Monthly Archives: December 2013

Unconditional Love

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What is unconditional love?  Have you ever experienced it?

I once thought I knew what unconditional love was.  Life seemed full of it, abounding in each direction I turned.  Children were everywhere and I loved them all.  Friends encircled me…work friends, church friends, social friends…friends I’d had all of my adult life.  Family grew thick and strong, shoots of it stabilizing  my life.  I was like a farmer smiling at his crop just before the harvest…so very sure that nothing could ever destroy what I’d worked so hard for.

Then life came knocking.  The brutal, ugly side of life that no one likes to acknowledge.  The side that will kick you in the teeth and leave you on the ground.  And unconditional love ceased to exist.  Like a wave receding from the shore, most of what I had considered stable and sure was swept out to sea.  In an instant, it was simply gone.

What was left was a very ragged, harried version of myself.  A depressed and lonely creature that fought every day not to become bitter.  Even sad, I knew I didn’t want to be that person.  Even sad, it took every ounce of strength I had left in me to rise above what life pummeled me with.

The result was a lesson…a huge lesson in what unconditional love truly is.  And now I know the true meaning of it.

Unconditional love simply means loving with your whole being, no strings attached.  Not many can do this…it requires way too much work and giving of your own self.  Not many can let go of what society says and love anyway.  Loving that way demands that you love even when things are wrong and hard.  It demands that you give even when you may despise the quality of another person’s life.  Love dictates that you keep on opening yourself to another even when you want to give up.

But you never give up.  That’s the unconditional part.  You keep praying and you keep loving the unlovable and you keep believing that someday things will be better.

I am so blessed to have survived and made it to the other side of the teeth-kicking.  My teeth have even healed enough for me to smile and mean it.  The numbers may be few but I have been blessed with unconditional loves.  People who love no matter what.  Nothing is a greater gift…not anything.

Those people…mostly family because isn’t that where unconditional love grows the strongest?…stick.  We stick together and we push forward.  Little blessings come along.  Little blessings like our dog who appeared at my very lowest time.  I’ll never doubt that God plopped her into my lap when He knew I needed her most.  And blessings like sisters, the blood and non-blood kind, that listen to you cry and keep coming back for more.  Mostly, blessings like a husband and children that love you even after living with you…that’s the truest form.

The biggest lesson in unconditional love has been my relationship with God.  At my lowest, I was never alone.  The years have taught me to rely less on the love and approval of others and more on the relationship between us.  As that grows stronger, so does my love for my family.  God is teaching me day by day to never give up…that there is always light after the dark.  Never give up on dreams, on children, on marriage.  Never quit loving and giving.  Never stop believing in yourself.  Never think that life can’t get better because it can.  And it has.

That is unconditional love.

Kids and Christmas…Whew!

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for unto you

Where has the time gone?  The first semester of this school year has come and gone, zipping by so quickly that I’m left with moments of blur.  But no matter how blurry it was as a whole, I may never forget yesterday.

I’m still sighing.  I’m still saying, “Whew.”  And it’s the next morning.

Yesterday was the last day of school before Christmas break.  Five days before Christmas and the little ones and their wranglers were still at school, trying to trudge forward.  And all I can say is that these precious little ones…as bad as it may sound…were all strung out on Christmas crack.

Their bodies shimmied with joy, their voices trembled with excitement.  Sometimes bodies fell out into the floor for no reason.  Other times, little children would take off in a spontaneous run to places unknown – except our room is small and there’s no place to go!

“Do you know what my elf did last night?”  (Do you know how many times I’ve heard that over the past month?  For real, it’s hundreds and hundreds.  But, I smile and look into the sparkling eyes and let them tell me.)

“Mrs. Rackley, it’s only __ more days ’til Christmas!” they’ve chanted since December 2nd.  And I’m required by teacher law to know if they’re correct in the count or not.

