The Little Sleep

Four weeks into the new job and I’m struggling to find my rhythm.  Maybe it’s because the first two weeks were full-time and the second two weeks have been part-time.  Maybe it’s because I continue to tutor outside of work in addition to the instruction that I do at work.  Or it could be the fact that I spent last weekend away from home.

Whatever the reason(s) I feel a little discombobulated. I get up early, go to work, then come home before lunch to take care of household stuff, do my Bible study, read, work on my puzzle, or more often than I care to admit — nap.

I’ve never really been a napper. I have found that if I fall asleep in the middle of the day, I like to knock out for a couple of hours.  The problem is that when I wake up, I am often excessively crabby and not fit for human interaction.  Or, my mid-day nap interferes with my night-time sleep. Many people have told me to master the ‘catnap’.  I’ve tried.  True, after 15-20 minutes of napping, I generally feel refreshed. If I get right up and start moving, I have that second wind that everyone talks about.  However, I don’t generally want to get up after just 15-20 minutes.  If I was tired enough to lie down, I want to get some serious sleep.

And lately, I have been tired enough to lie down.  In fact, while I was away last weekend, I took advantage of our free time to nap!  Other women did crafts, went for a walk, or even shopped.  Me? I was knocked out. When I woke up, since I was not at home with people who love me regardless of how crabby I get, I put on my best behavior and walked with my roommate to the nearest coffee spot.  We had a lovely cuppa before we returned for the last activity of the evening.  But you can probably guess how that worked out — yup, I was still awake at 1am!

So, I fell asleep on the couch the next evening, woke to go to work, plowed through the next couple of days, and then yesterday took another nap.  When I woke, I had dinner, took a walk with my husband, refrained from caffeine, but still found myself awake until almost midnight.

Maybe this is my new rhythm.  Maybe I have to learn to be flexible — sleeping when I can.


You won’t believe what just happened.  I wrote the last line, crawled into bed, and then slept for an hour!

This is definitely a new rhythm for me.  I have not been one to stop in the middle of a task to take a phone call or talk to a friend, let alone to lie down for a nap! Remember me? I the one who has been a soldier — marching on to battle unknown foes, kicking butts and taking names.  I haven’t been the kind of person who would stop mid-stride, drop all my defenses, and — gasp — sleep!

I think I need to face the facts — I am becoming a napper.  All kinds of changes are happening over here.

I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me.

Psalm 3:5

The Word of my Friend

Did you ever feel like God was trying to send you a message?  At every turn you see the same words, almost as though they were written on billboards specifically for you? Perhaps since I have been blogging, I notice this a little bit more easily than I ever have.

On April 13th I posted a blog called “The Power of Words” in which I considered the effects — both positive and negative — of my words on others.   Then, on April 22 I posted a blog called “The Power of Fewer Words” in which I discussed my challenge to say less and listen more.  It may come as no surprise to those who know me that the kind of words and the number of words that come out of my mouth have been a life-long challenge.

Way back in the fall some new friends invited me to attend a conference for Lutheran pastors’ wives.  They gave me a post card with the theme of the conference written on it, “The Word with Friends”.  The logo is a wordle (see featured image); I love Wordles!  I love words — I am a writer, an English teacher, a Words with Friends addict, and a bibliophile. My friends didn’t have to twist my arm to convince to come to this conference.  I put the dates on my calendar, paid the registration fee, and waited for the weekend to arrive.

Well, two days after I wrote the second blog mentioned above, I was walking into the conference at a hotel in Bay City.  The tables were set with Scrabble boards as centerpieces complete with chocolate Scrabble tiles!  The opening games were all word games — fill in the blank, word scrambles, hinky pinky, and the like. We were even sorted into groups by drawing Scrabble tiles from a bag.  I was having so much fun!!!  Words and letters everywhere!!

