God, the Paraeducator

This month we made a big deal out of Teacher Appreciation Day at our schools, and rightly so. Teachers are amazing and deserve every bit of support and encouragement we can offer. There is also a Secretaries’ Day on our Hallmark calendar, and we show our gratitude then. But there is no day for the paraeducators at our school, and this month as I saw gift cards and flowers go home with teachers, I also saw a half dozen paraeducators go home empty handed, and it made me think.

We are the grateful recipients of the care of paraeducator support in schools: trained, patient staff who work alongside special needs students to offer support, redirection, and supervision so that our kiddo can participate in school meaningfully. Ours is an inclusion school district, which means that kids with special needs are not siphoned off into special classrooms or schools: they’re kept in the mainstream classroom and additional support is provided for that student there. I think it’s a beautiful thing: both for special needs kids who need to belong to the community at large, and for the able-bodied and neuro-typical kids, whose borders are enlarged by interaction with all types of people. Special needs kids have something to give, too, as this months’ feature article at Christianity  Today so wonderfully demonstrates.

Yoko Fines, a paraeducator in MD, at work with one of her students. (http://www.hcpss.org/news-posts/2017/06/yoko-fines-paraeducator-cedar-lane-school/)

But to get back to the paraeducators: one of the signs of a really effective, excellent paraeducator is how invisible their work becomes in the classroom. When things are going really well, you hardly notice that they are there, because the child is able to engage seamlessly with the classroom. The metrics of success are somewhat counter-intuitive: peace, and a remarkable absence of “issues”. In a way, it reminded me of the work of the Holy Spirit, whom I remember someone once describing to me as the “shy member of the trinity”: the Holy Spirit is always directing our attention towards the Father and the Son. When our love and actions are focused on God and others, that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is really at work. The evidence of His presence is, in similar ways, quiet and beautiful. Love, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control. Jesus described the Spirit’s work like the wind: you see its effects, even if you don’t see the wind itself.

Which of us learned to ride a bike without the skill, support, and encouragement of a seconder?

We have a family friend who has been a career paraeducator and has served students with all sorts of disabilities through her school career. I have long known she is a woman who embodies a quiet strength, and the students she has worked with may never know how much thought and prayer she put into their flourishing.

But this disposition of hers—to become the most skilled supporter she can—runs into many areas of her life beyond her profession. In her personal life, she has taken in many frazzled young moms and offered seasons of support, prayer, welcome, and volunteered childcare. She and her husband loved our young family this way for a while, and it was the most beautiful, invisible gift to entrust our children to capable, kid-loving, safe people in a season where we desperately needed some respite care.

Among her long list of quiet gifts, she had a bus-driving license for some time, so that she could drive a 15 person passenger van for church outings if needed. She is credentialed and has a master’s degree, and so can support in multiple staffing ways in a school (the library, for example), in seasons when there are needs. She loves to exercise, and has completed training to be a coach and seconder for athletes at competition level. Professional athletes need someone to help them know when to rest, when to warm out, and how to train if they will be their best. These are just a few of her skills… In all these things—professionally, spiritually, physically—she is not in the limelight. But because of her skill and proximity, she is able to offer support and guidance in ways that few can.

Which brings me back to thinking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and God as a paraeducator. For a truly excellent paraeducator is not just a “supervising adult”, or an extra set of hands when needed. A truly excellent paraeducator is a specialist in the support that that person or situation uniquely needs, with eyes focused on providing just enough support, correction, and encouragement to enable the person to grow, learn, participate, and flourish as only they can. They are nearby. They are focused. They are FOR YOU in a way that no-one else can be. In the race of life, they are the ultimate seconder.

I confess I have long had a fairly mushy idea about the work of the Spirit. Like a gentle presence. Or a light current in the water. But thinking about the strength of the best paraeducators: their attention and presence, their skills, the prayer and resourcefulness and intentionality they bring: this reminds me that when Jesus said he’d send a counselor and a helper – a paraclete, in Greek – he was sending us the most skilled paraeducator of all. Each of us has a full time aide at our side, specifically trained to help us make it through the day.

