Sunday, October 18, 2015

a letter to my husband on our first anniversary

Dear Mr. Cook,

One year ago today, we experienced one of the most beautiful days the Lord created, and I experienced what could be described as the calmest day of my life.  I know, I know- this anxious heart, calm?  Crazy calm.  One might describe it as weird.  Others would describe it as peace that passes understanding.

I spent most of my crazy-calm day with some amazing friends. We snacked, we talked, we laughed, we got our hair did and played with make-up.  You know your girl- I love me some snacks, I love time with my people, I love girly things, so it was fabulous.  We got dressed, took some pictures, and waited for 5:30.  We were actually ready super early. I know you find this hard to believe, but many can confirm.  Ask my dad- he'll tell you.

As our grandparents and moms walked down the aisle to Nichole Nordeman's "I Am", I was reminded of Who God is.  I worshipped as my brother played "Divine Romance", as our dearest friends walked down the aisle to stand beside us.  And while some of our favorite people in the world sat in one sanctuary, while you waited for me at the end of the aisle, we all paused.  And we listened.  To the first two verses of Crowder sing "How He Loves".  240ish of our favorite people in the world listened to a description of how our Jesus loves them, how beautiful He is, and how great His affections are for us. 

I can only imagine that those were the longest two verses and first chorus of your life.

As I made it to the end of the aisle, after our Declaration of Intent, as we walked up the stairs to the alter, your whisper of "that's a lot of ruffles..." still makes me laugh.  Two precious women read scripture that I will always treasure.  From Ruth, "Where you go, I'll go.  Where you stay, I'll stay..."  From James, "Every good and perfect gift is from above..." From Colossians, "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience..."  From Romans, "honor one another above yourselves". 

Can I just tell you that I love that we wrote our vows?  I love it.  I also loved that you told me to "slow down, Tonto" as I rushed the last line :). "Faithfully, constantly, prayerfully"...that's how I strive to love you daily.  We built our unity cross, took communion (featuring purple vitamin water instead of grape juice), sealed it with a kiss.  Just like that, we were married. 

We celebrated with a beautiful candle-lit reception. We had a delicious dinner (I'd kinda like to have that mac and cheese again), danced our first dance to "Never Stop (wedding version)", cut a Tiffany blue cake, ate Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and loved on our people.  We kissed under confetti poppers before we drove off to wedded bliss!  
...then it took us an hour and a half (instead of 20ish minutes) to get to our hotel.  #bbqfestivalincharlotte  Thanks for getting us there safely as I napped off all that excitement :) 

No doubt, 10/18/14 was a fairy tale start to our marriage.  And marriage is always that fairy tale when you love each other so much, right?  Loved ones told us it could be tough, but I really thought "they must not love one another as much as we do."  Ha. #clueless This first year of marriage- I think we can agree that it's been harder than we expected.  I hope we can also agree that it's been better than we expected.  We've seen our share of hard this year.  We've seen our share of joy this year.  At every turn, in the easy and the hard, in the laughter and the tears, I've seen that you are an excellent husband.  And I couldn't have chosen any better.

I've learned more about God and His grace this year than I knew possible, and I know this is just the beginning.  I thought I knew God pretty well.  And maybe I did.  But I know that I know Him so much more for being your wife.

I know Him more because you have shown Him to me.

You have shown me Christ in your selfless service around our home.  You've shown me Who Jesus is in my hardest moments, responding with real kindness when answering harshly would've been much easier.  Your compassion in my surgery recovery and as I wrestle with an anxious heart is priceless to me.  You've seen my selfishness and flaws and met me in my brokenness, loving me enough to meet me there yet loving me too much to leave me to myself.  That's big love.  That's what it means to love another as Jesus loves. 

And, dear one, that's the purpose of marriage. 

Marriage isn't supposed to make us happy all the time.  That is a cultural lie that so many have bought, that at times, I have bought.  Being your wife has brought me incredible joy.  But in the tough moments, I remember the words of Lysa TerKeurst: marriage is a decision to honor the Lord by honoring the one He has entrusted to me.

At the end of each day for the past 365, I'm so glad He entrusted you to me, and me to you. 

We haven't done this marriage thing perfectly. Not even close.  In fact, I could think of at least a dozen ways I've failed in the past 24 hours.  But we have a Rock solid foundation, and in our imperfections, we can show up for each other and let God have this thing called our marriage.  Let's keep bringing our willingness and watch what He does. 

