Nestling into the New Year


Two more days left in 2019. In these days of limbo between the 26th and the 1st, I am trying to embrace the quiet, take in the silence before the new year. I am trying to rest intentionally before the madness starts all over again.

I have also been trying to think of my word for 2020, a word to guide my thoughts, work, and growth, as well as my writing, for the year. So I have been considering what it is I want to accomplish in 2020. I know that I want to recreate my relationship with Winter, with its silence, bleakness, and dormancy. I want to find the ways to benefit from this season, which is necessary to the process of growth: a restful time. I want to re-learn how to rest.

Is that my word then? Rest? Rest for my body. Rest and peace for my soul. Resting in faith, contentment, and gratitude. Taking moments to step back, to embrace quiet and rest in the midst of all that is going on and all I am striving for.

Rest.

I will admit that, when this word first came to mind a few days ago, I resisted it. “Rest isn’t a goal. Isn’t an intention!” I told myself. But what else could it be when even the plants and animals bear witness to its necessity? We human begins are the ones who have bought into the idea of hustle, of constant going and work and striving. Of shoving quiet and stillness to the side, cursing them as unproductive or lazy. But how can we do our best without a chance to rest? How can I?

I need rest. And I have already begun! In the past few days, I have risen in the quiet of my still-sleeping household. I have embraced early-morning, snow-deep silence. Even today, I have sat here in my hushed living room, the only soundtrack the crackling fireplace flames, for the past two hours. It hails windily outside our little cottage, but, within, my tree twinkles sweetly and an amber candle fills the air with its warm scent, drawing my senses and spirit down into relaxation. I have been nestled on the couch with blanket, books, pen, and coffee–reading, praying, writing–while my beloved daughter takes her fun upstairs and has been miraculously quiet herself. Our house has been full of rest this morning. And, as I look back over my writings for the past weeks, I see it. Subtly hidden or staring boldly out at me. I see my desire for it, my need for it, writ plain on my soul.

Rest.

Yes. In 2020, I will re-learn what it means to rest. To seek and find it, to gift it, and to create an atmosphere of it in my small spaces of the world.

That is my intention. That is my goal.

I will rest.

The Work of the Dark


“Winter reminds us that everyone and everything needs some quiet time.” – Katrina Mayer

Tonight will be the longest night of the year. The long dark while the world makes its turn and tilt towards the light again. Winterdark. I always feel as though I want to mark this night, the beginning of Winter but, at the same time, the eventual advent of Spring and green and warmth. I have no Yule log, my greenery isn’t real. How can I mark the beginning of Winterdark? Moreover, some might ask, why would I want to?

I want to because there is work to be done in the dark, in the cold, and in the barrenness that Winter brings. I have been reading a great deal about the work of Winter. The need for the silence, the stillness, and the bleakness of the season. As a woman raised in perpetual light (ie, the Caribbean) for the first half of my life, this weighs heaviest on me about Winter of all its traits: the darkness. Rising in the dark, driving to work in the dark, being inside during whatever wan light comes during the day, and then, if I stay too late, driving home in the darkness once again. It is often very hard to think of that darkness, that silence, that bleakness as necessary, never mind thinking of it as good. But it is good. 

Just like the trees, the grass, and other plants, we need a pause in life. Growth cannot be continuous; rest is needed. Winterdark is a time for slowing, for pausing, for quieting down. Life doesn’t stop, of course, no. Not at all, but the long dark can remind us of our need for slowness, for catching our breath, and letting our pulse relax for a bit. I am not the best at slowing, pausing, and resting. The past few weeks have been a flurry of must-do’s in order to finish the school semester and all that comes with it before I left the building yesterday. And then there was the Christmas and birthday prep and officially moving my daughter into her new room upstairs. No…I don’t do “slowing down” very well. But I want to.

This Winter, I want to re-learn how to rest and how to embrace the slow and the quiet. I want to learn the work of Winter, the work of the dark, and the restorative properties of dormancy. I want to re-learn quiet. I want to re-learn care. I want to re-learn peace. Beginning tonight with Winterdark, I want to reclaim this season.

Tonight, after the bustle of the day, I will sit, bundled and warm, with husband, mother, and daughter. Then, later, with book and journal and pen. I will sit in the glow of my Christmas tree when the house is finally calm and quiet. I will reclaim and embrace silence and stillness, the work of Winter and the long dark as they begin.

Will you join me?


Courage to Face the Holidays


As November draws to a close, I can feel my anxiety ramping up with the approach of the Christmas Season proper. Much to do and the list grows ever longer and time ever shorter. I have three weeks left before school closes for Christmas break, along with all the work comes with them. I have my daughter’s birthday to plan, not to mention our work on finishing her new big girl area upstairs. Then there is decorating the house for the holidays, wrapping gifts, and managing the actual day of Christmas. I can feel myself getting tired and achy with just the thought of it all.

