One of my favorite books is Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. The truths of this book have guided me in relationships and in ministry. Chapman's premise is that individuals give and receive love in different ways; that is, we speak different languages when it comes to communicating love. Chapman has identified five love languages: Gifts, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and it occurs to me that Chapman's book offers insight that might help us encourage our teachers.
Gifts. Chapman makes it clear that the cost of the gift is not the issue. A person whose love languages is gifts, feels just as beloved when the gift is a picture drawn by a child as she does when it is a pricey trinket. The point is to have something tangible. Teachers might enjoy gift cards to a nearby restaurant, items for their classrooms such as school or office supplies, or personal remembrances like flowers or photographs.
Physical Touch. Often, when people hear this one, they think Chapman is referring only to intimate affection. Not true. Those who understand love best through physical touch, appreciate hugs and pats on the back, facials and massages. So, some teachers might really appreciate like a gift certificate for a manicure, pedicure, facial, or massage. Manicures are not terribly expensive and are a real treat for some people. (Do remember to cover the tip in your gift though so that the teacher doesn't have to pay out-of-pocket in order to receive your gift.)
Quality Time. The important aspect of this love languages is presence. I've heard teachers express deep gratitude to those who support their work simply by being present. Is there a teacher in your life who you might visit this week? You could volunteer to read to students, or maybe you could attend a school program or club event. Teachers give so much time to our students, it can be a real blessing when others give a little of their personal time to be a part of the teacher's world for a bit. If you can invest the time, you will be communicating to these educators that what they are doing makes a difference.
Acts of Service. In this case, the languages Quality Time and Acts of Service are closely related. For some teachers, your presence alone will be encouraging. Others will feel even more blessed if you offer to help them with some of the endless task required of them. This teacher might be happy to leave you in the classroom right by yourself with a necessary task such as grading papers, filing, tutoring, or something else. Teachers rarely have all the help they need. Volunteer your time and teachers whose love language is Quality Time will feel truly appreciated, loved even.
Words of Affirmation. This is the easiest for me to communicate because this is my own love language. I enjoy writing notes or emails, sending texts or messages to tell people I value them. I've also written notes on teachers' white boards and on post-it notes left on their desks. Additionally, I try always to comment on excellence, especially to school administrators. Consider encouraging students to write notes to their teachers. It's never too late: I've heard stories of teachers who received letters from people they taught years, if not decades earlier. These letters are treasures.
Whichever expression you choose, appreciate your local educators this week. And then do it again next week. And the next. Because really: one week couldn't possibly be enough to thank our teachers for all they do for humanity.
And teachers? Thanks. You totally rock!
I met him in the playroom at Mission Hospital in May of 2007. My son was at Mission due to complications from pneumonia. Paxten was there for chemo. Or something . . .
Paxten and I soon became friends. He was frequently in the hospital and I would visit him on Wednesday nights while my children were at church. I'd have around 45 minutes to hang out with him. We played with stickers and playdoh, talked about Ben Ten and Spiderman, and played with his toys, navigating iv tubing and hospital bed limitations. He learned early on that I had to leave at a certain time and as that time drew near, he would distract me from looking at the big clock on the wall. We laughed at his shenanigans, he begged me to stay longer next time, I promised I'd try.
Not quite a year later, his hospital days were over forever. Today marks eight years since my little friend Paxten Andrew Mitchell passed from this life to the next. He was 3 years and 7 months old.
Paxten's dad once told me, "They could find a cure to pediatric cancers, but there isn't enough research done. That's partly because no one wants to talk about kids getting cancer. The thing is, though, that if they would talk about it, awareness would increase. When awareness increases, so does funding for research. When research increases, cures are found."
Research. It really is the solution to the unthinkable.
There are lots of ways you can be a part of that solution. Two great charities I recommend are Saint Baldricks and Cure. Both of these organizations work to fund research and to provide cutting edge equipment to pediatric oncologists. Check them out. Every contribution matters.
If you can't contribute financially, there are other ways you can make a difference. Talk about children with cancer (by far the majority survive and live full lives). Remember, cancer is not contagious. Our kids won't catch it just because we talk about it.
And hey! Just by reading this post, you've increased your awareness. Share it with friends, and you've multiplied that awareness.
What other ways might we join in the effort to find a cure for pediatric cancer? Because a cure must be found. The alternative . . . well . . . it's unthinkable.
That night 18 years or so ago, I had just about reached the end of my proverbial rope.