Thank you. Thank you for showing up every day, for loving me so big.  For working hard, for having my back, for having a loyalty to me that I never have to question.  Thank you for praying for me.  For holding my hand in the grocery store.  For sitting through Shark Tank when you'd rather watch a ball game.  For pretending those over-cooked pork chops were delicious.  For being the voice of reason, the giver, the calm.  Thank you for reminding me of what matters most. Most of all, thank you for showing me more of Who our God is. 

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Cook.  I really love being your Mrs.  The best is yet to come!  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

back to school

It's back to school time, dear heart!

I have to tell you- I love being a middle school teacher.  Love.  It.  Which is a little weird.  Because 1- who really likes middle school? *raises and waves hand frantically*, and 2- I started teaching as a 1st grade teacher (long story on how I got to middle school- another post, another day)

Anyway, I heart middle school.  I love it because I can vividly remember what my bookbag looked like in 6th grade and what I wore for the first day of 8th grade (pink skort, anyone?).  It wasn't so long ago that I was in the middle of my first crush and rocking a middle school cheer uniform.  There is an honesty and a trust in children that tends to burn out the older we get, but it burns brightest right before it goes out, and that brightest burn happens in middle school.  There is a weirdness and an awkwardness, and a whole lot of laughter.  Middle school is messy.  And so is life.

On Monday, we welcomed a new batch of kiddos.  These precious ones stepped into this weirdness called middle school for the first time.  I have friends who teach at our elementary feeder schools, and we often text, facebook message, or chat in the aisle at the grocery store about which of their littles are in my classes.  One of these friends is Jennifer Smith: writer/speaker (go check out Create in Us Ministries.  Do it now.  I'll wait.), pastor's wife, super mom, 4th grade teaching extraordinaire (can you tell I adore her?).  Our chat happened on Sunday after worship.

Our church meets in an elementary school, and after our worship service, our pastor invited us to do a prayer walk to pray over the school where we meet each week, for the teachers and kids who will learn there this year.  Post-prayer walk, Jennifer and I were talking.  She mentioned a child's name to me, a child she adores.  The very same child was not originally on my roster, but mysteriously ended up there.

I met that sweet one right around 8:00 Monday morning.  She was so nervous, but I recognized her name and let her know I was Mrs. Smith's friend.  And her sweet face lit up like a Christmas tree- "Oh!  You're that Mrs. Cook!  Mrs. Smith told me about you!"  In her mind, being Mrs. Smith's friend made me okay.  I'm good with this.

A little while later, this little came up to me and said, "I can tell you and Mrs. Smith are friends.  You remind me of her.  Like how you call people 'friend' and stuff just remind me a lot of her."

Out loud, I said something to the effect of "Oh really?  That's neat.  I love Mrs. Smith!"

But on the inside, I was a little taken aback as I almost immediately thought, "We serve the same God; it's the same Spirit, dear one."

I love my friend Jennifer.  I think she is a star, and I so admire the way she knows Truth and chases after the Lord, and I periodically want to be her when I grow up. But I wasn't made to be Jennifer or my mother or any other person I admire. We each have our own unique set of personality traits, gifts, talents, struggles, that combine to make us who we are and to fulfill a purpose that is just for us.  The purpose for each of us is to know Him and make Him known; our individual purposes essentially come down to how we do that. I don't say that with pride; I say it with humility and a large awareness of how unworthy I am to even get to be a teeny, tiny part of this thing called the Church.  

Jennifer and I both follow Jesus.  Because of this, we are members of one body called the Church.  Because we follow Jesus, we walk with the Holy Spirit. And the fruit of that Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-33)  God in His creativity and grace has made each of us unique, and to be members of one body, with His Spirit producing that fruit in us. 

See, I've gotten it mixed up.  I thought that I had to do and be and have those things to have the Holy Spirit.  Really, it's because I have the Holy Spirit that He produces those things in me.  I thought if I produced the fruit, I got the Spirit.  But it's because I have the Spirit that He produces the fruit in me. 

My mix up has caused me a lot of despair. I looked at the things I've done and said that aren't loving, kind, faithful, or full of self-control (just to name a few) and the list was looooooong. And I took it to mean that, because I've been less than patient (and the other fruits) and because I still mess up, I don't have the Holy Spirit.  And I panicked.  The thought of not belonging to Jesus, not having the Spirit, not walking with Him terrified me.  I was losing my mind over it- I want to love and serve the Lord and I was being flooded with reminders of how I haven't done that. 

