Write Your Story

I was standing in the middle of a field in Haiti with balls of tape and a swarm of young competitors. Blasts of lively music caught my attention and I gazed at the schoolyard across from the field where students of all ages were dressed in bright, blazing blue uniforms, marching to the beat of celebratory music. Just outside the chain link fence that surrounded the school was a little boy in tattered clothes peering intensely at the high knees. He drew his arms and began lifting his feet high to imitate the learners in the field. The blue marchers had been chosen for sponsorship in. They got to learn.

But success was beyond this little boy’s reach … Or was it? His movements were out of sync; He was alone and disadvantaged – wasn’t he?

I walked away from that schoolyard believing he was disadvantaged and his success in life would be dependant on sponsorship. What I didn’t see in that moment of time was that he was teaching me courage. I was the student, he was the teacher. The truth is, if you have a heartbeat, you are constantly teaching and learning. You are developing habits and perspectives and by your words and actions you are teaching others to see the world in certain ways too.

That boy in Haiti taught me that you can have “success” without significance, but is that really success at all? If, however, a life of significance is the aim, success of all kinds will follow.

That day in the Haitian field, that boy showed me what significance really looks like. He chose to be curious about the school, to do what he could to be connected to people, and to compose his own march, believing that he could make change for someone and that day, that someone was me.

He was a Curious. Connected. Composer.

Two of my students are currently teaching me more about this powerful life approach. Jacob Buffalo walked into my classroom last fall with passion and enthusiasm. He was determined to score high because he told me his grandma would beat him if he didn’t. She was the woman who cared. Only weeks into the school year Jacob’s enthusiasm dropped and his attendance tanked…

I was frustrated with his lack of engagement and attendance and frankly, his attitude. However, my frustration didn’t seem to be motivating him to change, go figure. I needed to be curious like the Haitian boy … One question without assumptions or judgment can transform a relationship and change the direction of a life. Jacob, are you ok? Jacob’s grandma had died. Jacob didn’t finish the semester as he’d imagined, but he did finish. He stayed curious about himself, his own life, his goals and hopes and he decided: This semester is not going how I’d hoped, but maybe there is another path I can forge from this point forward. And he did. In a sense, he picked up the pen, and decided to write his own grade ten story. Jacob’s curious approach and courageous effort would have made his grandma proud.

Joy walked into my math classroom last fall, wanting to hide in the back of the room. I noticed Joy’s arm was pulled inside her sweater – and I asked her if she had hurt her arm. At my question, Joy bolted out of the room in tears and I learned later about Joy’s amputation. Joy is a brave cancer survivor and my question was her worst fear. Later that day, I found her and spoke with her. She was angry and she could have asked to be removed from my class forever (I’m pretty sure she was tempted), but she remained curious about the situation and me. We talked for a long while, and her ability to remain curious allowed me to explain my mistake and paved the pathway for an incredible relationship. Later in the semester, I asked Joy to speak at an event where her story inspired hundreds of youth from across the province. She chose to live curious, to own her story, and tell it. Real connection can only come through writing our true stories – the good, the bad and the ugly.

That Haitian marching boy could be considered weak. But our weakest moments are true parts of our stories and these parts need to be told too, because they are true, and they are part of us, and sometimes our strongest action is to accept and own our greatest struggles.

Just a few weeks ago, a substitute teacher made the same comment I had made to Joy in the fall. I found her sobbing in the hallway. The substitute teacher had grabbed her shirtsleeve with laughter and had suggested she was lying about her amputated arm. She told me she wasn’t just upset about the teacher’s insensitivity … she said, it’s all of it Miss Cey! Everyday I wish I had my arm, And today I can’t stop thinking about the day I had to shave my head … And I wish this wasn’t my life but it is! I asked her if she would pick up her pen and write her story about the day she shaved her head, and she did.

In her letter, Joy told about her hair falling out in mats, she told about trying to hide, she told about looking in the mirror and having someone else look back at her. Joy signed her story as: 11-year-old girl almost done grade 6 and had to leave school so she wouldn’t die. 

