Teacher, we wish to see a sign. (Matthew 12:38)

Ah, today is the beginning of a new school year in my little town of West Tennessee. It’s the week of inservice before the students begin. I had twenty years of inservice before my health forced me to retire. The excitement of it always made me giddy.

Inservice can be such a dirty word. Teachers listen to speakers, work on curriculum, and have several meetings. Often we are anxious to get on with it. We want to be in our classrooms preparing not being idle. Try to be patient and glean something. Try to treasure this respite. This week eases us into the routine slated for the next 180 school days to do our best. The education of so many souls depends on our attitude and gratitude to lead them.

Everyone knows I’m a nerd and really loved inservice. I was so grateful God had placed me in a vocation that never seemed like work. As a former colleague and I talked over lunch recently, we concluded that our classroom was our church. It really was. It was where we not only educated the mind but also hearts. It’s so true that students observe every aspect of your character. Your actions are deafening, so take heed. They also can sense if you genuinely care about them and their futures. What’s your message?

Now more than ever, our children need teachers that are invested in them. I know we as teachers have our own families and children and are stretched too thin. It’s hard to look at thirty faces and try to be all they need you to be. Take a deep breath. Take up your cross. Be grateful God called you to be a teacher. You are so priceless.

I hoped I would teach until I was 70, but God had other plans. This week when you’re attending inservice whisper a “Thank you” to the one above and remember “to the least of these.” Each child has a story and a name. It’s your job to know them and be a light. Each of them is looking for a sign. Will you be that positive influence? Unceasing prayers are coming from Sal the Retired Teaching Gal for your success.

Sarah Anderson Alley

Dedicated to teachers everywhere

Quotes of the Day:

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
William Arthur Ward

“One good teacher in a lifetime may sometimes change a delinquent into a solid citizen.”
Philip Wylie

“Of all the hard jobs around, one of the hardest is being a good teacher.”
Maggie Gallagher

Dust

Last week the verse “And whoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” haunted me. I tried to interpret it into my own being. I have this flaw within me that wants to help and give until it becomes unhealthy. I have members of my family and friends that have addiction problems. Sadly, today this is not an exception. Many of you reading this are no stranger to drug addiction and it’s horrible consequences.

Too many children in our society are orphans because of this rampant epidemic. Drugs just hollow out a person. It takes their heart and leaves a selfish, insatiable shell. As a former teacher, I have seen so many children altered by this current epidemic. The neglect is rampant. The emotional abuse cuts so deep. Face it America, our family system is shattered. The children are lost in this shrapnel. The cycle of poverty is growing exponentially. When do we shake the dust from our feet?

I love working with children at our local library. There is a huge building beside it. This building stood for sale a long time. When I would go to the library, I always envisioned a safe house for children. A place they could show up on the doorstep and find immunity from their chaotic lives. A place where they could have a warm meal, a clean bed, and quiet place to read and study away from the drama of the world of addiction. You know going home from school hungry with only dry cereal to live on and no adult there to ask you about your day. Taking care of younger siblings while riffraff comes in and out of your house at all hours. Trying your best to avoid sexual predators. Surviving. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to take children home with me and give them the nurturing and love they deserved. To provide a place for them to thrive and grow and crush the cycle of poverty. The building has been bought and someone is renovating it. Such a dream.

When do we shake the dust and move on from those who continue to choose evil? We give them love, resources, and shelter but are we giving them God? Are we enabling bad choices at the cost of the lives of children? I think we are. These children are feral without any moral and spiritual guidance. Faith without works is empty but don’t you also believe works without faith is just as futile? These things haunt my thoughts. Money, nice clothes, and food don’t remedy the deep rooted issue we are facing. It’s a heart problem. Hearts of children harden by the minute because of this cycle.

Ironically our homily last Sunday was about “Dust.” For two weeks I had rolled the “shaking dust” verse in my mind. The priest had a beautiful message of “dusting” off our spiritual lives. There are ways for us to reach out and help be a “dust mop” to those around us. We need to not be scared to lend a hand and give hugs. Time is short. It helped me realize that although sometimes our love falls on deaf ears we need to shake off the dust and let some go, dust never sleeps. America has layers of dust and I need to move on with my mop to find new areas of need. If we all did our dusting, we could make America shine again.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Dust Hating Gal

Quote of the Day:

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
Pablo Picasso

Opportunity

 

In my mind, I’m thinking of how 50 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It makes me ponder if we are any better for it today? What would MLKJ think of our country? Watching a PBS presentation at home with my kids the other night, I shuddered. Watching the blatant displays of hate, it made my stomach hurt. When I taught as a white educator, this was a tough but fruitful unit for all of my students. We realize the fight for a better world was for all. We all bleed red. We are a family of humans. We all deserve love and respect. We all want to finish this life as best we can. Humans are not geared toward solidarity existence. We all have gifts to share. We all are capable of building up one another. We all have a purpose.