I tried to take it to God and I kept telling Him things like, "I don't know how You can forgive me.  Look at all these ways I've failed You!  How can You still love me?  How can You still use me?"  Gently, slowly, the Lord has been showing me that I don't "earn" the Holy Spirit by being loving, kind, and faithful; I become those things because I have Him.  I have Him because of my faith in Jesus alone as Savior.  When I bring Him my shortcomings and failures, He is faithful to forgive. (1 John 1:9). And this aggressive forgiveness called grace is a gift through faith; I can't earn it by being loving or good or gentle (Ephesians 2, Romans 4:5, 6:23).  Because, friend, in reality, I'm none of those things without Him. (John 15:5).  Being near to Him is my only good (Psalm 73:28).  

This school year, it is my prayer that I believe with all my heart that I don't have Him because I'm producing fruits, but I produce those fruits because I have Him.  That l will walk in the freedom of that truth so I can be who He wants me to be and do the things He has called me to do.  He is faithful, and I am grateful. 

Growing in grace,

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

when the helper needs help

I am a helper by nature.  Always have been.  My parents were the first of their friends to have a baby, and as each child was born, I took it upon myself to be their "mini-mom".  I've volunteered to serve and help since before I can remember and in many different ways.  I'm a teacher; I help for a living.  I love to cook and love taking meals to people. The older I've gotten, I've realized that, in many ways, that's how I show my people I love them:  I see a need, and I fill it. Love is a verb, and I strive to love in action.  In my heart and mind, that means meeting the needs of people where they are. 

Just over 48 hours ago, I had my gallbladder removed.  And the helper became the helpless.  This is my first surgery, and I have to be honest:  I'm not exactly a model patient.  I've had a lot of pain, especially at night, in spite of following the doctor's orders to the letter.  But some of the pain has been in my heart:  I hate needing so much help.  Like really hate it.  Because of my currently limited mobility and because of medications I'm on, I'm not able to be left alone.  I love having my people here, that's the best, but I hate feeling so useless. From waking my husband in the night to help me sit up, to depending on my mom to help me shower, I'm just pretty dependent right now.  Last night, between the physical pain and hating needing help, I cried and cried.  My heart was just sad. 

In the midst of my tears, I felt in my heart:  independence is not a fruit of the Spirit.  Independence is not what my Savior desires for or expects of me.  In fact, He wants me to depend on Him completely and only.  The only person who is disappointed and frustrated by my lack of independence is me. And Jesus, in His compassion and grace, has shown up over and over in very real and tangible ways, encouraging me to fight for a soft heart and to find my identity in Who He is and what He has done, not what I can or cannot do. 

He has shown up through some incredible friends, who came from near and far this past Saturday to help us move so I could recover in our new home.  He has shown up in my sweet church family, praying peace over me with such love and sincerity, speaking words of encouragement.  He has shown up in the pastor who married us, who came to the hospital to pray with me before surgery and stayed until I was well in recovery.  He has shown up in the women of my life group, who have been and are providing dinner for Mr. Cook and I nearly every day this week.  He has shown up in my sweet husband, adjusting pillows and helping me do such simple tasks as sitting up with such compassion.  He has shown up in family and friends as they have cleaned my house, brushed my hair, played with my dog, sent pictures to make me laugh, brought flowers, called and texted to check on me, and so much more, and all with such cheerful hearts.  He is present, and He is teaching me to rest:  in His provision, His grace, His great love and compassion, in Who He is.  I am a go-er and a do-er; I do not do "still" very well.  But my Martha heart is learning be be still and know that He is God.  It's amazing the lengths He will go for me- to the cross and to the OR, that I might be still and know. 

Learning to chill out,

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

how the house was bought

Hello, dear Reader!  It has been so long since I've written- about a third of a year.
A lot can happen in a third of a year.
In this third of a year, there have been struggles and there have been moments of clarity.  There have been loves and there have been losses.  In our largest, most exciting news, Mr. Cook and I are now homeowners!  It is a decision that was covered in prayer from the beginning- both ours and others- and so, even though there were many bumps along the way, I have confidence that we are in the right home for our little family to laugh and love and grow.  NO- we are absolutely not expecting!  Our little family is Mr. Cook, me, and our labradoodle Teddy, and that's enough for us until the good Lord says otherwise :)  We also joined a new church!  This, too, was a decision covered in prayer, and I know that the Lord has led us to our new church home for His purpose.  We love our new church family so much already, and we are excited to see the ways we grow and serve there.

This house (our house?  weird, still!) and this church have been straight from the Lord.  And I say that with complete sincerity.  As little as less than a year ago, there is no way we would have been in this church, in this home, in this town.  No.  Way.  Mr. Cook wasn't having it.

