As the Dust Settles (The Teacher Walkout Aftermath, Part 2)

•April 21, 2018 • 1 Comment

You may write me down in history

with your bitter twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still like dust, I’ll rise.

 

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A week after the Oklahoma teacher walkout, everything seems to be settling down around us. And just like in the aftermath of an explosion, as the dust settles, nothing around us looks the way it did. Our perspective has changed. As everyone else seems to be going back to normal, we know things will never be the same.

But, truthfully…I don’t want them to be. I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. And I definitely don’t want to stay in the same emotional rut I’ve been wallowing in and out of for the last several days following the walkout. I want, no, I need to shift my focus and change my stance from hurt, dejected victim to proud, powerful world-changer.

All of these emotions we’ve felt lately (see original post here)? It’s time to turn those feelings into power. It’s time to be like Maya Angelo’s poem and rise up through that dust that is settling around us.

 

  1. No longer will we feel Defeated. Instead, we will be HEROES. We’ve always been heroes. To our students. To our community. It is high time we start accepting the compliments and thank you’s we are getting from students, parents, and the community for fighting for Oklahoma’s children. We did fight fiercely. And we did get a lot accomplished. If anything, a new political awareness and dynamic in our state and even nation was achieved through our heroic fight.

 

  1. No longer will we feel Manipulated. Instead, we will be EDUCATORS. This time, though, instead of teaching youth, we will take our lessons to Oklahoma voters. They need to know what we have learned at the capitol. They need to have their eyes opened to the corruption that goes on over there and in the media. They need to be taught that lies are lies and truth is truth. If we all do our share in staying educated and educating others, we have a chance to win in the long run.

 

  1. No longer will we feel Overlooked. Instead, we will be POWERFUL. Just because most of the legislators don’t seem to give a crap about education and teachers and even students, it doesn’t lesson our worth, or our power. Know that you are important. You matter. Our voice, even as individuals, is powerful. But as a group? We have authority, clout, and influence that those legislators only dream of having. And we will use that influence going into June and November!

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  1. No longer will we feel Angry. Instead, we will be PROUD, turning all anger into righteous anger, which we will use as fuel to push us into action and motivate us. We will not sit idly by anymore, stewing over injustices. We will make a difference and work to fight against corruption.

 

  1. No longer will we feel Jaded. Instead we will be HOPEFUL for change. We will use our new knowledge, however negative, to lead the way into a new generation of politics. One where education is valued and prioritized as it should be. Together, we can bring change for the future.

 

  1. No longer will we feel Worried. Instead, we will be CONFIDENT. Will teachers leave and could things get worse? They could and it’s possible. We all know that. But do you know what else I know? Teachers are resilient, dedicated, resourceful, noble, and compassionate. It would be foolish to doubt such an upstanding group of people.

 

  1. No longer will we feel Uncertain. Instead, we will be CERTAIN. Certain that the advocacy we continue to do matters, but also certain that the walkout, as it was, is over. And that’s okay. We no longer have to feel like we’re in between, trying to make a decision to continue that waning walkout fight or give up. We have a new fight to embark on. Continuing advocacy in and out of the capitol this session to make sure the legislature doesn’t forget about us and our kids, and then continued advocacy into elections and every year thereafter. We have a new mission. Now let’s embrace it!

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  1. No longer will we feel Foolish. Instead, we will be WISE. We all have wisdom. Those who have been teaching longer have more wisdom than others. But this is a new kind of wisdom, isn’t it? We have learned so much about the legislature and how to properly advocate for education. Anytime someone does something for the first time, like political advocacy, there will be mistakes. But you learn from those mistakes and do better next time. Besides, most “mistakes” made in the walkout weren’t our fault anyway. It’s time to let our foolish feelings go.

 

  1. No longer will we feel Relieved that the fight is over. Instead, we will be EAGER to fight some more. I don’t know about you, but I miss the political advocacy we experienced while fighting for our students. Yes, they were difficult and exhausting times, but they were also exciting and invigorating. The truth is, though, we don’t have to miss it. We can still fight for our kids while teaching them. I know we’re tired, and I know we are back to our teaching lives filled with no free time, but we need to keep up the fight. Below is a post about continuing advocacy from a good teacher friend, Angel Worth, who is now running for office in the Moore district.
(There are still so many ways to be involved! Follow credible organizations that are reporting from the Capitol. One of my favorites is The Oklahoma Policy Institute. Follow representatives on social media (Collin Walke, Emily Virgin, Mickey Dollens, and Scott Inman are just a few who have posted regular updates). Stay involved in social media groups, and most importantly: CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS. Let them know that out of sight is not out of mind. Email/call on a regular basis (even daily) to continue asking for recurring revenue for education before the end of this legislative session. Just because we’re back in school does not mean we’ve left the Capitol in spirit!)

