In the Face of Violence

In the Face of Violence

I had another post scheduled for today, but given the tragic events of yesterday, it just didn't seem appropriate. It's easy to stand by quietly, to be sad in our hearts but keep our thoughts to ourselves. But in the face of violence, we need to be bold. We need to stand up. We need to say something. --

Another day. Another mass shooting. More fear. More hatred. More confusion.

Can I be honest with you? My first reaction to the tragedy yesterday was polite sympathy - sadness for all who are hurting, but only from a distance. When did that become okay? When did acts of violence become so commonplace that we stopped feeling their weight? When did the shock and daze and heartsickness wear off?

I'm tired of mass shootings becoming one-day news cycles. I'm tired of feeling helpless and numb and indifferent. 

I'm afraid that violence is becoming more and more the norm. That tomorrow we'll go back to our normal lives, eating our normal breakfast, reading normal headlines about the election and the Tony Awards, thinking about our normal (crazy) week ahead. I'm afraid that hate is growing stronger. That the world is growing numb to it


It’s the last day of my spring semester classes and I could not be more grateful!  This semester has stretched me farther than I thought possible and molded me into a different teacher than I was when I started.  Here’s my semester, at a glance: 45 students 330 PowerPoint Slides 89 pages of notes (single-spaced) 28 lesson plans 15 Quizzes 7 Group Project Assignments 2 Paper Assignments (5-page, 10-page) 4 Playing Quizzes (4 tracks each) 12 Piano Juries

Can you believe it’s been two years since I started as an adjunct?  There have been moments where I felt I was in over my head, teaching classes I didn’t feel qualified to teach, and drawing connections between content I had only learned myself through my lesson planning.  But, I knew the challenges would be worth it.  I knew overcoming those fears was necessary and important to my future success.  I knew I had to say “yes” to these new opportunities even though my head (and all sensibility) said “no.”  I knew I had to leap – and trust that I could build my wings on the way down.

What have I learned through the process?  I’ve learned that some students really love learning and soak up everything you say like a sponge.  I’ve also learned that some students struggle with the demands and responsibilities of college – enough to lie multiple times about a missing assignment.  I’ve learned that some students have never been asked to write a research paper before and don’t know where the line of plagiarism falls.  And I’ve learned that some students care enough about their final papers that they look up the archives of a Russian newspaper to find a review of a musical premiere – even though they don’t read Russian.  I’ve learned that accessible teaching means connecting to things they know – like showing the Family Guy Remix of Steve Reich’s tape phasing experiment, “It’s Gonna Rain.”

What’s holding you back?  Is it fear that keeps you from doing and being your best?  Define it, acknowledge it, and then set it aside.  Who’s stopping you?  Are you stopping yourself?  Is your head telling you you can’t, you’re not good enough, you’ll fail?  Identify whatever it is that disables you and move on.  Take that leap and learn how to fly.

Sail Away from the Safe Harbor

We’ve all heard these words before: Just put yourself out there!” “You’ll never know unless you try.” “Get out there and make things happen!”

Often times, it’s just the kind of push we need to let go of our safety net and well, float or sink.  After all, “A ship in port is safe but that’s not what ships are built for,” Grace Murray Hopper reminds us.  And yet, we waiver.  We hesitate.  We doubt.  Why is it so hard to let go?

The unknown is hard to accept.  Undefined, uncharted change is challenging and just plain uncomfortable for those of us who feel perfectly content in the little box we’ve constructed for ourselves.  But I keep reminding myself that there is so much more out there.  The future holds an indefinite number of possibilities and opportunities if I am open to receiving them.  So often, my fears include failure, not being capable (i.e. not being good enough), and getting stuck.

How do I work past that?  Well, everyone fails.  Perfection is not the goal.   Excellence is the journey, not the destination.  Failure is something I need to accept as part of the learning process – the important part is learning from it and moving on.  Being capable doesn’t mean I will always have all the answers.  It means I will always do my best and again, I am willing to learn from my experiences.  Confession: I learn new things from my students all the time.  I learn how to be a better teacher, what works and what doesn’t, how people learn, how to better communicate my thoughts and ideas, and how to facilitate learning.  This constant growth fights my fear of getting stuck and becoming complacent.  It’s impossible to remain the same if you’re open to learning and growing with the changes in your life.

You were not made to be stationary.  You were made to go places, to do things, to make a difference, to set an example, to learn, to grow, to love, to give, to collaborate, to create, to invent, to explore, to dream, and to discover.  What are you afraid of?  Failure?  Losing?  Making the wrong decision?  Starting over?  Write them down.  All of them.  Fear cripples us if we allow it but to name your fears is to destroy them.  So NAME them.  Take each fear – no matter how great or small – and take action.  What do you need to accept?  What needs to change?  What can you learn?  Is this really something worth holding onto?  How would you feel without this fear in your life?  Fear stretches us, challenges us, and makes us stronger in the end if we choose to take action and eliminate it from our lives, piece by piece.

One of my favorite quotes wisely states, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.” – Mark Twain

You have far more potential within you than lies within the safety net you’ve constructed for yourself.  Free yourself from the confines of the safe harbor and set sail.  Explore, dream, and discover all that is waiting for you.

Fully Myself

This week, I let myself become overwhelmed by fear but then I confronted it head-on.

