Lessons from Judging: The Time I Judged at the County Fair

Gratitude Day 494

Mon., Aug. 3, 2020

1 Corinthians 4:4b-5a – Because the Lord is the one who judges me. So don’t judge anything before the right time—wait until the Lord comes.

As a youth, one of the highlights of the summer was participating in the county fair. Held the middle of July, it was a week full of activities, exhibiting, friends, possibly winning some awards and most definitely learning how to lose gracefully.

Each spring, I would go through the entry book and pick out items and classes that I wanted to participate in. In the 10 plus years that I exhibited at our county fair, I tried a variety of projects. Most years, I tackled more projects than I should have. The day before the fair, I would be sewing buttons on my clothing project while something was baking in the oven. We’d still have dairy cattle to clip, sheep to wash and produce to pick out of the garden. It was always a mad dash and rush, along with some very strategic organizing, to get everything to the fairgrounds and entered.

Yet, it was always a memorable week. My paternal grandparents always made the trip for Iowa and warmed the bleachers while my siblings and I showed sheep and dairy cattle. We took turns working in the food stand and participating in various programs. As a young 4-Her, I learned character when earning a ribbon that wasn’t blue and a class winner.

This past week, I was invited back to participate in the Eau Claire Summer Showcase. This was county fair week where I grew up, slightly renamed because, well, pulling off a county fair during a pandemic is challenging.

With significant modifications and regular consultation with the county health department and parks and recreation department (who oversees the grounds where the fair is located), the fair was not a typical county fair. The Summer Showcase was closed to the public. Needing to limit the number of physical bodies on the grounds, organizers strategically developed a schedule limiting the number of people while giving youth an opportunity to present their projects. Items were disinfected regularly and all kinds of other precautions were implemented and carried out. For example, breeding animals were only on the grounds the day they were exhibited.

Months before COVID-19, I was asked to judge at the fair. Trying to limit exposure, participating judges were asked if they would be so kind to judge additional departments. This is why I judged food, food preservation, houseplants, cut flowers, some Exploring projects as well as the dairy cattle.

On the day Hubby Rick and I drove to the fair, we discussed judging. Because I’ve had my projects evaluated and previously serving as a judge, I empathize with those who feel a project has been evaluated differently than anticipated. Sometimes, we’re disappointed. Other times, we surprised with the results.

Clearly, “judging” is very subjective. What I like and prefer maybe very be different from another’s opinion. As I pick winners and champions, it feels very subjective. In a normal fair situation, youth may be present to hear comments and reasons for placings. In a COVID-19 fair, it became extremely important to me that feedback be provided on a comment card. During the dairy cattle show, I tried to explain to every youth my reasons behind the choices, making the show educational as well as a learning opportunity.

In the last few days, I’ve thought often about what it means to be a “judge.” Am I qualified? Can I appropriately explain my opinions and give others permission to have their own opinion? Will I be consistent? Will youth walk away from this experience feeling like they gained knowledge or learned something new? Can we have fun and make this a great experience, even during a pandemic?

It’s humbling to be asked to judge. Yet, I find myself judging other people and situations outside of a fair situation ALL. THE. TIME. I elect myself judge and jury about a situation where I may or may not know all the details. I expect grace for myself and justice for everyone else. I often assume that my opinions are best, right and can explain my reasons why.

Paul wrote in a letter to the church at Corinth to be careful about judging. “The Lord is the one who judges,” writes Paul. Wait until the Lord comes to judge, he continues. God will search the secret purposes of people’s hearts.

Yes, this sounds judgmental on God’s part. Often, it is read this way. Yet, I see SO. MUCH. GRACE. in God. At the end of the day, I think God has a much clearer perspective on judging than I do. Thank goodness.

Part of participating in a county fair, as well as many other situations, IS to receive feedback on something that we do. If we’re honest, there’s a part inside of each one of us that yearns for positive feedback. We want to hear all the good we do and skip over the yucky stuff. For the young gal whose heifer was not cooperating during the dairy show yesterday, I assured her that the first year I showed cattle, I stood at the bottom of a class. While difficult in the moment, it was a moment that I learned something about myself. I discovered that I need grace for myself … just as much as I need to extend grace to others.

I certainly do not have the whole judgement deal figured out. It’s a topic that I go back to and never quite get it solved. This week, I realized this is OK. When I try to be the one who is the ultimate judge, then I’ve lost sense of Whose I am. Yes, I can express my opinion about things and even share my reasons. At times, I am asked to render my opinion. But ultimately? I need to let God remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to judging. And so many other things.

For a not-so-gentle reminder about judging, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Dear God – Please forgive me for the many, many times that I felt my judging was so much better than Your ability to judge or someone else’s. Keep right in my heart that You are the ultimate judger; not me. May I respect and honor this in my life. Amen.  

