Sunday, January 25, 2015

This writing on Sundays is getting to be a habit.  Maybe.  Three weeks in a row doesn't a habit make, I'm told, but we'll go with it anyway.

This past week I've been grieving with a friend for the loss of two lives from her family in the course of a few hours of one day.  I haven't been with her physically as she is not accepting visitors right now, but my thoughts and prayers have sure been with her and her family.  I don't know how this translates into comfort for her, but my ardent wish and hope is that the Holy Spirit is wrapping her up in all of our love and care and that she is touched beyond what she could experience on a purely human level - it is Divine Comfort.  There's a hymn that has that term in the first verse:

  1. All the way my Savior leads me,
    What have I to ask beside?
    Can I doubt His tender mercy,
    Who through life has been my Guide?
    Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
    Here by faith in Him to dwell!
    For I know, whate’er befall me,
    Jesus doeth all things well;
    For I know, whate’er befall me,
    Jesus doeth all things well.

-Fanny Crosby

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Morning

Sundays are busy days for us, so I enjoy beginning with some quiet time (and coffee of course).  I teach a Sunday School class of women and normally, we have about 10 on a good day.  The last three Sundays I've seen a little mini-explosion of attendees and now, we're up to maybe 15-16.  As I prepare to teach the lesson, I am so aware of what a challenge this is.  I explained last Sunday to the group that I expect that one of their responsibilities in this class is to listen to what is taught and make sure that it lines up with truth - truth that is presented from the Word.  If they feel it doesn't, we have a problem and they need to say something to me or to our pastor.  I expect them to listen with a discerning ear and to contribute their thoughts - they don't realize this but I learn far more from them than they will learn from me.  Their discussion of our topics is so valuable - it is true what Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."  So, I'm getting to know 6 new women who have all of a sudden decided to come to my room on a Sunday morning.  One is from another class in our church, one is a city bus driver who was invited by a rider, and 4 are from a church across the way who unfortunately, has split.

Always my thought as I present the lesson is, how can I make this relevant?  How is this applicable?  What do I want my listeners to understand?   Many many years ago when the husband was in seminary, he learned to outline and organize his notes for sermons.  To this day, he begins his outline with the same statement (and up to just a few years ago, he hand wrote it):  "I want my hearers to...."

This is applicable not only in a sermon/Sunday School class, but don't you think it's applicable whenever we need to communicate information to people?  In my job I meet with parents and attempt to communicate information to them about their son or daughter.  Always I try to keep in mind while I'm talking to them that they know their child better than I do, that most parents want to do the right thing for their child, and, parents always have the choice in any matter regarding their child.  I want my hearers (the parents) to know that these values are a part of my practice as a school psychologist.

Lastly - the very best skill to develop is the art of listening.  I want to really listen to parents as they talk to me about their concerns.  Many times it involves drawing them out because they don't really trust me - they think I don't really know their kid - and not only that, they come with preconceived notions about things.

Listening and communicating clearly.  Such an art form.  And so sadly needed in this world.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Good Morning

It's a cold cold January day.  We've had some snow on top of freezing mist early this morning and now people are skating to work, sliding off of entrance ramps and knocking into each other.  I'm going to hang back and wait for everyone else to get to work, then I'll go.  I'm sitting here at my little dining table drinking coffee and watching the sunrise - the colors are amazing.  I should mention that I can only see just a little square of it through the school buildings across the street, but that's ok.  When you live in the middle of a city, you enjoy even small views of the majestic colors God uses to paint us sunrises and sunsets.

When I was younger, three wishes wouldn't have been enough for me to change everything about my life that I didn't like, but now I'm here to tell you that it's true that age is a great modifier of thought and attitude.  I continue to live with certain things in life that I wish could be different, but now it's not an all consuming desire, it's more of an "it is what it is" thing (although that's one of the sayings I hate most).  I think it's that you begin to figure out what's important, and, you begin to let the truth of Paul's writings in Philippians sink in.

"...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."  Philippians 4:10-12 

I have much to be grateful for.  My old house has lots of problems, but it envelopes me with years of wonderful memories of family and friends, sitting in my too small dining room cramped for space.   Laughter and bonding over board games and winter soup - these memories are priceless.  My spouse and I, playing canasta and drinking hot tea at this table, my grandson eating french fries just last night as he sat in his booster seat - how blessed I am!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Can we all just get along?"

