Please stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal

I am generally a pretty healthy person. I remember only a few times being really sick. During my honeymoon, I got bronchitis so bad that one night I didn’t feel like eating anything else but canned green beans. My husband took me to urgent care the next day to get antibiotics. In college, I had some type of virus – not mono – that sapped my energy for about a week. One year over Christmas break I caught a stomach bug that didn’t improve until about New Year’s Eve. But COVID is something else altogether.

Considering the fact that I am a public school teacher, it took me until August of 2022 to get COVID for the first time. My habits didn’t change when the new school year started, but at the end of the first week, I knew that I had caught something. At first, I thought it was just my allergies. I had run out of allergy medicine and didn’t have time to get more until two days had passed with no Zyrtec. I just figured that the sneezing was because the pollen count was so high in Colorado. Then, on Sunday, the sore throat started. But again, it felt like it was sinus related. Pain reliever seemed to help, so I didn’t think anything of it.

At the beginning of the second week of school, I knew that it was more than just allergies. I sneezed probably thirty times on Monday, and by the end of the evening, my nose was so stuffed up that I could hardly breathe through my nose. I slept on and off all night, feeling achy and cold. When I woke up on Tuesday morning, my temperature was just over 101. Obviously, when I tested for COVID, the pink line showed up about three minutes after I put my nose swab sample on the test.

Today, it has been four weeks since my first symptoms started to show up. However, my body is still healing from the aftereffects of the virus. I can’t complain too much – I never had shortness of breath, my fever lasted only a few days, and I didn’t have to go to the hospital for oxygen. But my experience with COVID has made me realize that it still is a big deal. I know that some people would argue with me –

“It’s just a cold.”

“It’s like the flu.”

“I wasn’t too sick. Just a headache for a few days.”

“I got over it pretty quickly.”

“Only people with other health problems get really sick.”

I really wish that people would stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when it is. Let me explain.

Stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when for the first time in my life, I thought I was never going to feel better. There were a few days that I thought that I was always going to feel exhausted, achy, nauseated. One day I would improve and then the next morning I would wake up wishing I would just die. And I’ve had most of my thyroid removed and basal cell carcinomas removed from my forehead (talk about a headache!)

Stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when my husband could hardly walk across the room without feeling like he was going to pass out. Thankfully, he went to urgent care and was prescribed an inhaler, but it was really scary for a few days. He was terrified that he would have to be put on oxygen and that he would eventually die from the virus.

Stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when my mom could hardly swallow for the first 48 hours of having the virus. I have seen my mom fight against a lot of what life has thrown at her, but I have never seen her so exhausted and defeated by anything.

Stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when a friend’s husband just came home from the hospital after eight months of recovery from the virus. He lost at least one hundred pounds during those eight months, and he was in great physical shape before the disease caused pneumonia and several other infections in his body. At one point, his blood-oxygen level was below 40%. He was given a 5% chance of survival.

Stop saying that COVID isn’t a big deal when it is on the list of history’s seven deadliest plagues along with the Spanish Flu of 1918, three bouts of the plague, and AIDS/HIV. Consider the fact that most of these diseases spread throughout the world before modern medical miracles like vaccines or penicillin even existed.

In recent months, I’ve had several people tell me that COVID isn’t a big deal. Some people are still denying that it even exists. I cannot logically wrap my mind around this, considering my own experience with the virus and how I’ve seen it affect my loved ones.

Today, I’m glad that I have finally stopped coughing after over three weeks. I’m glad that I’m able to breathe comfortably without having to smear Vicks all over my chest and feet (yes, Vicks on bare feet actually works for congestion). I’m glad that I never had the lingering headache that some complain of experiencing.

But the effects of the virus have not gone away completely. Over the course of the last four weeks, I pulled the intercostal muscles in my ribs which is excruciatingly painful, especially when I sneeze. Thankfully, the muscle pain is better today than it was this time last week, but it is a reminder that COVID is a big deal.

As you accept the fact that COVID is a reality that we must live with, be considerate of people’s experiences with the disease. If your round of COVID (or second or third round) wasn’t a big deal, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be a big deal to someone else. We each respond to sickness differently, so your experience may not be the same as someone else’s experience. That is the crazy thing about the virus – each person responds differently and seems to have different symptoms, some that linger and some that are gone pretty quickly.

Be encouraged today to be sympathetic to those around you, especially as we are living in a world with a virus that has the capability of causing multiple complications for many different people. Be reasonable in the way that you talk about the virus, remembering that we all have dealt with it in our own ways. Be loving as you care for those who may be sick or those who may be fearful of getting sick. Be gracious to those who have a different opinion than your own regarding masks, vaccines, and all the other stuff involved with COVID. And finally, “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way you obey the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2 – NLT).

In Memory – The Importance of Being a Witness

I don’t know how people live in this world without knowing Jesus. I am not trying to simplify life by saying that religion will fix everything. In fact, I know that having some sort of faith often complicates life instead. I have never believed that getting saved will solve all of my problems. I have just learned that knowing Jesus means that I have someone to turn to, someone who understands, someone who loves me.

I have always been a people watcher. One of my teachers told my mom that if she wanted to know what was happening in class that she would ask me because I watched everyone. As a teacher myself, this skill of being observant helps me to check in with kids who seem to be struggling either academically or personally. And beyond the classroom, I have watched people’s behaviors to determine how I should act. Early on I realized that I didn’t want to make some of the choices that some people made because I didn’t want to face the consequences that they seemed to be experiencing. As an adult, I still watch people, but my observations are much different than they were when I was a kid.

Now, I watch people through social media. Throughout my adult life, I have built relationships with people from coast to coast, mostly because my husband and I have moved between California and Virginia several times. Many of the friends I have on Facebook are from various churches where we have ministered over the years. Other friends are former students that are now married with their own families. And a few of my friends are those whom I have known since middle and high school. I don’t have a lot of connection with friends from high school, but occasionally, I check in with them, mostly through scrolling through their profiles and pages. As we have all aged, it is fun to watch our kids grow up and to see where we have all landed across the country. However, I have also witnessed broken marriages, broken hearts, and broken lives.