But we survived it all!  We made it to our winter break, even as the most glorious full moon I’ve seen in a while hovered in the sky each night.  Just as with hospitals and animals, full moons and school really don’t mix very well.  Until you’ve lived it, there’s no way of knowing just what the pull of the orb in the sky does to little bodies.  It makes them nuts.  Add in a little Christmas frenzy and…well, I’m back to saying, “Whew.”

In the midst of the chaos, a few precious moments:

We’ve been discussing animal groups in reading…reptiles, mammals, etc.  The story we read informs the students that people are also mammals.  In one sentence, it glosses over the fact that mammals produce milk.  No further explanation (and that’s okay with me – my students are seven).  So we get to the comprehension test that covers the story and a question asks, “How are all mammals the same?”  The answer choices were ‘they make milk for their young, they have four legs, or they have scales’.  One little boy jumps up from his seat in the middle of the test and yells out, “But Mrs. Rackley, this can’t be right.  We’re mammals and how can we make our own milk for babies?  That’s crazy!”

I proceeded to stumble over my tongue for thirty seconds or so (“Well…you know…and females, like mommas, can and do…but I can’t tell you exactly…so we’ll just move on…but you know, it’s like…)  Yes, I’m a teacher.  And yes, that was pathetic.  I finally told him, “Just eliminate the two choices you know aren’t right and pick the other.  And when you get home, you can talk to your parents about the milk thing.”

Sorry, parents!  They are SEVEN…I just couldn’t bring myself to have a discussion about breast-feeding in a first grade classroom.

Another precious story I borrowed from a fellow teacher.  She teaches Kindergarten and asked her students what their favorite thing about Christmas was.  I’m sure many said the tree or presents or Santa but she had a few say celebrating Jesus’ birthday.  Another student spoke up and said that he didn’t know who Jesus was.  A friend beside him told him, “He is the savior of the world.”

Sigh…

This wasn’t a teacher led conversation…she just asked an innocent question about the holiday we are celebrating.  The children had the spontaneous conversation on their own – the teacher just happened to overhear it.  And honestly, I’m thankful she shared the experience with the rest of us.  Those are the moments that fill me with hope.

In the hearts of children, there lies the hope for the world.  Out of the mouth of babes, we hear the future unraveling.  Even as they bounce around the room like kangaroos, they exert so much love.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hugged this month or how many times I’ve been told I love you by my students.  And they mean it with their whole body and heart.  These precious children are the next leaders, the next teachers, the next doctors, the next artists, the next moms and dads.  My Christmas prayer for each and every one of them is that they never lose all the joy they feel as children, that they never let the world tell them it’s not okay to love each other as wholly as they do now.

If only, just for a moment, I wish we all could feel that joy and love.  The kind that children feel.  Wouldn’t our world be so much softer and kinder if we could?  That is my Christmas prayer for us all.

Loving Clark

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clark

Oh, how do I love Clark? Let me count the ways. Clark Griswald has visited my home, signaling the arrival of the holiday season. Watching his Christmas movie, snuggled on my couch, arms waving in the air to the song Christmas Vacation…ah, the simple things in life that make it wonderful. But exactly why do I love Clark so? Let me count the ways.

1. He’s goofy, sweet and full of heart.
2. When he plugs in the lights and breaks into song – “Joy to the World!” – such eagerness, like the heart of a child.
3. Dark hair and cute dimple!
4. Would do just about anything for his family.
5. Even Cousin Eddie…
6. He’s funny…and I love funny in a man.

(Wait a minute! Funny, dark, devoted…this could be my own hubby! )

The craziness of the holiday season is upon us, but it’s the moments of laughter and cooking and wrapping and maybe even watching a Christmas movie that bring the warmth of the season to my door.  Those are the warm fuzzy moments.  The heart-squeezing moments whisper in the candles at church and in the twinkle of a star.

No matter where you find your holiday joy, I hope it fills you this Christmas!  Merry Christmas from my family to yours!