Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dear Future Husband

I wonder if I know you or have yet to meet you. I think about you often. I don't know much about you, but I know you must be pretty special for God to match you with me someday. I know that you will show me respect and compassion, model God's grace in spite of our sin condition as humans, and love me for me (and spite of me)! When I think of you, I wonder what you're doing. How you spend your time says alot about who you are as a person, what you believe, and how you live your faith. I sure hope your smile can keep up with mine. In fact, I pray your very presence can bring a smile to my lips even on the darkest most difficult of days.

I know we won't have a perfect relationship, because Lord knows I'm flawed, and I expect you'll have some flaws too. I promise to be faithful and true to you though and expect the same commitment from you. I'll try to be the Proverbs 31 woman God wants me to be and help you whenever possible. I look forward to our times together - the laughter (even my snorting with extreme laughter, which I sure hope you find adorable and not annoying), the planned encounters, the spontaneous times, the moments when we are just together with no planned agenda and have the best conversation without saying a single word. I hope God minimizes our "rough patches" as we seek His face and will for our individual lives and marriage.

I don't know if you're near or far away, but I know that I'm praying for you just the same. I keep myself busy to avoid the pain of missing you, which probably sounds crazy since I may not actually know you. I'd like to think the time being single has not just been about staying busy and avoiding loneliness though. I've learned lots about myself, developed new friendships, embraced new challenges and opportunities to grow and serve others, and more. I cling to my life verse in Jeremiah 29:11-13, because I know God is in charge of my future and those plans will bring us together and be more amazing than I could have planned. Once you know me, you'll realize that says a lot since I am constantly planning. It brings me joy and satisfaction to plan and then accomplish something. Hopefully the planning will bring you joy and minimize stress in your life someday too.

I can't wait, but those are also the times God reminds me it's all in His timing. I try not to doubt or fret about the future, but it's still a weakness. My past failings have also taught me about the need to trust God's timing and not my own. I warn you there are some pretty high (and secure) walls built up around my heart, but know God and you will make a fine team to remove them one layer at a time. I will have complete trust in you and expect that we can share our deepest secrets, the longings of our heart, and move forward together in love and faith.

Your beloved,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Time to Learn

Much debate has taken place in recent weeks about school time and the school calendar in Lunenburg County. Decisions have been made from the top-down with little to no input from school administrators, teachers, students, parents or community citizens. I had the opportunity to attend last night's school board meeting and listen to the proposed calendar for 2011-12 (among other issues) and the justifications provided for the changes. After listening to what was shared by the superintendent and hearing concerned parents speak up during public participation with their concerns about the additional 15 minutes for each school day on a permanent basis (currently spending a month with an addition 30 minutes daily), I had to share what was on my mind.

All of the school board members know me, but I had never met the Superintendent prior to last night's meeting. I began with my name and address as per the protocol to speak during the public participation forum. I then shared my concerns that policymakers have become prisoners of time. Too often the focus is on extending the calendar beyond the required 180 days of instruction or adding time to each school day, but that is missing the mark. What students (and teachers) really need is not the "gift of time" the superintendent requested but rather more quality, engaging, enriching learning opportunities during that time. I firmly believe the current after-school programs and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers have been an effective approach towards this goal. They are optional for all students, strongly encouraged for some students, have data which justifies implementation. Adding 15 minutes to the school day is not likely to improve academic achievement.

Research shows that merely adding more of the same to the school day will not improve student outcomes. In fact, "more of the same" is likely to further disengage students who are most at risk for dropping out of school. (This is in direct opposition to the superintendent's stated claim that more time with students will lower the drop-out rate and better prepare them for the 21st century.) Data from 73 afterschool programs concludes that students have opportunities to explore interests, learn real world skills, solve problems, develop leadership and teamwork skills, connect with adult role models, improve academic skills in core subject areas, and raise their self-esteem.

