Back to School · Spirituality

First Day of School

Today is the first day of school for Whitfield County Schools, three weeks later than usual. It is gray and gloomy outside and I’m feeling melancholy, to use an old-fashioned term. This is my second “first day of school” as a retired media specialist, and I feel a little lonely.

I’m missing that first day of school excitement. Educators are the most optimistic people I know. At the end of May they are worn slap out, tired of the paperwork, grades, inventory and all the other “junk” that goes along with wrapping up the school year —not to mention the kids, who are wild by then.

But when the doors open again for the next year, they are ready to hit the ground running. They have planned and cleaned and decorated, and they can’t wait for the students to come. The ‘first day of school’ excitement is not just for children — the adults in the building are just as nervous and jittery as the kids.

This year has its own brand of nerves. The term I’ve heard over and over from my school friends is “fear of the unknown”. No one, including administrators and parents, knows what this school year is going to look like. That adds a layer of anxiety that is different from ever before.

But despite their concerns over distance learning and how to make connections with children they are not even getting to meet, most people I know that work in schools do it because they have a deep and sincere love for the students and families they serve. That’s what makes schools a special community.

The staff at my old school, Valley Point Middle, has extra reasons for excitement — they are opening their spacious, gorgeous new building today. Even though the old building held memories, the staff and students deserve a modern facility that engenders pride. So not only will the students be coming back after a six-month break, they will be seeing the new school for the first time. Everyone will be lost and confused together. It is a historic day and one that I hate to miss.

So today I’m praying. As each school friend or parent posts their first day of school picture on Facebook, I’m praying specifically for him or her. I’m praying for my friends who work the front desk, for the media specialists ensuring all the technology is working for online learning, for the administrators keeping everything running smoothly, for the teachers establishing classroom rules in a brand new world, for those comforting scared children. I’m praying for the students working at home, and for their parents. I hope they feel my prayers for calm and strength.

I’m adding a little prayer for myself. I’ve learned in this first year of retirement that life moves on. Each season of my life has had its positive and negatives, and the same is true of this stage. I love my freedom and the lack of stress, but on days like today I miss that special form of crazy that is the first day of school.

We thank God for you all the time and pray for you. While praying to God our Father, we always remember your work of faith and your acts of love and your hope that never gives up in our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Thessalonians 1:2-3)

Back to School · retirement · Spirituality · Teachers

You Got This

About this time last year, I was out shopping and enjoying one last day of freedom before pre-planning started for the school year. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t shake the “back to school” anxiety that had kicked in and my stomach was already twisting into knots. I knew that no matter what I did to try to get ahead of the tide, the first weeks of school would be overwhelming and exhausting.

Most of my worry was self-imposed. Even after twenty years as a media specialist, I was always afraid that I wouldn’t measure up. I wanted to do my best to help the teachers at my school, who would be working feverishly to get their classrooms set up and needed their technology working.  I wanted to make sure the new staff members felt welcomed and had their questions answered.  I wanted the media center to be cleaned up and inviting when the students came in. And there were always endless meetings and new policies to take in and books to be ordered and computers to be cataloged. On top of all this, I was coaching Cross Country, which started up immediately. Once the first weeks were behind me, I knew I would settle into a comfortable rhythm, but the dread of going back hung over me like a cloud. Could I do it one more year?

Then God spoke to me as I pushed open the glass door to TJ Maxx. Sitting atop a display was a small square sign that said, “You Got This.” I needed to hear those words of encouragement!

I bought it for $5 and put it by the check out computer in my media center. When I did my beginning of the year spiel with the students, I encouraged them to have confidence that they would make it in middle school. I hoped that seeing the sign might give them a little boost each day, but it was really there for me. I needed to hear God’s voice telling me “You got this” on a regular basis.

 “You Got This” could be a modern translation of Philippines 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That verse is telling us that we can get through whatever comes before us, only just not by ourselves. On my own I can push through and get some things accomplished but to do my best in life, I need to be in sync with the Holy Spirit inside me. And when those times come when I can’t see how I’m going to make it, this verse gives me the assurance that I don’t have to do it all by myself.

 I’m learning to take every little detail of my day and give it over to God. Once I’ve prayed about what’s worrying me and asked Him for what I need — patience, clarity, focus, stamina, forgiveness, understanding — then I feel freed up to do the work necessary. And here is the anxiety cleansing part — I hear God saying, “You Got This” and I can go forth in confidence.

Sarah Ban Breathnach, in her devotional book Simple Abundance, writes about the delicate balance between our expectations in life and reality. “If your reality lives up to your expectations, you’re happy. If it doesn’t, you’re depressed.” Her advice is to do your best, then let go of the outcomes. “You dream. Show up for work. Then let Spirit deliver your dream to the world.”

This year I’m writing magazine articles and planning a beach trip instead of stressing over getting everything ready for the first day of school. But life is never without it’s bumps and I still need the encouragement of the “You Got This” sign, which now sits in my junky computer room at home. As I dream new dreams and transition to my next phase of life, I need that reminder.

My prayer is that no matter what you are facing today, you will know with assurance that “You’ve Got This” with the strength of Christ.

Back to School · Christianity · grace · Spiritual warfare · Uncategorized

Go Away!

I started back to school this week, my 17th year as a media specialist. I’m in a school I love with a great staff, a new principal who is excited and collegial, and students and families I have come to know and love. After 17 years I feel like I should know what I’m doing, yet each year I start out the same way, overcome with feelings of inadequacy. I hit a place just as school is starting when I feel so overwhelmed with everything to do and all the expectations I put on myself that I have a little breakdown. Thankfully, I had it at home, not at school!

I wonder sometimes if others feel this way. I know that most teachers are anxious and nervous the first day, no matter how long they have been teaching, but my feelings go beyond just apprehension and anxiety. I struggle with deep feelings of “not being good enough”. In many ways it is like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, something that I struggle against all the time. No matter how much positive feedback I get, I always hear that little voice at the back of my head whispering,  ”But what do others really think of you?”

I recently finished listening to the audiobook of The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey, a very thought provoking read. Chris Bailey is a young man who is obviously very smart and self assured and has done well with his first book, yet in the last chapter he admits that he too suffers from negative thoughts about his abilities. He writes that this is how we as humans are wired and that studies show that most people have a running inner dialogue that is self critical and often condemning. The trick iso learn to forge ahead despite what our inner critic may be saying.

The old image of the angel and devil on opposite sides telling us what to do is not so far off! I have learned to constantly remind myself that the negative voices in my head are not from God – in His sight I’m forgiven for all the dumb stuff I’ve done and said, and He doesn’t keep bringing it up like the “Devil” voice. I’ve even gone so far as to actually yell at that voice (when in the confines of my car!) saying, “In the name of Jesus, Go Away!!”  Try it, it works!

I have to constantly remind myself that God loves me just as I am. I don’t have to do anything to prove to Him that I’m worthy or “good enough”. Although this seems basic, I still need to fill my mind with these thoughts instead of the ones that pull me down and keep my from becoming all that God wants me to be.