Thursday, December 14, 2006

Teaching Moments To Live For

In the classic film, The Miracle Worker, Annie Sullivan patiently attempts to teach blind and deaf Helen Keller a language spelled into her hand. Annie realizes that it is just a game of random movements to Helen, that the key to Helen’s mind is an awareness that these random spellings have meaning. Every object Helen touches has a name and that name is represented by a word. Finally, the day comes, as Annie furiously pumps water with one hand and spells the word “water” into Helen’s hand when Helen “gets it.” The audience sees Helen’s face twitch with deep concentration, then relax as an eager awareness spreads over her features. We call it the “Ah Ha” moment. From that moment on, Helen became an avid and quick learner.

While maybe not that life changing, every learner has an “ah ha” moment where after struggling to understand, an inner light comes on and our minds say, “Oh I get it!” I remember that feeling as I stood at our fourth grade blackboard with three others, trying to solve 17 divided by 9. Frustration rose up through me like unwanted stomach acid. Futilely, I wrote 1, r 8 and heard my teacher behind me say, “Karen got it right.” What did I do right? I stared at the problem in front of me and suddenly realized why it was right. “Oh, that’s how you do long division.” Suddenly, every problem seemed easy.

When I taught kindergarten, Missy seemed so on the verge of reading. She could sound the words phonetically but every word was a major hurtle for both her and me. One day as she held the book between us, she looked at the picture then read the sentence below it easily. Her confident voice conveyed that her brain had made that crucial correction between symbol and word. “You can read!” I exclaimed. “I can read!” she said, her face a circle of smiles. We both got so excited, that I hollered to the three year old teacher to watch my class while we raced down the hall to the day care supervisor’s office. “Missy can read!” I yelled and the three of us shared the special moment together.

That moment of awareness happens as we teach others about Jesus too. Jeff was one of those goofy kids who asked questions just to get the teacher off topic. My training told me to brush him off and stay with my lesson plan. But my intuition told me to respectfully yet briefly answer his question, then get back to the lesson. Some days he was infuriating, pressing the point for a wasted 15 minutes as he insisted on an answer. There were days I told him, “Jeff I’ll just have to get back with you on that later.” However, over time, I noticed Jeff’s questions slowly changing to thoughtful, deep questions. I saw him growing in his understanding of God’s word. I prayed for the day he would accept Christ. I thought it would be soon since Jeff came from a strong Christian family. But Jeff always held back, wanting one more question answered.

“I just don’t get this Trinity thing,” my questioning sixth grader announced one day. I tried to explain how ice, water and steam are still water but three different things. “I still don’t get it,” he said. “Well Jeff,” I acquiesced. “Some things you just have to accept whether you get it or not.” A few Sundays later, he said, “I don’t get this cross thing. How could Jesus the Son of God die as a man? Why did he do that anyway?” I carefully explained, for perhaps the tenth time how the sinless divine Son of God was God’s perfect choice to deal with the need for punishment of sin. This time, however, I saw that light of awareness slowly dawn in his eyes. Jeff became more thoughtful and quiet over the next few weeks, then quietly announced to his family that he wanted to accept Christ and he wanted his minister/uncle to baptize him the next time he came to visit.

I think there’s no greater delight in teaching than to share the delight of the “Ah Ha” moment with a learner. It reminds me to keep teaching, to be patient, to answer the questions because I never know when the light may come on and the face is circled with the smiles of understanding.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My Favorite Teachers: Part Three

While I could write multiple posts about some of the wonderful teachers who impacted my life and shaped my thinking, helping me become the person I am today, this will be the last installment. With perhaps a few interruptions for Christmas, I want to share next about some of the students who have also impacted my teaching and enriched my life. For today, however, here are several teachers who I remember with much fondness.

Dr. North: A history professor at
Cincinnati Christian University. Dr. North was a superb storyteller. He would drop these delightful stories into his three hour lectures that would make the moments fly. I still remember laughing so hard, I couldn’t take notes as he told how churches on the American frontier came to use individual Communion cups. From him, I learned the importance of story in my teaching.

Mr. T: Mr. T was my high school government teacher. Several times during that semester, Mr. T came to class drunk. One day, he staggered in, tripped over the trash can and swore, using words I didn’t think teachers were allowed to utter. I was horrified, the other students laughed at him, we all lost our respect for him. Yet, another time, he gave us a pop quiz, using an overhead projector to display the questions. Because of my vision problem, I couldn’t see the questions; however, without my asking for help, he offered to let me stay after class so I could stand close to the screen without embarrassment of having to look close in front of the others. In a day when mainstreaming was still in its early stages, I learned that attitude rather than law will bring about the most change for education for the handicapped. I also learned a huge lesson in not judging others. On the outside, he was a gruff, surely teacher with a serious problem, but deep down, he was a kind, compassionate man.

