The hurts are deep for so many of us, like me. And yet, there are times we have to choose to go on. In an event that will forever shape my world, my Mom died on December 30th, and we buried her on January 3, 2021. She was my precious Mom and, in many ways, my best friend. She listened to me and loved me even when I messed up just terribly. But she listened and encouraged as a remarkable example of unconditional love.
Even though this was back in January, the whole school year has been a blur. It was a choice to move forward each day. In this post I will share my story of how I have made it through this hard and difficult time, how I was able to smile and find joy, and how just this morning I woke up and am ready to move forward. I'm not going to say my mourning is over, I'm not sure you ever “get over” something like this. I am saying that I'm ready to live. Here's my story.
Time to Think. Time to Reflect.
This week I was “off” of work—a staycation of sorts. As is wise to do, I think, I spent time reflecting upon the past and setting goals for the future.
I admit, until this morning – this quiet Saturday morning – I've been unable to set even one tiny goal. It has literally been a choice to live one day at a time because that is all I could do.
Advice from Granny Martin
Many years ago, my Granny Martin took me to Alaska. I was in eighth grade and full of energy. She was in her 70's and had a gall bladder problem. The combination of our conditions meant that we lay awake all night under the midnight sun as she talked to me about life and living.
And one thing she told me has lived in my mind and heart forever. She said,
“Vicki. One day, you will lose someone near to you. And you will think you cannot live. That you cannot make it. What I want you to do when it happens is I want you to remember to put one foot in front of the other for a while. Don't make any major decisions. Just choose to take one step at a time. Then, one day, maybe six months later, maybe a year or two. You will know when. You will wake up and realize that you can live your life. And when you reach that day, look ahead and live.”
Interestingly, as I broke in December, my stove broke too. Feeding my family as we all had COVID and Mom was dying with no stove was a mess, but fortunately, some of my church and school friends helped us when we were so desperate by leaving food on the front porch.
Other things have also happened in this time. But seriously, who wants to listen to my laundry list of ills?
I'm currently committed to a complaining detox which means I will not complain for 21 days. If I do, I have to start over! So I'll carefully write these next words.
Yet, I'm not complaining, but to give you context — yes, everyone in my family got COVID back in December. Wow, we were sick. Mama was dying. My brother-in-law had died in October, just after some major skin cancer surgery for me. It was the most stressful school year of my 19 years in the profession for many reasons. I hated wearing the mandatory mask, but I did it because it was necessary. Others we cared about fought cancer or COVID, died or had difficult things in their lives. We had a job change for my husband, a senior year for a college and a high school child – and a freshman year behind a mask for our youngest. Empty nest on top of it. We both had other big responsibilities that were gifts, and I'd never list those as a burden, so I won't. I count serving as a joy!
Many people Kip and I knew were bitter. And oh, the politics. Wow, how did any of us live through that toxic civil war of words that even continues today?
Yet, this I know, dear friends. Hatred may be strong, but love is stronger.
Yes, I Wanted to Quit
I'll admit, I've wanted to quit. Not just this blog or the podcast but teaching altogether. Year 19 and done. Who knows what to do next? — Anything but this nightmare of 2020-2021! Seriously. I want out! Who doesn't?
And yet, as I prayed over it, it always came back to this — not like this. Not now. Not now. I could hear Granny saying,
“Choose to go on. One foot in front of the other. No major decisions.”
Finishing Well is a Habit
When I run, I always sprint at the end. It may be a half marathon, but I'm going to give everything I have (which may not be much) at the end of the race. It is a philosophy of life. When I'm done, I want to have given all I have.
I can say that I gave my best since before we went in lockdown in March 2020 to June 18, 2021, when I went on vacation for this week.
Being excellent in a hard time is not something that came in my own strength, though. I can't pretend to be strong. I'm not. I'm very, very weak.
This blog post is my story, so I'll tell it. You tell yours. I'll tell mine.
How I Made It Through This Season
Here's how I've made it through the last year and a half or so. Each morning – sometimes as early as 2 or 3 am, I'd get up and go to my prayer and thinking chair and kneel. And as I knelt, I'd take every single problem to God. I prayed in Jesus' name and He answered.
My problems. Problems of my friends and family. Each worry. Each pain. Sometimes, I'd get up, and the burgundy seat cushion would be soaked with tears.
Then, I'd open the Bible and read.
And each morning after this quiet and solitude, I would rise empowered and ready to fight and go ahead. It is unexplainable. Unrealistic. Improbable. But it is true.
As I prayed and took everything to God, He gave me the grace and goodness to rise strong to live and fight another day.
I'd love to tell you that I'm some she-ro who got twenty stitches in the face after skin cancer (pic to the right – yuck!) and went and put on my Captain Marvel costume and went to class the next day. I didn't. I had to hide and stay home because we all agreed I looked so gruesome that I had to be hidden from sight. That is how bad I looked. (I love my students too much to make them look at me like that! I debated even showing you this picture, but a video I shared on Twitter I filmed at the end of the week now has 16k views where I talked about some of what I learned seemed to help a lot of people. I couldn't bring myself to share it for over a month!)
— Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) December 5, 2020
I'd love to tell you that I made a list of 50 things and got all of them plus 1 done each day.
But that didn't happen.
Yet, each moment. Each breath. Each heartbeat. Well, my friends. It is a gift, and I'm glad to be here.
And I'm thankful for every single person in my life. I'm glad you're here.
I'm glad to be able to smile!
Because we cannot be overcome by evil, but you overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21).
You Can't Stuff the Heartbreak In
You can't read this blog post and fix yourself.