Joy chose Connection. She wrote. She cried. She acknowledged the difficulty of her story. Her courage in her most difficult moments births connection, empathy and hope.

That very same day Joy was writing her story at the high school library table, Jacob sat frustrated at a computer just meters away. He was supposed to write a research paper about the 18th century in Britain. He couldn’t care less about the 18th century in Britain, and quite honestly, in that moment, neither did I. I did know that Jacob cares about his future and is interested in rap, so we began to study the life of the composer John Braham. Jacob developed an inquiry question: What was it that made John Braham so successful? We found out that Braham’s most successful and well-noted song was called The Death of Nelson and this song united a hurting nation with Hope after the war.

You and I, and Jacob live in a hurting Nation today too. A Nation in need of reconciliation, and the process can feel slow and the impact of generations of disunity is being felt and experienced by Canadian students, teachers, families and the country at large. It’s up to you and I and Jacob to continue to lead our Nation forward, and to impact Canada as Braham did Britain so that we can all write another story for the next generation. Jacob chose connection that day at the computer and a powerful essay took shape.

A few days later, Jacob came to school with another sad story. His cousin had passed away. In these painful moments, if we choose to live curious and connected, we can become the greatest composers.

This year, Joy spent hours painting and honing her skill painting and writing with her left hand, although she was born right handed. She has owned her story with words and composes messages of hope with paint.

Jacob composes rap music and the day after he told me about his cousin, he said, Miss Cey, We all have rhymes and stories to tell and we express it through our pen and paper…

We have a lot of quiet minds…We can’t talk because we get interrupted everytime. If I have a dollar or a dime – everytime – I get quiet I be rich. Sometimes I feel left behind because the way we heal is to talk about our problems. Why is it so hard to combine some of these rhymes when one of my cousins died I can see right now is nothing but grey. I’m talking about my truth there’s just so much to do so I’m in with the new but I like old. Some people think that’s bold. When I heard, I felt cold. But we can heal people – because we’re equal… This song proves to all the people who think we’re quiet … Proves you wrong – this song is called quiet minds but I won’t shut these blinds.

-Jacob Buffalo

Joy composes paintings and Jacob, rap songs. What is it for you? What are you passionate about? Simon Sinek says, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion.”

That doesn’t mean it will always be easy. Jacob’s history essay is taking some serious discipline and Joy told me her left arm aches when she writes. On the days I don’t feel like being curious, connected or composing anything, I look up on my office wall and am reminded by Joy’s painting, Jacob’s rap and images from Haiti, to pick up my pen and keep writing my story.

Albert Einstein says, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” I would argue: “Once you stop this kind of learning – the kind that changes you – you start dying.”

Maybe the courage of the Haitian boy and his determined marching can be the motivating spark for me and for you to pick up our feet too. Maybe the story of his passion, his desire to be a curious, connected composer can inspire you to live this way too. And maybe you will choose to lift your feet to empower others like Him. Maybe your story can change his.

It has been said, “The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” Choosing to be curious, connected and to be a composer is a daily choice. It’s a significant way to live and it really can change your world. When I first saw that young Haitian boy, I assumed that success was beyond his reach. I was wrong.

I think that he depends on us and we on him. I think that the little one marching outside the fence was the strongest of all. He had learned to own his story, even in his rags. He took the most significant steps he could and his steps were more remarkable than those marching with sponsorship and support.

Will you pick up your feet, even when you feel weak and will you pick up your pen even before anyone is reading your words, and will you acknowledge the deep significance of your weakest days and draw the courage to build and share your strengths? Will you accept a life of teaching and learning and find that the most successful life, no, the most significant life, is spent being curious, connected and composing? Will you always choose to sign your story with hope for others to read? An 11 year old who had to leave school so she wouldn’t die, a grade ten rapper with something to say, and an isolated Haitian boy will be remembered for living lives of significance because they chose to compose. They chose to compose Hope in a world ready to be transformed by their song.


The Last Word

“A young 12 yr old tried to commit suicide tonight .. en route to hospital right now.” A text message I received November 13th, 2017.