Mr. Cook and I both grew up in wonderful areas, but they are pretty different from each other.  In August, we got an apartment closer to my neck of the woods (but in a mutually agreed upon, different town) where I lived with our pup until we got married in October, when Mr. Cook moved in with us. And we have loved this little apartment, but we were anxious to get to a house.  All in due time, we said.  As we began to talk about becoming homeowners, the questions came up:  soooo what do we want in a house, and where is this house going to be?

What grand questions!  We agreed that we wanted to purchase a home where we could stay put- we did not want to be in the position of having to move, but rather wanting to move (i.e., we didn't want a home that we would immediately outgrow by adding a child).  We agreed that we wanted a large yard for our pup and someday child(ren)- Lord willing.  A neighborhood was fine, but not necessary, and we desired privacy.  A house where family and friends could come and feel welcome and not crowded- plenty of space for our people to come and be.

Those are all great things to agree on.  So where should this be?

I knew where my heart of hearts wanted to live.  I also knew there was no way Mr. Cook would live there.  A small town just a few short minutes from where I grew up- this town and mine share a high school (until they built a new one two-ish years ago- long story).  Knowing that it was too close to my hometown, I continued to offer suggestions in the town where our apartment is.  I mean, he agreed on an apartment there, so why not buy a home there?  Mr. Cook, ironically, named a small town just a few short minutes from where he grew up.  ...almost an hour from where I grew up.  I stayed mostly quiet and said we would look into it...translation:  yeah, no, I'm not living there.  I got the same response from him- "we'll look into it", same translation.

I have to be honest:  I struggled with this.  And I struggled some more.  I told myself it was not that large of a deal, that home is wherever Mr. Cook and Teddy are.  While that is true, I also knew that is is where we would someday raise a family.  Mr. Cook had nothing tying him to the little community I wanted to be in (which I hadn't even said out loud at this point- I kept offering my compromise- our apartment town- as my suggestion), and my main objective was to be close to my family and relatively close to my job, where I still knew a few people without being right in the middle of my hometown.  I couldn't stand the thought of moving so close yet so far away, in a new little town where no one knows either of our names.  And so, what to do in this situation, except bring it to the One who knows not only my name but the desires of my heart.

I prayed over this for months.  Months, y'all.  This was not a one hit wonder prayed at night and the next morning my hubs agreed.  Mmmm no.  We kept browsing online and showing each other different homes in each community.  So I continued to pray:  Lord, if it is in Your will, please don't make me move far from my family.  Please let us stay close.  It doesn't have to be this town, it doesn't have to be that town, but please, God, not too far from my people.

I prayed that prayer over and over with what appeared to be no real answer.  But I know my God and I trust Him, even when He is silent.  My heart began to change as I realized and remembered that even if He asked me to move away, He wouldn't ask me to move away alone.  I still prayed my prayer, but I started adding to it- thank You that I'm not alone, thank You for taking care of me.  Jesus, show me that You're enough.

One Saturday night in March, at McAllister's deli (hot date, right? ;) ), we were talking, and out of the blue, Mr. Cook says, "You know where I think I'd like to live?  Stanley."

And I nearly fell out of the booth.

People, I hadn't even mentioned Stanley to him because I just knew that it would be a complete no, as in, not even on the table.

We also started talking that night about feeling called to a different church- we didn't know where yet, and it wasn't totally clear at the time, but looking back, I think we knew we were being led down a new path, to a new place, in a new season.

The next morning we visited what has become our new church home.  Guess where?  Yep, Stanley.  We love Depot Church and the friends we have made there already.  We are so thrilled to be a part of this church, to serve our new community (side note:  we were not unhappy where we were, just felt called to something different).

This is part of my story, and I'm blessed by it, but please don't take this as, "if I ask God for something, He will give it to me!".  He's not a genie.  Does He have the power and the ability to give us more than we can ask for or imagine?  Absolutely (see Ephesians)!  But His ways and thoughts are higher (see Isaiah), and that means that He may say no.  Please trust that when He says no, He's not doing so to withhold good things from you!  He loves you.  He loves you so much.  And that means He wants what is best for you.  Sometimes we can't see what's best.