And just like I realized on Teacher Appreciation Day, I don’t often notice it. But our Paraeducator is present, hard at work, a Specialist par excellence. And he is WITH us, every step of the way.

Finding God in the (Mommy) Whirlwind

How I wish Catherine McNiel’s book Long Days of Small Things – Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline had been around when I was first a mom. Her conviction that God know and sees and loves and longs to connect with Mothers not just despite motherhood but in the midst of motherhood is deeply true and life-giving. I am so grateful for her guest post here today.

I remember that crazy cocktail of emotions that swirled through my nine-week birthing class. Fourteen pairs of wide-eyed, frightened, soon-to-be parents met in a hot, crowded room. We watched terrifying birth videos, considered impossible contortions of the pelvis, and clenched ice cubes in our fists (a stand-in for pain while we practiced relaxing).

All twenty-eight of us were standing on the precipice of the biggest jump of our lives. We knew we had to go over, but not who would go first—or what would come after.

A few months later I ran into a family from birthing-class in a shopping center parking lot. Swinging car seat carriers back and forth we eagerly introduced our infants to each other and caught up on how the real birth and early days had gone.

We exchanged tales of colic and weight-gain issues. We confessed to being exhausted, a bit unhinged, and absolutely unable to find time for the basics of life that we’d taken for granted before—showering, laundry, sleeping, making a sandwich. Where was it all going? we asked ourselves. How could someone so small take over everything?!

Then one of them looked at me and chuckled. “I remember you saying you couldn’t wait for the quiet rhythm of life at home with a baby. You thought you’d have more quiet times working from home than you did working full time in the office.”

I did?

Only a few weeks in to parenthood, I couldn’t recall anything of that pre-precipice world where I might think something so preposterous.

There is a sacredness to that spot on the edge of the precipice, isn’t there? We are all-in, moving forward, no stopping us now. Yet, we have no idea what is coming. We can’t possibly. The future is unknowable; the change is massive. We’ve seen a hundred other families walk down this rite of passage and survive, yet there is no way out for us but through. We can only learn as we go. Our bodies and souls are wide open in surrender—we have no choice but to accept what may come.

And what comes is a whirlwind.

A new person, with unrelenting physical needs that can only be met by our physical bodies. Ourselves torn, inside and out, with stiches and sutures and post-partum depression. Waking every 90 minutes for days, then weeks—maybe even months. The worry of plugged ducts, infections, APGAR scores, developmental milestones. The pressures from family, from strangers, from ourselves. The joys of first smiles, soft heads, clenching fists.

Our children.

We were taught, with Elijah, that God’s voice is not in the whirlwinds, not in the earthquake, not in the fire. For Elijah, who had staved off rain then brought it back, who called down fire and bested his enemies—he found himself in early retirement, with no false-prophets to confront or battles to win. His challenge was learning to hear God in the gentle wind, the still, small voice.

But me? I’ve always known how to find God in the silence, in the quiet times. The hours of journaling, singing, serving. What are we supposed to do now, in the sleepless days of constant bouncing and breastfeeding, of unwashed hair and piles of laundry? In the days when we can hardly keep it all together and our families moving forward?

Sister, I am here to tell you, God is in the whirlwind too.

During these precious days of miracles, we celebrate the gifts but grieve what we have lost. The certainty of who we are, the satisfactions of contributing to a team, the autonomy to choose where we will go and how we will spend our time. The mental clarity to study the Bible, the ability to be awake long enough to close our eyes and pray.
There is so much guilt that piles up on us, in this season, this whirlwind where everything “normal” is set aside. Shouldn’t we be better, do more, have it all together?

But God is in this whirlwind.

