When Your Teaching Days Are Numbered

20171109_123313 (1)Joy wells when I see that so many leaves are carpeting the back yard right now the whole place practically glows. The trees, black and brown outlines against an opaque-blue dawn, stand sentinel over what they’ve just deposited all over the ground.

leaves and lampost

Even though, technically, what has been strewn onto the walking path at the back side of the house is dead, it is beautiful. The kind of beauty that chokes the throat and brims the eye. I don’t know why my heart sings when I see it, it just does.

These leaves.
I don’t have the heart to rake them up.
I decide to let them be.

I wade slowly through a magical pond of yellow.


Earlier in the week, leaves from the red maples at the front of the house were gathered and now sit as three mounded triangles all browned up and dead for real. I’d raked them up days ago, but the next day it had turned bitter cold, and after coming down with a bout of shingles, I didn’t have it in me to deposit them to the mulch pile. I’d spent the better half of the day before hauling pile after pile to the bamboo patch, but I pushed myself too hard so these last three would have to wait. Their days are numbered. It is just a matter of time before I drag them to the outer darkness that is the side of the house where I’ve been dumping leaves for the last twenty years.

Even the golden beauties in the backyard will eventually curl on themselves and brittle up. They will most likely blow away, ending up in the Little Androscoggin River at the end of the road.


There is always one day in late Autumn when the wind howls hard and long and all the lawn carpets get scraped clean, the debris swooshed into the stream across from the winter berry bush I prune every year for its splash of red.

Everything is numbered. God, Himself, is in the numbering business.

Leaves on trees.
Grains of sand.
Stars in the heavens.
Hairs on my head.
Days of my life.

Apparently, some things are meant to be counted.

The children in my classroom love to announce they know what the biggest number is, the number that is the last number ever.

I’ve heard this refrain for the better part of seventeen years. The biggest number  they come up with is always something like ten million, billion, ka-trillion,gajillion, quadrillion. Right, Mrs. McKellick?

I always smile and say, Remember, there is always ten million, billion, ka-trillion, gajillion, quadrillion… and oneWhen I say this, every single time the child face falls and darkens. Then, suddenly they smile, too, when they realize that counting numbers goes on forever, because forever to a child is a magical thing.

Some things are meant for forever, like souls and love and faith and hope.
The very words of Jesus that speak and are still speaking go on and on into eternity.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Some things are meant to end and will, like suffering…hate…despair.

“and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

All these march to a timetable we do not know.

Yet, there are timetables we do know, where flesh and blood live out a daily routine. It is here that we do some of our own counting.

I step into the Art room at school on a Thursday and like every other Thursday before, it’s the same. The scent of hot glue and wax crayon mixing with the odors of paint and wet paper assaults my nostrils. Here the cacophony of children’s voices, sometimes joyful, sometimes irritating, pierces the ear as the stuff of creative abandon gets played out in forty minutes. I love it.

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I have three more Thursdays. Three more Thursdays where I will watch over young humans furrow the brow and squint the eye to bring about their next masterpiece. Three more Thursdays where I get to scrape glue off my hands and dodge permanent marker being wielded by an unaware fourth grader. Three more Thursdays to encourage the maneuvering of scissors around tight spaces and I get three more Thursdays to look one of those humans in the eye as he holds up his creation and I will say with all honesty, “It’s beautiful.”

All my Mondays through Fridays at Elm Street School are numbered.

I know this like I know the leaves in the backyard are numbered, having given up their summer splendor to die for a little while.  My time at school is waning like the last fade of Autumn. So I wade through the hallways slowly when I can, thinking that here too, is it sometimes magical. Some days you can actually see it;  the wonder, the understanding of a concept, a truth, come to life all over a child’s face.

Winter is coming and this chapter is coming to a close. However,  this life being God’s glorious art room,  I know there will be color again.




The Long, Slow Closing Of A Door


There are so many doors.

Some swing open with a gusto and close with a bang. Others open with a slow creak and need to be pulled shut. Some doors never actually close. They come up against the door frame and just stop, a shaft of light coming from the in-between place of in and out.

Some doors seem to not want to open, and the jiggling of the handle and the grip of a key that doesn’t want to fit leaves one to wonder why is there a door here in the first place if it’s so hard to get inside?

