Rebecca Burtram

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Love and Laundry

LOVE AND LAUNDRY

My heart grew heavy today when my sister got out of my car. She was the last airport drop off of the weekend, and I was fighting to keep the tears in check. Suddenly the weight of living was back on my shoulders. I felt heavy…. and foolish.

I felt foolish for wanting to cry, and I felt foolish for fighting it. I am a thirty-three year old woman. At this point in my life, I should be able to feel my emotions.

With my cousins and my sister, my emotions are more free, and I wanted to shut them down as soon as the girls had left. I spent some time considering why I felt this way. My cousin said something about how nice it is to be with those who knew her father, her sister, and her niece before their lives were cut short. I realized I slightly more vulnerable when we are together because we share a depth of emotion that is difficult to express. With them, I know that I don’t have to explain the pain resting beneath my daily routines because they have shared so much of it with me.

For some time, I carried the pain of life in solitude. I felt it was too tiring to try to explain the experiences I have had to those who have not been there. It felt easier, in many ways, to carry the hurt inside because the wounds of living can border on overwhelming if I open up to them. However, I ran out of space to keep it all in, and I burst at the seems. This experience taught me about community.

It has taken a lot of work, but I have been learning to share all of my life. I have opened up more with my family and a couple of friends. Life is heavy, and it is important to able to let go of some of the weight we carry.

It can be a struggle to put the routines of life on pause in order to share a little more of yourself, but I promise you it is worth it. Share your experiences.

There is something healing in the sharing. We need to let people into our lives because shared experience is a mathematical phenomenon:  the weight of grief is divided and the celebration of joy is multiplied. Life was meant to be lived together.

My Sister

She folded my laundry, and I felt her love deeply.

She carried some of the load so that I would not have to.

The filth of living was shared between us

And she created neat piles of order and sanity.

Uncategorized

13.1 LIFE LESSONS

lesson 1

Context: Before the run, we trained, we bought the right shoes and apparel, and we even had our nails done.

Life Application: Most things in life require a little forethought and energy. Do the work if you want the pay off.

Lesson Two

Context: Running 13.1 miles can be very hard work, but we have a blast doing it.

Life Application: Work doesn’t have to be drudgery. You can have fun if you put your mind to it.

lesson three

Context: The first time we passed the Lincoln Memorial we paid attention, but I didn’t notice the Lincoln Memorial on the way back because I was focused on getting a picture with the mile marker.

Life Application: Pick your head up so you can see the world around you. Don’t allow the small things in life to prevent you from seeing the bigger picture.

Lesson 4

Context: My friend might be the most positive person in the world. She had cheerful and positive commentary the entire race. I think some people around us wanted to punch her, but we had a blast seeing all the good in the rainy, long run.

Life Application: A positive attitude can help you to see the silver linings.

Lesson 5

Context: The two half marathons I ran alone were significantly harder for me than the two I ran with friends and family.

Life Application: Although we can do hard tasks or go through difficult situations alone, the support of others make them much easier.

Lesson 6

Context: There were around fifteen thousand participants in the half marathon. Each one of us had the financial means, the physical ability, the freedom, and the time to participate. We each had so much to be grateful for.

Life Applications: There is so much to be thankful for in life. You have more than you may realize.

Lesson 7

Context: The sign in the picture was at the top of a lengthy hill between miles 6 and 7. We were tired by they time we hit that sign, really tired. Our bodies would have been happy to stop there. However, a little distance later, we realized our bodies could keep going. In fact, our bodies were able to go the same distance again.

Life Application: Life can be tiring and hard. We can face some things that make us feel like we should just quit. However, if we just keep going, we realize we are capable of more.

Lesson 8

Context/Life Application: If you take yourself too seriously, you will miss out on some of the joy around you.

Lesson 9

Context: Three weeks before this run, my plantar fasciitis became almost unbearable. I decided then that I needed to stop training until the run. I knew my body was both capable of the distance and in need of a break. In the past I would have foolishly kept training. After the race, my body felt better than it ever has after a big distance run.