This weekend, one of my best friends from high school reached out to me to let me know that one of our high school friends passed away. For the most part, this is the first person that I was close with in high school that has passed away. I don’t know all of the details of her passing, and I wouldn’t share them here, if I did. However, one thing that I know is that she was hurting. It wasn’t always clear from what she posted on Facebook, but there were indications that things were not as they seemed. She was always good about putting on a smile. In fact, that was the one thing that I always remember about her from high school – her sweet smile. Sadly, I hadn’t been in contact with her for quite some time, mostly because of some misunderstanding or disagreement during my senior year of high school. I can’t exactly remember what happened, but I do know that my contact with her recently was just through her posts on Facebook – pictures of her sons and her occasional selfies. The smile was still there – but I don’t know how real it was.

I have learned through the years to listen very carefully to the Holy Spirit. Most nights, my hound wakes me up to go run around the yard. Some nights, I have trouble going back to sleep and at times, faces from my past come to mind. There are even nights when I will have dreams of old boyfriends or friends that I haven’t seen in at least twenty years. Most of the time, I pray for the people that come to mind either through dreams or when their faces appear before me. Prayer is one of the best ways that I can help someone, but after the news I received this week, maybe I need to do more. I don’t know what that looks like, but I know that I have something that so many people need: Jesus.

It’s always interesting to me when I receive friend requests from friends from high school. That’s because most of them know that I was a fairly strong Christian back then. Every week, my mom would pick up a group of my friends and take them to youth group. My friend that passed this weekend was one of those friends. Since we lost contact, I don’t know whether or not she had any relationship with God. I don’t know if she went to church. I don’t know if she knew that Jesus was just a prayer away. I do know that I could have reached out to her.

One of the most difficult things for me as a Christian is to minister to my friends and family. Through Facebook, I am connected to over five hundred people – family members, friends from my past, church people, former students, colleagues. I know that not all of them know Jesus. I know that some of them are struggling. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know how people live in this world without knowing Jesus. I believe that the only way that I have made it through many of the struggles of my own life is because I know that Jesus loves me. I know that he comforts me. I know that he guides me. I know that he protects me.

Today, I am challenged to be a better witness of the love of Jesus. Yesterday, my pastor shared that when he was first starting in ministry that he didn’t know what he was doing. He came across a book that helped him to see that the best prayer in this time of his life was to ask God to create in him the ability to be a youth pastor. He encouraged us yesterday to pray these types of prayers. So, today I am asking God to create in me a witness of Jesus Christ. To help me to minister to my friends and family members – those who know Jesus and those who don’t. If you are a follower of Jesus, I encourage you to do the same. Pray that God will help you to minister to those you love.

Pro-Love: Part Two

On June 24, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed Roe vs. Wade, a landmark case that provided abortion rights for women across the country. Instead of abortion being a federal right, the court provided the states the opportunity to make their own laws around abortion. For some, this represented a victory against the evil of destroying innocent lives. For some, this represented a set back in history that could lead to other similar reversals. I argued in a previous post that in order for the nation to be able to ethically ban abortions, there were several things that need to be addressed such as sex education and the foster care system. My previous post discussed my concerns about abstinence only education in states that have almost entirely banned abortion as a legal right of women.

A second concern related to abortion bans across the country has to do with the state of the foster care system in the United States. As an adoptive mother and a former foster mother, this is personal. In order to be a licensed foster parent, an individual needs to undergo training that includes an understanding of the legal ramifications of foster care and adoption, trauma sensitivity, abuse recognition and prevention, and other topics specific to each individual case. In my training, we heard stories of conditions that caused certain children to be taken into care – situations of extreme abuse and neglect. We also heard stories of children who experienced similar if not worse conditions in foster placement. As a foster parent, you learn not to be surprised when a child tells you about their past, a sad reality in our world today.

The 2021 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) reported that in 2020, 407,493 children were in foster care. Over 200,000 children both entered and exited foster care which means that over 600,000 children were at one time in the system during 2020. Of that number only 57,881 children were adopted with the assistance of a public welfare agency while over 170,000 children were waiting to be adopted. The remaining children were in the system until they could be reunited with their birth family or until a family member could become their legal guardian. Of the children in foster care, 45% were in foster placement with someone outside of their birth family while 54% were waiting to be reunified with family.

It is easy to gloss over these statistics and forget that these numbers represent individual children. In my own experience as a foster mother, I had the privilege of mothering two boys. Both boys were about the same age when they entered my home at different times. The first boy experienced severe neglect in his birth home and was allowed to sit in his room in the dark, playing video games most of the time. Due to his experience in his grandparents’ home, he still struggles with video game addiction and making lasting connections with others. He was adopted at fourteen and is now struggling to live independently. The second boy witnessed first hand extreme violence at the hands of his mother’s live-in boyfriend. Due to his experiences, he regularly threw temper tantrums that would sometimes last for hours. Today he is still in need of a forever home after more than seven years in the system.

These two stories are not necessarily the norm. Some children are able to be reunited with their birth family, and the goal of many foster care parents is to participate in this reunification. Other times, the courts terminate parental rights of the birth family because the conditions of the home are not safe for reunification to be a reality. In both cases of my boys, parental rights had been terminated which meant that the foster care system had determined that their plan was adoption. One boy was looking forward to adoption while the other wanted desperately to be back with his birth family despite the possibility of further abuse and neglect.

So what does this have to do with abortion? In my experience and opinion, everything. I would never suggest that these boys would be better off if their mothers had aborted them. I am so blessed that I have been a part of both of their lives. However, I am concerned that with abortion bans across the nation that the number of children in foster care will rise. Currently, it does not seem as if the states that have banned abortions will begin to provide for the economic, medical, and psychological needs of the mothers who will carry unwanted pregnancies to full term. Despite the fact that people across the United States want to protect the lives of unborn children, it doesn’t seem like many are willing to do anything to help these children once they are born.

