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May: Finding Peace & Joy in the Perseverance

May, the “goddess of spring” according to Roman mythology; also derived from the flower name which references the hawthorn which blossoms in May.

For teachers, the month of May has many different meanings. It’s the final month. It’s the month where all has get finished. It’s the month of making sure students learned everything we ever intended to teach them and more, the month of end-of-the-year field trips, the month of awards and class parties, the month of field day and the last parent conferences, and the month all administrative matters have to be completed before walking out into the bright, shiny summer days of rest and relaxation.

For teachers, we can so easily get caught up in the hustle and bustle of finishing the year that we forget this is it, the last month to teach valuable lessons, to take care of bumps, bruises, and scrapes, to wipe tears and calm emotions from hurt feelings, to share in the joys, sorrows, and successes, to see the beaming faces of the children they’ve loved for seven months shine with excitement as they receive their awards, to watch them walk away – some to never see again – into the rest of their lives.

As May approached, I encouraged my own students to finish as strong as they started, but had I spoken the same encouraging words to myself?

I had allowed myself to become overwhelmed with the matters that needed to be finished that I had forgotten all it took to get to this point and how valuable it is to finish as strong as I had started. I was encouraged recently while in staff meetings and in my own personal prayer time to look at the month of May differently than in past years. Instead of seeing it as so little time to get things accomplished and finished, it was a time to slow down, pay attention, and be fully engaged in the last few moments I had with these precious young children. I had to find the joy and peace in the perseverance. It’s not hard to find them; it just requires looking at things with a different perspective.

Butterfly Perspective

I take refuge in what James said, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”

It is my prayer that the students enter the next chapter in their lives having gained maturity from their faithfulness and find joy and peace in their perseverance.

~ Vanessa Robbins, Fourth/Fifth Grade Teacher

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Gardening with God: Growing and Cultivating a life with Christ

Gardening –“ the practice of growing and cultivating plants”.

This academic year ushered in a new opportunity for our BCA students – gardening! As a teacher preparing for this new endeavor, my thoughts were:

  • “What does this look like?”
  • “How will I work this into the schedule?”
  • “How often do we NEED to do this?”
  • “What is the learning objective?”

What I should have considered and known from the beginning was the ultimate experience and outcome of such a privilege for the children. As teachers, we often miss the purpose for the planning.

Fifth grade began our gardening in the fall with watering. We knew the importance, but yet had a moment to really discuss its importance. Later in the fall, we planted mustard seeds. We did our duty. Don’t get me wrong, the students enjoyed every minute of watering and planting. I was the one who had not yet considered or appreciated the value it held.

It wasn’t until I needed an idea for Morning Meeting discussion time that the true reality and benefit of gardening dawned on me. We had approached the time to “maintain” the garden. What a great topic of discussion. Little did I realize the importance it would hold for me and the spiritual opportunity it would be for the students as they grow in their faith.

I asked, “Why do we need to maintain the garden?”

The replies I received from my students were profound upon reflection:

  1. “Because if we don’t take out the weeds, they will take over and smother the plants.”
  2. “Because without water the plants won’t survive.”
  3. “Because plants need fresh soil to continue to grow.”
  4. “Because we have to remove the bugs/snails that might prevent the plants from growing.”
  5. “Because if we don’t, the plants will die.”
Gardening: Cultivating and Growing a Life in Christ

BCA Students learning how to grow and cultivate a life in Christ through the experience of gardening

As I sat there, it finally became clear to me the purpose.

We don’t just garden to provide the experience for children learning HOW, but we also provide the experience, so they can see WHY and relate it to their walk with God.

I hadn’t planned on asking the next question, but as the students responded, the Lord led me to ask,

“How does this relate to our walk with Christ?”

An opportunity had come to provide students with a life lesson that neither I nor they had seen coming. We discussed the many ways gardening is like taking care of our walk with the Lord.

We came to realize how taking out the weeds is like recognizing our sin and asking for forgiveness; how Jesus is our water, and without Him, we won’t survive; how God’s Word is fresh soil to help us grow; how putting on the armor of God is protecting us from the darts of the devil like bugs and snails in a garden; and how simply, if we don’t take care of our daily walk with God, we will die a spiritual death like a garden that is left unattended.