Our children were nearly 4, 2, and 3 months when my husband got a job in a town 4 hours away. He began working there during the week and coming home on the weekends; the kids and I stayed local, trying to sell our house so we could all move to our new city together. Weekdays, I was basically a single parent with three children under four, a part time job, and house that needed to be tidy and ready to show potential buyers at a moment’s notice.
That was hard enough but the 2-year-old, Baker, was chronically sick. He'd been diagnosed with asthma when he was 15 months old and often had week-long bouts of wheezing during which he had multiple breathing treatments every day. Many times, I would be nursing my infant (Margaret), with Baker cuddled up right beside me, holding the nebulizer mask to his face.
One of the most difficult issues I faced with my asthmatic son was that he didn't like to take oral medication. And when I say he didn’t like it, I don’t mean he was mildly disinclined. I mean he would run screaming and crying through the house as if I’d just threatened to remove his tongue. No kidding: there was no oral medication he would abide. Those bubblegum flavored pain relievers that kids beg to take because they are so sweet? No deal. Delsym? The delicious cough syrup that tastes like a gourmet orange sauce you'd add to a fancy desert? He spat it out like poison.
So that night, Baker was in the midst of an asthma crisis for which the pediatrician (who we’d seen earlier that day) prescribed oral steroids. At the time—I hear it’s better now—liquid prednisone tasted about how I suspect motor oil would taste if you added a touch of raspberry flavoring. Getting prednisone in that child required the kind of good cop/bad cop pairing that police officers might use to soften the most unrepentant offenders.
Already (yuck alert!) my boy had been throwing up mucus, massive amounts too. It was vile. I explained to Baker that either he had to take the medicine or we’d have to go to the hospital. (I wasn’t exaggerating.) Much to my surprise and relief, he summoned the intestinal fortitude and swallowed the dose.
Victory! A fleeting one.
A few minutes later, while I carried baby Margaret in her sling as I held Baker, perched on my hip, my boy lost the dose, throwing up at least as much as he had earlier, only this time it was tinged an undeniable raspberry color. He’d aimed for the floor, and mostly made it, except for the 1/4 cup or so that landed in my hair and down my back.
Naturally, his wheezing spiked immediately, as did Margaret’s discomfort and therefore her screaming.
Before I even realized it, Trellace, always the helpful child, went to get something to help clean up the mess. Oh look! There’s a refill jug of soft soap! Let’s use that! You guessed it: while trying to get some soap on a cloth to clean up the mess, my four-year-old spilled the ENTIRE jug of soft soap.
(Pause. Have you ever tried to clean up soap? What do you use? Soap is out. And you can’t use water ‘cause that just makes it worse. A trowel maybe? I’m asking, you see, because I don’t know the answer.)
Somehow, in the midst of that disaster of an evening, I found myself on the phone asking for help. I don’t remember now if the phone rang in a Holy Spirit kind of way or if—perhaps even more miraculously—I found the strength to reach out. I couldn’t tell you.
I just know this. When I asked Becky Garrett for help, she came. I think maybe her teen-aged daughter was with her; I’m not sure. But when she left, my hair and my clothes were vomit free, Trellace was in her pj’s, Baker’s breathing sounded less like whistling (thanks to a successful second attempt with the medication), and Margaret was content. Not a trace of soap remained on my floor, my dishes were clean, and my laundry was folded. The cacophony had quieted; harmony was restored.
That’s Becky. She’s the kind of person who brings peace with her. I think chaos just shuts down when she appears. I don’t know how she does it. No idea. But I know that when I was holding on—barely—to the frayed ends of my rope, Becky arrived, gently took the rope from my hands, and gave me a net instead. She looked just like Jesus.
In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. This is number 14. Click on the tag "50 Thank You Notes" to read the others.
Just ran across this little gem and thought I'd share. Moral of the story: you're never too old for romance. (Margaret and Jessie are reunited now. No doubt they are lounging on Heaven's bright shores, cuddling like a couple of teenagers.)
By the time I met Margaret Gill, it had been a long time since she’d buried her first husband. Margaret came to love late the first time—she was in her 50’s then, in her 70’s when he died. And that was really enough. She was surprised by love way back then anyway as she never really expected to have a sweetheart. It was a good marriage too. She spoke of him as you would a good friend—one who had befriended you when you least expected it and stood by you through life’s ups and downs. Margaret clearly had a fondness for husband #1, no doubt about that. But there was no comparison between the way she talked about him, and the way she talked about Jessie.
Jessie and Margaret met in their retirement home. They were married only a short 10 months before he passed away—a tragedy mitigated not one bit by the fact that he was 90 something. They felt an instant attraction to one another and began spending time together going out to dinner, sitting by the fire. After a couple of years, Jessie convinced Margaret to marry him. He was 93 and she was 91 when they tied the knot. (She didn’t wear white as she’d been married before don’t you know.)
