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

Passion Projects

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
― Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, first woman to be elected head of state of an African country

 

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I absolutely LOVE this quote! It challenges us to step out of our comfort zones, dream big, then put in the elbow grease to achieve the impossible. After all, if you already have the capacity to achieve something, it’s more of a to-do list item than a dream anyway, right?

A dream stretches us and our faith. It makes us take the first steps on a journey trusting that God will direct our path, walk beside us, and be waiting for us at the finish line.

I feel like I’m living out my dream every day at HPA! It is the best combination of my passion for God and my passion for teaching, and this giant dream that used to scare me (and sometimes still does), is the most beautiful journey of faith.

Now, I am hoping to bring even more of that passion to our final projects for English class. Instead of simply writing a final research paper, I’m asking students to take on a passion project – to create something more than just five pages in MLA format.

So far, students have come up with ideas for photography projects, how-to video series, recipe books, original music productions, and the project pitches aren’t even due yet! I can’t wait to see what all they come up with over the course of this project.

So, here we are, dreaming big scary dreams about changing the world, because we serve a big God who has equipped us with the time, talents, and resources to do just that – leave the world a better place than we found it, no matter how young (or young at heart) we are.

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. -1 Timothy 4:12

So, what is your passion project? What dream has God placed on your heart?

Joy Unspeakable

It’s been a big week here at HPA – the start of our second year, and for many students, their very first week at Higher Path Academy. I am so excited about all the new students and families I have met, and I can’t wait for our second year to be so awesome that last year gets jealous!

As new families have come in, I have noticed one common theme – people often mention that they heard how energetic and fun the classes are. At one point, I overheard my mom speaking with a new family and told them, “A lot of people ask if Leah is always this full of joy, and (not because she’s my daughter) but yes she is!” While that is such a huge compliment, it really hit home with me since I’ve had the topic of joy on my heart for the last few weeks.

While I was in college working on my teacher certification, a huge focus was placed on our philosophies of education. We wrote multiple papers about it, presented and defended it in front of a panel of professors, and included it in our portfolios for future job interviews. I’ve thought a lot about how my philosophy of education has evolved, and if I were to rewrite it today, without a doubt, joy would be the major focus.

Students walk into my classroom with all kinds of worries and fears and doubts, but if for just a few hours, we can smile and laugh and learn together, maybe all those negative things can take a back seat for just a moment. I want my classroom to be that safe space that feels like you’re at home and at church and at school all at the same time. I think that is where learning truly occurs – in the context of God’s Word through the strength of relationships in an atmosphere of joy.

And I am passionate about sharing this joy with my students because as Christians, it is available to each of us. The problem is that many times we confuse happiness with joy, but happiness is a temporary emotion, circumstantial and fleeting. While our emotions are part of God’s design for us, we are not meant to operate at that level. Instead, God operates in the permanent – He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and that is His desire for us – not just moments of happiness but a lifetime of joy.

“But life is hard.”

I know. Our friends and family have not been untouched by some of the same tragedies facing my students and their families. I know the devastation cancer wreaks on a family. I’ve seen the affects of the pain of addiction and abuse. I’ve cried with people battling illnesses of all kinds and prayed with and for those who have faced unimaginable loss. But even in those darkest of nights, God’s promise rings true that JOY comes in the morning (Psalm 30)!

I love the description of joy in 1 Peter: “Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” It’s like God KNOWS we can’t wrap our brains around the lifetime of joy He has called us to. It’s “unspeakable;” other translations say “indescribable” or “inexpressible.” It’s just like the peace He promises us – “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). It’s peace in the face of turmoil and joy in the midst of despair – something the world can never replicate, because it is the divine work of the One and Only True God!

So, that is my philosophy of education – that woven into the fabric of every lesson plan and homework assignment and project, that my classroom would be overflowing with God’s unspeakable joy!

 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13)

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash