Summer Lesson Plans

15 06 2015

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Today marks that quintessential transition day—the school year coming to a close and stepping forward into summer vacation. As an elementary school teacher, I spend hours teaching and instructing each day, but before that happens, my lesson plan book is filled to the brim. Best laid plans for approaching new text, for writing opinion papers. Times highlighted and labeled for P.E., computers or special pull outs.

Topics and lists to cover at meetings or to ask colleagues for clarification and advice. Fluorescent post it notes sticking out, marking important information or events to remember.

Buying and creating this lesson plan book each year is like walking into a candy store for me. Which design will win out? Will it be columns or rows? A month-at-a-glance or weekly planning format? Tabs with color? Places for storing important documents or a separate binder? All this to say…I love having a useful holding place for planning. A location to go back to at the end of each day and ask myself, “Did we make it? Did we push through everything planned, or where do we need to pick up tomorrow?”

When I think of that next “season” that begins today—Summer—I often imagine a big precipice, though. Not a new lesson plan book of opportunity and lessons to be planned and learned. But rather a blank slate of fear. The school year seems like a marathon I have run and completed, crawling across the finish line as I hand out report cards and leave the clean classroom to ruminate over the break. Picking up my sons with brown bags full of projects, papers, pictures and memories, we all breathe a collective sigh, filled with so many emotions. Sadness over the end of a year of community and learning and teacher/student connections. Excitement thinking about the more “relaxed” schedules and days ahead. Anticipation for summer fun…of camping, s’mores, LEGO camp, trips to the beach, afternoons of popsicles and sprinklers, playdates and more time to read.

Wondering, though, if it’s time to see the year as a relay race or maybe a triathlon? A transition into something different that is still part of the same race. Switching from swimming to the bike leg or passing off to a new baton carrier while still moving forward. My head and body want to fall flat on the bed, letting myself sink into the cool comfort of my quilt and zone out, rest. To let PBS Kids take over the childcare and let the kids blaze their own paths for two months. “Teacher Mom is OFF duty!”

It doesn’t work that way, though. And even when it seems like that path is the best route, I know it’s not. If I come into the school day unprepared, while the students may never catch on, my inner world is wrought with angst. I play tapes through my head filled with, “you aren’t good enough…you didn’t care enough to plan….you can’t get your act together.” And really? Everyone suffers.

So this summer, I am making a plan book of sorts for our days. It won’t be nearly as full as my teacher lesson book at school, but I am blazing a pared down trail. A path for giving some structure to our days. Time for reading. Time for figuring out what to do. Time for a few fun outings. Time for s’mores. Time for trips to the library. Time for sprinklers. Time for the park and friends. And weaving it all together, just like the in the classroom, I am slogging through the process of management. When the “troops” are restless and structure-less and lacking respect, the mission is rarely accomplished. The learning and growth that happens in a well-managed classroom is exponential. This means setting behavior plans, being clear and loving in explaining and enforcing them. Firm, fair and friendly, we used to say when working at camp.

For some reason, this feels so much scarier and more challenging at home, then when facing my classroom of students during the school year. But this summer, it’s going into my Lesson Plans. This summer, I am reminding myself that parenting and faith isn’t something we just magically arrive at if we close our eyes and say, “POOF!” It can feel like, and it truly is, work. It means discipline and planning and follow through. I am convinced with a little pre-planning and mental wrestling, we can create a structure that allows for freedom and choice, but also with a mix of responsibility and fun.

At school with each new unit of study, we always begin our planning by looking at the assessment we must give at the end. What will the students need to do to show growth and learning by the time we finish?

When I am making dinner, I look at the beautifully staged picture of the finished product so I know why I have to add ingredients in a specific order. How many times have I skipped that step and then been halfway into the recipe and realized with frustration that the dough needs to rest for 3 hours, or the meat needs to marinate overnight or the tomatoes need to roast slowly for hours? Plans foiled for simply not knowing the full picture.

As a minister, my husband does this too. What is the main point he wants the congregants to leave ruminating about? If he can’t narrow down his theme enough and simplify it for a children’s message, then he hasn’t planned thoroughly and tightly enough.


