Monthly heartbreak

Unless God has other plans for me, I know that my period will be arriving shortly.

Some women see this as a blessing, because that means that they have avoided that “close call.”

Some women anticipate it on a regular basis, and then panic if they are a day late.

For all women, a period means one thing: I’m not pregnant.

Some sigh in relief. Some expect it. For me, it is a sad reminder that I one again do not have the one thing I want…a baby.

Granted, my husband and I have only been actively trying to get pregnant for six weeks or so, but last month, when my period came, my heart shattered. Deep down, I knew it was going to be the scenario most likely to happen. Few women get pregnant in the first month they start trying. However, somewhere inside me I was hopeful.

I was told five years ago that I would never have children. And yet, here I hoped that the first month my husband and I were having unprotected sex, we would get pregnant.

I pray daily that the doctors are wrong…that I was misdiagnosed. However, it is incredibly daunting to think that I might never be a mother.

I am just putting my faith in God that if I am meant to be a mom, He will allow me to be, one way or another.

So when my period arrives in a few days, I will fall apart. I will break down in tears, not because I despise being on my period, but because starting my period means we were unsuccessful in conceiving a child.

It breaks my heart.

Waiting…

I know it has been a long time since I have posted anything. Since my last post, I accepted a job as a reporter for a local newspaper, and I wasn’t sure how blogging would play into that. However, I have since decided that I don’t have to choose between writing for fun and writing as a means of employment. I can have both.

I cover education and arts related news for a living. I hang out with amazing teachers and see some of the most inspiring art (whether music, theatre, or paintings,) and hear the stories behind them. However, I still feel like there is something missing.

I actually saw a tweet today about Joanna Gaines writing on her blog, and it’s like a lightbulb suddenly went off for me. In the past, I had blogged about political type stuff, but mainly, it was just a way of expressing my thoughts, kind of like a journal.

By the way, Joanna Gaines is kind of my spirit animal.

So I am coming back to blogging. I always thought I would blog about raising kids, but my husband and I still are not parents, so there is not really a whole lot to say. Except for the fact that we still are not parents. We have been trying for months, with no success, and I am truly struggling with that. I think it is important to share my experiences out there with women who may be facing the same things as me. I follow a blog about infertility, and even though I am not sure whether or not we will ever have kids, I find hope in the fact that God has a plan for my family. I just don’t know what it is yet.

I hope you will follow me on this journey. I am going to share the highs and lows, and hopefully sooner rather than later be able to make the announcement that my hubby and I are going to have a baby. For now, no news.

Life through a Lens

My nephew, who is one, ran through a mud puddle for the first time this weekend, and we were all there to see it. My first instinct was to grab my phone so that I could document the moment, and that was the second my worst fear came to life: “Cannot take photo. There is not enough available storage to take a photo.”

What was I to do? Here my nephew was, splashing around in this puddle, laughing in mass hysterics as mud ran up his legs, and all I could do was stand by and watch. So that’s exactly what I did. I watched. I got to see that perfect moment with my own eyes instead of through a screen. And it was beautiful. 
So often we are worried about documenting every single moment so that they can remain frozen in time, that we miss out on how beautiful life truly is. That was something I experienced firsthand when I was forced to put down my phone and actually see what was happening in my life. I may not be able to go back through my photo stream and see pictures from that day, but I can recall in detail his reaction: his giggles, his excitement, his joy. That moment is so much more valuable than the photo that I was unable to capture. So I challenge you: put done your phones, and stop living your life through a lens. I’m not saying that we should stop photographing everything altogether. What I am saying is that we miss out on so much because we are afraid that we are going to miss something. 

I’m from the Holler

Inspired by George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From

I’m from the holler. 
The one where all the drug dealers are. 

From stares that I got when I told where I lived. 

Like they wondered what secrets my parents harbored

What they did when no one was looking

I’m from where the neighbors get their checks from a mailbox. 

Where it was a crime to actually have a job

To earn an honest living

To break a sweat 

I’m from the holler where I found Jesus

In the same church where I found heartbreak in a heroin addict

And a pastor who made it nearly impossible for me to trust anyone

I’m from the water hole where my sins were washed clean

A new girl at the age of thirteen

I didn’t really know what it meant to sin 

But thought I needed forgiveness

Now I drive past that hole of water when I come up the holler and I feel bitter

Now I need forgiveness

But there is no one to pray for my salvation

I’m from the poverty 

The hand-me-downs 

The shame of relying on the kindness of strangers

Or worse

The kindness of someone I knew

I’m from the holler. 

The one where the drug dealers are. 