I try not to be a pessimist when I look at the state of the foster care system; however, with my personal experience as a licensed foster mother, I know how difficult it is to parent children who have been in abusive situations. It is not for the faint of heart. My first foster placement was successful, meaning that it progressed with my husband and I adopting our son. However, my second foster placement was not successful which means that it did not progress to adoption. Our second placement was removed from our home and placed temporarily with another family because he was attempting to recreate the abusive situation that he was used to with his birth family. This experience broke our hearts. We wanted so desperately to be his forever family, but he was not ready emotionally or psychologically.

In order to live in a nation where abortion is not necessary, we need to seriously consider the ways in which children exit foster care. Sadly, the number of children in foster care has not changed much in recent years. I know that this is due to many factors; however, the number of children that have been adopted in recent years has also remained steady. This suggests that potential families have not made the sacrifice and commitment to become forever families for children in desperate need of belonging. It suggests that people are not willing to take care of children in need even though they are arguing for the protection of unborn babies. I just can’t help but see the double standard.

Not everyone can be foster parents or adoptive parents. Not all families can take on the responsibilities of helping to care for children that have been neglected and abused. However, I believe that there are more couples and families, especially those in the Church, who would be wonderful parents for children who need to be given safety and love. It is our call as people of God to care for those who are in need:

  • James 1:27 says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress”
  • Psalm 82:3 says, “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute”
  • Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans”

If people in the Church are to applaud the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, then they must also be willing to seek justice, defend the weak, help the oppressed, and care for orphans. At this point in the history of the American Church, I do not believe that we are doing enough. Instead, people tend to argue that women should just put their children up for adoption instead of having an abortion, but many are not willing to adopt or foster a child. People argue that people should just stop having sex, like that is a reasonable solution. Instead of showing love toward those in need, some are showing their lack of concern.

We are called to be pro-love in all that we do. This includes seeing the marginalized, helping the poor, defending the weak, loving mercy. Sadly, a decrease in abortions across the nation will more than likely mean an increase of children in foster care. What are we willing to do to help? What are you willing to sacrifice to stand behind your conviction to love your neighbor?

Pro-Love: Part One

Over the last few days, I have been struggling to understand how to move forward in a post-Roe vs. Wade society. Don’t worry, I’m not one to raise the banner for Pro-Choice or Pro-Life. I don’t feel like either perspective takes into consideration the complexity of abortion. Instead, I would argue that our stance, especially as Christians, should be Pro-Love. Being Pro-Love looks beyond a woman’s choice and the sanctity of life and looks into the underlying issues that some of us either ignore or do not understand. I cannot help but think about this issue in light of some of the practical and ethical things that must change in our society in order to try to move toward a world without a need for abortion.

Like many other evils in our world, I would love to live in a world where abortion is not a necessity for some women. But this would mean that rape does not exist. This would mean that women are provided with the healthcare they need to address physical concerns that may complicate their pregnancy and jeopardize their health or the health of the baby. This would mean that the medical, psychological, financial, and social needs of every child would be provided for without question. This would mean that women would not have to live in fear of bringing a child into an abusive environment. This would mean that we would actually see one another as children of God, fully loved and fully worthy of being loved.

Sadly, we do not live in this world. I am not a pessimist when it comes to the way that I view the world. In fact, I do believe that “The whole earth is filled with his [God’s] glory” (Isaiah 6:3 New Living Translation). Satan does not have dominion over the world. We are called to be God’s light in our world so that people can see God’s glory. I also believe that we are called to have compassion toward one another. Henri Nouwen says that “Compassion is daring to acknowledge our mutual destiny so that we might all move forward all together into the land which God is showing us” (Nouwen 57). We are called to live in community with one another – those who are followers of Jesus Christ and those who are not. In order to show God’s light in our world, our call is to love. I am not sure if this decision about Roe vs. Wade is completely about love. It might be about something much different.

There are several issues that I am concerned about when it comes to banning abortions in states across the U.S. The first is the fact that several states that have banned abortions either completely or mostly also have state mandated abstinence only sex education for middle and high school students. The second issue is the crisis that we are facing as a country in our foster care system. In order to move toward a society where abortion is not necessary or is very rare, we must first address these two issues along with countless others. Roe vs. Wade has been overturned, but the work is far from being over.

As a public school teacher, I walk the balance between living my life as a Christian and respecting the autonomy of my students and their families. It is clear that we are beginning to live in a post-Christian world. This means that the increase of atheists in our communities is rising. According to Pew Research, the highest numbers of third generation atheists are 18-49 years of age. This suggests that since more people of child-bearing age are atheists than those past child-bearing age that the children of atheists will more than likely become atheists themselves. In public schools, many children do not adhere to Judeo-Christian beliefs or any religious beliefs at all. However, instead of focusing on medically proven methods of pregnancy and STD prevention, some states are requiring abstinence only programs in middle and high school settings. Abstinence is not just a religious value; many who are nonreligious also encourage their children to remain abstinent until adulthood. Yet, it seems that the view of abstinence amongst Christian teens is not as staunch as it once was. In conversations with teens in former youth groups, I heard that many of them did not value “waiting until marriage” as teens from Christian homes once did.

I agree that abstinence is the most effective way of preventing pregnancy and STDs. I agree that the following criteria should also be taught in a comprehensive sex education course in middle and high schools across the United States:

Federal Statutory Definition of Abstinence Education
A.    has as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity
B.    teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children
C.    teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems
D.    teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity
E.    teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects
F.    teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society
G.    teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances
H.    teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity
from “Abstinence Education Programs: Definition, Funding, and Impact on Teen Sexual Behavior”

I do not believe that education on human sexuality should end here, especially in public schools. Comprehensive sex education should include medically accurate and age-appropriate information along with information about contraceptives, especially the use of condoms. Again, I would love to live in a world where teens do not have sex because I do believe that sex before marriage or before being in a committed relationship can have potentially negative life long effects. But as I said earlier, we do not live in that world. Since we do not live in that world, I believe that it is ethical and appropriate to teach students ways to prevent pregnancy and STDs outside of abstinence.

