For the Rookies, On the First Day of School 2014-2015

For the rookies in 2015-2016!

There's nothing better than brand new school supplies!
There’s nothing better than brand new school supplies!

At the very core of education, in your own classroom, there is nothing like the magic of educating kids. Nothing. You see moments in a kid’s life, flashes of brilliance and frustration; you hear them laugh, you see them cry. You are mom, friend, sister; you are at once the coolest cat and the biggest bitch; you will love them, and have days where you could climb a mountain; you will hate them and have days where you wish it was still legal to smack them.

You will love their parents. You will hate their parents. You will see some beautiful souls and some souls bound for the deepest parts of hell. You will hear stories that make you believe in the human spirit, and stories that give you nightmares. Students will lie to your face; parents will lie to your face. One day, a student will tell you a truth so terrible that you will wish they had lied. You will help them while your heart is breaking inside.

You will want to save them. Then you will learn that some kids are not meant to be saved by you. And you will cry.

You will know you are on the right track when the question of your reputation results in fierce debate between the kids who love you and the kids who hate you. Change is hard for teenagers, just like for grown ups. When you push them, they’ll push back. Stay strong. I once had a student named Jerome revise a paper 9 times to get a B and when he did, he hung that thing proudly on the fridge. And didn’t speak to me for two weeks.

I was so proud of him.

You will make mistakes. Tons. There’s no way to talk to 200 kids a day and not say something stupid on a fairly regular basis. When you do, just apologize. They will respect you forever because no one ever apologizes to teenagers. Let them learn from you that apologies don’t make you weak, they make you honorable.

The kids–they will strip you down and make you see who you really are. Then, if you let them, they will make you better, even the ones who make you crazy first.

Maybe them most of all.

So best of luck. You’ll need it between principals trying to make quotas and veteran teachers with an ax to grind and an entire political system that likes to demonize your profession. But it’s not cliche that you are in charge of the future so you have to find a way to manage. You’ll want to quit. All of us wanted to quit sometime in that first year, usually in January or February.

But hang on.  I promise that by May you will feel much better.

Slowing Wonder Woman Down


My younger self would have seen this statement as a challenge and asked with a saucy smile, “Are you sure about that?”

This older and wiser version of me knows better and actually grieves the years I spent trying to be too many things to too many people. My mantra used to be “I got this” with little thought to whether I needed to have it or not.

I have learned to say no, or say nothing, which is maybe even more powerful.

Now, Worn-out Wonder Women make me nervous. I feel like a recovering junkie: If I get too close to their whirlwind lives, they will suck me back into the vortex of Being All Things to All People. The affirmation that comes from keeping friends, colleagues, bosses, families and spouses happy can be intoxicating.

But to paraphrase Emerson, it gives no peace. Wonder Women are running from or towards something, for sure. In my own case, I was trying to find something that I already had. But I was moving too fast to know or appreciate or enjoy it. Now I try really hard to be still and present, but I can only do that if I have time.

And I can only have time if I tell others No.

No to commitments that only serve me or my ambition

No to people who do not know or care about my family.

No to people or things that do not bear fruit.

I only owe one yes in my life, and that’s to God.

Lysa TerKuerst of Proverbs 31 Ministries has a new book out called The Best Yes, which is all about curing “the disease to please” and escaping “the guilt of disappointing others” that comes from saying no. Today and tomorrow, if you order one copy, you can get a second for just $5, plus a free audio download.

Check it out at and learn more about Lysa and Proverbs 31 Ministry at










My brother has a theory about fear and politics.

He says that since the fall of the Soviet Union, we in the US do not have a common boogeyman. We used to fear and hate the Soviets, but during the 90s, the Wall came down and we lost our villain. So we turned on each other. Feminists, religious conservatives, homosexuals, immigrants, the poor, the rich—each took their turn on center stage as the new “boogeyman”. But the fear was never a consensus, so it drove us apart along political lines. When 9/11 happened, not even that united us for long—only long enough to dupe us all into one war we didn’t need to fight, driven by fear of what might happen.

Now we’re chewing on each other again and almost every single divisive political disagreement is grounded in fear. Gay marriage will ruin traditional marriage! Raising the minimum wage will tank the economy! The Hobby Lobby decision is the first step to women being required to wear burqahs!

Fear is everywhere.

Take the gun rights argument. You know Dana and I respect anyone’s right to hunt as long as they consume, and to own a firearm to protect their family.

We are not on board with high powered and semi- or automatic anything. We don’t see the point.

But folks will get all hot and bothered over their right to guns that have no other purpose than to turn  living things into a pile of ground meat. The anger is always laced with fear of what might happen. Like we might be invaded. Don’t ask by whom, no one knows. But we need to be ready.

I saw it with the border protests in town too. Lots of worry about disease. Horrible, awful, possibly incurable things like strep throat. Lice. Measles. People were whipped into a frenzy, one man yelling at the cameras that he had to protect the health of his kids, wife, parents.

