Kindness…The Universal Language

The Kindness Project– My daughter’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Reed, started a weekly kindness project last month. She gives her students a kindness challenge to accomplish every weekend. Some challenges are easy like, “say something kind to your parents” or “call someone and say hi.” Others require a bit more effort like “thank a pastor,” thank the school administrators,” “do something kind for a friend” or “send a card to someone.” All of the challenges are age appropriate tasks to develop a servant heart in the lives of young students. So imagine my surprise when one of the challenges made me reach outside of my comfort zone and transformed my heart forever.

The challenge seemed simple enough, “do something kind for a neighbor.” I thought we could pick our neighbors down the street who have a daughter Lillian’s age or do something nice for the Rogers family, two houses down. They go to our church. But when I asked my daughter which neighbor she wanted to pick she enthusiastically chose our next door neighbors who own Pikachu and Benji, two dogs she absolutely adores! The dogs owners are friendly but we don’t know them very well. They don’t speak much English so our communication with them has never gone beyond a neighborly wave and a nod. Why did my daughter have to pick them? Will our next door neighbors understand why we are giving them homemade cookies and a drawing created with crayons? (what my daughter decided she wanted to give our neighbors) Why couldn’t my daughter pick someone familiar?

Then I thought… What would Jesus do? Would He play it safe or reach out to the unknown? Although this kindness task would force me to step out of my safe haven, I knew I had to assist my daughter and complete the kindness challenge with our next door neighbors. When we rang the doorbell and they didn’t answer, we left the goodies on their door mat. A few days later we saw them in the yard and they waved an enthusiastic thank you and I could tell they were greatly touched by the huge smile on their faces! My heart was overjoyed!

A few weeks later our doorbell rang and our neighbors’ son was at the door with a very special surprise! He was home from college and had a special delivery for my mini me… a stuffed dog that looked like Benji (their dog) and a handwritten heartfelt note that he had written for his parents. It was touching to learn that a small act of kindness meant so very much to them!

All of this happened because of the kindness project initiated by my daughter’s kindergarten teacher and my daughter’s huge heart. As a mother I am hyper focused on all of the things I want to teach my daughter that I never stopped to realize all of the wonderful things I’m learning from being her mother! And what a blessing it is to send our daughter to a Lutheran School where she is growing academically but more importantly learning about Jesus and how to serve others. An authentic friendship has developed between our families and I am thankful my daughter helped me reach out to someone new. I learned that when you show kindness and love to others, language is no longer a barrier!

Happy New Year From the Noteworthy Mommy…An Unprecedented Year and My Wish For You in 2021

If you had asked me in March if I would give up playing with my musical groups, terminate travel, give up my educational consulting job, go without live musical theater, stop singing in the choir, limit my visit with friends and spend Christmas without my parents, in return to spend more time with my family of three at home, I doubt my answer would have been an enthusiastic YES! Although 2020 was filled with its fair share of challenges, struggle and loss, as I look back on the year, it was also filled with many blessings. And spending more time with my family of three is at the top of the list! When all the distractions of my usually busy lifestyle were taken away, it left time for me to focus on a few things… the two people who matter more to me than anything else in the world, my loving husband and our little girl. Don’t get me wrong, there were days and still are (a new year doesn’t make the struggles go away) that I long for nothing more than a night away by myself but in 2020 my eyes were opened to prioritizing my life and putting my family and my faith ahead of everything else.

I almost feel ashamed that it took a pandemic for me to figure out the obvious but I’m grateful that I finally understand what is important. I have tremendous respect for Dan Presgrave, a brilliant conductor, teacher and the founder of the Saint Louis Wind Symphony, which I am a member. He was headed down a very dark path, constantly searching for something to give him a “fix” and then he found Jesus and his life was transformed. He became a pastoral counselor, writes a weekly Christian blog at http://meetpastordan.com/blog/ and created a Christian counseling program for veterans. When he resigned as principal director of the Saint Louis Wind Symphony, I was shocked. How could such a talented man, who devoted his entire life to music completely walk away from such a passion? Now I get it. Now I understand. Although Dan still appreciates music, through Christ he has completely prioritized his life and now he has peace and happiness that was only found when he put Jesus first.

