I have poets in my classroom who far outshine me!
From one of my students who is standing on the Rock!
Tonight, my faith was tested. But without a doubt, I was still able to say God is good. Without a worry, I am able so Jesus is holding me in the palm of his hands. || I was at youth center. The kids had gone home. The clean up was done. We had just finished thanking the Lord for such a good night. We, as in us staff, sat around and carried on with conversation. I mentioned something about being content to one of my friends. “Con-ten-T?” One of my other friends had asked. ”Yeah? Is there something about the word content? He replied, “No, but we’re human. Is there even such a thing as being content?” Well, I mean, of course, there is; the Bible tells us to be content, but in all honesty, I am truly content. I went on saying, “this summer, I came up with a…
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I saw this film last week. Really powerful…
Documentary filmmaker James Redford released the trailer for Paper Tigers, a documentary that follows four teens who attend Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA. Lincoln was the first high school…
by Laura J. Davies
It was 7:30 pm, otherwise known as the witching hour in my household. My 10-year-old son, Mac, was sitting at the computer desk and staring at a blank Word document, his arms crossed defiantly, his eyebrows furrowed.
“I can’t do it!” He stomped his foot and pounded the desk with his fist.
“I don’t get it!” He scowled at his baby sister, who was toddling around the corner with her little grocery cart filled with plastic fruits and veggies.
“This is too hard!” He shuffled the papers in front of him, and in a dramatic show of pre-teen angst, flung the whole stack onto the floor.
Hmmm, I thought. Perhaps it’s time for some parental intervention.
My first instinct was to gather the papers, put them back on the desk, and let Mac know in no uncertain terms that the blame for not starting…
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So many of my friends are talented photographers. I take my photos with my phone and struggle to get clear shots. But there’s another way to capture a moment:
I was roused from a deep sleep by my brother’s shaking my foot. “Dani, can you take Baby for a while? Maria and I really need to sleep.” Instantly awake, I untangled myself from my little niece sleeping beside me and crawled out of my warm bed. I heard Claudia’s newborn cry from down the dark hall. I took her from her apologetic mama. The clock blinked 1:00. “I’m sorry,” Maria whispered. “But I haven’t gotten any sleep yet tonight.” I took the whimpering little bundle and held her upright against my chest, her wee head nestled under my chin. Only two days old, my niece already had strong opinions about how she liked to be held.
In the living room, I paced back and forth and hummed softly. I rocked her as I walked, that unique baby-holding dance that seems to quiet little ones better than anything else. Her whimpers became sporadic. Underneath my humming I listened to the sounds of the city outside: traffic, distant sirens, dogs barking. Streetlights illuminated the living room even though all the blinds were drawn. I felt the warmth of the little body against me, felt her grow heavy as she relaxed. After she quieted, I stretched out on my back on the couch with her nestled on top of me. Half asleep, I pondered the wonder of a new little life. Regretted how quickly babies grow up. Marveled at God’s goodness in allowing me to be a part of this miracle in my brother’s family.
Claudia stirred and I patted her gently back into dreamland.
I’ll add a photograph by one of those talented friends: Claudia’s mama.
Last week in my writing seminar we had to introduce ourselves by writing a poetic piece. One mentor text our professor provided was “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon:
I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.
I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.
Our professor suggested having students write their own “Where I’m From” poems as a beginning exercise in a writing class, then going back to the poem for ideas of things to write about throughout the year. He said one of his student teachers had the brilliant idea to have her students choose phrases from their own poems to write on the sidewalk with sidewalk chalk to create a class version of the poem–and of course this version was quite public since it was outside on the sidewalk. I can’t wait to try that idea!
This exercise could also be tied into units on poetry, memoir, and narrative. George Ella Lyon gives more ideas for how to use the poem as a springboard on her web page. Templates for students to use as they write their poems are also available.
This week in my Introduction to Language Study course my professor introduced us to the idea of linguistic creativity (also called linguistic productivity). The term refers to the ability of humans to create an infinite number of sentences within the framework of the grammar and words they know. An infinite number. Let that sink in.
Dr. Shields asked us, “What is the only thing that keeps you from uttering an infinite number of sentences?”