My friend Janice is the Principal at Ahtahkakoop Christian Academy. We became friends last spring when I visited the school she runs on Ahtahkakoop First Nation Reserve.

There was stark contrast between her excited expression as she spoke proudly of her school and students and the difficult aspects of hopelessness she described.

The suicide crisis is ugly and the Christian Academy is facing it head on with mighty big Hope for kids and families feeling lost.

Schools have the power to transform society as they shape the hearts and minds of an entire generation.

“If we want meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we can make a connection to the mind.” – George Couros

Meaningful change is happening for students at the school. Relationships are being built. Quality education is being taught. The food program is meeting practical needs. The Hope of Jesus is being felt – and is transforming lives.

However, the challenges are real.

“Sorry sis … the ambulance is calling, can’t talk now.” – Janice Nov 2, 2017 4:04pm

I am a high school teacher. I teach in a public high school and I am grateful for the outstanding and unique learning opportunities, tools and supports made available to Canadian students in my classroom. There are many practical needs that would enhance the ways students can be empowered at Ahtahkakoop Christian Academy such as: A school playground, food program supplies, support staff, a new bus, building needs, and educational tools and supplies.

Janice recently wrote to me, “I need prayers today … lots to do … I know Jesus is with me.” – Janice

Yes, she needs prayers. Yes there is much to do. BUT Jesus is with her and this changes everything. Hope is here. Hope gets the last word. The suicide crisis is NOT the end of the story for youth in this province. Hope gets the last word – Always. Because over 2000 years ago He rose from an unlikely Stable … the King of the universe rose up, for us.

Powerful leaders, advocates, athletes and world-changers are rising up from unlikely places at Ahtahakakoop Christian Academy too – and across this province.

I play with a band called Rise. We are a musician/songwriter collective that loves Jesus and aims to instill God’s hope. We recently recorded a Christian song called Hope Will Reign. Songwriter Vanessa Samuel scripted the lyrics, “In that stable, lost are found … Hope is here, here to stay.”

The song, Hope Will Reign can be purchased today at https://riseyxe.bandcamp.com/track/hope-will-reign.

All proceeds will go to Ahtahkakoop Christian Academy so that Hope can continue to reign in bigger ways through the school.

Hope is the belief that things can change.

The crisis is real, but it’s being beaten one heart at a time. Thank you for considering being part of this change!

Creative Chords

Music practice was the norm in my home growing up. Lessons, choir adventures, worship teams, camp jigs and school productions always loosed liveliness in me I can’t explain.

A few years ago, my musical instruments were squeezed out of my agenda and my home – and busyness replaced my love for chords. One day at the end of teaching a frustrating lesson introducing parabolas (frustrating for all of us – this was my first go-around, so students were gracious) I was determined to get more creative about engaging the class – as we were all on “get through the class and get out” mode – and I knew it could be better.

Unfortunately my own creativity was legging because I hadn’t cultivated time and space for rest or rejuvenation for a long time – it takes energy to try something new!

As I thought about the class – what they loved and gushed about, I remembered my own music theory expeditions that felt much like a math class as a kid. That was it! The class was music obsessed. I remembered my own love for chords and words and tones and beautiful sounds and inspiring lyrics – and I found just what I needed in the most reliable place a first-year teacher could – a kijiji keyboard.

Students began coming to class early to show me things on the keyboard – they performed for one another and we constantly connected music to math in the most mystifying and creative ways. Students who thought they hated math loved to meld music with numbers. The sounds of it, the relationships built through it and the courage practiced by those brave to perform and write on the keyboard was motivating. Creativity takes and builds courage and we are called to live cloaked in it.

Watch for those who know King Jesus commissions them for creativity.

Gaze at the eyes set on the cross – free to explore and dabble and try – fail and try again – because they are so secure in unimaginable love.

Bold and Brave.

My kijiji keyboard gets good use these days. I’m continuing to learn that although I don’t have anything directly to show for the time spent with instruments and lyrics – my very character, quality of life, and levels of fulfillment and joy grow. Through it, I grow in worship-oriented living and continually discover that music, the sound of heaven, has the potential to release the best in all of us – creativity, joy and liveliness!