Sadly, many of the states that have recently banned abortion in most cases and many states that will shortly ban abortions in most cases also have abstinence only sex education in public schools. The following is a list as of today, June 28, 2022:

States with abstinence only education who have banned abortion:

  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri
  • Mississippi
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • Utah

As I conducted research today in preparing to write this blog, I also found that many schools receive federal grant money specifically to provide for their sex education courses. This includes programs that teach comprehensive sex education along with schools that teach abstinence only. In 2017, $299 million in grant money was distributed to schools to provide for sex education programs. Almost 1/3 of the funding went to schools that began abstinence only programs, equalling a total of $90 million. Since 2017, an additional $10 million has been added to support abstinence only sex education courses in the Unites States. However, the numbers do not show that abstinence only actually prevents teen pregnancy or teens beginning sexual activity. Along with this, states that teach abstinence only have higher teen pregnancy rates than states that allow for more comprehensive sex education for teens.

from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In looking at the figure that shows teen pregnancy rates across the nation and comparing it to the list of states that teach abstinence only and have recently or will shortly ban abortions, we can see that many of these states have higher teen pregnancy rates than states that allow for comprehensive sex education. For example, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, but they do not allow for comprehensive sex education. Texas and Tennessee have high teen pregnancy rates and also teach abstinence only. In my opinion, this is irresponsible and unethical. We have to do better.

If we want to live in a world where abortion is not a necessity for some women, then one way that we can start is by mandating comprehensive sex education across the nation, especially in states that have banned abortions in most circumstances. We may not want to live in a world where people have sex when they are unprepared to have a child, but we don’t. We live in a world where people make decisions that some of us would not make ourselves. However, I believe that the responsible thing to do is to at least start by teaching our teens about abstinence along with safe sex practices. Let’s be honest, some of them will have sex before they are prepared for the consequences. Education is the key to helping them make informed decisions. And more than anything, let’s do this out of love.

In my next blog, I will address the issue of the foster care system in America, an issue that as an adoptive mother and former foster mother is near to my heart.

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
― John Wesley

Bibliography (sources not linked above)

Nouwen, Henri. With Open Hands: Bring Prayer into Your Life. Ave Maria Press, 1972.

A Teacher in Grief: A Reflection on Uvalde

As I eat my breakfast every morning, I usually do some Facebook scrolling. Sometimes this helps my day to be that much brighter; other times, it just brings me down. Today my Facebook scroll darkened my mood. In no way do I blame any of my teacher friends for their posts today because we need a reminder of how connected each of us can become to our students. In interviews this week, Arnulfo Reyes, teacher at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, told his story of May 24, 2022. In one of the interviews, he told parents of the 11 students killed in his classroom, “‘I’m sorry. I tried my best from what I was told to do. Please don’t be angry with me.'” One of my former colleagues posted, “I heard wounded Uvalde teacher Arnulfo Reyes tearfully apologize to the parents of the 11 children in his care who died, asking them not to hate him. And it just about broke me.” Same. Reading his account is difficult enough. I have not been able to listen to the interview because I can only imagine the pain he is experiencing.

As I was reflecting on his story this morning, I could not get over the significance of the number 11. 11 students were in his classroom when the gunman entered, and 11 students were killed. Reyes was shot twice and has just recently recovered, but each of the 11 students in his classroom were killed. I cannot even comprehend the guilt that he feels for the loss of these children. The fact that he feels the need to apologize demonstrates the responsibility that we take on as teachers. Most of us call our students our kids. They become part of our extended family. We keep track of them through social media as they graduate from college, get married, and have their own kids. We cry with them when they lose parents, grandparents, pets. We rejoice with them when they announce new changes in their careers. We give them advice when they seek it. We remember how much they have grown in the years since they were in our classrooms.

In January of 2018, I lost one of my students to suicide. As a result of his suicide, I decided to temporarily stop teaching the course that he was in because I could not handle continuing to teach the curriculum that I had taught to him and his classmates. That school year, we read Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and we were going to read Columbine by Dave Cullen in the spring. For months after his death, I could not shake the guilt that I felt for our reading list. Here was a young man struggling with so many hidden conflicts, and I assigned him to read books that were about broken young men. I felt guilty that I did not see the signs on the last day that he was in class. I remember seeing him in the hallway on the day before he died and asking if he was ok. He shrugged it off, as usual, and said that he was doing ok. I had noticed a decline in his typically upbeat and sarcastic attitude since Christmas break, but I did not ask any more questions. I have since carried the guilt with me. If I only dug a little deeper. If I only asked the right questions. If I only…

As I read Arnulfo Reyes’s account of the events of May 24, 2022 at Robb Elementary School, I can understand the guilt that he feels. I can understand why he has said that he will probably not return to teaching. I can understand why he feels that the training we receive as teachers will never be enough to prepare us for this type of tragedy. I can understand why he is angry and wants to see real change so that this cannot happen again.

This last school year, I worked with several wonderful groups of students. My twentieth year of teaching will be one of my favorites because I felt like I could teach without worrying about so many factors that affect my students on a day-to-day basis. Despite all of the great kids I worked with this year, one of the groups will always stand out in my mind. My 8th period class became like a family as the school year progressed, especially during the second semester. We laughed together, we learned together, we struggled together. As I was reflecting on Arnulfo Reyes’s interview this morning, I could not help but think about the fact that there were eleven students in my 8th period class: James. Sabra. Orion. Spencer. Olivia. Kim. Makenna. Luke. TJ. Blake. Logan. Eleven graduating seniors, ready to leave high school and take on the world. Eleven children preparing to enter the world of adulthood. I cannot imagine how I would feel today if the events of May 24, 2022 happened at my school two days before these students were finished with their senior year. I cannot imagine how I would feel, waking up in a hospital and learning that all eleven had been killed under my care. The guilt and shame would overwhelm me, and I would probably leave teaching.

Remember to be kind to those who are experiencing trauma. Be kind to those who are mourning. Grief is not linear. It leaves and then returns like a ghost waiting to haunt us. If you are grieving, give yourself the grace to heal. Give yourself permission to cry, laugh, run, dance, sleep, eat, play, read, game, write. There is no right way to deal with the shared trauma that we all have experienced over the last two years – COVID, social unrest, political divisiveness, shootings. If your grief causes you to stay the course, then do so with the strength you need. If your grief causes you to change direction, then do so with renewed hope and energy. As a good friend says, “Go and light your corner. The world is waiting for you.”