My mother-in-law recently asked me what thing I missed the most in 2020? I think she was surprised when I shared that I didn’t miss anything. That wouldn’t have been my answer in March when we were in full shut down or even the months that followed. But once I began to concentrate on the gifts God has given me instead of what was taken away, I found an inner peace that has brought tremendous joy even during this difficult year.

My daughter’s amazing kindergarten teacher has her students write in a thankful journal every week. The entry for the weekend after Christmas asked the children why they are thankful for Christmas? My daughter looked at me and said, “That’s easy. There’s only one answer…Jesus!” Tears of joy filled my eyes because my young daughter understands what is important. I pray that she continues to put Jesus first.

Without my faith, my church, my talented pastors, my family and most importantly, Jesus, I would have never survived 2020. I don’t know what waits ahead in 2021 but I know that Jesus will get me through. He will continue to walk beside me through the joyous times, the hard days, the unthinkable and all of the days in between.

I close this New Year message with hope for you and your family. Patrick Swierczek, a childhood friend, posted this on social media and the words accurately depict my wish for you in 2021.

“Christmas Is”…A 2020 Christmas in Quarantine

Christmas certainly looks and feels different for everyone this year. My daughter and her sweet kindergarten class are quarantined for Christmas. It will be the very first Christmas that I won’t be celebrating with my parents. And the second Christmas birthday, in forty-nine years, that won’t be spent gathered around the dining room table in my childhood home.

So many Christmas traditions have been lost in 2020 and many of you may be feeling a bit down. But maybe it’s time to take a look at which traditions are truly important and focus on those? My daughter’s former preschool teacher told me she is beginning to dislike the word “tradition.” Her young adult children show no interest in them. It got me to thinking how many times I got caught up in doing something because it was a “tradition” and in the process completely lost sight of why it was even significant. Maybe some traditions are meant to be short term, to make way for something new.

After a rough year, where so many have experienced great loss, we all need to take a moment to count our blessings. We won’t be following our familiar traditions this year and our family Christmas celebration with grandparents will be delayed. But instead of mourning the usual tradition, I’m going to focus on quality time with my family of three and look with excitement at the fact that we get to extend our celebrating! A dear friend lost her father to COVID this month. I know she would gladly delay her family celebration by two weeks if it meant she had just one more day with her father.

A quieter Christmas has allowed me to focus on living generously and thinking of others. Instead of giving presents out of expectation or tradition, I reveled in surprising friends and loved ones, even strangers, by leaving mystery bags on their doorsteps. Seeing their appreciative smiles and receiving messages of gratitude from the little tokens given, was one of the best gifts I have ever received!

COVID may have kept you from going to face to face church on Christmas Eve but isn’t it amazing that through the power of technology we could worship with our families safely at home and even wear our pajamas if we chose! If COVID has changed your Christmas plans think of that first Christmas. Mary and Joseph weren’t surrounded by their families. They weren’t even in the comfort of home but in a lowly manager with animals when Mary gave birth to the Christ child. I’m sure this wasn’t their plan. But it was God’s plan. And what an amazing plan He has for each and everyone of us!

This year some of our Christmas traditions didn’t happen but that’s ok. In fact it’s more than ok because celebrating the birth of Jesus is the only Christmas tradition that is important. Jesus is the tradition that we need. And Jesus is the only tradition I care about passing down to my mini me.

Many of you will be surprised to see that Noteworthy Mommy’s Christmas post ends with lyrics written by Dolly Parton. I have a new fascination with Dolly and the words she penned for this song resinated with me because they truly capture what Christmas is.