As I hid away upstairs with the most recent edition of Bella Grace on Thanksgiving evening, I read about “sacred graces”, taking time to notice those little beautiful things and to hold space for them in my life. I will, uncheerfully, admit that I do not do this. I know I did at one point, though. I marveled over the sweetness of an apple. I would run back inside to grab my camera to snap a picture of the mist lying silvery and soft in my backyard. I haven’t done this in a long, long time. I find that busyness has stolen and does indeed steal my wonder most of the time. I am tired of that.

I desperately do not want this Christmas to pass by with only busyness to mark it. I hate coming down to Christmas Eve–when we are home from church and I finally stop moving–and feeling as though I have nothing of note or meaning throughout the entirety of the Season. I miss Christmases of viewing beautiful lights and displays (there was such magic in that for me as a child), going to concerts/shows, enjoying well-beloved movies or specials on television (Mom and I planned days in advance not to be busy on those particular nights), journaling by the lights of the Christmas tree. I feel as though, every year recently, I end up apologizing to my husband. Apologizing that our Christmas hasn’t been more special, that we haven’t donated more of our time, made more memories, taught our daughter more about generosity and the meaning of Christmas. I really enjoy the Christmas Season, and its fast approach scares me witless.

          Right now, I feel like it is going to take an inordinate amount of courage to face the Holidays this year: to face the demands but to also seek out the graces, the sacred spaces. I do not want to spend the next four weeks being irritable, snappish, and unpleasant to be around.  I do want to find and savor those special, sacred moments with my dear ones.

Watching my husband lift our daughter up to put the star on the tree, as he has every year since she was born.

Looking at the intricate designs of the ice on the windows in the wan light of morning.

Turning on the Christmas tree lights as I come out into the living room in the morning.

The profound quiet that fills the world as snow falls.

Tucking cards and gifts into the mail for friends and dear ones.

The Holidays will take courage. They are often not easy, I know, for one or another of a myriad of reasons. I want to breathe in the sunlight spilled from Aslan’s mane, hold fast, and step forward. One day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time. One kindness at a time. One gentle word at a time. The Holidays will take courage, from you and from me, but we can do this. Let’s have courage for the next step, dear ones. Courage for the next right thing.

I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath
This next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing

“The Next Right Thing” – Frozen II

The Courage to Look Backward


There is an avid debate over whether the Memories feature was a good or bad idea on Facebook’s part. I, however, have found it to be at least useful in one particular case. As I have been looking through them each day lately, I have once again seen–surprisingly plainly–just how God has been preparing me for a reflective shift in my life. As you know, Dear Reader, for this month of November, my writing and reflections are centering on courage. It’s striking to see just how God has been brick-laying in advance.

Inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s daily practice on Twitter, I post daily good-mornings and good-nights on my personal FB page (and, sometimes, on my blog page), in an attempt and the hope of of encouraging my dear ones. Looking back through those previous posts, I am seeing more and more how they, too, were focusing on courage. A full year ago! Look at You, God. Way to prep!

It takes courage not only to look forward but also to look backward, to look at the past and see just how we have gotten to this point in our lives. Yes, sometimes, looking backward is hard or painful. Sometimes it can make us wince to see where we were then or to re-experience what we were going through, even when a year removed from the actual experience of it. For me, it is a comfort and a relief to see this evidence of preparation, these next places being made ready for me…when I have the courage to look forward again.

The Courage to Stand Up


I did a thing today. A BIG thing! I put in for a personal day at work. Not just any personal day, however. I was a part of a concentrated effort of teachers in my corporation/union who all put in for personal days on Tuesday, November 19. It was to let our administration know that we all intend to attend and be a part of the Red for Ed Action Day and rally at our statehouse in Indianapolis. We all intend to let our legislators know that we protest that systematic destruction of public education.

I have rarely been one to make a racket, never having been one for public protests or crowds. I have often supported such movements in different ways. But this…this is my career. My day in and day out. These are my students we are talking about and the schools that serve, teach, and attempt to prepare them. So, on 11/19/19. I will screw up my courage, stand with hundreds of fellow educators, and fight for our students and their needs.

Provided by our union president, below is a short list of some of the actions being committed at the state level to public education:

1. The state requiring teachers to serve 15 hours in the business community in order to obtain/renew their teaching license.

2. Attempting to hold schools accountable for what students do AFTER they graduate. 

3. Different rules and accountability measures for private/ charter schools that make the latter “look” better.

4. The racist roots of vouchers that drain money from public schools and  “school’s choice” as the initial reaction to Brown v. Board of Education.

