to see the light, be the light: shifting perspective

Transitioning back into the classroom full time at a new school has been so. stinking. hard. To the point where I feel caught in a web spun by a mid-life-career-crisis-spider. (More on that to come later.)

I work at least 60 hours a week. I am tired. I am overwhelmed. I never feel good enough. I feel unsuccessful at doing all those things I have written about for so long on this blog–the things that matter most. I am insecure in who I am as a teacher. It has been five years since I’ve had a caseload of 150 students. How do I connect with them all on a meaningful level on a daily basis? The answer is I don’t. I’m not. And it’s killing me (softly with his song).

All of this sob story is old news and has been since early September. What’s burning in my heart currently is an experience I had at a grade level meeting. The facilitator started off the meeting asking for anyone to share good news.

And. I. froze.

Good news…

Hmm…

Let me think…

Ugh…

There’s gotta be something…

O.U.C.H.

I have become that person I don’t want to be: Dramatic. Stuck in the muck of negativity. Drowning in cynicism. Devoid of hope. Lost in the dark.

No. Just no.

I saw this growing up. I love my Mom, and I miss her deeply, and from her I have gained so many strengths and wonderful characteristics. But one thing I do not want to emulate from her was her inability to celebrate good things without attaching a “but.” And because of this, I think more woe came to her.

Because for so much of her life  (pre-cancer), that’s what she saw: woe.

We become what we see. We attract that which is our focus. We reap what we sow. On what we dwell, we cultivate.

I am guilty of ADD: Attentive to Deficit Disorder.

And because I am consumed with them, deficits abound. Because they are at the forefront of my mind, problems manifest regularly.

Time to turn on the light.

  • L. has spent the first few months of school refusing to write. Anything. “I am a reader, but I can’t write. I have never passed an English class, just look at my record.” Just yesterday, at Saturday school, he wrote an entire full page essay, typed.
  • I. and I do not get along. She is constantly defiant and disruptive. But for a brief moment, she was turning in work. Good work. Quality work. At my desk in a conference, I told her: “You hide behind this mask of being a ‘bad girl,’ but I don’t think that’s who you are.” Her eyes glittered.
  • G. was there when I was gently corrected by another adult for an error I made. It was all good. But he looked at me and said, “Miss, you want me to square up for you?”
  • H. wrote: “I appreciate your high expectations. You don’t let us get away with less than our best.”
  • T. complained yesterday at Saturday school about how the work was too hard. I provided him another resource. Soon enough, he is quietly settled into both resources to accomplish the task. Independently. Successfully.

We become what we see. We attract that which is our focus. We reap what we sow. On what we dwell, we cultivate.

Time to see the light.

Time to be the light.

 

 

building a prayer

It has been a rough couple of months in the Davenport household. In January, news from Dave’s work of impending “changes” resulted in insecurity. In February, I made the heartbreaking decision to resign from the school that has formed me for the last five years. So many questions plagued us: will we have jobs? will we take pay cuts? will we have to sell a car? will we have to move? will our lifestyle have to change? These weights, compiled with other disappointments, had me in daily meltdowns for nearly a month.

But, alas, things have worked out for us. As they always do.

As they always do.

And I find myself now overwhelmed–not by stress–but by gratitude. At another time, I will share the decision I made to change my perspective…and how that created light where there was none. But for now, I want to share how we honored the many blessings in our lives as of late.

In the shadow of an ancient volcano eruption–looming walls bloodied by fire–we constructed a cairn. In the cool shade of a giant ponderous–branches tangled and blossoming–we partook in a sacred ceremony of craft. Stone by stone, we declared our blessings. We built a prayer.

 

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a classroom Thanksgiving

In the 1940’s, Maslow said it:

full bellies + safe bodies + happy hearts + thriving self = engaged learning

This week it popped up on my feed:

respect given + respect received = engaged learning

And Friday, it blossomed in my classroom:

family potluck + words of gratitude = engaged learning

Actually, I don’t know yet, for sure, with quantitative numbers and qualitative studies, if my Friday activity will result in engaged learning. But I just don’t care.

Because it meant so much more.

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These words are the sentiments from the students after our Thanksgiving celebration as a classroom family. We began by writing notes of gratitude to each other. Each student had a poster, and as we sat family-style, we passed them around and wrote words of encouragement, thankfulness, and praise–light–to each other.

As usual, at first there was confusion and chaos, as is the case with any newly initiated task in any high school, anywhere. But then it got quieter and quieter, more focused and more heavy as the students felt the weight of giving this joy. There were traffic jams as some students wrote more, meanwhile side chit-chats and songs and obnoxious complaining and sessions of giggles popped up elsewhere.

You know–family bonding.

Then we feasted. Homemade donuts and posole and cake and arroz and enchiladas and perogies…yep, my students know how to do it right.