I always asked, “What did MLKJ fight for: blacks, the poor, or equality? This was a tough question. As we viewed historical footage, my students recognized that among the vast marches there were blacks and whites marching side by side. All colors were martyred for the cause. Doing what is right in any situation is always the tougher path. It’s not for the weak of heart. Dying for something honorable takes sterner stuff indeed.

I ask again, “What was the Civil Rights Movement all about?” I’m just a mere educator but this is my take on it. It was for opportunity not hand-outs. It was to be able to compete in the race of life not with a head start but with a chance to compete. The only problem is who are the score keepers? This is where opportunities become muddled. This is age old regardless of ethnicity. Your birth comes with limitations whether rich or poor, nurtured or neglected, educated parents or not and in your life race you have many hurdles to leap in order to compete well. Opportunity. It’s crucial to being able to compete. Will you seize your opportunities?

At some point every April 4th, I revisit the “I have a Dream” speech. I am always stirred within my soul to “Dream” of a world where love and service trump hate and selfishness. I will embrace all in my path. I will take the opportunity to be the best version of myself. Be a peace maker. You have only to accept the opportunities given to you each day.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Opportunity Gal

Quotes of the Day:
“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Authenticity is everything! You have to wake up every day and look in the mirror, and you want to be proud of the person who’s looking back at you. And you can only do that if you’re being honest with yourself and being a person of high character. You have an opportunity every single day to write that story of your life.”
Aaron Rodgers

“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”
Mike Singletary

“I hope everyone that is reading this is having a really good day. And if you are not, just know that in every new minute that passes you have an opportunity to change that.”
Gillian Anderson

 

I Can Only Imagine

 

 

I Can Only Imagine

 

In my mind today I’m thinking about how spring break engulfed me. Boy, students I really took a sabbatical. Back row, that means a huge break. I indulged myself in watching college basketball, making out tournament brackets, and reading. Oy vey! I made out twenty-five different tournament bracket predictions. The perfect holiday for Sal the Life-long Learning and Basketball Loving Gal. I’m now disappointed in myself. I didn’t write like an aspiring author should. Topics kept nudging me asking to be penned, but I let leisure have its way. Today is a new day and one for writing!

I noticed that a new movie is out in the theaters called I Can Only Imagine. I’m sure it will bless so many just like the song blessed me many years ago. It made me revisit a tough season in my life that my heart has nudged me to share.

In 2001, I was encouraged by my mother to go back to college to earn a masters degree. I had just given birth to my last baby and she retired to keep her. I can still hear her saying, “Take this opportunity to get your masters degree while she’s young and I can help you.” So, I sacrificed and started an 18 month program the following year in 2002. Sadly after I decided to start the program, we also discovered my father had cancer. I learned so much more than a masters degree in those 18 months.

As I reflect back on this time, I see clearly all of the times I was carried by God. I had just switched school systems and grade levels in 2001. I was not a very astute fifth grade teacher. I was used to teaching older students and boy there is such a difference. I struggled emotionally and intellectually to do my best. I switched the familiarity of a loving school and being very competent in my academic curriculum area for becoming the “new kid on the block.” I felt lonely and inadequate. I had to study every night to hone my skills in an unfamiliar curriculum. Crazy. Crazier still I had a 17, 11, 8, and an infant to come home to each night. I was on the verge of mutiny. What happened? God surrounded me with God warriors. My new teaching partners were amazing people of great faith. They enveloped me in “TLC.” My wonderful husband was my number one cheerleader. He was on board from the beginning. He wanted me to excel. He promised to manage the older kids on my Saturday class days while mom helped with Abbey. So my acquisition began.

On the commute to complete my master’s degree, I learned so much from one of my God warriors and teaching partner, “LuLu.” She was in the learning cohort thanks be to God for real! She’s one of those natural teachers. Her brain amazes me. She has a brilliance for creating and teaching that has to be heaven sent. Besides teaching, she taught me how to pray in everyday moments. For example, if she would see an ambulance on the interstate, she would pray. She taught and inspired me so much about faith. We travelled the interstate, prayed, listened to contemporary Christian music, and became “soul sistas’.”

