Category Archives: Lessons Learned

2 Hearts

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I’m at this picturesque coffee house overlooking Lake Austin this afternoon, on the patio.  My Honey is driving the Duck (and will probably float by in about an hour, hopefully giving me a quack and a wave!).  Our kiddos are either at the gym working out or at their jobs working.  We’re all meeting later for dinner at a new spot called Unity Vegan Kitchen Shady Grove.  So, I have about 5 hours on my own.  I have my computer, my phone, a few bucks for an iced chai, and a view that is simply lovely.

For the past hour, since we walked out of church, I have been trying to figure out what to do with my time.  I had already decided to write, but the leading up to that is a little intimidating, to be really honest.  I do this thing where I impose a level of perfection on myself that simply isn’t possible for me and has the exact opposite effect on my writing than I would like it to.  My heart is to share my junk, in all of it’s glory  ugliness  humanness, with the hope that others don’t feel so alone.  I also pray that others will reach out and let me know that I am not alone in my junk.  Win-Wins are good stuff.

My life is in a good place right now.  I mean there is still SO much brokenness in my life, especially in some of my most intimate relationships, but I believe that this is what is right now and there is nothing for me to do about that at this point except pray and wait in love.  So, there is peace (as well as sadness) in that part of my life, but in the other, more functional parts of my life, there is so much good and I’ve waited for such a long time, so I’m a little bit ecstatic, on the regular. 

I’m setting aside time with my Father daily – okay, about 6 days a week.  It isn’t what I believe it’s supposed to be yet, but that’s okay.  It’s a relationship, it develops with time.  There is ebb and flow and all the while He and I are creating memories, knowing there is grace, love and an entire array of other ingredients that make our relationship sacred.  When I lived in Michigan, I got up and spent time with Him daily for years, but when everything fell apart here, little by little I lost my desire to spend time with Him for so many reasons.  I didn’t want to be transparent with anyone, because of the betrayal I had experienced.  I felt as if He chose not to protect me and then just watched me wallow in humiliation and brokenness.  I doubted His existence on some level.  In my anger, there was arrogance.

So many times over those first few years in Texas I would get up early and open my journal or my Bible and feel nothing but empty.  There were a few rare occasions when I felt His presence and I’d go on a 2-3 day roll before falling into complacency once again.  Each time my hope faded a bit more.  Hopelessness is an oppressive enemy.

I began to realize that this struggle reminded me a bit of my struggle with exercise over the years.  I’ve never been a big fan of the latest craze kind of exercise, especially when it came with a big price tag attached.  I found a long time ago, that once I am emotionally ready, I just have to put one foot in front of the other without a lot of thought.  If I consider things too much, I will talk myself out of exercise in a New York minute.  So, about a year and a half ago, I started setting my alarm for 5:20 and walking out to my chair in the corner of our living room and spending time with my Father.  It was not especially pleasant at first, but it began to feel familiar after a couple of weeks, and that was enough to make me continue getting out of bed without hitting the snooze button for the next few weeks.  It was probably almost a month before I felt like I was connecting with Him and His Word again.  There are times when I don’t follow through – like the first couple of weeks month of school because I’m absolutely exhausted, so I extend myself grace and choose to feel grateful that I managed to wake up early 1 or 2 days that week.  Because I don’t beat myself up, the guilt-monster doesn’t get the best of me, so getting back into my routine happens because I look forward to my special time with Him instead of because I feel guilty for not doing what I’m “supposed” to do.  The great part about that is that the barrier of guilt is not there, I will keep on keepin’ on because I want to and He really only wants me in relationship with Him because I want to be there, not because of that other junk!

Last summer it dawned on me that I needed to again apply this to daily exercise.  So, I started, but doing both in the morning before my 7:15 a.m. report to work time, was not going well.  I considered doing one or the other in the evening, but I was just TOO EXHAUSTED for this kind of commitment once I got home from 9 hours of mostly 6 year olds needing my constant attention.  Back to putting one foot in front of the other without a bunch of thought.  Now I set my alarm for 4:20 a.m. most mornings.  I learned that if I do my workout first, I somehow don’t have time for Him and that’s my priority.  So, I spend time with Him, do my yoga practice and then jump step on the treadmill while watching something awesome, like Bethel music on youtube.