Did you know:

  1. Music practice can significantly increase motor and reasoning skills.
  2. Music can give us physical endurance! When our brain is responding to music – it doesn’t pay as much attention to the signals yelling, I’M TIRED!
  3. Moderate noise levels can enhance creativity
  4. The neuroscience of singing says group singing actually releases oxytocin in your brain – giving a personal a happy high.


This week, countless graduates mounted distinguished caps on their heads with pride – ready to pursue purpose. One of the most common grade twelve graduation themes is: Follow Your Heart. We live with heart when we live with purpose. Deep down – everyone wants this.

This year, I taught a student I will never forget – Tim. On the first day of class, I was spilling with enthusiasm for an exciting year ahead of standard deviation and Pythagorus’ theorem … (don’t ask me why Tim wasn’t sharing my excitement). Tim was having none of it – and refused to open his book. I asked him what was wrong. My over-the-top-first-day-teacher-enthusiasm died fast when he angrily said – LOOK – I am the kid that never passes anything so I don’t try – and I won’t be trying … You should know that about me. I am just putting in my time, but I will fail. I always do.

I’ve always been one to love inspiring words, quotes and ideas and flashy phrases like “FOLLOW YOUR HEART” … but looking into Tim’s defeated eyes – and knowing that feeling of defeat in my own life at times, it got me thinking: How do we actually experience courage and inspiration that leads to change? Tim needed more than a pep talk – and I recognized that sometimes, so do I. I think we all do.

So if not a pep talk, then what do we really need to live with heart?

For graduates, it seems purpose is all about what we DO in life … I bet every grade twelve grad is sick and tired of that question … What are you going to DO next year and for your career?

My Question for graduates is not what you plan to do but instead, who are you going to BE? I believe that the answer to this question is the key to whether or not you will find purpose and deep down lasting joy.

The thing is: It’s easy to plan what you want to do – but HOW do you PLAN who you want to BE? How do you plan to follow your heart?

To live with HEART is to live with courage…

A person’s ability to live with courage is the number one indicator of how successful one’s life will be. (Success defined as a fulfilling job, sufficient finances, personal fulfillment and happiness) It’s not intelligence, talent, or charisma. It’s your ability to be courageous!

What is courage? “Mental or moral strength to withstand fear and adversity.”

I used to think that courage was something some people had and others had less of when in fact– Courage is PRACTICED. Dr. Brene Brown calls courage a verb – it’s something we choose to do! Verbs end in ING. we can actually PRACTICE couraging.  By choosing to do it, we build it. Mental strength can be built like a muscle… over time… with practice.

Physical strength is built in the gym. Mental fortitude is built in the mind.

So as I thought about Tim… and my own desire to get couraging, I got a mirror in the classroom and scripted the famous quote “Life is like a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it.” If Tim believed he could pass, he would. If he didn’t – he wouldn’t.

The mirror was more for me than it was for students. (Mostly because I thought – if I am supposed to get any learning going in this classroom, I’m going to need all the courage I can get!). Every day we practiced couraging. One author says there are five characteristics of courage – As a class, we focused on one characteristic each day of the week.

  1. GRIT – Motivation Mondays

“You have a choice – you can throw in the towel, or you can wipe the sweat off your face” – Unknown

  1. INTEGRITY – Tell-All Tuesdays

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” – Brene Brown

  1. JUSTICE – World Wednesdays

“Small things done with great love will change the world.” – Mother Teresa

  1. THANKFULNESS – Thankful Thursdays (Default brain setting)

“The happiest people do not have the best of everything. They make the best of everything they have.”

  1. FREEDOM from fear

“Fear is much more a limitation than having no arms or no legs.” – Nick Vujucic

We take inspirational words like “Follow your heart” and bring them to life by choosing to practice couraging.

To all grade twelve graduates, at your ten year, twenty year or thirty year class reunion … It’s not going to matter so much what you have done. Picture yourself – it’s going to matter who you have become. Are you joyful? Fulfilled? What kind of a life you have chosen to build? You don’t build a life with designations and titles – although they may be a very important part of the equation. You build purpose-filled life by living with heart.

