We are Done!

Today was the kids’ last half-day of school. Got up early, took the kids to school for the last time, took my virtual student by the high school to drop off her text books, went and picked up kids from school. We still have a drive-thru 5th grade send-off that we have to go to this afternoon and then we are officially done. 

What a year. 

Red days for high covid numbers. Red days for gun violence in the neighborhood. Finding clean masks every day, collecting the dirty masks every day. Signing homework folders every night. Never ending car lines for pick up. Lots of debates about virtual school, masks, school safety. Lots of tragedy. Five students dead this year. Trauma. School lockdowns.  

Art projects. Kids excitedly practicing their Spanish from their new Spanish class. Watching my first grader grow in her ability to read. Seeing my fifth grader blossom as he walked into leadership positions. New friends made. Projects finished. Presentations given. Awards won. Recognition for good sportsmanship. Classes completed. Lessons learned. 

So, I say thank you to all the teachers who made the best of a crazy year. Thank you to all the administration who made the best decisions you could. Thank you to all the support staff that cleaned and cooked and loved on the kids. 

We made it! We never have to do this year again! May the next school year be peaceful and easy and a walk in the park in comparison. 

We’ll see you all again in the Fall. 

Thoughts on the Protests

This past week the DA in our city released the bodycam video of the police shooting of Anthony Thompson Jr at Austin East High School. I watched the presentation the DA gave as she walked through all the evidence, one step at a time, and ended with the conclusion that it was a justifiable action by the police officer and no charges would be brought against the police. Seeing the evidence, as she presented it, I had to agree. Yes. This looks like it was definitely justifiable. 

So, I was really surprised when I started reading FB posts from my black friends from this neighborhood. They had a completely different perspective. They felt that the DA maligned Anthony’s character by bringing up the domestic violence incidents that led to the police being called. They wanted to know why the police did not use a taser or try talking first. They wanted to know why the police did not speak to Anthony from the doorway of the bathroom and ask him to drop his weapons and come out with his hands up. They watched the video and felt that they were seeing the police’s hands on the gun, not Anthony’s, when it was fired. In fact, they were seeing something completely different from me. 

When two people watch the same video and see two different things, you’ve got to step back and realize that vision is not just a physical thing that our eyes do for us. Vision is affected by what is in our minds, our past, our experiences as well. Perspective. We can all see an image, but our perspective is going to tell us different things about that image. 

I think about where we are at in our country. When this incident happened, we were in the middle of the George Floyd trial. The news is frequently posting more and more incidents of police officer shootings that seem to have been avoidable. The experience of people of color in their involvement with the police has led to a feeling of distrust and danger where the police are concerned. 

Since the release of the bodycam videos, our city has seen a couple protests. I watched some video from one of the protests and the things that they were chanting hurt my heart. This is not my perspective. I don’t hold these views. But, I feel like I can understand, a little, where these views are coming from. 

So, here’s the question. Can we lay down our self-righteousness, our desperate need to always be right, and just enter into the idea that other people have different perspectives than us? Can we withhold our judgement for a minute and remember that other people have vastly different stories than we do, and those stories have caused them to see the world in a very different light than us?   

I believe in absolute truth. And I believe the Bible spells out what that truth is. But, when it comes to things like watching bodycam videos of a seventeen year old being shot and then deciding who is guilty and not guilty, I don’t think that falls into right and wrong categories. There is a lot of gray that we have to wade through. Let’s have grace for each other and understanding as we all react to this event in a different way. 

Fat Fridays: Fatigue

I do not like being tired. I hate it. It feels like I have to do a task that requires 10 units, but I’ve only been given 4 units. And then what do you do? 

Fatigue is one of the leading reasons I started pursuing a better diet and exercise. I needed energy. Really bad. My poor diet messed with my blood sugar. I would eat too many carbs and then my blood sugar would spike and I would feel like I was about to pass out and I would have to lie down. My lack of exercise made climbing the stairs at my house a major event. I felt like I was dragging myself through each day. 

So, I changed my diet, I started really keeping tabs on my carbs, trying to not go over 30grams per meal or snack. I started exercising and felt my endurance growing by leaps and bounds. I now started running up the steps at my house. I stopped taking naps every day. I started averaging about seven hours of sleep, instead of needing eight-plus. I started taking a handful of supplements, like B vitamins and Vitamin D.  And while I will never be accused of being the Energizer Bunny, I felt fine getting through my day. 

And then this past couple weeks happened. Last week I was on a stress-high from the recent gun-violence in my kids’ highschool and our community. Then this week that stress turned into depression. I have barely been able to get out of bed in time in the mornings. I do all my early morning stuff of getting kids off to school, getting young kids fed and settled in, and then I crash mid morning. Fall asleep. And though I don’t sleep too long, it takes me several hours afterwards to get myself up and functioning again. 

I’ve been rolling with it. Been sitting on the couch reading to my little boys instead of trying to tackle grammar and math lessons (I homeschool my six year old). I haven’t attempted to fold the six baskets of laundry, just made sure the kids grab something clean out every night for the next day. I haven’t tried to do any heavy-duty cleaning, just the basic daily tidy-up. My personal trainer is still sending me daily workouts, but twice I’ve traded in a tough workout for a long walk instead. And I’ve just been trying to be patient with myself. Depression is something I’ve fought before and I know it will pass. 

But, I have to say, I’ve been a bit surprised at the fatigue. I think, in the back of my mind, I always presumed that all my fatigue came directly from lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet. I never thought a lot about stress and depression being a significant factor as well. But, I think it is. 

The big reminder I’ve had to give myself is, even though my diet and exercise aren’t giving me energy right now, it would be a hundred times worse if I went back to my old lifestyle. I am still nourishing my body in the way it needs, moving it the way it needs. Fatigue is not an excuse to stop. It’s a motivation to keep going. No reason to make this any worse than it already is. 

“Don’t Talk” a poem

Tired.

Weary.

My brain has turned off. 

I have reached full capacity. 

Do not tell me anymore what is in the news. 

Do not tell me of yet another tragedy. 

Don’t try to rehash what happened. 

Don’t ask about solutions.

As if my tiny bit of wisdom could somehow fix the unfixable. 

Don’t talk. 

Cry. 

Come alongside me and mourn. 

This is a time for sackcloth. 

Ashes. 

A time for solemn silence. 

I don’t want to hear the talking heads on the tv. 

I don’t want to have discussions on what possibly went wrong. 

I just need silence. 

Let us mourn together. 

In silence perhaps our souls can mend. 

And maybe, we can talk, discuss, plan, fix everything…

Tomorrow. 

Fat Fridays: Climbing Back on the Wagon

If you’ve read my previous blog, you’ll know that I had a pretty rough week. On Monday there was a shooting in my daughter’s highschool and it was a very chaotic, stressful afternoon. It was also one of my younger daughter’s birthdays. Fortunately, we had a birthday party on the weekend, so she had been fully celebrated before Monday. I still wanted to make the day special for her and I had plans to make spaghetti for her and then serve the rest of the birthday cake left over from the party. I had made lentils at lunch time, and I was planning on eating lentils and vegetables for supper while everyone else had spaghetti. 

Then, just when school was going to be let out, craziness erupted. School lockdowns, police, sirens, helicopters… After finally getting all my kids home, I sat in my room, listening to the live news reports, scanning other news sites, fielding calls and texts from people who were worried about our family. 

In the middle of all this my husband suddenly asked, Do you want me to just order some pizza for supper? What? No! I’m supposed to make spaghetti. Then I looked at the time. It was already six o’clock and I hadn’t even started the meal. Oops. I pondered whether I had the energy to just do a speed-cooking session and make it happen anyway. No. I did not have the energy. Ok. Order pizza. 

When the pizza showed up I was in an I-don’t-care mode. I helped myself to two slices. They tasted great. I served up cake and served myself a piece too, though I did scrape off all the icing (just cause I’m not an icing fan, not because I was counting calories). The cake didn’t taste as good. In fact, the rest of the evening I felt full and bloated. Not the best feeling, but it didn’t stop me from grabbing one more piece of pizza later, when I stayed up late to watch a movie. 

So, the question is, what do you do the next day, when you’ve ditched your diet? That is always a dangerous time for me. I’ve broken the rules once, why can’t I break them again? Fortunately, I had some encouragement from my trainer and from my mom and it helped me get out of the anything-goes mentality and remember that my diet is still important to me, even when I am extremely stressed. 

The rest of this week has gone well as far as diet and exercise are concerned. I have been clinging to my exercise routines as a balm for my nerves and trying to make good choices with my food. 

Life is crazy. There are going to be moments where eating a careful diet just isn’t an option, either physically, or mentally. And for me, the part I have to work on, is getting back on track after swerving off for a moment. Part of what has also helped me this week is just remembering why I am doing this. Good blood sugar, energy, health, fitness. I especially need these things when I am going through a stressful moment in life. I just have to keep reminding myself. I forget so quickly. 

More Tragedy

This past Monday our community, school, family walked through yet another tragedy in a year that has been full of them. My daughters’ highschool had an “officer involved shooting” in the school. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations wanted to make it clear that this was not a “school shooting” where someone has brought a gun to the school with the intent of hurting people at the school, but was rather the result of a police officer engaging a student who was suspected of having a gun, and gunfire was exchanged. A police officer was injured, but is recovering, and the student is dead. 

For our family, we had an entire hour, from the moment the highschool was put in lockdown at the end of the school day, until we managed to get everyone home, that we had no idea what was going on. All we knew was that there was danger, a really big situation, and my daughter was in the building where all this danger was happening. 

The school district did not communicate with the parents during the whole thing which made the fear worse. Monday night I wrote the school district, voicing my complaints about the lack of communication with parents, and they personally called me the next day to apologize and say that this was an area they were going to improve in. 

My elementary school kids were also put in lockdown, (the school is relatively close to the high school) moments before they were to be dismissed. The teachers at the elementary school did not know what was happening, just that they were in a hard lockdown. They presumed there was imminent danger, and their fear and stress leaked over to the kids they were watching. My 1st and 2nd grader were crying when they finally were released to come get in my car. They told me later that they thought they were about to be shot by a bad guy. 

After I finally had all my elementary kids in my car, we then had to maneuver through police barricades until we finally found an access point where we could get to my daughter who was waiting at the high school for me. And during all of this there was a police helicopter swooping overhead making us all feel that we were in a war zone. 

When we got home I wouldn’t let the kids play outside because the helicopter was still present, making circles over our house (we live close to the highschool) and I had no idea if the helicopter was actively looking for someone in our neighborhood. So the kids huddled inside, looking out the windows, waiting for the danger to pass. And I sat, scanning all the social media and news sites I could find, trying to get information on what was happening. 

My husband came home early and I walked into his embrace and as he held me, I felt everything going black in my head, and was sure, for a moment, that I was going to faint. Rumors were flying and we heard that our principal, a man I admire, might have been shot. Was the office staff all wounded? How many people were dead? At one point in time I just hid in my kitchen and cried. Trying to avoid the kids, not wanting to increase their stress by having a complete breakdown myself. 

It took quite a while for all the details to come out. And now, On Wednesday, we still have not heard the name of the student who has died. And my daughter is supposedly supposed to return to school tomorrow, but I have a million questions, and none of them have been answered yet. 

Yesterday I gathered up all the kids, emailed all the elementary teachers telling them my kids would not be in school, and we left town and spent the day with my parents. 

Yesterday I would say that my stress level was at ninety-five out of a hundred. This morning I think I’ve got it down to maybe a forty? 

Yesterday morning I was feeling pretty horrible. Angry, agitated. I sat down and found myself rocking back and forth. Good grief. I was also feeling a lot of condemnation. Look at you! Where is your faith and your peace? And I had to stop and speak some truth to myself. You have just gone through a very stressful situation and your body and emotions are responding to that. You have to give yourself permission to recover from this. And, God is still good, and still in control, so we are going to cling to that and give ourselves some time to decompress and recover. 

So, Wednesday morning, I’m doing better than yesterday, but still feeling a bit shell-shocked. 

I haven’t even started processing the situation at our school, but I feel like I at least got the rocking boat of our family back onto calmer waters. 

Altar Call

I sit in the church pew.

My heart is heavy.

Life has been hard.

The service ends.

The call goes out.

Anyone who needs prayer, please come forward. 

I rise from my seat.

Make my way to the front.

Two saints step forward.

Head bowed, with tears, I try to explain my need.

Strong hands on my shoulders. 

Strong voices raised.

They come alongside me.

They pick up my burden.

They invite me to come with them,

And we enter the throne room.

They plea on my behalf, 

They entreat.

Together we lift our hands and say,

Help.

Please.

And I feel the Holy Spirit,

Washing over me.

I feel new strength,

Entering my heart.

I feel loved and seen.

Hope sparks again. 

We exchange hugs.

I turn and leave. 

Again reminded,

I am not alone.

Fat Fridays: Fighting Stress with Exercise

Good morning everyone. It is an early Friday morning here. My kids are just getting up, grabbing their breakfast, getting ready for a virtual day of school. We have been in-person this year, but have had to move to virtual occasionally for covid, weather, and now, this week, gun violence in our neighborhood that has been taking the lives of our school kids. On Tuesday, there was an incident of someone shooting a gun in the parking lot of our elementary school, while children were playing on the playground. On Wednesday, we learned that the fourth high school student in six weeks had died of gunshot wounds. On Thursday, my body kind of shut down from all the stress, and in between doing life: helping kids with virtual school, doing my daily exercise, preparing meals, I climbed into bed and just slept. I think I took three separate naps. All of  them interrupted, none of them long enough. But I just couldn’t stay awake. 

Last night I went out on date night with my husband and we took a long brisk walk in the woods. It was nice to get physically tired instead of just mentally. 

This is one thing I have found as I’ve done my new exercise and diet program, I am finding myself starting to crave physical exercise.  

I especially like walking. There is something very therapeutic about being outside, breathing fresh air, getting out of your house. 

Almost every day my trainer has me doing some kind of weight/body resistance kind of workout and then she gives me twenty to thirty minutes on the elliptical. Sometimes I go on the elliptical, but sometimes I just go walk outside. The elliptical gives a better workout, but walking outside is more rejuvenating. 

You know, 2020 was crazy for everyone. But, I had high hopes that 2021 was going to be a lot better. So far this year, I haven’t had a normal week yet. Each week has had something big and crazy in it. And the stress of that can really pull you down. So, I am very thankful for exercise and the role it has been playing to keep me sane. 

Resting in the Favor of God

Lately I feel like my life has been reading like a soap opera. What happened this week? Oh, you know, death, violence, tragedy, mental health emergencies, major appliances broken…

Yesterday my 2nd grader was playing on the playground at school. Two cars drove past the school, shooting guns at each other. The kids heard the gunshots and ran inside, school went on a soft lockdown, lots of police were present as the kids were dismissed from school. You know. Just another day. 

On the same day, we had a child with a mental health crisis, and it came home to me again, that our health system is letting the kids down. Our school has a program where a therapist comes to the school from one of the big providers in our area, and meets with the kids at school and does home visits during the summer. Awesome program. Except the therapist quit her job in November, and they still haven’t replaced her. And my child is falling through the cracks. Our own doctor’s office only does mental health visits over the phone or zoom, which doesn’t work well for small children. After a flurry of phone calls, we have found a new place we are going to try that does in person visits. Thank goodness. 

And this just seems to be our everyday life now. 

This year I have felt an urgency and conviction to actively work at keeping myself in a good place mentally. I am prone to depression and anxiety and have learned that these are things I have to constantly be working on to keep them at bay. With a lot of pushing and shoving from the Holy Spirit, I started a new exercise and diet program in January that is giving me good results. I started taking high school Algebra 1 online, just for the challenge, and I have enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, every time I pass another exercise or another quiz. God has been convicting me of my choices in entertainment, and I have been working on a big shift in what I read, which is a whole story in itself, but I have been working on filling my mind with more wholesome things. (Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8)

This is my testimony, despite all the craziness, I have not been shaken. I know when I was younger, things would happen, and I would wonder if I was being punished for some wrongdoing. I would wonder if all these troubles were a sign that I was not walking in the right direction. I believed that if I was a Christian, then my life should be mostly blessed, simple. And if it wasn’t, then I must be doing something wrong. 