Mrs. W.: You would think Shakespeare would be an unpopular high school English elective, especially with this serious, no-nonsense teacher, yet her class was packed. I think we appreciated her high standards. On the first day of class, she announced, “You will not want to be absent in my class. If you do, you will miss out. We’re going to be covering a lot of ground each day.” So concerned that I not miss out on a single day, I even turned down attending a scholarship awards luncheon, which I learned later was not a smart idea. Mrs. W. brought Shakespeare to life. That year was the 500th year anniversary of his birth, so we had a birthday party for Shakespeare, complete with an English menu and Shakespeare recitations. I recited Portia’s speech from “The Merchant of Venice,” using a brand new mop head as my wig and a graduation robe for my judge’s gown!

I wish I knew her name: I had gone to visit my great-grandmother for the weekend. My aunt and uncle took me to their huge Baptist church for services where I was shown to a class of more than 50 junior high students. I was horribly homesick and intimidated by strangers and unfamiliar settings. Yet, after we were divided into smaller groups, my teacher welcomed me warmly and introduced me to the other girls. She then had us act out the story of Josiah and the Temple workers finding the Book of the Law in the Temple renovations. It was the first time I had ever seen drama used in Sunday. Why back in my church, we just listened to the story and filled out a worksheet! This was new! This was interesting! Moreover, she gave me one of the key roles, the workman who actually found the Book of the Law. I have never forgotten that Bible lesson. Being able to be involved in the lesson cemented that story into my brain and set the stage for my educational philosophy about the importance of interactive learning. I also learned the importance of including visitors. I never had the chance to go back to that church but, oh, I wish that lady knew the tremendous influence her teaching had on a one-time visitor.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My Favorite Teachers: Part Two

This week, I'm continuing my tribute to the teachers who have made the most impact in my life.

Mrs Winn: Over ten years ago, I had the privilege of publishing in Standard Publishing Company’s adult Sunday School take home paper, Seek, the story of the impact Mrs. Winn, my fifth grade teacher, had on my life. As a severely visually impaired child, I attended public school before mainstreaming became mandatory. My fourth grade teacher, fresh out of college, lacked the maturity and experience to know how to deal with a handicapped child in her classroom. She had a boy read the board to me instead of allowing me to sit close to the board. She restricted me in P.E., only allowing me to play outfield or second or third base. In retrospect, I wouldn’t let me play softball either. But we played only softball and kickball and an occasional game of dodgeball in our fourth grade class, so every afternoon, as team captains chose up sides and the teacher reminded them I couldn’t play certain positions, my visual impairment hung like a Damocles' sword above my fragile self esteem.

I became more miserable as the school year progressed, feigning illness just so I wouldn’t have to go to school. Finally my fourth grade teacher had had enough of me and the principal and school nurse insisted that I be placed in the state blind school. My mother dug in her heels, requesting I stay one more year and have Mrs. Winn as my fifth grade teacher. But I was deflated. School could never be the same. I knew no one wanted me, on their softball team or their classroom, for that matter.

The first week of school, Mark, the one boy who liked me, was selected to choose his softball team. He chose me to be catcher. A stunned silence dominated the classroom. Maria finally spoke up. “Mrs. Winn, Karen can’t be catcher. Our fourth grade teacher never let her be catcher.”

Mrs. Winn retorted, “Karen can do anything she wants to do and I don’t want any of you to forget it.”

Anything? Did she say anything? Mrs. Winn was referring only to softball team positions, but in my ten year old mind, that word “anything” took flight. I could do anything. Mrs. Winn said so. I walked onto the playing field that day, my head held high. I was a terrible catcher and my team probably lost, but it didn’t matter. I was someone important in the pecking order of my class. I was the catcher!

I cradled that word in my mind for the rest of my school years. Whenever someone told me I couldn’t do something because of my vision, I muttered to myself, “I can do anything. Mrs. Winn said so.” When college counselors encouraged me to go into rehab instead of my chosen field so I could be with others "of your own kind," I rebelled, because, “I can do anything. Mrs. Winn said so.” Whenever I had doubts about my parenting or my ability to teach because of my vision or other weaknesses, I remembered . . . . “anything she wants to do.” As I grew older, I found the Bible verse, “I can do all thing through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13)," and I realized my ability to do anything comes through the mighty loving power of God.

I still keep in touch with Mrs. Winn. She came to my college graduation. We exchange Christmas cards And I had the ultimate privilege of sending her this story when it was published. I cherish the letter she sent back to me.

One word. Sometimes it only takes one word to set a child free. As a teacher, you have the privilege of speaking that one word that can send a child soaring.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My Favorite Teachers: Part One

As part of my Thanksgiving celebration, I want to spend the next few weeks featuring teachers who have impacted my life.

My mother: Although I have three college degrees in education and have attended a number of teacher training seminars, I owe most of what I know about teaching to my mother. She never sat me down and told me how to teach; in fact, she would deny that she taught me. But I learned the basics of teaching by simply watching her teach. I watched her teach our junior high Sunday school class at
Pantano Christian Church, I served as a helper for her in Junior Church, and I watched her work with others to create an innovative approach to VBS before activity rotations became popular.

From her, I learned to not wait until Saturday night to start working on a Sunday morning lesson. I learned to be creative, to get students involved in the learning process, and to use a variety of teaching methods so you reach each child’s individual needs. I learned classroom management skills from her, such as the best way to prevent discipline problems in your class is to keep students active and involved. I learned that a teacher always needs to keep learning because I saw her read books on teaching and witnessed her daily quiet time. My mother was a model teacher.