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.

Lessons from COVID-19: I Wish …

Gratitude Day 492

Tues., July 28, 2020

Psalm 86:2 – Guard my life, for I’m your faithful friend, your loyal servant for life. I turn to you in faith, my God, my hero; come and rescue me!

Mid-March seems like such a long time ago.

A time when we ate inside restaurants, attended basketball games, watched movies on a big screen and hugged one another.

While so much seems different today than 4.5 months ago, there are also things I wish we would embrace and celebrate for years to come.  

I wish we would celebrate that COVID-19 ramped up just as spring began. I hope you have enjoyed hours and hours outside this spring and summer. I can’t imagine how much more virus fatigue we would have now IF the first U.S. cases happened in November … right before the holidays and as winter began. Hibernation would have taken on a whole new meaning!

I wish we truly appreciate the little things to the depths of our hearts and bellies: hugging an unseen grandchild or grandparent; an unexpected phone call or card in the mail; time to sit and be; the beautiful flowers and garden produce we’re raising this year. I pray we see these as the very most important things in life and not whether we have the latest material item or the largest bank account.

I pray we remember to purchase things locally and appreciate those who keep our communities running. May we all be more appreciative of our local teachers and school administrators, essential personal and those who’ve kept working for the benefit of others within our community.

I wish we are more filled with grace: slower to judge, faster to assist a person in need and more committed to seeing things from God’s view and not just our own. May we listen carefully when someone has a different position than we do about something and be patient until it hurts. I pray we accept that we’re not the only ones with the best and right ideas.

I wish that we make ourselves more of the solution than the problem. May we bring forth an attitude of easing the challenges rather than adding to them.

I wish and pray we make sound choices these days. For ourselves. For others. For the benefit of loved ones.  

I pray that we depend upon God and not ourselves as these days of COVID-19 drag on. May we turn to the One who desperately wants to support and uphold us … whether we want to be held or not.

For long-term lessons that we can discover and embrace from COVID-19, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Dear God – So often, we focus on the short-term when there is so much we can discover when we keep a long-term view as well. Certainly, You are committed to the long-term design. May we embrace and come to You to help us discover this right now. Amen.  

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.

Lessons from COVID-19: Virus Fatigue

Gratitude Day 490

Mon., July 20, 2020

2 Corinthians 12:9 – But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

It seems that everyone has an opinion these days.

Should we wear a mask or not?

Would it be best for school this fall to be in person, virtual or a combination?

Is there enough testing or too much testing?

If you don’t have an opinion about one of these or a million other topics related to COVID-19, be careful. You might not want to tell anyone because, well, then everyone will try and convince you that their opinion is right. Heaven forbid that someone has an opinion different from yours. Can you still be friends with someone who has a different opinion.

Maybe. Possibly. Sometimes not.

I’m calling it virus fatigue. We’re four months into this pandemic and quite honestly, we’re all more than a little over it.

And yet, we’re not. Numbers continue to be reported daily. Hot spots are reeling back in their decisions. We live day-by-day, week-by-week wondering whether or not it’s safe for kids, staff, and bus drivers to resume some form of in-school education. Will there be fall sports? While some churches have reopened, some have closed back up their in-person worship and are back online. Other churches are wondering if and when they should begin gathering again. The list goes on and on and on.

Virus fatigue is real and we’re all more than a little over it.

Some people continue to see their workloads at record levels while others are wondering what will happen when the additional unemployment benefits run out the end of the month … and they still don’t know when they will return to work. Will there be another package to help businesses and families and state and local communities that are overwhelmed with additional costs because of a pesky little virus?

Anyone else feeling like this virus has commanded too much of their lives right now?

Campers and kayaks and boats are high demand items right now. As well as trampolines, bikes, and swimming pools. If you want a stand-up freezer, put in your order now for possible Christmas delivery. Sunday, Hubby Rick and I drove to an extremely popular state park about 30 minutes from our house. We planned to wade in the water, go for a hike, take a nap in the shade. After driving past miles of cars parked along the shoulder, we realized that everyone within a hundred miles must have had the same idea. We quickly adverted our plans and headed to a quiet village park along a river where only a couple other families were enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

We’re all ready to do something pre-virus “normal” because virus fatigue is real … and it’s more than set-in.

I think back to earlier generations that endured world wars for years. Accepted restrictions on sugar, tires, and coffee for months and months. Just a few months into our generation’s most devastating situation and we’re quick to blow our trumpet for what we believe in, how we’re being deeply affected, and what everyone else is doing wrong.

