say, “Mary Ann, you are OK.  My grace is sufficient for you.”  So I looked up 2 Corinthians 12 where I know that verse is located.  Here is what I read that really stood out (2 Corinthians 12: 6 – 10 NIV)–

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

God says, “FOR MY POWER IS MADE PERFECT IN WEAKNESS.”  Somehow, I had forgotten the rest of the verse.  This is not the first time 2 Corinthians 12:9 has been placed on my heart in the last year.  I know firsthand that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  I watched Mom do more good work in the last year of her life than she had in a long time.  God was made perfect in her weakness.  And so, I thank God for my impatience, intolerance, inabilities today.  They were frustrating and perhaps hurtful to those around me, but He wanted to get my attention today….and He got it.   Thank you, God, for reminding me that your power is made perfect in my weaknesses.

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Lay down your life

I am officially three days behind on my blog.  There are three names remaining of those killed in Sandy Hook Elementary.  I have to tell you that I chose the names randomly.  At first it was alphabetical from the top of the list.  At some point, I connected a verse that I thought about a lot with Victoria Soto.  Beyond that, the names were generally chosen at random.  One day I let my niece choose.  Last Thursday, I knew I had to write about the principal.  In writing about these 26 people, God made connections for me.  Not all the connections went anywhere amazingly, but each one was something I needed to hear that day.  And each one reminded me that these connections are God speaking.

Today, I approached the list.  Three names left.  The first is Avielle Richman.  When I went to find information about her, I found a blog.  You can link to it HERE.  The fact that her father had been blogging about events in Avielle’s life spoke to me.  Am I writing enough?  Should I record other events?  What if I blogged about my life and my children?  What a gift this blog must be to the family now….just as arlaallen.com is to me.

Mary Sherlach’s daughter says her mom never took off her work hat.  She was the school psychologist  who, with the principal, confronted the gunman.  She was always giving advice, was always sought out but others for help, and never walked away from a crisis.  She did not cower that day.  I thought of our God.  He is all these things to me.  Even in my most dark moments of life, He walks directly toward me.  Never turning away.  

And the last name, the one I always meant to be last is Victoria Soto.  Early reports indicated that Victoria hid her students in closets and cupboards to keep them out of sight of the gunman before facing him herself.  The emotion of this still wells up in my as I write this post.  This is the resourcefulness, quick-thinking, passion, and selflessness that walks into first grade classrooms around our nation. Victoria Soto had given her life to these children on the first day of school.  Elementary teachers do that.  They love our children fully.  And on Dec 14, she made the ultimate sacrifice for them.

John 15: 9 – 17 says:   “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

Jesus is not asking us to die for one another.  He is asking us to serve one another.  He chose us.  Why do we not choose Him?  He also lived among us.  He truly understands.  He knew hatred.  He knew evil.  He suffered rejection.  And on my behalf, he paid the price for my salvation.  What am I not doing to serve Him and my fellow man?  And so the list is complete….but not the work and certainly not the blog.  God bless you until I write again… it will be soon.

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Great is thy faithfulness

Caroline Previdi is described as always being happy, always dancing, and always caring for others.  She and her older brother were very close.  She had a faith in God for one so young.  Monsignor Weiss said of her at her funeral that Caroline is probably the happiest addition to heaven in a long time.  I take comfort in the fact that my God received these beautiful children that day.  Twenty children storming through the gates of Heaven have got to be a loud, happy event.  No, not for us who remain on earth.  But for those who come into the presence of God.  At the moment of their death, the fear was gone.  They were fully loved and safe.

God is always the same.  He never changes. He never fails.  He is always with us.  It is important to believe that evil, even when perpetrated on small innocent children, does NOT lessen the power of God, does not discourage God, does not move God to a distance.   Nothing separates us from our God.  Today, in church, we sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”  It has special meaning today….always has had special meaning, but with my blog posts and events in the past few months in my life, the song has a new layer of meaning.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

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Winter blessings

Six-year-old kids are such marvelous creatures.  Reading the obituary of James Mattioli was like reading a description of my Evan.  The games he plays on the iPad, his love of wearing shorts year round, his obsession with sports, the way he becomes intense with his interests, his love of school.  Emilie Parker was all about pink.  Her family buried her in Utah by her grandfather.  I can visualize her father on TV overwhelmed by the support of his former Utah town.

I am not yet through the list of those killed.  A new year has arrived.  Winter has truly come to Ohio.  Being dedicated to honoring this list and experiencing winter feel very much the same to me.  They both seem never ending.  They both involve feelings I do not like.   I do not really enjoy winter.  I am not a fan of the cold.  Physically, I do not like it.  I prefer to not wear shoes.  Winter does not allow that.   My skin is dry in the winter. Laundry takes more time in the winter…you have more clothes to wash and the loads are bigger…..and the socks….sorting the socks.  Ugh!  The days are shorter.  The weather causes travel worries.  I could go on and on.  However, winter is a time of reflection and meaning.  Winter is a good time to praise and worship.  I am much more aware of the beauty of nature in the winter.  I see God more clearly.  I feel the power of the Holy Spirit more often.  I have more time to ponder God.  Winter teaches me to be patient and to wait.  I pray that the Holy Spirit would work in me and in you.

There is much work to do.   Some days I am not even sure what that work should be.   The world whizzes by us so fast. When events like the Sandy Hook shooting happen, we are quick to blame and quick to act.  Perhaps we need to be aggressively prayerful with an open heart and mind.  Perhaps we need to be patient and listen intently.  Winter is a good time to practice this patience.  Only then will the Holy Spirit move us to the actions God needs us to do.