On one of our trips, we talked about death. She said, “Listen, this is a song I want played at my funeral.” It was “I can only Imagine” by Mercy Me. It became a mantra for me especially because my father was dying of cancer. There were Sundays during this busy and hectic 18 month season when I would weep bitterly during mass because my children’s Poppa was dying and I couldn’t do anything but plead for more time so my youngest would remember him. I know many parishioners thought I had lost it. During this season, God kept me so busy, but he also gave me comfort. The song helped me grieve, believe, and let go of my earthly father. It helped me believe there is more. Imagine.

Each morning, I would drop Abbey, the youngest, off at my parents’ house and head to work. Even though my mother was a hospice nurse to my father, she still valiantly kept Abbey as well. Momma told me Daddy would hold Abbey and say, “Rachel, it’s just like having Sarah again.” I was his baby girl. Abbey grew to help care for her “Poppa.” He and my mother would hold her and nurture her each day. When she learned to walk, she would help by carrying his ketchup bottle to him at lunch time. I chuckle because my daddy put ketchup on everything he ate. She spent almost everyday from 6 months of age until she was 2 years old with my parents while I worked and went back to college. God gave me a strong amazing mother who always keeps her promises. I’m still so blessed from being Rachel’s daughter.

It was the first of June 2003 when I literally succumbed to my crazy season of grief. I remember dropping Abbey off and talking with my Dad. He wanted me to stay. I told him the kids at school were waiting. I pulled myself away. I cried all the way to school that morning. I cried as I greeted my students. I couldn’t talk. My God warriors at work hugged me and made me go home to my Dad. I was so sad. I stopped by my sister’s office before heading to my parents’ house. When she saw me she said, “What’s wrong! Is Daddy gone?” I sobbed, “No, but what if he dies on my birthday?” She hugged me and said, “When you were born, it was one of the best days of his life.” I pulled it together and headed to my parents’ house. He had slipped into unconsciousness and didn’t ever regain consciousness again here on earth.

In the late hours of my birthday on June 3rd 2003, my mom, my sisters, and I took turns praying with my dad. I held his hand and promised to take care of my kids and do be the best person I could possibly be. I told him, “I get it Dad. God is Love. Please go home and rest. I’m going to be okay.” I sang the lyrics of “I can only Imagine” asking him through tears what was he going to do first. Would he dance, sing, fall on his knees, or be in awe? We all then decided to call it a night. We went in around 11 PM to kiss him goodnight. He was taking his last breath as I bent down to kiss him on my birthday. He had begun his new season.

I didn’t want to see the coroners come take him away. So I hugged my mother and sisters and headed to my car. I learned later they arrived there around midnight to officially say he was gone but he left for heaven on my birthday. This was a beautiful gift. I could only imagine what a wonderful adventure my father was having. His soul was released and light. His broken body shed. No more pain or suffering. Imagine. I got in my car to go home. That late night on my birthday when I started my car the song “I can only Imagine” was playing on a contemporary Christian radio station, K-Love. My tears dried. I looked up and said “Thank you God.” My Daddy made it home.

This was a tough and fruitful season in my life. God was in and all around me. My new teaching partners literally completed the end of school year for me from report cards to records because they were Jesus’s hands and mind for me in a time when I couldn’t focus. “LuLu” and I almost had a nervous breakdown but her amazing skills pulled us together and we finished and presented our masters project. I learned that God is always there no matter the obstacles I could imagine. I never knew until a few years later that the song by Mercy Me was written for a band member’s father who died of cancer. Now as I start a new God given spring, I can only imagine the gifts from God that will be given to me in this season of my life. If you’re dying, broken, or scared just try to imagine how God will use and bless you. Don’t be scared. Just imagine.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the I Can Only Imagine Gal

Dedicated to Andrea, Clarissa, & Mandy for being my TLC Crew.
Mom and Judy for their example and motherly love.
My husband for being so unselfish and supporting me besides being an amazing father.

Quotes of the Day:
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
Albert Einstein

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
Albert Einstein

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”
John Muir

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

In my mind today I’m thinking of all of the blessings of 2017 and how things have changed from my childhood. Remember as a child how the 2000’s seemed otherworldly? They seemed so distant as we envisioned a world like The Jetsons. We’ve yet to have flying cars, but we have rumbas, drones, and FaceTime which are amazing when I think of my techno-free childhood.