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And while we feasted, we gave thanks. We whipped around the circle (rectangle, really) and shared, through many tentative tears and much hearty laughter, what we are thankful for this holiday season.

I’m grateful for my parents.

I’m alone at home; but when I come here I’m not.

You make me smile…and that’s pretty important.

I don’t have a family at home, and you have shown me I have one here.

Yep, it got me “in the feels” too (as my kiddos say). It was a good day in the classroom.

It was a good day as a human.

 

compliments: a gift received is a gift given

The last weeks of school, a colleague and I helped some stellar seniors develop, finesse, and practice their graduation speeches. And they rocked it! As I sat and listened to them, a river of emotions swelled within the banks of my heart: joy, honor, pride, sadness, closure, gratitude, humility.

Naturally after those speeches, as is the blessing of being surrounded by good-hearted people, I was showered with compliments for my coaching. And my responses to those compliments vacillated throughout this range:

“It wasn’t just me.”

Change the subject.

“They worked their asses off.”

<Insert minimizing joke here.>

“So how are you?”

Pretend like I didn’t hear.

Since then, I’ve been reflecting on how I receive compliments. Or rather, sadly, how I reject them: how I catch them, wad them up, pop them in my mouth, chew them, and launch them, with a trail of dangling drool, back at the person. And in my reflection, I reverse the roles, feeling the sting of my own saliva-drenched compliment smacking me in the face. I hate when people reject, minimize, or divert my compliments. I am known to emphatically say when people do so: “Thank you Mary,” as a way to model for them how to respond to my compliment. But to model is not just about creating a sentence frame… to model is to live a certain way, to not just carve a path but to walk first on it…to embrace the receipt of compliments as much as I embrace the gift of compliments.

In my reflection, I’ve wondered: what does a compliment signify? It is a present, bow-tied and delivered with an anticipatory, heavy-lidded bow of the eyes. It is a kiss, echoed in the thundering hooves of a heartbeat. It is a party, decorated with polk-a-dot banners and balloons of joy. It is a standing ovation, a thousand feet rooted into the earth lifting the honored into the sky. It is a rumor of the Divine, sacred glimpses into something beyond the wall-papered halls of humans.

How dare I reject that.

Part of my reflection has been thinking about how I have received other gifts that blossomed from someone’s garden of love. When Dave asked me to marry him–with a ring tucked into a plastic egg from a quarter-operated toy dispenser from CVS, in the red F-150 outside Chili’s during a rain storm, not on his knee physically but only in his heart (and perhaps in his version of the story)–I squealed; I cried; I said “yes;” I leaned in for a kiss; I celebrated; I basked in the moment, elongating it into an eternal ribbon in my heart.

I did not play humble.

I did not change the subject.

I did not pretend like I didn’t hear.

I did not minimize the moment by making a joke.

And in my surrender to the compliment, not only did I receive a gift, but I gave one as well.

When I think of that story, and when I think of my own moments of complimenting others, I realize that giving a compliment is giving a gift. A compliment comes from a place of love, a place of dignity, a place of light.

When I am the recipient, I need to honor–with authenticity and vulnerability and joy and grace–this sacred passing of love, dignity, and light.

photo essay: joy from this weekend

When you look for joy, you will find joy. When you find joy, you will look for joy.

This morning I practiced yoga with over 3000 other yogis in the beautiful Denver Sunken Garden Park at Yoga Rocks the Park. And under the warm embrace of the sun, atop the prickly green of the earth, I could not help but thinking:

I am blessed.

Here are some pictures of today’s joys…

A glorious day for outdoor yoga!

A glorious day for outdoor yoga!

Colleagues and friends.

Colleagues and friends.

We love Fabletics!

We love Fabletics!

Rooted in friendship.

Rooted in friendship.

Rooted in friendship.

Rooted in friendship.

The collective breaths of over 3000.

The collective breaths of over 3000.

Upside down.

Upside down.

Upside down.

Upside down.

Sunshine selfie.

Sunshine selfie.

Twist.

Twist.

The joy continues at home. As I sit on my beautiful back porch, looking at the lush green woods, I see my husband and my best friend napping…

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The epitome of peace.

Though I was inside yesterday, I also experienced joy. My bestest friend in the whole wide world is moving here, into our place, in less than one week. The lives that we have lived from a distance will now be woven together in the most common of daily activities. It was joy to prepare a space for her…

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Welcome.

My weekend joy began with horse therapy as I spent some time riding Bruno. Just he and I, alone, working and breathing and sweating in the quiet of an indoor arena, while rain anointed the barn roof. Heavenly joy…

An earlier picture of Bruno and I.

An earlier picture of Bruno and I.

And all these are what occurred within the last 72 hours. It’s not even counting the joy of Thursday night happy hour with my husband, good-bye hugs for seniors at our luncheon, and our amazing trip to Portland.

I am blessed.