Ode to Lexapro

I’m about to go out on a limb here and tell you that I love my antidepressant. Since I started taking Lexapro almost four years ago, my mental health has improved to such an extent that I vaguely remember what it was like to spiral into the oblivion of anxiety. A few years ago, I read John Green’s novel, Turtles All the Way Down, and for the first time, I realized that other people know what it feels like to spiral. Green’s description of Aza’s obsession with human microbiota in the first chapter mirrored my obsession with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. I can remember frantically looking at my weather app, watching the movement of incoming storms and fixating on where I was going to go if the storm continued moving in my direction. I can remember pacing the house when the skies opened up and it seemed that the flood waters were going to rise and transport my house into the lake across the street. I remember making my husband go outside in the middle of a torrential storm to make sure that the culvert was not overflowing with water. These brief descriptions do not come close to what spiraling feels like: dry mouth, racing heartbeat, a tingling feeling creeping over my hands and arms, a fight or flight instinct that causes irrational terror to overwhelm.

Since October of 2018, I have taken 10 mg. of Lexapro each day. At first, I thought that my body would not be able to handle it. For the first few weeks, I would fall asleep only to be woken up by a shocking panic attack. For several nights, my husband had to hold me, cradled like a baby, until the panic would pass. Eventually, my body accepted the medication, and I was able to get more than 2-3 hours of sleep. The fog started to clear, and I felt like I was returning to some sense of normalcy.

I have been stable for almost four years which for me means no major panic episodes, no spiraling, and no hint of depression. During these four years, there have been a few times that I thought about getting off. However, in March of 2020, COVID lockdown happened – so Lexapro got me through. I thought about it again in the spring of 2021, but my family and I moved to help my parents in Colorado. The question came up again in December of 2021, but my stepdad passed away on the same day as my doctor’s appointment. So, I stay on my meds, mostly because I don’t want to return to that obsessive, frantic worry that used to plague my life.

Sometimes it’s the little things that I notice. Graduations always stressed me out. Every year I would sit with the graduates and my colleagues, waiting for a panic attack. My stomach was in knots, my attention was hyper focused, my mouth was dry. I would scan the field or gym, looking for a way out, hoping that I wouldn’t throw up, pass out, or freak out. Now, I can enjoy graduation and celebrate with my students. No panic attack in sight.

By nature, I am a pretty introverted person. I do not like being in crowds, and new situations usually freak me out. However, with Lexapro, my social anxiety doesn’t really exist. I am willing to go into new situations (like starting a new job, yet again), and I can go to new groups at church without feeling like I need my husband by my side. This is a life changer for someone like me who has trouble making new friends because my anxiety has usually won the battle.

The sad thing about being on meds is that some people believe that medication is a crutch, that it is a lack of faith, that it is a symptom of the pharmaceutical racket in our country. This isn’t true for me. When I was seventeen, my panic attacks were so bad that I wasn’t attending school which meant that I wouldn’t graduate from high school. I wasn’t functioning. With the help of my mom, I found a great therapist who suggested that I start medication so that I could function again. Thankfully, my mom let me make the choice, and Prozac worked for the time being. Four years ago, I wasn’t sleeping. I was teaching, mentoring a student teacher, taking graduate courses, and fostering a new child. The stress of my circumstances halted my sense of peace, so I wasn’t functioning again. With the help of my doctor, I started taking Lexapro and at this point in my life, I don’t feel the need to stop. The benefits of my meds far outweigh any consequences at this point.

Lexapro means that I don’t wake up in the middle of the night in a panic. Lexapro means that I don’t freak out when there is a thunderstorm on its way. Lexapro means that I can interact with my students without feeling anxiety. Lexapro means that I can make new friends without fixating on whether or not I said the wrong thing. Lexapro means that I can relax at home by myself without worrying if I will do something to harm myself.

I know that mental health is a serious issue for many people out there. I know that some people worry that medication might change their personality or their emotions. I know that some people worry what their pastor will think or what their church will think if they knew what was really going on. None of those feelings should stop you from seeking help if you need it. If you are not functioning, if you are not enjoying your life, if you can’t appreciate the big or little things, then you more than likely need to seek help. Medication might be the answer.

I do believe that there are times when I need to muscle through my anxiety or depression, but I also have learned that when I can’t, that doesn’t mean that I don’t trust God enough. Depression and anxiety are medical conditions, not a condition of the heart. Yes, God can help us to overcome anything, including depression and anxiety. I believe that he has set me free from both. However, I also believe that medication and therapy are avenues of healing.

For now, I love my antidepressant. It helps me to get through each stressful situation that lies before me. It has restored my sleep, calmed my nerves, and given me opportunities for new experiences. It has helped me to appreciate life again.

If you are struggling with your mental health, reach out to someone. Get the care that you need even if that means medication. It’s not a crutch, a weakness, or a lack of faith. Be encouraged to take care of yourself.

Here we go again…another school massacre

It was during second period on a Wednesday. I was sitting at my desk during my planning period when the announcement was made over the PA that we were in a stay-in-place lockdown. This usually means that students and teachers need to stay in their classrooms, but the likelihood of an active shooter in the building is pretty low. Sometimes this lockdown announcement is made because there is a student concern in the building (mental health breakdown, medical concern). Other times, this lockdown occurs because the police department is in the building with the K9 unit, checking lockers for drugs.

This time, however, there was a potential threat in the building: a student had brought what looked like a handgun on the school bus and had made multiple threats against students and staff. As the lockdown continued with no new information, I sat in my classroom attempting to find something to do to ease my anxiety. The urgency to use the restroom increased as the minutes went by, and I kicked myself for not going between classes after first period. I decided to check the hallway, knowing full well that we were in a stay-in-place lockdown. I opened my classroom door, looked down the hallway to the left and saw what I assumed to be a police officer holding what looked like a semi-automatic weapon. Freaked out, I flinched back into my classroom and returned to my desk, hoping that no one would come knocking on my door.