So to all 2017 Grads, may you choose to..

  1. Worry more about WHO you are than what you DO.
  2. Choose everyday to practice courage – especially in the small things
  3. Choose to live with GRIT, INTEGRITY, JUSTICE, THANKFULNESS and FREEDOM from fear.

And may you be surprised by the JOY that grows big and the ways you impact the world.

Oh yeah, I should tell you – This week, Tim passed the math class. He said on the last day of class that he went from being the failing guy to the passing guy. He didn’t talk so much about the credit he earned, but about who he had become. He chose it. He built it.

And tomorrow when he wakes up – He will get to choose again. And so will you. Because the reality is we are all going to mess up sometimes – we will slink back and make mistakes.

Everyday offers a new choice – we can simply read inspiring quotes like “Follow your heart” Or we can actually do it – one practicing moment at a time. It doesn’t matter what labels we’ve worn, or what you chose yesterday. Today, we all choose new.

Finally, people aren’t meant to produce courage – but to practice it. Keep your faith. If you look to God to provide the courage and you commit to practicing it – you will be amazed at your own ability to follow your heart through this life!

Art, Health and Wholeness

Do you feel like you can’t keep up to the treadmill of your life? Like everyone else and the world around you is moving faster than you can clomp along? Yesterday, I felt the track of the tread as I rushed to pick up sketchpads and get to school to facilitate an art session with high school girls between lunch bites. In the past, my solution would have been to push harder to catch up in all the ways I felt behind … but I am learning there is a better way to live…

Yesterday, as I pulled the classroom door closed behind me and the art session began – I was reminded that instead of running faster to catch the busy – we can choose to stop. To step of the tread and readjust the speed.

The art instructor gave colors and hues of all kinds – the girls opened the massive sketchpads and began drawing and coloring self-portraits – “A healthy self.” The room was calm. Rich, vibrant and explosive colors invaded the white space of sketchpads and creativity oozed like melting butter around the room.

Near the end of the session, the instructor asked the group to consider the questions, Who am I? Who do I want to be in the future? How am I growing in to that person? These reflection questions helped all of us to consider what is unique about us, what is important to us, and how should we be spending our time in alignment with our values. This empowers us to live true and authentic lives.

This is satisfying – and society is in a desperate claw seeking deep down satisfaction.

Creativity (anything that we create with originality – this could be a strategic plan, a short story, or a new cloth diaper design) connects us to our authentic identity and helps us to live in the zone that says,I know who I am. I know what is important to me, and I am empowered to live according to those values. I do not live to meet to the expectations of others and I am not driven by the treadmill of societal pressures.”

When we make creativity  a priority, research shows we thrive.

“Stuckey and Novle considered more than 100 studies, concluding that creative expression has a powerful impact on hearth and well-being on various patient populations … engagement in the arts have a variety of outcomes including a decrease in depressive symptoms, an increase in positive emotions, reduction in stress responses, and, in some cases, improvements in immune system function.” – The Huffington Post

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszntmihalya said during his TED talk, “When we are involved in creativity, we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life …” 

PhD Cathy Malchiodi says, “It’s our capacity to actually “create” where we begin to live more fully, experience transformation, and recover the core of what it means to heal. It is your authentic expression through art making, music, song, movement, writing, and other forms of arts-based imagination that are central to the equation of why creativity is a wellness practice.” – The Huffington Post

Walking through the Royal Tyrell Museum with students this week reminded me that God is the Master of Imaginative Ingenuity. The replicas were stunning!

“All of us are the work of your hands” – Isaiah 64:8

So instead of looking to the busy treadmill to provide fulfillment, health and wholeness – look to The First Extraordinary Designer, for this is where we find ourselves.

God-Guided Growth

Growth is defined as the process of increasing. Some synonyms are: expansion, extension, development, progress, and advancement. We either live stuck or growing and both options are challenging.