“Oh Jessie,” Margaret crooned when recalling their time together. “Never in a lifetime did I expect to experience a love like that. Oh how we loved one another. Jessie . . . he was my life’s gift."
“It’s like real-life Tetris,” Josh said, laughing.
“Every time we load stuff, it’s hilarious,” Sarah said. “We have to sit around the drums. And the microphones are, like, here,” she said holding her hands on either side of her head and gesturing forward and back. Josh pivoted on the restaurant bench and leaned back. “One time Andy had to sit like this,” he said, lifting his legs to place his feet on an imaginary drum.
“And there was always something wrong with that car,” Sarah said, shaking her head, somehow frowning and giggling at the same time.
“The Jeep Liberty! That was fun!” Josh said, meaning it.
Sarah looked at me, making eye contact. “It wasn’t fun.”
“It was!” Josh laughed as he ticked off the crises they faced. “We ran out of gas once; the breaks went out one time. And it would just start smoking for one reason or the other. It was great.”
“Josh enjoyed it. I didn’t.”
We were having lunch at White Duck Taco Shop in Asheville, talking about Josh Linhart and Sarah McCoy’s new music venture. These two have been performing together since 2011 when they were college sophomores majoring in music at Mars Hill University. Now, five years later, they are two of the four musicians in the newly formed group, WHYM. Sarah is the vocalist and plays keyboard and guitar; Josh plays percussion; Andy Little, also a MHU grad, plays bass; and Nathan Culberson, a graduate of University of North Carolina in Asheville, plays electric guitar.
“Why the new name?” I asked them. (For the previous 3-4 years, the musicians of WHYM were known as The Friendly Beasts.)
“Mainly because our sound is so different now.” They spoke as much to each other as to me, so it’s hard to remember who said what. “Back then, we were college students who wanted to jam together. We did things as cheaply as possible; we were amateurs.”
“Now we are taking it up a notch. We’ve hired technicians to help us with production and we’re doing things professionally.”
“So even though the four of us were together as The Friendly Beasts, WHYM is really a whole new band.”
“WHYM.’ I’ve been trying to figure out what it means,” I said as Sarah and Josh seemed to wait for my answer—as if it was up to me to come to my own conclusion. “Is it initials for something? Is it from another language? Is it a play on the word ‘whim?’”
Silence. We sat there, thinking, not talking, about those four little letters. Sarah was the one to respond.
“It’s not any of those things. It’s really about the sound of the word. We wanted a single syllable that had a soft sound. We brainstormed a lot of different sounding words, and this one just seemed to fit. But we don’t really know what it means exactly. It’s a mystery.”
“The meaning will work itself out,” Josh added. “Kind of like our faith.”
“When we were younger, we saw things as more black and white. Now we have questions and we allow room for those questions, for the mystery, in our music.” (Their words began to merge again.)
“And not just in the lyrics, but also in the actual music.”
“We have been wanting to think about uncertainty.”
“Not to worry about it . . . “
“To leave space for it. And to be okay with uncertainty.”
“We think it’s more authentic.”
If WHYM is anything, it’s authentic. These musicians have been raised in the church; all four came to know Christ early in life. (Three of them are actually pastors’ kids!) They have lived their faith, wrestled with it, questioned it, and have kept believing. Their music draws listeners into a safe space where followers of Christ don’t have all the answers, where mystery is expected and therefore is not nearly so scary. As a youth minister, a parent to teens, and a friend to many college students, I can attest that this is the kind of safe place our students are seeking: a place where Jesus is Lord, the Holy Spirit moves in the most mysterious of ways, and humanity is beloved by God, even when they are uncertain.
WHYM started a Kickstarter campaign that lasts until March 3. Every donation—from $1-$5000—grants free music and additional rewards. (Just $5 gets you their new release, coming out in May!) Would you consider supporting them? If you do, down the road, you and I can both say, “You know that amazing band WHYM? I helped them get their start!”
It was, no question, one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.
We had met years previously at a community center program when our kids were little. I think it was called Tiny Tots? Maybe Toddler Time? I’m not sure.
Anyway, we had a lot in common. Her two kids were the same ages as my older two; we were both stay-at-home moms; and we had a similar sense of humor. I was always glad to see her at Tiny Toddlers where we would exchange stories of runny noses, sibling squabbles, and pet escapades. Soon, our kids went to each other’s birthday parties and enjoyed playdates outside of the monthly Tot Time at the community center.