There is a vast difference between allocated time (time on school calendar) and academic learning time (time students are working on rigorous tasks at the appropriate level of difficulty for them) which is further complicated by student engagement (time students are actually paying attention). The crude policy solutions of more school days and longer days do not even begin to touch the deeper truth that we have to improve the quality of this academic learning time. I see danger in extending the school day as proposed for the 2011-12 calendar, when what we really need is to imaginatively expand learning opportunities for all students.

One final thought from around the world: US initiatives include extended school day, increased homework, more high-stakes testing. The underlying assumption is that this will produce smarter, better-prepared students. The reality is that Finland students only spend about 600 hours in classrooms and are ranked among the highest in international math and reading test scores. US students on the other hand spend about 1100 hours (almost twice as much TIME) with scores that are 10-20% lower than Finnish students of the same age. It would appear that to fix school time requires more than time!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Squelching Freedom of Speech results in Sentiments going Subversive or worse yet, Apathy will abound!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am Miss Americana USA to the core - I'd bleed red, white and blue if that were actually possible. People fought and died for the freedoms we enjoy - freedoms confirmed for generations thanks to the United States Constitution. I'm going to spare you the lesson in American government, but had to set the stage for this very opinionated commentary. This is actually the first of several that I have in mind to share. My sole purpose is awareness that promotes activism. People need to exercise their constitutional rights more often when situations are high-stakes.

I think most people would agree that educating today's youth for tomorrow's challenges is high-stakes. School reform tends to run in cycles, with research studies theorizing that this trend or the other is the next best thing to "fix" public PK-12 classrooms in the name of student achievement and producing 21st Century learners who are capable leaders. There was the block scheduling movement, then research on best practices suggested standards-based assessment would produce better results, and now research highlights teacher efficacy (merit based pay, performance evaluations, etc.). Change is not a bad word. Structural change is not enough to change for the better though. When educational leaders implement change without giving all stakeholders a voice in the process, the necessity and validity of the change deserve to be questioned.

Yet, people are squelched if they voice concern, or worse yet, bullied and intimidated into believing (FALSELY MIND YOU) that there will be negative repercussions for exercising freedom of speech to share a dissenting opinion. Students fear suspension. Teachers fear termination. What type of leaders ignore the very people that stand to benefit or suffer from the decisions that are being made? Elected officials are representatives of the people. Therefore, school board members should be held accountable for decisions made that do not reflect the best interests of the people, much less the "best practices." I can give you all sorts of research to convince you of my opinions, but that doesn't mean I am any more or less valid in my opinions than say, a superintendent who has proposed calendar changes that are adopted by said elected officials on the local governing school board.

I may not work in the local school system these days but I am still fairly attuned to what is going on in the classrooms and school-community relations in general. When significant decisions are being made, I personally think it is more appropriate to propose several alternatives and invite public input before a final conclusion is rendered. Furthermore, it is my humble opinion that "more of the same" does not accomplish anything productive. If parents, students, and teachers do not voice their opinions (even if not matching mine), then they must understand that silence is agreement. If you complain to those in your immediate circle of influence, but do not speak up to those in positions of authority where real change can be enacted, you have no one to blame but yourself when it is "more of the same" and things continue to spiral downward. Such criticism leads to a subversive climate, with muttering and murmuring but nothing productive or positive. Worse yet, if you choose to ignore the situations entirely and distance yourself from the present reality, apathy will abound.