Students often say, “I am not organized person” or “I cannot do questions like that.” The connection between thoughts and ability is enormous and often our own thoughts prevent us from growing in areas that would greatly benefit our loved ones and us. A growth mindset approaches problems and skills with the belief: I have the ability to learn and improve in this area. Research shows having this thought about any challenge increases motivation and resilience insurmountably.

Grit is the number one indicator of a person’s long-term life success. It’s not intelligence, looks, grades, charisma, or charm. It’s grit – and plucky character emerges from the cultivation of a growth mindset.

This week – I moved and swayed at hip-hop dance lessons with the thought – “I can grow in this.” The truth is – growth is struggle and it takes courage. Sometimes, I try new things in areas my natural talent doesn’t flow. Let’s just say, dancing is one of these areas. God must have smirked as he mixed the love of dance with two left feet in my make-up. This concoction makes for excellent conditions to practice a growth mindset – and for frustration to creep in along the way too! When I was practicing one move at a time, the great big mirror was my friend. However, as soon as teach decided to mix knee movements with hip thrusts and heel taps– my goodness! My reflection became my enemy and everything in me wanted to quit. It was good for me to feel like a fool and relate with frustrated students when we approach a new concept in class. It was good for me to choose to believe I could grow if I kept going, practicing, learning and trying … and I did. We all can.

The old saying, “You get what you expect in life” is tried, tested and scientifically true. Thoughts, actions and behaviors are all connected. As you choose to think and act today, your brain will be blazing a trail of neurons that are in alignment with those thoughts and actions – you get to choose how these trails are forged.

In her book, The Broken Way, Anne Voscamp writes, “What if the point of everything is simply this: change your life expectations to focus on what life expects from you – and your life changes.” In order to start focusing on what we can offer in life we need to step into novel situations with confidence that we can do everything God is asking.

The Bible teaches us to live with this kind of a mind. It says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…” – 2 Peter 1:3. We have all we need to bring God’s life on earth in creative ways and unexpected places, as he leads us. As we learn to hear his personal instructions daily, a growth mindset allows us to adapt and keep going. This is not pointless advancement but is God-Guided growth and is the gateway to becoming more likes Jesus. The world could use a lot more of Him.

Change for Change

The underdog, long shot, weaker one, the little guy, the sitting target, the downtrodden. Why do we have a tendency to pull for these ones? Our brains are actually hard wired for hope, to believe that positive change is possible.

Right now, high schools across the city are opening their doors for annual “Open House” events splattering students with new information and opportunities. These students get to choose, and choice is great power in this world.

Last night I walked with a big number six around the hallways of the high school I teach at as we enthusiastically moved from one presentation to another – teachers and students displaying the unique learning opportunities in our building. It was fun to hear students show interest in different areas. Some gawked at the photo lab, others were drawn to yummy sweet treats in process in the cooking lab. Others hopped in the science room (and left sporting a fine static hair do).

As our group walked down one hallway, one parent turned to me and remarked, “This is intimidating as a parent, I can’t imagine being a student!” Intimidating… I was disappointed to think that with all of the fascinating options before these students, many likely felt intimidated. Some may even leave feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and disengaged – even though all of them have abilities and skills that can be developed so they can contribute and make change.

The classic education mantra remains: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

But maybe the best change happens when we change.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself.” – Tolstoy

As long as we feel intimidated or like we don’t have much to offer, that belief will dictate our actions, and we will live small lives. One student told on the second day of class that he does not believe its possible to pass the course. Whatever he chooses to believe about passing, he will be right. My privilege is to convince Him he has something to offer – pass, fail or otherwise. I believe His mindset can change. So can mine. This is hope – and we are hard wired for it.

Hoping for change is not always exciting; sometimes it’s downright hard. This week, I also continued to pray for things to change in a heart-breaking situation … Years have passed – still no change.

Yesterday in a meeting a colleague said, “What is the Gospel after all? It’s the belief that people really do change.”

And I was reminded again. We don’t need to wait until our situation changes to experience change ourselves. To receive more peace, more strength, more joy and more love from God. This is how he wants to be changing us, daily, if we let him.