He made our bodies to create, to give birth, to lactate…and to heal again, eventually. He made our babies to need a loving grown-up day and night, to learn their identity through the unrelenting rhythm of constant cry and response, tiny tummies and diapers emptied and filled, and then again.

Our Creator is in this process, in this love, in this nurture. He is with us in the sleepless night-time vigils and the daytime pouring-out.

The day will come again, Mama, when you will wash your hair, put on clothes, and go out into the world independently. The season will arrive when you can pull out your journal and listen for that still, small voice in the gentle wind.

But in the meantime, sister, God is in the whirlwind.

Catherine McNiel writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Catherine is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017), and loves to connect on Twitter , Facebook , or at catherinemcniel.com .
 

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

It is no secret that it is Tim Fall’s fault encouragement that got me blogging. I always enjoy Tim’s words, and am delighted to welcome him here today with his usual blend of funny, warm and robustly encouraging insight.

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

Contrary to the impression I might have given with posts on running a 6 mile obstacle course and a half-marathon in the Happiest Place on Earth, I am not wont to join a few thousand strangers in order to traverse long distances in company.

But I did it again.

This time it was a 5K through a bunch of bounce houses. Three miles and a dozen inflatable obstacles made for a fun-run in the truest sense. It also made me feel like the folks in this verse:

They reeled and staggered like drunkards … . (Psalm 107:27.)

Tim Drunkard

Me reeling and staggering, but not falling down.

 

We signed up along with a bunch of people from the gym. As the day approached the young guy who owns the gym – and whom we looked to as our fearless leader for the race – went and blew his knee out and ended up having surgery.

That didn’t stop him from taking the course. He said he’d do it, and he did. And we did it with him. He couldn’t run so we all walked with him 3.1 miles from obstacle to obstacle. He hobbled through the obstacles along with the rest of us, laughing and joking around. It wasn’t the way the course was designed to be taken, perhaps, but it was the right way for us to go.

The Right Way to Go

Which reminds me of another verse:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(Proverbs 18:24.)

This group of friends stuck together for the sake of the one who could not run full speed. It’s the same with the church, the people of God. We are called to come together, to be with one another, to love each other in the good times and the bad times. In fact, it’s this love for one another that shows people who we belong to.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)

How can you love one another so that people will see you belong to Jesus? Good question, and one I hope you’ll help answer in a comment. For me it often means encouraging people. I don’t restrict this to fellow Christians, of course. Jesus’ love is something I can share with everyone God puts in my life.

When we love those outside the body of Christ, we do it without expectation of reciprocation. When we do it with each other, though, it should be a mutual care and love for one another. It is this bond of love – the back and forth, the give and take whether everyone can run at the same speed or not – that shows people who we are.

That’s what Jesus said.


Tim Fall pointsTim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 28 years with two grown kids, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. He blogs, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook too.

 

 

The first year of marriage

 

Why is the first year of marriage so hard?

“So, how’s married life?”

It was a question we were asked hundreds of times in that first year. It was a question that always left me feeling a little bereft as to what to say.

The truth is, our first year of marriage was hard. Very hard. Not because we’d made a mistake, not because I regretted the decision, not because I wanted out. Even though I was sure we’d chosen right and wanted in – it was still hard.

We may have been in love, but we hadn’t yet begun to learn how to love one another well. We hadn’t yet begun to learn that beyond the declarations of love and commitment comes the daily study of learning what your spouse likes, and deeper than that – how your spouse thinks.

I cried. A lot. Tears of frustration. Tears of pain. Tears of despair. Tears of martyrdom, spilled out on my pillow before sleep finally came: “Oh God, I promised to love him even if this means feeling this way fore-eh-eh-eh- (sob)-ver…zzzz”

There was no particular sin or problem that made it hard. It wasn’t that we were mismatched. It was more just that it was painful to figure out the changes. I think the most honest thing we were able to say about that first year was that it was “a big adjustment“. Here are some of the things that were hard for us to adjust:

It was hard to change our expectations of how time together was spent. When we were dating and engaged, our time together was spent “TOGETHER”, and then we went home to our respective houses and did our alone-time things alone. But once we were married, was time at home together time, or alone time? How did we figure that out? I expected marriage to feel more like an extended low-fuss date. I think he expected it more to feel like alone time, except with me in the house. It was painful for both of us to figure that out.