No matter that there was an outbreak of measles in Temecula this winter, due to unvaccinated kids.

Maybe Guatemalan measles are deadlier?

That just might be true.

And then last week, the plane crash in Ukraine. I found out about it on Facebook, since we were on vacation. I read the article and then commented on the post: “Dude.” Which in Jen speak means “That is one f-ed up and sad situation.” To which the poster replied “So scary.”

Sad? Reprehensible? Immoral? Incredibly irresponsible and just plain STUPID?


But scary?

We can take any situation at any time and twist it into a horror movie, but that doesn’t mean the horror movie will happen.

Of course, horror movie scenarios make money, for news stations and politicians. People we should be able to trust, people who say they stand for our good, are using fear of what might happen to boost ratings and win elections.

And we’re so used to it that we don’t even fight it anymore but let me tell you: this nation was not founded on fear. Good Lord, if the Puritans had stopped to think what might happen, they wouldn’t have gotten on the ship.

And the worst did happen, by the way, and they survived. That’s the blood that runs in our veins.

I’m done being scared. I want to live here, and now. I want to live in truth and light, not rumors and shadow. I am not talking about turning a blind eye to the state of the world and living in blissful ignorance. But I wish we could all stop looking at what might go wrong and start seeing what is going right.

We should find the courage to hold our leaders and media to this same standard. All we have to say is this:

We are not little children. We are God-loving folks and we are not scared of the dark. We work hard, we support each other and we deserve the truth. You think the truth is boring. You think we need a boogeyman. We have news for you: Main Street USA is about as real as it gets and our lives are not boring. They are beautiful and fruitful, even when they are hard.

That’s the truth.

So stop inventing ways to tell stories that try to make us feel like the world is blowing up and caving in on us all at once. Stop telling us about what might happen. Be real.

That’s our new hashtag: #BeReal. A challenge, a reminder and notice served that we aren’t buying fear for fear’s sake anymore.











Heart Warrior ~ Guest Post by Shalimar Niles

You know when you meet someone and they radiate calm kindness and patience? The kind that actually calms your own heart just from being in their presence?

Meet our new friend Shalimar. She is one of Kate’s Girl Scout troop leaders and I was amazed by her before I heard the story she’s about to tell. We invited her here because this woman’s life is full of grace–grace given by God and then distributed outward in total love. She knows that God is not here to test us, but to see us through.

She was born on a Friday morning. 10 fingers, 10 toes, and a head full of hair. Her daddy followed her to the nursery, and I went to recovery and waited for someone to bring my baby in to me. No one came. For more than an hour I waited, when finally, my husband came in, empty-handed, to tell me.

Our daughter was 1 in 100. That’s the likelihood of having a baby born with a congenital heart defect, or CHD. The ultrasounds showed us a healthy baby girl, but she was born with a severe CHD called Pulmonary Atresia. We had no indication that anything was wrong, and yet, our newborn daughter was now in a race against time to fix her heart before she started running out of oxygenated blood.

Emma at one day old
Shalimar with Emma at two days old

Hours after she was born, she was transferred to a hospital that could give her the care she needed. My husband went with her, and so it happened, hours after giving birth, I was alone in my hospital room, in shock and recovering from a c-section.

I held her for the first time when she was two days old. At four days old we walked her to the operating room doors for her first catheter procedure, which was unsuccessful. At one week old, her due date, which also happened to be our wedding anniversary, she had another procedure, also ultimately unsuccessful. From that point on, she was intubated and sedated, her right leg was purple and had almost no pulse because of damage to the artery during her procedures. We were broken-hearted for our girl, anxious to get her well and terrified of how bleak things looked for her at the moment.

Prayers and support came pouring in from friends and strangers alike. Her story was shared and thousands of people were praying for her around the world. I, however, was not one of my daughter’s prayer warriors. I told a friend that I felt like a hypocrite for allowing, and even encouraging others to pray for her when I could barely speak to God. “This is the time to let us lift you up,” she said.

We call June 7th our daughter’s Happy Heart Day, because that’s the day that things started improving for her. She had open heart surgery, which was terrifying, but we had the hope that things would be better on the other side. The texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages were incredible, and did give us strength through those awful hours. All those people kept me close to God when I couldn’t do it myself, and they all have been able to witness the miracle that is our daughter.

Emma after her surgery
Emma after her surgery

She came home just a week after her surgery. On medications, and 24 hour oxygen, but she was home. And the medical miracles kept coming. Just a couple weeks after surgery, I started nursing her (which for being on a feeding tube for most of her life was amazing) and she began to thrive. She gained weight, she went on to oxygen just for sleeping and by the time she was three months old she was off all meds and supplemental oxygen. At 10 months old, she had a hole between the chambers of her heart closed, which improved her health even more. By looking at her, you would never know the challenges she has had to face in her young life.