     You may remember Rodney King, the man who was beaten by LA police officers back in  March of 1991.  The title of this post was a question he asked during the riots in LA that followed the court verdicts handed down to the police officers involved (all were acquitted).   This is not a post about race relations or an expose on the verdicts of an incident which happened more than 20 years ago.  It's a post about an experience I had "getting along" with someone in a situation where conflict could have easily been the outcome.  
     I evaluated a student whose family background is extremely diverse from my own in almost every way.  When preparing for the meeting with the parent of this student, the evidence of a particular special education exceptionality was very evident from the testing I had completed, and as I practiced my oral report, I sewed it up quite neatly, I thought.  I gave pertinent information but not too much, and reached a conclusion and that was that.
     My team teases me occasionally, that I'm sort of the "Nazi control freak" where it comes to where people sit in meetings.  I don't really care where most people sit, however, I always insist that I sit by the parent(s).  It's easier for me to show them graphs I've prepared, and it's easier for me to just visit with them about their student instead of giving a clinical report.  So at this particular meeting, I sat beside a mom whose life was one big struggle after another.  Before I met her, it was somewhat easy for me to be critical of the decisions that she made in parenting her children, but you know, sitting beside her, and looking her in the eye as we talked about her student helped me drop all the prejudices that I don't like admitting I have.  I began to view her as someone who simply was trying to survive in a gravely difficult environment and make the best decisions she could for her family - and no, it wasn't what I probably would have decided, but who knows?  I've not been in her situation.
     As we made eye contact and I shared with her about her student, she listened and she asked questions.  Her eyes filled with tears at times, and when I got to the point in the report where I discuss our recommendations, something happened.  Suddenly, the ramifications of the news I was delivering became real as I shared them with this real mom about her real student - and I felt the tears leaking out of my own eyes as my heart was overcome by compassion.  I apologized and forward we went with all the paperwork.  At the end of the meeting when we stood up to prepare to leave, I extended my hand to thank her for coming.  She looked at my hand and brushed it away.  Instead, she took a step forward and expressed her appreciation for what we had shared by giving me a big two armed hug.  Two women, standing in a meeting, as opposite as you can get in almost every way came together in a common purpose and there wasn't a dry eye to be seen.
     "Can we all just get along?" is a plea from a man who found himself thrust in the national spotlight by suffering a beating at the hands of law enforcement, but it's also something that we should strive for every single day.  It's difficult to accomplish that when people do not turn loose of old wounds, old hurts, prejudices, judgments and preconceived ideas.  But I'm here to tell you that it's not impossible.  And the results of seeing people as they really are is life changing.  If I haven't said it recently, I'm so thankful for my job.  What an opportunity for growth I have - I learn more than I'll ever teach.  My challenge for you this week - try to see people as they are, try to not let old notions cause you to judge unfairly, and be available for what God might want you to do in ministry in someone's life - even a 5 minute encounter can be an opportunity for you to stretch your thinking.    

Friday, September 19, 2014

Let's Just Calm Down

     I just got done reading a Facebook post from someone commenting about the school her child attends needing confirmation of a dentist appointment when her child missed part of a day.  The post went on to rant that students are no longer allowed to go to the office and call home when they need something, and also when this mom brought something to her school for her child, her child wasn't allowed to come up to the office from class and get it.  The federal government was blamed for these policies as well as "Obama".  She was angry and getting angrier about her "rights as a parent" being violated and schools becoming intrusive into her and her child's privacy.  She made the point that if she wants to come up and get her kid from school anytime for any reason she should be allowed to do that without 1.  telling the school why and 2.  it counting as a truancy on her student's record.
    Well.  As part of the "evil" public school domain, my answer to her would be that if she's so dissatisfied with these policies, she is always free to withdraw her child and enroll in a parochial school (who also have the same policies) or homeschool her child.  Yes, we have these policies in place and for good reasons.  In my building with 653 children, I cannot imagine what it would be like if children were allowed to go to the office and call home for non-emergency reasons.  And no, your child's instructional time is so very valuable to them (and we hope to you) that we do not want him/her to lose even 10 minutes to walk to the office to get a sweater that you brought them because it suddenly turned cold.  We do take truancy seriously and we are sorry that this affects parents whose children are NOT truant, but believe me, if this issue comes up, you would want the school to provide documentation of why your child wasn't there.  
     We do not intend to be "intrusive" with our policies but we do value the classroom time your child has in our building.  We do take care of your kids and believe it or not, most kids want to come to school - they enjoy learning and they like this structure in their day.  I have seen with my own eyes in some situations children who become almost morosely depressed on Fridays, and if you doubt that they don't want to come back on Mondays - stand at any school entrance on Monday and watch them come in.  
     So you do your job as a parent, and by the way, that includes not griping about our new ID scan policies in Wichita Public Schools and every locked door except the front one.  You DO want us to know who is in our building, don't you?  You DO want us to keep careful control of who we have around your children, don't you?  If you'll let us do that, we can work to provide a healthy fun atmosphere for learning and believe me, there's no greater joy for an educator.  There should be no greater joy for a parent to know that their child is learning, is enjoying school, is making friends, and is in a safe environment while doing so.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Writer's Block

     So I'm getting nagged to do a post - okay okay!  I looked back at my previous years of posts and my goodness, I've covered a variety of topics on here.  Some posts are not worth the computer screen they're written on, others are much better.  But nevertheless, writing must continue in some form or fashion.  I'm still toying with the idea of writing a book someday.  I do realize my 60th birthday is approaching, but hey - a lot of older people have accomplished much after 60.
     My 60th birthday.  I can't believe it.  On the inside I feel like I should be about 30.  Maybe 40.  But 60?  I remember when my mother turned 50 (I was 10) and then again when she turned 60.  It seemed like she was "old" - now look at me!  I'm "old"!
     So anyway, tomorrow starts the 5th week of school.  Already!  I am busy busy busy - lots of issues at my base building causing lots of work for me.  No day is ever the same when you're a school psychologist - and flexibility is the name of the game.
     I love fall and finally we are having some cooler weather.  Ready for pumpkins, hot cider, hoodies, and colored leaves.  Snow - now that's another issue.  There's a whole round of stuff on Facebook about how we will get more than normal snow this year.  Then somebody posted the weather forecast from the Farmer's Almanac which said we would get less snow.  Really?  What does it matter - what comes comes.  I'm getting ready to experience my 60th winter and I don't believe I have ever been able to have anything to do with controlling the amount of snow we either get or don't.
     Writer's block - that's me.  I just sit down here and see what comes out - most of the time it's drivel.  But it's thankful drivel!  So grateful for my family, my job, my home, my spouse - so thankful for the opportunity to worship as I choose, so glad to be able to enjoy the company of family and friends.  I'm singing the Messiah again - I believe this is the 4th year I've done this.  Loved it every season and am so glad I have the chance to take part in this community choir.  I'm especially blessed to see my son participating - it will be a great experience for him.
     Until later-

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Perfection

As I alluded to in my last blog post, a common "curse" of being a musician is the expectation that everything you play must be perfect, and anything less is a failing - and failings are many.  Fingers that don't land on the right keys - that's a big deal for a pianist.  Singers who hit wrong notes and sing wrong words - again, a failing.  When we go to an event or tune in to the Super Bowl though, don't we expect the singer to perform The Star Spangled Banner perfectly?  When they don't - our instant videos and communication with millions of people are quick to point out errors.  Just as likely, when it is well done - these performances remain YouTube classics (I am reminded of Whitney Houston's version of The Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl in 1991.  I just went back and listened to it again, and I will not fail to be moved by that soaring beautiful voice.)

The respect afforded a conductor such as Leonard Bernstein, or composers such as Aaron Copland is great - and to deliver a classically perfect performance is always the goal - and it is delivered most of the time to audiences who enthusiastically applaud.  At last year's performance of Handel's Messiah by the Wichita Chorale Society, one particular part of that great work was attempted by the choir, and miserably performed.  Those tenors just took off like a team of wild horses and you should have seen our maestro's face - he went from concern, to greatly concerned, to alarmed, to terrified, to resignation, then, as he delivered the final cutoff, a hint of a smile and a shake of the head as if to say, "Well, there ya go.  It is what it is."  But we survived, and I venture to say not many in the audience caught on.  However, we all knew.  That's the catch.

When I am thanked for an offertory, I now am able to graciously accept those thanks and move on.  Not so much in the past.  I would often reiterate missed notes or comment how I didn't play my best (which was often true).  But really - it dawned on me that thanks were given for a musical expression which allowed for worship, not for a perfect performance.

I'm not saying to not try your best, and to not practice, and to not prepare.  But I am saying, a missed note is a missed note is a missed note.  I had several today in playing the hymns for church and in playing the offertory.  And I always will.  But a part of me as a musician will always want to offer up the best I have for the Author and Creator of all things musical.

Psalm 103, which we studied in Sunday School is a wonderful psalm- read it if you haven't recently. My favorite verses from that psalm are 13 and 14 - "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust."   He knows how we are formed.  Think about that.  God understands that we can only offer the best we have, as imperfect as it is.

And so I go to a family reunion, and reunite with brothers and a sister who are gifted musicians.  And I offer my little gift of two Chopin pieces - as imperfect as I will play them, but I hope that they will bring something to the listeners.  Maybe an appreciation for Chopin?  In the 3 minutes I will play, I hope among the missed notes that a love for my family will flow and they will know how valuable they are to me.