My family certainly wasn’t the jet-set. We had an antenna for tv and seven tv channels. One of those was PBS. I think I’m the only one that couldn’t live without it, and it’s still one of my favorite channels. Go ahead back row and call me a geek. Mr. Rogers taught me how to deal with kids like you. Now, kids watch tv on their phones. Remember favorite tv shows that we all gathered to watch? The only time we could watch cartoons was Saturday mornings. If you slept late, you missed out.

What about having one phone jack and one phone in the entire house? I was envious of friends that had phones in their bedrooms. Seems unbelievable doesn’t it? Phones were for function and not so much for entertainment. I remember waiting anxiously by the phone for that person I was crushing on to call so my parents wouldn’t embarrass me or interrogate them if someone of the opposite sex called. Just like Archie and Edith sang, “Those were the days.”

It makes me wonder what will kids today look back on and feel nostalgic about when they reminisce? Are things today worse or not as fun or are we not as connected as days gone by? Are we all freaking out? Yes, there is a lot of disparity, but I also see so much good. There are many organizations and individuals working for people struggling in the middle of the healthcare gap crisis, poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, neglected children, better environmental choices, and natural disaster relief. And we aren’t giving up or stopping. Why? The good anyone does reverberates and multiplies no matter how minuscule the deed. 2018 here I come. Sal the New Year Gal is brimming with ideas to promote goodwill toward all. Join me.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the 2018 Gal

Dedicated to Matthew 25:40, Salvation Army, Union Mission, McIvers Grant Public Library, Dyersburg City Schools, and Dyer County Schools

Quotes of the Day:

“I just believe in the goodwill of people, the power of people to do something positive.”
Eddie Izzard

“In a time of domestic crisis, men of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics.”
JFK

“Justice and goodwill will outlast passion.”
James A. Garfield

Crushes

 

Crushes

In my mind today, I’m thinking about crushes. Take a moment to reflect back in time. I had huge crushes on “The Fonz” and John Travolta as a teenager. I also had crushes in high school. Do you remember your first crush or first love? Often a crush if mutual becomes a first love. Sometimes they sustain the stress of high school and college. The couple will then wed and start the adult season together. Sometimes it works but not often. My high school graduating class had several that made their first love last and are still together thirty years later. Even our oldest daughter has a successful marriage and life with her high school sweetheart. Kudos to them! They are the exceptions.

First crushes sometimes falter before they even start. It’s still heart-breaking. I’m Sal the Melancholy Gal today because my youngest is so innocent and about to enter the world of crushes, first relationships, and disappointments. As I watch and talk with her about this chapter, my heart breaks. She so needs me more than I ever thought. If you know our “Chuck,” she’s a pretty special gal. She is searching desperately for a knight in shining armor. She wants to date and experience this season. She has very high standards. She’s mature and confident in who she is. Sadly, she’s finding out most people her age are not. Peer pressure has reared its ugly head. She’s realizing people change according to whom they are with at the time. Peer pressure. Most of the teenagers are like chameleons. The skin you’re in depends on the clique you are around. It’s the worst. Here’s the saddest part, it happens in every season of life. I didn’t realize being comfortable and confident in your own skin was such a rarity. But ah, it is. My girl is cursed like her mother of being true to herself. Marching to a beat that is original to you.

We’ve always had a nightly ritual. I used to climb the stairs and snuggle her each night. We would read, talk, and write. We would do a breathing treatment for her asthma and fall asleep snuggled together. When climbing the stairs wasn’t an option anymore, the snuggle-fest was moved to my room. The roles have reversed. We sling me in bed and place my bi-pap mask on my face. After the boys hug and kiss us goodnight, the snuggle-fest commences. We talk and I listen to my girl’s struggles with academics, projects, and trying to survive socially in high school. I could tell she had been crying last night and my heart broke. Why does high school have to be so complicated?

As we talked, I remembered my high school years. I remembered how awkward crushes were and your heart being broken. When you have guy friends and you think, “Hey, he likes me!” Then that super, pretty popular girl arrives and you are dropped like a hot potato. Even worse, the guy says, “Will you ask (fill in the blank) out for me?” You say sure when you want to scream, cry, and run all at the same time. I can’t begin to tell you how many times this happened to me. Watching my girl endure it has made my heart ache.