I’m tired of virus fatigue because it’s giving us permission to treat each other poorly. To focus only on what we want or what we think is best. We’ve become expert scientists, doctors, economists, educators, infectious disease professionals, predictors, and politicians overnight … all simultaneously. All in the name of virus fatigue.

So, what’s the alternative? How might we discover a less destructive and more helpful way to plod through this pandemic that we’re not sure how long will last?

Let me offer just a few suggestions.

  1. Remember to love God. No matter how difficult this situation is and how you are being affected personally, please, please, please keep the One who loves you and knows what’s best for you in your hind pocket. Please don’t try and do this on your own. Virus fatigue will only continue to overwhelm you and upset you and distress you. When you turn to the One who has enough grace for you, your family, all of your friends as well as your enemies, then, you will discover how deep, wide and big God’s grace is for you as well.
  2. Remember to love your neighbor. All of them. Even the ones you’re not that crazy about loving. Especially the ones that have a vastly different opinion about the status of our current situation than you do. Love them so much it hurts because the truth is, God loves you even more than this. If you deserve this much love, then certainly everyone else does as well. Period. While we often would like to think we should get an extra pass of grace, thank goodness God is a lot less judgmental than the rest of us are.
  3. Follow these two suggestions … and everything else will eventually work itself out. Not on our timetable or maybe exactly how we would prefer. When we keep the most important things as the most important, it’s AMAZING how so much else simply fades away.

Certainly, I don’t have all the answers for virus fatigue. I only have three suggestions. I’m going to try and focus on these things and see how my energy, attention, and love for God changes. Want to join me? I hope you do.

If you need just a few minutes of reprieve from virus fatigue, click on this link. Then, sit back and simply listen.

For God’s grace that has no end or beginning, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Lord God – how fickle we are when we must endure a challenging situation. How often we focus on where it personally hurts the most rather than empathizing with someone else’s situation. How easy it is to assume we have the best ideas and ideas. Bath us in Your grace today. Place I upon your hearts the immediate need to simply love You and our neighbors today. Tomorrow. The next day. Even when we don’t want to. Amen.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.

Lessons from COVID-19: Ministry In Your Own Back Yard

Gratitude Day 486

Tues., July 14, 2020

Acts 1:8 – (Jesus said,) “Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

We’ve watched so much happen in the last four months; things we could have never anticipated or expected even five months ago. When these unforeseen events happen, it’s easy to look for someone else to “fix” these challenging situations; even the ones in our own back yard. Yet, sometimes, we’re the ones called to help with the “fixing.”  

Meet Jackie Goplin. Jackie is many things.

She’s a wife and a Mom to Brad and Julie. She’s a farmer, with her husband Eric and son Brad, who is the sixth generation to farm on their family dairy farm. She’s active in her local church, where she serves as music director and financial secretary. Along with her husband, she’s produced and directed 20 community musicals. They hope they can complete their 21st production that was canceled because of COVID-19. She’s a retired high school music teacher. In fact, my connection to Jackie goes back a few decades when she was my high school band director.  

It’s her most recent title that got my attention and caused me to reconnect with Jackie after many, many years. She’s one of those “fixers” that has bridged two important components of their local community, kids and dairy farmers, and sought to support both through this pandemic.

As soon as schools shut down during the pandemic, providing food to students and families that rely on free and reduced breakfast and lunch became imperative for local communities. Across the United States, dairy producers were asked to dump their highly crafted raw milk because processing facilities did not have immediate demand for this perishable product. With schools and restaurants closed, dairy processing plants found themselves with millions of pounds of milk that were no longer needed until alternative ways of processing the milk could be established.

Jackie and her family farm near Osseo, WI, a very rural community. Jackie taught down the road at the Whitehall School District for 22 years. The Goplin’s attend Peace Lutheran Church of Pigeon Falls. With milk processing facilities in nearby towns, word quickly spread about the possibility of these processing facilities having to ask their patrons to dump milk.

Step in Jackie and a few of her friends. Beth Stay attends the same church as Jackie. Convicted that there must be something that could be done, Beth approached Pastor Mary Ann Bowman. Pastor Mary Ann quickly brought Jackie into the conversation because, well, she and her family are dairy farmers.

The duo were inspired by Rich Miller, a milk hauler from Ellsworth, WI, who personally contributed $5,000 to buy cheese curds and donate them to local food pantries. His donation was quickly doubled and allowed Ellsworth Creamery from having to ask dairy producers to dump milk.

Jackie and her friends modified their response and created a program called Curds for Kids which provides cheese curds to families in several school districts within Trempealeau and Clark counties. Curds for Kids includes cheese curds with the free food distribution that school districts coordinate for families within their districts. During the school year, six school districts included cheese curds in their food packages. Over the summer, four districts have continued to include cheese curds in their weekly distributions.