Here is a link to the Oklahoma Policy Institute where you can get email addresses for your reps and also sign up for email updates on legislation. They also have some really great infographs!

 

  1. This last emotion from the original post is unique because it was a positive emotion to begin with – Passionate. We will continue to be PASSIONATE for our students and for teaching. We will approach our job with a renewed love and driving force that motivates us to get out of bed every morning and make a difference. Our job matters. It matters so much. Even if the legislators don’t think it does. The fact that we are molding and shaping the future generation should fill us with awe and ignite a new passion in us that maybe we haven’t felt in several years or since we began teaching all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. The truth is, we are still that wide-eyed, optimistic, passionate new teacher. He/she is still in there. It’s time to bring that version of you back out into the open. It’s time to show this state exactly what we teachers are made of! Are you with me?

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***Click the FOLLOW button on the upper right (or “Notify me of new posts via email” at the bottom if on a phone) to get notified about future posts. As efforts continue in our state to increase funding and create change in our legislature this June and November, I’ll do my best to keep you informed.

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Letter to My Students

•April 15, 2018 • 1 Comment

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First, I want to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we are coming back to you mostly empty-handed. I’m sorry that these two weeks away didn’t mean much in the long run. We fought hard and we tried our best, but in the end, we were defeated.

I wanted to come back to you victorious and proud. I wanted to be the role model I always strive to be and prove to you that anything is possible when you try your best and stand up for what you believe in. Instead, we’ve proven that power and corruption trump what is right and just. I didn’t want to shatter your innocence and idealism as mine have been shattered. But I also can’t hide the truth from you. I wouldn’t want to. You deserve to know the truth. Maybe now you’ll understand the importance of politics and why we shouldn’t take it for granted. I know I do now.

I also want you to know that I’m worried about you. I’m worried because with not much added funding, class sizes are going to continue to grow and many schools will not get what they need to properly educate you. I also worry about teachers leaving you. Teacher morale is at an all-time low, which basically means our self-esteem, enthusiasm, and spirits have been crushed. I worry about teachers leaving you because they don’t feel the state values what they do or even who they are. I’d be lying if the thought of leaving hadn’t crossed my mind. The thought of coming back here to you defeated was almost too much to bear. But then I realized this sad truth: If all of us leave, then who would be left? Who would be there for you? Who would fight for you?

You deserve to have the best teachers here every day, teaching you what you need to be good, educated citizens that will be involved in the community and won’t let the government bully you around. You deserve to have teachers who love you and care about you and who worry about your well-being and your education, sometimes even more than you do.

You deserve the best, and so I pray that my fears will be proven wrong. I pray that teachers everywhere will pull from the depths of who we are to find the strength to return to you day after day and not leave. And I pray that our movement is not over yet and that more change will happen in the legislature that benefits you. Since you are what this was all about in the first place.

In the meantime…I am here.

The Teacher Walkout Aftermath

•April 13, 2018 • 23 Comments

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As the official Oklahoma Teacher Walkout ends, many teachers are left heavy with emotions and worried about the consequences. If you asked a teacher how he or she felt about the walkout ending, you’d probably get a mix of answers. In the wake of the teacher walkout, we are feeling everything!

I find that explaining how you feel and why tends to make you feel validated. And teachers need to feel validated right now. So, in an attempt to help people understand, I give you the top 10 emotions Oklahoma teachers are feeling in the Teacher Walkout Aftermath (not in any order).

 

  1. Defeated – This is the #1 emotion right now for most teachers. You may think because OEA and some of the media have said we got most of what we were asking for that we shouldn’t feel this way. Those are lies. The reason we still walked on April 2nd was because we only got 50 million in funding for general education when we’d asked for 200 million after 230 million had been cut over the years. Since the passing of HB 1010 before we walked, the following happened:
  • 50 million of revenue to fund HB1010 was taken away because of the hotel/motel tax.
  • 20 million from the Amazon bill was allocated for education for next year and is recurring.
  • 22 million from the Ball and Dice bill was allocated for education for year 2 and is recurring.
  • There is still no plan in place to step up in years 2 and 3 as OEA had asked to meet the full asking demands.
  • Also, there isn’t enough funding for HB1010 in year 2 as the cigarette tax goes to Healthcare.
  • After Amazon and Ball and Dice, we fought for almost a whole week` and got nothing more.

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  1. Manipulated – Boy do we feel this for so many reasons! We first felt this when the legislature passed 1010 and pawned it off as historic and wonderful so that the public would assume we got what we wanted and turn on us if we still walked. Before this passed, we had already gotten some backlash (See my post from 3/15). Luckily, however, after this bill passed, the public saw through this and mostly stuck with us. Second, as mentioned above, OEA and the media have exaggerated what’s really been done for education. This was most likely at first to force teacher and public opinion to change and to end the walkout, and now to save face. Third, many teachers felt unsupported by their administration during the walkout, and even out of those that did feel supported, some started to feel that support deteriorate when pressure was put on the superintendents by OEA and legislators.