So for summer, we must do the same. Look towards the end, to September, and planing for more than survival. My friends have been funneling wonderful suggestions my way and so I’m trying to cook up a soup of:

  • daily reading
  • exercise and outdoor time
  • down time to quiet the pace while enjoying books on tape/cd
  • a summer journal (planning to use the same composition notebooks I use with my students which we decorate each September)
  • chores on popsicle sticks to be completed before screen time

None of these are new, groundbreaking ideas, but setting out the structure and the plan and then following through will be groundbreaking for me for sure. From the mentors and supervisors in my career, I have learned the value and importance of “setting the place”. Allowing others to arrive knowing you first were there, thinking about them, praying for them, preparing for their arrival and for what would unfold.

So here’s to Summer! To all the fun that makes it a season of rest, rejuvenation and relaxation. But also? Here’s to setting the space. Here’s to filling up the lesson plan book. Here’s to looking at the end result to see where the starting place should be.

“What we do every day

matters more than what we do

once in a while.”

~Gretchen Rubin, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives

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Ode to Eight

20 05 2015


As you are starting to realize, my dear, the things that go on in Mom’s classroom often spill out into our home life too.  Clouds.  Animal Reports.  Caldecotts.  Books.  Roots and Trees.  Well, today we were writing Odes like Mr. Pablo Neruda.  Odes are celebrations to something we love using our words, in poetry form.  I know you scold me for not forcing the students to make all their poems rhyme.  And these Odes?!  Well, they don’t rhyme.  They are little narrow columns of written goodness, showering love onto someone or something we hold near and dear.  And so yesterday?  I chose to write about YOU for my example poem.  The kids gave me the stamp of approval and promised you’d like it.  So without further ado, my Ode to Eight in Celebration of your 8th Birthday, Alex.

We Love You So Much!

Mom (and Daddy, Drew & Sally)


Ode to Eight

Clicking, linking

LEGOS connecting

Building, creating




Ideas churning


holes in your


Must write.

Must draw.

Must innovate.

Books pile up

by your bed,


off like an


as you devour


and stories.

Shoes tossed

to the wall.

Toes rubbed


evidence of

bike rides

and near


as you


Light sabers



created and



tried on and


Darth Vader

goes to the Bakery

Yoda frequents

the Zoo

and C3PO

crosses the

Golden Gate Bridge.


conjured up

in your mind.

Journeys taken



the strains

of Taylor Swift

create a


you can’t deny.

You move

to the beat,


yet giggling


it all.


strains of

“Shake It Off”



to New York”

heard as you

crank out your




a dirty mitt

and batting


have a

prominent place

on your shelf.

Dodgers gear

for your team

proudly worn,

but eclipsed

by the Giants

and A’s

whenever you

get to choose

the occasion.

Your grit

and determination

has amazed us.

Crack goes the bat

as you connect

with the pitch.

Run, run, run

to first base!

Glasses slide

down your nose…

you squint

over the top,

eating up stories,

reading recipes,

making lists.

You’ve got big plans.

Plans of fruit platters

Of baked goods

Of stories and

narratives to be.

Eight means

working out

math quandries,

problem solving

with smoke flying

off your pencil.

Eight is


struggling to

be let loose.

Eight is

getting the

joke and


and your brother’s

silly connections.

Eight is

attacking life

like it’s a

big donut

with pink

frosting and sprinkles.

Eight is

wiggly teeth

and gaps

where teeth once were…

now off to the

Tooth Fairy!

Eight is


and challenge

and tears

and joy

all wrapped up

in one



and unpredictable






Past Birthday Posts


Six and a Half (some reflections on “the half years”)












Christine Gough 7_13_20140003












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15 05 2015


I assume you’ve been there before? On a steep, narrow, winding road? Inching your way to a weekend of skiing and “snow fun”? Way too many times my husband and I found ourselves driving or being the passenger in a packed youth group van, on our way to a MLK or President’s Day Weekend ski trip. Junior and Senior Highers were packed in, steam fogging up the windows, stuck and not moving an inch due to an unidentified traffic backup.

There are many ways to try and pass the time, but I often found my nerves on edge, and the final destination seemed impossibly far away. Sometimes an impromptu snowball fight would break out after the vans had been turned off, hope for vehicle movement dashed. Other times the kids would be sleeping away, and I’d be imagining smoke angrily pouring out of my nose as I realized the schedule was getting thrown off.