The next morning, I woke, ate breakfast, and joined a table of women for the first of four Bible study sessions — The Power of Words, The Lack of Words, Hidden Words, and Impress these Words.  Probably the biggest take away for me came in our last session on Sunday morning.  We were studying James 1:19-26.  Though we had been talking about words all weekend, this chunk included all the gems that God has been teaching me through the last few weeks: be quick to hear, slow to speak; be doers of the word, and not hearers only; bridle your tongue; and most importantly for me, I think, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 

And really, if I am going to be honest, that is the lesson that I have been learning since I started this blog back in July — God’s Word is powerful and able to save my soul.  Although I have made many changes since last year at this time — new home, new city, new church, new friends, new blog, new work life — the most impactful change has been reconnecting with the discipline of daily Bible study.  I didn’t set out to make that change — it just kind of happened.  My friend invited me to a Bible study.  The Bible study required daily preparation.  I am a good student, so I complied.

But here’s the thing — daily connection with God’s word has breathed life into me.  It has poured truth into my heart.  It has changed my thinking.  It has slowed me down.  It has allowed me to examine my thoughts, actions, and motives.  It has brought me joy.

On Sunday morning, our Bible study leader gave us all a small can of Play-doh.  She encouraged us to make shapes to remind us of the lessons we had learned.  We made a face with a closed mouth and extra large ears to remind us to respect the ratio of one mouth to two ears.  We made a hand to remind us to be doers of the word.   We made a face with a tongue sticking out to remind us to bridle our tongue.  And, we made a flower to remind us that God’s implanted word will bear fruit.

Words are a part of every day of my life.  I read, I write, I edit, I teach writing, and I now teach reading.  I must encounter thousands, even tens of thousands, of words every single day.  But here’s the thing — most of those words do not have a lasting impact on my life.  Sure, there are stories that I love to read over and over again.  There are poems and songs that make my heart sing.  My blog allows me to bring order to the chaos in my brain.  But only the Words of God have the power to save my soul.

Hebrews 4:12

For the Word of God is living and active.

Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow;

it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

The Power of Fewer Words

Last week I wrote about the Power of Words — how my words (and yours) can be a soothing balm or a source of pain.  That is one of the lessons I am learning on my new job; another lesson comes with it: fewer words can be more useful than more words.

This is a challenge for me.

Stop laughing.


I really like to talk. When I was in middle school our report cards showed two grades for each subject — a letter grade to show our academic performance and a number grade to show our citizenship.  If you forget about penmanship, I usually had all As in academics.  You might imagine that an all-A student would also get the highest citizenship scores — all 1s.   Ones indicated that you followed classroom rules, paid attention in class, refrained from disrupting others, and (here it is) didn’t talk during class time.  Twos indicated that you were doing great with a few minor exceptions.  Threes indicated that you had room to grow.  Fours meant that you were a nuisance to the teacher. Fives meant you were one of those students.  I hereby confess to all the talkers I have ever taught and scolded in my class that beside most of my As were 3s, 4s, and occasionally a 5.  (Pause for collective gasp.)

Naturally I chose a profession that would support my predisposition to garrulousness — I became an English teacher.  Where else would I get paid to stand in front of a captive audience for eight hours a day?  Where else would my anecdotes be celebrated?  Where else could I justify tangential commentary?

I often said in class, “well, this is totally unrelated to what we are talking about, but…” My students, especially seniors, would smile and lean in for a little “story time with Mrs. Rathje”.  Sometimes I could claim that my stories had lasting life-lesson value, but often, I gave my students (and myself) a little break with an amusing (or not) story from my life experience.

Now, for the past several years I have been working with average and above average students who can easily sort out the necessary content from the stand-up routine of a rather verbose instructor — especially when given the verbal cue, “this is totally unrelated to our lesson today.”  But now? Now I am working with students who really struggle with reading — with words.  They don’t need extraneous noise or extra words to muddle their thinking.  I have to practice a little restraint (or a lot of restraint) and focus on giving only the positive reinforcement plus the corrective guidance that will enable my students to more easily decode and comprehend.  I’ve got to keep my stories inside my head — at least until I get home and can put them in my blog for you.

This lesson is of course causing me to think that perhaps I need a little verbal restraint outside of work, too.  I mean, I don’t have to use up 20,000 words every single day. I could choose to use closer to 13,000 and give others some air time.  I’m not the only person in the world (or my house) who has things to say.

