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While updating the website this morning, I was drawn back to a blog post I wrote over a year ago entitled “Joy Unspeakable.” As I read back over that post, I was almost in tears. Not because it is any less true today, but because it rings truer than ever!

For so many reasons, the last year has been the hardest one I’ve ever faced, but as I was thinking about the year in terms of that old blog post, one word came to mind: more.

There were more phone calls that made me instantly sick to my stomach, more hospital rooms, more tearful prayers, more pleading with God, and more questions than answers.

But for each of those “more” moments that broke my heart, there was more of God, more of knowing new facets of Him that I had never known to that depth, more light in the darkness, more laughter through tears, and more stretching of my faith.

I wouldn’t wish those phone calls and hospital visits on anyone! But what I do hope for is that you are blessed with knowing the abundant more that our Sweet Savior has to offer. He has met me and held my hand through each of these struggles, and He promises to do the same for you, dear friend!

Most importantly, what I have learned through walking through the impossible is that each time that “joy [came] in the morning,” a little bit of muscle memory was added to my faith. The next time I faced something hard, I could lean not just on God’s beautiful promises, but also on the divinely specific and nuanced details of how He walked me through the last valley. And, friend, that muscle memory of faith is priceless! Because, as promised, “in this world you will have trouble.” But do you know what the rest of that verse says?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33

Friend, our Heavenly Father, our ever-present help in times of trouble gives us this guarantee: He has overcome the world! So, we can STILL say that even in the darkest of nights, JOY comes in the morning because it is the great Overcomer of the world that holds our hands, hears our prayers, and catches every tear we cry until the day when those tears of sorrow are exchanged for tears of joy unspeakable!

Joy Comes in the Morning
Psalm 30:5 “For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

We Won an Award

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk grading papers and making lesson plans when we got an email notifying us that we won a “Best of Gallatin” award!

I would love to tell you that I played it cool, but I immediately started crying! I couldn’t believe that someone outside of our little homeschool circle even knew that we existed, much less thought that we were doing a good job. It was surreal!

I think it was so hard to believe because I’m still in shock that we get to do what we do every week. Recently, I was telling someone the following story about how I still can’t believe it myself:

Every day when I pull up at school, I grab my 3,000 bags of books and random lab supplies and such and walk to the front door of our little school. I fumble through my keychain until I find the right key, and I slide it into the key hole. Now, this is where it gets silly, because after almost three years, I still hold my breath! I start turning the key to the right, and when it unlocks, I can finally breathe again. It worked, I think!

When I finished sharing this story, I asked my friend, how absolutely ridiculous does that sound? And she said, “Do you know what it sounds like to me? Gratitude.”

So in this season of Thanksgiving, on my long list of things to be grateful for, our little school is definitely on the short list, and I am also incredibly grateful for all of the prayers, encouragement, and support that have gotten us this far. Thank you!

Cultivating Culture

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The concept of culture is a hot topic in businesses, schools, and churches, and rightfully so. We’ve managed to take this beautiful word that covers cultivated behavior, accumulated experiences, and a collection of patterns both explicit and implicit and use it to describe, as my students might say… the “vibe” of a group of people.

This idea of identifying our values and intentionally living them out is so woven into our culture, it even affects our art. How many of us have a cute farmhouse painting declaring that “In this house, we…” or “In this family, we…”? What follows those statements is usually a list of verbs declaring what “we” do… forgive each other, love one another, give second chances, etc.

While I’ve always been drawn to these, my students and I have never really taken time to create a list like that for HPA, but what happened yesterday was more beautiful than any list we could have written as a beginning-of-the-year icebreaker exercise. But first, I need to give you a little linguistics lesson so you can fully understand how amazed I was at what took place yesterday.

While studying linguistics in college, I learned about the difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism. Precriptivism prescribes a set of rules for grammar and mechanics that should be followed to the letter. Descriptivism looks at how we communicate naturally, then uses the tools of grammar and mechanics to describe that communication. I find myself using this analogy for so much of what we face in life, and yesterday was no exception.

Yesterday, in one of the most authentic conversations I’ve ever been a part of in a school setting, something AMAZING happened. My students started describing our school culture. One by one they listed the values that we hold dear and the way those values benefit our school culture. They spoke about a lack of bullying, the need for quick and genuine forgiveness, the importance of humility, and the profound impact of being in relationship with people who come alongside you and encourage you.

It was BEAUTIFUL!

They said that coming to school just feels like coming to another home, and that it truly feels like we are a family, complete with a bonus mom/cool aunt, grandmother, and a giant list of brothers and sisters that would fill up about five of those classic home school vans. 😉

When asked why they thought it was like this, their answers left me speechless! One mentioned the fact that it just felt like the Holy Spirit was present in class every day, making it almost impossible to bully, gossip, and lie. But what surprised me most is that they said that it was just the culture we’ve created here at HPA.