The Sky is the Limit…

When school started back in my district and I was not teaching, discouragement flooded my soul. I talked to the teachers that I used to work with, who had become my family in the three years that I had worked there, and a part of me wondered if I had made a horrible mistake in leaving. I missed doing first day procedures, seeing the excitement in students’ faces as they embraced a new year, and accepting the challenges that a fresh new beginning had to offer. Instead, I observed from a distance as my teacher friends and former students did all of those things without me, and it made me long for my former career that much more.
As I discussed with my husband for my ten thousandth time how the previous year had ended, I revealed to him an experience that I had had during the last day that he hadn’t heard before. On my way out the door, I stopped by the school’s guidance counselor’s office to tell her goodbye. She told me not to be discouraged, because she believed that everything happened for a reason, and with this door closing, another door was bound to open for me. She also told me that she thought that I was too good of a person to not have other opportunities presented to me. That really made a positive impact on my self confidence, because by that point, I was pretty beaten down.
As I sat in her office, full of emotion, she told me that recently she had been driving, when the radio personality told the story of the comedian Steve Harvey and how most of his early life and career had been one of adversity. At one point in his life, he found himself divorced and living in a car, but he still continued to pursue his dream. Now he is one of the most well known comedians of his time and he has made millions of dollars. All because he refused to give up when times were hard. As she continued to tell me this story, I broke down into sobs of emotion. I needed to hear that there was still hope for my future, because as I left the school where I had devoted so much of myself and my time, I felt like I had failed.
When I got home that evening, I checked my mail as always, but to my surprise, found that the latest edition of People magazine had Steve Harvey on the cover telling that exact same story of how he overcame obscurity to become the success that he is today. I immediately sent my guidance counselor a message, admitting that it was all going to be okay. God gives us exactly what we need exactly when we need it.
I had been adjusting fine with my decision to leave the middle school all summer long, but it was really easy when all of my teacher friends were on summer vacation. But then their summer vacation ended, and I continue to sift through the menial jobs and even worse, those I am not qualified for. I had spent my entire education preparing for a career that ended way before I had planned. I expected to retire from the education system, but here I am, only four years in, with the belief that enough is enough.
Just recently, my husband and I had this exact conversation. I explained to him how I felt like I had failed, because I had left the career that I had planned on staying in until I retired. That was when he said something that really stuck with me. He told me that we spend our entire lives being under the impression that we are going to pick a major in college, get a job in that field, and work there until retirement, when in reality, that’s not how life works at all. People change jobs, some multiple times. And that’s okay. As he spoke to me, I felt this sort of burden lift from my shoulders. That’s when I had my own revelation. I had spent the last seven months feeling like I had dropped the ball, like I had screwed up somewhere, when in reality, that’s not how it happened at all. I didn’t drop the ball; I threw the ball down. I needed to go get a different ball to play with for a while.
And who knows…one day I may decide that I want to go back and pick up my other ball and play with it for a while longer. But for now, it is not what makes me happy, so I am optimistic that there are other options out there that are more suited for what I need. I think that is something that teachers need to hear. If you’re not happy in your classroom, leave. Pursue something else. There is no law against playing with a different ball. Throw down the one that makes you unhappy and choose something else. The main thing is that you are happy where you are and with the ball that you are playing with.

Living Life With Anxiety

I had my first panic attack when I was a freshman in high school. I was on my way to take my math final when I felt this intense pressure come over my chest and my heart started racing. I thought that I was having a heart attack. I stopped where I stood in the hallway and held on to the railing of the ramp like it was the only thing that would save me. Other students passed me by, but they were only faces. I didn’t recognize any of them for who they actually were, and if anyone would have asked me if I was okay, I wasn’t sure if I would have been able to speak to tell them no. I definitely was not okay.

 

So began my life with my anxiety disorder. I was fourteen years old. I had a lot of stuff going on. My parents argued all the time and my dad drank too much. The conditions in which we lived were horrible, and I realize now how surprising it is that child protective services did not intervene. My anxiety disorder did not begin with my first panic attack in the halls of my high school. I have always been a nervous person. I spent a lot of my childhood at the doctor’s office because of stomach pain and I bit my fingernails compulsively. The older I got, the worse my anxiety issues became. Of course, I was not diagnosed with anxiety until I was in high school. Even then, the doctors did not say that I had an anxiety disorder. They just said that I was having panic attacks and gave me tools for how to deal with them.

 

I coped with my disorder until after I graduated from college. However, I still knew that I had something wrong with me that separated me from everyone else. I could not handle certain situations the way everyone else did, and I struggled with being different. When I was put in a situation where I was asked to deal with any kind of conflict or tackle anything unfamiliar, I panicked. My heart would race and I would burst into tears. I was labeled “hypersensitive” by those around me, and everyone walked on eggshells around me for fear that they would say or do something that would cause a meltdown.

 

When I started teaching, my meltdowns became more frequent. I was unhappy at the high school, and feared that I had made a horrible decision. I cried every day and struggled with how to cope with my failures. After another year of teaching in the public education system, I finally went to the doctor, and was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I was prescribed with an anti-anxiety medication, which seemed to aid in easing some of my anxieties. I took it three times a day, and if I missed a dose, I could tell that I had missed a dose. I became jittery and nervous, and did not calm down until I took my next dosage at the appropriate time.

 

That worked for me for a while until I injured my back in January of this year. With my injury, I could not lift or bend, which left me unable to perform most of the tasks that I considered my “job” as a wife. My husband was forced to do all the major cooking and cleaning, as well as washing the dishes and doing the laundry. All the while, I watched from the couch, feeling completely useless. Why did he keep me around?

 

My pain also changed the way I taught. I was no longer the teacher who was up amongst her students, pacing the classroom to ensure that all of her students were engaged and focused. Instead, I spent most of each class period behind my desk sitting in my computer chair with a lumbar pillow behind my back. It was the only way I could make it through the day.

 

When I came home, I was a sobbing mess. I felt worthless. I felt like my husband could find someone better than me. I felt like he deserved someone better than me. I laid the option of divorce out in the table and he shoved it away with zero consideration. He reminded me of our vow to stay together in sickness and in health, and promised me that he meant that with his whole heart. It meant everything to me to hear him say that, but it did not make me feel like any less of a woman. I pushed myself every day to do as much as I could, but with every bit that I pushed, I caused myself additional pain. I was in a lose-lose situation.

 

I had been to all kinds of doctors about my back, and no one could find the cause of my pain. I finally went to a doctor who not only prescribed me some strong pain medication, but also heard my pleas about my anxiety and how my injury was affecting my marriage. I explained to her that the anxiety medication I was taking just wasn’t working anymore. She asked me how I was taking it, and when I said three times a day, she explained to me that the kind of medication that I had been prescribed was an as needed drug and that I was only supposed to take them when I was having an anxiety attack. She prescribed me another anxiety medication that I take once a day, and that has changed my life. I can now cope with situations that would previously have sent me into a panic. My personality has shifted into the person that I was before anxiety took over my life.

 

I am not saying that medication is for everyone. There are multiple coping techniques for anxiety such as meditation and breathing techniques. Many people with anxiety also turn to activities such as journaling or exercise to ease their mind and help with their disorder. Those techniques have been proven to work for people with anxiety, although not for every person. When you have a disorder like anxiety or depression, you have to find what works for you. For me, I found that I needed to take medication to get my disorder under control so that I could get back to the life that I was used to living and the life that my husband deserved to have with me. It is a choice that each individual needs to make for themselves.