I used to say in my class, “God have you one mouth and two ears; respect the ratio.” I need to practice what I have preached.  I need to listen at least as much as I talk, and if I ‘respect the ratio’, I will be listening twice as much as I am talking.  For a chatterbox like me, that is quite a challenge.

And I could probably further apply this lesson to my prayer life — I could listen to God for at least as long as I list requests, or even twice as long. For a selfish human like me, that is even more of a challenge.

I like to fill space with words — spoken or written– but silence is really ok.  Silence allows time for thinking, processing, listening, and truly hearing.  It’s probably well-past time for me to give silence a try.

Isaiah 30:15

…in quietness and trust is your strength…

Learning Delays, re-visit

This one goes way back to April of 2015, whew! I had no idea of the lessons I would be learning in this next chapter…but four and a half years later, the children are still leading me toward learning.

This morning I sat across from a six-year old boy who is learning to read.  He has memorized many rules and exceptions to rules over the past couple of months. This morning he had so much confidence when reading some words — in fact he helped me ‘learn’ how to break some words into syllables and how to play some games. At those moments his eyes were bright and his smile was wide. But the same six-year old boy had moments of frustration where his eyes were focused on the words, his brows were knit together, and he just couldn’t make sense of the message. He could persist in trying to figure it out for a few minutes, but if it took much longer, he was prone to putting his head down in defeat.

I’m leaning a little toward the second posture at the moment. I have been looking at some words for the last couple of hours on and off. I sense they are trying to convey some meaning to me…but I’m just not getting it. Now, I am not six years old. I have been at this reading game for quite some time.  I’ve got all the words decoded. In fact, I know what they mean on the surface, but I get the sense that I am missing the bigger message. I have walked away a couple of times thinking, “it’ll come to me…”

This morning when my student got discouraged, I turned to the more experienced teacher at my side to watch what he would do to breathe a second breath into the little guy — what would transform his defeat into determination. I was impressed when the teacher pulled out strategy after strategy but even more impressed when our munchkin left after two hours of hard work, high-fiving us and smiling!

I wish I had that kind of resilience!

Instead, often when the message seems cryptic, I walk away.

So here’s the message I’m trying to digest: I was reminded this afternoon of the book Through Gates of Spendor which chronicles the work of missionaries to the Auca tribe in Ecuador in the 1950s. The Aucas, according to my Bible study, “have allowed the Gospel to radically change their lives. The practices of their people relentlessly handed down through the generations have been completely altered by the Word of God.”*  Ok, I got that part. The part I am struggling with comes next. The idea, I think, is that God may want to also radically change my life with the Gospel.

Huh? I am a life-long Christian.  I have been a Christian school teacher, youth leader, pastor’s wife.  How much more can my life be radically altered? What “practices of my people relentlessly handed down through the generations [need to be] completely altered”?

I’m struggling with these two sentences:

The dilemma is weighing our genuine need for God’s direction against our personal resistance to alteration.

Will you allow Me to dramatically alter your ways to teach you my own?*

You may be saying to yourself: Come on, Kristin, this isn’t really that complicated. Let God have his way in your life.

Ok, sure. I get that. I mean, I did just let go of a job I loved, a home I loved, and a city I loved in order to move to this new chapter in my life. And I have no regrets. So far, so good!  But I am sensing that those big and noticeable changes are only paving a way for some more internal changes — the ones that aren’t so easy to spot, the ones that have needed changing for a very long time. I just don’t see how those changes are going to happen or what they are going to look like.

Part of the lesson this morning required my student to stand at the white board and spell out a word that I gave to him.  It was a word that he could have easily read if it was printed on the page in front of him — he had read dozens like it already this morning. But when I asked him to write it on the board, he wasn’t having it. I stood at the board and asked him to race me to spell it. Nope — he didn’t want to do that. I tried to make it into a different game. Nope — not gonna happen.

We struggled together to get through that one word and then the other teacher moved us on to something else. Today writing on the board was not a success, but tomorrow we will give it another try.

He doesn’t have to learn everything all in one day.

Sometimes when I am reading my Bible study, it makes sense right away.  Other times, my blogging clarifies ideas and helps me make sense of what I have read. Today? Today I think I got a quick preview of a lesson to come. It’s like I was sitting in the back of the classroom and the teacher told us something we would be doing next week. I know something is coming, but I really don’t have a clue what it is. And, right now I am content with that. I mean, seriously, I don’t have to learn everything all in one day.

I think my new job is teaching me more than I am teaching children, as per usual.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me.”

Psalm 25:5

*Quotes taken from Moore, Beth. Whispers of Hope: 10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2013.

The King and I

Then King Darius wrote to all the people, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth:

“Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed and his dominion shall be to the end.  He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” 

I found the wrong side of my bed this morning.  After two long weeks of training, I had hoped to have a refreshing sleep.  However, last night I had trouble winding down, even though I was exhausted.  Then, at 6:30 this morning, good ol’ Chester announced that something was amiss.  “Come on, Chester, go back to sleep.” No dice.  So I got up and took him outside, and good thing I did!

Marching past my house were dozens of teenagers carrying supplies down to the river.  That’s when I remembered an email from yesterday with the word ‘regatta’ in it.  What’s a regatta? Is it today? I went back inside and checked the email — yup, today.  If I don’t move the car RIGHT NOW I won’t be able to leave the house until after 4 and I have two appointments between now and then.

So, I changed from pajamas to sweats (breathtaking upgrade) and grabbed the keys.  In order to move my car I had to communicate with two other humans.  Can I remind you that it is still before 7:00am? As I am weaving among hundreds of cars and being directed to drive through the parking lot and over the grass lot, the ‘low gas’ signal comes on.  Seriously? The last driver left the car below E!

By now I am seriously grumbling.  “Stinking regatta,….inconsiderate kids…house is a mess…didn’t get sleep…”

I parked the car and stomped across campus back to my house.  I spewed a little ugly at the only other conscious person in my path then crawled back into bed.  I tried to sleep, but it wasn’t going to happen.

Finally I dragged myself out of bed, made my tea, grouchily read some emails and checked my calendar.  Then I said almost audibly, “Might as well read my devotion.” (Yeah, my heart was really in it.)  I opened the book and saw that I was supposed to read Daniel 6.  “Seriously? Daniel?”  And here’s the magic…anyone who has lived with me will attest that if I have risen from the wrong side of the bed, you might as well just give me a wide berth for the duration of the morning.  I don’t recover quickly.  I am going to fume and fuss for a while. But not today.

I was reading the narrative about how Daniel was upright and admired.  In fact, he was promoted to a position of power.  Some jealous colleagues created a scheme in which they knew Daniel would be caught — they made it illegal to pray!  Of course, it wasn’t long before they nabbed him and threw him in the lion’s den.  The king, who admired, respected, and even loved Daniel was devastated. His own signet had to seal the opening to the den.

Let’s take a little sidetrack here and acknowledge that the king was not what we’d call a faithful God-follower.  He had witnessed God’s power as David had interpreted his dreams, and was impressed. He had witnessed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego surviving the fiery furnace, but he still hadn’t signed on as a card-carrying member. So, after spending the night fasting and pacing, he ran to the lion’s den yelling out for Daniel, “has your God been able to deliver you from the lions?”

“Yes! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me.”

And you know, it wasn’t Daniel being alive that got me this morning.  It was the king, good old Nebuchadnezzar. He was so moved that God had protected Daniel — even from lions — that he finally threw his hands in the air and said, “Ok, Ok, I believe.  This God is for real!”  He made a public proclamation that the “God of Daniel is the living God, enduring forever.”

And that, my friends, is what shifted my grumpiness to gratitude this morning. Ok, there is a woman on a bull horn 100 yards from my window starting race after race on my beautiful river.  I am going to have to walk across campus to get to my car.  I am going to have to pray that that car makes it to the gas station.  But, let me put it in perspective: I worship the God of Daniel who actually closed the mouths of lions to protect him.  I serve the God who is living and very active in my life. I love the Lord who endures forever — from Adam to Noah to Daniel to Paul to me.

Grumpiness be gone.  Rejoicing commence.

Yay, Team!

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Just ten hours from now I will have completed my training to be a clinician at Lindamood-Bell.  Eighty hours of training. I am tired, a bit bleary-eyed, and yet I feel energized.