I haven’t lost a ton of weight – and let me tell ya, I would love to, but I feel better every day.  I take my supplements, I eat pretty clean and I’m taking care of my physical heart. It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I’ve decided that instead of beating myself up and getting stuck in the should’ve’s, I’m going to rejoice in the now and the ripple effects all of that will have on my later.

 During this desert time in my life, I believed in God, but I didn’t follow Him.  I’ve felt a bunch of shame during the last few years because I wasn’t the example I used to be for my teenage children who are now young 20-somethings.  We weren’t serving at church, we weren’t including Him in most of our decisions, and my root of bitterness felt as if it increased exponentially at times.  But, here is what I did right:  I kept taking my family to church.  I kept trying to spend time with Him.  I kept looking for a small group or a way to connect with other believers.  I kept trying to be in relationship with Him.  When I was lost and almost void of hope, I kept on putting one foot in front of the other.  Sometimes obedience is the best we can do, and my life is proof that He honors that – my mustard seed of faith and my watering can of obedience were enough.

It took years before I found Him again.  He was there all the time.  My heart just wasn’t ready, yet.  I gave up a time or two, but He waited for me to be ready to try again.  I’m sure I frustrated Him now and again, but still He loves me without condition and He did the whole time I was a broken child.

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My desert time was almost 7 years long.  I often thought I would never feel the joy and fullness that comes with living for Him and knowing Him intimately, again.  I couldn’t fathom being grateful for those dark and empty years.  But I am.  I don’t understand the why of it all and I may not ever.  I just know that I am happier than I have been in what seems like forever and it has lasted a long time.  I  understand that I am blessed with a season of joy right now and that there will be more seasons of “not joy” in my life.  I am proof that He is faithful and sure that I am His.  

I know there are others walking through the desert right now and as much as I wish I could take their hands and walk them out to the beach or a lush, green field ripening with peace and joy, I know that all I can do is send some hope into their journey and assure them that He is walking beside each of them, grieving with them and loving them endlessly, no matter what comes.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

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Peacemaker

 

Matthew 5:9  Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.

What is a peacemaker?  Some Christians live their lives proudly proclaiming themselves peacemakers.  I think a bunch of us think that peacemakers are the kind, not-judgey, sweet old grandma type of Christians, so I can understand why someone would want to call themselves that.  I believe this is another one of those terms that has slowly changed to be more palpable in our culture.  For me, one of the telling signs is that I rarely, if ever, hear a man call himself a peacemaker, but I’ve heard many women describe themselves as this as an interchangeable term for “nice.”

In my almost 23 year journey as a Christian, I’ve tried to sift through what people say things in the Bible mean and what they truly mean.  It hasn’t been an easy task and there were moments in my early days as a fairly new Christian that I encountered some pretty unattractive behavior in the name of following Christ and it threw me into a tailspin.  I think about that a bunch when I say the Bible says this or that to others because I don’t want to send anyone down the wrong path or not be as true as I possibly can be to His Word – although in a desperate moment or two, I admit I’ve punted with my own children during some scary teen moments…

So, this is what Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has to say and when I checked biblestudytools.com, the definition was very similar, with the mention that in the Bible the word is only used in its plural form:

Peacemaker:  one who works with opposing sides in order to bring about an agreement.

Synonyms:  broker, conciliator, go-between, honest broker, interceder, intercessor, intermediary, middleman, mediator, troubleshooter, moderator, bargainer, negotiant.

These words describe someone who takes action.  While I see honest and other positive representations of peacemaker, I see no mention of nice or silencer of other’s feelings.

So many women have been shamed their whole lives for being outspoken, transparent, passionate, and many other things that “nice” girls are not supposed to be.  In our culture we tend to think of these traits as not feminine.  We instead think that smiling, never complaining, and always saying “nice” things about people is what little girls are made of.  I daresay we think that’s what a peacemaker is.