The thing that I have to remind her of is that this will pass. Keep your head up. Keep being “you” and good things will happen. Everything as a 16 year old is magnified times a billion. Like Taylor Swift sings, “Shake it Off.” I’m so glad I’m still here for her as I realized she still needs me whether I’m Sal the Broken Down Gal or not. This precious time has been granted to us. I thank God every single day for this time with my children.

The first words of my devotion this morning were, “Come to Me when you are hurting and I will soothe your pain. …..I have called you to live differently from the world—to depend on Me to meet all your needs. That’s where you’ll find true confidence and strength. Let Me be your everything. I am all you need.” And then I cried. I cried because I had been carrying that pain for her as she struggles through her awkward teenage years. I cried because I wanted her to be happy. I cried when I realized she was doing the right thing. I cried because I was relieved that she would always be taken care of even if I’m not here.

Sarah Anderson Alley
Sal the Tearful Gal

Dedicated to:
Patrick & Libby
Scott & Amy
Don & Andi
Artie & Pennye
Alan & Stephanie

Quotes of the Day:
“It’s like trying to describe what you feel when you’re standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or remembering your first love or the birth of your child. You have to be there to really know what it’s like.”
Jack Schmitt

“Memory has always fascinated me. Think of it. You can recall at will your first day in high school, your first date, your first love.”
Eric Kandel

“First love is only a little foolishness and a lot of curiosity.”
George Bernard Shaw

“When everything happens to you when you’re so young, you’re very lucky, but by the same token, you’re never going to have that same feeling again. The first time anything happens to you – your first love, your first success – the second one is never the same.”
Lauren Bacall

“First crushes are properly named. That’s exactly what happens to your heart when the white knight you see evolves into a troll.”
Sarah Anderson Alley

 

Thumper!!!

Thumper!!!

In my mind today I’m thinking about social media, the Internet, and technology. I’m ever so thankful today. I opened up my social media feed this morning and they were all are full of prayers and positive vibes. This gave me hope that in our space and time we can flip the script.

We can spread love and blanket the evil that invades our minds each time we open up social media. Face it. Twitter, FB, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google have become a forum for Americans and most of the industrialized world. Ignoring it is not effective. We now have to use it to spread faith, hope, and love. It shouldn’t be the face of dissension.

Social media can be a cohesive tool to bring positive ideas and people together. When I taught I would ask my students many times, “What did Thumper’s father tell him?”

This applies to us on all types of levels. Social media used by rabble rousers just puts us against each other. As a history teacher, I know that at the heart of all change in this country love has resided. That understanding among the common men and women has created our country into a country of hope. We need unity in our country. That’s the only way we will give hope and ensure hope for the future. Hope for good, affordable healthcare for all, a higher minimum wage and benefits for those who work, students getting degrees without drowning in debt, and education systems directed by seasoned educators not politicians and testing companies. These are just a few on my wish list.

Let’s take the gloves off Americans. We are not each other’s adversary. We are allies to spread hope. I feel most are like me. We want a government that works for us as problem solvers. Not spending time calling for donations to keep them in office. They should not be in any position of government because they have the largest fundraising or banking account. They should be there because they have the biggest hearts for ALL Americans from the homeless to the billionaires. Here’s a thought, let them work for minimum wage and get their own healthcare. Most have been economically successful, right? Maybe I’m way off base. In my little corner of the USA common, everyday Americans are genuinely good. We want to have a family, a way to provide and feed that family, a two-car garage with dependable cars, a retirement fund, and good educations for our kids. Am I right?

I will not look at media and believe all the doom and gloom. Yes it’s out there, but there’s so much more good going on in our communities. Let’s all hit the “share” button on the good.

Sal the Political Gal

PS
I’m not endorsed by anyone. I don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, Independent, etc. Everyone has a moral compass. Doing what is right has no political affiliation, but maybe one of the Divine sort.

Dedicated to the common, simple, everyday Americans

Quotes of the Day:
“When terrorists attacked the symbols of our national unity and strength, they failed to realize that they were just symbols of our strength. The real strength of our nation comes from our people – not our buildings.”
Michael Enzi

“It is important for people to be able to read all sides of every question; for a feeling of national unity does not come from one-sided or inadequate information, but from a sense of freedom impartially secured and of opportunity equalized by a just government.”
Jeannette Rankin

“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”
Mattie Stepanek

“Where there is unity there is always victory.”
Publilius Syrus