Hebrews 12: 1-2 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
To set up these verses you really need to read Hebrews chapter 11. The chapter is full of people who had faith and were used by God. Chapter 11 ends with the statement, "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised . . ." Chapter 12 starts with beautiful imagery of those previously listed acting as witness to a great race.
Tomorrow I am running a half-marathon. I wanted to run the whole, but didn't have time to train for it. I'm not very fast, but I love running long distances. I love the solitude of the long run, pushing through the discomfort, and enduring to the end. For me it is a deeply spiritual experience. That is not to say I transcend into some other state or "feel" really emotional, rather my experience helps me comprehend and meditate on spiritual things particularly Hebrews 12:1-2.
The great cloud of witness: Tomorrow there will be crowds of family and friends cheering. People will be cheering harder for their specific loved ones, but I've stood as a spectator. The crowd becomes one as they are cheering for all those who are striving to finish. Those who have walked the Christian faith have inspired us to go on. We can look to men and women of faith and know that they are worshiping God and cheering us to do the same.
Laying aside every weight: Usually when I go out for a long run I bring along a water bottle and/or some Gatorade, but bringing these to the race would be unnecessary. I trust the race planners will make sure there is hydration stations along the route. Some items might be downright wrong to bring, but most would just be unnecessary. In my life, the sins that plague me the most aren't the really shockingly bad ones. They are sins of worrying about inconsequential things that keep me from living a life that is full of God. They are worrying about what others think of me more than considering that God loves me.
Run with endurance the race that is set before us: A marathon (or a half-marathon) is not a sprint. If you run too fast in the beginning you can cramp up and suffer later on. You train at a sustainable pace then settle in for the long run. Walking the Christian life isn't about doing amazing things every Sunday then living apart from God for the rest of the week. It's not about doing great things occasionally then ignoring God the rest of the time. Walking a faithful Christian walk takes endurance.
Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God: Tomorrow, I'm going to trust the race organizers. I trust they have measured correctly. I trust they have set up the hydration stations. I trust I will be safe. They know the course because they set it up. They originated it. They've traveled it. When I'm discouraged by the early morning, the sore legs, and the cold, I think of the finish of the race. Detroit gives out great medals. I get the bragging rights to say that I've ran the race. I finish the race not for the fun during the race (although it is fun), I finish the race for the joy at the end. Jesus isn't asking us to run a race he's unfamiliar with. He planned the path he's asked me to travel. He designed it specifically with me in mind. He didn't have an easy time when he was here. He left the glory of heaven to come to earth to die for our sin. He walked many a lonely road, but he didn't do it for suffering's sake. He did it because he knew the joy that was to be set before him. He knew that his death would reconcile man and God and that he would be back in heaven with his Father.
Tomorrow's event will end for me after I've run 13.1 miles. The other race I'm part of will end when God calls me home. My goal is to run both with endurance.
I recently had the amazing opportunity to present at a teacher's convention. This particular convention included Christian educators from all over the Great Lakes Region. I presented about World War I and about teaching history with a Biblical worldview. I think I'm supposed to be all calm and professional about it, but can I just say -- THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!! I got to talk to teachers and talk about nerdy history stuff and it was just the best! Okay, back to sounding like a calm adult. I would relish any other opportunities to speak to groups in the future should the opportunity arise.
Although my presentations weren't specifically about reading books, I had stacks of books to recommend at each. I see immense benefits in students reading across a broad spectrum of genres and topics. Reading allows students to take their education into their own hands and study what they are interested in. Because we all differ so much in personality, it is always difficult if not impossible to find books that please everyone. When teaching 6th-grade reading, I used a method that I learned from Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisper. I assigned a total of 36 books for my students to read throughout the school year. I know this sounds daunting, but here's how it worked.
I used this method for three years and saw immense success. Pitfalls could arise so it's important for each teacher using this program to consider the definition of success that best matches their goals. My goal was to encourage literacy and get students reading. I had some students that only managed to read 5 or 10 books. I saw this as a win. As long as they noted everything and turned it in they at least got a C grade. (By the way, a C is and is acceptable. I'll write about that another day.)