It is no surprise, once we had our own two children, that they might just struggle with similar things as their parents. We tend to be a household that runs on high emotions with a strong serving of determination and a bit of stubbornness to top it all off. Oftentimes, frustrations crop up or life deals a dose of the unexpected, and it seems easier to let the anger blow than to approach things with a little forethought.

So we are trying to integrate a new narrative for these inevitable moments. The bumps, hills and mountains that are bound to “land” in our paths on a daily basis are to be expected. The way we choose to react, however, is the variable. We often lean towards an “unexpected response” to these challenges. Maybe the baseball game is rained out or the store is out of your favorite kind of yogurt.   These moments are truly “bumps” in our daily road and journey, but our choice of response says something. Is it unexpected (temper tantrum on aisle 7, anyone?) or are we able to assess the situation, label it as the “bump” it truly is and move through problem solving options? When the van is stuck on Highway 50 towards Tahoe, along with all of the Bay Area escapees, do you get out and have a snowball fight? Or just fume in the car, spilling over with unexpected rage? What mindset do you choose?

It’s a daily, constant choice. Taking a minute to stop. To think and observe. And then, to choose….the expected or the unexpected? The temper tantrum or the calm revoicing? The foot stamping or the slow, deep breaths? The fist slamming on the computer keyboard or the stepping back and asking for help? Are we correctly assessing the intensity of our roads and the unexpected bumps, hills and mountains before making the choice on how to proceed?

Because in reality, our roads aren’t lonely highways in the middle of the nowhere. We are navigating aroundothers, through commitments & agendas, under and over our co-workers, next to our spouses, and betweenour children, often feeling behind, inadequate and stretched {see 9-month pregnancy picture at the beginning of this post!}.

These days, I am trying to take note of the roads that cross over mine or run parallel to my path. Are there offramps I need to pay attention to and use for a break? Rest stops to plan for? Freeways to accelerate on? Our own roads and paths do not exist in isolation. We are made for community. We are made for others. Thus, there is a call to pay attention. To watch for our own responses and choices, to respond with our companions in mind. And…as hard as it might be, to help one another over, around and through the bumps, hills and mountains in the way.

This post is part of my monthly contribution to the Practicing Families blog.  Hop on over there to read more!

Lighten Up

5 05 2015


Alex, my eldest, asked a question from our Table Topics Box of Questions the other morning:

“What exercise is so fun it doesn’t feel like exercise?!”

He responds to his own question in all seriousness:  “Playing Monopoly.”

Younger brother, Drew, quickly pipes up:  “PETTING SALLY!”

Moments later I overhear:

“What is the healthiest fast food you eat?”

Alex:  “Carl’s Jr fries on French Fry Fridays!”

Drew:  “No, Alex.  McDonalds’ fries….you can eat them faster.  They are healthier if you eat them FAST.”

And I allow a chuckle to escape because—-it has been a MONTH.  Illness has taken over our family in every which way you could imagine.  Friends joke about quarantining our house.  “You guys just can’t seem to catch a break!” another co-worker commiserates.  Even the lady at Safeway smiled and empathized, “I’m sorry…” when she saw my cart’s contents the other day.

I am a planner.  Type A to the core.  Maybe….a control freak?  It is often a joke that these personality traits have lead me to my profession “managing” eight and nine year olds in the classroom.

The unpredictability that naturally comes along with parenthood has been one of the bigger challenges for me over the last eight years.  You can’t plan for illness.  Maybe predict it or stress about it, but not plan.  Injury can happen even during the most innocuous moments.  Case in point, Drew split his forehead open after tripping while singing “This Little Light of Mine” with a flashlight in the dark.  Sweet and cute moments can quickly land you in the ER within the blink of an eye.

But moments unfold that surprise.   “Feasts” made of wooden food and plastic tableware spread before you with pride.  Love notes “Four Sally” taped by your dog’s bed {when you’re FOUR why would you write FOR properly?!}.  LEGO creations carefully crafted for your approval.  Even early awakenings that lead to unexpected beauty.


The other morning at 5:58am, Drew summoned us with, “You HAVE to see the sunrise!  It is so beautiful!!!!!!!!”  This was quickly followed by “I need to draw that!”