Who has real, long-term peace from this kind of behavior?  The peacemaker?  The “made to be peaceful?”  How can a nice girl really be known, if she puts on this face all of the time in order to gain other’s approval or to be thought of as “nice?”  It’s a lonely achievement…  It’s a life of stuffing feelings and putting on faces.  It’s a time bomb waiting to explode all over the place with casualties untold.

I’ve seen families and workplaces controlled by peacemakers (who have their own selfish agendas) for years and then one day it all blows up in everyone’s’ faces, because the wounded people have never really been heard and you can only stuff so much festering junk for so long.  The ugly behavior of some has been inflicted on others for years, while the peacemaker swept it under the rug, shaming the injured people for saying anything, and never confronting the hurtful people.  Often these people become little monsters and the wounded people become isolated, feeling unloved, unworthy of being fought for, until they finally just walk away – physically or, at the very least, emotionally.  Meanwhile the “peacemaker” shrugs her shoulders, wonders why people walked away and secretly feels a little relieved that things are still peaceful…

Where are the true peacemakers, the go-betweens, the mediators? 

They are usually the outspoken ones trying to stand up for injustice while being accused of having big mouths or being troublemakers – not troubleshooters.  This can be a lonely road if they aren’t traveling with others who value truth and honor transparency, but it seems to me that it is the more noble path and the one He would be pleased with.  They are, after all, blessed.

I think for me this is another sign that  I need to be in His Word more and I need to be in tune to what He has for me, who I am in Him.  I don’t want to please other human beings at the risk of not being blessed.  I don’t want to walk through this life trying to fit this image of a “nice” girl so people will like me.  I want to be bold for Him because He made me bold and I want to love like Him because He made me for that more than any other reason.  I want to have the courage to stop allowing shame to curb His vision of me.  I want to share other people’s burdens and rejoice in the freedom they discover once they’ve been heard and fought for.  I want to live messy and true and in peace. 

I am His child and I want my Father’s blessing.

 

 

The last sunrise of the year…

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At the moment of sunrise, the eastern sky lights up a brilliant orange over the downtown Austin area. The tallest silhouetted building is the Austoinian. This panorama was captured from the Zilker Park Clubhouse just west of the city.

As I look out my window at the last sunrise of the year, I can’t help but think of all of the good stuff  of 2015 – and, of course, some of the bad stuff of 2015, that I want to change in 2016.  I always find people’s thankful lists telling. I’m a big, “love language” kinda girl.  You can usually figure out what someone’s love language is by their “thankful list.”

My Honey will usually talk about a good conversation with me or one of our kids where he felt affirmed as a dad or husband.  He might mention a great tour he had or something awesome at church when he played with the band.  All of these things have one thing in common – the words that people say to him.  His love language is words of affirmation.  Words can build him up immensely or tear him down horribly.  Caleb and Aaron have the same love language and every time we get together with them, our conversations are full of what people said to them or about them that caused them to feel great or not so great.

Hannah and I share the same primary love language and if you’ve seen my facebook posts, you probably know that quality time is how I feel most loved.  If someone is willing to make time for me, I feel loved beyond measure.  If we had any doubt about Hannah feeling the same way, it all went away when we went couch shopping a few months ago.  We were in the store looking at various designs.  Hannah kept going back to the sectional – which I felt was a bit big for the area we have in our living room.  As I explained this to her, she sat down on it and said, “I know, but I can sit right here and all of my brothers can fit on it with me and we’d all be together.”  The couch was on it’s way to our home within the hour…  How do you say “No” to that?!

Besides, I believe her secondary love language is gifts and mine is acts of service, so this was a win-win for both of us!!