I took few steps backward in reaching one of my professional goals but I made progress in defining my dreams and ways to achieve them. Steps in any direction is progress in my book.

I wasn't always a great listener this week but I tried to give encouragement wherever I could.

I have a few items that have stayed on my to -do list all week but I crossed a few new things off my teuxdeux list each day.

I may have improvised a little in my cooking this week but I managed to cook a wholesome dinner on top of a busy teaching day.

"Be fully yourself." We've all heard it before. During childhood, the words, "Just be yourself," seemed to relate most to integrity, honesty, and self-confidence. In the context of this week, the words take on new meaning. Being "fully myself" means accepting myself, not giving in, taking constructive criticism and learning from the experience, holding on to hope, learning to listen, taking action on the things that I care about, and showing grace to myself and others.

Dream Big

It’s one of those statements that caught me a little off-guard when I first read it: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”  I thought dreams were supposed to be free and simple, floating in a blue sky like white, puffy clouds.  Uninhibited.  Undefined.  The thought of being scared by my dreams surprised me at first.  Who’s scared of a white, puffy cloud? It was cause for thought.  What are my dreams?  How big are they?  How real are they?  Everyone has a “someday” list.  Someday, I’d like to live in a brick townhouse on Park Avenue-esque street.  Will I ever live in a house like this?  Maybe.  Am I actively pursuing it?  No.  As I interrogated myself, I realized this really doesn’t qualify as a dream.  A dream requires goal-setting and small action steps.  White, puffy clouds aside, what are my real dreams and how am I actively pursuing them?

Last year, I dreamt of teaching at the college level.  Fourteen months later, I am in my third semester of adjunct teaching and was recently asked to prepare a new class for the spring.  Exciting, yes.  A great opportunity, yes.  Daunting, yes.  A dream that scares me, yes.  Let’s be honest – I had a mini meltdown just thinking about it this morning.  “When will I have time between now and then to read through three textbooks?  How will I be able to write out all of my lectures, make slides, and come up with assignments on top of my current teaching load?” I lamented.  The answer is simple in hindsight: action steps.

1. Make an outline of the chapters in each textbook. 2. Distribute chapter reading over course of semester (how many chapters on average per week?) 3. Skim each chapter and pull out relevant information. 4. Determine measures for evaluation (quizzes, tests, papers, projects, presentations, etc.) 5. Create measures for evaluation 6. Determine presentation methods (combination of lecture, slides, music listening, student presentations, etc.)

I remember how I felt in the weeks prior to my first day of college teaching (late last summer).  Expecting the unexpected.  Uncertain but confident.

Do your dreams have limits?  Are they bigger than life?  Do they scare you just a little bit?  Dream big – what do we have to lose?

Life Lately

Life lately has included a whirlwind, 24-hour trip to Memphis; an adventurous trip to the new Wegmans; several evening jogs together (a new thing for us); candlelight dinners with our new PB dish towel napkins; a marathon thank-you note writing session (several more to come!); 20% off our registry completion at Macy's; finding out our GPS was stolen out of the car sometime last week; an October blizzard with 22" of snow; an unexpected, 4.5-hr. trip to the ER; and calling in sick to work (I have NEVER done that before!).

Let me backtrack. Monday, I was in teacher-mode. I had my quiz materials ready, I had my book bag packed, I had my lesson materials prepared. Thirty minutes before I would have walked out the door, I saw him sit down in the middle of making lunch. His heart was racing. He was breathing as if he had just come back from a run. He felt too lightheaded to stand. I helped him upstairs to lie down. Thirty minutes later, I called in sick to work and we were on our way to the ER. I kept thinking, "How do I do this? How can I be strong enough for both of us?" Sitting in the waiting room, answering questions from the nurses, trying to calm his nerves, listening to the same news stories on repeat - it was an experience that stretched and challenged me. "You're my hero," he whispered. I just shook my head. "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." Philippians 4:13, I thought to myself. After a few tests (with normal results), they sent us home.

The next few days were long ones.

He, trying to rest and recuperate; me, trying to keep up with teaching, meetings, cooking, phone calls, etc. Sometimes, it feels like I'm on a roller coaster. Sometimes, I think I need that to remind me - life.is.short. Live while you can. Never take anything for granted. Enjoy the little things. Dwell in the moment. As I sat next to that sweet, sleeping man, I prayed that on days like these, I could be strong enough for both of us. "Cast your cares upon the Lord for He cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7. In the midst of phone calls to the insurance company, doctor's offices, and the hospital, I prayed that I could learn how to care for him - in sickness and in health. I prayed that I could be the shoulder he leans on in times of weakness. Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken." Psalm 55:22. I prayed for a peaceful heart.

Now, at the end of a long, restless week, we're beginning to see signs of improvement. He got a good report at the doctor's office today and he even had a glass of wine waiting for me when I got home from choir tonight! I, for one am exceedingly thankful.

Oprah Winfrey: Interview

"What are you really passionate about?"  "What would you do if you didn't have fear?"  "How can you use your life as a service to yourself, your family, and your community?" These are just a few of the challenging questions Oprah asks herself and those listening to this interview (from last week, September 8, by the way).  It's a message of authenticity and real-life experience.  Be you.  Be true and authentic.  Be the best you can be.  And don't let fear hold you back.

Watch the video here.