About 10 minutes later, I exited the shower to this scene.  Truly priceless use of toilet as art easel.


These little people, swirling around us each day are often a mystery.  And for me?  I often want to control, contain, quiet and subdue that mystery.  Children, whether my 3rd grade students or my own two boys, unarm.  They surprise.  They are unpredictable.

Through it all, though, I am seeing the message loud and clear, though, “Lighten Up, Christine.  Lighten UP.”  It’s not a flippant, “get it together” tone from God.  More of a loving reminder—-a phrase to allow these moments of joy and humor push their way up through the crevices.  To see the beauty these little ones see and soak it in.  To let go of the reins a bit and loosen up.  An invitation to Lighten Up.

And when all else fails….Donuts.  Just donuts.



This post was written for my friend Mihee’s blog, First Day Walking.  If you aren’t already following her writing, sign up to receive her posts.  Mihee makes me think deeper, ask harder questions and shares about ministry and mamahood in such a fresh, real way.  In May, she is hosting a new series on stories from people in all walks of life and their observations of children and what they make us.  Head over to Mihee’s blog, First Day Walking, to read this post as well as many others this month!

All the Miles…

15 04 2015






All the miles of a hard road are worth a moment of true happiness.

{the moral of “The Mouse and the Seashore” from Fables by Arnold Lobel}

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


One of the writing workshops I attended this weekend ended in a place of Lament.

Lament.  Do you know it?

The expression of sorrow.

The cries of grief.

The words of mourning.

Lament can often feel like a place of shame, a plate leftovers we want to hide.

We do this over and over.  We seek to cover up these areas of pain.

Or to wrap them up with a beautiful bow to shroud the reality.

But…through the oddest voices in the most unsuspecting ways, I’m starting to see the value of Lament.

The growth to be had in ALL the miles…

in the catharsis of the LONG road.


 Today, as we read about “The Mouse and the Seashore”, a beautiful fable in Arnold Lobel’s book, Fables, I could not help but be moved by the mouse’s tenacity.  Despite not being supported by his family, he sets off for the Seashore.

He faces many obstacles, losing his tail, limping away bloodied and bruised, tired and exhausted.

All the while, still pushing for the seashore.

And when he crests that hill, here are the rich lines:

At evening the Mouse slowly climbed the last hill and saw the seashore spreading out before him. He watched the waves rolling onto the beach, one after another. All the colors of the sunset filled the sky.

“How beautiful,” cried the Mouse. “I wish that Mother and Father were here to see this with me.”

The moon and the stars began to appear over the ocean. The Mouse sat silently on top of the hill. He was overwhelmed by a feeling of deep peace and contentment.


{the glorious Oregon coast, Newport}

* * * * * *

That dear mouse has found contentment.

He faced the Lament.

He sat with the pain.

And eventually, after slogging through the muck, he found his ocean, and did you catch what he said?

I wish that Mother and Father were here to see this with me.”

He longs for his parents to join him in the beauty, even though they didn’t support the journey in the first place.

Reaching out, across the estrangement, to find connection again.


I can’t seem to stop taking pictures of cherry trees, cherry blossoms…pink snow confetti.

It is just so shocking.

After weeks and months of dark, damp rain it surprises.

A seemingly normal, everyday tree explodes with hot pink fireworks so dense you almost can’t see the sky above.

It’s a visual triumph that has been waiting in the wings, dormant during the winter.

It has survived from the dark days of lament, arriving at its own seashore.

Were the miles and the long road worth it?!

For that moment of happiness?

Even when the sun goes down so quickly?

Or when the blossoms fly through the air or litter the ground overnight?

I hope so.

My students seemed to think it was worth the slog, the danger, even the emotional bruises along the way.

I love how those cherry blossom petals masked the harshness of the concrete in the image above.

The brick and the chain link fence are still there, but there is beauty in the harshness.

As a few shared at my seminar on Friday, a banquet table is set for us.

And at that table, there is a FEAST to be had and enjoyed.

But one of the platters just might hold a serving of Lament.

The Feast and the Blessing and the Nourishment is in tandem with the Lament.

The fill the table together.

May we see that table as a gift, even when the food may taste bitter and the road long.