 

The key is that anxiety does not have to be a disorder that ruins your life. With the right treatment, a person with anxiety can live a normal life with few limitations. I am living proof of that.

 

Something to Believe in

Belief: an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. As children, we believed in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. We believe in higher powers that are in control of our fate. Many believe an eternity beyond this world in which we exist. We all believe in something. Having beliefs give us hope. Beliefs give us clarity and understanding in our fellow man and the choices that he makes. I have written down ten things that I believe, and I hope that my beliefs might give you encouragement.

  1. I believe in destiny. My husband and I will tell you that some force had to bring us together, because if it were up to either one of us, we would not be married today. It is the most amazing story, of how we met, and one I will share in another post, I promise, but I assure you, destiny played a huge role in it. Long story short, we met because his dad and the lady that I worked for during my time in college started dating. I resisted even meeting him. When we did meet, I fell for him immediately, but he resisted, because he thought that they were using me so that he wouldn’t take his dad’s new relationship so hard. It took almost a year after we met before we started dating. He was destined to be my husband, and I believe that with every fiber of my being.
  2. I believe in love at first sight. When I first met my husband, I knew instantly that I wanted to be with him. He didn’t even have to speak. I knew by the way he carried himself and the way he interacted with others that he was perfect for me. I believe that you can fall in love with someone the moment that you meet them, and fall more in love with them every single day. Trust me on this one: I am living proof.
  3. I believe in commitment. My husband and I take the vows we made on our wedding day very seriously. Too often, those vows are just words, and couples are quick to file for divorce. My husband and I refuse to give up on one another. We never argue. We discuss our conflicting opinions on issues, but we never raise our voices to one another. We never go to bed without resolving whatever issue we are discussing. We work together. We have been married for almost two years and known each other for four, and we have never had an argument. We apologize to each other when we are wrong. We admit our faults. We share when we are struggling. It is working for us. The most important thing is that we absolutely refuse to give up on one another.
  4. I believe in saying “I love you.” I tell my husband “I love you” every time I talk to him. Whether it is before I hang up the phone, at the end of a text conversation while he is at work, or before one of us leaves the house, I am sure to let him know how I feel about him. I do the same thing with my parents, his dad and girlfriend, his grandparents, and anyone else that I love. It is so important to me to let those that I love know it. It’s not that they don’t know, but you never know when your last second on this earth is going to be, and I want to ensure that there is no doubt about how I feel about those I love.
  5. I believe that laughing is the better alternative to crying. My husband gets so annoyed at me, because when we are put in frustrating situations, I laugh about it. I can’t help it—it’s a knee jerk reaction for me, because if I don’t laugh about it, I will cry about it. And let’s be honest, it is so much better to laugh than to cry. I have been working hard not to get upset about the little things, so if I can get humor out of them, it is a win for me!
  6. I believe that music heals. When things really suck, I believe that a good song can shift your mood. I have been in situations where I have been having the worst day ever, and turned on some upbeat music, and my mood has changed drastically. I am not alone on this one. A 2013 study from the University of Missouri found exactly that—when a person listens to upbeat music when they are sad, it helps improve their mood. However, I also listen to sad music when I am down in the dumps. In particular, when I am thinking about my mammaw and just need to cry it out, I play “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan, and let the tears roll. I feel better for not bottling up the emotions that I needed to release.
  7. I believe that most people are kind. My dad jokes that he and I have never met a stranger, which is true, because we both have a tendency to carry on a conversation with people that we have never met. As a child, I used to be incredibly shy and wouldn’t talk to anyone. As I grew older, I came out of my shell and now I cans trike up a conversation with just about anyone I encounter. I have found that most people are friendly, and if you treat them with kindness and respect, they will reciprocate. Everyone has a story to tell and a burden to bear, and if you lend a kind ear, they will welcome that kindness. People are only hateful when given a reason to be.
  8. I believe in second chances. I believe in second chances in so many capacities. I believe in forgiveness. I also believe in redemption after missed opportunities. I think that that everyone deserves a second chance to make things right. If someone has the courage to come back and try again, I think that they should have that opportunity. I am very fortunate that I have an understanding husband who let me leave my career and try a different avenue when we realized that teaching wasn’t for me. Otherwise, I would have been stuck in my misery. I don’t think that God intends for us to be miserable, which is why He is the God of second chances and continually offers second chances through an altar of forgiveness. We need to model His grace and forgive when given the opportunity.
  9. I believe that dreams can become a reality. I have always wanted to be a writer. I wanted to have my work published and for people to read it. Of course, my dream was to have novels and to be a bestselling author, but my dream has come to fruition with this blog. I am writing, and people are reading my work. I hope that I am making a difference, even if it is on a smaller scale than I may have planned.
  10. I believe in hard work. I am the only child of tenant tobacco farmers. I grew up in a home of extreme poverty. My parents get up at daylight and work until dark for less than a minimum wage salary. But they work hard and own everything they have. They taught me the value of hard work, and I believe that when you work hard, you value what you have more than when it comes easy for you. Coming from the background that I came from, I so genuinely appreciate my husband and what he does for our family, our home, and my education. My parents instilled those values in me, and for that, I am ever thankful.

Feel free to comment below, share your story, or send me a message. Also, don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list! Your feedback means everything to this blogger!

Such Sweet Sorrow

The first funeral that I attended was in 2011. I was twenty-one years old. I did not fear death or dead people. I had been to visitations and knew what it was like to see someone lying there, completely immobile, in a box that would be where their remains would rest until the decomposition process took place. I believed in Christ, and that the body that was there for the family to grieve over was not the person that they loved, for their spirit had already gone to an eternal resting place: either in Heaven or Hell. Funerals were not a scary concept to me. For whatever reason, until I was a junior in college, I had not had to attend one.

