Dear Joey,

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The summer before I began the third grade, I attended my first camp with my church youth group.  I remember being terrified as we left the church.  I had never spent that many days away from home.

Little did I know, that camp visit would begin my deep history with Woodland Christian Camp.  I attended as a camper each summer until I was sixteen.  At sixteen I met a young man whose father volunteered as a camp dean each summer for the third and fourth graders – the same age I was when I first attended!  I volunteered.  For the next two years I would serve as a camper and a counselor, on different weeks!  Once I graduated from high school I would serve as a counselor for at least one week of camp each summer.

Once my mother passed away and I began teaching full time, I put what was intended to be a temporary pause on my camp counselor service.  However, summer jobs, marriage and children happened and before I knew it, it had been sixteen years since I was on the land I loved so much.

Last September, something woke me early on a Sunday morning.  A casual Facebook scroll ended with a cold grip on my heart.  The precious camp dean I served for so long and loved even longer, Joey, had passed away.  Suddenly it came crashing in on me just how I had neglected the land and people who had meant so much to me.  Joey had always seen the good in me.  He listened to me as I thought through some tough teenage decisions.  He had loved me as a kind uncle through times when I struggled to love even myself.  He had reached out to me when he heard my mother had passed away.  What had I done to thank him?  Nothing.

Over this past week, Joey and his family had been laid upon my heart repeatedly, even showing up in my dreams.  Once more, I was awakened early on a Sunday morning.  Once again a Facebook scroll gripped me.  This was the week of camp that Joey had always served as dean.  Two dear friends who had served with Joey and I were heading it up.  One was Joey’s son, Jason.  I finally knew how to thank Joey.

Yesterday my husband and I took our three children to Woodland.  I introduced them to old friends.  Watching my children talk with Jason, who looks just like his father, felt like the completion of a journey I had not realized was unfinished.  We walked through the buildings where I spent so many happy days.  I introduced them to Joey through a picture Jason had posted in the main mess hall.  We sat on the deck with a view of the lake where I had many a deep discussion with Joey.  We walked down to the lake and sat on the dock where I remember dreaming of my future.  Somehow my dreams did not include sitting there with my children.  It was surreal, but wonderful.

Joey taught me one more lesson yesterday.  I stood by the lake alone for a few minutes, saying my good-bye to Joey and remembering all the dreams I had during my teenage years.  I realized that I wasn’t living many of them at all.  My husband was only a friend during those years.  I never imagined being married to him and sharing children.  I am a teacher as planned, but teaching is not what I imagined.  Adulting is not what I imagined.  But what I have is …. perfect for me.  I couldn’t imagine a husband who understands me better.  He is patient when I need it and challenges my thinking to make me look at situations from various angles – much like Joey.  My career is my mission field and has taught me that with God I can go farther than I ever could alone – as Joey told me He would.

Joey taught me that while I may not be living exactly my teenage dreams, I am living God’s dreams for me, and He dreams so much bigger than we can.

Dear Joey,

Thank you for everything you gave to me growing up – most importantly, a listening ear when I needed it.  Thank you for modeling faith in God, even in the face of difficult circumstances.  I hope I have made you proud.  Enjoy your reward.  There aren’t many who deserve it more than you.

Love always,

Aletheia

 

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Bad Mom

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Today I feel like a bad mom.  The dishes aren’t done.  The laundry isn’t folded.  Dinner came out of a box and was simply warmed up in the oven.  My youngest didn’t get a bath.  The dog ran out of food during the day.  The cat is drinking out of the toilet bowl.  My husband’s work pants are wrinkled.  Homework isn’t finished.  Lunches aren’t packed for tomorrow.  Clothes aren’t chosen.  Shoes aren’t laid out.

By all worldly standards I am a failure as a mom and wife.

However, we ate on clean dishes.  The laundry is clean.  We had food for dinner.  My youngest doesn’t stink and will get a bath tomorrow.  The dog has food in the pantry.  The cat has clean water in the toilet bowl to drink.  My husband has work to wear wrinkled pants to.  Homework will still be there tomorrow.  The kids can eat lunch at school.  There are clothes to choose.  There are multiple pairs of shoes to choose from.

What did happen is that my family sat down to dinner together.  We talked about our day.  We laughed.  We argued.  We may have even cried a little.  I snuggled with the littles in my bed to read while the big and my husband chatted in the living room.  We all said prayers together and gave hugs and kisses while tucking in the littles.