* * * * *

My students were working on Personification and wrote a group poem turning “Grit” into a person.  Wanted to share it here as a reminder of what it takes to keep going “all the miles of a hard road…”  Enjoy!

Grit does anything and everything.

Grit never gives up.

Even when she is afraid,

she jumps out of an airplane anyway.


At school, Grit takes a hard test and makes it her own.

She uses the harder questions to help her answer the easier ones.

Grit helps Frustrated with her stuck point and mistakes.

Grit’s friends are Self-Control, Zest and Courage.

They play baseball together at recess.

Grit knows that “Said is Dead!” and she attacks her multiplication & division facts, not giving up.

Grit sees Loneliness and asks, “Why are you alone?  Want to play?”

Grit reads the Little Engine that Could and takes an AR test.


Grit sits down for a lunch of mashed catepillars, onions & worms.

For dinner, Grit eats the Carolina Reeper Pepper and for dessert, has Hot Tamales as sprinkles on her ice cream.

Grit eats mushrooms, not knowing if they are poisonous.

Grit lives in a home far from Anger, in a Rainforest with animal skin rugs.

She helps her family with chores and even cooks dinner.

Grit has a poster on his wall that says, “Yes, We Can!”


Grit lives in a big part of all of us,

right next to her neighbors, Anger and Hard Times.


Lean Into the Discomfort :: Some Thoughts on the Faith & Culture Writer’s Conference

13 04 2015


Dancing With the Stars started 5 minutes ago.  And a big part of me wants to turn it on, curl up on the couch with my tea now that the boys are in bed.  To ignore that I have a classroom of 3rd graders who will be staring at me at 7:55am ready to start a new week.

Today was a perfectly arranged school-wide day off since we crammed parent-teacher conferences into last week.  I envisioned a leisurely morning of catching up, maybe finishing my overdue library book.  Having my coffee without rushing out the door at 6:45am.  Finishing today’s 1-star Suduko.  Relaxing.  Instead, I filled it with scurrying around after laundry, balancing the checkbook, sweeping up LEGOS and tidying up the playroom/guest room (mind you….it now, 10 hours later….looks almost the same as prior to cleaning).  I made a weekly menu and a grocery list and shopped.

And really?!  All of these things are things on the list.  Not all FUN.  But things to be done.  Often, in an attempt to put discomfort at arm’s length.  Rather than leaning into the discomfort, I am often choosing this, that and the other to conquer and tackle rather than the important.

Instead of reality tv.  Or obsessing over my lesson plans.  I am planting my rear in the chair and writing tonight.  If for nothing else than knowing it matters.

*   *   *  *  *  *  *


Matt and I had the chance to attend the Faith and Culture Writing Conference this past Friday and Saturday in Portland.  When trying to explain the conference to others—whether prior to attending or post conference—–I always hem and haw, not knowing EXACTLY how to spin, define or explain it.  Yes, the conference is full of writing tips, tricks, opportunities, advice and experts in their craft.  But for me, for the past two years, it has meant so much more.  A place for retreat.  A moment for re-adjusting and re-focusing.  A time for slowing the mind while simultaneously amping my thoughts into a frenzy.  I compared it to one of those blitz 2 week Europe trips where you try to squeeze in lots of museums, restaurants and historic sights and in the end feel a “full”.  In a good way.

This year’s conference started with a pre-conference called “Breathing Space”.  I signed up with the selfish desire of hearing Seth Haines and Nish Weiseth speak—-two bloggers and authors I have been a little star struck over for awhile now.  Seth talked about the need for retreat.  To move away from the drive to create, produce and compare.  That we are called to be “window washers” for others, allowing a new vision of God to be seen.  To clear away and wipe clean the gunk and mess and muck that makes clarity almost impossible.  The conference, for me, was two days of having windows washed; artists and writers and creatives sharing their work, but more-so, their hearts.


{{such a privilege to meet this lady…got to take her to the airport and it was  highlight of the weekend for me}}

As Nish preached (and if you were there, you know she PREACHED in the best way, and didn’t just “talk” to us!), Jesus is subversive.  We see it in his actions, who he healed who he spoke to and hung out with.  He was relational, giving power to people in the margins.  Christ’s mandate was love.  Our writing is empty without purpose and our truest purpose is to love God and love people.  End of story.  Our writing is meant to serve others.  Our purpose is to use our very lives to live into the beauty and truth that God’s Kingdom isn’t some far off place we eventually arrive at.  It is happening now and that with or without us, we are invited to participate in what is before us.  Right now.

