Make a Difference

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Mom and Dad, at Mom’s farewell party at Jessieville Elementary School. Photo courtesy of her friend and colleague, Mrs. Cheryl Kastner.

She’s sort of like a doctor, only for learning disabilities. She worked hard for many years helping hundreds of students who struggle. She makes learning fun. She knows how to teach the mind and touch the heart- a rare combination. I suppose that’s why her success rate is so high. In the end, she knows it’s not about the grade average or the test score, it’s about the student’s feeling of success. Are they smiling more? Do they laugh? Is there a sparkle in their eye that wasn’t there when they first walked into her classroom? Have they gone from “I can’t” to “Maybe I can!”? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then she has succeeded.

Who is this miracle worker? She is someone I know quite well, she is my mother.

I’ve seen it happen over and over. Parents would walk into Mother’s classroom on a summer afternoon while we are setting up, decorating bulletin boards. Sometimes they have their child with them, sometimes not. They see me standing on a chair, stapling wavy, corrugated border onto a cork bulletin board and instantly feel as though they have interrupted. What they need to say is private. Mother steps out into the hall. I see her shadow as she is talking quietly, and listening intently, to this concerned mother. Her child is struggling, and not only do they struggle with learning – a monumental trial for any child – but they also deal with the insults from their peers. After only a few minutes of conversation with Mrs. Courtney, however, that mother feels the burden lifted. She has hope, because her child has hope – a mother’s greatest desire. She knows that her child has a friend, an ally, a partner, in a little red-headed teacher some call “Mrs. C”.

The school year begins, and this wonder woman has an enormous task ahead of her: helping a group of students beat the odds, which are not in their favor. She writes the IEP’s (Individual Education Plans) for each child, and begins executing those plans. She has some discipline problems, but nothing she can’t handle. There are peaks and valleys, wins and loses. But through it all, Mrs. C keeps her smile, her energy, and her cheers for the student who is ready to give up. She loves the underdog; she loves to see the one who is discounted, count. And each one leaves her classroom knowing that they mattered to her.

Not one parent ever asked my mother how she voted. They never questioned her as to whether she was a racist or asked her religion. They judged her character by her actions, and therefore knew she was a good person and a great teacher. That’s the real world. It isn’t what we see in the headlines or on the morning news shows. It’s the people we know in the life we’re living now. We all make a difference when we give of ourselves to the world in which we live. We offer our skills, our love, and our time to a real person, and hopefully, we make them better for having known us.

That’s what my mom did. And that’s what I want to do, too.

And of some have compassion, making a difference: ~ Jude 22

With love,

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I’m Sorry I’m a Stressed-Out Mom: An Open Letter to My Kids

Dear Children,

When your dad knocked on the door of the brown brick house on Karen Street nineteen years ago to ask your papa for my hand in marriage, your papa wisely told him, “Terry, she’ll need a strong leader.” He said this because he knew my stubborn, determined will better than anyone. One thing he forgot to tell him is that I also needed someone who could tell me to take a deep breath and calm down. Your dad learned the hard way that I get stressed-out easily.

Today, we completed our first day of the homeschooling co-op. It took me three years to build up the courage to commit to this. You have joked with me about how I have counted the number of water bottles too many times and agonized over the lunches you would take. You may not know that I printed out roughly seventeen pages of emails related to co-op. I filled out forms, wrote checks, planned our schedule, and asked more than a few questions of the co-op leaders. (Bless their hearts!)

Today, I worked in the class with the 3-5 year olds. One little girl became a fast friend. We talked about her doll and I encouraged her to keep her backpack unzipped because her doll needed some air. I was just trying to make conversation with her, but she took me quite literally. When her mom came in later, her daughter informed her that the her doll “needed air” so the backpack had to stay unzipped. Her mom smiled and said how cute her daughter was. I was worried, of course, that I might have caused trouble. But this little girl’s mom was relaxed…not like your mom. I went on to help the little girl glue beads onto a sick that had a number on it. I helped her count out the exact number and we got glue all over our hands. I, of course, brought out my hand wipes to clean both of us up and anyone else, too. One little girl had four items glued to a stick that had a “2” on it. I came very close to pulling off the superfluous items and helping her attach some of them to the “5” stick. Luckily, I realized it wasn’t that important. I actually let it go. It was such a paramount moment that I decided to write it down in this blog post. (I know you’re proud of me.)

Being in that class reminded me of when you all were that little. I wasn’t the relaxed mom at all. I helped you re-arrange objects to get them on right; I encouraged you to keep things in order, to stay in the lines when coloring. I had you erase whole rows of handwriting to put in that word you left out. I tried to be cheerful about it, but did my smile make the work any easier? No, it didn’t. I am afraid that sometimes I was more like a dictator than a loving mother and teacher.