We suffered from decision-making fatigue. Before we were married, we had to decide on a few things together, and we figured we were pretty good at making those decisions. But once we were married, we discovered that every part of every day and every routine in every chore needed now to be decided on: we didn’t want to presume to do it “his” way or “my” way, so that meant having to have conversation after conversation about what “our” way was going to be. When should we eat dinner? what to eat for dinner? Who will do what prep and cooking for dinner? How long after dinner is it acceptable to wait before doing the dishes? Should washed dishes be dried and put away at once, or left to drip dry until morning? None of these questions was important, but much like the fatigue of a group of friends all trying to decide on a place to go for dinner and the conversation just goes and goes and goes because no-one wants to decide for the group, or the fatigue of a 4
-year olds’ “why”…. we were tired.

Another complicating factor was that it was hard to figure out our social obligations. While dating, I had a large circle of (mostly single) friends, with whom I spent about half the nights of the week. Once
married, what happened to those friendships? I wanted to keep those friendships and not be the friend-who-dropped-off-the-face-of-the-earth once she got married, but I couldn’t leave my hubby alone at home 3 nights a
week, and I couldn’t always just invite my girl friends to our house: they were my friends after all, and while they liked him they didn’t exactly want to bare their souls to my new hubby.

And so I did what all nice-girls-in-a-bind do: I cried. In private.

Would telling the truth about it being hard that first year have been understood? Would it have been seen as betrayal? Betrayal to my husband, or to the idealized notion of marriage? At the time it felt like it might be both.

And so one night, when an older, wiser friend asked: “So, how’s married life?”, and then followed it up immediately with, “It’s hard, isn’t it?”, I just about sobbed with relief. It was hard. It was such a relief to say it. And you know what? It got better. That first year wasn’t all terrible, but to be honest – it wasn’t all great.

I have friends who have had most wonderful first years of marriage. I’m so happy for them. But I just wanted to put in writing that it was not so with us. Just in case there’s anyone out there, whether in year 1 or year 4 or year 14, who feels this marriage gig is HARD and I-didn’t-expect-this and am-I-doing-something-wrong? and will-I-always-feel-like-this? and I-don’t-regret-this-but-I’m-still-crying-all-the-time…

Just in case that’s you, I wanted to say: “So how’s married life? It’s HARD, isn’t it?”

I know. We struggled through it, and we came through the stronger for it. You can too.

You might be interested in this post over at Start Marriage Right: Why we ditched the “young marrieds” groups

On conquering the world

My friend Cara Meredith invites people to write guest posts on her blog, and she always has the best prompts. Last year she had us write about unexpected moments, and I got to tell a bit of my love story. This year the prompt is rituals, and I loved getting to write about one of the sweetest things that has developed in our home: the unexpected ritual of world-conquering. Here’s a snippet (and here’s the whole link..)

clotho98

It’s 8:11am, and there’s fussing by the front door:

“Where are your shoes?”

“I can’t find my library book.”

“Why didn’t you unpack your lunch bag yesterday?”

“Hurry up! I don’t want to get another tardy note!”

In the flurry, zips are zipped, snacks are packed, and finally, my husband and older kids tumble out the door. I stand with my youngest—both still in our pajamas and slippers—and call out to them: “Bye! Love you! Conquer the world!” My three year old echoes in a voice that echoes down the street: “Conquer! The! World!!!” and his Daddy rolls down the window as he backs out the driveway and shouts back, “bye! Conquer your little world, too!”