What matters is that my children are clean, fed, clothed and loved.  And they know they are loved.  They are safe and sleep in security and warmth.  They know they can come hide in our bed when there is a storm.  They know that we will kiss boo boos and love broken hearts.  They know we love them when they bring home good behavior notes and also when they bring home the not so good.

What matters is that my children are learning about God.  They know they are loved by their Creator.  They are learning to love Him and follow His ways.

The dishes and laundry can wait.  It can all wait.  It’s not what matters.

 

 

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”   Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)

In Defense of Teachers

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Last weekend I was having my taxes filed with my favorite lady. She has done my taxes for 15 years. A couple and their young teenage son were in the next cubicle and were speaking very unfavorably about the son’s school and its teachers. (Those 5 foot tall dividers are not sound proof.) My tax lady looked at me and grinned. She could see me biting my tongue. I decided to give my tongue a break and instead speak out in defense of my co-workers worldwide that are in public and private classrooms all day long. Let me tell you what I have seen in my 20 years of being on the other side of the teacher’s desk.
I have seen a teacher with a desk drawer full of 3rd grade boy’s clothes. A student in her class has to get himself up, dressed and on the bus each morning. That often involves wearing whatever clothes he can find – often the ones he wore yesterday. This teacher allows him into her classroom early so he can get a clean clothes and change in the bathroom before his classmates notice.
I have seen more teachers than I can count with drawers of snacks and food to feed those students who do not get enough.
I have seen teachers giving up personal time to attend plays, debates, competitions, games and concerts featuring their students to show them that that are important and they are valuable.
I have seen an assistant principal literally in tears over the situation a student was enduring at home.
I have seen a principal on his knees next to a little one who was refusing to eat. The principal, in his dress pants and tie, sat on the floor and talked to the little boy until he was distracted enough to eat without even realizing it.
I have seen teachers take time off of work to attend a student’s father’s funeral.
I have seen teachers give money, food, time, and care baskets to a student’s family when the student was enduring cancer treatments.
I have seen a school counselor desperately trying to find someone who would provide much needed glasses for a student at little to no cost.
I have seen teachers rush to a student’s hospital bed in the middle of the night.
Educators have come under an increasing number of attacks in the past few years.

Everyone has an opinion on what teachers should or should not be doing without knowing the details of what is required of us each day. The facts I have listed are NOT required. They are men and women going above and beyond each and every day of each and every school year.

Christmas memory

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I am missing my mother more than usual tonight.  Maybe it is the rain that makes it feel like I live in Seattle instead of Atlanta.  Maybe it is simply the fact that it is the evening before Christmas Eve.  Momma loved Christmas.  Despite the reason, I thought I would share a story I had published about my mother.  It was published in a book called Christmas in the Country a few years ago.

Christmas In Momma’s Kitchen
Aletheia D. Lee

On. Off. On. Off. I sat at the foot of our artificial Christmas tree watching the colored lights blink. I loved everything about Christmas: the lights, the music, the smells, and the smiles. Momma always decorated the house until it looked like Santa himself might live there.
Tonight, however, I was a little melancholy. I sat by the tree with only the colored tree lights to brighten the room and a mug of hot chocolate. Karen Carpenter was on Momma’s stereo singing “Merry Christmas, Darling” and I was wrapped in an oversized blanket. It was Christmas Eve and I was thinking of a boy. I was sixteen and just beginning to think of dating. Momma’s illness over the past couple of years had trained me to think of my family first and me, well, never. But I had finally met a boy that changed all that and he was many miles away, probably not thinking of me at all.
Sitting there, questioning the existence of true love, I heard soft laughter in the kitchen. I turned to the room behind me, startled because I had thought I was alone. In the soft light of a Christmas candle on the table I saw Momma and Daddy, wrapped in each other’s arms. Slowly they danced, totally enthralled in their love. I slid further into the shadows so my presence would not ruin the scene. I had seen my parents dance like this before, but this time it touched me much more deeply. As I watched them sway slowly I knew that not only does true love exist, but I saw it every time I saw my parents. From the way Daddy cared for her while she was sick to the way Momma smiled at the mere thought of him, I saw proof of true love every day. I sat back, sipped my hot chocolate, and dreamed of a love like that one day.