I feel terrible about those days because I do love you, and I want my actions to say as much. As a young girl,  when I sat in my room, reading and daydreaming, I dreamed about you. Well, I didn’t know what you would look like, but I hoped that the Lord would let me have children. As I grew, I realized that not everyone is able to see this dream fulfilled. I was prepared for the worst. To my delight, the Lord gave me not one, but five of you! From the moment I held each one of you, I was filled with joy and a tinge of concern. I considered this a very special job, and I wanted to do it right. I wanted to teach you to take care of yourself, and others. I wanted you to learn to dream big, and work hard; to be kind, and to be tough. Most of all, I wanted to point you to the Lord. I now see that my actions probably did the opposite many times.

I’m sorry that I’m a stressed-out mom. I’m sorry I fret over silly things like if you’ll have enough water bottles to see you through the hot day, or that you have insect repellent and sunscreen on at soccer practice. I’m sorry I make you sit up straight at church and wear a jacket in 60 degree weather. I’m sorry I complain about how dirty you got your pants, or how much milk you drink – all the while making sure you wear clean pants and drink plenty of milk. I wish I could be the mom that I dreamed I would be, because you certainly have fulfilled all of my dreams about you.

It’s okay if one day you tell your children (or your friends) that your mom was kind of crazy –  you can even make the “loco” sign by your head. You can tell them all about my OCD tendencies and about all of my worrying and have a good laugh. I know it’s funny, and I hope you will always smile about it. I hope you’ll smile because you know that you had a stressed-out mom who loved you with every ounce of her being.

Forever yours,

Mother

The King Would Be Proud

Queen Elizabeth and father.

Queen Elizabeth and her father.

I’ve mentioned my friend, Elna, recently, as well as her blog. Several months ago, Elna shared a documentary about Queen Elizabeth that was quite fascinating. My entire family has a great admiration for all things British, and this piece on the Queen at 90 did not disappoint. I wish I could link to it, but unfortunately, it seems to have been removed since I viewed it in April.

The documentary included some never-before-seen footage of the Queen as a baby, a young woman, and then as Queen – both public and private moments. At first glance, being the queen appears wonderful. But, as we are all aware, drama knows no boundary- just look at the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana. I do admire the Queen. She has been strong and stable, and has tried to lead by example.

Two things leaped out at me when I watched this. The first was a comment that Queen Elizabeth’s becoming the longest reigning monarch meant more to the world than it did to her. She became Queen in 1952 at age 21, following her father’s death. Her sudden ascendancy to the throne was because of sudden loss. I believe she would trade her history-making status to have had her father longer.

The second thing that struck me was a statement made at the end of the documentary. At the conclusion, Her Majesty’s loved ones are asked to say happy birthday. Each person says loving things, but my favorite one was made by an elderly cousin of the Queen who had grown up with Her Majesty. She wished her a very happy birthday and wanted her to know that “the king would be proud.” The words got my attention. Of course, this lady was speaking of King George VI. What kind words to give to woman who has been without her father for 64 years! This sentiment made me think of my own father, and then of my King, the King of Kings.

If you want to hurt a person deeply, tell them a deceased, or living, parent would be disappointed in them. If you want to sincerely honor a person’s accomplishments, tell them those parents would be proud. As a rowdy child and somewhat of a trouble-maker, I brought my parents much grief. As a born-again adult, I see the debt that I owe. Nothing would give me greater joy on this Earth than bringing honor to the lovely names of Ron and Carolyn Courtney; nothing means more than making all of their heartache worth something.

Likewise, I have a tender and loving Savior, a Good Shepherd who searched for me in the rain and fog, Who found me sunk in the miry clay of sin, and Who lifted me out of it. (Psalm 40:2) He called me to Himself, He washed me of my sin, and He gently guides me today.

I know that in my own merit I could never make my father or my King proud. But through Christ, I can do both.

 I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore. ~ Psalm 86:12

With love,

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My Savior Lives

We just celebrated Resurrection Day a few weeks ago. What a moment that must have been! I have thought of it many times over the years, how exhilarating it must have been to the few followers of Christ to come to the grave and find it empty! They came there saddened and confused, and then all of that vanished like fog on a sunny morning when the angel said, “He is not here, He is risen, just like He said.”