Christmas Is by: Dolly Parton Christmas is a time for caring
Being at your best
Christmas is a time for sharing
Knowing you’ve been blessed
Christmas is a time for giving
Love is made of this
That’s what Christmas is. Christmas is a joyful time
If you’re the lucky ones
Some are blessed with gifts and trinkets
Others havin’ none
Some have feasts up on the table
Others havin’ crumbs
There are the haves and the have-nots
And you could be either one
It’s all about kindness
Love and compassion
Better to give than receive
That is a true fact
But those who don’t know that
Well, they are the poorest indeed
And I hope you remember every December
That bright shining light from above
The promise from God’s lips
The greatest of all gifts
Wrapped up in His wondrous love
So rejoice in His glory
The great Christmas story
And to all that you’re sharing it with
You go tell it with passion
Of love everlasting
‘Cause that’s what Christmas is

The Sweet Smells of Christmas

Christmas is almost here and for two generations this sweet book has helped my family of three get ready. Originally published in 1970, The Sweet Smells of Christmas, by Patricia Scarry, was one of my favorite childhood secular Christmas books. I discovered a few years ago that my husband had a copy of the book as a child and enjoyed it just as much as I had. When my daughter was a toddler my mother-in-law bought her a copy so she could have one of her own and it quickly became one of her favorite Christmas books.

I got lost in the pages with Little Bear and his parents and scratched the fragrance labels so many times that bare paper was revealed. My favorite smells were the hot chocolate and the orange. My daughter’s favorite smell is the candy cane and like me she fell in love with the scratch and sniff pages.

Like Little Bear, my childhood Christmases were magical. As an adult they still are! You easily could have replaced me with Little Bear as my house smelled of cookies lovingly baked by my mother and grandmother and I accompanied my dad each year as we carefully selected and cut down a fresh pine tree. Our tree, along with our entire home, was decked from top to bottom with Christmas cheer! There were years that carolers visited our home and filled our hearts with their angelic voices. And like Little Bear, Santa Claus always brought me more than a little girl could possibly wish for!

Now as parents, my husband and I get the joy of seeing and smelling Christmas with our mini me. There were Christmases where we yearned for a little one to hold so dear so even though we are spending a Christmas in quarantine, away from the rest of our family, we know we have been blessed! It will be different from past Christmases and we will dearly miss being with grandparents but we rejoice knowing that everyone will be healthy and safe. Like the bear family in the book our family of three will have a Christmas filled with love. And the best part will be celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, the greatest gift any of us could ever imagine!

Look Out Kindergarten, Here We Come!

Last week was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten! A day I had played over and over in my mind for years. Although COVID-19 and the many changes it brings never entered my mind when I dreamed about sending my child off to kindergarten, my daughter and I were both ready for this new adventure!

This school year will be different in many ways…masks, temperature checks, no parents in the building, lunch and chapel in the classroom, assigned seats, extra hand washing, no field trips. (just to name a few of the many precautions put in place to keep the students at Zion Lutheran School safe.) Since my daughter has never been to kindergarten, many of the changes will go unnoticed. She is simply overjoyed to be back in school, elated to be in class with her best friend and is ready to begin this new chapter in her life. As we drove to school on that first day, a little voice from the backseat said, “Mommy, I am so excited to go to kindergarten. It’s been too long since I’ve been at school!”

Before I even had a chance to drop my daughter off I was receiving phone calls and texts asking me how I was doing? My mom wanted to know if I cried? Others wanted to know if I felt comfortable sending my daughter to school for face to face learning amid the COVID-19 crisis?

Last week my daughter and I went to school for a private “Meet the Teacher.” As we walked hand and hand down the familiar hallway (my daughter’s new classroom is across the hall from her pre-k classroom) to her kindergarten classroom, a sense of peace embraced me. Any doubts I had about sending my daughter back to school for face to face learning were washed away. After a long absence I felt as if we had returned to the open arms of a loved one. We were home. In that moment I was reminded that God was watching over us and that going back to Zion for face to face learning was the best decision for my family of three. During our visit we were warmly greeted by Mr. Debrick, our principal and Mrs. Haun, our early childhood director; two individuals who have worked endlessly making careful decisions, implementing new procedures and putting precautions in place to keep my daughter and her classmates safe. Their leadership made me confident on our decision to send her to school.