Mrs. Keeling: The first thing Mrs. Keeling said when we walked into her first grade Sunday School class was, “Bring your Bibles next week. In this class, you’re going to use it every week.” Wide eyed, I went home and told my mother I had to have a Bible right away because Mrs. Keeling said so! From Mrs. Keeling I learned that my faith revolved around the words found in that Bible, that the Bible was not so sacred, you didn’t touch it; it was to be opened and used and applied to my life every day.

Mrs. Keeling would always cry on Promotion Sunday because “her kids” were leaving her. Later in life, Mrs. Keeling lost all her eyesight, but she kept teaching. Our Sunday School superintendent read the lessons on to a cassette tape and her nominally Christian husband started to attend every Sunday with her to help her in class. We’re not sure if the attraction was her seeing eye dog or her love for the children, but her class became the largest in the Sunday School. I was a young teenager at the time, struggling with my own visual limitation and my place in the world. Her persistence in teaching had tremendous impact on me. If God could still use her in spite of her visual loss, He had a place for me too.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thank A Teacher

Teachers are like musicians. They make their craft look easy, but few in their audience realize and appreciate the hours of preparation and practice that goes into The Final Performance. I will have spent hours practicing the piano for a mere five minutes of glory. Likewise, I often spend three to four hours preparing for a 45 minute lesson.

Like a musician, a lack of preparation can lead to a bad performance. One musician told the story that if he skipped practice one day, he noticed. If he skipped two days, his critics noticed and if he skipped three days, his audience noticed. (I’ve looked all over the Internet to credit this story but couldn’t find a source. If you know, please comment!) Sunday School teachers often joke about preparing their lessons Saturday night. When a teacher sees that Saturday night special turn sour Sunday morning, it’s no laughing matter.

Like musicians, teachers occasionally fight stage fright or nervousness, especially when they encounter a new audience or circumstances throw a curve ball at them. Only experience teaches both the teacher and the musician to squelch the jitters. Like musicians, they squirm more when they must face their peers or superiors. Nothing intimidates me more than when I teach the Senior Saints Sunday School class at my church, especially when a local college teacher sits in the front row!

Like musicians, teachers are passionate about what they do. They love the art of teaching. They long to impart the beauty of knowledge to their audience.

Like musicians, most teachers care deeply about what they do. They strive for perfection. It scares me silly when I read James 3:1 that warns that not many should become teachers because teachers will be held more accountable. May God keep me from ever leading a child astray! I love to teach, but I am constantly aware that I am responsible for the information and life lessons I impart and the trust my students (and their parents) place in me. Like musicians, we have our critics and those who would challenge what we teach.

Like solo musicians, it’s lonely with just you on that stage. You must exude confidence and poise whether you feel it or not. Somehow, even though it is just you, you must connect with those in front of you, carrying them along on the waves of your message.

Yet teachers don’t often receive the public acclaim musicians receive. Unlike musicians who give occasional performances, a teacher stands before students day after day, or week after week in the case of Christian education. Teachers mold the views and thought processes of their students and their encouragement and challenges can impact a student for a lifetime.

For the next few posts, I’ll feature some of my favorite teachers, the teachers who have impacted my teaching and my life. Who are some of your favorite teachers? Why were they special to you? Write me and tell me about them. Then, if you can, in this season of Thanksgiving, I encourage to drop them a note, thanking them for what they have taught you and how they encouraged you.

Happy memories!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Protect Our Children

I usually try to stay away from commenting on political matters. While I have a personal interest in government and current events, I've learned it's usually best to keep my opinions to myself. Yet, when political tactics infringe on morality and our children, my mouth pops open! Bear with me this week as I comment on something that deeply concerns me.

Nothing stirs our society more than when we witness the exploitation of children. It’s said that the person lowest on the prison pecking order is the child molester. Recent laws like Jessica’s Law and recent stories such as the man who murdered a family and molested a ten year old girl in Idaho create an instant media firestorm. Most of us would find internet child pornography utterly repulsive because it uses the innocence and vulnerability of children for selfish pleasure.

Yet, I believe another exploitation of children is occurring within our country with little reaction. There are those who would use the needs of our children to persuade us to do things that will not necessarily benefit our children, but those who are trying to persuade us. I’m talking about the marketing and advertising industry. Marketers use all kinds of tactics to persuade us to buy their product, vote for their candidate or support their cause. They appeal not only to our sense of reason, but also to our emotions. Marketers well know that children are a sure-fire emotional tug.

A current example of this is the ad campaign for Ohio’s Issue 3, the constitutional amendment that would allow gambling at racetracks and establish several casinos within the state of Ohio. The ads don’t immediately tell you, “Vote for casinos.” Those promoting this bill would know most people would immediately dismiss it. No, instead, they pull on our heartstrings. They call it the “Learn and Earn” program. Don’t we want every child to have a chance at higher education? We can do this without raising taxes. Vote for Issue 3!