What began as a time slot on a schedule and an opportunity for students to do something outside the classroom, became a life lesson in “growing and cultivating” a life with Christ.

– Vanessa Robbins, Fourth/Fifth Grade Teacher

Choose KIND: Is it more important to be right, or be KIND?

In our society we’ve decided it’s A-Ok to be positively wicked to one another in the name of politics. Christians fight with fellow believers or (worse) with those who look to us to point to Jesus. We belittle and mock and snarl at one another through a screen. Then we go to church on Sundays and sing about Jesus’ love.

It’s appalling.

And, sadly, our kids reflect this desire—our innate, constant, basic desire to be RIGHT. I have it, for sure. I’m right. You’re wrong. Let me prove to you with insults and wit just how wrong you are. Have you ever been swayed by an argument that includes personal attacks? Ever? And, yet, we all use this tactic over and over. I’ve heard students fight over how to properly pronounce Star Wars character names.  I’m willing to fight over health care or immigration or taxes but not think twice about the kind of day a person is having or whether he or she knows Jesus.

Well, last fall I read a book that convicted me of this constant desire to be RIGHT. The book is called “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. The author encountered a very different-looking little girl outside an ice cream shop and instead of treating that girl and her mother as she would other people; she grabbed her kids and ran away. She ran away from what she didn’t understand. The child’s physical appearance was so startling to the author, she couldn’t handle it and she fled. While she left the situation, the situation did not leave her and her memory of that moment outside the ice cream parlor prompted her to write “Wonder.”

Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

Wonder by R.J Palacio – You Can’t Blend In If You Were Born to Stand Out

The story follows a little boy who has a couple chromosomes out of place and the result is a lifetime of surgeries, near death ailments and the looks of “a monster.” He attends school for the first time as a 5th grader. The story is told mostly through his eyes though others jump in once in a while for a different perspective.

One of his teachers shares this precept, “when given the choice between being right or being kind, choose KIND.”

These words stuck with me in a powerful way though ultimately they are only a small part of the book’s message.

I’m reading this special book with our 4th and 5th graders right now. We’re discussing hard topics like friendship, prejudice, fear, birth defects, death and betrayal. It’s not always pretty. We disagree from time to time but books, really good books, do that to people. They make us think and feel as we haven’t before. They make us contemplate our actions and check ourselves:

“Is it more important to be RIGHT or does this situation call for being KIND?”

When we’re done reading it, you’re welcome to borrow BCA’s copy. Or take yourself to the public library and grab one. Our nation seems so divided, so busy being RIGHT but perhaps we can all learn from a children’s book about the importance of being KIND. Imagine the difference that would make!

Pledge to Choose Kind

Pledge to Choose Kind-ness instead of Right-ness

– Lisa Wellman, Librarian

Reading Buddies

Anyone who has known me for more than about five minutes knows I love to read.  In fact, I have been known to sit in the same chair virtually all day reading a good book (especially if my husband is traveling).  I keep at least one book with me at all times.  You never know when you might have a few minutes waiting at the post office or that really long traffic light as you drive home.  That is always good for at least a paragraph.

Hammel1

When my children were little we probably had more books in our house than some libraries.  They were always read to – in the morning, before dinner, at bedtime – you name it.  We would read at the drop of a hat.  When each of them was in first grade, my husband and I took turns reading The Chronicles of Narnia to them at bedtime.  I know it was a special time with them because when one of my son’s friends had his first child, Matthew wanted to get the Narnia series as a gift to give them.

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Now I get the joy of reading to my little K-4 friends.  It doesn’t matter what we are reading – a brand new book or one we have read 5 times.  They get so excited!  The pictures – new words – guessing what comes next or remembering what comes next and being able to tell everyone else.  All these things are very exciting when you are 4 or 5 but are also very important components of reading (making connections, building vocabulary, making predictions, recall).  And they are catching that love of reading.