The first funeral I attended was for a two-year-old child. She had been born blind and deaf, and had a rare blood disease that was going to kill her. From my understanding, the doctors had given the family the prognosis days after her birth, and from that point forward, they were determined to give her the best life possible. She passed away only days before she was scheduled to undergo surgery on her ears, which may have allowed her to hear her mother’s voice for the first time through the implementation of hearing aids. But God had a plan, and decided to bring her home.

Seeing the tiny casket of an innocent baby was probably the hardest thing that I have ever had to witness in my entire life. I walked past, holding my breath, and hugged the parents and grandparents of the child. We all attended church together, and their steadfast and unwavering faith through their tragedy gave witness to God’s grace and mercy, because I honestly don’t know if I would have handled it as well if I would have been in their shoes.

Jamie, our pastor, and a man I admired more than life itself, preached the funeral, and I listened as his voice became broken throughout the service. I cannot imagine what he had to be feeling. It would be one thing to preach the funeral of a person who had lived a long life and was ready to go home to be with God, but to know that Jaylee had lived such a short life was gut wrenching. She was a witness in her own right though, and touched so many hearts during her short time on this Earth.

A little over a year later, my grandmother passed away. She was my maternal grandmother, and I got the phone call that she had passed while I was away at college. My grandmother and I were not close. I know she loved me, and I showed her respect. My mom did not get to have a relationship with her until she was an adult, because she had been in the foster care system. However, regardless of the pain that she had endured through her childhood, my mom made every attempt to mend what had been broken. When I got older and understood what had taken place, I lost any emotional attachment that I felt toward my grandmother. I could not condone the decisions that she had made. I supported my mom’s attempts to create a relationship with her mother, but I was completely disinterested.

During my grandmother’s funeral, my mom really struggled. She sat in between of my dad and my uncle, and I watched her fall apart in a way that I never had before. It was clear that she had lost something and someone very important to her. I cannot imagine what it feels like to lose a parent, but especially one that you have spent your entire life attempting to establish a relationship with. She later admitted that it wasn’t until the funeral that she realized that she was an orphan. Her dad had killed himself when she was twenty-one by an alcohol overdose. With her mother gone, she was alone, with no parents to call on in an hour of need. Not that they would answer the phone.

I didn’t show any emotion until they loaded my grandmother’s casket into the hearse and closed the door. Any chance of a relationship with her was over. I had accepted a long time ago that I would never have the kind of relationship with her that I had with my dad’s mom, but as we followed the hearse to the place where her body would be buried, I realized something. I knew I would never be close with her, but now, I would never be able to be any closer to her. Guilt flooded over me, because even though I did not respect the decisions that she had made in her past, she was still my grandmother. I was a part of her, and by shutting her out of my life, I had limited my opportunities to get to know my own history. I did not grieve over her death, but for the insight into my own life that I would never know.

One year and one day later, my dad’s mom passed away. She lost a hard fought battle with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In the end, she was bedfast, and had sores on her body where she was unable to move. Her death was truly a blessing, but it did not make her loss any less devastating to our family. She was the ultimate representation of a matriarch, and the person who held our family together. She was the mother of six children, and raised them with a determination that they would all go into the world and be hard-working and honest people. Each of them has lived up to that expectation.

She passed away during my first year of teaching. On the weekend that she died, I had just gone on Spring Break. I told my dad that I would take him and my pappaw to see her in Hospice on that Monday. When I got home from church that Sunday morning, my mom told me that she had passed away. It seemed like my entire world crashed down around me, because my mammaw had been like a second mother to me. When my parents were working, she was my babysitter. When my parents were fighting, she was my security. When my dad was drinking, she was my ally. She knew things about my family that no one else knew, and even though I was about to turn twenty-four years old, I still needed her. I felt so much guilt for not going to see her that day or the day before. I had an opportunity to see her one last time, and I let it pass me by. In the days that would come, it would hit me furiously that she would never meet or approve of the man that I was going to marry. She would never see her great-grandchildren. I would never have an opportunity to take a picture with her in my adult life. All I had were childhood photographs, which I would cherish with my entire being.

Her visitation and funeral were the worst two days that I have ever had to endure. I had only seen my dad cry one other time, when he received the news that his brother had been diagnosed with cancer. Yet here they all were, together, in good health, grieving the loss of their mother. It was the only time that I can ever remember all six of my mammaw’s children being together in the same room at the same time. Life is busy. People get their feelings hurt. Yet none of that mattered when they all lost the one person that had given them life. Their common bond.

Our car was the first one in line following the hearse. I had to drive, because by the time the funeral was over, my dad was so shaky, he was unable to drive. The trip to the cemetery where she would be buried was the longest twenty miles I have ever had to drive in my entire life. I tried really hard to not think about what was happening. I was about to watch my mammaw be lowered in the ground and I was never going to get to see her again. Our family would never be the same again.

I never was the same again after losing my mammaw. I lost my ability to be vulnerable. I was no longer the fragile and innocent person that I had always thought myself to be. I was broken. It was during that time that I felt my first taste of failure. I was not happy at the high school where I was teaching, and barely making it through those last weeks of school. I knew I had to get away and escape from the harsh realities that life was dealing me. So, I went back to see my “Morehead mom” to have some time to gain my bearings.

Sharri has saved my life more times than I can count. I worked for her during my entire college education, and through her relationship with her current boyfriend, I was able to meet my husband. When things sucked in college, I could go to her and she would give me the advice I would need to make it through. She is still a fountain of wisdom that is unending. She gives some of the best advice, and I know that she always wants what is best for those she loves. After I graduated from college, I would return to her house when I needed a break from life or some of her wisdom. After my mammaw passed away, she helped me understand that even though I was grieving, there would come a time that I would have to pick myself up by my bootstraps and move on. She explained that it was okay for me to be sad, but it was not okay for me to lose myself in the grief.