We are hard wired for hope – and maybe in order to reorder anything around us – we must believe we can change. Change for change.

Kingdom Come

Innovation can be defined simply as a new method, idea or product. You were made to innovate for the fulfillment of your own soul and for the betterment of the masses.

The theme verse of one Christian school this year is, “May your Kingdom come and your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”

With a team of dedicated women, I facilitated discussion around the topic of innovation yesterday in a junior high classroom. I asked, “Who likes problems?” and no hands went up. I asked students to list the problems they see in the world, the “Not rights” and the “Unjusts.” Answers varied from slavery to trafficking to poverty to illness. Yes, God, may your Kingdom come.

Problems in the world can be devastating, but problems give purpose and purpose is what tantalizes the human spirit. God takes the dearth of problems and sends sparks of revival through His problem solving innovators.

In the classroom, I asked which students believe they are creative and only a few hands flung into the air. Creativity is simply defined as “Having or showing an ability to make new things or think new ideas.” Every person is divvied some creative juices and unique interests at birth so they can accomplish their purpose, solve problems, bring the Kingdom, and live fulfilled. The human brain is stimulated by new experiences and thoughts, we are drawn to them, and when we see, think, experience or express something novel, we open the floodgates for the happy rivers of dopamine to trail the crevasses of our brain channels. We anticipate something good to come from the new experience – we are actually wired to hope for positive change, if we are willing to think new. People who routinely think new thoughts and do new things increase their capacity for brain change and effective learning.

In our culture, in a typical junior high school classroom I asked the students what things might hold them back from using their creativity for solving problems that interest them in the world? What might keep them from being motivated?

First, they acknowledged the need to believe they have something to offer. They are people of worth with much to contribute to the world. One group strongly pointed to jealousy as a barrier to problem-solvers, even within this small city classroom. Jealousy snuffs, stifles, sucks life and stomps on dreams.

Teens are in major development and their ideas are wonder-marked, but remarkably fragile. Charles Bower says, “A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.” – Charles Bower

Jealousy and judgment kills new thinking in playpens, classrooms, streets, busses, planes, businesses, and in our homes and organizations. Near the end of our time in the classroom, I dared the group to hope. What if each one became unswervingly committed to stomping out jealousy and committed to unreservedly appreciating, encouraging and reinforcing the interests and uniqueness of the people around them. What the somber sneers and yawns became celebratory cheers. Oh, would confidence grow, and purposes penetrate people.

Practicing purpose living is hard, and I admire my colleagues who do it. This week I listened to two incredible teachers as they talked of late nights they spent designing final assessments that were engaging, fun, creative and authentic. Heather created a complicated escape room for an English assessment that required students to know and apply all kinds of knowledge and learning outcomes. Stacey had her math students build amazing little treasures just to scale with pages of calculations for one little cardboard creation. I watched them build, dream, design and finish their measured products with great delight and pleasure. Their sleepless nights and inventive work matters, because there are problems in the world waiting for courageous new thoughts to emerge, for God’s Kingdom to come.

This is Living

Most students in North America spend between 175 and 180 days in school every year, with about 900 to 1000 hours of that being instructional time. What we do with our time shapes our brains, thoughts and character. A teen brain is capable of mighty developments as it undergoing major construction. Let’s just say, the hours I get with students are sacred minutes. They matter.

The semester is coming to a close this week and it’s reflection time. My teaching experience has altered dramatically in the last year.

During my first year teaching – I found myself feeling downright insecure in many ways – this effected my practice more profoundly than I care to admit…. I remember being offended when a student spoke unkindly to me – this would cause me to dislike the student. I remember feeling agitated when students would come in late because of the distraction to my perfectly planned out lesson (sometimes not bothering to ask what is going on at home that would cause the ongoing tardiness). I remember taking it personally when a student neglected to hand in assignments, as if it reflected on my ability as a teacher. I remember being angry when the class achieved poorly on an exam – as if this was a “Kait Cey value statement”. I remember feeling frustrated with students who were too shy to ask questions and then performed poorly, and those who couldn’t understand English but never came for the extra help they needed. No, this is no way to live my one life – frustrated, graceless, desperately clawing for evidence of my own worth as a teacher … as a human. This is no way to lead lives in the classroom– this is no way to spend 1000 hours of God-given moments set apart by our Nation for lively free learning. I’m sorry for these moments. I’m sorry.