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At Bannockburn Christian Academy, Ms. Robbins (the 5th grade teacher) has teamed up with our class to be our Reading Buddies.  Every Friday we go upstairs for the last 10 minute of school and pair up with a special 5th grade partner.  The kiddos listen with rapt attention as their “buddies” read stories picked out just for them.  What a wonderful gift these older students are giving – the time and attention of a “big kid”.  Whenever we see them away from the class, you will hear the excited calls of “Our Reading Buddies!” and “Hi Reading Buddy!” shouted enthusiastically.  And you can be certain this will be a very special memory not only for the little ones but also for the 5th grade students.

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Barbara Hammel, 3-day Pre-K

Fear and Faith

I was blessed to be born into a generational Christian family going back to my great-grandmother, Nettie Jewel Culpepper. Each generation of parents that followed new the importance of raising their family to know God’s ways and come to a personal relationship with Him. I accepted Christ when I was six knowing the decision I was making. I continued to grow in the Lord attending three different private schools through 7th grade.

From 8th grade through 12th grade I attended public school and found it challenging. My teen years were trying to my parents, but their love, support, and guidance in God’s ways brought me through a period of redemption.

I attended college at the age of 22 and began my teaching career when I was about 29. Through all of this I saw God moving in my life but I took Him for granted. He had always been there for me, which I believe was greatly a result of my mom’s and grandmother’s prayers over my life. I had not fully committed to walking with Him every day. I’m not naturally a fearful person. I consider myself to be pretty optimistic, but this last summer, that was tested.

I have also been very blessed to live in a large family, most of which live right here in Austin. I grew up doing everything with my family, and so much so with my cousins, that today, they are like siblings. We are a family of faith. We also have not had much death in our family. We had a few expected deaths of grandparents and great-grandparents, but we’ve only had one unexpected. We are grateful, but for me, I believe this played a big part in how I lost sight of God’s provisions for our family; that because of Him, we were blessed.

For the past few years, my dad had felt short of breath and weak, but he just assumed it was because he was getting older. Come last May, my parents took a trip to Colorado. Shortly after arriving, my dad had great trouble breathing. He of course told my mom, but not to the extent of how bad it was because he did not want to frighten her. They cut their trip short and came home. My dad later told my mom that he was trying to at least get her to Colorado Springs, where they have friends, because he thought he was going to die, and he wanted her to be near people she knew.

Thankfully, God sustained him, and they made it home. He felt better when he got home, mostly because of the elevation relief, but was still having trouble breathing. He took a stress test and failed. He then went on to have an angiogram.

That day everything changed, and fear I had never experienced before entered my life. My dad had always been the rock I knew him to be. He was NEVER sick. Really! He had never spent the night in the hospital and rarely took medication for anything, even for a headache. We thought at most, my dad would need a stint put in his heart. We waited patiently to hear from the doctor on the progress of the test. Then, the phone call came. They needed to take a closer look. We wanted to hold strong that all was okay, but silently we feared the worst.

We finally were able to see my dad and speak to the doctor. We were told my dad had heart disease with 80% blockage in his heart. I cannot express the emotions that came over me, or how I suppressed them for the sake of my mom. I didn’t want my emotion to cloud hers. I didn’t want her to fall apart because I had. I held it all in. I would hold it all in for quite some time. We all listened intently to the directions and recommendations of the doctor.

Within a week’s time, my dad was going in for triple bypass surgery. The fear I felt was overwhelming. We prayed and prepared and held to our faith that no matter what the outcome, God was in control. I had never prayed so much until then. I soon realized I had taken God for granted for all he had ever done for me and my family. This forced me to look back at my life and the lives of those closest to me and recognize just how much God was a part of moving in our lives, providing for us, protecting us. My dad was out of surgery in a little over an hour and was one of the quickest to recover that the nurses and doctors had ever seen. He is now doing very well. I was the most grateful I had ever been in my life.

It was not until Bobbi asked the teachers during inservice this past August to come prepared to share who or what was important in our lives, that I allowed myself to experience the emotions I had been holding in. When it came time for me to share what I was grateful for, I could barely speak through the tears that came pouring out. I expressed how I had taken God for granted and it took my dad almost dying to see how important it was to spend time with Him and in His Word.

It was never that God wasn’t there. I just failed to see Him. My greatest joy now is recognizing when God is with me, moving in my life in ways I could never do for myself, opening and closing doors according to His will, and simply His ever present presence in my life that brings the greatest peace.

Vanessa Robbins, 5th Grade

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