She was forced to listen to her own advice when only days later her only son, Daniel was killed in Afghanistan. When Daniel died, he and Sharri were not on the best of terms, so his death hit her especially hard. I cannot imagine the kind of pain she was feeling, and never hope to. I went back to her house as quickly as I could and spent days with her as she processed his death. It was an unfathomable tragedy. They could not transport his remains for the memorial service that was held in his hometown, but Sharri held a memorial service nonetheless. Attending that service was one of the most humbling hours of my life. To know that Daniel sacrificed his life for our country and did so with such selflessness brought me back down to Earth. I realized that I was not the center of the universe, and that there was so much more going on in the world than what I was dealing with.

Years passed before I was to attend another funeral. Sharri’s grief over the loss of her son consumed her in many ways. Those around her offered as much support as possible, but no one could understand what she was feeling, so the right words were left unsaid. Her dad passed away a couple of weeks ago after battling dementia that he developed after Daniel was killed. In the days following her father’s death, Sharri did not mourn his loss when anyone was around. If she grieved privately, no one will ever know. She told us that she had made a promise to her dad that she would stay strong in his passing and not fall apart. That promise may have been what kept her together.

During the visitation and funeral, as I watched people come in and pay their final respects, none of the children showed any signs of weakness. In many ways, I am encouraged by how their family stood strong during one of the hardest days of their lives. Funerals are often so sad because the family is grieving their loss, but in many cases, they should not grieve, because of what the person who passed on gained. In the case of my mammaw and Sharri’s dad, death meant an end to years of pain and suffering. We should celebrate instead of mourn but it’s so hard though when we try to think of our lives without our loved one in it.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler say it best, “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but, you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, not would you want to.”

I was twenty-one years old before I attended my first funeral. Fate and circumstances prevented me from having to face one of the hardest days of my life too early. I am fortunate enough to have never lost a child or a parent, but I have seen the devastation that such a tragedy can cause. It is hard for me to write that it will all be okay, when I know that a person’s life is so dramatically altered by such a loss. But as the above quote states, even though you will be whole again, you will never be the same.

And that’s okay.

 

 

I became a statistic

I cried today. I was driving down the road listening to some random pop song on the radio, thinking about the funeral of the brother of two of my former students. After talking to the youngest, who was determined to be strong for his family, and consoling the oldest, who was completely falling apart, I made my way to the casket to offer my condolences to the parents. I hugged the mother, who was a substitute janitor for the school system. She thanked me for coming, and I explained to her that there was nowhere else that I would rather be. I told her that her children meant a lot to me. She replied, “You mean so much to our family as well. Thank you for everything you have done for my kids.” On the day she buried her son, she thanked me for my service to her family.

 

As I recalled that memory, I went from singing along to the music in my car, to in a moments notice, bursting into tears. On one of the hardest days a parent would ever have to face, this mother had thanked me for what I had done for her kids. I had her daughter in class during my first year of teaching, during what was the worst year of my teaching career. I was twenty-two, and her daughter was a senior. I had three classes of seniors that year, and I struggled with becoming an authority figure with that group of kids. Her daughter was the exception. She was always sweet and respectful. I had the same experience with her son the next year when I transferred to the middle school. He was equally as kind and respectful, and my first year teaching eighth grade was the one that I will always remember, because they saved me. When I almost gave up on myself, they gave me a reason to believe again. I wish I could teach that group of students every year. We refused to give up on each other.

 

When I remembered the words their mother said to me that day, no matter how hard I tried to get myself together, the tears flowed. She believed that I made a difference in the lives of her children. Today, I am dealing with the realization that I have completed my fourth year of teaching and received my notification that my contract will not be renewed. I will no longer be able to have that impact on any other child in my district. Every time I run into a student who tells me the impression I had on their life or a parent tells me that I have made a difference, I feel resentment toward the school system that has not only failed me, but failed the students of our district. When I stepped into my classroom day after day, I did so with a commitment that my students would not only leave more literate, but as better citizens. I would stare at the Common Core State Standards that were taped on my wall with the realization that I had signed a contract to teach those standards within school year. However, I had a moral obligation to help each child I encountered become a better human being as well. I handled those two responsibilities with the upmost dedication, spending tireless hours before, during, and after the school day seeking the best tools that I could find to educate my students in ways that would not only challenge their thinking, but that they would find enjoyable. How dare I believe that learning should be fun, and that a more engaging curriculum might motivate students to meet the objectives that an educator sets? The horror.

 

In my classroom, I chose to focus on real world issues that students often encountered and had opinions about. I chose articles about homelessness or elections and challenged students find the central idea and supporting ideas for the viewpoint of the authors. I would pose a question and have students respond to that question with ideas from the articles that I had chosen. The key was that I had chosen them. They were articles about timely issues, those that were relevant to students’ lives. Of course, I also included the classics, reading works by Poe and Twain with my students and having them determine theme and characterization in those texts. I did not abandon the standards. I created a curriculum that met the standards while at the same time allowed students to become citizens that were more informed and be able to have conversations about the serious issues that were going on around them.

 

Another activity that I did with my students that I believed was critical to their overall mental wellbeing was an activity called Start the Day off Write. This was a tool that I picked up from my local chapter of the National Writing Project. Start the Day off Write is an opportunity for students to respond to a journal based prompt in any way that they choose, with the one rule that they have to write. For example, in one of my favorite prompts, I posed a picture of a three-legged dog, and asked students to write about it. Some created a fictional story about the dog being a superhero, others wrote about their own dog, while some wrote about their fear of the species. STDOW gives students a creative freedom in writing that is limited in so many other outlets, but I believed it was critical to creating the community of writers that I wanted in my classroom. Once I posed a prompt, I would grab my own journal, and take a seat amongst my students and write along with them. It was such a game changer for them to see me writing while they wrote, because for probably the first time in their educational careers, a teacher wasn’t sitting at his/her desk working while they completed a task.