I went back to my desk and did a quick Google search of my school to see if there was any information. Thankfully, the local news had a brief, explaining that a student had brought a pellet gun on the bus that had been mistaken as a handgun. Shortly after I read the brief, my principal contacted the staff through email, updating the situation and attempting to relieve our fears. I continued to sit in my classroom, hoping the situation would end soon, but thankful that it seemed that the potential threat was not too big of a concern any longer.

Eventually, the student was arrested off campus, but he refused to tell police where the alleged weapon was stored. For several hours, police checked every single room, bathroom, and closet in the building. At the time they did not know if the student was acting alone, or if there were potential explosives in the building. Finally, I heard a key unlocking my classroom door, but a face was not what I saw first. A police officer used his weapon to open my door, not showing his face until the door was completely opened and he had done a quick visual search of the classroom. He told me to leave the classroom and follow the police officers who were stationed at ten-foot intervals down to our school gymnasium where students and staff were waiting to be released. The gym was chaos as students and staff stood in line for the restroom. Staff members urged students to find a seat in the bleachers, but anxiety was thick in the room as no one really knew exactly what was going on or when we would be able to go home. Eventually at about 1:45 pm, parents and guardians were allowed to pick up their children.

This is one lockdown in my twenty years of teaching. Thankfully, this was the most precarious situation that I have experienced, but that doesn’t make the situation any better. During my first year of teaching, there were several bomb threats and we were required to evacuate to the school stadium. During my first year as a middle school teacher, a lockdown was called because a man was walking on the street near the school with a crossbow. Several times, my school has been put on lockdown because of some other disturbance in the neighborhood. I am grateful that I have never faced an active shooter in my building, nor have I lost a student or colleague to the senseless violence that we have seen yet again in an elementary school in Texas.

To be honest, I am numb. Since the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, it seems like there is an increase in school violence. Yesterday’s shooting is eerily similar to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 – another unreal example of what students and educators face today: the possibility of a gunned intruder, blindly killing whoever is in the way – even innocent seven, eight, and nine year children.

I honestly don’t know what to say. I could comment on the fact that we need policy and change, not thoughts and prayers. I could criticize the lack of mental health services across the nation. I could argue that students and families need more support from local authorities. I could complain that our nation is going to “hell in a handbasket.” But none of my words will change anything. Yesterday, at least nineteen children were killed while they were in what should be one of the safest places in our cities: an elementary school. They were looking forward to summer vacation – sleeping in, going to the pool, eating popsicles in the front yard, watching TV, playing video games until the early morning hours, relaxing after a long school year that was “back to normal.” I guess it was back to normal since gun violence at schools has increased once again since students and staff returned to “regular instruction” in 2021.

All that I can do today is be grateful that it wasn’t at my school. All that I can do as I look toward the next school year is pray that it won’t happen again, not anywhere.

One thing that I ask is that people stop trying to simplify this problem by blaming it on gun control, mental health instability, bullying, family breakdown, or any other single issue. This evil in our society is so much bigger than any one problem. Any ill in society is so much more complex than that.

The other thing that I ask is that you would pray: pray for the students, pray for the teachers, pray for the support staff, pray for the administrators, pray for the communities, pray for the families, pray for our nation. We need to stop blaming one another – our political polarization is not helping nor is our nationalistic view of our faith. Living in a world that mostly preaches division, hatred, power, and position is exhausting. We need to remember that love is the greatest commandment. LOVE.

So today, LOVE your neighbor even if you don’t look like them. LOVE your neighbor even if they are slightly weird. LOVE your neighbor even if they stand on the opposite side of the political divide. LOVE your neighbor even if they worship differently than you. LOVE your neighbor no matter what.

TBH: Teaching in a Hostile Environment

Recently, I have had a few conversations with fellow teachers that have caused me to, once again, consider why it is that I have dedicated my life to public education. To be honest, I don’t know if I would stick with teaching if I was just starting out today. The pay on average is not as good as it once was. For example, when I started teaching in 2002, my starting pay was $42,000. This was a decent salary for a teacher fresh out of college with no kids and cheap rent. When I left California in 2007, I was making just over $50,000. However, as I have moved to a new state and have started over in a new school district, next year I will be making just slightly under the salary I was earning in 2007. Over the last fifteen years, I have gained fifteen more years of experience as an educator and a Master’s degree. Yet in my current school system, only nine years of previous experience are accepted for salary placement. By starting in a new school system, I lost ten years of experience in regards to my salary. In looking at the salary schedule for the next school year, I would be making $63,000 a year in comparison if my years of service were accepted.

Even though this pay is quite a substantial bit more than what I will be receiving, the pay is not commensurate with the cost of living in the area of the state where I currently reside. Many people in local communities often forget that teachers often have to work multiple jobs just to be able to make ends meet. With the cost of living increasing along with inflation, many teachers cannot afford to buy a house, let alone live in the community where they teach. This has caused a disconnect to happen between public school educators and their students along with the school community. Because of the distance between where I live and where I teach, I am unable to attend football games, school musicals, and choir concerts. Last week, one of my students even offered to pay for my gas just so I could attend her final choir concert. This is a sad reality for public educators today.

Because of the low pay across the nation, many teachers are choosing to leave the classroom for higher paying jobs. Over this last year, I have heard of several teachers, many of them new to education, who are leaving the craft because they have been offered positions in higher paying industries. Some are going to be working for yearbook companies, others will be taking positions as administrative assistants, and others are beginning to sell real estate. Unfortunately, many of these new teachers have had a large impact on their student populations. Students across the nation are losing the opportunity to learn from some of the best and the brightest teachers, but because teachers are often seen as glorified babysitters, the pay is not significant enough to retain these educators.