Tail lights disappear down the street, and we click the front door closed.

This is how it happens every day.

(Read the rest here)

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Clotho98

The invisible hero in your midst

The Invisible Hero In Your Midst

A few years ago, I knew a set of twins—I’ll call them Sarah and Sasha—who were both passionate about missions. They were both profoundly introverted, and yet expended nearly all of their social energy on supporting and promoting global outreach awareness and prayer events at college. They both dreamed and prayed of a life in Kingdom service abroad.

But.

There were two obstacles: one, they had parents who needed increasing help and care as they coped with disability. And second, they had significant student loans. Sarah and Sasha talked and prayed, and after graduating Sarah joined a team serving in Asia. Sasha returned home to be with her parents, and get a job to start tackling those loans.

I’ve received a number of letters from Sarah over the years, with news of how she has come along in learning the language, of significant relationships with coworkers and students where she has opportunities to share Jesus. She has been able to travel and visit many local families, and has had no shortage of opportunities to speak about God and the life He offers.

It has been easy to see, and rejoice, in the significant service Sarah has offered.

Last week I got a letter from Sasha. After eight years at home, she has an opportunity to go and visit Sarah this summer and partner with her on a short-term outreach trip to a neighboring Asian country. Sasha has saved up for many years to pay for this trip, but needed some help to pay for the relief care for her parents, who cannot do without outside physical assistance these days.

It occurred to me how little I had noticed or esteemed Sasha’s service, while it has been no less significant, or costly. 

Sasha has given her twenties to caring for her parents, and working to pay off loans: something very few first world young adults have to do. She has done so prayerfully, willingly, and quietly; offering a support without which her sister could not have gone.

And yet she doesn’t get to introduce herself as being “a missionary”, and she doesn’t have the stamps in her passport (not that I am glamorizing the life of a missionary, but still….)

****

The service of those who send and support is no less valuable than those who go. Those who write checks for sponsor children are just as critical as those who distribute the food and teach the lessons on the other side. Those who faithfully pray through the prayer letters in their email folder are just as critical as those who sit cross-legged in small huts, sharing the good news of God.

So much of the world’s critical work is accomplished by people in the quiet of their houses: being faithful to pray and give, even if they never get to go and do.

For every Sarah in the world, there is a network of unsung heroes: quiet Sashas whose faithful service is noticed and rewarded by the Father who sees what is done in secret.

May we be faithful Sarahs and Sashas, wherever God has placed us.

A Brave Pen-light in a Dark World

This is one of the few (ever) guest posts that left me in broken, hopeful tears. After reading it I emailed Aleah and said, “dang it girl. dang.”  Aleah Marsden is my writing BFF, but even if I didn’t have the extraordinary privilege of being able to say those things I would still say this: she is an incredible writer. This piece is about how scary it is to write, or to do anything, for that matter, when our contribution is so small and scared, while the world out there is so big and scary. 

God uses our stones, you know. And our

My seven year old son sits before the homework page: knees up, heels resting on the seat of the chair, arms wrapped around his legs, and dark brown, nearly black, eyes staring over his folded arms. Brooding. On the verge of tears. One hundred math facts: ten rows of ten facts, daunting. Overwhelmed and paralyzed, he fights the battle raging in his mind for a place to start. For a foothold. Maybe if he stares at it long enough, looking pathetic enough, I will have pity and excuse him from the work. Or do it for him.

My empathy is touched, but not pushed to interference. This scene plays out at least once a week, whenever the dreaded hundred-fact sheet is pulled out of his folder. He is excellent at math. Rarely do I need to correct his answers, though his spelling is another story. I know he can do this and do it well. I have witnessed him do it before.

However, I know how it feels to be overwhelmed and so stuck up-in-your-head that you can’t take the next step—even and especially the first faltering step.