Surely before we ever had our extracurricular get-togethers, she knew the truth about my . . . well . . . my tendency to underestimate the amount of time it takes me to . . . um . . . get places. I can’t prove it, but I’m sure there were times I wasn’t exactly punctual to Time for Tots; so she had to know that I had this shortcoming.
By the time of the one-of-the-nicest-things-anyone-has-ever-said-to-me comment, our kids were in elementary school, so we’d known each other five or more years. That day, we were supposed to meet at a lake; Lake James, I think.
Oh wait. There’s something else. See one of the many reasons I underestimate the time it takes me to get to my destination, is that I so often get lost. You see, I was born without a sense of direction. It’s a serious disability. No kidding, I even got lost in Buies Creek, NC when I was a student at Campbell University. Now, if you are unfamiliar with Campbell, just know that Buies Creek is every bit as small as it sounds.
Okay, so I had looked at the map—luckily, I can read a map—and I thought I knew where I was going. No, I did. I did know how to get there. The problem was (I so hate to admit this) I . . . um . . . how should I put this? Ok fine, I’ll just blurt it out: I managed to get on the interstate going in the opposite direction and didn’t realize this for a good 15 miles. No, of course I didn’t notice the exit numbers were going down instead of up. I had three children and probably a beagle in my van so I missed that little detail. Whatever.
I did have a cell phone with me—a flip phone with an antenna as I recall—but back then it was so expensive to make calls, I rarely used it. OKAY fine! I’d probably already used up all my free minutes for the month. Sheesh. The point is, I didn’t call my friend until I knew I was going in the right direction and I had a good idea of when I might get there.
By the time I called, I was in a frenzy, on the verge of tears, furious at myself for doing this, again.
“Hi Tamara,” I said when she picked up. “I’m so sorry I’m late. [Insert the long explanation of my untimeliness from above.]”
And that’s when she said it.
“Aileen, I learned a long time ago that you run late. I decided that I value our friendship enough that I wouldn’t let that one little thing get to me. So relax. It’s okay. I’ll be glad to see you when you get here. We’re fine.”
Ahhhhh. Go ahead: take a sip of that tall drink of mercy. Sweet, isn’t it? Refreshing. Life-giving even.
Surely I thanked her then; but at the time, I didn’t know how that moment of grace and forgiveness would inform future relationships in my life. It turns out that since grace was given so abundantly to me, I, in return, am more gracious with others. Grace works that way.
So this thank you note is for you Tamara. Thank you for a comment you probably don’t remember, one you made a decade ago, that continues to bless me to this very day. I will forever appreciate your generous gift of grace. And I promise I will continue to pay it forward!
In the US, this week is all about love. Seriously, you can hardly throw a snowball without hitting a discounted heart-shaped box of chocolates. Mostly, Valentine's Day is about romantic love, or at least love of family and friends. Like many people, I love my family: my husband, kids, parents, and all those other people who by blood or by grace form my inner circles of connection. On Valentine’s Day and every day, those folks are my treasured beloveds. I am truly and infinitely grateful for them.
Today, though, I was thinking of what and who else I love. I came up with a few not-so-obvious picks:
That’s just a few of my loves. How about you? What do you love?
"Thanksgiving break is such a tease."
Technically, in the biological and legal sense, she's no relation. Meredith, daughter of my dear friend Debbie, was born July 4, 1995 at 25.5 weeks; her identical twin fell victim to twin to twin transfusion. Meredith lives 1000 miles away, but for nearly 15 years, our families celebrated Thanksgiving together. I'm so very grateful to have this grown-up miracle in my life.
My beloved Meredith,
Who could have ever guessed that a baby who weighed less than two pounds could make such a big impression on my life? You slipped into this world three months before you were due, right by yourself (your identical twin went straight to heaven, bypassing Earth altogether). Immediately, though, you found yourself surrounded by love—family, friends, medical staff—and found within your tiny little self, the spirit of a champion. I am so very thankful for you, sweet girl, and I thought it was time I tried to tell you how grateful I am for the gift of YOU.
Thank you baby Meredith, for surviving your shaky beginning. Somewhere in your amazing self, you found the will to thrive. So, after four months in NICU and I-can’t-even-remember-how-many days on the ventilator, you went home. It was only a few weeks later that I got to hold you for the first time. Thank you, tiny one, for smiling at me so readily. I can still recall the feeling I had, holding all five pounds of you (a pound for each month of your life), looking into your beautiful brown eyes. You made me feel like I was the only person in the world. Thank you.