When you look for joy, you will find joy. When you find joy, you will look for joy.

the soul’s greatest threat: ADD

This little disease epidemic is popping up everywhere. In disgruntled hearts. In ungrateful mouths. In slanderous conversations. In the broken public education system. Beneath the broken hearts of Christians.  On job (dis)satisfaction surveys. At restaurants. In my soul.

ADD: Attentive to Deficit Disorder.

I first learned about ADD–though not known by that name yet, well, because I didn’t invent it yet :)–when getting my Master’s in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Education. For students in our system who are emerging bilinguals, it is common to focus on what they lack (a foundation in English, parents who speak English, comfort navigating the American schooling principles, background knowledge, etc) rather than what they offer (flexible cognition, tenacity, diversity, varied background knowledge, a 21st century skill, etc). This deficit lens immediately and perpetually harms their potential–both for heart and mind learning in the classroom.

But ADD reaches into the adult hallways as well. Lingering in the air of my school lately is a heavy tension surrounding feedback. Teachers–me included–feel like there shouldn’t always have to be a next step. Can we just celebrate the good that’s going on in our classrooms? Just once? Of course, this stifling air is pouring in from beyond the walls of our building–a critical society of politicians and businessmen who in their ADD see fit to criticize our profession and demean our judgment. (Can I get a next step for them!?)

I saw and felt ADD in my Mom too. No matter what my Dad did, it wasn’t enough for her. No one at work could live up to her standards. We, her kids, strained to breath in the shadow of her martyrdom-to-negativity, encapsulated by her rally cry: “When it rains, it pours.”

Until she got breast cancer. The disease stopped her in her tracks, rewrote her map, and rerouted her direction. Did she become perfect? No, but her rally cry changed to “Well, I can’t complain; I’ve been blessed.” This will forever be one of the traits I admire most in my Mom: what should have proved to her that “when it rains, it pours” became a transition into a heart and life of thanksgiving. Even when she got cancer again, and then again, she declared her life as blessed.

Her prescription for ADD? Gratitude.

And this is without her earmarking The Secret or subscribing to “The Law of Attraction” or reading Ernest Holmes, who writes in This Thing Called You:

The barriers between you and your greater good are not barriers in themselves. They are things of thoughts. It is because of this that all things are possible to faith. Jesus summed up the whole proposition when he said, “It is done unto you as you believe.” In interpreting this saying, however, you must pause after the word as. Think about its meaning and you will discover that he was saying that life not only responds to your belief, it responds after the manner of your believing, as you believe. It is like a mirror reflecting the image of your belief.

As you believe.

Without using such succinct language, I’ve long pondered this with those closest to me. We’ve witnessed people in our lives with ADD: they never see good; they’re always complaining; their smiles are never deep; every good story has a “but” or an “if;” they seek commiseration from those around them; they are martyrs; they complain without changing; their conversations are tainted with passive-aggressiveness; they tear others down so they can feel better about their lives; they always play the victim but then conclude, deep-sighing “but, I’m okay.”

And as they believe, they just can’t catch a break, the sh** just keeps hitting the fan, spinning wildly above their heads on high, splintering the crap into tiny germs of toxic thinking that attracts more toxicity.

As they believe.

As you believe.

As I believe. This could be me. On my worst days, it is me, suffering from and for ADD. But I refuse to stay in this minefield-mindplace.

And just like my Mom learned and lived, I take my ADD medicine: gratitude.

My prescription as of late involves the delicious and divine words of of Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts:

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At the deepest diagnostic level of ADD is the distinction made by Tim O’Brien between the happening-truth and the story-truth. The events in my life are the truth, the happening-truth, the facts. But how I view them, how I count them and name them and interpret them, that’s the story-truth. Regardless of the events, I can tell the story however I want. I have that power, that choice, that authorship. Do I tell my story slanted with sorrow, burdened by ADD’s symptoms? Or do I tell my story, sanctified by sincere gratitude?

My Mom died last year. That is the happening-truth. But how do I tell that story? My Mom died too suddenly and how dare God do that?! or My Mom got what she wished, to end her life with her dignity in tact, dependent on no one, so thank you God! I choose the latter. Thank you. Again and again I choose the latter. Thank you. I refuse to succumb to the powerful hold of ADD.

My story-truths will be of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of blessing, as I believe.

Disclaimer: It would be negligent of me to conclude without a warning about the side-effects of ADD’s treatment plan of thanksgiving: DDD– denial of deficit disorder. There is a subtle but significant difference between positivity and faithfulness, between denial and gratitude. Positivity and denial leave a person consumed with “having to be happy” regardless of the happening-truth. They painfully push on (of course never on the surface, where there is always a smile) without the deep reflection and story-telling necessary to treat ADD. On the other hand, faithful and grateful people understand the severity of their happening-truths, while still instead scripting a story-truth of thanksgiving.

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