And I couldn’t have picked a better teacher for my little one! Mrs. Reed is the quintessential kindergarten teacher…warm, kind and loving, with a clear set of expectations. She has a Christ centered classroom, understands the whole child and has developmentally appropriate expectations for them. I know my daughter will have a fantastic year under her guidance and care and for that I am truly grateful!

On the first day I walked my daughter to the entrance of the early childhood wing where she was warmly greeted by a group of teacher assistants waiting to help her find her classroom. With COVID-19 preventing me from walking her to the classroom, I waved goodbye at the door. My little one excitedly entered the building, never looking back and walking confidently forward, clearly ready to kick off a new year of learning and growth!

I picked my daughter up from school at 11:30 (prior to COVID-19 we had signed her up for half-day kindergarten to start out) and she excitedly shared everything she had done. She described all of the things I would expect to see and hear in a kindergarten classroom on the very first day of school. From singing the days of the week (Adams Family version I figured out) to counting the days they have been in school to singing “Tall Voices on the Playground, Small Voices Inside,” to reading books (she scolded me for reading most of them to her already), to finding her spot on the carpet (she informed me some spots may change because people talked when they shouldn’t) to talking about Jesus, I could tell she going to have a fabulous year! By sharing these intimate details of her first day of kindergarten my sweet daughter had unknowingly presented me with a very precious gift!

The Noteworthy Mommy Gets Her Daughter Ready For Kindergarten!

During my twenty-eight years in the field of education, seven glorious years were spent teaching kindergarten. I look back on that time with found memories and keep in touch with some of my former students who are now young adults beginning careers or parents sending their own children off to kindergarten!

This year I am sending my only child off to kindergarten and we commemorated this milestone with some special books, back to school traditions and activities.

Kindergarten Books- To prepare my daughter for her first day of kindergarten we read several kindergarten themed books. As a former kindergarten teacher, most are from my own collection and as I read them memories of my seven years laying the educational foundation for five and six year olds flooded back. The joy of preparing my classroom and filling it with new materials, the shiny waxed floors and freshly cleaned classroom, the anticipation of meeting my students and experiencing a new beginning with them was thrilling! Now it will be my daughter’s turn. The following books are some of my favorites.

Meet the Teacher– A week before school, we signed up for a private meet and greet with my daughter’s kindergarten teacher and kindergarten assistant. To avoid extra people in the school building, one adult was invited to join their child on this special tour of the kindergarten classroom. My daughter was excited to meet her teacher, Mrs. Reed and her kindergarten assistant, Mrs. Collins. My daughter found her cubby, practiced washing her hands properly, made a painted heart to hang in the classroom and read the book Kindergarten, Here I Come! with her teacher. My daughter got to take the book home so we could read it before the first day of school and inside the front cover was a handwritten note from Mrs. Reed. When I read the words “Jesus loves you and so do I,” any trepidation I had about sending my daughter to Zion Lutheran School for “face to face learning” was washed away. I felt confident that my husband and I had made the best decision for our family because I was reminded that along with Zion’s carefully thought out safety procedures and dedicated teachers and staff, Jesus would be lovingly watching over our daughter while she is at school.

The Kissing Hand Tradition- I always read The Kissing Hand to my kindergarten students and their parents during our “Meet the Teacher Night.” I also made and decorated heart shaped cookies for them to take home. I began this tradition with my daughter when she was a three year old heading off to preschool. CLICK HERE to read all about it. We continued the tradition this year with Nana and Pops joining us in baking and decorating homemade kissing hand cookies which we gave to my daughter’s teachers and administrators on the first day of school. CLICK HERE for Nana’s homemade sugar cookie recipe and CLICK HERE for Nana’s homemade buttercream frosting recipe.