 

  1. Overlooked – The first week, the legislators seemed to care a little about our cause, some more than others (See my post earlier in the walkout when we were still trying to be optimistic). This week, they were blatantly waiting us out. Some refused to talk to us or barely gave us the time of day. Some did talk for a while but just gave us the run-around. Others flat out said they weren’t doing anything else for us. The last few days they adjourned early without having discussed any bills to help with education funding. Our presence didn’t matter to them. We didn’t matter to them. We were just insignificant, pesky little ants they knew they wouldn’t have to deal with for long. Being treated like an ant that can easily be squashed will make you feel small and insignificant.

 

  1. Angry – Along with overlooking and undervaluing us, many legislators put off an extremely egotistical vibe. Like they were too good for us and didn’t need to listen to us. After a friend of mine had a not so great conversation with McDougal (after his infamous video went viral), the egotistical legislator actually had the gall to ask my friend if he wanted a picture with him. Seriously? The way they’ve treated and ignored us, all while neglecting our kids, infuriates us. There have been some legislators helping us and rooting for us, but they were few. The only thing that helps is knowing November is coming. We will make sure they pay.

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  1. Jaded – Before all of this, I was ignorant. I didn’t pay close attention to politics. I just went along with things and minded my own business. After these last two weeks, my eyes have been opened to the corruption of our lawmakers and to our screwed up legislative system. I will never take politics lightly again, and I feel like some of my idealistic innocence has been taken from me.

 

  1. Worried – With all of the above feelings, it’s not hard to understand that teacher morale is low, lower than it was before, I think. That low morale is going to lead to more teachers leaving, either to go to another state or to a different profession. They did what they could. They felt they weren’t listened to or valued. Now they can leave with a pure conscience, knowing they tried. Our teacher shortage will get worse and we’ll have to hire more emergency certified “teachers.”

 

  1. Uncertain – Most of us had mixed emotions the last few days of the walkout. With all the negative feedback and information we were getting from our legislators who were unwilling to budge and from our superintendents who wanted us back in school, mixed with our desire to be teaching our kids again, many of us wanted to stay, but we weren’t sure if it would be worth it.

 

  1. Foolish – I know, I know. We did what we could. It was a noble fight. Still…when you fight so strongly for something, saying and feeling like you won’t give up until you win, and then you’re forced to quit…it can leave you feeling foolish. Like, what was the point of us being there all this week? Maybe we should have done things differently. Maybe our tactics weren’t great (which they weren’t as far as OEA’s message continuing to change and the fact that there wasn’t really a clear and simple bill we could fight for that would give us our win).

 

  1. Relieved – I’m not going to lie. There is a little relief in knowing my life will somewhat return back to normal since this walkout has been so physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. I didn’t want it to end this way, but I obviously wanted it to end!

 

  1. Passionate – You know what they say – absence makes the heart grow fonder. Over spring breaks and even Christmas breaks, I’ll be honest…I don’t usually miss my students. Those breaks are needed, for family and for detoxing. This time I truly have missed seeing their faces, even the ornery ones! I think one win of this walkout, for me anyway, is that it has renewed my love for my students and reminded me of the importance of teaching. I know what I do matters, and I truly love what I do. I just hope that passion is enough to combat all the negative feelings.

 

A FEW WINS:

  • We did get a pay raise…at least for now.
  • Although it isn’t much, we did get a little bit of funding for our schools and a little bit of a raise for support staff.
  • We have raised awareness to our state and ourselves how corrupt and misguided our government is. You better believe teachers and other citizens will be way more involved politically with voting and talking to representatives. Future change for the better is still possible.
  • Also, because of this awareness, most if not all of the legislators will now have opponents going into election time.

 

THINGS TO REMEMBER:

  • Stay educated and beware of propaganda with skewed views and misleading or vague wording.
  • Vote in the primaries in June and then again in November. Be sure to research the candidates and vote out the people who proved these last few weeks that they care more about themselves, their jobs, and their party affiliations than the betterment of our state.
  • Please hug a teacher and give them your thanks for fighting so hard for Oklahoma’s kids. We need it right now.

 

***Click the FOLLOW button on the upper right (or “Notify me of new posts via email” at the bottom if on a phone) to get notified about future posts. As efforts continue in our state to increase funding and create change in our legislature this June and November, I’ll do my best to keep you informed.