Not only have I joined a very positive team of young people who are totally committed to student success, but I have already gained some tools to join them in that quest — teaching reading and comprehension to students who may have begun to believe that they will never be successful in school.

I know I’ve already gushed about this place and its positivity but, guys, it is so positive that I just can’t help but feel good about going to work — even on Friday — even when I know I won’t be getting home until after 7:00pm — even when I’m exhausted.

Here are some reasons why:

  • as I was walking into work yesterday a little 6-year-old boy I had met the day before saw me, smiled, waved, and said, “hi!”
  • when I entered the office my trainer announced, “I brought us some doughnuts!”
  • two minutes later my teammate arrived carrying a jug of Starbucks mocha to share.
  • right about then, a former employee who is rejoining the summer force walked in to hugs and smiles.
  • in the middle of our training, a staff member knocked on our door so that a shy, beaming student could say hello to the returning staff member.
  • throughout the day our supervisor peeked into our training to cheer us on.
  • When I forgot to punch out for lunch, my teammate texted me before I even got to the stairs to remind me
  • In the last fifteen minutes of our day, during role-playing, my ‘student’ made an error — if you have read my earlier posts, you know that I am supposed to praise the parts she got right and help her discover her own mistake.  Well, it was 6:20pm (well past my typical pajama time).  She spelled a word in the air with her finger and added an extra letter.  I put my hand up, “erased” what she had written saying “No, no, no, no, no!” (My former students are shaking their heads.) But here’s the part that I love.  My fellow trainees burst out in laughter.  They didn’t judge me for using the forbidden “n” word.  They didn’t shake their fingers and say, “Kristin, you know you are supposed to praise these students.”  They just laughed and laughed.  So I laughed. And then choked.  And then struggled, while choking, to correct myself.  That’s the spirit of this place — it is pure positivity.
  • As we were packing up our supplies and grabbing our coats, one of my co-workers suggested we go out for lunch during our break today, just like we did last Friday.  You know, just us girls who have been training together for two weeks.
  • Then I discovered, along with my fellow newbie, that one of our coworkers had nominated us for an award. It’s just common practice to point out the positive things you see your coworkers doing.  You write it down on a card, the card goes in a box, and once a month a card gets drawn for a prize.  In the two weeks we have been on the job, we have had our names put in the box about a half dozen times!

I guess I am mostly surprised by the simplicity of it all.  The company stresses positivity  — insists on it.  And, as far as I can tell, they have 100% buy-in.  All day long the staff cheer on each other — “great job!” “I like the way you handled that!” “Thanks for helping out with the dishes!” “You brought me candy? You’re sweet!” — and these cheers spill over onto the kids — “Wow! You spelled ten words correctly!” “You read that whole book? You’re amazing!” “Let’s go show the others how fast you can read these sight words!”

It’s critical. It’s non-negotiable.  These kids, the same ones who have failed over and over in school, are coming to do hard work — some of them for four hours a day, five days a week!  They need some cheering.  You know, the kind of cheering that lines the streets, yelling at the top of its lungs, throwing confetti, and shooting off fireworks.

And that’s what I get to do — cheer, yell, throw confetti, watch fireworks, and see kids succeed. Bam.

Psalm 96:11

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound and all that is in it.

The Power of Words

This morning I am a little overwhelmed by the power of words.  Simple arrangements of consonants and vowels that together form sound and meaning.  You would think I would love words; I am an English teacher.  I have spent countless hours of my life reading and writing words.  I do love them.  They not only help me communicate with others, express my inner self, and earn a living — they are so much fun!  You may be aware of my embarrassing Words With Friends habit, or the fact that I love to complete a crossword in one sitting, or that I am abnormally amused by wordplay such as puns, innuendo, and hyperbole. One of my greatest joys as a teacher is playing with words to teach students about their own language and how they use it — how do you think I learned how to code switch?

However, even though I love words — they overwhelm me.  How can these simple clusters of sounds have such power?

I watched a video on Friday during my training that interviewed a young boy who was painfully aware of the power of words.  Because of his learning difficulties, he was placed in a special education classroom.  In that room he got the resources he needed; outside of that classroom he was assailed with damaging words: “Hey, retard!” “You’re so weird!”  “You’re dumb!”