How the food is distributed to families varies depending on the school district. Some schools send buses to families each week. Other school districts partner with local food pantries. In other areas, families come to the school and pick-up their packages. Curds for Kids works with each school food service department to accommodate their system in supplying the cheese curd portion of the food boxes.

Curds for Kids was truly started on a wing and a prayer. Known as a very generous and community minded congregation, Peace Lutheran Church of Pigeon Falls provided the initial funds to kick-start the program. Jackie, Beth, and Pastor Mary Ann leveraged local TV stations, spread the word via social media and contacted Feed My People in Eau Claire, WI, which has non-profit status. Feed My People partnered with Curds for Kids from the beginning and is the financial arm of the organization. They handle collecting funds and paying expenses, which allows the volunteers to focus their time and attention on coordinating the program as well as raising funds.

Amazingly, Curds for Kids raised $20,000 in about ten days, which allowed the program to know it would be able to provide cheese curds through the end of the school year. Since April 15th, Curds for Kids has provided 15,000 1-lb. packages of cheese curds to students. Several company sponsors have made very generous contributions which has allowed the program to continue into the summer. One of Jackie’s former students had t-shirts made and is currently in the third round of selling them. Another former student held a concert and raised money. Through lots of personal contact to local businesses, Curds for Kids raised about $50,000 to support their curd distribution.

Much to the organizer’s surprise, they also received another generous $15,000 donation from Returning the Favor. Hosted and coordinated by Mike Rowe, who is best known for his television series, Dirty Jobs, Returning the Favor reached out to Jackie and Beth this spring. After several virtual meetings with producers, Returning the Favor surprised Jackie and Beth with their donation mid-June. Pastor Mary Ann helped coordinate the announcement, which included a cow boasting the financial contribution and lots of area folks driving by and celebrating. Returning the Favor’s donation cemented cheese curd donations for the rest of the summer.

Curds for Kids has brought these rural communities together in so many ways. It provides a healthy food source for kids as well as continues to support local dairy farmers; many which are family farms that have a huge financial imprint within these communities. It allows for continued dairy product promotion and education. The partnerships between the school districts, plants that produce the cheese curds and the volunteers demonstrates how folks working together CAN make a difference.

Spiritually, Curds for Kids provided the church and its congregants a way to help others through a pandemic. As volunteers work together for a good cause, they see cheese curds as a new way of evangelism and doing good works within their community.  

Personally, Jackie found herself idle at the beginning of the pandemic. Normally, she would have been working at school three days a week. Now, she uses those hours to help others and fill a gap that quickly came to light at the beginning of the pandemic.

What is the future for Curds for Kids? The organizers continue to figure this out as they go along. Currently, they are working with food service staff to see if cheese curds can be part of the regular food service offerings. Will they keep distributing 1-lb. packages of cheese curds for students to take home as well? It all depends on their financial backing. “We’ll keep handing out cheese curds until we run out of money,” Jackie says.

So often when we think of Jesus’ directive to share the gospel with others, we assume it’s someone else’s responsibility. Or that it requires going on a mission trip to a place far, far away. Jackie and her friends are a reminder that God calls everyone of us to serve in God’s kingdom right in our own backyard. Thank you for accepting this call, Jackie. We pray that the curd ministry continues for many months ahead.

To donate to Curds for Kids, please go to Feed My People and click on the Donate Now button.

To watch the Returning the Favor announcement, please click here. The Curds for Kids portion begins at 5:00.

For those willing to do ministry in their own back yard, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Holy God – Thank you for the Spirit’s presence in Jackie, Beth, and Pastor Mary Ann their willingness to be the fixers within their community. May their story inspire others to do the same. Amen.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.

Lessons from COVID-19: Navigating Change When the World Has Changed

Gratitude Day 483

Tues., July 7, 2020

Deuteronomy 31:6 – Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Have you felt a little overwhelmed with all the stuff going on right now?

The last four months have ushered in SO. MUCH. CHANGE in our lives.

Change.

Some people love it.

Some people loathe it.

We’ve ALL been experiencing lots and lots of change lately. A lot of this change is out of our control. Navigating consistent change can be too much; especially when it feels like it happens almost daily.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (WDACTP) has put together a podcast series that addresses recognizes how challenging all this change can be. Their podcast, Rural Realities, provides helpful information for all people, whether you live in a rural area or not.

I love it when I have the opportunity to partner with a group of people who are genuinely interested in helping other folks. When I was asked to be part of Rural Realities, I didn’t hesitate. If something I share would help one person, well, I wanted to be a part of this.

The Rural Realities podcast includes information about a variety of topics related to recent changes and agriculture. My podcast addresses how we can deal with all of these changes internally. I would love for you to listen along and let me know what you think! Please feel free to share the podcast with someone you know who might be struggling right now.

Here’s the link:https://datcp.buzzsprout.com/1160120?fbclid=IwAR3woZ8uvQdD47zayxoUcNMlC1T-lfJubyq63-iLq1Xrw9Xp9Je7IFDurlw

It is so easy to become overwhelmed with life these days. Let’s not try and go it alone. If you are feeling like everything is too much, please reach out to someone. We all have change limits. When we reach our limit, it’s best to say, “I need help.” I can’t fix anyone’s problems … but I will listen. And I pray we remember the One who will be strong and courageous with us when we’re feeling down, overwhelmed or out of our league.

For those who have listened to me when I felt overwhelmed, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Holy God – some days, things may feel OK. And then, another day, everything feels like it is just too much. Help us to know when we need help. Assistance. A listening ear. May we not go it alone but reach out. Amen.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.

Wanted: 90 Birthday Cards

Gratitude Day 482

Mon., July 6, 2020

Psalm 90:14 – Fill us full every morning with your faithful love so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long.

Can I ask for you folks to help me out? Please?

A few weeks back, I shared my Aunt Beverly’s story. She lives in an assisted living in Denver, CO. And she has been confined to her room since March 8th.

Almost four months. We’re nearing 120 days since Aunt Bev has been able to leave her room for anything other than an occasional pick-up of her mail.  

All of her meals are delivered to her room. Her son is able to drop off things at the front desk for her. But basically, Aunt Bev has been confined to her room for four months.

I CAN’T. EVEN. IMAGINE.

After I shared Aunt Beverly’s story, many of you replied back with me how much her story touched you. So now, I’m going to ask for a little help back in return.

All for Aunt Beverly.

You see, she turns 90 on July 17th. The past weekend, several cousins and family members were planning on celebrating with her in Denver. Of course, everything was canceled.

Her children are not overly optimistic that Aunt Bev will be able to do anything special to celebrate her birthday. They are coming up with some creative ideas to try and honor their mother. Yet, they are struggling with how to properly honor this vibrant woman who will most likely be stuck in her room as she becomes a nonagenarian.

So, can you PLEASE help me?

Recently, during our weekly visit/chat/devotion, Aunt Beverly shared with me that basically all of her friends have died. She misses having friends, even more so during this pandemic restriction time.  

That’s why I’m hoping that 90 of my friends will adopt Aunt Bev and make her their friend, if only to celebrate her 90th birthday.

Here’s my goal. I’m looking for 90 of my friends/acquaintances/people who follow Simple Words of Faith to send Aunt Beverly a birthday card.

That’s it. Just send a card. Nothing else. If you have a birthday card, great. If you don’t, send whatever card you have. Slap a 55-cent stamp on the envelope and send it on its way. Please try and have the card arrive by July 17th, which is the actual date of Aunt Beverly’s birthday. If it’s a day or two late, PLEASE send it anyways.

Can you PLEASE help me out?  

I’ve checked with her kids. They are completely on-board with throwing her a card shower. They are so excited for me to ask 90 people to send their mother 90 cards. Can we overflow her mailbox so much that the staff have to set-up a special box? Will we get enough people to send her a card that she will spend the ENTIRE day opening birthday cards? Are there at least 90 people who were moved by Aunt Beverly’s story enough that they will send her a card for her 90th birthday?

Let’s address the cards to Aunt Beverly and have the staff at her care facility wondering where all these family members have been that sent her a simple card for her birthday.

Can we help Beverly celebrate her whole life long in the next 11 days by receiving so much love from people who simply want to bless her special day? With a card?

PLEASE, can you help me out?

I’m counting on all of you. And I’m confident you won’t let me down.

Here’s her address:

Aunt Beverly Anderson

10200 E Harvard Ave Apt. 200

Denver, CO  80231-3946

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. I can’t WAIT to see how many cards Aunt Beverly receives.

For help in celebrating a special woman’s birthday, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Dear God – For even the most vibrant of people, being confined to a room for four months is wearing. I pray that You will help keep Aunt Beverly’s spirits up, as well as be brightened by an overabundance of birthday cards. I pray that together, we can make her life and birthday so incredibly special. Amen.

If you know someone else who LOVES to send cards or would like to help celebrate Aunt Beverly’s birthday, please share this blog post with them.

Embrace the Year That Looks a Bit Scary

Gratitude Day 478

Mon., June 22, 2020

Hebrews 10:31 – It’s scary to fall into the hands of the living God!

For many people, change is scary.

Difficult.

Daunting.

Intimidating.

We love comfortable. We yearn for predictable. So, when things like a pandemic, awareness of persistent inequality, ridiculous quick unemployment, a sluggish economy, and an unknown future stare us in the face, life feels unmanageable. Scary. Overwhelming.

As people begin and continue to post comments and pictures wishing 2020 was over, my heart gets sad. Every day IS a gift from God. I wish we would treat them as carefully as other valued gifts rather than wishing them away …

So, let’s think about the remainder of 2020 from a slightly different perspective:

  • Let’s see these challenging days as opportunities to discover something new about ourselves. Others. The world.
  • May we welcome the unlimited opportunity to grow and welcome the new branches that lead us into areas we could not previously imagine.
  • Let’s embrace change as a gift … and not a four-letter word. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve been too complacent for far too long.
  • Can we wrap our heads and hands around the possibilities that are sitting right there in front of us? Just waiting for us to see them.
  • May we finally listen to the clanging sound that has been trying to open our hearts for far too long to something we’ve never even considered.

Most importantly, may the unsureness of each day force us seek God and know that God yearns for us to listen. And may we have enough good sense to finally stop and listen.

The year 2020 is FAR from being over. No, it’s just beginning. Let’s embrace and celebrate each day and know this may be a pivotable year for so many.

For optimism in days ahead, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Dear God – Sometimes, we so casually wish a day or a week or a timeframe away. Instead, help us to celebrate each day. May we embrace the new things You’ve led us to and turned our scaredness into trust in You. Amen.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.

Lessons from COVID-19: When Teaching Goes Remote

Gratitude Day 476

Thurs., June 18, 2020

Luke 13:10 – Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.

It was SUPPOSED to be a one-week extension of spring break. Instead, it turned into almost three months of remote teaching.

Pam Wentz teaches 5th grade at a private school in the Madison area. Mid-March, teachers were instructed to prepare for one week of in-home instruction following their planned spring break week. Unfortunately, like all the rest of Wisconsin schools, remote learning continued through the end of the school year.

Pam is a creative, thoughtful, and very proficient teacher. She taught in public schools before accepting her current position at a private school. But COVID-19 had this seasoned schoolteacher questioning her ability to connect, provide adequate instruction and ensure her students were receiving quality education.

Remote teaching requires creative teaching apps.

“I spent hours and hours on the computer,” Pam says. “While I thought I was fairly proficient with technology, remote learning made me feel my age and realize that I had a lot to learn.”

It’s hat day on ZOOM!

Teachers weren’t the only ones learning new technology. Many students were discovering how to use Google chats, ZOOM and other new ways to connect and learn. Students were familiar with YouTube, but this and other online resources allowed for students to also be distracted.

As Pam remotely taught 33-5th graders, she also oversaw and made sure her own kids, ages 16, 15 and 10, completed their schoolwork. Keeping everyone motivated and dialed in often felt like a Herculean feat.

Pam’s daughter, Ashlyn, participates in Harry Potter day remotely.

“Early on, I recorded lessons and uploaded them so students could watch at their convenience,” Pam says. “I quickly discovered what a nightmare recording a 15-minute video was. Kids were walking through the screen, dogs barking in the background and of course, mistakes. A 15-minute video could take HOURS to complete and upload.”

Eventually, the school moved to more live online learning. Instruction began at 9 AM when Pam would have a group check-in with her eight advisory students. She made sure students knew what live classes they needed to attend, when they were and whether they had the right ZOOM link for each class. Often instructing online until 2:30 or 3 PM, Pam reviewed and graded schoolwork after online teaching was completed.

She quickly realized other teachers had more demanding situations than she did. “I work with another teacher who has three very small children,” Pam says. “For her, live teaching online often included having a child present.”

With entire family units often working and learning from home, challenges like internet speed, space and quiet environments ensued. Sometimes, principals, teachers and students would confine themselves to a closet because this was the only quiet place they could find.

The emotions of not being able to see her students on a regular basis caught Pam off-guard. “It’s just not the same meeting on a ZOOM call,” she said. “Some students showed up for class, ready to go. Others had just rolled out of bed. Some students were not as reliable about participating.”

It was hard to know exactly what was going on in each student’s home situation. Anxiety levels could increase quickly. Often, she had private student conversations to discover what was going on in their lives. Sometimes, other family members were driving a student crazy. Some students had parents who work in healthcare and were not able to interact with family members because of safety concerns. One student shared how their Dad quarantined himself in their basement and was only able to talk with their Dad from the top step of the basement stairs while the Dad was in the basement.

Pam experienced additional anxiety herself. “I didn’t sign up to teach from a desk chair,” she said. “I love to move and have interaction and meaningful long-term projects for students. The whole situation began to take its toll on me. I felt my anxiety rising. I realized teaching this way was going to be hard. I could either let this be difficult or I could let different be OK.”

Two hours to clean out her student’s desks … while keeping herself safe.