Along with the low pay, teachers are often mistreated and misunderstood by many in their school communities. This sometimes start within the school itself. At my previous school, many of my colleagues were mistreated by the administration in the school building. Sadly, many of these teachers were women and several of the administrators were men. This is not always the case; however, in this specific situation, some of my colleagues were told that they were hysterical or too emotional simply because they were expressing their concerns about certain situations happening both with other teachers and with parents in the community. In the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, one close friend left teaching altogether because she was bullied by school administration by teaching at home instead of in the school building due to health concerns that would be exacerbated by close proximity with those who may be carrying the virus. During this last school year, another friend left the school where we taught together because over the last five years, she has been overlooked as a strong educator and has been the victim of a narcissist who surrounds himself by “yes men” and “yes women.”

Along with conflicts within the school building, many teachers become victims of parents and members of their school communities. Unfortunately, not all parents reach out directly to teachers when they have a conflict about grades. This is especially true in high performing schools, such as the one where I currently teach. A few weeks ago, I was confronted by one of our guidance counselors with a question about a student’s grade. Ordinarily, I have no problem with this type of conversation. However, instead of contacting me directly, this parent chose to reach out to the counselor. The situation could have been handled between the two of us directly, but sometimes parents do not trust the teacher or feel that they need to go above the teacher’s head to get the answer they are looking for. This demonstrates a severe lack of connection between school and home. I concede that not all teachers are easy to communicate with, and in fact, some take a bit too long to even respond to parent concerns. However, for most of us, we want to communicate with parents, and when parents bypass direct communication it can cause teachers to feel that they are not seen as professionals who are able to handle conflicts with students directly with parents.

To be honest, most teachers are afraid to publicly express the frustrations that I have listed above. They are worried that someone from their local school board will find out about their grievances and find a way to tarnish the teacher’s reputation to the point that they will be forced to resign. Others are concerned that an administrator will hear about it and will begin to make the life of the teacher miserable (trust me, I’ve seen it happen too many times). Sadly, as I write this post, I have anxieties of my own. I work in a community of mostly upper-middle class families, and unfortunately, these areas of the country are often the worst in the way that they view teachers. To some, we are seen as second class citizens who can be threatened with our pay, our benefits, our retirement, and our reputations in the community.

So if the pay isn’t that great, why do I teach? If the community doesn’t always value what I do for students, why do I teach? The simple answer is that this is my calling and always has been. Teaching is not just a job for me; it is who I am. As I wrap up the school year for the twentieth time, I am looking forward to next year. I am already beginning to plan how I will revamp my American Literature curriculum to meet the needs of primarily vocational school students. For the first time in my career, I will be teaching the concurrent composition class with our local community college. So, over the last few days, I have been rereading a rhetoric textbook as a way to prepare for next year. Based on my experience in my new school this year, I am beyond excited for what next year will hold as I enter my twenty-first year of teaching.

So, why do I stick with teaching when so many of my colleagues are leaving the craft? It’s not because I have a martyr complex, and it’s not because I can’t do anything else. Teaching gives me purpose as I help my students to develop skills that they will use in their futures. Teaching energizes me to expand my own understanding of my discipline. Teaching challenges me to find ways to reach students who are consistently on the margins of society. It is never boring. Everyday is different. It is a challenge, but it is more rewarding intrinsically than I could describe.

As I reflect on the conflicts I see with public education and the way that teachers are viewed by many in society today, I hope that more teachers will express their concerns. I hope that more teachers will be able to communicate publicly their passion for the craft in such a way that others will be inspired to support public education and those of us who have dedicated our lives to the benefit of not only our students but also our future as a nation. Ultimately, teachers determine the course of our society. We teach history, we teach mathematics, we teach reading and writing, we teach the sciences, we teach practical arts. Beyond these academic subjects, we teach empathy, kindness, grace, forgiveness, patience, and joy. As long as our nation continues to downplay the value of teachers, we will continue to lose some of the best educators who cannot accept being mistreated, underpaid, and underappreciated.

I hope that I will continue to hold on for several more years, but I have to be honest, in this political climate it is becoming more difficult to balance the benefits with the costs of teaching in secondary education. If things do not improve, I will probably move out of K-12 education into higher education, a transition that I am beginning next year. However, as I look forward to another graduation ceremony with the amazing class of 2022, I am choosing to focus on today, a day of celebration. A celebration for our students, for their parents and families, for our school community, and for our educators. Despite the hostile environments in which we teach and learn, we have done it yet again. Job well done!

The Pattern of Death and Life

Over the last year, I have been thinking about getting a tattoo. Most people who have tattoos start when they are pretty young. My brother, for example, got his first tattoo (as far as I know) when he was seventeen while my sister starting tattooing herself (with India ink) at a much younger age. I have thrown around the idea of getting a tattoo for a number of years, but it has only been recently that I have been much more serious about it.

I have discovered that many people who do not have tattoos have avoided doing so because of a fear of pain. That was my number one reason for not getting a tattoo for most of my life. However, a few years ago, I had two basal cell carcinomas removed from my face while I was completely conscious, so the fear of needles is definitely gone.

So now that my fears of pain and needles are gone, I am planning my first tattoo. But why? If I have gone on this long without a tattoo, why do it now in my mid-forties? There are a number of reasons, but for me, the most important reason is the reminder that a tattoo can serve for the person. And in my life, I want a constant reminder of the transformation that God has done throughout my life, especially in the last five years.

I have been exploring the concept of resurrection over the last few months in my reading of Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ. One of the insights that I have gained through this book is that resurrection first requires a death. Now, that sounds like a fairly elementary concept – of course resurrection requires death. However, I don’t know how much we meditate on the different types of death that happen throughout our lives. Sure, we experience the deaths of loved ones or family pets, but there are other types of death that exist, sometimes on a daily basis.

Throughout my life, I have experienced many types of deaths. Some of the most tragic deaths have been students who died far too young. Recently, I lost my stepdad to congestive heart failure, a loss that my family and I are still grieving (and I foresee, that we will feel his loss for quite a long time). During the midst of COVID in 2020, my family and I had to say good-bye to two beloved dogs who were suffering from different forms of cancer. Their deaths were only two months apart!

Besides the deaths of students and loved ones, I have experienced the loss of relationships, the loss of comfort, the loss of jobs, and the loss of love. Even though these things were difficult at the time to lose, I have also lost things that I do not miss: depression, anxiety, fear of not being understood, toxic relationship, toxic work environments, and toxic church ministries.