On Saturday I learned about a young man who was verbally attacked in his graduate program.  His classmates quietly uttered sexual taunts.  They never touched him — but their words forced him out of the program.

We’ve all heard these stories.  Persecutors attacking victims with their words.

But, guys, my words are powerful, too!  If you’ve met me in person you know that I use a lot of words.  A quick google search will tell you that the average woman uses 13,000-20,000 words per day.  I am sure I do. I love to talk. Over the years I have tried to learn a little restraint and give others an opportunity to share the air space.  I may have made a little progress, but I doubt it.  I can talk.

Quantity is not really the problem though, is it? No. It’s word choice.  It’s what we say. That’s part one.  Part two is the meaning that others attach to what we say.  That means that before I speak I should consider what mean and then consider my audience — what will they hear. That’s a lot of pressure.  I mean, how am I supposed to fit in my 13,000-20,000 words each day if I pause each time I think about opening my mouth. Exactly.

On Saturday evening, after we met with dear friends for dinner, I was lying in bed thinking about some of the words I used.  One phrase stuck out in my mind.  I was thinking to myself, “I know what I meant by that, but I should have added one more sentence to clarify. They may have totally misunderstood my meaning.” Been there?

If I had a dollar for every time I had to rewind the tape of my words to insert an explanation…

It’s no coincidence that at this time in my life I have taken a job where my words are so important.  I, at 49 years of age, still need to learn this lesson — my words are powerful.  The students I will meet, starting this Wednesday, have been beaten and bruised by words.  I may never know how much.  They have been mocked at school, questioned by their teachers, evaluated by their parents, and berated by themselves.  They are bloody. My words must be salve.

When a student reads “bind” for “kind”, I will say, “Great job with that “d” sound at the end of the word! When you say ‘bind’ what do you picture for the first letter?”  When she says “b”, I will say, “awesome!” I will celebrate each correct consonant and each correct vowel.  I will applaud every remembered detail. I will try to help my students recover from the trauma of being assailed by and excluded from the world of words.

And, boys and girls, how do you picture that God would want me to carry this lesson — that my words must be salve — into the rest of my life? Do you picture me telling my husband that I appreciate him going to work every day? Do you picture me thanking my daughter for running the dishwasher or for cooking a fabulous dinner? Can you imagine me reassuring a friend or comforting a loved one — all with my words? That is what I picture.  I picture my words as a healing balm that can cover a stinging wound.  I picture them as gauze that will stop the bleeding and allow some time for healing.

And really, the only way I know to make that happen — to make sure that kindness comes out of mouth — is to do a heart check — a continual, day-by-day heart check.  I know that if I am angry, angry words are going to come out of my mouth.  If I am hurt, defensive jabs are going to burst forth. “…for out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)  In fact, if we are hurting on the inside and we try to say things that are nice, or calming, or comforting, our listeners can often sense that our words are not genuine.  They may hear us and think to themselves, “what a fake!”

Do you see why I am so overwhelmed? How can I take all this into account?  How can I continually check my heart, consider my listeners, and evaluate my message?

I only have one answer — by the grace of God.  And that is how I am going to step into today.  I am going to ask God to purify my heart, filter my message, and when all else fails, cover the ears of my listeners.  Forty-nine years have taught me I can’t do this on my own.

Proverbs 16:24

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to soul and healing to the bones.

More Life Lessons – Celebrate

I’m three days into my training to be a clinician at Lindamood-Bell and let me tell you, this English teacher is learning about language. It’s linguistics, really — the rules of the English language and how you teach them to struggling readers.  On Monday I held up vowel flash cards for my partner who was making the phonemic sounds and then took my turn doing the same.  We learned about consonants, vowels, diphthongs, and the beloved schwa. Now I know that way back in the eighties I sat in class with Professor Campbell and learned all the basic rules of linguistics.  In fact, during my master’s work, I had two classes in linguistics with Dr. Stalker where we did all this and more — studying the rules of sentence construction and the ways that different people groups vary from the norm.  But somehow knowing that these rules, when taught to a struggling reader, might unlock the door to decoding and then to comprehension, makes it all just a little more meaningful.