Before the house we bought, we put in an offer on another great home.  I loved this house- it was great!  Not everything on our "wish list", but really close, and an excellent first home.  So we put in an offer and we prayed.  I literally prayed that if this wasn't the house we should be in, for the Lord to block the offer.
Then the offer fell through.  And I cried.  And I fussed about how unreasonable the seller was being.  And I cried some more.  Mr. Cook (the calm, the logic, the 100 watt smile) said, "Look, you can't ask God for something and then get mad when He does what you asked Him to do.  It's not the right house.  We'll find it, but that house isn't it."
Shortly after, we found the house we now call ours.  It had more from our "wish list", a bigger yard, and some extras that we wouldn't have asked for in a first home.   My God wasn't withholding good things- He was giving me better.  He was putting our family where He wants and needs us to be.  By doing so, He was putting another family where He wants and needs them to be- in the first house we put an offer on.  His ways and thoughts are higher, and He works all things- all means all, every single thing- for His glory and our good.

That's grace, friends.  His grace was covering up every moment of these months, and we see it in very real and tangible ways in our home, our church, and in our hearts.  His grace continues to show up, even in our less than graceful moments.  When I was crying and fussing over my perceived dashed-dream, He was pursuing me and leading me to something greater.  What is that, if not grace?

If you've made it this far, thank you for caring enough to read the thoughts of my heart.  If you're a regular reader, you know that my posts aren't usually so journal-ish, but I thought it was important for you to know a part of how God is working at Casa Cook in recent months.  Now that school's out for summer and we are homeowners, blogging should move its way back up my priority list.

From a home that is better than what I would have put myself in,  all because of His grace,

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

a picture of grace

Grace.  Grace is one of my favorite words.  We hear and say that word so often.  We sing it.  We talk about it.  We attempt to live it.  But what does that look like, to live in grace?

My Big Mama was the picture of grace.  Big Mama is my great-grandmother, and she has been in Heaven for several years now.  And, no, she was not a big lady.  I'm honestly not sure where the name came from.  She was my mom's grandmother, and that's what she was called.  She's been in Heaven for a few years now, but I can still see her washing dishes by hand, and I can still hear her humming old hymns.  A child of the depression, among the dishes she washed were plastic cups and utensils after Sunday lunch with a big family.  When I was not quite 9, I saw my need for grace and accepted Jesus as my Savior, following Him to be baptized.  The Sunday I was baptized, my sweet Big Mama gave me a small, silver cross, and it is one of my favorite gifts I've ever received.  She dipped snuff, a habit she picked up from her younger years of working in a mill, but she gave it up for Lent one year and never looked back.  Big Mama's hearing wasn't the best, and when she couldn't understand you, she would ask you to repeat what you said.  If she responded with words, she heard you.  If you got a sweet smile, a nod, and a pat on the arm, she had no idea what you said.  She could hear my sister best of all though, and no one really knows why.  

I'm sure there were times, after raising her children, loving her grandchildren, and watching many of her great-grands grow into young adulthood, when it all seemed heavy.  When her beloved husband died before I was born.  When she buried two of her five children and one of her grandchildren.  When divorce worked its ugly way through the families she worked so hard to provide a firm foundation.  Through the struggles I knew of, the many I was sheltered from, and the many more that I feel sure she kept from all of us, there is one thing my Big Mama always made sure we knew- no matter the circumstance, Jesus will meet you there, and His grace will be all sufficient.  

I recently read The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts.  You should read it, or at least check out her blog here.  Her words have moved me to think more about Heaven, to build real and honest community, to love big with my hands open to whatever the Lord sees fit to give and to take.  To know that, even when life is hard and it hurts and I don't understand, especially then really, to know that I know that I know that there is goodness to be found and grace to meet me there.  There is grace for every moment- every joyful moment, every tearful moment, there is goodness and there is grace, and- the best part- it's enough.  

So what does that grace look like in our every day life, our morning rushes, our lunch hours (you lucky dogs!), our coming, our going, our quiet dinners (or rushed dinners, depending on the day), our work, our play?  How do we live that grace?

I don't claim to have all the answers.  I don't pretend to even have a piece of them.  But I do strive to live openly and honestly.  And grace can take many different forms.  Forgiving those who have hurt you, even if they are not sorry.  Accepting decisions you don't agree with without complaint (I'm not talking compromising conviction.  Use discernment.).  Making eye contact and genuinely asking "how are you?" and waiting to hear the answer.  Cleaning up a mess that isn't yours.  Fixing something you didn't break.  Putting the dishes on hold for 3 minutes to take time to dance.  Praying over a friend who is right in the middle of the valley of the shadow. Repeating yourself one more time, with patience and minimal sarcasm. (note to self...)  Sometimes it's being silent.  Sometimes it's speaking up.  Taking a deep breath in traffic.  Taking an extra turn at a less than desirable task.  Looking over the towel in the floor for the 129th time (sorry, husband!).  Whispering a prayer when you just want to scream.   Loving the best you can- from the center of who you are, as my favorite translation of Romans puts it.  Resting in the knowledge that Jesus is waiting to meet you in each moment, to cover each moment in His grace, and for your heart to know that it's enough.  