*** See my Teacher Walkout Aftermath Part 2 post which turns this list around into an empowering pep talk for teachers.

Common Ground: A Note to Oklahoma Legislators Regarding the Teacher Walkout

•April 4, 2018 • 1 Comment

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The media and social media have made this out to be teachers versus legislators. I’ve been guilty of having this perspective as well at times. Still, the idealist in me refuses to believe that the legislators who are against teachers’ efforts to restore educational funding are truly against education and Oklahoma children. I have to believe that these legislators actually do value teachers and students and realize the negative consequences of neglecting them. Maybe they don’t realize just how bad it is in Oklahoma schools. Maybe they don’t realize what it actually takes to provide quality education, such as lower class sizes, updated textbooks and supplies, a variety of school programs, and, of course, quality teachers. Or maybe they do know these things and just feel like their hands are tied behind their backs.

I know we’ve flooded your workplace recently and are demanding things some of you feel you simply can’t provide. I know these last few days and weeks have been emotional for you. I want you to know something. We know how you feel.

When you feel like the whole world is painting you out to be the enemy when you know there is much more going on behind the scenes, we get it. When the comments flood social media about teachers being greedy and selfish and how if we don’t like it, we should just leave, it hurts and we feel misunderstood. The injustice of being labeled as something we know we’re not is a source of anxiety, frustration, and emotional hollowness for many of us.

When you’re frustrated because it’s difficult to do your job while we’re overcrowding your workplace, we get it. When our classes are overcrowded, we feel like we can barely do our job and that we aren’t doing it to the best of our ability. The high numbers make it difficult to focus on each student individually, to develop relationships, and to give them what they need.

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When you have to deal with our emotional tension and the chaos of our protest and how it affects your job, maybe even your own emotions, we get it. When we deal with disrespectful, unruly, and emotional students, the tension runs high. It’s difficult to not get emotionally involved and to focus on teaching when the chaos is overwhelming.

When you feel you are being asked to create or find funds for education with limited resources and time, we get it. When we are held to high standards on our lessons but have limited time and resources to create those lessons, we feel stressed, pressured, and overwhelmed. We become resourceful and make things happen, but the pressure is constant.

When you feel you’ve done something amazing by passing a bill when you’re never able to agree on anything, but then people tell you it isn’t enough, we get it. When we feel we’re doing an amazing job teaching our students and then we’re evaluated with a very specific evaluation tool that tells us we’re lacking in some gray areas that are difficult for even administrators to grasp, we feel discouraged and sometimes even demoralized.

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When you feel you would have to sacrifice certain things you hold dear in order to make room for the funds needed for education, we get it. When we have to cut important units and lessons from our curriculum that we hold dear to our hearts because of other pressing needs, some justified and some not, or because of a lack of funds, it feels like we’re sacrificing a great deal, sometimes even a part of who we are as a good teacher.

But we do it. We make it work. We make the sacrifices. And we keep on doing the job we were called to do.

So you see, we’re not that different after all. Just as we have overcome these obstacles to create miracles in our classrooms, we know you can do the same. We have faith in you. Once we all realize we have common ground and a common goal, we can start working together to make our miracle a reality.

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The Oklahoma Teacher Walkout – You Have Questions, I Have Opinions

•March 15, 2018 • 3 Comments

I have a confession to make. I am a privileged teacher. You may think I’m trying to be funny. But I’m actually not. I am married to a man who makes a decent amount of money, and I teach in a fairly privileged district. I don’t have to buy a lot of my supplies, I have access to a wealth of technology, and I don’t have to deal with some of the problems poorer districts deal with. Because of this, I’m ashamed to admit, I have been complacent and voluntarily blind to the pressing issue that is now coming to a head.

Teachers aren’t paid enough.

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I knew it. Everyone knew it. But like an animal born in captivity that grows up not knowing there’s any other way, I grew up in Oklahoma, got married, became a teacher in 2006 having never had another career, and I carried on in captivity, not knowing or taking the time to acknowledge that there could be any other way.

I can’t be blind anymore.

So, in the midst of this walkout, I’ve been hearing various comments that have been grating on my nerves. And I feel the need to address them to the best of my ability.

 

  1. Is teacher pay really that bad? First, check out this video which is great at showing the comparison between the salary and benefits of a typical teacher and an average white-collar, college-degree professional, including the disparity of having summers “off.”

Second, let me throw this horrifying fact at you – it is not uncommon for children of Oklahoma teachers to qualify for free or reduced lunches. Let that sink in a minute. What exactly does that mean? It means that many teachers with children are living around the poverty line.