 

One particular STDOW prompt stands out to me from my first year at the middle school. It was toward the beginning of the year, so I was still in the “getting to know you” phase with my students. The prompt that I had chosen was innocent enough: Write a letter to yourself ten years from now. As always, I sat with my kids, and composed the letter to the thirty-three year old me. I tried to keep my composure as I wrote about the future husband I hoped to have one day, and how I prayed that the doctors were wrong when they said I couldn’t have children. Those were words I barely wanted to think about, yet alone commit to paper.

 

One of the key components to STDOW is the share time. I always allowed as many students to share as would volunteer. However, no one ever had to feel pressured. They knew up front that every two weeks I would collect their journals and read whatever they had written, so they had to take accountability for the words they put on the page. Students were required to be respectful of those who volunteered to read, because I explained that it took a lot of courage to read what you had written, and they also understood that what was said in my room had to stay in my room. They could not take anyone’s story to the hallway.

 

So, as always, I took volunteers to share their writing. I got the expected responses: “I hope you go to college”, “I hope you have a nice house/car”, “I hope you get married and have babies”, etc, etc. After several students shared, one student asked me to share my writing. Normally I would have done so without hesitation, but what I had written had been so personal that I didn’t exactly feel comfortable sharing my words. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks that my kids were asking of me exactly what I asked of them: to trust them and to build community with them. I took a breath and told my students of my diagnosis of infertility, and the tears came, from both my students and me. They listened with complete silence, and when I finished reading, no one spoke. They just sat there in the silence, as if paying their respect to the babies I would never have.

 

A couple of moments later, one of the most popular kids in the eighth grade class spoke up and said a sentence I will never forget: “I wasn’t planning on reading, but since you read, I feel like I have to read this now.” And he did. He wrote about how he hoped that in ten years that he would be married, but that when he got married, he would make it count. He wouldn’t get married and then abandon his wife and kids, because all that does is hurt the kids. As he read, tears streamed down his face, pain laced in every word. He had so much pent up hurt from his own parents’ divorce, and he had never had an outlet to release it. The whole classroom was a sobbing mess, but the student felt better for writing and for sharing his story.

 

I was quickly labeled the teacher who “could make kids who hate Language Arts love it by the end of the year.” I was proud of that label.

 

That all changed at the beginning of my third year when the determination was made that test scores weren’t improving and that changes in instruction needed to be made so that the wrath of the state would not come down on our school. The last thing any school wants is to have the state department take over, so the district was ready to take drastic action to ensure that this didn’t happen. Test scores were down in ELA district wide, so the superintendent made the decision to hire a literacy specialist to implement new strategies in our reading and writing instruction. Ironically, even with her stellar record of school improvement, after two years under her guidance, test scores had not progressed and I was accused of not embracing the strategies.

 

Truth be told, I probably wasn’t embracing the strategies as I should have been. I didn’t give my administration the buy in that they expected or required. I couldn’t, because I didn’t believe that what I was asked to do was what was best for my students. I was becoming a proctor for test prep, spending all the time and energy I had in my classroom getting my kids ready for a test that they ultimately didn’t care about. And for what? Even though no one would come right out and say it, everyone knew it was all about the almighty dollar.

 

It is a shame that the public education has succumbed to such a vicious cycle of the “big brother” effect. Schools need government money to “fund a better education” for their students, so in order to do so, they educate students based on the Common Core standards set by the government. Those standards are assessed by state testing, and funding that schools receive is based on the scores that students earn. Students do well: the school gets more money. Students do poorly: the school doesn’t receive as much money and run the risk of the state coming into the building to investigate why test scores are so low. So, if students do not perform well on the exam, the school does not receive the government money that they need to “fund a better education” for their students. With that, the vicious cycle continues, and ultimately the government has control of everything that happens in our classroom, because if students do not perform well on the state testing, they close their pocketbook. Big Brother. The government can decide exactly how our kids are educated.

 

I watched as my students suffered because of the choices that my district made. I stood at the front of my classroom and taught from the manual made by the literacy specialist, focusing only on reading and writing strategies that would help students improve on the state assessment at the end of the year. As I watched my students’ eyes glaze over and they completely lost interest in Language Arts, I knew that I was doing my kids an injustice. They were beginning to resent writing, which was the exact opposite of everything I believed in. One of my main philosophies of education was that if you allow students time to write freely and creatively and teach them the core skills for the other forms of writing, when it comes time for them to put those words to paper in a structured assessment type of atmosphere, they will not be burnt out and resent the process. I had seen it with the implementation of STDOW. However, I spent my time teaching the five-paragraph method instead of giving my students creative freedom as I typically would have, and as expected, by the time state testing rolled around, they hated the notion so much, they wrote for the sake of writing because they knew they had to, but it was of poor quality. They screwed us, because they felt as though I had screwed them. I felt like I had too. I was not the same teacher I had been.

 

Because my students were continuing to show limited growth, my commitment to the classroom was questioned. My principal blatantly told me that she was disappointed in me, and that while she sat in my classroom that she hurt for me. The literacy specialist said that her “eye twitched” while she observed me teach. When I was called into the office, I was raked through the coals, instead of provided with the constructive criticism that I desperately longed for. I was hurt and infuriated. I loved my job and my students more than anything in the world. What I had a major problem with was the fact that I was being dictated to how to do my job after I spent seemingly endless hours studying the best practice in my field. My heart was for my students and ensuring that they received the best education possible, so the fact that my administration doubted that dedication left me livid.

 

After that intense and damning conversation with my administrators, and a pink slip looming over my head, I began questioning if I even wanted to continue my career in the education system. At that point, I was only three and a half years in to my career. I would need to work one day into the following year to receive tenure. However, if I was not interesting in teaching until retirement, I wondered if tenure should be something that I should even be concerned about. After several weeks of thought, prayer, and many conversations with my husband, we decided that if I continued to be miserable in my job, it wasn’t worth it. Regardless of if my district decided to pink slip me, I would be leaving, even if it meant resigning.