I think the real miracles have been the intangibles. After being sedated and lacking oxygen her first month of life, she opened her eyes for the first time after her surgery and she was there. In the sense that I knew our worries about any brain damage were answered. She was delayed in rolling, crawling, and walking, and you could see the determination and grit in her face as she struggled in physical therapy to meet those goals. She is quite simply, a force of nature. Our daily reminder that miracles do happen, that God is with us even through the storm, and that hope we have in Him is real.

I live in a constant state of gratitude. I quite literally thank God daily that He saw fit to let us keep that sweet baby girl, who just turned two years old. A CHD is never truly cured, she does have more surgeries and challenges to face, and that is not what I dreamed of for my child. But as she healed, so did we, and I am certain that our strong family foundation, built of love and strength and faith will carry us through whatever may come.

Emma turns 2!
Emma turns 2!


 Tomorrow, Emma’s family and friends will wear pink to celebrate the anniversary of her surgery.

Happy Heart Day to Emma from all of us at Full of Graces!


The Summer of Discontent

May 19, 1994, Hofstra University
May 17, 1994 at Hofstra University

The summer after I graduated college was one of the worst times of my life.

Even now, 20 years later, after everything else that has happened, that statement is true.

I had moved home from New York, leaving my college boyfriend behind, something my head knew was wise, but my heart was struggling with. We hadn’t broken up yet, so there was the added stress of a long distance and very expensive phone relationship. My parents had put the down payment on a car, but I needed to make the monthly payments. Luckily it was only to the Bank of Grandma, but it was still a responsibility.

I knew what I wanted to do: teach. But I needed a credential to do that, which meant more schooling. I needed to find a job that would let me go to school, so I took a temporary sales job at Nordstrom’s, hoping it would turn into something long term. One Saturday, the assistant from my dentist’s office came to my register. I will never forget what I felt when she said “Wait. Didn’t you just graduate from college? What on earth are you doing here?”

It was the push and pull of transition and it was painful. I felt that if I didn’t find a way to stand on my own two feet, independent of my parents, and make my own way, with my fancy private school degree, then I was a disappointment. An ungrateful disappointment, since I had both earned and been given an amazing cultural and educational experience.

But the lure of dependency was strong. I knew my parents loved me and if I folded, they would have supported me. It might have caused big problems, but they would have done it and I knew it.

One night my mom laid a stack of bills in front of me. Her bills, not mine: the electric bill and the water bill. “You need to contribute by paying these bills”, she said. I will never forget how that felt either. I’m sure she thought she was introducing me to the hard reality of being a grown-up, but to me it felt patronizing, like she wasn’t treating me like an adult. And a part of me knew that wasn’t a rational way to feel, which made it worse.

I cried a lot that summer. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea how to make anything happen. I have never felt more lost, or afraid. I wanted to be an adult and start the rest of my life. Sometimes. The other times I longed for my life to be the way it was in college, when life was one big adventure.

We are welcoming a new crop of college graduates into the world this month, including one in our family. I would bet that most of them are feeling the stress of this transition. Some of them will handle it, but for others, it will feel like the floor is falling away beneath them.

Last night Teresa and I were discussing a job offer she received. She only graduated two weeks ago and this was her second offer this week, so she’s already got me beat by months in the job arena. But still, there was a moment when she broke down. It’s a lot, facing a real job, making real money, paying real student loans, taking on a car payment and finding health insurance. Wanting so badly to move out on her own, but realizing that this particular job will require her to live very quietly for a few years for a bigger pay-off down the line. That’s a hard thought for someone who has been living the good college life, where gel mani/pedis, designer jeans and nights out are the norm. Not that I’m criticizing her, because the girl has been working since she was 15. But she is processing the truth that life is going to replace fun, for a little while.

She’s scared. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Can she do it? Can she be a functioning adult in this world? Can she meet her own expectations of success?

We know that she can, and will, but that doesn’t matter. She needs to know it.

So to her and all the scared, faltering, frustrated college grads out there, here’s is what I wish I had told myself twenty summers ago:

It’s ok to be scared. A little bit of fear is a motivator. But be careful: too much fear will paralyze you. It will make you reach for what is safe and known. It will trap you in a limbo between childhood and adulthood and weaken you, and you will not break free of it until you are strong again.

That could take years. We all know someone who got stuck there, and what it cost them.

Don’t be afraid to step away from what is known, because great things happen in the unknown. And nothing is forever. The days of having the same job for fifty years are long gone. If you hate what you are doing you can make a change, but it’s always better to make a change from a position of power—so get that first job, give it your all and see what happens next.

Have faith. Lean on God. And remember that no matter what, someone loves you. We love you.

Good luck!

May 16, 2014, University of Southern California
May 16, 2014, University of Southern California