Third, I must say that many of us teachers, including myself, don’t feel the effects of our low salary too much because we have spouses that make enough money to make up for our loss. But what about the teachers who are single or whose spouse doesn’t make much money? They’re the ones often working two jobs just to make ends meet. Or struggling just to pay bills and keep their children fed. Is that fair? That a professional with a degree who often has to take work home from school has to work a second job? Or that these professionals who take care of everyone else’s kids struggle to take care of their own? There is something terribly wrong with that picture. Keep in mind these are people who paid for a degree they had to have to enter this profession and who are most likely still paying back that debt.

Lastly, we have to put up with way too much crap for the pay we get. If it’s not a ton of extra stuff that eats up our precious time like meetings, extra planning, committees, emails, and evaluations, it’s dealing with the defiance, apathy, and disrespect of our students, which has gotten way worse over the years. All this adds up to, “We don’t get paid enough for this.”

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  1. Isn’t passion enough? As we teachers have become more and more educated on the situation, an overwhelming sense of injustice has bloomed and grown and expanded, which leads to feelings of indignation and righteous anger that good old passion simply cannot overcome. Also, that first-year teacher passion generally goes away after the first year. Sure, we are still passionate about teaching and love our kids dearly, but after a year in the trenches, we become jaded, stressed, discouraged, and overwhelmed. That’s when we lose so many would-be good teachers. When passion isn’t enough anymore. Would better pay help? Yes, for the most part. People will deal with a lot of crap if they feel they are being appropriately compensated, mainly because it makes them feel valued. We don’t need tons of money. We just want to feel valued.

 

  1. Didn’t you know what you were getting into when you chose to teach in Oklahoma? Yeah, and you’re lucky we did choose to teach here. What if we’d all decided to move to Texas? Who’d be teaching your kids then? For most of us, Oklahoma is home and we didn’t want to move. We figured we would take the cut and deal with it as so many before us have done. But eventually, the excuse, “This is home,” is not enough for many. We want to teach in Oklahoma. But we need to provide for our families. We shouldn’t have to choose.

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  1. But the legislature doesn’t have any bills ready? Why do the walkout now when it may take forever? From what I have gathered about our legislature so far (just watch and read some of the viral posts lately), they don’t give a flying flip about education or the teachers who pour their hearts out for Oklahoma’s kids every day. With all of the community support and attempts at raising teacher pay over the years, if they haven’t done anything yet, they won’t get off their butts and make a move for the future of our state (which is determined largely by the future of our kids) until something huge slams into their faces. Until they see that we are a serious force to be reckoned with. Until they truly realize how crucial teachers are to our present and our future.

 

  1. Isn’t this just about the teachers and not the kids? Why do teachers keep saying they’re not walking out on their kids, but they’re walking out for their kids? Those of us who have stuck it out and are still around are starting to become the minority. Far too many newly graduated teachers are jumping ship and moving to a better-paying state. And even more start out strong in an Oklahoma school, bright-eyed and full of hope, but then become jaded after just a year or two. They thought their passion and hope would be enough. But too often, when they realize that what they’re asked to do and put up with is not worth the compensation they’re getting, they jump ship too and go to a different career that pays better and is less stressful.

Probably the biggest insult recently, though, is the need Oklahoma had recently to hire emergency-certified teachers because of a teacher shortage. These “teachers” are not trained properly, are not prepared, and often don’t last very long in the classroom. So when we say we are walking out for our kids, we mean it. Sure, some of us may stick around for them. But what about all the others who either won’t show up at all, will leave, or won’t be qualified to teach them? Your kids need good, well-prepared, qualified teachers that love and care about them and their education. I’m sorry, but better pay is what’s going to make that happen.

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  1. Aren’t teachers just excited about a long break? First, let me say that we are not excited. What some people don’t realize is this walkout isn’t all fun and games for us either. We’re putting our paychecks on the line here. If this lasts for a long time, we may not get paid this summer. We won’t just have free days off but may need to add on several days at the end of the year or even work through the summer. And don’t get me started on teachers and summer. Trust me. You don’t want a teacher who hasn’t had a summer off teaching your kids. We need June to detox from all the garbage we deal with, and we need July to get caught up on normal life things that we didn’t have time or energy for during the year.

 The truth is, we’re throwing ourselves out into the deep end, not knowing if a boat will come rescue us, if we’ll have to swim all the way back, or if we’ll drown. This is a huge risk for us, and we feel it. Boy, do we feel it. One of my students commented the other day that you could feel the tension in our school lately. We’re being asked to have our grades finalized before the 2nd, just in case we don’t come back. We’re being asked to make sure we work with our failing kids to get their grades up now instead of them waiting until the last minute, especially seniors who need to pass most of their courses to graduate. The special education teachers are being asked to schedule all of the meetings they would have scheduled the rest of year before the 2nd so that we’re not in violation of federal law in the event we didn’t come back. The administrators are being asked to do non-stop trouble-shooting and problem-solving for the million issues that have come to surface with the walkout, especially if it takes a while, like state testing, school activities, how we’ll make up days if needed, graduation, students’ grades, teacher evaluations, etc. So, no. We are not just sitting back all excited about this vacation. We’re worried, anxious, pressured, and stressed.