There are doors with glass in them and doors with busted out glass. There are new doors where the paint lacquer shimmers on their fronts and there are old doors where the paint has peeled back and the wither and weather of old wood is exposed.

Doors invite.
Doors keep out.
Doors expose.
Doors hide away.
Doors include and doors exclude.

There is a narrow door.
And there is a door where the Ancient of Days knocks and asks to come in.

Then, there are doors that cannot be seen. They are a metaphors. Like a door that signifies the beginning of a new opportunity, or the door that closes when it’s time to move on.

The long, slow closing of a door begins for me today. Thirty school days from now a door will shut. Eighteen years at Elm Street School will come to a close.

After almost a year of ruminating, muddling, talking, seeking counsel, and many, many conversations with the Lover of my soul, it has become clear that it’s time for me to walk out the door and whatever happens when one leaves something behind, I’m to embrace it all.

It hit me last Saturday morning while watching my grandson play his last soccer game on the lower field at Elm Street, that it was my last soccer game at Elm Street, too. Despite the mist that surrounded me that day, I was suddenly struck with the clarity, that in the days to come, there will be many “lasts.”

How do tears spring up so suddenly that you have to grip your lawn chair and grit your teeth so hard to keep from crying because you don’t want the parent sitting next to you to think you are a crazy person who cries at soccer games?

When a door closes slowly, you see everything in slow motion. The space gets smaller, more detailed, more specific. The images of what is closing around you gets etched in your brain. You remember.

I’ve got thirty days to remember it all.

Walk Toward It

kid and toy plane

Dependence on God is no easy thing. At least not for me. Every day I am confronted with Some. Thing. I am given an opportunity to decide. Sometimes it’s a big thing, sometimes it’s a little thing. Nonetheless, I am deciding every day whether to trust this God I say I believe in. That I tell others is brilliant and kind. Who is awash with love and mercy and gladness and smiling and favor and peace.

This Father of Lights, where there is no shadow or turning.

But there is shadow in me. The shadow of fear, whether realistic or not, whether founded in good sense or not, matters not. Fear is a thing.

I board a plane set for California this evening and it has been this anticipation of boarding and then flying that has created shadow. I do not like to fly. I am a terrible passenger, even in a car. I know from whence it all came, but that does not matter. What matters is this question. How do I live my life in dependence and trust given all the strengths and weaknesses I have that make me who I am? How do I trust when I want to control everything? I have to make a choice.

Tim Suttle in his book, Shrink, asks it this way-

     “Which choice will best reveal my weaknesses and my dependence on God? Which option requires me to rely on God’s power, not my own?”

He goes on to say,

           “It is all I can do to resist the impulse to hide my own brokenness. I don’t naturally want other people to know my struggles. I want to pretend as if I have my act together. But that is not where the power of God resides. The power of God resides in weakness.”

So this shadow. It tries to cloud everything about this trip. The chance to travel, the gifts that have enabled us to go, the opportunities to meet others who love Jesus, the chance for divine encounters, not to mention the opportunity to bask in the California coastline with my love. All this is in on the table for me and my mind keeps going to that plane.

I want deliverance.

Until then, I will walk toward the shadow. I will roll my luggage into the airport. I will wait in the boarding lounge and look at all the people who will be traveling with me. I will ignore the pitch in my belly when we’re called to board the plane. I will walk down the ramp, my head up, my chin definitely up and I will step up and into that narrow doorway and follow my husband to our seats. I will say hello to the person sitting next to me. When it’s time, I will snap on my seatbelt and then…I will breathe.

Sometimes you just have to walk through the shadow, you have to walk right towards the thing that scares you, because in that moment you are becoming the bravest person you know. In that moment, it is what dependence on God looks like.



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The Real Truth Of Birth

It was a beautiful early summer day much like today when my mother labored at home with the last of us. I was two months shy of my seventh birthday. I knew my mother was pregnant, “expecting a baby”, but I didn’t really know what that meant exactly. I just knew a baby was coming. From where, I didn’t know.

I spent the day doing what I always did in early summer. I played outside. Most likely I was somewhere in my imagination under the big tree in the back yard. I wiled away the hours…I dreamed and imagined and conversed to myself all day long. I didn’t know my mother’s body had begun the rhythmic squeezing and letting go that is the work of giving birth.