What does it look like, when you put actions with your love and walk in grace?  Who is the picture of grace in your life?  

Growing in grace, 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

When Words Don't Suffice

There are many times where I just don't know what to say.  I know what you're thinking- a teacher, a blogger, a Chatty Cathy- this lady has too many words!  But sometimes words will not suffice.

I am the worst at knowing what to say in times of grief and loss and disappointment.  Okay, maybe not the worst, but it's definitely not my gift.  I'm an over-thinker on so much in my life, and so, during those times, my wheels that already turn nearly constantly go into overdrive.  I start thinking about what the right thing to say is and when the right time to say it is and if it's really my place to say anything at all and what happens if what I think is the right thing really makes things worse and how I'll deal with it if I do make it worse's really quite exhausting.

And so, more often than not, I just don't say anything.  Which is arguably as bad as or worse than saying the wrong thing.  Because at least if I say the wrong thing, I've acknowledged the hard.  The last thing I want to happen is for someone to feel like I don't see or notice or like I'm ignoring their hard.  Their tears.  Their grief.  Their loss.  Their pain.  Their despair.  It's not because I don't see or feel these things.  It's because I feel them so deeply.  And, quite frankly, that makes me uncomfortable.  Oh, my selfish heart- it does not like to be unnecessarily uncomfortable.

And this is why I love math- because I am a creature of habit.  More than rules and habits, I love math because you don't have to feel whether or not you agree that 12 x 10 is 120.  It just is.  Every single time.  12 times 10 will give you 120.  Doesn't matter if you're talking jelly beans or dozens of doughnuts or flowers or 12 dimes or 12 tickets that cost $10 each or just a value in a given problem.  It's constant.

It's one of the many reasons why I love Jesus- He is constant.  He is only good.  And He is sovereign.  Not for a moment will He forsake you. (If you could hear Meredith Andrews' "Not For a Moment" as you read those words, we should be friends.  If you didn't, you should go look it up.)  Do you know that?  Do you know what it does for your heart when you really, truly know that?  He is constant- always.  Not often there, not sometimes shows up, not around most of the time, but constant.  He is ONLY good- not mostly good, not usually good, not good 99.999% of the time, but only.  That's it.  Good.  He is sovereign- not kind of in charge, not pretty important, but the ultimate authority.  He is all of those things and so much more, and not for a moment will He forsake you.  Not for a moment.  He doesn't sleep.  He never gets tired.  He never walks away.  He will not leave you.  He will not forget you.  He died for you before you ever loved Him back.  He died for you even if you never love Him back.

You've never had a friend like Him.  And you never will besides Him.  Not because your friends aren't lovely, but because your friends aren't God.

Having the right words in the midst of life's hard is not my gift.  One option is for me to be silent.  And sometimes, that's the right option.  There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under Heaven.  To embrace and to refrain.  To love and to hate.  To weep and to laugh.  To mourn and to dance.  To search and give up.  To keep and throw away.  To speak and to be silent.  See Ecclesiastes 3 for a more extensive list.  My prayer is that I become more and more receptive to what God is doing in every season of my life.  That I believe Him and trust him to help me believe when I can't see how.  That He will help me know when I should speak and when I should be silent.  And when it is time to speak, that He would not only make it perfectly clear to me but also give me the words.  Because mine often aren't sufficient, but He is all-sufficient.

He more than me,

Friday, January 23, 2015

what data doesn't show

Yesterday was a teacher workday.  As a student, I never really understood the purpose.  Isn't every school day a workday for teachers?  Oh, but I was clueless.  They are so needed.

So I went in yesterday after getting some minis from the Christian Chicken (Chick-Fil-A), arriving around my normal time but feeling so much more relaxed.  We recently finished units in my science and math classes, and I had one last set of tests to grade before our faculty meeting at 8:30.  I graded a few and was pleasantly surprised how well my kids were doing.  I know they can do the work, yet many of them, for reasons I'm still figuring out, just often won't.  So I'm grading to Vitamin String Quartet, and one of my pumpkins- who has a learning disability in math- made a 110%.  100%, and not only did he try every last one of the bonus questions, he got all 5 of them right.  I literally teared up.  This kid.  Geez.  As many times as I have paced that classroom, as many activities as we have done on the SMARTBoard, as many task cards and learning stations as I have set up, as many times as we kicked it old school with just a pencil and paper, as many times as I have stood on a chair while singing and dancing the Order of Operations (seriously, my principal has video), as many times as none of it seemed to does matter.  It matters because he is getting it.  My work matters.  Do you know how incredible that is, when your work matters?  I hope you do, friends.  I hope you do.  I shared his score with teammates and colleagues, and we celebrated all the way down to the faculty meeting.  I even Instagrammed that 110%- I'm so stinkin' proud of this kid.

