where i’m from

carley-family
As a teacher of English as a second language, I consistently meet students from all over the world.  The question “Where are you from?” is very common in my classroom.  I myself am frequently asked this question after people learn that I speak Spanish.  In both of these cases, a one word answer of a country or a city never seems to fully capture the essence and complexity of a person’s identity.  For this reason, I was so excited about a project that my students worked on that quickly became a source of some of my favorite moments from this school year.

The project consisted of reading a poem entitled “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon, and using it as an inspiration for a personal poem.  Instead of answering “Where are you from?” with an answer about a physical location, it involves sharing memories about different aspects of your childhood, heritage, and upbringing to represent where you are from on a deeper level.

Although my students were hesitant about writing poetry, and some were even resistant to sharing about their personal lives, I could not have been more moved by their final poems.  Some of them brought tears to my eyes, as I learned so much about each student and all the things that make them unique.  I also personally enjoyed writing my own poem, and reflecting on the different aspects of my heritage and family that have impacted and shaped me…

I am from picnic tablecloths on the living room floor,
from homemade play dough and wooden toys.
I am from the kitchen table
(solid, smooth, covered with eraser shavings and crayon marks).
I am from the honeysuckles blooming along the backyard fence,
The pecan trees dropping the pecans,
like treasures waiting to be found, just like my future dreams and desires.

I am from astigmatism and big noses,
from Carley and Reiner.
I am from the bookworms and the storytellers.
From you can do it, and don’t give up.
I’m from “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,”
and prayers before bedtime.

I am from Driespitz and Valencia,
from arroz con leche and cream cheese dip.
From the books my mother read to me as a child,
the hours my father spent helping me with my homework.

On the walls, in the photo albums filed away
on the shelf beneath the stairs,
sit all these memories of past smiles and joys,
a picture of things to come for future generations.


schriock minnesota venezuela abi reiner-family carley-family-2

the unforgiving minute

I recently read the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling with one of my classes.  Even though I taught this same poem last year, these lines caught my attention this year:

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run…”

Any time I read the word “unforgiveness,” I feel a small twinge in my heart, because I know it is one of my weaknesses.  I struggle with pride and stubbornness, two traits that make it very difficult for me to apologize and admit mistakes.

However, I realize that conflict creates a chasm between people that, if rectified, can bring them closer than they were before the divide.  I recently heard someone advise married couples to race their spouse to apologize anytime there is conflict.  I think this imagery perfectly coincides with the lines from Kipling’s poem.  What if, rather than sitting in that ominous silence after an argument and waiting for the other to speak first, we raced each other to be the first to humble ourselves and admit to wrong?

Tanner is the perfect example of this.  As soon as anything even slightly offensive escapes his lips (which happens only rarely), he immediately apologies and asks for forgiveness.   Ever since I recognized this humility in him when were dating, I was both convicted and inspired.

I aspire to continue to grow in humility so that in the unforgiving minute, I can learn to run the distance and close the chasm.

moments

sunset

I am reminded to be grateful for each moment…
every hug from my parents,
every kiss from my husband,
every phone call with my brother,
every laugh shared with a friend,
every opportunity to encourage one of my students,
every dream for the future,
every chance to love someone else,
every moment to live and enjoy the beauty of this finite life God has given me.

non-goals

2015-non-goals I used to dislike New Year’s resolutions.  I grew tired of seeing list after list of goals that people never accomplished, or didn’t even seem to care about two weeks later.  While I am still wary of making unattainable goals, I now appreciate people who make bold resolutions.  I admire their desire to improve and their courage to share their dreams even if they might fail.

However, I think that it is just as valuable to reflect on past growth as it is to create new goals.  I was inspired by Erin from Design for Mankind to create my list of non-goals – a list of ways that I am learning to accept myself and areas that I have already grown in.  (You can read Erin’s list here.)

1. I have learned not to take myself so seriously.

I have been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember.  When I colored as a little girl, I was so upset with myself if I colored out of the lines.  I would even ask my parents to finish coloring it for me, so that it would look better.  Fortunately, they always made me finish, and encouraged me along the way.

Now, when creating and teaching 20 lesson plans a week, it is impossible for each one to be perfect.  Rather than become frustrated with small setbacks, I have learned to laugh at my mistakes and even enjoy my imperfections at times.

2. I have simplified my life.

I have embraced minimalism in many areas of my life, and I am enjoying the benefits.  Rather than fill my house and my schedule with clutter, I have learned to let things go and enjoy the small things in life.