Emotions are not like clothes that you can put into a vacuum bag and suck all the air out so you can cram it into the suitcase of your heart. That vacuum bag will spring a leak, and the suitcase is going to come busting out. Because when you stuff emotions inside, it always manifests itself in some way. Always. Repressed emotions are a sure way to become cynical, angry, or depressed.
A few words aren't enough band-aid to close up yucky stuff that gushes forth from a broken heart.
I think many of these hurts hit us, teachers, hardest of all. We've all met the cynical, angry person who has nothing good to say about anyone or anything. If you haven't met a cynical teacher, you've not been teaching long. If you're the cynical teacher, then you've stuffed all your stuff inside without dealing with it. It usually isn't the front office that has you angry; it is usually repressed anger that has you angry. We must give a productive outlet to the stress and upset feelings.
I've been the cynical teacher. I've been the depressed teacher. I've been the heartbroken teacher. All of those things. I've even played the martyr a few times (and literally have the t-shirts to prove it.)
Get Out the Scissors
There's a great old story about John Wesley, the preacher who helped found Methodism. He had just given a sermon, and a woman came up to him and said,
“Sir, can you take criticism?
“Sure, Mam, what do you need to say?”
The woman proceeds to get out her scissors and says,
“Your tie is too long for a man of the cloth.”
Then, she proceeds to cut his tie off at the appropriate length she found acceptable.
Wesley then asked for her scissors and says,
“Mam, can you take criticism?
“Sure Reverend Wesley, what do you have to say?”
“Mam, stick out your tongue.”
Now, we all know he didn't do the obvious and cut off her tongue; however, the point was made. The woman was really not interested in helping Wesley, only in expressing her acid-tongued opinion. She would have been better cutting off her tongue than to speak such things.
Holding your tongue is a choice you have to make if you're ready to stop the slide and turn around.
We Have a Choice
So, I'm not going to do anything here but to share with you that you have a choice. As Tolkien said,
“we cannot choose the times in which we live, only in how we will live the times.”
Pressing publish is going to be hard for me on this post. I don't know that what I have to say is going to be helpful. But I've read that if you create out of your pain, it can help others struggling too, so I guess I'll finish and see if it helps someone.
I Choose to Move Forward
So, as I've prayed it over, I'm not ready to quit teaching yet. I have to sprint to the end. I have to go out on top. Just like I rise to make it another day, I will rise one day and know that it is time to move on from teaching in the classroom every day, although I know that I will always be a teacher. I will always teach somewhere.
But I've decided this morning that I've got a few goals.
I literally woke up this morning and have realized that I can live. This is my blog post on the other side of the chasm. One I wasn't sure I could cross.
I want to make it to episode 800 of the 10-minute teacher podcast this year. I've already published 4,769 posts on my blog, and I would like to hit 5,000 posts this school year – so if I have 54 podcast episodes, that makes another 177 blog posts that need to be written. When I publish this one, it will be 176. I know that seems like a lot, but I'd love to help people. And I'd like to finish year 20 of teaching this upcoming year and finish it well. I want to finish the book I've been writing for eight years. (Right, I said eight.)
Living is a choice. Processing pain is a choice. Taking problems to the only One who can do anything about them is a choice.
My Mama knew how to die. She also knew how to live. She took the time to examine life and death to know what they both meant and find the truth.
The truth really does set you free. It sets you free to choose. It sets you free not to let the death of the woman who brought you into the world take you out of it. It sets you free to go on, not because you're not in pain and hurting, but because you are strengthened in your weakness.
We all have choices. We cannot choose most of the things that happen to us. But how we respond – that we can choose.
I know of more people than ever that snort their stimulus check up their nose, and have lived in a drug-induced haze since last year. Others have chosen change just for the sake of change. But if you're miserable wherever you go – you're the only thing you're taking with you. Don't throw yourself away; find a new you.
It doesn't have to be this way.
This is my story, and it is what has happened. Honestly, it is miraculous in many ways, and I'm grateful. Not because life has been easy but because somehow, each day, I've had victory. No, I'm not joyful FOR the pain; I'm joyful in my pain. There's a difference. I'm living proof of the power of God.
I choose to teach year 20 with everything I have and make it the best, most awesome, most incredible year I've ever taught. This July, I choose to enter season 10 of the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast and feature helpful, hopeful, encouraging guests who will help teachers of all kinds in all sorts of places be their best and reach every child. I choose to write on this blog and hit publish. I choose to publish the book I've been writing since 2013 finally. I choose.
I choose not because I'm strong but because I'm weak but have been made strong to do the work. On my own, this blog, the podcast, and my teaching career would be dead and gone by now. All gone.
I got a new stove yesterday, and I got a new attitude this morning. Both of them were bought for me at a price, and I'm grateful.
So, every word and deed that goes live on this blog from now on will be to the glory of God. It doesn't mean I'll talk about Him in every post but every post I write is because He calls me to encourage teachers and help them reach every beautiful child in their classrooms around the world. What a calling!
Because left to myself, I have to be honest and admit to you that I would be done. Gone. Left the profession.
I'm glad for my Grandmother's advice all those years ago. I'm glad to have the kind of Mama who deserves to be deeply mourned. I'm most glad to have the kind of God to gives me new life when it should be over.
Here we go. Finally, I'm ready to look ahead and live.
Tips for minimizing teacher stress
- Discover 10 stress-busting secrets for healthy teachers. What simple routines will help you handle the stress?
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- Learn tips to help you deal with difficult colleagues and students (even those who "hate" you -- yes it is possible!)