Friday, April 18, 2014

Hope in Death

It seems appropriate that I'm writing this on Good Friday, but several thoughts and circumstances collided. That's how God works.

Typically, my least favorite season is Fall.  Everything is dying, no new life.  Many family members have left this earth during the autumn months.  Each year that gets easier for me.  But, a good friend called me last night grieving and told me that her least favorite time was Spring for the very same reason.  She was in the midst of writing something for her grandmother's memorial service.

As death is not an easy subject and so much grief goes along with it, we STILL have reason to rejoice! Here is comfort to you, my friends!

Today Jesus died on the cross; an undeserved, cruel, gruesome, painful death.  But, Jesus did it willingly following His Father's desires.  In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul writes "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ."  Jesus died for us so "that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right" 1 Peter 2:24. Galatians 3:13.

And because He died for us, we have HOPE.  That is what Easter is about!

Jesus gives us victory over sin and death through his death and resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:57.

And the Good News is that this world is not our permanent home.  Thank goodness!  We have an eternal home with Him when we believe in the Good Friday sacrifice and the Easter resurrection!  Hebrews 13:14, John 3:16.  

One day when Jesus returns "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever."  Revelations 21:4  This is our hope!  This is what gives us relief for our suffering, dying loved ones and we too can look forward that home yet to come.

Remember, friends.  We are citizens of heaven, not of this world.  And we are eagerly waiting for His return. He will take our weak and mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.  Philippians 4:20-21.

Death of a loved one can be very difficult.  Remembering and reading about Christ's suffering and death on the cross for us is excruciating.   But, because God gave us this free Easter gift of mercy and grace and love, we can have HOPE and comfort in knowing that he raises us from the dead along with Christ and seats us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.  Ephesians 2:4-6.

God showed his great LOVE for us by giving us His only Son.  This is His greatest free, gift to you.  John 3:16

Do you choose to accept it?  Take hold of this HOPE that is available to you!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Standardized Testing

It seems I have a bit to say lately and that's ok.  I'm now a parent AND a teacher.  I now see how the other half lives.

Cavett came home today with his "binder signed."  This usually means that he misbehaved, did something disrespectful, didn't follow rules, etc.  He has learned how a 3rd grader should behave and might have the binder signed once or twice a 9 weeks.   This normally wouldn't be a huge deal, except, it is the beginning of the 4th 9 weeks and he has had his binder signed 4 times now.  I'm not saying the teacher is wrong by any means!  I expect him to be RESPECTFUL in any situation and that includes sitting on his hands staring out the window while others finish taking tests or whatever it is, then by all means.  But his comment was "she has become more strict since we have been practice testing."

Here's the deal.  Practice testing has now been going on in his classroom for a full 2 weeks with 3 more days to go.  He's tired of it and bored.  After answering and checking, he wants to get to what he would rather do: expanding his mind and imagination by reading.  Oh, for shame!  The teacher, I get it.  She is tired too. Stressed, yes.  And, I'm sure she hates it as much as the kids.

I know.  Remember I am a former teacher, too.

However, my son is stressed as well.  When you continually practice test you are putting entirely too much emphasis on the wrong thing, taking away perfectly good teaching time and opportunities.  We are teaching our kids how to be lab rats and push the right button.  For the past two weeks, I have been trying to temper his comments by returning them with, "They just want to see what you have learned."  "There is no reason to be worried, just do the best and don't care about the rest."  But, I'm at the end of my rope.

Here is the analogy I gave him, of course.  This is good!

Think about when you sing or play an instrument in an ensemble.  The conductor can teach you the right notes, how to hold your instrument, show you the fingerings, teach you the rhythm, show you how to sit, practice putting it all together with others, add in crescendos and decrescendos and musicality, and check practice reports everyday, etc.   When it comes down to concert time, the conductor has to let go.  If a member makes the wrong sound or note, is it because the conductor didn't do his job?  No.  That is a reflection on the member, not the group or the conductor.  The concert is a test.  But there isn't 2-3 weeks worth of dress rehearsals or practice concerts, (maybe just 1 and there again it is usually do to the space they are performing in.  It literally sounds different).

Texas Public Schools will spend one of every five days or nearly 20% of the school year conducting tests. According to the Texas Education Agency, Texas public schools will spend 34 out of the 185 day long year conducting tests mandated by the state government. This does not include the regular testing in schools such as six-weeks tests, quizzes, and final exams.  Ridiculous!  Test them once at the end and be done.
Testing has changed dramatically over the last 30 years.  What used to "see where the child is and what he has learned" has turned into partially determining teacher's pay, superintendent bonuses and even home values.  The No Child Left Behind Law has affected the schools and the children negatively and placed too much emphasis on standardized testing.   They should be tested on what they are taught and what they have learned from that teaching and it shouldn't be tied to anything else.  There is no collective here.  It is each child and did they improve.

Take my Mom's work with low income, poverty students who can hardly read and have major disabilities. She is a phenomenal teacher and it is truly the gift God gave to her to use to spread His light in the world. She can teach that child until she is blue in the face, and maybe that child improves a little bit.  Great!   But can you really say that she is a bad teacher because he still can't do XYZ?  And, if you have a whole school of that type of kid, can you say that about the entire school?

I don't mean to sound like every one should be given excuses and exceptions.  On the contrary, I just want every child to be met where they are and taught from there, whether that is at a high or a low level and then test them on what was taught.  ONCE.  NO PRACTICE TESTING.  That is what all that "other" teaching time and homework is.

Maybe your instructions are too complicated if a 3rd grader can't read them and answer correctly without extreme practice.  They learned in Kindergarten how to color in a circle.  Why does all the practice have to happen 2 weeks prior to the real thing and then try and glamorize and costume it call it "Reading and Math Olympics?"