I also allowed and even encouraged students to read graphic novels. Nathan Hale writes fantastic graphic novels in the historical fiction genre. Some graphic novels, such as Snow White, have little to no words but tell a compelling story. I would talk with students and make sure they understood the symbolism and picked up on the literary devices the author employed in the illustrations. Learning to "read" pictures is a very powerful tool especially in this day when images are king.
For my class, success equaled books consumed. And did my students consume books! During the 2015-16 school year, I had 52 students and we read over 1,400 books. Below, you can see a picture of our book chain. So that's how I taught reading. I got to read and learn with the students and we all grew. Maybe it isn't for every classroom, but I can't imagine my life without this experience.
What was your classroom reading experience like as a middle school and high school student? Comment below and let me know.
Today's wonder word isn't unusual or rarely used like spanghew or defenestration, but it is one one of my favorite words so I'll get right to it.
Today's Words: Curious, Curiosity, Curiously
Curious: Three syllables. Pronounced [kyoor-ee-uhs] Adjective. Defined by the OAD as eager to know or learn something
Curiosity: Five syllables. Pronounced [kyoo r-ee-os-i-tee] Noun. Defined by the OAD as strong desire to know or learn something
Curiously: Four syllables. Pronounced [kyoo-ee-uhs-lee] Adverb. The adverb form of curious.
Curiosity is often associated with the young because children tend to ask a lot of questions. Sometimes parents bemoan this as a frustration because the timing of the questions can be frustrating. In our house, bedtime always seems to produce deep theological questions. Instead of looking at children's questions as frustrating, we should recognize that curiosity is a powerful thing. Albert Einstein said, "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." I would argue that he was particularly talented, but I think the point he was trying to make is the curiosity drives learning and growth and he had a lot of curiosity.
Why is curiosity so important? Well, without it we accept our life as it is. That is not to say that curiosity breeds discontentment. Curiosity asks questions and seeks answers about how the world works rather than lamenting over one's current state. Alice's curiosity is what leads her though Wonderland. Had she been scared or disinterested she might have curled up in a ball of terror instead of continuing to explore. Curiosity encourages contentment because it occupies the mind with thinking and removes boredom. I've noticed that people (kids and adults) who are easily bored are often not very curious individuals. Curiosity gives the mind a place to go when the body is stuck in one place. Why is grass green? Why are there so many people working in this restaurant's kitchen? Who buys all the Spam at the grocery store? Why do birds move like that?
Curiosity breeds wonder and wonder is a fantastic feeling. After reading Quackery, a book about the history of medicine, not only was I more curious about the history of medicine I was also left with a sense of wonder that any of us have survived to the year 2019. After reading Consider the Fork, I was left curious about the history of other household objects and in wonder of the simple innovations that make my life what it is. In How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that curiosity is a powerful motivator and an indicator of future success. High marks on report cards indicate an ability to follow directions (which is good) but a strong sense of curiosity is an indicator of future success (even better).
Experts in listening and conversation will state all kinds of ways to engage in stimulating conversation. They will tell you to mirror your counterpart's body language and nod to let them know you're listening and a bunch more things to remember, but really, if you're curious about what you're hearing and you are paying attention you will listen well without all the steps. (Here's a great TED Talk to that effect.)
So my challenge for you on this day is to live curiously. Live eager to know or learn something. In a conversation with someone who has strong opinions you disagree with? Find out WHY they hold those strong opinions. At a restaurant where your food taking too long to come up? Look at the restaurant design and try to understand the designers choices. On a long car ride? Ask questions about the lives of those you are with. A curious life is always growing and always moving forward.
One last book recommendation for today is A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman. Grazer makes the case that his successes in life have a great deal to do with his curiosity and passion to learn new things from interesting people.
Earlier today, I wrote a really frustrated sad article about how much I'm struggling with Logan and his school work which I never published and have since deleted. I'll spare you that rant and just leave it at - we're struggling. Some of it has to do with executive function disorder which deals with organization, working memory, and attention. I constantly feel like I'm behind in some way. Like I'm treading water wearing a weighted vest.