 

Two months later, the climate in my building only worsened. The expectations for the ELA department to push our kids to do their best on the state assessment became laughable. We were administering school wide scrimmage tests in reading and writing to assess where students were only weeks before the actual assessment, leading to understandable frustration from our students. It was clear to me that I was not where I needed to be. My school was putting way too much of an emphasis on the state assessment and not enough on the overall education and wellbeing of our students. I needed out.

 

When I decided to become a teacher, I had a vision for what I wanted my classroom to be like. As a child, I spent my summers with the dry erase board in my room and the teacher editions of books that had been given to me by former teachers. I didn’t just “play school.” I tried to create the perfect classroom. My love of the education system was something that had been long rooted in me. To be accused of not being devoted to the career that I had chosen for myself hurt me deeply. I had poured myself into my position at the middle school, so much that it had put a strain on my marriage. I had only been married to my husband for six months when our district hired the literacy specialist, but immediately, it changed the dynamic of our relationship. I went from being a fun-loving, charismatic and optimistic person, to being resentful and hateful. I cried all the time, because I was so stressed out. I had to go on an anti-anxiety medication, which helped alleviate some of the tension that I felt, but ultimately, I realized that it wasn’t worth it. I knew that I was a better educator that what was I was being branded. I had been accused of pulling “crap off the Internet” and “wasting time” allowing students time to journal. My philosophies for education was radically different from the school culture that my administration was fostering. At that point, I decided that my time in the public education system needed to come to an end.

 

So here I sit, continuing to process my decision not to apply for any teaching positions in the fall. I recall all of the kind words parents and students have said about me during my time as a teacher, and it breaks my heart to think about not returning to a classroom. To know that I have made a difference and to not make the effort to continue that fight seems like I am failing. However, last year especially, I don’t feel like I made a difference at all. I feel like I was a robot, and that anyone off the street could have done my job. I wasn’t the same teacher that I had been when I began my career. I simply did what I needed to do to get by unscathed. That wasn’t any good for my students, and that certainly wasn’t the kind of teacher that I wanted to be. When I was making a difference in the lives of my students, my classroom wasn’t just a place where students came to learn that you needed a good hook in the introduction of an argument–it was a community where my students trusted one another and weren’t afraid to get the answer wrong or share their views.

 

Roberta Ford once said, “I want students to be able to say these things when they leave me: I am a worthwhile person; I deserve a place on this Earth; I am successful; I am ready for whatever the world throws at me-today or tomorrow.” If you can live that in good conscience, keep pushing on. I wasn’t sure that my classroom was a place that prepared students for success or made them ready for whatever the world threw at them. That’s why I left. I am not alone. Teachers are leaving the profession at an epidemic rate. We can’t be the problem. However, we can only pray that there is someone actively working towards a solution.

 

I keep telling people that there may come a time when I will return to the education system. I genuinely want to be a part of the solution. I want to continue to help change the lives of the kids that I get to interact with on a daily basis. I know that is the goal of every person who chooses a career in education. I think for that to happen though, we need to get back to the foundation of what we know works. I am optimistic that there will come a time when the tide will shift, and teachers will be able to teach with the utmost confidence again. I did not write this blog post to tear anyone down or to make anyone feel at fault. I know that we are all doing the best that we can. I just hope that we can come to a point when we can sincerely go to sleep at night knowing that our best was good enough.

 