Later that night, two others wove similar themes.  Emily P. Freeman, author of A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, reiterated this point.  As writers, even for me as a teacher, there is a call to

“Write like a hostess, not a crazy person.”

We get to live our day to day lives, inviting others in, or as Emily so eloquently frames it offering a bench to sit on.  Not a required conversation.  Or an agenda or a platform.  But a bench.  A place to practice the spiritual discipline of wasting time.  {{{For me, this often feels like Leaning into the Discomfort….You?!?!}}}  She shared how scary the question

“What is going on in you RIGHT NOW?”

can be.  We often like to talk about yesterday.  Or last year.  Or when I was 12.  Or plans for five years down the road.  But right now we are called to live, work, write, listen and love from a place of love.

At last year’s conference, Tony Kriz left me speechless and practically dumbfounded.  I just had no clue what God planned to unleash through that man’s heart and words.  He was so compelling and I promised myself that I would twist my husband’s arm every which way to read Tony’s books and come and hear him speak.  As Nish’s words and Seth’s and Emily’s and so many others from my writing seminar filled my head (Esther Emery, Velynn Brown, Ashley Larkin, Alia Joy, Kara Chupp, Michelle Watson, Nicole Bennett, Kamille Scellick, Ashley Hales…I could go on and on and on because that seminar was HOLY HOLY ground, almost feeling TOO raw to process here)…Tony pushed us to think about the “jar” we place up on the altar that is filled with how we are and aren’t allowed to think about, to talk about and to write about God.  The words that are fear-based, language used to constrain and constrict our faith.  Tony, in his own amazing way, wove the story that the jar of his youth, the big glass jar that was up on the altar, if you will, allowed for God is to be light…but not a rainbow.  God could be compared to a lion, but not a bear (too Native American).  God could be a strong rock, but not a crystal (too… Portland).  He went on and on and one with comparisons.  And me, being the simile girl {{{WELCOME TO ROOM 15, KIDS….WHERE WE WILL WRITE LOTS AND LOTS OF SIMILES AND POEMS BECAUSE YOUR TEACHER LOVES THE POWER OF FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE!}}} I was stoked.  Tony called us to take risks, use risky language and to even make mistakes with the goal of breaking the culture-imposed boundaries of who God is.

“My faith is like ____________ because it is _________________ . “

To force comparisons that stretch the mind.  That stretch our faith.  That stretch our worn out understandings of who God is and what God can do in and through us.  I am still giggling about when he asked us if we could compare our faith to our pancreas.  Or the Jihad.  Try, folks….do it!

The next morning…Romal Tune and Emily Freeman talked to us and we delved into seminars, hearing about Truth Telling from Alia Joy, The Holy Mundane of the Daily Lives of Holy Writers with A.J. Swododa, the Art of Questioning with Shane Blackshear and even a closing hour with Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack.  Clearly I could write pages and pages about each of these seminars and talks, but for me?  The take away is one full of blessing, richness, meatiness, love and mental exhaustion/fullness.  I had opportunities to sit next to and talk with bloggers and writers I have long admired and realize…they are human.  And real.  And kind.  And funny.  Rather than feel like a D-list celebrity amongst A-listers, it was a sweet time of connection and laughter and listening.  Matt and I had the gift of attending together and sharing a huff and puff hike up Mt. Tabor along with conversation in and through seminars and speakers which was awesome.  After Easter and Parent-Teacher Conference mayhem, not to mention busy children duties, it was so refreshing to walk, eat, listen and rest.

However, as the saying goes, even on retreat, even at a conference like this, there is discomfort and moments of sighs and deep breaths.  Opportunities to lean in (or back like I often due after eating too much yummy Portland food), knowing that you are full, but just need time for it to digest and work its way through your being.  So I am stopping for now.  Maybe will try and catch a few minutes of Dancing with the Stars and fall asleep to dreams of VooDoo Doughnuts and thoughts about Leaning into the Discomfort knowing the truth of Zechariah 4:10. {thanks, Romal, for the reminder of this verse!}

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.”