A Special ‘Twas the Night Before Kindergarten Poem- I was touched to receive this special poem written especially for my daughter by Auntie Jaime, a dear friend and my daughter’s honorary auntie. When I read the poem it brought back faded memories of when I was a kindergartener (43 years ago) and more vivid memories of my first day teaching kindergarten (24 years ago). As you read the following words I hope you are transported to a simpler time, not so long ago, when all children could safely go to school, hold hands with a new friend, learn without wearing a mask and freely play tag on the playground.

Whether you are home schooling, going back to school for face to face learning, engaging in virtual learning or participating in hybrid learning, I pray that you and your children have a safe and productive school year!

A Memorable Weekend…Days 68 and 69

On Thursday we celebrated Ascension, the 40th day after Easter Sunday, that commemorates Jesus’s ascension into heaven. CLICK HERE to view an Ascension Service recorded at my church last year.

As my family of three worshiped from home today we were reminded of Jesus’s ascension into heaven. My daughter listened attentively as our pastor read the following during the children’s message…Jesus said, “God has given me complete power over heaven and earth. Go and tell everyone the good news. Make new disciples. Baptize them and teach them to obey my commandments. Don’t ever forget, I will always be with you.”

Half way through the sermon my daughter said, “We sing the song, Go and Make Disciples during circle time at school, always at this time of year.” I got tears in my eyes because my five year old daughter gets it! She may be coloring during church and appear to not be paying attention, even more so now that COVID-19 has caused us to worship at home, but she is listening and she understands! 

My daughter and I completed this coloring sheet with pencils. The colorful image of Jesus ascending into heaven reminds us of the huge stained glass window behind our alter at church. We look forward to the day where we can worship in God’s house once again. A day where we will be home and can praise Him with our church family!

“The Holy Spirit will come to you. He will give you power to tell people about me. Now the time has come for me to go to Heaven. Do not be afraid.”

I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb…Good Shepherd Sunday on Day 48

This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter, is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The name derives from the Gospel reading for the day, taken from the tenth chapter of John. CLICK HERE to view our worship service and make sure you watch the sermon!

I recommend listening to his moving words but here are some notes I took from Pastor Rouland’s sermon. He asks us to remember what it feels like to be lost and challenges us to think of the voices in our lives that drown out the clear voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus. Pastor Rouland made me question, am I always being spiritually safe? Are there times in my life where I rely on myself to be safe, where I have created paths that are straight and safe and fail to listen to Jesus, the One who calls me by name? By spending time reading His word, singing His word and putting myself in places where I will hear Jesus, I will gain the spiritual safety I so yearn. Pastor Rouland reminds me that Jesus is here to carry me, to bear my burdens, to lead me home. Listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus.

The Lord is My Shepherd- After reading Psalm 23 from my daughter’s Beginners Bible, we made a little lamb with cotton ball fleece to remind us that we are Jesus’ little lambs.

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During this time of uncertainty we shouldn’t be afraid because Jesus, our Sheperd, is there to guide us, provide for us and love us, through good days and during dark times. We sang the Lutheran hymn, “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” while we worked together. CLICK HERE to listen to a recording sung by children.

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I got the lamb template from the blog www.startsateight.com. CLICK HERE to download the lamb template.

Symphony No 3 (fourth movement) by James Barnes– In January 2017, the Saint Louis Wind Symphony closed their performance at the Missouri Music Educators Association’s annual conference by playing the last movement of Barnes’s dynamic Symphony No 3. I play third clarinet in the SLWS and the piece, although challenging to play, is emotionally moving. The Third Symphony was commissioned by the United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. Barnes, the composer, was told the piece needed to be a major work for wind band but was given no other parameters. Barnes began writing Symphony No 3 at a very tragic time in his life, shortly after his baby daughter Natalie died. The program notes state… The fourth movement (finale) represents a rebirth of spirit, a reconciliation for us all. The second theme of the last movement is based on the old Lutheran children’s hymn, “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb.” The hymn was sung at Natalie’s funeral and was the closing hymn my congregation sang on Good Shepherd Sunday.

CLICK HERE to hear the United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. play the finale from Symphony No 3 by James Barnes.