 

  1. What about those of us with kids? Do teachers not care about the burden this walkout is going to put on us? More than you know. I can’t speak for everyone, but I personally feel absolutely terrible about the burden this is going to put on parents everywhere. I honestly don’t know what they’ll do. Not go to work? Pay for daycare or other childcare? I don’t know. And I worry about it. I feel bad about it. But isn’t that the point? To make the legislature realize they can’t live without teachers? I think, when you start to wrap your mind around what this teacher walkout truly means, you will realize that this is one of those things that will hurt a great deal before it improves. We have to go through the fire together before we can come out refined and new on the other side. Revolutions are painful and costly. And this walkout is no different.

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So, please. Teachers are already stressed because of everything leading up to this walkout. We feel guilty for everyone else affected by it. And we’re worried about the outcome for us and our state. We need your support now more than ever. Thank you, Oklahoma.

 

When God Ruins Your Masterpiece

•March 6, 2018 • 4 Comments

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Frozen. Numb. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even function. I felt heavy like lead, yet also fuzzy and unsubstantial, like I wasn’t really existing. This must be what depression feels like was the only coherent thought my brain could come up with. And so there I sat in my bedroom, there but not really there, aware of nothing but an empty numbness. Another part of me under the surface kept screaming, but the screams bounced off the gray walls of my mind, sounding just as hollow as I felt.

I couldn’t force myself to get up and go back to the living room where our three remaining foster kids were waiting for us. They knew something was wrong but didn’t fully understand what had happened. I didn’t either. I knew that DHS had taken our two youngest foster girls away from us. But why? Their reasoning had made no sense to me. All I knew for certain was that our family of seven was now a family of five and that we may never see our girls again.

Deep down I knew, as the analogy went, that our lives were God’s canvases and that He was making a masterpiece out of us through all of life’s ups and downs. But in that moment it felt like God had poured water all over our family’s canvas, leaving us colorless and warped.

The hollow feeling was familiar. I had felt it the two times we’d had to say goodbye to the three foster children we still had. They had left twice to go to different relatives but had come back and were finally working on going home.

So I knew the feeling. But this time it was different. This time we weren’t just mourning over the loss of precious children. This time we were mourning a loss while also suffering the injustice of being wrongly accused.

THE WATERY DISASTER

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Spring Break 2016, a few days prior. I like to refer to it as the spring break from hell. I had just begun to get used to having five kids aged five and under. We had never planned on having more than a few kids, but…things happen. After our foster daughter, Angel, left the first time to go to some obscure relative, we got a new foster child from a different family and district, Aleyana (Aleya for short), at three and a half months old. A month after that, Angel came back to us with her two brothers, Ringo and Jonathan, and we had a family of six. When those three siblings left again to go to another relative, Aleya’s sister, Sophia, was born. So, of course, we took her in, as a newborn. About a month after taking in Sophia, the three siblings needed a home again. How could we say no? We loved them dearly and they needed stability. Not some new foster home they had never been in.

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So we became a family of seven in October of 2015. The “masterpiece” God was turning our family into was shaping into something we had never anticipated or prepared for. Much of the time, although we deeply loved all of our kids and trusted that God knew what he was doing by placing them all with us, we felt overwhelmed by our blessings.

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At the time of spring break, we’d had all five kids, ages five and under, for five months, and I was still adjusting. I was just getting to the point of not having a mental meltdown at the thought of being left alone with all five of them without my husband.

As luck would have it, during the week of spring break, my husband had to work late every single night, so I was stuck with taking care of all five by myself…all day long. It became a game of what can I let slide and what do I have to address immediately. Do I change the baby’s diaper or clean up the spill? Do I feed the kids or get the bottle ready? Do I let them play, even though it’s going to make a mess (or might be slightly dangerous), because they’re occupied and letting me do something else, or do I stop what I’m doing to address it?

One evening after supper as I washed Aleya’s hair in the bathroom sink to get out the food she’d smeared all over it, I was faced with one of those dilemmas. Ringo and Angel had started to play with Sophia in her portable bassinet, pushing her down the tiled hallway. Was that safe? No. But was Sophia happy and distracted and not needing me at the moment so I could focus on her sister’s hair? Yes. So I told them to make sure she was buckled, go slow, and be careful.

Bad decision.

Shortly after, I heard Ringo and Angel start to argue, and before I could even rinse and dry my hands, I heard a thwack against the floor and Sophia crying in pain.