And though my heart was bursting with pride at all I was hearing, all I could think is that

THIS is what it looks like to put God at the center.

THIS is what it looks like when teenagers choose to love others the way that Christ loves us, and

THIS is what it looks like to be in relationship with people who cheer each other along, walk with you through the hard times, and have your back day in and day out.

Because…

In this family, that’s just what we do!

 

Lessons Learned from Trying on Glasses

Yesterday, during our second day of school this year, a few of my students came in with the cutest glasses on you’ve ever seen! Now, some people may love high-end shoes, while others may love name brand shirts, but this little nerd right here? Glasses!

What’s interesting is that right now, nerdy glasses are trending – the bigger, the better. I mean, I’ve been wearing glasses since probably junior high, but if a trend comes along for something I’m already wearing, I am HERE for it! I’ll be at the check out counter at a store, and someone will compliment my black and white polka dot glasses, and all I can think is What a time to be alive!

But back to yesterday. When I saw these cute glasses and began “fan-girling” on them, my students were kind enough to let me try them on. I ran into the bathroom and took a look at myself in the mirror. “I look PRECIOUS in these,” I said jokingly.

On the way back out of the bathroom, I heard one of the girls lightheartedly say, “I wish I had that kind of confidence,” and I can’t get that phrase out of my head.

Here’s what I want to tell that girl (and EVERY girl) – Sis, that confidence was hard-earned! I’ve survived braces, bad haircuts (ask my mom about my self-inflicted half-inch bangs), and cringeworthy wardrobe malfunctions that will turn your face red just HEARING about them! But here’s the thing, I’ve learned that I don’t get to press “pause” on the calling and purpose God has placed on my life just because something like this has happened.

That gross spaghetti stain on your white shirt you got at lunch? If your day stops there, who is missing out on the blessing of your encouraging word that afternoon while you can’t stop looking at that reddish-orange abstract art that just keeps growing bigger the more you try to clean it?

God’s purpose for your life and for your day, don’t stop just because life threw you a curve ball, but guess what? Neither do His promises. He’s with you through all of it.

But what’s the secret to getting through it? Being so laser-focused on His plan for your life (Jeremiah 29:11) and so secure in your identity in Him (Psalm 139:14) that everything else is just white noise.

So, laugh it off, because we’ve all been there. Lift your head high, because you don’t want that pretty crown to fall off of your head (even if you are having a bad hair day). And keep doing exactly what you’re called to do, because someone needs your strength, your confidence, and your smile (braces and all)!

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“Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”

As I sit at my desk the Saturday before the first week of our THIRD year of HPA, I am overwhelmed with love and gratitude for all the people that have helped make this little school a reality. If I started a list, it would be miles long because I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without the amazing examples set by my teachers from elementary school all the way through college. I also wouldn’t be the Christian I am today without the wonderful pastors, youth leaders, and mentors I have had, but today, I am especially thankful for the strong women I have had in my life to speak words of life and truth into my spirit.

You see, while I’m writing this, my mom and her friends are driving two hours back home after making the pilgrimage up to Gallatin to see our new school building. Those cars that are on the road right now are filled with three generations of powerhouses – my mom and her friends, their daughters who I’m blessed to call my friends, and the newest addition to this hometown tribe – baby Palmer, who has the most beautiful blue eyes you have ever seen!

The Cowan Crew
Leah Salyer (HPA founder), Linda Thayer (“Mama Thayer”), Rose Pearson (family friend who named HPA), Mary Pearson Smith (lifelong friend), Patsy Rigsby (family friend), Jill Rigsby Higgs (lifelong friend and mom to that cutie in the baby carrier, Palmer)

These women know what it means to be a tribe – they celebrate the highs and hang with you through the lows, and raise their hands high on the roller coaster ride of everything in between! They have recipes for all occasions and can throw together a wedding or a baby shower (flowers, food, and all) with their hands tied behind their backs, and I love them fiercely.

So, today when they came to see our new school we moved into in February, it made it feel “real.” Having these ladies from my hometown see this giant dream of mine alive in this building was such an amazing experience, and it just reminds me of the phrase that we are standing on the shoulders of the giants that have come before us.

I had already decided that our theme for this school year would be mentorship, and today was just a beautiful confirmation. To stand in front of the school with Rose Pearson, who named Higher Path Academy; her daughter Mary, who has been one of my longest and very best friends; “Saint Patsy” as my mom calls her, and her sweet daughter Jill and grandson Palmer (I’m already missing those cute little toes!), I truly felt the importance of surrounding yourself with amazing mentors and a tribe that will dream with you, stand with you, cry with you, and fly with you.

Ladies, you have helped me learn to soar! Thank you!

Rose, Mary, and Mama Thayer in front of HPA
Rose Pearson, Mary Pearson Smith, and Linda Thayer