Prodigal

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Over the past month our 13 year old son has taken to running away. I don’t know that there can exist a fear greater than that of a parent who cannot find their child. You don’t know where they are, if they are safe and everything is out of your control. A parent’s most natural state is caring for their child and when that ability is taken – you don’t know what to do. Add that to the fact that this parent deals with anxiety and depression disorders and you have a recipe for a mess on the level of a F5 tornado.
This experience has taught me many things beyond the fact that our son is still dealing with issues from his past before coming to live with us.
First, I learned how the church is truly the hands and feet of Jesus. I cannot begin to say enough about the love and support we experienced from members of our church – some we didn’t even know well. I can’t tell you how many people were out looking for him. Staff members, youth group members, our Sunday School class members and other various church friends were all out combing our community. Others provided meals for us or simply kept me talking so I could avoid a panic attack. One created a missing person poster and then Facebook exploded with it. They also cried and prayed with us.
That support did not end when he was found. Instead, they have strengthened their connection with us to provide support as we repair trust and face his past together. When my son had to appear in court my husband and I were joined by a minister from our church and a friend. They were there to support our son as much as to support us. They helped us come up with plans for some new family dynamics.
Second, I have gained a new understanding of the story of the Prodigal Son. In my past I have had times when I sympathized with both the Prodigal and the brother. However, this taught me the viewpoint of the father. Luke 15:20-21 tells us, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (ESV). I remember wondering at this. How could the father simply forgive the sins of the son? How is he not furious? He has been disrespected, embarrassed and shamed. Where is the son’s punishment?
I realize now that those feelings all took a far back seat to the gratefulness he felt to have his son home where he was safe. The other feelings could be handled later. Consequences would have their time. Right now the dominant feelings were joy and relief. The father goes on to say to his servants “‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:22-24 ESV). While we didn’t necessarily throw a party, we did head to my in-laws’ house for an early Thanksgiving dinner. That was the most joyous dinner of my life. I found myself simply looking at him or walking past and touching him. I knew consequences would come, but we could face them together as long as he was here.
Third, I think I caught a tiny glimpse of God’s heart. In the morning of the day he was found I was alone in the quiet for a few minutes. I started crying out to God that my son was hurting and I couldn’t help. Did He understand what I was going through? Did He even care? While the response wasn’t audible, it felt like it could have been. I heard God say “Yes, I care. I am crying with you. Yes, I know exactly what you are going through. I have been there. My Son hurt with the pain and sin of the entire world – past, present and future. It hurt me so badly I had to turn away. I couldn’t bear to look at it.” Wow.
Later that day my husband and I were talking about how our son keeps acting out in different ways. After a moment of thought my husband made a comparison between that behavior and humans rejecting God repeatedly. How we must break His heart! Yet he welcomes us back, kills the fatted calf and brings us back into the home as a son, not a servant. But then we go and do it again! And so does He! There is nothing we can do to make Him not love us. There is no number of times He will take us back. He will not always save us from the consequences of our actions, but He will walk with us through them.

Rock Wall Christians

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Last week I took my children to a VBS Family Night at our church. It was a way to have some family fun as well as for the VBS leaders to build relationships with the families of some of our VBS team members who do not attend our church. We had pizza, inflatables and a 16ish feet tall rock wall.
My son had conquered the rock wall before we even ate dinner. My daughters, however, seemed content to run through the inflatable obstacle course. But then their friends started talking about reaching the top and they wanted in on the action.
My daughters are 5 years old, 43 inches tall and 45 pounds. In other words, tall and thin. They often try to climb the rock wall at the gym where I am a member, but they have never made it to the top. They like to climb about 4 feet up and then ride the cable back down. And then do it again! However, time was not a luxury they had this time. There was a line of about fifteen children behind us waiting for their turn. I was nervous I was about to have some upset little girls on my hands.
My first daughter started up the wall with no problems, until she got about 6 feet high. Then she froze. I could just reach her foot, but could not get her to follow my advice on how to move up. That is when it happened. A gentleman from our church with two daughters himself came by to cheer them on. He saw that she was stuck and coached her the rest of the way up until she pushed the buzzer and shouted “Look Mommy!”
Now it was my second daughter’s turn. She got about 3 feet up – and came back down. I gave her some encouragement and she was up again. But, again at about 3 feet, she stopped. The same gentleman came over to her and coached her up. She pushed the button with her hands shaking, but she did it!
As I thought back over the night, I realized that this was a beautiful illustration of how Christianity is supposed to be. Hebrews 12: 1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Not only did my daughters have the gentleman coaching them up the wall, but they also had a crowd of about 50 people cheering them on. A few were even using their names specifically. (That’s tricky with identical twins!) It was so beautiful to see my daughters being encouraged by such a group of people who love them. I know that my children have an even larger audience of Christians who love them and will continue to encourage them throughout their entire life. They also have a “cloud of witnesses” in Heaven cheering them on through their Christian walk.
This is what Christianity should be. Our entire country has mourned with the church shootings in Charleston last week. However, as the Christian community, we should feel it even deeper. These are our brothers and sisters, whether we have ever actually met them or not. My church honored them this past Sunday with a bouquet, a moment of silence and a prayer time for the physical families and the church family of the victims. Bouquets were also sent to our local AME churches, signifying our unity with them. We are one family.
Wednesday at about lunch time I was in the gym. I typically exercise with music in my earbuds or while talking to my sweet friend, not paying attention to the bank of TVs. However, on Wednesday, I had neither one. I was captured by the images of the funeral procession for the pastor of the church in Charleston. His casket was on a horse drawn carriage being pulled by white horses. The image stopped me in my tracks. I was mesmerized. Maybe this image made it a reality for me.
I wept. Right there in the middle of the gym, I wept. Thinking about this pastor reminded me again of the Hebrews passage earlier. I am sure this pastor was a Rock Wall Christian. The reports about him I have read describe him as a coach. An encourager. A Rock Wall Christian. A huge loss to the Christian community. However, he is now a part of the Heavenly cheering section, that great cloud of witnesses. I can almost hear him. He is asking us to unify, not separate over this. He is calling all of us to also be Rock Wall Christians.