So, here is my list, and the order is not indicative of the importance, but probably more about how recently it occurred or how memories come to mind when you spend time recalling a year…

I’m thank for:

-my friend, Giselle, who stored our Hannah’s trailer and loaned us their truck and encourages me and my daughter in a way that few women have in my life.  We have lunch less than a half a dozen times a year, but our conversation sustains me and lifts me for the months in between because she is a woman of honor and she chooses to be my friend and make time for me whenever I text her, “Lunch?”  I also love that her family loves my kombucha and she randomly and often leaves gifts by my front door that always come when I need them most.  I think Giselle’s love language is gifts…

-my team at work.  I have never worked with a team of teachers (there are 6 of us, btw, all women) that I have such respect for in the classroom.  I would put any of my own children in any one of their classrooms without thinking twice.  They are all committed to their students in ways that go above and beyond teacher responsibilities daily.  Everyone contributes to the whole, supports each other and steps in for anyone on our team who needs help – and we’ve all taken our turns.  I love that I can connect and laugh with anyone of them when I need to see the humor in the events of a rough day or situation.  This is such a rare dynamic and I dread the day when it ends, which it surely will.  Until then I marvel at the gift these ladies are to me and to the 1st grade students at our school.  Which leads me to my kiddos at work.  I adore them and I’m so thankful that their parents entrust them to me each year.  It is a mystery to me how precious each and every one of my babies that walks through my classroom door is, and how He gives me the capacity to treasure and adore every one of them.

-my friend, Connie, who although she lives in Michigan, still makes time for me when I call and dump my junk on her because she knows and loves my family well and she’s one of my safe people in this not-so-safe world.  I’m thankful for her husband and her children who I love right back.  I’m thankful for her sense of humor and her perspective that is always lined with grace.  I also love that she’s into all of the ferments and healthy living that I am so passionate about and we teach each other new stuff every time we get together.

-my time each morning with my Father.  I had stopped making time for several years when I first moved to Texas for all sorts of “reasons” that just seem lame now.  But, in the middle of 2014 I committed to consistently making this time a priority every day and I have for well over a year now.  As I expected, in spite of some painful things happening this past year, I walked through with the assurance that I was (usually) in His will and with the peace that knowing I had put it in His hands and that I didn’t have to carry it anymore.  My favorite part of being His child has always been having peace that passes understanding.  For me, a girl who struggles with worry, control, and insomnia, it is the stuff.

-the trips we took as a family this past year.  We went to Arizona, Port A, Seattle, and Portland.  Being stuck in the car with my husband and my kiddos is a dream come true for me.  I love the conversations, the cuddling, the memories, and all that goes with a long road trip with the people I most love in this world.  For me, it’s usually just as great as reaching our destination.  I am especially thankful that our kiddos made time to do these trips with us even though they’re all grown up.  This mama feels loved when her grown babies make time to be together.

-our church and our small group.  We transferred to the south Austin campus this year and our entire family feels like we’re finally home.  It has been too many years since my Honey and I served at church and we are back in the swing of things and loving every moment.  After years of trying to find a small group that was a good fit, we have found one that we both love and are growing in.  I can’t tell you what an answer to prayer this is for all of us.  We are blessed and no longer alone.

-Destiny Project brought me back to life again.  This helped me reconnect with my Heavenly father in a way I have longed to for soooooooo long and gave me my heart back again.  My marriage and my family are restored because of this ministry and what He does through it.  I’m thankful that I was able to go and my heart was open enough to allow a miracle to happen.  I’m also thankful that I made friends with some of the most beautiful women God has created.  All beautiful because of who He is to them and in their lives.

-my children and where they all are in their journeys.  I love that our kiddos are all finding their way in this world.  Some of them are taking classes to prepare for their future, some of them are creating things they are passionate about, some of them are risking it all to live the life they feel called to live, and all of them are working hard to be able to take the next step.  I am thankful that they are all healthy and pursuing their dreams.  My prayer for all of them is that they follow His lead and be in His will because He knows their hearts better than anyone and He has a plan that is perfect for their lives. – Another thing that I am thankful for!