I don't think I could live with my conscience if I knew the money my child received from a scholarship came from the pockets of a gambling addict who used money his or her children needed for food, clothes and a roof over their head. I coulnd't stand the fact that a father or mother somewhere was teaching their child by example to give into the horrendous lie that gambling is an easy solution to financial need. Issue 3 may provide some money for education. But if passed, it will teach our children to rely on money reclaimed from addicted, vulnerable and ignorant people who don’t see the harm they are doing to themselves and their families. It will teach our children to be greedy, garnering money they need the easy way instead of having to work for what they get.

However, this blog post is not about gambling. . It’s about our society’s tendency to exploit children in the name of persuasion. Jesus said in Matthew 18:6, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hang around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” When we use our children as a persuasive tactic, we are teaching them it’s acceptable to maneuver others for our selfish agenda. That’s morally unacceptable.

So the next time you feel a tug on your heart about children, sound your internal alarm system. Ask if your acquiescence help and protect the children in your life? Or will it line the pockets or advance the future of the promoter? Then look at the stated need. Ask yourself, what would be God’s best way to meet this need in our children’s lives? The exercise of honestly evaluating our children’s needs will help all of us do what is right and best for our children.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Put Thanks Into Your Thanksgiving

Teaching and writing curriculum for elementary age children over the last twenty years has given me a bent towards the practical, I suppose. I just can’t help myself. As I read and apply Scripture to my life, I’m always thinking in terms of “What creative thing can we do to apply this principle or to make this Scripture more meaningful?” I seem to be a “how-to” person. I love connecting the abstract with the concrete so those around me can understand and appreciate God’s Words and wonders even more.

Thanksgiving is no exception! No one needs to tell us to take Thanksgiving Day more seriously, that we all need to be more thankful for what we have. Okay, but how? How can we be more thankful? What “hooks” can you use to help yourself and your family have an attitude of thankfulness for God’s goodness this season?

Here are some ideas from my article, “Keeping the Spirit of Thanksgiving,” published in the November 18, 2001 issue of The Lookout:

Spend the day at home with family and friends. Don’t allow open stores and movie theatres to distract you from the true purpose of the day.

Separate Christmas preparations from Thanksgiving celebrations. Wait until after Thanksgiving to put up Christmas decorations. This way, Thanksgiving doesn’t become swallowed up by your family’s anticipation of Christmas.

Reach beyond your home. Invite friends and strangers into your home as well as family. Invite those without family into your home such as a widow, an estranged parent, a single mom or a college student. The Pilgrims shared their day with the Indians, who were obviously outside their family circle.

Cultivate an atmosphere of Thanksgiving around your table. Place three kernels of unpopped popcorn at each placemat. Have each person name something for which they are thankful. Or, write a note of appreciation to each person and place that at the person’s place. Have your children write out Bible verses about thanksgiving and praise on cutouts of autumn leaves to place as a centerpiece.

Accentuate the spiritual. We often say we are thankful for our families and our health. Don’t stop there! Specify what great things God has done in your life, the life of your family or within your church in the last year. Then spend time thanking God together.

God is worthy of our praise every day! Let’s give Him the full measure due His glorious Name this Thanksgiving season.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Teaching Is Not For Cowards

The Bible says in James 3;1, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

I so understand why James gave this warning. It takes courage to be a Bible teacher. As teachers, we have to be willing to be learners as well as teachers. We need to have the humility to ask, “Am I willing to make the life changes I’m expecting others to make in their lives? How can I grow in my walk with Christ in the specific area in which I’m teaching?” Then we have to have the determination and resolve to do it.

God has a way of challenging me about this specifically. Something will happen during the week, catching me on my blind side. Then I will start to study next week’s lesson. Suddenly, my life events and my lesson topic will connect like two giant puzzle pieces.

The high school Sunday School that I teach is studying the book of Psalms. Two weeks ago, we studied Psalm 139 that ends with “Search me O God, and know my heart . . .see if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” These verses have always made me uncomfortable. I know that if I pray that prayer, that is one prayer the Lord will definitely answer. He surely will, in short order, show me my “offensive ways.”
And, God, I know you know me inside and out, but there’s some knowledge that I would just rather You keep to Yourself.

But I’m teaching these kids to pray this prayer. I would be a hypocrite if I wasn’t willing to pray it too. So last week, after Sunday School, I prayed the prayer.

Midweek, I had a misunderstanding with a contact. I couldn’t understand why she seemed reticent and confusing on some details she was giving me. I wrote an email to a mutual friend. In my email, I said I almost felt like I was being lied to and I was getting the run around. Guess what? Word got back to my contact of what I had said. She called me, flaming mad. She ought to have been. I had called her a liar. I deserved every single word she said to me. I had misjudged the situation terribly. She proceeded to give me details about the truth of the matter and my heart just broke. I had judged because I didn’t understand the situation. I didn’t need to know all the details she shared with me. I should have given her the benefit of the doubt. And, in my remorse, I realized that my hasty judgmental attitude is a weakness of mine.

Well if I can’t do it once, I’ve got to do it twice. Two days later, I had words with my husband. It boiled down to the same problem. I made hasty judgments about him without stopping to look at the entire situation. Now feeling a little bit beyond miserable, I turned to the next lesson in my curriculum. The topic? Ugh! Psalm 51, David’s famous Psalm where he repents of his sexual sin with Bathsheba. Does this mean I’ve got to repent too?