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Facing Dark Mountains

13 03 2015


“Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?” Everyone is probably familiar with those iconic lines, read more times than is countable to sleepy babies and toddlers while predicting who will be seen next. Bill Martin Jr. is known for his prose and stories and collaboration with Eric Carle who illustrated these classics.

In my classroom, we have been delving into another work of Bill Martin, Jr. with my students called Knots on a Counting Rope. In my opinion, worthy of “classic status” too, but you may not have heard of it.


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In Knots on a Counting Rope, a boy, born blind, enlists his Grandfather to tell the story of his birth and of a horserace…to hear again and again the story of his life passed on orally so that he might remember it himself one day. Through some of the most beautiful language, Grandfather paints the picture of the Boy’s birth. The emotions are raw and the scene created is vivid. Boy connects with a horse who becomes his eyes. They become one, bonded in a deep way, allowing the boy to eventually compete in a horse race.

Dark mountains, the Grandfather narrates, were in the path, though. Inevitable. The boy faced many. Learning to sense the time of day without his own sight.   Figuring out the path, without vision to guide him. Even the boy’s own birth which was wrought with health challenges. Dark mountains all around.

Grandfather reminds him that he has walked right up and through many hard times. Moments and situations filled with fear. And…the surprise? Grandfather doesn’t shy away from reminding him there will be dark mountains to come. That he’s not done with those looming fears. More await on the horizon.

I looked out into my classroom and the weight of this storyline felt a bit too real. So many dark mountains faced. So many to come. At home, I see those mountains or maybe I start conjuring them up in my mind’s eye. Parenting often feels like one big, insurmountable dark mountain.

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Both at home and at school, I have felt a push from God saying, “It’s time to face those dark mountains.” We took a moment yesterday at that fork in the road. These moments arise every year during the teaching cycle. That split second where the power of narrative and story give the opportunity to go deeper, get personal, be real.

We named the theme. We talked about why Bill Martin, Jr. would create characters like Grandfather whose traits of patience and love would push him to share hard truths with his Boy. Why would he remind this Boy that there was more to fear up ahead? That even after facing and conquering one of his biggest fears, he should dig in to wrestle more?

And then the hands shot up and the truth – telling started. Authentic, real, “these are my dark mountains” talk. Third graders like to bring it all back to themselves, their own stories and narratives. Often. But sometimes, letting them tell their own dark mountains, not in long drawn out confessions, but simple naming, is needed. Community is deepened. Fears are heard. Peers can support one another knowing they may face dark mountains at home, virtually alone, but at least at school, they have companions. People who can remind them they CAN make it through.

Moments after this classroom confessional, the texts started rolling in. At recess I glanced at my phone to see friends sharing kids’ illnesses. We have been battling our own stomach bugs in my house for the last six days and it has been a dark mountain, indeed. Most people are grounded and calm about such things, but not me. I am an anxiety – ridden mess when it comes to the flu.

Dark Mountain Numero Uno.

But the love flowed over the text messages. Humor was found. Bonds are strengthened as we walk through these real life, everyday, sometimes yucky moments….together.

I went to pick up my eldest from school later in the afternoon and saw four moms whose kids I adore and who I truly love as well. The moms. The teachers. The colleagues. The ones who bring you Gatorade, Kombucha and bubble wands to lift you up while climbing the dark mountain. Others who bring daffodils and cookies and sit with you after a long night without sleep. Neighbors who make soup and bring bread when you can’t leave home long enough to go to the store. Family who send email and walk you through the midst of the scary (going into the grocery store in workout clothes, sans bra, in dress shoes…a dark mountain all its own!). A husband who cleans up every known bodily fluid of sick kids as I cower in the corner, shaking.


It’s in these everyday moments that God speaks to me. God uses those around me to say, “You can do this. You’ve got this. You’ve done it before. Breathe and walk.” As we parent, may we remember the bold honesty of my students who named their mountains. To know that the challenges and fears are not taken away with a big POOF by our great God. But that in naming those places, by walking with others in their dark moments, we are given the reminder that we aren’t alone. That in the fearful places yet to come, we will have what we need to keep walking, even when the path begins to wind up a dark mountain.


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