Something else I'm struggling to accept is that I can't do it all. This year I had grand dreams of learning French, reading a big stack of books, learning to play the piano, getting into shape, keeping my house clean, making crafts for a PTO event, and keeping on top of writing letters to family and friends on top of writing my blog, preparing two more historical presentations, and working on a side writing project. I tell myself that because I'm not working full time all this should be possible, but I'm so wrong. Instead, I find myself shriveling in, depressed by my lack of progress. I've been successful at getting into shape and am currently training for the Detroit half-marathon in October. Yay! But the time spent training has got to come from somewhere and my other efforts suffer. I'm slowly trying to accept that I can't do it all.
So my greatest struggle right now is being content. I've been trying to find contentment, but can't when I compare myself to other moms or chase unattainable goals. So how can I find contentment? What is the secret to finding contentment in the midst of turmoil? Fortunately, Paul told it to the Philippians in his letter to them. "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
This verse isn't about winning a sporting event or doing your best. It's about contentment in any and every situation. It's the secret, the key, the linchpin. So I can live contentedly in the situation God has placed me in and I can accomplish what he wants me to. Just so we're clear, this isn't easy though. I'm not quoting a quick verse then heading of to a perfect person soiree. The struggle is real, but at least I know the secret to success.
So tonight, I hope you find yourself in positive circumstances, but if not, I'll take this opportunity to share the secret with you. Christ gives strength.
"Hacks" are all the rage these days. The internet allows us to share tips and tricks for how to make life easier. Some of the life hacks I've seen are pretty sketchy, but some have proved quite useful. The parenting hack I'm sharing today is one that Jason and I stumbled upon long before becoming parents.
Let me set the scene. We were at Greenfield Village. It was Thomas the Tank Engine day. We didn't know that it was Thomas day when we had decided to attend and we didn't even have any small children with us. The crowds were oppressive, but we made it in and since we had come a distance to visit we stayed. For the most part we avoided the large creepy train (sorry - I've never been a fan), but we were surrounded by children wearing all sorts of Thomas gear. At the end of the day we sat watching the Sir John Bennett clock chime 5:00. Behind us sat a little boy wearing all sorts of Thomas the Tank Engine apparel, holding a Thomas the Tank Engine balloon, and eating an ice cream cone. We overheard his parents talking about how fun it had been to ride on Thomas and see him in action. Including Village admission and swag these parents had probably spent at least $200 on Thomas themed activities that day. Then it happened. The dad asked his little guy this question, "So, what was your favorite part of the day?" Waiting to hear something that including the word "Thomas" the parents were flabbergasted to hear their child say, "Ice cream!" "Ice cream?!" the dad exclaimed in a high and slightly frantic voice, "We could have stayed home and had ice cream!"
At that moment I thought, "Note to self. Skip the expensive day out and get ice cream."
Because of that experience we opted to embrace the little moments and opted out of the stress of big events that parents feel pressured to participate in when Logan was very young.
I don't mean to contradict all the other stuff that I've said about experiencing things, but when it comes to toddlers and preschoolers, save your money for future trips. This doesn't mean they shouldn't go places, just that you shouldn't spend time and money on expensive places they won't truly appreciate. Little ones need to get out and see the world, but they also need naps. This can make activities difficult and exhausting for parents. Below is a list of activities that are toddler or preschool friendly versions of more extensive activities.
This morning I have one quick question for you. WHERE DID THE SUMMER GO? Can you believe it? Logan's first day of school is August 19! I've already got his 2019-2020 school calendar and have entered all the dates in my Google Calendar app. I've filled out out forms galore and our new school uniforms should be arriving this week.
All this school prep makes reminds me that we have so far to go on our bucket list. As I said during an earlier post, I don't ever intend to get the entire list complete, but we still have a LONG way to go this year. As I look at all the things we haven't done, I try to remember what we have done. Well, so far this summer has been full of a lot of family activities. We went up north to a family wedding, my sisters came in to visit for a week, and we spent a few days up in the Thumb of Michigan during the week of the 4th of July. Once I realized that we've been busy just not busy doing the things on my list, I relaxed knowing that time spent with family is time well spent. We've listened to old stories, made new memories, and shared many a meal together.