Because of my own failing that week, I was more open to catch the beautiful, deeper message of this Psalm which I had never realized before. David asked God not only for forgiveness. he also asked God to create a clean heart within him. It’s not enough to ask God for His forgiveness, then blithely go on our merry way. When we blow it, we have to be willing to look not just at the initial, one time sin, we have to be willing to evaluate the sin pattern. We then need to ask God to wipe out our bad attitudes, our “stinking thinking," that is causing us to keep on doing the same thing. We need to ask God for a heart transplant.

At least, that’s what I realized I needed to do before I could teach my high school students about repentance and forgiveness. In fact, I miserably concluded, I probably needed to tell them that I fail too and that I need God’s forgiveness just as much as they do. The good news is, God will forgive. He won’t just forgive either. He is there to help do better next time. We just have to ask. Like David, we'll feel better when we do, because a restored relationship with God Almighty is the very best of life.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Only God Can Do It

For the last two months, I have been teaching a high school Sunday School class and Children’s Church sessions. In September, I taught the preschool worship and currently, I am the teacher for our church’s worship service for 1st-6th graders. Also, for the last three months, I’ve been dealing with undiagnosed chronic pain that is only worsening. There have been so many times I’ve wanted to call someone and say, “I can’t teach today.” But we attend a small church. We had to revamp our Children’s Church program over the summer and start with a new team of workers. As the minister’s wife and a member of our Youth Ministry Committee, I felt it was my responsibility to share the teaching load and help train new teachers by letting them watch me teach. So I didn’t know who I could call to ask to substitute for me. Nor did I feel like I had a legitimate reason for bailing.

I’m a private person and I guess I suffer from the malady of pride. I don’t want to tell anyone why I hurt and I don’t want anyone to see me as weak.. It’s hard to ask for help. And I care passionately about teaching children. I get so frustrated when anything, like illness or pesky personnel problems get in the way of teaching our children about Jesus. I want to do my job well and I don’t want my physical pain to make me grouchy or distracted, or lessen my teaching in any way. Every Sunday, I’ve thought, “There’s no way I can muddle through this. I feel so bad. How can I possibly get through the next two hours of teaching?”

So I’ve turned to the Lord. Each Sunday, my prayer has been, “Please Lord, just get me through. Help me do nothing that would dishonor You because I don’t feel good.” Each Sunday, I’ve had to ask again. And again. I’ve asked my online accountability group to pray for me too. One Sunday I wondered if God ever got tired of “needy Karen begging for help once again.”

It is so reassuring to know God never tires of hearing us ask for help. I’m actually praying the prayer I should pray whether I hurt or not. The first of Jesus’ Beatitudes is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). Poor in spirit means to be spiritually bankrupt, broke, utterly dependent on God’s resources because we have nothing left of ourselves and we recognize that we are nothing without Him. When we are willing to admit this, He gladly moves in so He can do marvelous things through us for His Kingdom.

Even through multiple visits to my primary care doctor, a battery of expensive tests and lots of research on the Mayo Clinic website, we still don’t know why I’m in pain; we’ve just eliminated the obvious. My pain is severe enough that I’ve been taking prescriptions doses of Advil and am now on a prescription pain pill to help me sleep at night. Yet, every Sunday, for the last six weeks, during the two hours I am teaching, I have been totally pain free. And I’m not just sitting down the whole time either, I’m jumping around, doing song motions, games, and striding across the room to solve disputes and retrieve forgotten supplies. It’s been totally amazing.

But should I be amazed? After all, we are talking about the Lord God who rules the universe, who has unlimited resources and ultimate power. Of course, He has the capacity to relieve a Children’s Church teacher of pain so she can teach His little ones. He has the power to do far more than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20,21).!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The timing could not have been worse. It was my first Sunday of my monthly rotation for Children’s Church. All morning, a second grade boy tried to push my button. He interrupted the bible story to inform me I forgot to pass out name tags. He just couldn’t go on without his name tag. He couldn’t find his name tag. May he make another one right now? I finally, firmly said, “I think a Bible story lesson is far more important than you having a name tag at this moment. Can you wait until we’re done?” He meekly nodded yes.

He told me he didn’t like children’s church. He wanted to go to the preschool Worship. It’s boring here. He would get to play in preschool worship. Not when I’m the teacher, I thought.

Finally the worst moment came. We formed a prayer circle, holding hands. The kids were supposed to squeeze the hand of the child next to them if they did not want to pray. Suddenly my surly second grader launched into a high pitched howl. I tried to ignore it but finally had to pause the prayer. “He twisted my arm,” the child whined, pointing to the boy next to him. I took both children out of the circle, sat them in a corner, and told them to stay put until we were finished. Mercifully, they did. Two older children offered to help me distribute parent letters and help the rest of the children gather belongings while I dealt with the two offenders.

“What happened?” I asked. My still whimpering child repeated, “He twisted my arm!” I looked at the other child. “Did you?” He shrugged. “He twisted my arm so I twisted him back.” Now I had two problems. I turned back to the first child. “Did you?” “Well, just a little bit but . . .” “No just a little bit. Did you or did you not twist his arm?” He repeated, “Just a little bit.” He would not admit wrong doing. Finally I got both children to say they were sorry. Then I committed the ultimate crime. I asked them to say, “I forgive you.” Both clammed up tighter than a clam shell guarding a prize pearl.
They wanted to cherish their grudge.