My mother had never given birth at home before. Myself, along with my two sisters and brother, were brought through her legs in that sterile, operating room style that was the late sixties.  My parents weren’t hippies or homesteaders, they were pretty conventional people. My mother looked like Mary Tyler Moore in the Dick Van Dyke show, with her black bob and skinny capri slacks.

This baby was the fifth in six and half years, and the only push back my mother gave doctors was declaring “no more gas!” after I was born. Me, being her first, she went along with the mask being put over her face and ether being pumped into her body. When she awoke from this sort of medically induced coma, she couldn’t remember why she was in the hospital.

“Why, Mrs. Hayward, you’ve had a baby. A little girl.”

My mother vowed at the moment never to miss another birth again.

But laboring at home was based on another decision. My parents were on a journey, searching for God and trying to live a life that pleased him and laboring at home seemed to be a way they could exercise their trust in him. But I knew none of that.

I remember the sunlight dappling through the trees and the smell of new grass as the day came to a close. I remember Mrs. Alberta ushering me and my three siblings into her little house and showing us where we would sleep for the night because in the morning there would be a new baby.

Mrs. Alberta was a little old Dutch woman, round in face and body, and always in my mind, wearing a dress and an apron. She talked funny and was deliberate in her gestures and speech. She lived across the way and said she was going to help my mother. I didn’t know what kind of help my mother needed, but I got into a bed with stiff, white sheets and laid there with the rest of the kids wondering.

I don’t know if it was night still, or early morning, but Mrs. Alberta came and roused us from sleep, quick, firm…”Let’s go see.”

I remember running to the house. I think it was the dining room because on the table lay a rectangular box, tan on the outside, white on the inside. There she was. My baby sister. Black curly hair. Fat cheeks. I remember thinking, “Well, that makes five of us,” then wondering if me being the oldest meant I would have to take care of her.

I remember my mother on a bed or a couch looking really happy and really tired. I felt the same way when all of my babies finally broke through, but especially with my fifth one. I knew she was my last.

One day not long after my sister came, I saw a lot of blood in the toilet and it scared me at first. I remember looking at it and wondering where it could have come from and then suddenly, I knew. I knew it came from my mother and it was connected to my sister and that it was okay. I was about to turn seven and I had a revelation that somehow life is in the blood and blood is life and that the spilling of it can be a good thing.

Many, many years later, I was to discover how true indeed this is.

The mystery of life, the darkness where birth begins in water and blood is seen in all it’s glory on a cross.

No ether here. No masking the pain and suffering.

Jesus was not going to miss this for the world.

It was so we could live in dappled sunlight forever.


Spike Hammer Crush

crown of thorns

Bruise, crush, pierce.
Thorns bear down
A hate-woven crown
pressed upon the head
of the One who loves fierce.

Spike, hammer,
splintered beam.
Red flows down,
a washing stream.

Hell invaded.
Keys are taken
The world goes black.
The world waits.


The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus made flesh. Flesh that lives, flesh that dies.

Jesus left heaven’s gates and put on a coat of skin and bone over the makings of blood and guts. He couldn’t have died without being human. He couldn’t have died until he became one of us.

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead he gave up his divine privileges,
he took the humble position of a slave-
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God,
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.


He breaks bread. He pours wine.
In remembrance of another lamb.
In remembrance of another rescue.
This time blood will spill on one wooden beam for all. All who will say yes.

In an upper room Jesus tells his friends to eat and drink. To remember him on this passover of all passovers. He explains that what he is showing them through the broken bread and poured wine, he is about to accomplish through the brokenness of his own body and the poured down red of his own blood. A ransom will be paid tomorrow.

Jesus tells his friends to eat and drink, but he will not.

And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.

Until the kingdom of God comes…

So begins Jesus’ fast.

We eat, drink and remember,  while he waits for the kingdom of God to be fulfilled for every race, tribe, people group, neighborhood, and city in this whole wide world.  He knows the timetable of this fulfillment, just like he knew that night in the upper room the timetable for the ransom he would pay the next day.

Unimaginable suffering is about to occur.
The deepest darkness will descend.
A stone will be rolled to seal a tomb.

A ransom will be paid in full.