We also have several things that are "in progress" like reading books which we've attacked with renewed vigor after seeing all those back to school forms. I've been working on all kinds of craft projects including how to use my new Cricut Maker. I'll talk more about my favorite craft projects at a different time though.
This summer has been a good one. I strongly believe in making the list and pushing myself and my family to do things, but sometimes, other things come up and we do those instead. That's okay. The time with family, making the most of spontaneous opportunities, and embracing the time we have is what makes for a memorable summer. Time is a fleeting and fragile commodity. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. How we use it demonstrates what we believe about God and what is important to us. There's only a few weeks left! How will you spend the rest of your summer?
Did you do anything to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing? I gathered Logan and his buddy Derek who is staying with us and played a record I found in my Great Aunt Inez's collection. I read them Nixon's contingency speech which he would have read if they had been unable to get off the moon. Knowing that they didn't know if they would be able to leave the moon's surface but they went anyway is mind blowing. The courage it took astounds me. After discussing the courage it took to explore the unknown we sat and listened to the broadcast as if it was 50 years ago and we were gathered around the radio. Of course we had the convenience of listening to everything all at once from take off, to "the Eagle has landed," to the moon walk. In real time it took several days, but the boys did seem to enjoy the chance to participate in history.
My favorite part of this album is that it includes Kennedy's speech about going to the moon. It was given at Rice University in 1962.
"Not because they are easy, but because they are hard." This. This is so inspiring. Too often we shield both ourselves and our loved ones from hard things to make life easier. But in doing hard things we grow, we learn, we find adventure, we find ways to help others.
What do you do because it is hard? That's the question I asked myself after hearing Kennedy's speech and the question I challenged the boys with. I've never thought about it this way, but I think this is why I've run marathons and why I like to do new things.
So now it's your turn. What will you do simply because it's hard? What will you attempt just to do it? What will you challenge your family to do? Comment below and let's inspire each other to greatness!
As I write this I am sitting in front of what is known as the "Rosa Parks Bus." It is the bus that the famous incident involving Mrs. Parks refusing to give up her seat took place. In my research on the American Woman Parks' name has come up several times.
Let me back up. This week Logan and his buddy Derek are participating in Day Camp at the Henry Ford. The Henry Ford is like Disney World for history nerds and is a must see. The Henry Ford is made up of multiple institutions the main two being the Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village. When Henry Ford created them his goal was to tell history from the perspective of the average American. History is about presidents and important figures, but it's also about the innovations that impact our every day lives. Both the Village and Museum are dedicated to celebrating those innovations and honoring our nation's history.
So, back to the bus. In just the few minutes it's taken to type this, almost 50 people have climbed on and off the bus. A docent inside tells the story of that December day in Alabama and points out the seat that Parks refused to give up. The children inside excitedly vie to sit in the exact spot then skip off happy that they've experienced a part of history. There's even a Scandinavian tour group with professional film equipment filming about it. I have no idea what they are saying but it’s interesting to watch them explore the history of our country.
In my research about American women, I've come across Rosa Parks several times. Each time I've read that she is brave because she sat. When I read this it's felt like something has been missing. There were several people before Parks who were arrested for refusing to give up their seats which made me wonder what was different about their story. They sat. Why don't their names go down in history?
Oddly enough the answer came when I was reading the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. In the chapter referring to habits of societies, Duhigg explains that Parks was a unique individual because of her character and her community involvement. "Parks' many friendships and affiliations cut across the city's racial and economic lines. She was the secretary of the local NAACP chapter, attended the Methodist church, and helped oversee a youth organization at the Lutheran church near her home. She spent some weekends volunteering at a shelter, others with a botanical club, and on Wednesday nights often joined a group of women who knit blankets for a local hospital. She volunteered dressmaking services to poor families and provided last-minute gown alterations for wealthy white debutantes." He goes on to connect the facts and mentions that the previous riders who refused to move were arrested, but nothing came of it because they were unknowns, yet when Rosa Parks was arrested it caused a ripple through the community. She had invested her time in the community and that community came to her support.