I look adoringly from my book proposal, that sweet bundle of hope and pixels, to my phone: a picture of 21 brothers on a beach who I will see in martyr’s robes on the last day. I look into the eyes I can see because I want to be sure I recognize them. Oh, God, for the women and children left behind!

I excitedly check Twitter to see if today will be the day I break the magical 1,000 followers mark. I’m far from the majestic blue-check stamp of approval, but still eagerly anticipating this next milestone. Then I click a link and read about human trafficking in such beyond-the-numbers human terms that I’m sick to my stomach. Oh, baby girl. No, Lord, no!

I pray over my possibilities and share my life-giving stories of IF:Gathering last weekend. Of the power of women (and a few brave men) contained around tables in the theater and at restaurants all over downtown Austin. I am challenged to stop insulating myself from the fear of rejection, the fear of failure. To stop counting the cost, as I consider the cost of a little more than a dollar a day to Feed the Children. And I can’t. Because right now that dollar a day feeds my people and it tears me apart with longing for more. I vow to be generous with what I have and not what I haven’t.

I stand in the field, tall grass tickling my exposed calves, with my stone in my sling facing the Giant.

I walk my sixth lap around a fortress fortified up to Heaven and wonder if the marching is making any difference at all.

I look into the face of the Man calling me to drop everything and follow Him, heart beating in my throat.

In reality, I smoosh the words around the screen with the skill of a finger-painting preschooler and a fraction of the confidence. I point my laptop in the direction of the void of cybernetic space and fire off another bundle of words into the darkness.

There is so much more I want to do. If only I had heavier artillery to bring to this battle. I see my brother-martyrs, my sister-victims, our hungry kids and I point a blue ballpoint in my trembling right hand. I thrust it out before my chest against the swords and darkness; impotent iPhone in my back pocket.

My hope looks insignificant, selfish, against this wave. I am swept up in the rush of urgency down the social media rapids, overwhelmed and pulled under the whirlpool of information until I’m washed out on the shore panting, crying, praying. It’s too much. It’s too big.

How simple, how stupid, how selfish, how small this art feels against the looming dark.

I trudge out back to water the damn platform again, wondering as I do if it will ever be tall enough for anyone to find relief under its branches. If it even matters, or if it will just a die a slow death like every other green thing ever entrusted to my care. Truth is, though I sometimes fantasize about uprooting the thing and feeding it to the wood chipper, I believe it contains potential to grow into something beautiful, flourishing, and a tree of blessing for others.

Even though my words possess some intrinsic value scribbled in the margins of my personal space: they have no impact unless I have the courage to fling them. Maybe it’s more selfish to hoard them. I put my whole self of force behind them, trusting the I AM within to provide spark and trajectory for my small stones. God uses our stones, you know. And our steps, our pieces, our art to sum greater than their parts. Every time. He is our only hope against the too much, too big dark because He is the greatest much, the greatest big light. Against Him no darkness can stand.

My sweet boy sits staring. Even this small battle of overcoming addition holds incredible kingdom implications. You can do this. You are enough. You have what it takes. I breathe into the top of his soft dark hair. Start. Just pick one and do it. Then do another. And another. And one more little piece until it somehow in the mystery and solidness of mathematics makes a hundred.

I’ll keep flinging my words. Keep watering and pruning the brambly platform out back. Keep forcing myself to find human faces in the information overload out there. One more post, one more stone, one more submission, one more lap.

One more step forward pointing my pen-light into the darkness.

profile picAleah Marsden is a stay at home mom of four who wakes up at 5am to study the Bible and write because she discovered physical exhaustion is more manageable than emotional exhaustion (i.e. consumes copious amounts of coffee). She blogs about life, faith, and studying the Bible at DepthOfTheRiches.com. Member of Redbud Writers Guild. Connect with her on Twitter: @marsdenmom

 

Photo credit: Einherjan2k8 – Overgrown Path in the early evening sun (Flickr Creative Commons) / edited by Bronwyn Lea