An English Teacher’s Guide to This Week in Nashville

It’s been a big week here in Music City, and not in a good way. During the night Monday, tornadoes ripped through Middle Tennessee, leaving a path of devastation about 50 miles long. As my English class and I discussed analyzing literature this week, I stumbled upon an interesting connection to these storms.

One of the ways we discuss literature is in terms of connections we make to the text. As we draw parallels between what we are reading and the bigger picture, we cover three main types of connections: text to self, text to text, and text to world.

Text to self connections are the connections readers make between themselves and the characters and/or situations in a work of literature. Text to text connections ask us to relate what we are currently reading to other works we have read. And text to world connections challenge us to see how what we are reading reminds us of people and events in our world.

But as I reviewed this concept with my students this week, I realized that this isn’t just a tool we use to analyze literature, it is our default setting for processing life, especially the unexpected.

As we see the pictures and videos of the storm damage, we naturally begin to start drawing connections to ourselves: have friends in East Nashville. I went to Tennessee Tech and know people who are there now. own a business and don’t know if the building is okay. And the list goes on and on as we begin calling and texting friends and family to make sure everyone is okay.

Then, as the first wave of panic begins to die down, we start making connections between this situation and other situations: the 2008 tornado on Super Tuesday, the flood of 2010, and so on. I think it is our brain’s way of reminding us that we’ve survived hard times before, and we begin to call on those past experiences as a way of tapping into our muscle memory for our ability to rise.

Then, the most beautiful connection of all is made when we see this situation as a way to connect (or reconnect) with our community.

It is said that when an anthill is destroyed, the ants immediately begin to rebuild.

Immediately.

And that is just what we do here in Nashville. We roll up our sleeves and we start to rebuild, and as we rebuild what was damaged physically, may we also rebuild each of those connections even stronger!

-Photo by Brandon Jean, Unsplash-

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Saturday night as my husband and I were getting ready for bed, he said something that always melts my heart. No, it wasn’t how much he loved me or even how cute I must have looked in my comfy fuzzy PJs (LOL). What he said was, “I had fun with you today.”

That day, we had tried a new restaurant in the morning and then (for the first time that I can ever remember in our relationship), we watched 3 movies back to back! While my husband enjoys unwinding with some screen time, I can hardly ever sit still long enough to get through an entire movie unless I’m doing like three other things at the same time. But Saturday, we just enjoyed being together…on purpose instead of just as background noise in our relationship. We didn’t wake up that morning with epic movie-watching plans; it just happened, and it turned out to be such a great day. So, of course, I said, “I had fun with you today, too.”

Then, I realized how often we actually say this to each other. I think, without realizing it, I stumbled upon one of the core values in our marriage – to have fun together! And it’s something we really are intentional about – we ride motorcycles together, go on trips together, try out new restaurants together, and enjoy having a million inside jokes together.

But standing in the kitchen this morning, I started digging deeper, wondering if there were any other lessons to uncover. Then I began thinking about my relationship with God and if there might be any connections. I almost laughed out loud imagining God telling me during my evening prayers that He had fun with me that day…then, it became the most beautiful picture of complete surrender to God.

I stood there imagining all the ways that God and I have had fun during a day. I thought of beautiful sunrises and sunsets my Artist Friend has painted. I thought about all the little “God winks” throughout the day that let me know He cares. I thought about all the times I’ve felt that tug on my heart to say something to someone and felt the joy of actually doing so. And I thought about all those big belly laughs – the laughing until you cry (or snort) and start laughing all over again!

Then I thought, what if I’m crazy?!? I mean, imagining God giving me a virtual spiritual fist bump at the end of a fun day together…I know how that sounds. So, just as I began talking myself out of it, a verse came to mind. “Delight in the Lord…”

Ha! I was onto something, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the rest of the verse, even though I was sure it was one I knew by heart. I headed downstairs to my computer, the whole time repeating the same phrase, “Delight in the Lord…” “Delight in the Lord…” No luck – I couldn’t come up with the rest of the verse.

I searched it up online, and almost had a literal face palm moment…

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

You see, every time I thought of that verse, I had focused in on the second half about God giving us the desires of our heart. Sometimes it was as part of a prayer asking God to fulfill a dream I had for my life or answer a big prayer request, and other times, it was surrendering my dreams in exchange for His will. But either way, I’d focused way too much on the second half, because there in black and white was the part that I’d been dreaming up in my kitchen – having fun with God, truly delighting in Him.

So, now, I plan on being even more intentional about seeing all the ways I can delight in the Lord – more belting out Toby Mac lyrics on my way to work, more impromptu solo dance parties in the kitchen, and more opening my eyes to the God of joy who asks me to delight in Him!

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More

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!