But all that community doesn’t explain my discomfort with celebrating Rosa Parks for "sitting." Duhigg, after detailing Parks' community involvement, explained that the former leader of the Montgomery NAACP and a white lawyer named Clifford Durr bailed her out of jail. Community leaders had been looking for a case to challenge bus segregation and with Parks' sterling reputation they believed they had found a worthy cause to take to the courts. Parks' husband was initially opposed to the idea because he knew the danger she was putting herself in. Her husband's warning, "The white folks will kill you, Rosa," was not an empty worry. Threats of violence and death were common for those who dared to alter the status quo, but despite the possible danger, Parks allowed her case to be the rally point for the protests and the boycott. Both she and her husband lost their jobs and received multiple death threats. Yet, she didn't give in and she allowed her case to move through the courts. Eventually, they moved to Detroit hoping to start over after losing so much.
There! There it is! Now, I am beginning to understand what was so remarkable about her. She shouldn't be remembered as a woman who sat. She should be remembered for 1.) Her kindness and community involvement. 2.) Refusing to move despite knowing the possibility of arrest or physical violence. (I was told by the docent that the bus drivers often carried clubs or guns to enforce the rules.) 3.) Standing and allowing her arrest to be used in the court case that changed a city and became a major event in the Civil Rights Movement despite the costs. Too often we relegate people's stories to a paragraph and forget that their lives are as complicated and as deep as our own.
Rosa Parks' story is one of compassion, community, and courage. She didn't receive the notoriety she has today until much later in her life. In our culture of instant gratification, it is important to share that standing up for something and being remembered rarely happens for those who don't have a depth of character. We need to remember that standing for what you believe in is not easy and will likely not lead to fame and success, but doing something because you believe it is the right thing to do may just change the world.
Rosa Parks visited the Greenfield Village in 1992. These photos are of her at the Mattox House.
What flag are you waving today? Here in Michigan, we wave flags during college football season that define our loyalties. During a fall, drive through a suburban neighborhood you will see houses proudly waving the flag of the University of Michigan, Michigan State, or some other Michigan school which claims their allegiance. Every once in a while you will encounter some brave soul who is bold enough to wave the hideous white and red of Ohio State. Ugh, they're the worst!
Those college football weekends are fun. They represent a century-old tradition of watching a great game and rooting for one's team, but recently, I've noticed a trend in flag-waving that I find disturbing. Drive through a neighborhood or look at flags waved in stores and you will see a myriad of flag variations. There are rainbow themed flags representing LGTBQ citizens, there are thin blue line or thin blue and red line flags representing the police and first responders, there are half-rebel flags representing the "rebel nation," and the list goes on. With the recent controversy, there are people wearing and displaying the "Betsy Ross flag" to show their dislike for Nike and the values of their company.
But what is the purpose of a flag? Back in the day when I was engrossed in learning about the Civil War, I read a lot about flag bearers. They would carry the flag of their regiment and men would even throw down their rifle and pick up the flag should the flag bearer fall in battle. Their flags were important for both morale and communication. The flag gave them something to rally around and they would give their life for it. (Read more about this here.)
If you question the importance of flags, watch the TED Talk at the end of this post. It is one of my absolute favorite talks ever. Roman Mars talks about city flag design and after watching no one can claim to be ambivalent about any flag.
Flags are unifying and they draw people together. So let's talk about today. Today is Independence Day. It's a day to celebrate the United States of America. You aren't happy with her currently? Guess what? That's the best part of the USA. We have rights secured by our constitution that guarantee us the right to free speech, press, religion, and peaceful assembly. Don't like what you see? Do something about it! I was recently contacted by a friend about a petition drive she is working on! Love it! I am not able to run it myself, but I will support her, sign, and encourage others to do so as well. That is what made us unique so long ago. We are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
We can debate and rage, but we must come together and unite on the fact that we are Americans. Lincoln, quoting the Bible, said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand," and those words are true today. Today, my house is intentionally waving the current stars and stripes. We will wave the flag that represents us all. Let's rally around the flag and be proud of being Americans today.
Since November I have lost 15 pounds. For about the past 10 years, but particularly since we moved from Chicago, I've been steadily gaining weight. Nothing crazy, just a slow gain. I've run a few marathons in that time period and tried several diets. I could prevent quickly gaining, but still felt the weight as it settled in for the long haul. When I discussed this with people I got a few different responses the most common being the following: 1.) You look fine! Don't worry about it. 2.) Do you want to buy this product or join this group to help you?
My answer to #1 was that although I appreciate the compliment, I want to feel comfortable in my own body and I currently didn't. I had started to reach the point where when out with Logan and he would say, "I'll race you to ____." I would say, "No, no running for me." Declining a spontaneous race is normal when I'm not dressed for a sprint or when I'm carrying a load, but that wasn't why I was beginning to regularly answer, "No." It was that I didn't have the energy. My body wasn't able to keep up and I just wanted to do nothing. That's when I knew things had to change. I'm not interested in crazy weight loss, but I want to feel good. I want to feel strong again. I know aging takes a toll, but I'm not giving up yet.
My answer to #2 was that I'm very skeptical about promises made by any company or diet. I am also a total loner when it comes to fitness and don't really enjoy working out with other people. My workout methods are effective, but somewhat inexpiable. The best way I can put it is that when people come with suggestions I have a Ron-Swansonish-I-know-what-I'm-about attitude. I know what I'm capable of and push myself to do that. Twice, only twice, in my life have I felt the aggressive "PUSH IT" that I hear from trainers. It is no coincidence that I've also had to seek emergency medial help twice. Twice. (Both are pretty good stories, but those are for another day.) Another issue with diets or plans is that I am a ridiculously picky eater. I don't like fish or seafood along with a plurality of other foods. I love many fruits and vegetables, but often they are the ones left off the list of particular diets. Travel also makes eating a particular diet very difficult. Munching while driving keeps me awake and focused and eating healthy while at restaurants can be quite challenging. Finding time to squeeze in fitness further complicates staying healthy on the road.
Anyway, all that to say, I needed something that I discovered on my own, that was flexible, and that worked with my health issues. (They are ridiculous and may or may not be discussed at a later time. ) So how did I finally loose weight? Well, the answer starts the same way most of my answers for life's problems start - I read a book. The book was In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. He lays out a case for the health benefits of actual food which he describes as either plants grown by the sun or meat raised on natural diets. This part of the book was interesting, but not necessarily life altering. What got me was his discussion of intentional eating. He stated that when asked to describe chocolate cake in one word, Americans most often used the word guilt while the French most often used the word celebration. He argued that there is nothing wrong with enjoying cake or treats in reasonable amounts while surrounded by family in friends, but that there is something very wrong with consuming cake when alone and depressed. He also discusses the importance of eating at a table and focusing on what is being consumed rather than scarfing something down in a rush. He admits that this may not always be possible, but it should be a priority.
The concept of intentional eating - considering where my food was coming from, where I am consuming it, why I'm consuming it, and who I am consuming it with - was revolutionary. I became okay with saying no to sweets when I was really looking to satisfy an emotional craving. I didn't have to say no to anything, but rather in moderation can enjoy a variety of delicious foods without eating the toxic "low whatever-the-current-trends-say-to-avoid" food products.
Every now and then I gain a bit (this morning after a fun weekend I am up slightly), but when that happens, I don't berate myself or fall into a cycle of self-loathing and punishment. I just go back to healthy eating and enjoyable exercise. I've also read The Omnivore's Dilemma also by Pollan which discusses how we solve the oldest question, "What should we eat?"
Eating is both an individual and a communal pursuit. How we eat is something that each individual must consider and answer for. It is also something that we do with others as we prepare food together and make decisions where to shop. If you think that intentional eating as a goal sounds over dramatic then look at 1 Corinthians 10:31 "Whether therefore you eat or drink or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God." As I reexamined this verse I realized I needed to live it out and in the words of Robert Frost "that has made all the difference."
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."