I have just come from Facebook. Most of my friends are Christians, in fact, probably all of them claim to be. Many of them have posted statuses like, “Disappointed”, “Depressed”, “sick”, “America will cease to exist”, etc. Why the widespread heartbreak? Last night Ted Cruz suspended his presidential campaign. He was the answer for us, and now he is done. Yes, that is depressing.

I have taken an interest in politics since I was quite young. I remember the fear that gripped me as young girl when Clinton took office. The night that George Bush (41) gave his concession speech, I wept. Preachers from all corners of the country had declared that life as we knew it would cease once Clinton took the oath. Amazingly, it did not. I graduated high school, got married and even had a child while Clinton was in office. I went to church, read my Bible, worked jobs, bought groceries, paid bills, and gave out gospel tracts. I talked about the Lord at work, at home, and at church.

How was this possible with such an evil man as President? How has it been possible with an even more evil man in office the last seven years? Because God is in charge, not Clinton or Obama.

And now, as so many grieve what will surely be the end of America, I want to offer some hope.

God is in control. Why didn’t He allow the Christian man to succeed? I don’t know. Maybe because too many Christians were making an idol of Mr. Cruz by placing upon his back the success or failure of the U.S. rather than placing that confidence in Christ? Maybe we are supposed to face persecution? Because, frankly, being a Christian in the U.S. has not been that difficult. I mean, really, the problems Christians face in America are nothing compared to those in China, Iran, or Iraq. When persecution comes, only those who know and hear their Shepherd’s voice will remain faithful.

But what if everyone is wrong? What if God can preserve our freedom no matter who is in the White House? Might He then get credit for it? Probably not, but such is human nature. Utterly and totally depraved.

I know many friends who love Ted Cruz will have a tough time in the days to come. I do not put much trust in any political figure. Yes, I have my opinions, I vote, and I pray, but that’s where it ends. No more tears. I suppose being duped about Clinton in ’92 is what changed me. That, and learning the Doctrines of Grace. Knowing that God rules and reigns and controls every single molecule in nature is an enormous comfort. Knowing that I will be with Him one day and all of this life will be past, is an even greater comfort.

I hope you know Him. If you do, you know He lives!

With love,

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Musings on Motherhood

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I’m often overwhelmed with life (laundry, homeschooling, cooking, planning, and so forth), but I’m also overwhelmed with the responsibility of molding young minds and pointing hearts to the Lord. We read the Bible to them, we help them memorize scripture, we pray, we listen, we try to answer their tough questions, but, somehow, I know it’s not enough. I cannot change attitudes or hearts.

I admit that I fret about my role as a mother. If there were a “formula” to raising good kids, I would gladly follow it! But I know there isn’t. Each parent must raise their children according to scripture, but that’s no guarantee. I’ve seen strict, loving parents raise rebellious, hateful children. I’ve seen parents who were lazy and unfaithful to Christ raise hard-working, Christian children. I know Bible college grads who got married only to divorce a few years later, while some secular college grads marry and stay strong in their love for the Lord and each other for a lifetime (my parents fall into this category). So what made the difference? Christ’s habitation of the individual! You can deny the irresistible grace of God, but you can’t resist it. He is in control.

Last summer, one of our children got separated from us at a museum. It was an older child, but in those minutes of not knowing just where they were, my mind leapt to a thousand possibilities! Were they lost? Kidnapped? Hurt? As I prayed about it, the Lord gave me peace that they were okay. I could only search and pray. Terry found the child, and they were weeping as they rejoiced at being with us again. They had just gotten lost. The interesting part of this story is that this particular child had had a terrible attitude when we entered the museum. They didn’t want to be there, or be with us, or see what we wanted to see. When they returned with their father after a half-hour of separation, they were suddenly so grateful to be with their family. God had changed this child’s attitude in a way that I never could! This sort of thing doesn’t happen every time one of the children gets a bad attitude, but it doesn’t have to. God can use anything to turn a child’s heart toward Himself. And my prayer is just that – that He will do that which I cannot do.

I was a stubborn child, and I know that I caused my parents far more worry than either of my siblings did. But their response was to pray and to let God work in my life. And He did. I see what a wretch I was (and am), and this makes me so very grateful to have been born again! I can identify with the woman in Luke 7:47, about whom Christ said,  Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

When I share my fears with my husband, he often wisely reminds me, “Valerie, all you can do is pray. The Lord will do what is best.” What a comfort to rest upon the sovereign God of the ages! I don’t understand why so many people want to deny God His rightful place. They miss so much peace, comfort and joy.

I spend too much time worrying, and yes, I know that’s wrong. But it’s a blessing to know that regardless of how much I worry, God rules and reigns and “He hath done all things well” (Mark 7:37).