I ran out of the bathroom to see Sophia tipped over in her bassinet with her head on the ground. Apparently, the two older ones had been fighting over who got to be in the front and one of them jerked the bassinet away from the other, which made it fall over.

A giant goose egg formed on Sophia’s little head. It took some time to calm her down, but other than that, she was okay. We contacted our Youth and Family Services foster care worker and had Sophia seen by an ER doctor because of how late it was, and her pediatrician later, and she checked out fine. DHS started an investigation the next day, but that was normal for the circumstance. DHS would do their thing, find everything was normal, and then be done with it.

But we weren’t that lucky. Due to some major miscommunication and misunderstandings, DHS thought that something very serious had happened and that our two youngest girls were in danger because of a lack of supervision or possibly neglect. For these reasons, before the investigation was even over, the girls’ DHS worker showed up at our daycare without notifying anyone, not even our YFS foster care worker, and waited for us so they could have us sign the removal papers and take our girls away.

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The rush of emotions that flooded through me as I signed that paper and watched the caseworker carry my girls to her car and buckle them in was so chaotic and jumbled inside me. The waves of shock, horror, anger, rage, despair, anxiety, and hopelessness all fought for attention in my body and mind.

Those feelings still swarmed inside me the next day as I sat at my sister’s kitchen table, explaining to her and my mother everything that had happened. “I want to trust God,” I said, “but I just don’t understand. I don’t understand. Why would He let this happen? It doesn’t make sense. What good can come from this?” God had allowed our family’s masterpiece to be ruined in a watery disaster. I felt broken and bruised, indignant and hopeless.

My mother and sister, of course, had no answers, only comfort. What can you say to someone in a moment like that?

PAINTING A MIRACLE

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Saying the next few weeks were difficult was an understatement. A lot of phone calls were made and a lot of conversations took place, many not involving us. There wasn’t much we could do. We were helpless, at the mercy of others making decisions. Decisions that would restore or destroy our family.

We did have Youth and Family Services defending us and trying to explain our side to DHS. We also knew that DHS’s claim of the kids being in danger and their allegations of neglect were bogus. The accident could have happened to anyone. But that thought didn’t help ease the frustration and helplessness at the injustice we’d suffered, and it certainly didn’t help get our girls back.

Throughout those few weeks, along with those awful feelings was this strange hollowness, like my life was on pause with the uncertainty of what would happen. I didn’t know whether to be hopeful or mournful. Neither felt right because I didn’t know if we’d be able to get the girls back or if we’d never see them again.

Eventually, once DHS got all their facts straight, they dropped the allegation. But it was too late. At the same time, we got word that the tribe the girls were a part of had found a tribal home they wanted to transfer the girls to soon. Even though it was a long shot because the tribe can do pretty much whatever they want in regards to moving kids, we wanted to appeal the move. But we couldn’t because we technically weren’t their foster parents anymore. And DHS didn’t want to move them back to us because they said there was no point if they were going to move anyway. The new foster parents, good people we knew, couldn’t appeal either because they’d only had them for a few weeks. We were stuck.

We’d gotten our lawyer involved already, and when we found out about this new information, we immediately called him up. Seeing that there was no reason the girls shouldn’t be placed back with us if the allegation had been dropped, he marched right over to the judge and explained the situation.

The judge was indignant and asked DHS flat out why they hadn’t placed the girls back in our home yet, saying that it was to be done immediately.

So we got our girls back and were able to appeal the move. Which was definitely a win. But then what? After that, all we could do was wait for our court date, our only hope being that the judge didn’t seem in favor of the tribe’s decision. But what could he really do? The tribe had so much authority that none of us were very hopeful going into our court hearing.

What we didn’t count on was one authority the judge did have – the power of delay. As the tribe presented their case for moving the girls, it was obvious that some of their representatives hadn’t learned of the allegations being dropped and the reasons why, or they just didn’t care. One of the tribe’s representatives even brought up the word “abuse,” as though the bump on Sophia’s head could’ve been caused by that. DHS presented some information. Our YFS worker presented some corrected information on our behalf. And between the three parties there was so much confusion and difference in facts that the judge decided to postpone the appeal hearing for a month so we could communicate and get our facts straight.

He’d given us what little he could. Time. But was this just delaying the inevitable? We didn’t know. In the meantime, we enjoyed the time we did have with our girls and did everything in our power we could think of to change the tribe’s mind. I typed up a letter with our explanations, got character reference letters from friends and notes from our doctor. Then I drove over to the tribal office and presented them with this packet of papers as an offering, a plea for them to try to see us as we were and not as the monsters we’d been made out to be. A plea for them to give us a chance to keep our girls and continue to love on them.

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Still, because of what everyone, including our lawyer, had told us about the tribe’s authority, we had little hope going into court again. We walked in with a kind of grim resignation. We’d done all we could, and now it was out of our hands. We wanted to have hope in God, but we were also realistic.