3. I have valued the relationships that make my life meaningful.

Tanner and I are so grateful to live close to all of our parents, and we have taken advantage of it.  I look forward to spending time with them each week, and I cherish all of the memories we are creating together.   I have kept in touch with out-of-town family, reconnected with old friends, and started new friendships.  I have also had the opportunity to work on a family history project with my dad that has not only taught me about my heritage, but has also inspired me to live a life that my family will be proud of for years to come.

4. I have explored and refined my beliefs.

There comes a time in life when you have to question the things you have been taught and the culture in which you have been raised.  Even though this process is a lifelong journey in some ways, I am excited about the new perspectives I have been exposed to and the things I have learned about God and His love this year.

In what areas of your life are you satisfied?  What accomplishments are you proud of?  What are your non-goals?

give

give

My word for 2014 was follow,  and throughout the year I learned the importance of pursuing God not only in the midst of change, but also when life remains constant.

This year, my word is give.

In the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples before he was killed, He said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:23-24)

Christians typically interpret this verse to mean to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of Jesus’s sacrifice.  However, Jan Hatmaker provides further insight into Jesus’ words:

“Not only was Communion a symbolic ritual, it was a new prototype of discipleship.  ‘Continuously make My sacrifice real by doing this very thing.’  Become broken and poured out for hopeless people.  Become a living offering, denying yourself for the salvation and restoration of humanity.  Obedience to Jesus’ command is more than looking backward; it’s a present and continuous replication of His sacrifice.” (Interrupted)

Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice not only in His death, but throughout His entire life filled with generosity and unconditional love.  My goal this year is to replicate His sacrifice as much as possible in my own life, through giving my time, giving my love, giving my energy, and giving all that I have, regardless of the sacrifice.  And my desire is that through my life of giving, others might be able to receive a glimpse of God’s unfailing love and amazing sacrifice.

What is your word for 2015?

giving thanks

giving-thanks

This year, I am giving thanks…

For my students, who challenge me to grow every day,

For my friends, both new and old, who help me to experience  and enjoy life,

For my grandparents, who shower me with love, kindness, and wisdom,

For my in-laws, who never fail to make me crack up laughing each time we’re together,

For my brother, who has always inspired me with his gentleness and with his talent,

For my parents, who are my greatest mentors and two of my best friends,

For my husband, who is my supporter, my best friend, my partner,

For my God, who never ceases to amaze me with His grace and love for people. family grandparents plantation southlake friends

on your marks

on-your-mark I lace up my spikes with unsteady hands and make my way to the starting line.  Girls with uniforms of all different styles and hues repeat their rituals—jogging in place, jumping up and down, stretching their calves—as calls ring out from the announcer and echo across the stadium. 

At last, the time comes: “Girls, find your starting places.” 

I shuffle over to my lane, carefully position my feet, look ahead, and take a deep breath.  As I wait for the next words of instruction, I face a barrage of questions: Why am I doing this?  Is it really worth it?  Will I be successful, or will I fail?


As a cross country and track runner in high school, I experienced this scenario more times than I can count.  At the start of each race, I remember doubting myself and my abilities, fearing the exhaustion that would soon overtake my body, and questioning why I was passionate about running.

Although I am no longer  a competitive runner, I can completely relate to my high school self as I approach the starting line of my second year of teaching.  With the first day of school only a week away, I find myself asking all the same questions I used to ask myself before a race.  Why am I doing this?  Is it really worth the effort? Will I be successful, or will I fail?

Before beginning my first year of teaching last year, I was nervous because I had no idea what to expect.  This year, I find myself nervous because I do know what to expect – the unmotivated students who choose to fail time after time, the mornings spent worrying about what to teach and how to teach it, the nights spent praying for hurting students, the paperwork that is always waiting to be completed, the nervousness before giving a test, the tired feet, the weary heart, the feelings of failure and incompetence.

But, just as I stood at the starting line back in high school and remembered the glory of the finish line, I can’t help but remember the beauty of my job – the mornings with students already waiting outside the door to ask for help, the inspiration I find in my students’ passions and dreams, the celebrations of students passing a test or doing well on a paper, the times when students realize that literature is more than reading old stories written by dead people and that writing is more than simply words on a page, the laughter filling my classroom and the hallways, the appreciation, the encouragement, the fulfillment.


As I wait for the next words of instruction, I face a barrage of questions: Why am I doing this?  Is it really worth it?  Will I be successful, or will I fail?

Before I have time to answer, I hear “On your marks….Get set….Go!”

And all the fears racing through my mind seem to vanish with the smoke of the starting gun as I determine to do my best in this race and consider that a success.