Each of these losses, those I miss and those I do not miss, have created opportunities for new life. Resurrection can only occur when there has been a death. Daily we can put to death certain habits, dangerous thought patterns, and unbridled emotions. When we put these things to death, we allow the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to guide us to new growth. When we surrender our will and our desires to God’s will and desires, we are able to see more of His plan for our own lives and the lives of those around us.

It is ok to sacrifice your comfort, your convenience, your time, your head space as long as you are leaving room for God to lead you into a new part of your journey. Resurrection requires a death but it promises new life. I think that is the most beautiful part of Easter each year – the promise of new life.

So, what’s the story with my tattoo? As an avid fan of Flannery O’Connor, I have found an affinity for peacocks since she raised them on her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. Peacocks are an interesting creature because they are beautiful, but they also scream at night – a great example of a spectacular horror in the world. Peacocks are also symbolic of resurrection because each year they lose their feathers only to grow new ones.

As I have been thinking about my peacock tattoo, I have looked into scriptural references and O’Connor quotes that reflect the trade off of death and life that God promises to each of us when we surrender to Him. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul writes the words that I feel represent the promise that each of us can experience in Christ: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Each time we surrender to Christ, a part of us dies so He can live in us. His perfect grace gives us the power to change. And as O’Connor writes: “Grace changes us and change is painful.”

I may not be looking forward to the pain of a tattoo, but I am looking forward to the reminder of the pattern of death and life that we experience with resurrection. And more than that, I look forward to sharing this story of resurrection with all who ask me about my tattoo.

Accept death so that you can experience the promise of new life. This is not easy to do. However, Christ demonstrated that resurrection is possible so that we can trust that we will be given new life as well. And this resurrection is not just at the end of our lives when we are in eternity with Him, but we can experience resurrection each and every day as we surrender our will to His.

A Balanced Christian in a Public School Setting

For a Christian woman, I have an odd job. I have been teaching in public schools as an English teacher for twenty years. Now, on the surface, that might not seem like such a strange job. Plenty of Christians are public school teachers. However, I am not your usual Christian public school teacher because I don’t have any problem talking with my students about difficult topics. Or better yet, I am willing to have conversations with my students about topics like racism, sexuality, politics, and religion. Topics that are typically pretty taboo in most classrooms, but especially those led by Christians in America.

Some people may be concerned that I use my platform as a teacher to spread my own beliefs and ideologies about the aforementioned topics. However, nothing would be further from the truth. I see my classroom as a forum for students to broach these subjects and others because they need to have a space where they can safely express their opinions. Where someone will not allow them to yell at one another. Where someone will ensure that everyone feels safe. Where someone will let them know that it’s ok to think differently than the crowd.

Over the years, I have become more and more comfortable with these conversations happening in my classroom because I have become more comfortable with my own point of view on some of these topics. I don’t feel threatened when something thinks differently than I do, so I want my students to have the same experience before they leave high school. Once they leave high school, who knows whether or not they will be given opportunities to build skills in respectful public discourse. From my perspective, it looks like most people on public media and social media never learned these lessons. They haven’t learned to listen when someone else is speaking. They haven’t learned to let someone have an opinion other than their own. They haven’t learned that it’s ok to agree to disagree. They haven’t learned that just because someone thinks differently than them that doesn’t mean that the other person is “wrong” and they are “right.”

During this school year, I have been challenged more in this area because for the first time in my career, I feel that I am working with a group of students who are able to have difficult discussions. Sure, this has happened occasionally over my career, but I have never had a class that is able to regularly have discussions where most people openly participate with no feelings being hurt. This last week is a great example of this. In my senior English class, we are currently studying A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. I know, a surprising book choice for a Christian teacher whose husband happens to be a Nazarene pastor. As we were discussing Burgess’s personal history with the trauma of the sexual assault of his wife, my students began a discourse about the complexities of the justice system, the backlash of women falsely accusing men of sexual assault, the concept that the courts often look at who punched second rather than who punched first. It was interesting that at some point in the conversation, one of the students was able to express the frustration she experiences when people assume that because she is atheist that she is immoral. Another student commented, “Just because someone is a Christian doesn’t mean that they are moral.” It was a beautiful experience to see these seventeen and eighteen year olds communicate their observations of the hypocrisy and injustice in so many institutions of our society today. What amazing citizens these students are, and what hope I have that they will take these skills with them into college and their lives ahead.

I have a complicated job. I desire to fully reflect Jesus Christ every day as I interact with my students and my coworkers. I feel that my vocation in life is to be a public school educator and with that responsibility comes the overwhelming task of balancing my personal faith with the complex issues that are raised in literature and in contemporary society. However, I have learned that I do not have to sacrifice either of these aspects of my life on the altar of anyone else’s expectations. I do not fit the stereotype of a Christian, let alone a pastor’s wife. This is because I have learned that I have to be who God has made me to be. Sometimes this means that I will give references in class to Game of Thrones as it relates to Medieval literature. Sometimes this means that I will ask my students if they are familiar with Deadpool because I’m teaching the dramatic convention of asides. And sometimes this means that I am willing to listen to the often cringey narration of your humble narrator Alex in A Clockwork Orange because I want my students to explore the concepts of free will and government control. Some people might look down upon these examples, especially those who are always concerned about being “right.” However, as I’ve been discovering in Richard Rohr’s, Universal Christ, “It is no longer about being correct. It is about being connected” (168).

Through my teaching career, I hope that I have been more concerned about making connections with my students than I have about being correct. I hope that they will remember the awkward teacher who openly pointed out the sexual innuendos of Romeo and Juliet because if you are going to teach Shakespeare, you can’t leave out the bawdy humor. I hope they will remember when we discussed the disgusting racism of Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird and how sadly we still see low-key racism permeating parts of our society today. But more than anything, I hope they will remember that I saw every one of them and valued each of their opinions even when they didn’t line up with my own worldview. My job is not just to prepare students to write and read academically but to help them to grow as human beings who are more concerned about making connections with other human beings rather than whether they are correct.