I don’t believe that anymore. God is good but his goodness doesn’t always look like the Perfect American Dream. The bible is pretty clear that we are going to have trials and hardship and persecution. 

“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

Right now I feel like I am in a place of faith building. Each day I feel almost bewildered at how normal I feel. Things happen, and I step back and shake my head, when is all the crazy going to stop? But, then I keep moving and keep tackling whatever is in front of me. And I marvel that God is still keeping me in a place of peace. Yes, I am worried about what is happening in our nieghborhood with gun violence. Yes, I am concerned over many things, but my head is still above water and I’m still swimming.  And that is all God. 

My daughter has been playing a song recently and the refrain is stuck in my head. It’s from the Psalm 30:5, the first half of the verse:

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;

Funny as it sounds, I feel very much like I am resting in the favor of God. Despite the soap opera thing going on. 

An East Knox Resident’s Thoughts

This has been a rough week for East Knoxville. Last Friday a young man from our high school was shot and killed while he was leaving the school in his car. Then on Tues, another young woman from our high school was found shot in the street and also died. (And this comes after another child was shot two weeks before). Our school and the middle school have been moved to virtual all week as everyone tries to get a handle on the situation. 

I’ve not had a great week. I’ve been depressed and frozen and functioning at low capacity. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why. I did not know these children personally, and they were not friends with my kids. But, they attended the same school. They are children who died senselessly. All of our high school community is mourning. All of these are enough reasons to be struggling. (And we offer our prayers and condolences for the families who lost their children.) On top of all of that pain though, what is causing even more stress for me, and I imagine a lot more parents in our community, is wondering how we move forward. 

A good percentage of our highschool kids walk to school. We live only half a mile away from the highschool and we have had kids walking to school every day for the past six and a half years. Should I let my child walk to school anymore? But then, I remember that the young man who was shot, was DRIVING A CAR as he left the school. So, now what do we do? 

I listened to the community press conference that was given on Wednesday. I heard a lot of people saying This has got to stop! We are going to stop this now! But I didn’t hear a lot of concrete plans on how they are going to stop it. 

Our principal has told us that they will be emailing a bunch of information on how we are going to move forward, but I am still waiting to get that email. 

In all these press conferences, I have also heard a lot of people say, We’ve got to come together as a community and make this stop! What does that mean exactly? I’ve been scratching my head wondering how I, a property owner and sixteen year resident in this neighborhood, am supposed to make the criminals go away. I wasn’t aware that I, as a private citizen, really had any authority to deal with criminals. I do my part. If I see something that is very obviously wrong/dangerous, I call it into the police. But that’s about all I can do. 

Trouble comes with people. We have lived here sixteen years, and I can always tell when a new group has moved in that is causing trouble. We have an increase of traffic, an increase in gunshots, an increase in police calls. And then, maybe something horrible happens, like the time there was a shooting in the apartment two houses down from us. After that, they all moved away and it got quiet and peaceful again. If we, as the neighbors, are aware of increased suspicious activity in our street, surely the police are aware as well. Especially since they get called often to come respond to whatever craziness is going on. This is not a criticism of the police, just pointing out that the police are probably just as aware as we are when these groups move in. So what exactly are we, as a community, supposed to be doing to combat this lawlessness? 

Monday morning is coming soon and I am still unsure what to do about getting my daughter to and from school. Walk her there myself? Drive her there? Let her continue as normal? Getting her home in the afternoon is even more difficult because I am already picking up other children from a different school, and our high school is not designed for an easy flow of traffic after school. In fact, I always avoid the school when kids are being let out because it’s a huge snarl of traffic, buses, and walking kids.

They have mentioned an increased police presence when kids are going to and from school. I hope that they follow through on this. I, personally, want to see police cars on each street my daughter has to walk on. I don’t know if that is possible or not. But it seems to me that our kids deserve some drastic measures on the part of the adults in charge to make sure they can walk to and from school every day without being killed. And while this whole community wants to see our kids safe, we need some concrete steps and measures, not just blanket statements of how we need to DO SOMETHING.