With love,

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Nothing Left

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It was Sunday, October 18, 2015. I sat in my recliner, my coffee beside me, my fuzzy blanket over me, my Bible open with my Sunday school lesson resting on top. I stared at the words, and the words just stared back. I often fight the flesh when it’s time to get out of bed. My mind cries out to parents who are not there, “Just five more minutes!” I fight it, like the rest of the world, and face the day. I have my routine, which rarely varies. But on that day, it was more than just fatigue or lack of sleep…I had nothing left. I couldn’t get my brain into gear; the words on the lesson, and in my Bible, were clear to my vision, but not to my heart. The thought of facing a half dozen, bleary-eyed students (three of whom were my own children), left me feeling desperate. I wondered if my mental frenzy qualified as a “sick day”? Could I just stay home and rest my tired head?

No. Of course not. Like most churches, teachers are few. Oh, I’m sure I could have gotten a substitute, but what could I honestly say was wrong? “I’m worn out today, you take it, k?” or “I’ve got something going on in the old noggin that just isn’t right, so I’m sittin’ this one out. Thanks.” or maybe, “I’m tired today, so I’m gonna stay home.” Thoughts of my mother flashed before my eyes. I watched her go to work and to church with a sinus infection more than once. I saw her soak her hands, which were twisted with Dupuytren’s Contracture , in warm water just so she could get dressed for work. And then she went to work.  One time, she went to the ER on a Sunday morning for a kidney infection, just so she could bring a lady to church with her that morning. You know what? She made it! If I called in sick to Sunday school over some such lame excuse, I think the Lord would tell my mother and she would come find me and set me straight. But she wouldn’t need to, because I could hear her voice in my head. I knew what she would think. And, couldn’t every single church member in America (or the world over) claim fatigue on a Sunday? Yes! We’re all tired. I needed to go; I needed to be there, in all of my inferiority and fallibility and weakness. I had to stand up in front of those students and teach them the Bible. But how?

As I sat in my recliner, letting these emotions wash over me, I knew I was not alone.

“You’re right, Valerie,” Someone said inside of me. “You are not enough, and you never will be, so just give up.”

So I did.

I quit.

And when I quit, that’s when I actually began. I began to stop worrying about the lesson, and my ability (or lack thereof ) to teach it, and I began to say, “Here, Lord. This is what I need to say today. How can I do it? How can a sinner like me teach this? I don’t live this, not all the time. I am nothing.”

But that’s what the Lord likes to do, He likes to use nothings. He is not impressed that you are a woman who never wears pants. He is isn’t bowled over that you do not go to movies or that you never take one single sip of alcohol. He isn’t pleased by your smooth way of speaking the Gospel or of your high music standards or your short hair (men) or long hair (women). He knows that you are a thief (covetousness is sin, even if you don’t steal it), or an adulterer (remember, lustful thinking is adultery). He sees your pride, your vulgarity and your dishonesty (your kids are homeschooled but the state thinks they go to a Christian school, or you speed, or you refuse to pay taxes), your bitterness, your jealously – He sees every single wicked thing in you and in me, and He loves us anyway.

So let me tell you, I have nothing, and I am nothing – unless being a vile, wicked, sinner counts as being something.

But I do have a blessed consolation, and it is this: God is pleased with Christ, and, hallelujah, He is mine. 

And with that in mind, I got up and taught Sunday school.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

~ 1 Corinthians 15:57

With love,

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My Disappointed Dad

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A few weeks ago, a Christian friend told me how disappointed my dad would be in me because I believe in God’s sovereign grace. Any regular reader of my blog knows that my dad and I were very close, therefore, these words were particularly cutting. I’ve thought and thought about them. Then I asked myself, what about my life would disappoint Dad any more than the monumental task of raising a stubborn, rebellious, selfish child? Would he be disappointed that I am striving to serve the Lord and study His Word? Would he be disappointed that I try to witness to others of Christ’s saving grace? Perhaps the fact that I stay at home with my children and teach them the Gospel would disappoint him? Would he be saddened that I write about the Bible, my family and the glorious Gospel? These are my reasons for living; my goals for life! I’m nowhere near perfect at any of it, but I’m trying.

So, would Dad be disappointed in me? I do not know. I do know this: if my dad were alive, I would at times disappoint him just like I did so often in my childhood. I am following the Bible, and my husband, so my deceased father’s, or any living person’s, opinion of my life is of little concern. As that famous hymn says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” That is my aim, to keep my heart fixed upon His Word until someday I see Him face to face.

“Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me;…” 2 Timothy 4:17

With love,

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