Faculty meeting was business as usual- safety updates, policy reminders, etc.  We looked at benchmark data- celebrated some and looked for ways to improve all.  And then news of school report cards that are coming soon.  The long and short:  teachers and schools are being 'graded' based on student achievement on standardized testing.  Teacher scores are based on student growth.  School grades are based a little on growth but a lot on proficiency (read:  grade level on standardized tests).

Please hear me clearly:  I have no problem with accountability.  Good teachers are not afraid of being held accountable for what we do all day.  We should be showing a year's worth of growth for a year's worth of school.  I'm totally on board, in theory.  But I live it daily.  And because I live it daily, I must tell you what data does and does not show.
This set of data does not show that he has already, in January, shown over a year's worth of growth- 3.6 (3rd grade, 6th month)-5.2 (5th grade, 2nd month).  This data will show that 5th grade, 2nd month is not proficient in 6th grade.  This data does not show that 110%.  It doesn't show my teaching strategies, and it doesn't show how this student has responded and grown.  This particular set of data will show 'not proficient'.  Period.  
And that's a crying shame.

By the time I got home that afternoon, I was feeling quite discouraged.  After my spirits were so high- my work matters!-, they were dashed.  I was feeling down when I felt led to read a weekly blog that I usually read on Mondays.  I usually read on Mondays, but I just felt like I couldn't until today.  I know- weird.  It's a blog written by my friend Jennifer Smith of Create In Us ministries, and you can view her blog here.  This particular blog is about knowing your worth.  Knowing the worth of God's work- His work is YOU!!  When work matters, it changes things.

It's disheartening when you pour your heart and soul into it, and someone still can't see the worth of your work.  It can be anywhere from outright insulting to just being overlooked.  We've all been there.  Your children don't seem to notice the meal you've prepared.  A colleague doesn't notice something you worked hard on to help them.  Your spouse doesn't notice when you picked up an extra chore.  A grade you've earned or the feedback you receive doesn't reflect the time you put into a project.  You've worked your tail off and someone else is recognized while you are seemingly overlooked.

But you're not overlooked, friend.  Not in the least.  Not in any of the above situations, not in any other circumstance.  You're seen.  More than seen, you are valued.  Do you hear me?  When it feels like someone can't see the worth of your work, there is Someone who sees.

More than the worth of your work, can you see the worth of His?  Because the fact of the matter is, your worth is more than that of your work.  Your worth is more than that of your work, because You are His work.  His work.  Just as yours is to you, Jesus' work is precious to Him.  His work matters.  You matter.

Praying you might know the worth of His work this week,

Monday, January 19, 2015

reality check.

Last Saturday was an ordinary Saturday morning at Casa Cook.  I woke up first, as usual, beside my hunk of a husband.  The pup was stirring, and soon Mr. Cook was, too.  We whispered our 'good mornings' and cuddled through the day's agenda:  for Mr. Cook, an oil change, church basketball, home by lunch, for me, couponing, laundry, grading, puppy snuggles.  Mr. Cook got on the website for the car dealership and that's when he realized:  the oil change appt and basketball were at the same time.  I offered to take the truck- it's an oil change, how long could it take?  Mr. Cook started the truck and took the dog out while I quickly got ready.  He headed out to basketball, and shortly after, I headed out to the truck.  And this is when my selfish heart reared its ugly head (for the first of many times that morning).

I got to the truck, and the windshield was covered in thick frost.  Mr. Cook had started it, but it was not even close to being defrosted.  I sighed, but aside from being cold, this was no big deal.  I would scrape it off and go to the dealership.  Except I'm too short to scrape it.  I got pretty grumpy pretty fast with this realization.  So I sat there, growing more ill by the minute, waiting for the windshield to defrost enough for my short little arms to kinda knock off the frost.  I realized I was going to be late, and my frustration grew.  I so hate being late.