Two days later, five Amish girls were gunned down in a one-room schoolhouse. The Amish immediately and graciously forgave the family of the killer, adding action to their words by setting up a financial fund to help the family. The world was astounded, dazzled, confused as much by the act of forgiveness as by the actual slaying.

Yet I wondered why the world should be so amazed? Shouldn’t any group of Christians have done the same? All too sadly, we forget to forgive. We hold grudges as tightly as those two little boys. My husband and I once served in a church where two families sat on opposite sides of the worship service, never speaking to each other for forty years. Hardly anyone could remember what the crime was. It certainly was not for murdering their innocent daughters.

I thought back to my two little boys in worship. I have to admit I was perturbed with them. How dare they let some stupid little thing like name tags and how someone squeezes your arm during prayer interrupt my lesson and my prayer time? Don’t they realize what’s important?

No they don’t. That’s why I’m there. I’m there to teach them about forgiveness. I’m there to teach them, lovingly and patiently, that bible lessons and prayer times are important. I need to keep saying, “You need to forgive. Forgiveness is important.” over and over again. I need to explain what forgiveness is so when they become a victim, it will also be “their way” to forgive. And I needed to forgive too. I wish I had said to both of them, “I forgive you for interrupting the prayer time.”

Jesus said in Matthew 6:14, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.” It’s my prayer this week that I will be able to teach my children the importance of forgiveness through both my words and my example so that the world will be dazzled when they are called upon to show their faith in God through forgiveness.

If you would like to make a donation to the Amish families or the family of Charles Roberts. click here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

We Need Strong Teachers

Recently I saw an interview on Fox News with Meg Meeker, author of the book, “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters.” In the interview, Dr. Meeker told how necessary it is for fathers to communicate to their daughters the “You can do it” concept. Moms fulfill the loving, caring part of parenting, but dads can instill confidence into their daughters in a way that enable them to have more successful careers and marriages.

In the interview, Dr. Meeker sited a touching personal vignette. One day, she overheard her father tell a colleague, “My daughter’s going into medical school!” This was after Dr. Meeker had been rejected by twenty different medical schools. Her father’s confidence in her gave her the courage to keep applying. She has now worked in the medical field for almost twenty years.

I fully, wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Meeker. American dads have been dealt a bad rap. Just look at the sitcoms that make fun of the modern dad. Even highly acclaimed shows like Home Improvement and Everybody Loves Raymond paints the dad as a clueless goofball. If the moms on the shows were equally made to look foolish, Hollywood would hear an audible outcry. We need strong dads who are willing to be the hero in their children’s lives, who will look their kids straight in the face and say, “You can do it.”

But now, let’s look at reality. As I see the faces in my classes, I am aware of so many children whose fathers are absent or negligent. Without a strong father, are they doomed for failure? Where are they going to get that confidence boost? From me. And you. The Sunday School teacher. The coach. The youth worker. The caring teacher.

My dad left our family when I was two. My step-dad didn’t have the capacity to be a strong father. I wonder if the people in my church knew that my self esteem existed one toss away from the trash can. Regardless, these loving people took time out for me. They asked me about school. They listened to me. They validated my feelings. They bragged on my accomplishments. They invited me to go with them to football games and concerts. They encouraged me to try new things. They told me, “You can do it.” I am here today because there’s a line of faces in my memory bank of people who believed in me: Maxine, Katherine, Mrs. Burk, Mrs. Clark, Trudy, Gene, Grammy Jean, Steve and Melanie, and Ron and Evelyn.

As a teacher, I’ve had the chance to put my arms around fatherless kids and tell them they can do it. There’s Missy and Ricky, Jessica, Lelani, Samatha, April, and Ethan. I’ve tried to tell them of a God who won’t let them down, who will partner with them through life and take them home to His House when they die. I’ve told them they can do it because there’s a Big God who infinitely cares about them and has the power to help them do whatever dream He has placed in their hearts. Even though I don’t know how my words and hugs impacted their lives, I keep doing it because I know the difference it made in my life.

So, if you see a child whose doesn’t have the strong dad they deserve, don’t despair. God can use you to become the influential person in that student’s life that gives them the confidence to be a success. Most important, God can use you to give them the faith that they “can do it” because God can do it through them.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Can the Bible Be Trusted?

Monday night, I attended a forum at a local Christian college on the inerrancy of the Bible. One speaker at the forum took the position that the Bible has errors of history and science because it was written by men who wrote from oral traditions and wrote in the context of their own lack of knowledge about history and science. For example, the gospels are contradictory because some of the writers had their facts wrong. Thus, the Bible is not historically or scientifically accurate but, as a literary book, its teachings are true and from God.