We All Matter…Together

I am creating this blog in a time where emotions are higher than ever and people are more likely to feel hurt or targeted. That is not my intentions at all. With this post in particular, I hope to raise awareness toward the fact that there are views other than that of pure hatred toward people of different backgrounds other than the white Protestant who many see as the face of this nation. Instead, I see the face of our nation as a panorama of so many different people, who all come from different situations, each with their own story to tell. I have been blessed with an opportunity and platform to share my story, and I hope that anyone who reads this post does not take offense, as that is not my intention at all. My only intention with this post is to show a side of a very heated debate that has a hope of unity and strength for all people in the United States, instead of division and pain. Please take it for that.
I have always thought of myself as a lover of people. I never once considered myself to be racist and would have been highly offended if someone would have labeled me as such. However, when I found myself in a situation where a 6’8 black man was staying the night in my dorm room during my freshman year of college, racist tendencies came out in me. I couldn’t help but wonder if when I went to sleep, he would steal from me or if my safety was going to be threatened from a guy who was clearly much bigger than me. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if my roommate had brought home a white boy of similar size and stature, if I would have felt the same concerns.
It turns out that the guy that she was dating was one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met, and even though they didn’t work out, he and I maintained a friendship through the four years that I attended college. It is a shame that my rural upbringing fostered such bigotry in my unconsciousness that I didn’t even realize was there. I was a young Christian girl who gave witness to love and kindness, however that was so easy when I was never exposed to anyone who was any different than me. Everyone had the same values, grew up the same way, looked the same, and no one ever branched out from that. When I was thrown into a diverse atmosphere, I realized that I was just as racist as some of the people back home that I had always criticized for their hatred.
During my time at college and after, I became cognizant of my racist tendencies and tried really hard to abandon them, as I was determined to treat all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation as I wanted to be treated, which was with kindness and a fair opportunity to show myself for who I was instead of the stereotype of what was expected of me. If that were the case, society would view me as an uneducated hick with nothing to offer the world except for some fatherless children and a dependency on the welfare system. Fortunately, I was blessed enough to be born with the “right” skin color, so it did not matter where I came from when I set goals for my life. No judgments were made about me, because I was white and that was all that really mattered. It didn’t matter that I grew up in a rural eastern Kentucky town with no indoor plumbing inside my home. When I stepped on campus, I was seen the exact same way as my white peers. Unfortunately, my black peers all had a burden to carry. It didn’t matter the circumstances in which they came; there were preconceived biases about them before a word came from their mouth.
The naive me would not have believed that in the 2000s, we would still be faced with issues of race in our country. As a country, we had already fought a civil war, proving that there was no reason for African American people to be slaves in the south and that they should be given the freedom to live whatever life they choose. Two hundred years later, as a country, we battled against the segregation of African American people, proving that they are equal and deserve the same rights as any other person who lived in the United States. And yet, here we are in 2016, fighting the same battles that we did when we considered the African American people one that was oppressed and misrepresented.
It is unfortunate, that in this modern society, that black people still aren’t seen as equal to white people. But as I discovered when I attended college, regardless of our attempts to break down the racial barriers that divide us, there are still underlying assumptions about the African American people and their intentions toward the public. They are unfair, but are happening just the same. When a black man walks down a dark street with a hood pulled up over his head, it is only assumed that he is up to no good. When a back man reaches toward his pocket when he is pulled over by police, it is the safest bet that he is reaching for a gun. Would white people be victimized by for the same potential that they had to commit a crime? When a group of white men come into a restaurant, I don’t look twice, but if a group of black men come in to the same place, I can’t help but wonder what kind of trouble they are going to cause.
I know I am not in the minority on this issue. I can’t be the only twenty something Caucasian female that gets intimidated by an African American man. Why has our society decided that this is okay? Can it be that racism has trickled down the pike generation after generation, simply by the belief system that white families have about people of color? No one is born racist. People have to be taught hatred and fear towards other people. I know that my parents, regardless of growing up in the days of Martin Luther King Jr., expressed a discomfort around black people throughout my entire childhood. I would stake everything I have on the fact that their ideologies played a huge role in my hesitation of befriending my roommate’s boyfriend during college. Had my parents been more open minded, my attitude toward black people would have been different. I can’t blame them for the rest of my life though. I have to make a conscious effort to change my views toward all people of color, because I refuse continue the cycle of hatred that is happening in our nation. When I have children, I want them to see parents who are colorblind. There will only be change when we as a society decide to make a change.
I can never recall a time in my life that I have become so invested in what is happening in the news as I have in the last few years. When Trayvon Martin lost his life, I was preparing to graduate from college, and was completing my internship semester as a student teacher in the same high school that I had graduated from four years prior. Immediately, everyone around me took the side of George Zimmerman, saying that he would not have shot Trayvon had it not been justified. Little could anyone have known, this was the event that would spark the Black Lives Matter movement.
According to Black Lives Matter, “When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.  We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”*
Black lives do matter. Any time that someone is wrongfully judged by the color of their skin instead of the content of their character, there is a problem. It is not okay for innocent black men to be killed simply because they are black. In the same right, it is not okay for white men to be killed because they are white, or police officers to be killed because they are police officers. It is unfortunate that in 2016, in a country that professes to be the greatest on Earth, its people appear more divided than ever before. In the last two months, we have watched as hate has torn us apart.
On June 12, Omar Mateen opened fire at a gay nightlight in Florida, in which 49 people were killed and 53 wounded. Although in a relationship with a woman, Mateen was said to have frequented the nightclub, and may have been struggling with his sexuality. He was also Muslim, so there was speculation that it was an act of domestic terrorism. Regardless of whether either or both were true, race, religion, and sexuality were in the spotlight, and a conversation about hate crimes became reignited in our nation. Less than a month later, on July 5, Alton Sterling was shot by police outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, LA. The conversation narrowed to race, as many claimed that if Alton Sterling been a white man in the same situation, there would have been a different result. This conversation exploded when the next day, a police officer shot and killed 32-year-old Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop in Falcon Heights, MN. Black Lives Matter sprang into action, organizing protests nationally, citing that the police system had failed. During one of their protests, which took place in Dallas the day after Castile’s death, a sniper, later identified as Micah Xavier Johnson opened fire at the protest. Five Dallas police officers were killed and another nine people injured in the deadliest incident for U.S. law enforcement since 9/11. Johnson was later discovered to have been targeting white police officers at the protest. Only weeks later, three police officers were killed and three others injured in Baton Rouge, LA. The shooter, Gavin Long, had vented his frustrations on social media, stating, “Zero have been successful just over simple protesting. You gotta fight back.”
I’m sorry, Mr. Long, but we are just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Our country gives us the right to protest as one of the foundational rights, because it works. When people stand together for a cause, whatever that cause may be, and peacefully let their voice be heard, change happens. It may be slow at first, but change will come. There are people listening to the Black Lives Matter movement and are making an effort to rectify the horrible situations that have happened in the last four years with the deaths of all those aforementioned. However, change will not come when we ignite hate with more hate.
According to those affiliated Black Lives Matter regarding the tragedy in Dallas: “In the last few days, this country witnessed the recorded murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police, the latest victims in this country’s failed policing system. As we have done for decades, we marched and protested to highlight the urgent need to transform policing in America, to call for justice, transparency and accountability, and to demand that Black Lives Matter.
In Dallas, many gathered to do the same, joining in a day of action with friends, family, and co-workers. Their efforts were cut short when a lone gunman targeted and attacked 11 police officers, killing five. This is a tragedy–both for those who have been impacted by yesterday’s attack and for our democracy. There are some who would use these events to stifle a movement for change and quicken the demise of a vibrant discourse on the human rights of Black Americans. We should reject all of this.
Black activists have raised the call for an end to violence, not an escalation of it. Yesterday’s attack was the result of the actions of a lone gunman. To assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible. We continue our efforts to bring about a better world for all of us.”*
As I said before, black lives do matter. It is a tragedy that innocent African American men are being murdered because of the color of their skin. But that does not make the lives of the police officers who were also murdered any less valuable. Their lives matter too, and should not be sought after as retribution for a life taken unjustifiably. Every life matters. When we take the “an eye for an eye” mentality, everyone ends up blind. Instead of seeking vengeance, we as a society need to figure out where we have failed and seek a solution. There is no reason for our country to continue to suffer tragedy after tragedy. Every single life matters, and when someone’s life is wrongfully taken, instead of being angry and seeking vengeance, we as a country should grieve, because we have failed. Every time a life is taken too soon at the hands of their fellow man, we have failed. It’s time to take some accountability, individually and as a society. Only then can we heal.
*Quotes posted by a representative at BlackLivesMatter.com