Finally, it was defrosted to the point that I could kinda knock off the frost.  I pulled into the dealership, not in a good mood but trying to put on a happy face.  I waited for a few minutes and told them who I was, that it was my husband's appointment and truck.  They searched the schedule.  They searched it again.  And the appointment wasn't there.  The folks at the dealership were very friendly, assured me it was a mistake, took the keys and told me they would work me in.  I said thank you, got my coupon binder and purse, and sat in the waiting area.  Sat, and stewed.  No laundry was getting done, my couponing was severely limited in the waiting area, my phone was going to die, how long was I going to be here...

In my grumbling, I was using my (dying) phone, and I stumbled upon mundane faithfulness.  It's the story of a sweet soul named Kara who has a precious family (her hubs and 4 super cute littles).  Kara also has terminal cancer.  She so bravely and elloquently shares her story on her blog, (you should go there).  So I sat reading, and I literally felt my selfish heart melting.  As the enemy told me what a brat I was being, my Jesus was waiting with open arms, and He used this sweet soul, whom I've never met but know I love, to bring me back.  He's good at that.

He's good at bringing me back to reality.  He's good at using His people to love me, teach me, support me, give me grace, and, sometimes, bring me back to Earth while keeping eternity in mind.  He's good at finding me in the midst of the chaos in a middle school classroom- He finds me when I can't seem to find Him.  He is good.

It's my hope, my prayer, my goal to seek Him first.  Not when the laundry is done.  Not when the papers are graded.  Not when the lessons are planned.  First.  I've never really been a morning person, but this week, I'm making the effort to get up a little earlier, so I can have the peace and quiet to seek Him first.  The rest will be added, just like He said.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Welcome, 2015!

I love New Years.  Absolutely love it.  It's among my favorite holidays.  We usually celebrate with lots of family friends, wearing pjs, eating yummy snacks, playing games, and toasting in the new year.  This year, we celebrated with mostly immediate family, doing the same things but at my parents' house.  My sister had surgery Tuesday, and after a bit of a scary time in the hospital, she was able to come home yesterday.  She's not super mobile at the moment (for obvious reasons), so we went to her :)

In addition to the time with some of those I hold most dear, I love the seemingly designated time to reflect.  I love the idea of fresh starts, of resolutions, of focus and purpose.  

2014 has been simultaneously the best and worst year of my life.  Let's hit the bad head on:  my grandmother passed away.  My sister has had some health problems.  People I love lost their loved ones.  I got a filling yesterday- ew.  I've made some tough choices.  I left kids that I loved and co-workers I adored at the school that gave me my first job.  Oh, but it was the best, too!  I managed to talk Mr. Cook into getting a puppy, and he is a sweet ray of sunshine in our home.  I transferred schools and became what I never dreamed I would be- a middle school teacher.  I made some wonderful friends with my new co-workers, and I feel so lucky to have them.  I discovered that, while I will always love tinys, middle school kids are awesome.  Maybe sometimes a little weird, but mostly awesome.  Mr. Cook got a promotion.  We went on some great trips to Charleston and Holden Beach, among others, and homecoming at our alma mater.  We went to seven- count 'em, seven- weddings this year, and it was a true blessing to be at each one, to see people we love dearly who love each other make that commitment.  One of those seven was ours :)  We honeymooned and found a new favorite place (here's lookin' at you, St. Augustine).  We got our first place.  We've celebrated the engagements of other friends.  We've loved on our families.  We've spent time with our friends that will always be cherished.  

Looking back, it's clear to me the truth in Colossians 1:17 "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."  What a whirlwind of a year!  And God held it together.  In the hard moments when I cried on the back deck at my parents' house, Jesus was holding all things together.  When my heart was about to explode with joy as I walked down the aisle, He was holding all things together then, too.  On my last day of my first job and on the first day of my new job, He was holding all things together.  As we brought in the New Year, it was humbling to remember Who it is that is holding this year, and all things, together.  

As much as I love New Years, I've never been one for resolutions.  To me, they've tended to feel like broken promises when they aren't kept.  This year, though, I'm making some.  Here they are:
-To better recognize that, when I say "yes" to something, I'm saying "no" to something else; to be purposeful about what I say "yes" to and conscious of what I am (therefore) saying "no" to
-To be more consistent in my blogging:  once a week, and then as inspiration strikes
-To embrace the current season of my life, to enjoy life as a newlywed :)    
-To be with the friends who are there and not touch my phone when I'm having a meal with other people
-To remember that no matter what may come in 2015, I know the One Who holds all things together, and to continually be amazed that He knows my name.

I'm humbled and thankful to have people in my life who are honest-to-goodness forever friends, and to have been able to spend time with them this year.  Mr. Cook and I are meeting some of them for dinner here shortly for what (I hope) will become a new tradition.  

Cheers to 2015!