Today, I get it, deep down in my bones, that I am worthy and valuable, because I am human – no more than the next person – but equally and carefully crafted by the hand of Almighty God. Until I got that, I was incapable of teaching in the love mode John Lennon describes:

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back form life. When we love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create.” – John Lennon

One day last semester, I quietly asked a disengaged student in my classroom to remain after the class because I was concerned for her. She came in with an attitude and had missed more classes than I can count without taking any initiative to keep caught up. I gently asked her if she hoped to pass the class, she said yes. I asked her why she does not open her book during class, or come for extra help (even though I had asked her to do this countless times). My gentle questions prodded unexpected authentic responses that broke my heart for her. In the past I may have asked the questions out of my own frustration (Had I done this, you can bet she would not have shared so authentically) instead of genuine care for her.

Today, I do not feel more valuable when my students succeed. I celebrate their success with all my might and strive to provide every support I can so that they are able to flourish – but their success doesn’t make me more valuable. I am remarkably valuable to God, and so are you. The more I understand this – the more I recognize the stunning value of each student – pass or fail, attend or don’t attend, mistakes, disrespectful comments, awesome success, or otherwise. They are worth it. We all are.

This is how God treats me after all– with all of my imperfections – he sends waves of crashing grace through blood-spilt love that gives me freedom and ability to spread love and live free. He’s done this for you, too. Yes, this is living.

Mud and Money

This week, Financial Advisor Brandon Weibe joined the bustling morning math crew that I teach to talk about getting rich quick! … Or more like living a financially wise life and making decisions at a young age that will benefit them for the long haul (They were more interested in getting rich quick!) Several weeks ago I asked students what was their biggest fear was about the future – and many of them said, “Not having the money to do the things I would like to do in life.” Yes, life is more than money, and God himself says money is the root of all evil. However, money itself is not evil – Money builds wells for clean water, finances libraries to store the knowledge of the world, feeds families, provides electricity and equipment for hospitals and schools, ensures the care of the elderly, the sick, the challenged, and all of the vulnerable and defenseless. Money provides opportunities for people to reach their full potential, and fulfill their calling – to contribute positively to the world.

No, Money is not the root of all evil. The love of money is. What we love most, we give our time to, we seek security in, we think about, and we serve. Money is simply a tool that we can use to do the things God has put us here to do – and learning practical wisdom in this area of life is wise!

Like so many areas of life, being financially wise is less about knowing the right things to do, and more about having the discipline and ability to actually do them.

In Brandon’s presentation, he pointed to the famous financial tidbits of Dave Ramsey who says, “Finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior.” Getting head knowledge is easy, changing behavior is hard.

I think this is why Jesus asked the blind man at the pool of Bathesda, “Do you want to be healed” before strangely reaching out to smudge mud in his eyes and set his life on an altered course. A first glimpse of this story leads a person to think Of course the man wanted to be healed! What a ridiculous question! However, as I walked on those very pool steps just over a week ago, I thought about all the ways the begger’s life changed in the mud moment. His business had been to beg – it is all he had ever known. This was his source of income and how he had learned to get by in the world. Healing meant learning a new way. Healing meant change. Healing meant the people around him were troubled and upset. Healing meant letting go of old habits and letting God work new things through the making of messy mud.

Sometimes, it’s hard to do the things we need to do to pursue long-term benefits. The short-term muddy discomfort can deter us, but if we are willing to let Jesus work in the mud of our lives, he will create the most amazing, purpose-filled contented days in our hearts. You can trust him enough to change, grow and adapt in the ways that will bring health to your life. Sometimes, the first step to long-term benefits is saying yes to the short-term mud.

“When Jesus had said this, He spat on the ground, made some mud, and applied it to the man’s eyes. Then He told him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came back seeing.” – John 9:6-7