Thank you little girl Meredith, for always being delighted to see me. (You’ve always been so easily delighted.) Thanks for crawling up in my lap, for letting me read to you, for playing games and watching movies with me, for letting me push you on the swings. And as hard as leaving always was, thanks for always holding on so tightly to me, asking me not to leave, begging us to stay longer next time. Oh how I loved every precious moment of those fleeting days.
Thank you middle school Meredith, for being so unexpectedly full of spunk. I know it wasn’t easy. I’m so grateful for the grit in your makeup that kept you moving forward. Middle school is just the worst, isn’t it? I’m so grateful that you survived those difficult times. Thanks for liking me when it was hard even to like yourself. It felt so undeserved and it felt like treasure. It still does.
Thanks high school Meredith, for sticking with it. It is just so very hard . . . being. Especially in high school. But you connected and found friends I’m certain you’ll have for life. Thanks for not giving up on my Meredith during high school. I’m eternally, endlessly grateful.
I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to have you in my life, but I’m even more grateful that you let me be a part of yours. Thanks for emailing, Facebooking, texting, and SnapChatting with me. Thanks for loving me from far away and for still wanting me to be with you. I’m so very grateful.
You will have nieces and nephews of your own before you can truly know how gratified my heart is that you are a part of my life. So thank you dear girl. Thank you for being Meredith.
I loved you before you were born.
Dear Mrs. Doris,
The Storehouse Ministry you have established at your church is a blessing to so many. In an effort to thank you for all the ways you have impacted your world, I wrote this story about a day I spent volunteering at Storehouse.
“Okay! Everyone on the porch!”
The volunteers pour out of the house that used to be the church parsonage. Now, the three-bedroom, brick ranch is home to the Storehouse Ministry: a program that has grown into one of the most productive and efficient food pantries in the region.
“I believe we’re ready,” she tells us. Grocery carts are lined up on the sidewalk; bags of canned goods are piled on the steps. Under the carport around the corner, fresh bread and baked goods are stacked in the bed of a pick-up; frozen foods will be added at the backdoor. The line of recipients has started forming on the other side of the carport; Mrs. Doris’ table is along the back. From there, she and other volunteers will greet each person: checking id’s and credentials while chatting about life this week. Mrs. Doris knows them all. She asks them about the specifics of their lives, remembering them from months, years gone by. She hugs them, she laughs with them, and by her very demeanor she reminds them that they matter, that they are loved.
Back on the porch, the volunteers—that day there were more than 20 of us (when she started this ministry, Doris Johnson was one of a two person team)—circle up, squeezing in shoulder to shoulder. They come from her church and other local congregations; but they also come from the community—from Doris’ community. Some worked on the farm she used to have. Some started here as recipients and have stayed on to help. There are wealthy people here, and people who receive public assistance. They are African-American and Caucasian, neighborhood locals and people who haven’t yet learned English.
(Looking around the porch that day, I see a glimpse of the Kingdom.)
“We’ve got a great group here today,” Ms. Doris begins. “And of course, all of us have stuff going on in our lives.” She lists needs among us and names a few of her own. “But we’re going to put all that aside right now and serve these people who’ve come our way. We’re here because Jesus calls us to feed the hungry and we’re going to do just that.”
In a few minutes, we would leave that porch and everyone would get busy filling carts and helping recipients load their groceries. Each recipient (unless Ms. Doris knows of special circumstances and makes an exception) will get a single cart that has been filled to beyond the top with canned foods, dry goods, fruits and vegetables, proteins, and treats.
Most families are allotted a single monthly visit to this ministry. Ms. Doris says the food we provide will not last the whole month; it will last around a week, depending on circumstances. “But,” she tells us, “We do what we can. And we do it in Jesus’ name.”
Ms. Doris turns to me. “We have a guest here today. She’s a seminary graduate, a youth minister in North Carolina. I’m going to ask you to say our opening prayer, Aileen; and folks if you meet someone today in need of prayer, Aileen will be here to minister to them.”
See to Doris Johnson, delivering groceries to people in need is important; sharing the love of Jesus, though, is transformative. So every cart that is filled with food is also covered with prayer; every person who comes through the line for service is seen as a beloved child of God.
“Let us pray,” I invited the group. And we bowed our heads, committing that day to Kingdom work.
Doris Johnson, you are the very face of Christ to so many. Thank you for who you are and for all you do in Jesus’ name. Your example teaches me so much about how to honor God. May the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ be with you always.
With grateful heart,
That’s who I am thankful for today. How about you? Who would you like to thank?