It's fine to teach them strategies for understanding.  For example, Cavett has to underline every single item in a mathematical word problem and circle numbers and show every single thought process to get all 3 points of the problem counted correctly.  Nevermind that he got the right answer!  He's bright and understands. His education is being dumbed down.  Maybe he has a better way.  But again, meet the student where they are.

The problem is....where are the real world skills?  I asked Cavett, "when have I had to take a test after leaving school?"  Hmmmm.....haven't.  He says, "But we are building stamina."  For what, sitting on your hands, staring out the window, waiting for the EXTREMELY LONG AMOUNT of TESTING TIME to go by after he has finished and checked his work several times?  Stop.  I understand.  Some kids need that long.  Fine.  Send the finished ones to a different place.   When do we need this "stamina" in real life?  Ok, running a marathon, finishing a project, following through on something you are supposed to do, YES!  If you want to teach a kid how to sit still start by taking them to church and listen to the sermon with nothing else to do.

Does the real world ask you to show your work?  Nope, they don't care.  It's the bottom line.  Does the real world ask you to take all day or are some situations so fast paced that you don't even get to finish?  Is life a balance of collaborative work and individual?  Of course.

I'm just struggling with this testing thing.  I'm not sure I want them to completely opt-out, because I want to know that their grades do mean something and that they have learned something.  I came across this quote from the Texas Observer as I was reading and it describes me perfectly.  I don't want to harm my child's future by bucking the system.

"Even the most vocal opt-outers—former teachers, usually, who wrestle mightily with the decision—often settle for symbolic half-measures when faced with the reality that their protest could harm their children’s futures."

So, bottom line.  Here's what I want.  I want a full, rich, creative, liberating education preparing my child to think critically while preparing him for real life in a democracy, not a test-taker.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Responsibility of Glorifying God

It's been a while since I have written, but God has been stirring in my heart.  Not that he hasn't been in the past several months, but many Bible lessons and experiences and opportunities have all collided that have made me dig deeper wondering why I have been so incredibly blessed by God and sometimes, you just need to put it down on "paper" to straighten out your thoughts.

Where to begin....

BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) lesson last week hit me.  (Shameless plug--BEST BIBLE STUDY EVER!)
Matthew 25:29 says "For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them."  This comes from the Parable of the Talents.  It's not your talents as we think today, this was a weight of gold or silver.  But that's really not the point either. Rather than a person's natural gifts, the money more likely represents God's truth, the Bible and the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  God has entrusted his poverty-the gospel-to His servants.  God holds us responsible for the treasure (His word and grace) He gives us.  We are to use the opportunities He gives, grow in our knowledge of Him and give His treasure to the world.

I want God to open my eyes to the opportunities He gives me.  I want Him to help me use them so the gospel is reproduced in the lives of others.  I want to be useful to Him, because really, what else is our point in life?  Serving Him is the reason we are here.  I recognize that ALL I have (knowledge of Him, relationships, and earthly things) are a result of the Master's provision; yet He has rewarded me with even greater abundance.  I am to be responsible for what He has given and share my Master's joy.

Then the sermon on Sunday was on the scene in Bethany where Mary pours our expensive perfume on Jesus. See Matthew 26:1-16, Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:1-11.  Today, I'm working on my BSF lesson for this week and its the same Matthew 26 passage.

Jesus is worthy to be praised and deserves every lick of it!  Mary didn't expect to be rewarded for giving Jesus something so luxurious and expensive. She didn't expect to be payed back.  She also didn't do it so she would be talked about it for thousands of years to come!  She did it out of LOVE for Him.  She wanted to honor, praise and worship Jesus. Maybe that was all she had, a year's wages tied up in a little perfume bottle.  But, she gave it all to Him, to glorify Him.  And, she trusted Jesus that He would provide and didn't ask anything in return, even when others criticized.

Still my "easy and blessed" life was bugging me.  Don't get me wrong, I have TOTALLY had my share of hardships.  But, why is it so easy right now?  Why am I the blessed one when so many others are troubled?

Baby Boy Crum
A pregnant, long-time, good friend of mine needs encouragement and prayer for her "to-be-born" child.

A friend reaches out to me for verses as her grandmother struggles with holding onto life.
Lily Anne

A relative discovers cancer.

Another distant friend needs financial help in adopting another child, this time from China.

The world is full of pain, agony, despair and longs to be made right again.  Romans 8:23, 2 Corinthians 5:4, Revelation 21:4

Then with the Talent parable in mind another verse jumped in from 2 Corinthians 1:4.  "He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.  When they are troubled , we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."  Comfort comes in all forms just like God's love.  So, maybe it's a verse shared, a note written, a prayer prayed or a check to cover some costs.

God has entrusted ALL gifts given to me to use them to glorify Him, NOT ME.  In this day and age, that last bit is the part people just don't seem to understand.  I don't do any of this because I want people to know what I'm doing or giving. Matthew 6:1-2. I do it because I want to glorify God and spread His comfort, love and treasure (scripturally and financially).

And, God HAS blessed us financially beyond what we deserve with studied talent and new business opportunities and ideas, but I'm struggling with how I can make it all glorify God, and NOT ME.  We have these businesses and opportunities not because we need or even want more money.  It's because God has entrusted us with both his word and his dime to use them to help his children and in turn glorify him.

So, I'm figuring it out.  I am finding exciting new things to be a part of to glorify God and help His children, more than just that regular tithing-to-the-church-thing-nobody-likes-to-talk-about.  I'm a work in progress and I don't have it all right, but I ask for your prayers for guidance as to where those "talents" go and who is to benefit in scripture, in words, in deeds, and in weight of silver and gold.