Pam identified a specific challenging day when she returned to the school building and packed up all of her student’s things. Working within a small timeframe, the school issued strict safety protocols for teachers to follow. “It was so disappointing to be in the classroom without the students,” Pam said.

Mrs. Wentz cleaned out her student’s lockers.

Some students thrived in the remote learning experience. One of the Wentz’s children was able to accomplish their schoolwork quickly. This child read a ton of books and picked other special projects.

Decorating a student’s door to celebrate their birthday

There was also grief and disappointment of not being able to do many things 5th graders look forward to every year. “We celebrate everyone’s birthday,” Pam said. “Our four advisors divided up the students and made sure those with birthdays during the stay-in-place order had a decorated driveway and/or a recorded message from the class on their birthday. In fact, some of the teachers did this for me on my birthday.”

Normally, 5th graders have an overnight campout at the school. Students learn how to pitch a tent, build a fire and other things associated with camping. A highlight of the year, students talk about this outing from the beginning of the school year. This spring, it was a virtual campout. Students made campfires in their backyards and the music teacher lead songs. “It wasn’t the same, but it was the best we could do,” says Pam.

Pam’s daughters, Ella and Ashlyn, and husband, Jared sharing extra family time during COVID-19.

Were there advantages of remote teaching? “Yes, course!” says Pam. She appreciated being able to eat lunch with her kids every day. Normally, their family calendar is stuffed to the gills. With the stay-in-place order, their family life thrived. Everyone was home for dinner. They planned and cooked meals and played games together. Pam read with her youngest daughter in the hammock on a regular basis. The family came to love worshipping through online church.

Unable to celebrate their weekly date night, Pam and Jared’s kids created a stay-in-place special evening for their parents.

How does Pam anticipate school to look like in the fall? Most schools are planning multiple options, not knowing exactly what will be feasible come August and September. Pam feels there will be some remedial catch-up, as it is difficult to continue school business as usual when it wasn’t expected.

Family game time during COVID-19.

When Jesus began his public ministry, it became quickly apparent that he would teach people in very non-traditional ways. On the side on a mountain. Using ordinary, regular parts of their culture. He was chastised for teaching on the Sabbath, something considered heretical.

Jesus gives us the wonderful example of challenging ourselves to think differently about teaching. Try new things. Assume there is more than one way to do something. Embrace teaching and learning in a new way, including remotely.

One advantage of remote learning? Getting to read in the hammock!

Not everyone accepted Jesus’ new teaching methods. Some folks thought his unorthodox methods were reason enough to severely punish him. Yet, this did not deter Jesus from sticking with his main messages. Hopefully, we all appreciate education a bit more these days. Pam values even more her fellow teachers, the students, and the classroom setting.

“Maybe there’s another lesson here with COVID-19,” Pam says. “Wouldn’t it be great if we all found ourselves walking a little closer with Jesus and Jesus’ teachings in light of this time?”  

To historically document this time, her students designed and published a COVID-19 newsletter. Students wrote stories and shared their experiences of living through the pandemic. Hopefully, this newsletter will be used for years to come as a reminder of how remote teaching was possible and how the virus affected so much of life.

Thank you to Pam and the thousands of other teachers who went above and beyond to remotely teach students through the coronavirus.

For all the school staff who supported and conducted remote learning, and everything affiliated with it, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Too often, we find ourselves accepting the comfortable and easy way to do something because “this is the way it’s always been done.” As our comfortable boxes have been stretched so much in these last months, may we continue to be guided and directed by Your Holy Spirit to find new ways to teach and learn. Amen.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.

Wednesday Prayer Day

Gratitude Day 474

Wed., June 10, 2020

Jeremiah 29:12 – Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.

Will you pray with me?

Help me to hear.

Help me to listen.

Help me to stand still.

Help me to extend a hand.

Help me to avoid hurtful words.

Help me be patient.

Help me be kind.

Help me. Today. Tomorrow. Every day.

For the opportunity for an attitude of prayer, I am grateful.

P.S. – It’s Wednesday which means it is also Devos with Dianne night! Please join me at 8 PM on Facebook Live. Yes, I had some technical difficulties last week. Actually, it became a teachable moment for ME! I’ll share it all tonight on Devos with Dianne. Please join in!

P.S.S – Would you like to pray together every day? You can! I send out a free text message prayer every morning. To receive this FREE daily prayer message, text simplewordsoffaith to 33222 and you’ll be signed up!

Blessings –

Dianne

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.

Lessons from COVID-19: In the Words of a Person in Isolation

Gratitude Day 473

Tues., June 9, 2020

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Ninety-one days. A day over three months. Could you be confined to a small room for that period of time?

Because of COVID-19, my Aunt Beverly has. Here is her story.