I believe it was my fourth grade teacher who clapped out the syllables for me.  “My name is Kris/tin.  I have two syllables in my name.”  I have used that strategy with poetry students when I teach them meter, but I have never considered the fact that each syllable has a vowel or that the arrangement of consonants and vowels — whether a syllable is ‘open’ or ‘closed’ has an impact on the way that we pronounce the sound of the vowel. I’ve never had to!  Reading and language have always come easily to me.  I must have thousands of sight words.  I very rarely have to sound a word out or look it up in a dictionary.  I don’t have to think about how to decode; it’s natural for me.

But it isn’t natural for the students I will be working with.  Some of them are years behind in school.  We’ve looked at case after case over the last few days — many of these students are very bright, they just have never had success with reading.  Some of them have already been through several other reading interventions, both in and out of school.  They, and their parents, have had enough.  They are ready to give up.  They are almost ready to admit that they will never know how to read and comprehend. In my imagination they come dragging into our office, believing that their worst fears are going to be confirmed.  They are beaten down, exhausted, and hopeless.  I would be, too!

So for the last three days I have not only learned about language — phonology and orthography. I have also learned how to be a cheerleader. From the moment that a family enters the door, the focus is on success and celebration.  Even the FOUR HOURS of testing is designed to be fun.  From the room where I was training yesterday I could hear a student and a teacher in the next room laughing and celebrating — during a battery of tests!!  The students are celebrated for showing up, for trying — even when they get it wrong, for hanging in there, and eventually, for reading!

My fellow trainee and I have even been celebrated.  We are training via teleconference.  When we are brave enough to un-mute our microphone and speak up in the conference, we get a prize — candy or a little toy to use in our tutoring.  When we practice with one another we give positive reinforcement with every response, even when it is followed with a correction.  We use words like great job, fantastic, amazing, you got it! Not once have I heard a trainer say no, but, not exactly, or not quite. The focus is on celebrating what the student did get right and guiding him to see what he needs to correct.  It’s pure genius.

It’s also a life lesson for me.  I have been pretty critical of myself and others over the years.  I have focused on my flaws — my errors– instead of celebrating my strengths and successes.  I’m pretty sure I have done this for the others in my life as well.  I’ve probably told you more than I should what I think you are doing wrong instead of what I notice you are doing well.  I’m sorry about that.

So today, let’s focus on the strengths.  I am excited about another opportunity to learn!  I have a very supportive husband and family!  I have a forgiving, redeeming God who daily says to me, “I see your strengths. I gave them to you. I love you.”

Psalm 139:14

[We] praise you because [we are] fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful, [we] know that full well.

I’m wide awake!

Today’s episode is brought to you by insomnia.  Additional funding is provided by autoimmune disease.


I do not have chronic insomnia.  I just can’t sleep sometimes.  I remember once when I was a little girl, probably only 11 or 12 years old, I was at summer camp and I couldn’t sleep.  I woke up my counselor (thoughtful, I know) and told her I couldn’t sleep.  She said, “That’s ok, just lie still so that your body can rest.”  I remember being frustrated as I “tried to rest” for what seemed like hours.  Since then, I occasionally am awake in the middle of the night.  Sometimes it’s because I have something on my mind.  On a few rare and blessed occasions I have been almost propelled out of bed by the need to write.  That’s exciting!  I wake up out of a sound sleep with an idea and I can’t seem to get to the keyboard fast enough. In those moments I have written lyrics, letters to my children, poetry, and yes, even blogs.

Tonight is not one of those nights.  Tonight I did wake up out of a sound sleep, but not with an intense desire to write.  Actually, I had an intense desire to go back to sleep.  It was 1:45am when I first looked at the clock.  Now it is 3:45.  I really did try to “just lie still so that my body could rest.”  I tried that for the first hour.  Then I got up and had a snack.  That sometimes helps.  My kids like to tell the story that when they were growing up they could always tell if I’d been up in the night because there would be a box of graham crackers sitting on the kitchen counter.  Graham crackers are magical sleep medicine — it’s true.  Since I’ve been gluten-free, I’ve had to resort to other snacks.  Tonight I actually toasted a gluten-free waffle.  I ate it, read some Facebook posts and went back to bed.  Again, I tried to “just lie still,” to no avail.