The answer? Death.
But as a Christian my heart is thrilled. I will live forever. And I will never run out of new sentences to utter in Heaven!
Humans truly are designed for eternity.
Here’s a great idea for the first day of class: Write a memoir in six words. I had to do this for a college class last week. There’s a legend that says Hemingway gave us the prototype for a six-word essay:
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
Whether or not the story is true, it’s a fun “get to know each other” exercise. Here’s the one I wrote last week:
Jesus-filled heart. English-filled head.
We all had to explain our memoirs. Mine is my goal for this sabbatical I’m taking.
Apparently it’s quite a movement. Feel free to leave your six-word memoir in the comments. 🙂
We may have all sorts of ways of combatting writer’s block in the classroom, but when the stakes are high and we’re working in the real world, all these devices fall short. The ultimate solution to writer’s block (or speaker’s block) is crying out to the Giver of the message of life. And when God chooses the topic, He underscores it and drives it home in ways far beyond our own feeble efforts, as I found out last month at camp.
I hit command-S to save the last PowerPoint presentation. After a month of fairly intense preparation, I finally had an outline for the nine Bible hours I had agreed to share at girls’ camp. But even as I shut the computer, I had an uncomfortable feeling that my outline was not yet the outline that God had in mind for me.
I had been assigned a topic: “After God’s Heart.” My initial attempts at content centered on the word heart. But that hadn’t felt right. I jettisoned the idea after Beth shared with me her vision for Bible hour. “Use Bible stories,” she encouraged me. “Merv talked to some of the guys who came to camp years ago. They said the one thing they remembered was the Bible stories they heard.” So I nixed the heart-topic idea and began digging into the life of David, looking for ways to center the week on stories.
Of course the most famous David story is his fight with the giant. As I meditated on the powerful truths revealed in that epic tale, a seed of a new idea began to form in my mind. What if I made a huge cardboard giant and had all the girls write on the cardboard giant all the giants they faced? The theme could be conquering the giants. Not just the giants we think of like fear and anxiety, but the big giants the Bible talks about: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Over the next weeks a new set of PowerPoints began to fill my “Camp2015” folder: sessions about the giants taking over the world, about Jesus the great Giant Killer, and about His offer to free us from our giants. But as I finished this series, I knew something was still wrong. “The emphasis is too much on the giants,” I mused. “Somehow that can’t be the emphasis of camp.”
I continued to pray and to request prayer when I had opportunities. One week before the actual camp kickoff, I still had no outline to give the directors and counselors. But I did have a new phrase that was fermenting in my mind: “The key to killing giants is found in the Secret Place.” I didn’t quite know how that phrase would flesh out, but I sensed I was getting closer to the message God wanted the girls to hear.
At our camp orientation, I sat down at a big conference table with the twenty counselors and various support staff who would be in the trenches at camp. In front of me, printed on orange cardstock, was the Bible memory passage that had been chosen for the week. I picked it up and began to read:
The Lord is my light and my salvation, so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?
“We don’t need to fear the giants,” I paraphrased to myself. I kept reading. The last verse on the card said:
My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.’
I felt the thrill that accompanies the realization that God is speaking. The giants will fall—if we’re meeting God in the Secret Place. I left orientation encouraged that I was on the right track, but still praying for revelation.
The next day I was cleaning out my paintbrush after a long day of work when I had a sudden strong impression that I should attend the Gateway equipping service that evening. I had often heard of the service, but never attended. As I cleaned up and ate supper, the impression was so heavy that I felt it would have been blatant disobedience to stay at home. So I jumped in my minivan and drove to Ephrata.
I arrived a little before the start of the message. Luke Weaver began by saying that he would be speaking on spiritual authority in prayer for the next few weeks. That particular evening he would focus on the source of authority: our relationship with God. I listened intently as he took us to many different Scriptures, but you can imagine how Matthew 6 jumped out at me. “Pray to your Father in the Secret Place,” his translation read. “Authority to kill giants comes from the Secret Place,” I mused. I left Gateway that evening with a strong conviction that I knew what God wanted me to share.