Body shaming vs. Modesty

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I have seen several articles lately talking about body shaming of girls. The latest story I have seen was arguing that a school’s dress code was teaching body shaming. When did teaching modesty become shameful?
I currently teach in a public elementary school, but have also spent time teaching in a public middle school as well as a public college. Each institution applied a dress code to both male and female students, as well as faculty members. Students (or faculty) who violate the dress code receive a warning. Further violations result in further consequences. This is regardless of gender. Period. The end.
However, let’s be honest, do guys need as many guidelines as girls? Sure, there are those who need reminders to pull up their pants. Their waistbands are called WAIST bands for a reason. They are not thighbands or kneebands. You look silly showing your underwear (also called UNDERwear for a reason) and you walk a lot faster when you are not having to hold your pants up.
But, in general, it’s the girls who need the reminders. Some of these are for safety purposes, but others teach MODESTY. We need reminders about what shoes to wear. This is a huge one in my two story school building. We also need reminders to cover up the areas that don’t need to be public and that when we don’t, we are a distraction to others and, let’s be honest again, some of those skimpy clothes are JUST NOT COMFORTABLE. Most are also not cute. On. Anyone. The reality is that when you are showing too much skin you distract the boys, the other girls, the teacher, and even yourself.
On the contrary, dressing modestly keeps the focus where it should be – on learning. Modesty does not mean boring or not cute. More modest clothing is actually very attractive – for the right reasons. It draws emphasis on what we should use to attract people to ourselves: our minds and hearts.
Nowhere does modesty work to shame women’s bodies. Instead, it works to teach us to value ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. It also teaches others to value us. If you show others that you deserve to be held in high esteem and that you won’t tolerate anyone treating you any differently it sets the standard for everyone else to follow. Men who do not want to value you will run. This might mean that the man you think you want will run. But that means he isn’t worth your time – at least not yet. Don’t lower your standards – make him raise his. If he doesn’t … his loss. That means that God has someone way better waiting for you.
Is there body shaming out there? Sure. But dress codes and teaching modesty are not the same thing as body shaming. Body shaming works to make us embarrassed of our body and to feel ashamed of the beautiful creation of God that we are. That is wrong. Modesty works to make us feel proud of ourselves in every way and reminds us that we are precious and deserving of value.
Let’s be honest. As women, we know what our clothes can do to others, especially males. We know how to attract attention, and not always the kind of attention we want. Am I saying that a woman who dresses provocatively deserves to be mistreated? ABSOLUTELY NOT! However, as women we should be responsible enough to choose our clothing wisely.
I can hear you now. “But it is so hot! I need to wear less clothing.” Really? I live near Atlanta, GA. We know some hot weather. Add in humidity and … well, just suffice to say there is a reason that it is nicknamed HOTlanta. When you sweat looking out the window, you know it is bad. But really, does a few extra inches of clothing make that big of a difference? I am not out wearing jeans in Atlanta July weather, but neither am I wearing shorts that show off private body parts. My four inch above the knee shorts keep me plenty cool. Well, as cool as you can get in Atlanta in July.
Come on, ladies. Cover up what needs to be covered up. Certain things are simply intended for your husband and no one else. Show some modesty and self-confidence.

One of my favorite Christian authors, Beth Moore, has said it better than anyone else I have heard.  Here are her thoughts:

Well said, Beth!!!