Aunt Beverly and my Mom, Ann

Aunt Beverly was my Mom’s elder sister by six years. She’s been a mom, spouse, grandmother and recently became a great-grandmother for the first time. She’s served as an extension agent, a teacher, a counselor, and an advisor. Aunt Beverly loves to quilt, sew, grow flowers, read, cook, help others and is knowledgeable about antiques.

For the last 91 days, she has been confined to her individual room at the assisted living facility where she resides in Denver, CO. Since March 8, all meals are delivered to resident’s rooms. At times, residents were able to get their mail but now mail is delivered. A few days ago, Bev walked to the main desk to discuss an issue These little trips are extremely limited and only for a truly short period of time.

The facility’s management has been highly protective of the folks entrusted into their care. They implemented these strict restrictions for the health and safety of the residents a good week earlier than many other places because of their high-risk population. Everyone wears masks. Contact is limited. Even with these stringent precautions, residents have contracted the virus, and some have died.

When I think of the stay-in-place order and how it has affected Hubby Rick and myself and compare this to Aunt Bev, it’s crystal clear to me that our impact is nothing compared to how Aunt Bev’s life has been impacted. For Beverly, it’s been 90+ days of looking at the same four walls and trying to keep herself challenged mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

This July, Aunt Beverly will turn 90-years-old. This means she was born during the Depression and was a pre-teen and teenager during WWII. Beverly married Morris Anderson in her early 20’s. Morris served in the military and was stationed in Germany during the Cold War. Beverly and their two eldest children lived in Germany while Morris was stationed there.

Aunt Beverly, my Grandmother and my Mom

Beverly has also lived through the death of her husband, the challenges related to raising four children, multiple moves and job changes, the time when women began to discover more of their own voices, the death of a daughter along with countless other opportunities that are a part of life. She has outlived both her younger sister and brother. Yet, Beverly feels that living through this virus and being confined to her room is “the most crazy and difficult time of my life.”

Maybe it’s because this time, Bev has no ability to control or impact the situation. Possibly it is because Bev is an extrovert and misses daily contact with people. Her sewing machine has been acting up and her television died. This means Bev is having to find other ways to keep her mind active and find meaning in her daily life.

How does Beverly sustain herself through this challenging time? Every night before she goes to bed, she reads the Bible. Lately, she has been inspired to read many of the psalms and finds great comfort in them. She has received multiple word search, coloring books and other mind-challenging books from her family. Bev reads regularly and has been exploring a new series of books that were sent to her.

Do the days get long? Of course. Are some days better than others? Naturally. “I just have to put this situation into God’s hands,” says Beverly. “As a doer most of my life, learning to simply be all day long has been hard.”

Beverly is committed to not simply sit around and feel sorry for herself. Daily, she makes sure and challenges her mind. Bev incorporates activities into her day that give her mind inspiration and help her be at peace. She’s rediscovered once again how important the small things in life truly are. Fresh flowers or a new plant in her room truly give her a breath of fresh air.

Shortly before the stay-in-place order was implemented, Bev’s family arranged for an Alexa Echo Show in her room. This is an Alexa device with a screen. This Alexa has been a lifeline for Beverly. It allows her to “see” her family when they call and keep in touch with them. Visits from her family via Alexa break up her day. Even short visits are deeply meaningful. Recently, her daughter Susan and son-in-law Ben took her on a tour through their flower gardens, which was incredibly uplifting for a woman who has spent countless hours gardening herself.

A woman grounded in faith; Beverly yearns for spiritual connection. Every Sunday, Aunt Bev and I have a weekly chat/devotion time. We share a devotion, which has become Beverly’s “church.” We pray together and catch-up. Bev’s favorite Bible verse is John 3:16 because it reminds her of God’s love for her. This verse is powerful for Beverly because it emphasizes how God sent Jesus as a man into this world for all of humanity.

When the stay-in-place order is lifted at her facility, Bev looks forward to being with other people. Attending exercise class. Playing bridge. Listening to the entertainment brought in for residents. Pre-COVID-19, her family planned a 90th birthday celebration for extended family and friends over the 4th of July weekend. Unsure that the care facility will allow for visitors by then, plans are shifting and will include either a virtual celebration or a gathering at a later date.

“It is amazing how different people have coped with this virus situation,” says Aunt Beverly. In my mind, Beverly, you’ve done a tremendous job of keeping yourself grounded, focused and content with things that feed your heart and soul. Thank you for your wonderful example. May the rest of us discover some of the peace you make sure are a part of your daily life.

For the lessons I am learning from Aunt Beverly, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Today, we pray the prayer that Aunt Beverly and I always pray at the end of our visits: Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. They will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Holy God – Amen.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please pass it along to someone else who will also enjoy it.