I can’t agree with this man’s teaching. Scripture, according to 2 Timothy 3:16 is God-breathed. God partnered with men to divinely orchestrate this book we call the Bible. God is the author of truth. If God is inaccurate in the area of science and history, then how can I trust Him on matters of theology? If I find errors in the Bible, must I immediately conclude that God has made a mistake? Or is it just a wee bit possible that I don’t understand all there is to understand? As the other speaker said, “Hermeneutics (study of biblical interpretation) is hard work.” If something in the Bible doesn’t make sense to us, we need to study and research so we do understand. As Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart.”

To the secular ear, biblical accounts sound fantastical and impossible. There’s no way a world could be created in six 24-hour days. It’s not humanly possible for a virgin to have a baby. We all know how babies are made! But that’s just the point. It’s not humanly possible. It is God-possible.

So what does this have to do with teaching children? A popular trend in Christian education for the last thirty years has been to emphasize life application – making the stories of the Bible applicable and relevant to modern, everyday life. This has been a good trend. Children – and adults - can see that the Bible is not just some ancient book of laws; it has meaning for my life. Yet I think we’ve overdone it. In our eagerness to jump to the teaching within the story, we lose the drama and power behind those magnificent Bible stories. Perhaps our jump to life application reveals a bit of this prevailing belief about the Bible – the stories are good jumping off points to teach me how I can live an upright life. But am I really confident that the stories are true? When we jump too quickly to the life lesson, we are in danger of treating the Bible stories like Aesop’s fables: fictional stories created to teach a moral lesson.

It’s a temptation for all children’s workers to treat the biblical accounts as just stories. And one of my greatest fears as a teacher is that the children won’t catch that these stories aren’t just stories. They really, really did happen.

How can I communicate the historical accuracy and infallibility of the Bible to children? Even to the youngest age group, we need to emphasize that these are stories of history, not fictional stories. We can do this by holding the Bible in our lap and emphasizing that the story is from the Bible, God’s Word. It really happened. Even though it might sound like a fable or fairy tale, it did happen because our God is a powerful God and He can do things like this. As children grow older, we need to retell the stories in more detail and set the stories in a historical context for them. We need to continue teaching that God’s word is God-breathed and it, all of it, can be accepted as truth. After all, Jesus said, “I am the way, the TRUTH and the life,” and John 17:17 say, “ . . .your word is truth.”

When we don’t express our confidence that the Bible is historically, scientifically and theologically true, then we short-change our God. Psalm 28:2 tells us to “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” How God’s heart must break when He hears his children saying they believe the teachings of the Bible are true but the historical details are debatable. If we instill in our children that God’s word can be trusted for truth even though some things seem confusing or even contrary, perhaps they won’t buy into the mindset I heard at last night’s forum.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Poster Board Perfection

I am artistically challenged. I can’t even draw a straight line. How does anyone draw a straight line without using a ruler to connect two marked points? Do they just visualize two points on their paper, and whoosh, the line is perfectly formed? I bet those kind of people can eyeball perfect circles too. They probably look at those templates printed in teacher’s lesson books and draw free hand enlargements of the printed pattern. How else do they do it? I look at those patterns and have absolutely no clue of how to move them from the lesson book to my poster board.

I could blame my artistic ineptitude on my poor vision, but I’d rather sound like those people who claim a lack of giftedness for why they don’t join the choir or speak in public. Nearer the truth is a lack of experience and exposure to art skills. I’ll be honest. I have a mental block. I’m just certain I can’t. For years, I avoided art projects like packaged spinach infected with e-coli. But sometimes, the higher goal of teaching insists that I look my inability in the face and do it anyway.

This past week, I was to teach my preschoolers how God created the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day of creation. My lesson book told me to cut out a large circle from yellow poster board that would represent the sun in a game we were to play. The eyes of an artistically gifted person would probably light up as she exclaims, “No problem!” and whips out her trusty-dusty scissors to cut a perfectly formed circle without so much as a single drawn line. Me? Not a chance.

“How do I cut out a big circle?” I asked my family. My equally inartistic daughter whose negligent mother failed to teach her the finer art of art, suggested I use a round dinner platter as a guide. “Too small,” I answered. “Use a string and pencil,” my husband called from the other room. That sounds strange, I thought. Ignoring him, I said, “The trash can lid would be the right size but it’s dirty and would get my poster messy.” “String and pencil with a straight pin to hold it down,” my husband expanded. “What about my big Tupperware lid? No still too small.” “String and pencil,” my ever patient husband repeated. Curiosity made me cave. “Okay, how do you use a string and pencil to draw a circle?”

His explanation left me more confused. Where do we keep a ball of string? How would I find the center of the poster board? And how do you keep the string equally taut an you maneuver the pencil to draw the circle? This was sounding too complicated!

“I know!” I said. I went to our sun porch, returning with the round wicker footstool in hand. I turned it upside down on the poster. Perfect size! But as I drew my circle, I realized I forgot one thing. The edge of the footstool wasn’t straight; it was scalloped. My circle was a series of ragged squiggles. I cut through the squiggles, facing my artistic failure once again.

Then reality set in. What was the purpose for this circle anyway? It was for a game, a game that would last all of five minutes. When I led the game, the children hardly looked at my big yellow sun-circle. much less noticed the ragged edges. They were having too hard of a time trying to figure out how to walk in a circle! After the game, my squiggled, imperfect sun, needed just for that five minute game, found a home under the round trash can lid.