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So much to ponder

Today Sandy Hook Elementary went back to school….in a new building and without their leader.  Dawn Hocksprung, principal of Sandy Hook, was killed in the December 14 attack.    In 20 years in education, I have had students die.  (I stopped keeping track at the twelfth student).  It is never easy to return to school without them.  Having a former student die is not easy either.  The effect is felt even at my career center when a student who is not one of ours but is from the home school passes away.  The worst event of student death I ever faced was losing 4 students at once in a car accident.  They were all related…cousins and siblings.  I never want to see four coffins across the front of a church again.   It was heart wrenching and changed the culture of our building.  I do remember the strength and leadership of our principal.  He honestly focused on meeting the needs of a school facing loss.   Yes, our staff, the community, clergy, counselors, and parents helped with the process of recovery….but the school leader set the tone.  He acknowledged our grief, gave us ways to lean on one another, and encouraged us to move forward in our mission.  

The memory of this time in my teaching career made me pause and pray for the staff and students returning to Sandy Hook today.  I prayed most specifically for strong, focused leadership.  The loss of a principal is not easy for a school in any circumstances.  While I am sure the district has thoughtfully provided the school with leadership at this time, Sandy Hook is school that will be missing Dawn Hocksprung.  Strong school leadership is very important….now more so than ever.  The demands of school leaders increases every year and good elementary principals are amazing people.  The students are always first with these people.  I know Dawn put the kids first.  Remember Sandy Hook in this time of transition and adjustment.

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Happy New Year—a day late

I started this post on New Year’s Eve in an attempt to get a jump a day early….now I am a day late.  Well, it all worked out.  Other things got my attention on New Year’s today, and today, I was back to work.

I am still focusing on the loss of the children and staff of Sandy Hook.  But I have another focus as well today.  Catherine Hubbard was beautiful.  Her parents ask all to continue to pray for the families affected.  Chase Kowalski’s mother is on a mission.  She has started a foundation in Chase’s name.  This woman is articulate and has a vision of how to use her son’s death for good.  Pray specifically for her please.  Her life has been changed, and she is going to use this to change lives.    Her name is Becky….pray specifically for her to have strength and conviction.

As I write about these families and children, I know that many children in our country and the world are suffering daily.  Their lives lack stability, basic needs, and love.  These children walk through my classroom door everyday, and they sit in class with my sons.  The foundation of their lives is shaky at best.  These are our citizens.  Children who know no consistency and who live lives without a constant become easily lured by anything.  They also see little value in long term goals….they have never been exposed to the value of planning.  Then add in medical issues, learning issues, lack of money, inexperience with trust and you have a poor foundation for a life and a poor foundation for a citizenry.  This blog post is coming from my thoughts after reading this article after Christmas.  It happened near South Bend.  This is the reality for so many children.  Link to it HERE.

My point is this….we need to be praying for the lives of our youth and finding ways–all of us–to involve them in stable activities while modeling healthy life choices.  These kids are among us.  They are hurting.  They are lost, and they want guidance.  I want to be like the people Paul is writing to in Colossians 1:3-6.  It says, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.”

Let us go forth and do good WORKS in the name of Christ.  Our children and our world need us.

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Life goes on

Benjamin Wheeler has the biggest brown eyes I have ever seen.  He loved his brother, school, soccer, and riding the train.  He had moved from Queens, NY a few years ago.  Again, I try to consider the purpose of the death of one so young.  Mom’s death seemed meaningful in the scheme of the world.  Little Benjamin’s seems senseless….but through these events I am reminded daily to love wholly and not take any moment for granted.  Today, my sister Janeen posted the following on Facebook.  It reminds me to find the joy in EVERY moment and never lose the lesson…..

New Year’s eve is like every other night;
there is no pause in the march of the universe,
no breathless moment of silence among created things
that the passage of another twelve months may be noted;
and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening
that come with the coming of darkness on other nights. (Hamilton Wright Mabie)

The family holidays have passed and it’s time for the New Year. Naturally, the New Year is a time to reflect on the past year. While some people look forward to the parties and making resolutions, others dread this time to reflect on the year’s accomplishments… or lack thereof. I believe in setting goals, but I have to remind myself that this is not the time to add up the “score card”. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because setting goals is something I do daily. Sometimes, I set a long-term goal, while other times I set a goal just for the next hour. This past year (or two) has been rough. I will not lie. Sometimes my goal for the day is just to get out of bed and get dressed. That was my goal for today. Bob twisted my arm, I twisted Kelsey’s arm, Jared joined the majority, and we went snowboarding together. We even stayed together! I didn’t realize it until we left, but I actually spent the longest consecutive amount of time actually on the hill. It was when we were driving home that I realized how late it was because the sun was setting. The sun was a HUGE, fiery red. I watched it get swallowed up into the trees. It looked just like the sunrise I followed to photograph after Mom’s funeral. It made me reflect on the feeling that came over me at that time. Mom’s message- “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” 

The message Mom sent me today reminded me that December 31st is just like any other night. The sun sets, but in the morning it will rise… and life goes on. 

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.

Note:  The sun around 4:30 p.m. on our way back from Lima was making mini-rainbows on either side of a cloud that was covering the sun.  It was like that for a good 30 minutes.  I, personally, often think of God in these moments.  The way the sun streams through clouds is the way I picture God.  Nature, to me is no accident.  If this planet can be this beautiful, I can only image what Heaven must be like. 

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