-this place… This blog helps me keep my sanity.  He made me this way, that written words are how I best communicate and work through the junk in my head, my life, my relationships, my world.  I’m thankful for the connections I’ve made, the fears I’ve faced, the difference He’s made through me just telling my story.  I’m thankful for the grace and love I’ve received and been able to offer through this media space where I wear my heart on my sleeve and pray for mercy.

-my Honey’s (kinda) new job.  It was a huge leap of faith giving him my support to retire from teaching and switch careers at this point in our lives.  I only agreed to this when He made it very clear that He was opening this door for my husband and we needed to walk through.  Daily I received confirmation that we made the right choice when I see how happy, purposeful, and respected my husband is.  It makes for a happy life when you faithfully follow the path He has for you and I am so grateful that my husband has found his place and that he receives words of affirmation on the regular because he is where he’s supposed to be.

-my Honey.  He and I have been through it, I tell ya.  We’ve weathered storms that seemed to go on endlessly.  We spent years tripping over our own egos and trying to figure out when the other one would get their junk together.  We’ve raised LOTS of kiddos, faced serious health issues, dealt with exes, in-laws, and steps, moved across the country, lost almost everything, worked together, worked apart, purchased and sold homes, been bored, been overwhelmed, nursed each other, resented each other, adored each other, paid bills together, thanked God for each other, almost divorced each other, and here we are.  This year was the good stuff, the transparent place where we know we are completely accepted and that the other stuff is just stuff and we can get through it all because we already have.  Where we’re old enough to know to treasure the moments of laughter and love because they are fleeting and precious.  Where we agree and are in awe that we have created the most amazing people walking this earth who choose to love us and call us mom and dad.

I know there are SO many other things I have to be thankful for this past year, but once I hit 2000 words, I feel like it’s time to start winding things up so that we can all get on with our day.  I believe it’s important to focus on our blessings.  I think that it’s okay to have a rough patch and not feel guilty because you want to wallow for a bit and not put on your big girl (or boy) panties (or boxers?) until tomorrow or next month.  I’ve been so low that I just couldn’t get there and all of that anecdotal happy, joy b.s. just made me feel more isolated and alone, but I’ve also been in less low places more often when focusing on the good stuff is just what I needed to climb out of the funk and get up on my feet again.

I pray you have a list of the good stuff this year.  I pray you savor it and understand that even though it will end and bad, even horrible stuff will happen at some point (and I’m so sorry if you are in the bad or horrible right now), that the good, and even fantastic stuff will come again, too.  This is true for all of us who walk this Earth.  The human condition can be a rollercoaster ride.  I have decided that I am holding on, screaming at the top of my lungs and finally throwing my hands up over my head because I don’t want to miss a minute of the click, click, click as I approach that big drop, the dips, the corkscrew spins with my barefeet dangling, or the straight-away, slow-down time before I hear the screech of the brakes pulling into the station because the ride is over.  This ride is temporary.  I don’t want to close my eyes or heart and miss what He has for me, even when I don’t want it…

Happy New Year!!  

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Attachments…

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This happens every year.  I’m not quite sure how it sneaks up on me every time.  I think it’s the busyness of paperwork, the excitement of summer break fast approaching, the craziness of state testing and waiting for the results, the avoidance of heartbreak.

In August, when I return, I always wonder a little bit how I will love these children like I love the kiddos from my previous class…which is ridiculous, because absolutely EVERY year I fall madly in-love with my students – and I never fall out of love with any of them.  Which is why the end of May and the beginning of June is so painful for me.

The irony is that there’s so much “stuff” – otherwise known as objectives – we have to cram into our kiddos heads all year.  Deadlines to meet, assessments (so flippin’ many assessments) to administer, lessons to make exciting and interesting, and I’m all over that.  I take my responsibilities very seriously.  I need to know that I’m doing all I can to prepare my precious kiddos for life and more importantly, I need to know that I’m instilling a deep love for learning in every precious baby.  So, much to my amazement and exhaustion, we get it all done.  The last few weeks arrive after we’ve worked really hard to learn all we need to learn for the better part of ten months.  We have a little wiggle room now.  We can do the fun stuff that went with the lessons earlier this year, but that we just didn’t have time to do because of the ever present deadlines.