5. A Senate Chairman of the Education Committee who believes voucher money goes straight to parents and doesn’t return to public schools. This same senator did not know how much vouchers saw an increase in a budget he voted for, and the list goes on. 

The Courage to be Not Nice


There are certain things that I just cannot stand but more on that later. I am a nice teacher. At least, I am repeatedly told that I am a nice teacher. Cinnamon-bun Hufflepuff, that’s me. I am a nice teacher.

However, there are days that I am not–nor do I want to be–so nice. As I mentioned before, there are certain things that I just cannot and that I will not stand for. I endeavor to make my classroom a space where all my students can feel safe, welcomed, and at home. I will not stand for anyone violating the safety and sanctity of my space or their classmates within it. I have already had to speak to a particular class as a whole about consent and harassment and the everyday forms they can take. I also had to speak to one student in that class in particular. (The principal and I handled that quite tidily, I like to think.) Now…I have found out about another student in that class who has been blatantly disrespectful to a classmate, so now this must be dealt with.

And, dear Reader…this time…I do not want to be nice.

There is a reason why House Hufflepuff’s sigil is a badger. Badgers can bite through bone, and I plan on biting through this student’s misogynistic behavior. I do not plan to coddle and smile and let this slide. No. Such behavior must be dismantled now or it will get worse and worse as they grow. They need to know that it will not be borne or stood for or pass without consequence, most definitely not by me.

It is not easy to be not nice. I will need courage for it. I will need courage to be righteously angry and to let them see it. Courage to let them know that I will defend the safety of my space and the rights of my students. I will need courage to be, in this instance, not nice.

Yes, here is a reason that Hufflepuff’s sigil is a badger: because nice is different than good.

The Courage to Consider Quitting


On Sunday, I began listening to The Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen. I stopped it after ten minutes. Not to quit, mind you, but to digest what I had just heard in the introduction. To be perfectly honest, I felt as though we might as well have been sitting at a table with coffee cups in our hands because the only thing she was leaving out was my name. Everything Anne said about burnout could have easily dropped from my own lips. I was stunned but…honestly? I was not wholly surprised.

Burnout was not something I had considered while trying to put a name to what I have been feeling for a few years. Honestly, I had never imagined burnout to be anything other than an absolute breakdown, a dramatic, debilitating inability to carry on. The one and only year I worked in a high school as an English/Etymology teacher, I was told that the teacher I was replacing had suffered a “total emotional breakdown, disappeared after Christmas; we had a sub for the rest of the year”. So. That was fun. By the end of that year, I think I began to understand the reasons.

This spark of considering of burnout, coupled with turning directly to a chapter in Emily P. Freeman’s The Next Right Thing entitled “Quit Something”, definitely caused my eyebrows to shoot up today. There are adages everywhere that tell us to quit what doesn’t feed our joy, to quit what isn’t good for us, to not be afraid to walk away from what isn’t for us or is no longer. A hobby, a job, perhaps even a relationship. We are told repeatedly that there is no shame in quitting what has ceased to be good for us.

This always causes a bit of a train wreck in my brain. Quit? Is that possible? Is that a thing? Is that allowed? In the Practice section of the aforementioned chapter, Freeman encourages the reader to meditate on a few questions to help determine if it is indeed time for them to quit something:

Are you working hard toward something only to realize it isn’t quite right anymore?

Has your heart changed on an issue but your mind hasn’t gotten the memo?

Have you been tricked into believing that doing more and working harder will lead to finally having or being enough?

I found (and still find) myself lingering over those questions and over my own fears associated with quitting, particularly even approaching the idea of considering (can you tell it makes me nervous) quitting the one career that I worked more than half my life to be able to do. How could I possibly even contemplate leaving that? (My adversarial question: What else could I even do? What am I even qualified to be able to do?) And yet…what if that’s what has been hiding in that corner of my heart for years? That unsettledness? What if it is this nudge towards something else? What if…?

These are the things that cause me such anxiety and worry that I want to cry and give up on the whole idea of a new chapter. As I was reading, as usual, Emily seems to have seen my heart ahead of time (she has the cheat codes for my soul, I promise!) because there are two sentences in this chapter that I have highlighted in bright, bold purple.

Just because things change doesn’t mean that you chose wrong in the first place.

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it forever.

As I try to listen to that nudge of my own life and calling in God, I know that I need courage. Courage enough perhaps to stay but also, if I am led, the courage to walk away. The courage to quit.

**Postcript Note: I have linked Emily P. Freeman’s Podcast episode “Quit Something”, which was the inspiration for this chapter of her book. Please, do click the link above and give it a listen.