I finally said, “God, is there something you want to talk to me about?”  I was still for several minutes.  Cricket, cricket. “Ok, well, let me know if you change your mind.”

This wouldn’t have been a big deal a week ago.  If I was up in the middle of the night any time in the last eight months, I would just sleep late the next day.  No big deal.  But, guys, I am now a working girl!  The past two days I have had eight hours of training each day.  Both days I came home, put on pajamas, ate dinner, watched TV and went to bed — exhausted!  So what am I doing up in the middle of the night!? I have no explanation.

But now that I am awake, my pain is keeping me from going back to sleep.  Since the weekend I have been having what I call a ‘flare’.  It is mild. Some flares have put me in bed for a few days.  This one is not to that level.  Those around me can’t even really tell that my symptoms have escalated.  As with most autoimmune diseases, my symptoms are mostly invisible to others.  I have psoriasis — but not in places that you can see.  I have eye irritation — but even eye doctors say that my eyes look fine.  I have joint pain — but xrays reveal no inflammation or damage.  I have the sensation throughout my body that I have been dipped in IcyHot.  Finally, I have fatigue.

But I can’t sleep.


I think I’ll go try again.  I will lie down, say a prayer, close my eyes and wait for sleep.  If it comes, I will rejoice.  If it doesn’t, I will grab a book and read for a while.  I know that eventually I will sleep.

Psalm 127:2

…He grants sleep to those He loves.

The Tough Cookie Crumbles

In my former job, I was often called upon to mete out justice — all teachers are.  It falls upon all school staff to make sure that students follow the rules: wear the uniform appropriately, keep your hands to yourselves, respect others, abide by the honor code, etc. Any of my students would tell you that if I saw a shirt untucked, I would address it.  If a student was eating in the hallway, I would take their food and throw it in the trash.  If two students began a verbal exchange that threatened to escalate, I was quick to march them to the office to see the Dean of Students.  I was on it. I often joked that I actually worked for the FBI, teaching was merely my cover.

Perhaps the fact that I owned that responsibility so tightly contributed to my soldiering.  While teaching in the high school, I could quickly “put on” my Michelle Pfeiffer Dangerous Minds persona if I needed to “kick some butts and take some names”.  Tough times call for tough personas.  Truth is, that persona often clung to me a little longer than necessary.   I was in the business of “getting it done” for many years.  I was a tough cookie. As with anything else in life — being a tough cookie has its pros and cons.

Tough cookies don’t have a lot of time to be sensitive to the needs of others, but they can hold it together under extreme pressure.

Tough cookies don’t let their guard down very often, so they are often first to see when something isn’t quite right.

Tough cookies demand respect and often get it, but at what price?

Tough cookies are difficult to enjoy — they have to be dunked and dunked and dunked before they soften up enough to make them palatable.

Did I go too far?  Probably.

Here’s the thing…the past 2.5 years of dealing with health issues have put Michelle Pfeiffer on the shelf, probably permanently.  I don’t have enough energy for all that bravado.

The good news is that I am no longer in a position where I have to scrutinize the behavior of others.  I am no longer required to mete out justice.  I am now in a position where I can offer grace — a second chance.


Let’s look at all the places that God has provided for me to offer grace:

  • I’m a new grandmother — guys, all I have for that little girl is love and grace.
  • My new job is working with students who have failed and failed and failed.  They think they will never read and never be successful in school.  The strategies I am learning can and often do,  in a matter of weeks, result in improved reading and comprehension scores — often multiple grade levels! I get to watch kids get another chance at success!
  • I am the only mother living on a college campus — I have already had a few opportunities to walk students through decisions or to provide resources with no strings attached.
  • In all of the roles I’m in right now (including my new job) I am easily twenty years older than everyone else.  I am praying that the wisdom of those years will transform into grace in all my interchanges.

Dear Michelle Pfeiffer,

It’s been a good run.  I’ve appreciated borrowing your leather jacket; you can have it back now. This tough cookie has begun to crumble, I think I’ll be buying a few cardigans.

John 1:17

Now the law was given through Moses;

grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.