And then Memorial Day weekend comes and goes, and I try to figure out how I’m going to get it all done – The Fun Stuff: the memory books, the room clean-up, the paperwork, the party, the awards, the report cards, the entire check-out list and more are all looming, but all I really want to do is sit on the carpet with my kiddos and read books and listen to them share their thoughts, share their hearts.

Last Friday one of my especially precocious boys walked up to me and said, “Mrs. Ojeda, I love you!  I’m really gonna miss you this summer.  When I’m in 2nd grade, can I come and see you here, in our classroom?  I don’t really want to be in someone else’s class.”

I told him he better come and see me.  I told him he would ALWAYS be welcome here, and then I assured him he would come to love his teacher just like he loves me and that she would love him just as much as I do.  I did this all while not allowing myself to tell all of my babies how much I will miss them and worry about them and wonder if I’ll ever be able to love my kiddos next year like I love them.

Yesterday, I asked them to try to remember all of the things we did that they LOVED this year – all the way back to the first day of school.  They called out, “Jitter Juice!” and “Solar S’mores!”  “Rainbow windsocks!”  “Silly dancing with sillier hats!” “Homework parties – Rootbeer floats, movies, popcorn, pajamas…”   “Sushi and Bubbles!”  “Daily 5 Reading!” – Yes, several of them yelled this out with pure joy!  “The Austin Zoo!”  “The Hands-on Museum!”  “All 27 Junie B. Jones books!!  We Did It!!”  … and so much more.  We had so much fun reminiscing together.  I told them how proud I am of all they learned this year and then I told them how thankful I am for all they’ve taught me.  Naturally, they were shocked to find out they have taught me things, as well, so they asked what they’d taught me!  I told Jasmine that she’s taught me how to be a truly kind and caring friend, and Knowledge & Kamya reminded me what amazing things can happen when you work hard and never give up.  Isaac taught me that sometimes I need to remember my students are only 6 and 7 years old and what I say and how I say it is important.  Ashlyn proved to me that it isn’t always how smart you are, but how motivated you are – and that is a HUGE part of my calling.  Christopher showed me what a blessing someone can be when they offer to help others on the regular.  Andrew reminded me what true childlike joy is and how sometimes, it makes you completely unable to control yourself or your actions for just a little bit and that it’s okay for me to just enjoy that and not try to subdue it or control it.  Dylan taught me that actions speak much louder than words and meeting emotional needs comes first.  Jackie taught me that a born leader can still cry like a baby and be fearful of the future.  I could go on and on.  My precious kiddos taught me more than I could list here.  They humbled me, frustrated me, made me mad, brought me joy, challenged me, brought out my ugly pride and insecurities, made me spit out my drink, laughing and grew my heart, big…

Every group of kids I’ve ever taught has made me better – more humble, more aware that all the good stuff comes from Him.  I can always see bits of my own children in them, my siblings, former students, or even myself, at times.  Sometimes I feel like He’s giving me another chance because I’ve messed up so many times before and He wants me to get it right this time. I feel lucky that He’s letting me try again with the knowledge of my past screw-ups.  That’s one of the good things about getting older, experience brings wisdom.  Wisdom brings deeper love and humility.  Deeper love brings heartbreak…  and so, here I am, again.

The good stuff is that I loved them all well.  I taught them a bunch, mostly to LOVE reading and writing and to be curious about EVERYTHING!  – and it’s summer (!) and I’ll see them and hug them next year.  The not so good stuff is I miss them and my heart is a little bit broken.

The good stuff list is WAY longer than the not so good list!

I find it ironic that I always share with them that I believe writing and reading are SO important for a bunch of reasons, but personally, I love to read when I need to move away from really sad or angry feelings and I love to write when I need to work through those same kind of feelings.  I spent an hour reading Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerine’s, which is full of uplifting, real and sometimes hilarious stories (just what I needed), and now, I’m wrapping up this post.

Good stuff…

Happy Summer!

let go