We had no clue that God had actually won our battle even before we’d walked through the doors. While we’d been focused on one ugly smear on our canvas, God had been painting in another area, carefully connecting things I couldn’t see.

The tribe’s attorney pulled our attorney aside before court started and talked for what seemed like forever. When our lawyer returned, he had the most surprising news. During the extra time the judge had given us, the family the tribe had been planning on moving the girls to had fallen through. So…since the tribe had no other options, they decided the girls could stay in our home as long as we became a tribal foster home by getting dually certified, which, of course, we agreed to.

God had given us our miracle in a way none of us had even anticipated. It’s almost as though God had wanted to prove to us that his ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. He is always working, even when we can’t see it.

SEEING GOD’S BRUSH STROKES

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Looking back now, after we’ve finally crossed the adoption threshold after three and a half years, I can see the masterpiece God had been creating in us the whole time. Instead of random colors, ugly smears, and seeming accidents, I can now see intricate layers with a blending of colors and unique brush strokes that layer on top of each other to make a beautiful picture. I see strategic lines that weave in and out of obstacles in supernatural ways only God can make happen.

One of the very first ugly brush strokes we had smeared onto our family’s canvas, now makes sense – saying goodbye to Angel. If Angel hadn’t left us that very first time, we probably would not have said yes to taking in Aleya because we really only wanted one child at that time. In fact, our worker may not have asked us about her in the first place.

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Still, God’s plan wasn’t to end our relationship with Angel, so he brought her back with her brothers. Then, after those three siblings left us for the second time – another painful brush stroke, we got the blessing of Aleya’s new baby sister, Sophia.

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So as we were focusing on mourning the losses of the three kids who were never meant to be ours, God was layering stroke after stroke and color after color as a foundation for our true family’s masterpiece.

But God was still working on the other three kids we loved, too. Through all of the crazy, chaotic layers that intertwined our lives and theirs, God formed a beautiful relationship between us and their mother. A relationship that is still going strong today and that allows us to remain a part of the kids’ lives in a unique and special way.

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Then, of course, the biggest painting disaster of all – the girls getting ripped from our home after Sophia’s accident. That had a purpose too. Going through all of that is what led to the tribe wanting us to become a tribal foster family. And I truly believe will all my heart, that if we hadn’t become a tribal home, we would not have been able to adopt the girls. If we had stayed the course as a normal DHS foster family, the mother’s rights would’ve been terminated much earlier, and tribes are known for pulling kids out of traditional foster homes at the last minute when they’re adoptable to put them with a tribal family for adoption. They have the authority to do that. But because we were technically a tribal home and because we’d had them for so long, when the time came, the tribe not only allowed us to adopt Aleya and Sophia, they actually wanted us to.

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What had at first appeared to be a watery mistake all over our family’s canvas ended up turning the perfectly clean and unblemished painting I thought we were supposed to be into a beautifully messy and stunningly artistic watercolor masterpiece.

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“Masterpiece” by Danny Gokey

Heart trusts you for certain
Head says it’s not working
I’m stuck here still hurting
But you tell me

You’re making a masterpiece
You’re shaping the soul in me
You’re moving where I can’t see
And all I am is in your hands
You’re taking me all apart
Like it was your plan from the start
To finish your work of art for all to see

You’re making a masterpiece

High School Students versus Christians

•December 20, 2017 • 2 Comments
I had an epiphany recently that knocked me down on my butt. I love teaching, but sometimes my high school students are so freaking entitled and full of attitudes it’s not even funny. So when I realized that we as Christians sometimes act like the entitled students I teach, it physically pained me in a very humbling way!

Students – Don’t want to give up their phone when using it in class because it’s “theirs.”tenor.gifChristians – Don’t want to give up their money and time because it’s “theirs.”

Students – Whine and complain about the activity the teacher put a lot of thought and effort into.tenor.gifChristians – Whine and complain about the situation God put them in, despite his infinite wisdom.
Students – Freak out if you ask them to pick up trash that’s not theirs or do something that’s “not their responsibility.”10116422.gifChristians – Often don’t think they owe anyone anything and just want to worry about and take care of themselves.
Students – Are not patient and lose interest after a minute.
536e3d7d8ba9e.gifChristians – Don’t want to wait for God’s timing and complain about things not moving along as fast as they’d like.

Students – Are easily distracted by everyone and everything around them.

tenor.gifChristians – Are easily distracted away from the plan God has called them to.

Students – Have a very hard time controlling their own stupid, impulsive actions.

elf.gifChristians – Have a harder time than we’d like to admit controlling the impulses and desires of our flesh.

Feel convicted yet? Lol.