Local school officials have determined that the schools will benefit from extended school day hours, even more than normal, when the current schedule already provides more clock hours than Virginia's Department of Education requires (990). There is also a proposed school calendar to permanently increase the school day by 15 minutes. These changes are being made without direct input from the stakeholders as I understand the process. I am even told that when a group of interested, involved, and intelligent students exercised their freedom of speech to create a You Tube video pleading for a different alternative schedule/plan, that they were threatened with disciplinary action unless the video (parody of Dora the Explorer since Dora is the superintendent's first name) was immediately removed from public posts and apology letters were dictated as necessary because of their actions. They did not violate any laws, policies, etc. with defamation (no slander of the superintendent). Yet, the school principal intervened with censorship and strongly suggested scare tactics of disciplinary consequences. This is deplorable in my opinion and cause for people to exercise their freedom of speech to weigh in on the matter. Many of my friends are more vested in these decisions than I am--you're students (WITH RIGHTS and don't you let ANYONE tell you otherwise), teachers, parents, and fellow taxpaying citizens with a voice that needs to be heard. Never underestimate that a small group of committed individuals can accomplish even the greatest of tasks--in this case, REAL REFORM!!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Will Remember You...Will You Remember Me?

Yes, my faithful friends and blog followers, I know I have been remiss in my posting obligations. I haven't forgotten I had one - I've just been busy living life and failing to document the experiences along the way. Speaking of memories, I know I have my fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly. And I'm certainly making new ones in 2011...mostly good memories as God would have it. (Insert a WOOHOO here!)

Now then, from the blog's title we have the topic for tonight's commentary. From several weeks of sermons (thanks Pastor Paul for inspiration), devotions, and self-contemplations, we have what has been on my mind other than running, work and the Fire & EMS world. Before I forget, the song reference (you know I have to have a musical connection) is Chris Tomlin's "Your Grace is Enough" which I will post as a You Tube video link. Jam to it as you read. It's one of my fav worship songs of late.

Remember...we've been covering Genesis at NCF and Pastor Paul talked about Noah and the flood. Noah made all the preparations according to God's instructions and he and the family with tokens of all creation were safe aboard the ark when God rained down His judgment on the earth. We know how long it rained (kids' song--40 days) and it took 150 days for the waters to recede. At some point, I would have been going stir crazy, dying to walk on dry land, escape the funky smells of an ark full of animals, spend time alone away from my family that was surely getting on my last nerve after so much quality family time, etc. I am pretty sure there would be a time when I'd begin to wonder if God forgot that I was on this big ol' boat because of what HE told me to do. Seriously, anyone who knows me knows I need variety and struggle with patience. Not so with Noah. He waited for the sign from God that it was time to act. He responded to God's invitation when in Chapter 8, "God remembered Noah..."

Even then, it wasn't an overnight process to regain footing on dry land, evacuate the ark, etc. It was the better part of a YEAR. Noah bides his time and chooses wisely - as soon as he hit dry land at God's invitation to exit because it was finally time, he built an altar and worshipped God for His faithfulness - for remembering His covenant promise. WOW! We all know that God didn't FORGET Noah and that's why suddenly in Chapter 8 we're told He remembered. That word is there for us...for me! God remembers us...He created us. He knows every hair on our head - even the true hair color. He doesn't forget His people. His grace is enough (surely you're playing the song by now...)!

Even when we turn our backs on his instructions, God remembers His promise to His children. If we're walking through the wilderness of willful disobedience or blinded to the truth on the road to Emmaus, God remembers who we are and who He created us to be. We have to remember Him too, and not just when it's convenient timing. Life is full of memories - the highs and the lows. Those memories help shape who we are. We remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ when we take communion. We need to remember the sacrifice of Christ in our daily lives too. The cross cannot be in vain just because we are too impatient, too proud, too stubborn, too busy, too whatever to remember who we are in Christ and how we should live because of it. We should live, laugh, and love. We should remember His promises.

Saturday, a group of us will remember the spiritual retreat we had at Chrysalis or Emmaus. We will fellowship and remember the mountain top experiences with praise. We will pray for the valley experiences as well, that God's grace will see us through. We will remember the life, death and resurrection of Christ until He comes again with a celebration of holy communion. God is saying to me: I WILL REMEMBER YOU - WILL YOU REMEMBER ME?

Trusting - believing - remembering - praying for the desires of my heart that I know he remembers full well...

Love and prayers,