I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb– While my family of three sang the closing hymn, “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb,”‘my daughter declared, “I wish you were still a child. Then I wouldn’t be born yet and I wouldn’t be here for the virus.” Then she went off and began to play. Deep thoughts for a five year old and a reminder that our children are continuing to process their new normal… a time of virtual church, virtual school and physical time away from extended family and friends. Although it’s OK to be afraid, upset and lost during this time, I want my daughter to find comfort in Jesus. To know that Jesus, her Good Shepherd, is here to carry her through this difficult time.

The painting, “The Good Shepherd,” by artist, Richard Hook. Hook created a lot of art for Concordia Publishing House. This painting, or one similar to it, is what Pastor Rouland refers to in his sermon.

Tasty Tuesday With Pizza and a “Soup Opera,” (Week of the Young Child).. Day 43

Today is Tasty Tuesday! This fun, food themed day is about more than cheese and crust! When we cook with our children we incorporate math, literacy skills and science, while teaching them about good nutrition.

Pizza– My daughter and I made pizza for lunch. She topped her pizza to look like a funny face complete with pepperoni eyes, ears, and mouth, and dressed with cheese hair. My little one doesn’t like cooked cheese so that’s why her pizza face only had a wee bit of cheese hair. In keeping with the pizza theme we read one of our favorite books, The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza written by Philemon Sturges. A modern twist the classic tale, this retelling has our mouth watering every time! CLICK HERE to read The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza.

Jesus Feeds 5,000– We read the Bible story about Jesus feeding 5,000 men with just five loaves of bread and two fish. The story validates that God provides miracles when we trust in Him. CLICK HERE to watch an animated version of the story. After watching and discussing the story we traced my daughter’s hand and made a collage with Goldfish to remind us of God’s miracle.

I Can’t Eat the SOUP!– We really enjoyed watching the “soup opera,” I Can‘t Eat the Soup! by the extremely talented children’s performer, Jim Gill. A few summers ago we were lucky to see Jim Gill in concert at our local library. After watching several different versions on line, we enjoyed acting the “soup opera” out ourselves! CLICK HERE to watch the most recent version of I Can’t Eat the Soup! and CLICK HERE to watch one complete with a symphony orchestra!

Fear Not!…Day 30

When we opened the Easter basket from my daughter’s Godparents I never expected to find homemade masks tucked next to the beautifully decorated cookies. During the day I am easily distracted from the daily news. With my young daughter as my primary focus, I am joyfully occupied with play and engaging activity. The masks were a stark reminder of the seriousness that is COVID 19.  Our days pass quickly (when you have a preschooler with a ton of energy you have to be active). But when night appears I find it hard to sleep as my mind is captured with fear… How long will this last? When will my husband return to a normal work schedule and a full salary? With schools overcoming their own challenges will they ever be in need of my consulting services? Did I hurt my daughter today when I relied on technology to occupy part of her day while I attended to neglected household chores? Will my daughter attend kindergarten at a brick and mortar school in the fall or will digital learning continue to be the norm? Are my friends and family members safe?

I know I am not alone. All of my readers are experiencing their own fear, anxiety and personal worry. Reading a daily devotional helps me begin each day in a positive way. FEAR NOT is the theme for Zion Lutheran Church in St. Charles’s annual Easter devotional. Written by members ranging from school age to senior citizen, the devotions cover most of the Easter season, beginning with Easter Sunday (April 12) and ending with the day after Ascension (May 22). The devotional booklet was written before COVID 19 hit our area and this Noteworthy Mommy wrote the devotional for May 5. CLICK HERE to download the devotional booklet. I turn to my writing as a way to make sense of the challenges our world is facing. And just as my daughter is comforted by my loving touch, helping her fall asleep when she awakes in the middle of the night, I find comfort in the hands of my Heavenly Father. As a child of God I place all of my fear and worries into His hands. As Miss Tracy reminds us at the end of dance class… I AM LOVED. I AM SAFE, I AM WELL.