A few days later on the way down to camp I stopped at a house of some some friends and they helped me strap a huge bundle of bamboo on my minivan roof. Besides pieces of my massive cardboard giant, my trunk held a framed picture of a little girl resting her head on Jesus’ shoulder. The giant would not be the focal point of this week at camp.
When I arrived at camp one of the directors helped me nail up the 10-foot glowering giant. He stood off to the side of the chapel. But front and center on the stage we built a little bamboo sanctuary. We added a few lace curtains, a kneeling bench, the picture of Jesus with the little girl, and a chalkboard that said “Lovers love to be alone.” There was a giant to slay—and a Secret Place in which to meet the Source of giant-slaying power.
As the week unfolded, I shared the story of David defeating the giant. I told the girls it was David’s relationship with God that made the victory possible, and that the relationship was nurtured by many hours alone with only God and the sheep. I shared about the relationship God created us for, the separation brought on by the fall, and the restoration of the relationship made possible by Jesus’ death. Then I shared a modified wedding vow, telling the girls that in order to enter relationship with Jesus they must forsake all others and keep themselves for Him alone. Finally I shared the need to cultivate intimacy with God through daily disciplines and obedience and God’s willingness to receive us back into relationship even when we have been wayward. (I used David and Bathsheba.) Friday I ended up with a call to leave the Secret Place to defeat our giants and to share the Good News.
That was Bible hour. But God was busy underscoring the theme in many other ways. Tuesday evening we played our traditional night game, but this year the directors added a twist. All the soldiers in the game were told they were not allowed to arrest any girl within five feet of her counselor. The girls and counselors, however, were not given this information. All they were told was that the counselors could not be arrested.
The woods were soon filled with shrieking girls. Whenever the guards roared in, girls scattered everywhere, and the prison was soon filled. My role in the game was to be a missionary. After the game had gone on for a bit, I began approaching some of the younger campers. “Did you know your counselor cannot be arrested?” I would ask.
“Yes,” they would reply.
“What do you think would happen if you held your counselor’s hand next time the guards came?” I would suggest.
It didn’t take long for all the campers to figure out the strategy. Suddenly when the guards appeared no one scattered. Instead the girls formed tight little clumps around their counselors. As the game neared its end, the guards were pacing about in frustration. “We can’t do anything,” they complained.
My heart rejoiced. The key to overcoming the giants (or the guards) was hanging tight to Jesus in the Secret Place. Only God could have orchestrated such beautiful imagery for the theme He was revealing to us.
But God wasn’t finished. Wednesday evening we had a special speaker scheduled to come in, but she was sick and couldn’t make it. So impromptu someone else consented to come, and she chose to share the way that she began to feel God in her heart rather than just knowing Him in her head. She said that as she allowed Him to be part of every day and every emotion she felt the big things in her life didn’t seem so big. Although she didn’t say it in so many ways, she was describing how her giants fell as she cultivated her relationship with God.
And then Thursday night at the campfire a couple girls shared testimonies of God’s work in their lives. One of the counselors shared a powerful story of how the giant of bitterness fell in her life when she began to accept God’s offer to be her Father. The key to killing the giants was in the Secret Place.
As the girls and counselors memorized their Bible memory they were awarded T-shirts as prizes. The shirt had been designed by Camp Andrews with no input from our directors, but on the back of the shirt was Psalm 23:4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The key to killing the giants was relationship—relationship flowing from the Secret Place.
I left the week of camp in utter awe of a God who orchestrates His message for His children in ways we never could. I had not been the originator of this message: only the carrier. And in the carrying I myself had heard from God. I left camp with a renewed desire to live free of giants—and to cultivate the relationship with God that would make that possible.
Another way to get your kids writing is to begin by reading a mentor text together. Here is an example:
Article: “Let Go of the Lie” by Ann Voskamp
Stylistic Prompt: Write a reflective essay on something you have been learning lately. Begin with a personal anecdote and use a conversational or even poetic style. Include a few photos that illustrate your piece.
Content Prompt: What lies have you been tempted to believe in the past? What lies do you find yourself believing right now? What truths combat those lies? As you write, include short stories that show how these lies were spoken over you or otherwise embedded in you.