Sometimes, the pursuit of perfection isn’t worth our time and effort. In fact, trying to be perfect can actually derail us from our main goal. My purpose was to teach the children that God made our world just right. We need the sun during the day for our daily activities and we need night time so we have a chance to rest. In pursuing perfection, I would have focused more on how to make a perfect circle than contemplating how God perfectly orchestrated our world – just for us. Instead of expending so much effort on how to draw a circle for a temporary object lesson, I needed to focus on how to perfect my communication of this awesome truth to my preschoolers.

“Besides, Mom,” my daughter reminded me. “The real sun isn’t perfectly round anyway.”

Friday, September 15, 2006

Fruit Loops and Four Year Olds

It’s been a long time since I have taught preschoolers. Actually, I never enjoyed teaching preschoolers until I had my own children. These little beings a third of my size who couldn’t read, couldn’t tie their own shoes and needed help in the bathroom intimidated me! I was so uptight when I was with them. I fretted over how I could possibly keep up with these 40 pound bundles of energy that would collectively fuel a space shuttle. I was exhausted by their need to change activities every three to five minutes and I had the constant feeling I was half an activity away from losing complete control over my classroom.

My own children taught me to relax and “go with the moment,” Instead of expecting preschoolers to cram into my structured lesson plan, I learned to grab the teachable moment, to look for chances to slip in God’s truths or God’s stories. As we strung Fruit Loops on sewing thread to make Christmas tree garlands, we talked about the need to share and take turns. We talked about the colors of the Fruit Loops, how many Fruit Loops I have on my string compared to yours, and how do you spell the word “red?”. We sang songs about Baby Jesus and planned ways we could do something special for Baby Jesus this Christmas.

As my own children grew older, my husband and I found ourselves often telling them, “You do a job not because you like it or because it’s easy. You do it because it needs to be done and you just do the best you can even though your best may not be as good as someone else’s best.” My girls have taken those words to heart and have risen to new levels of competence because they were willing to try things that, at first, seemed difficult.

Now it’s time for me to eat my own words. Guess where I spent last Sunday? Teaching preschoolers in our church’s Wee Worship program. Did I enjoy it? Well, there were moments that were more pleasurable than others. Was I uptight? Yes, but not as much as I used to be. I’ve realized I’ve learned how to relax and enjoy the journey and listen to the children so I can keep learning. More on that in my next blog.

So why did I go back to teaching preschool? I needed to train some new recruits for our preschool worship program and the best way for me to teach them was to be a model teacher. Already, my first helper promises to become a far better preschool teacher than I am. She has a rapport with that age of children, she’s organized and creative. She doesn’t mind spending hours cutting up visuals and decorations, stuff that I abhor. She’ll make a good teacher. She just needed guidance on what to teach and how to teach from a lesson plan, to know the routine we expected in our Children’s church program, and to observe how to work God-talk into everything we did. I could teach her these things, because I learned to do the job that needed to be done and, in spite of my own weaknesses, to do my best. Sure, teaching preschoolers is exhausting and humbling. But the true pleasure comes from knowing, I’m planting in those little minds seeds of faith in a powerful and loving God who will never let them down.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Inside My Heart

For a number of years, I've written Sunday School, Children's Church, and Vacation Bible School curriculum for several companies. It's quite a challenge to choose activities to suggest to a teacher that will effectively communicate the Bible story, cater to all the different learning styles of the students, and fit the teacher's budget, time limitations and available resources.

I love the challenge! It's a great sense of satisfaction to see a lesson come together. I enjoy the challenge of being able to communicate the simple truths of God's Word in as many creative activities, games, songs, and even snacks as my allotted number of pages will allow. My poor family! When I greet them at the door with "Guess what I came up with today?" or "You wanna hear my latest Bible skit?" it's an automatic cue for them to put their heads in their hands and maon, "Oh, no!"

But let's face it. A lesson plan in a teacher's guide is sterile. It doesn't accurately reflect what really happens Inside The Classroom. It isn't supposed to. Even the best curriculum cannot possibly meet the unique needs of that particular group of children. Nor can it predict how the children will react. It can't anticipate Jeff who asks questions just to get the teacher off track, or Justin who dumps a wastebasket over Jason's head just to prove he isn't the sweet, adorable little boy Teacher thinks he is. That lesson plan doesn't allow time for spilled paint the very day the teenage helper decides to go sit with her boyfriend in church or for the second grader who stubbornly wants to stay with her sister in your preschool class instead of going to her own class because Dad just left Mom that week and the little girl wants the security of the familiar.

That's what I want to share in this blog. I've been teaching my own children and other parents' children for over twenty five years. I know as well as anyone that teaching children does not happen by the book. More often than not, they teach me more than I think I have taught them.
Jesus told his followers that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Over the years, children have taught me to have a wide eyed wonder at the world, an exuberant, unquestioning faith, and a forgiving, unconditional acceptance of others. They have taught me to look at God's Word simply, to make His Word personal, and that it's ok to laugh and cry.

This blog, posted weekly, will share my stories of life as a parent, teacher, and curriculum writer and the lessons I've learned from the kids.