Life Application: It is important to know your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to attempt difficult tasks, but be aware of your limitations as well. Give yourself permission to rest when you need it.

lesson 10

Context: My cousin had never run more than 10 miles. She stood behind the mile marker, and we celebrated the fact that she had officially run farther than she ever had before. She still had 3.1 miles to go, but we took the time to celebrate the victory on the way to the final goal.

Life Application: Celebrate your accomplishments even if you have larger tasks ahead. It will give you confidence and joy as you go.

lesson 11

Context: By mile eleven, legs are tired and people’s joints are aching. Focusing on the pain can make the run miserable. It can even cause some people to give up.

Life Application: I’m not saying we should pretend the pains of life are not present. We simply have a choice as to whether or not we let our focus remain on the pain rather than how to get through it.

lesson 12

Context: The best way to take your focus off the pain is to focus on the goal. While running, I had to decide to think about how close I was to the finish line rather than the ache in my feet. Focusing on the goal helped me to remember why pushing through the pain would be worth it. I also knew I would get a chance to pamper my aching feet after the medal was hanging around my neck.

Life Application: There is a time and a place to deal with the aches and pains. Focusing on your goals helps you remember why some pains are worth it. In order to achieve great things, you have to push through some discomfort.

Lesson 13

Context: No matter the distance or the pace of the run, I always push harder at the finish. I can’t understand walking across the line. There is something about giving it everything you have to the very end.

Life Application: If you are going to do something, do it well. Don’t finish a task with regret. Cross the line knowing you gave everything you could.

lesson 13.1

Context: Normally, I run to see how I can do. I try to beat my own goals. This race was different. I ran with my cousin to help her reach her goals. Her goals were to 1) not die, 2) finish, 3) finish in under 2 hours and 45 minutes, and 4) possibly finish under 2 hours and 30 minutes. The first three were simple without me, but my support aided her in reaching that final goal.

Life Application: Life is better when you live for more than yourself. Sometimes others are there for you, and sometimes you are there for others. Life is meant to be lived in community, and you can’t participate fully in community if everything has to be about you.

Finish:

Whether you are going 13.1 miles or surviving a marathon of daily tasks, look for the lessons you can learn along the way.

running

SO MUCH DEPENDS UPON………….

SO MUCH DEPENDS UPON

I felt anxiety rush over me this morning. I was reading the words from the comment section of a post I had done for my cousin’s blog.* Actually, I might not be able to say I was reading the words. I mean, I was reading the words, but in the transmission from my eyes to my brain the words changed from what they actually said to a jumble of words and a very strong sensation: pressure- chest constricting, pulse quickening pressure.

Here is what the comment said:

“Thank you Rebecca. You have much on your plate, and being a runner, too. Your husband’s success as a pastor depends largely upon you (Pr 31:23).”

I am certain the reader was intending to encourage me. However, the crazy in my head read this instead:

“Rebecca, if you fail, your husband and his ministry will fail. Have a great day.”

In defense of my crazy, the title of my post was “When Leaders Fail.”

Maybe the intent of the text I read was:

“Thank you, Rebecca. Even though you are so busy, I’m sure your husband’s success has a lot to do with you.”

Or:

“Thank you, Rebecca. I know you have a lot going on. It’s cool that you find time to run. Oh, and your husband will succeed because he has you.”

Honestly, I think he meant me to read it like this:

“Thank you Rebecca. You have much on your plate, and being a runner, too. Your husband’s success as a pastor depends largely upon you (Pr 31:23).”

This comment is largely why I went through a period in which I did not want my husband to lead a church. It is not because people make comments like this one. It is because the comment is true. Much of my husband’s success depends on me. If I fail, it causes his ministry problems.

Guess what, people? I fail. I do. If you know me, you are probably nodding your head with enthusiasm. Yes, she does fail. I’ve seen it. 

Shortly after reading the comment on the blog, the panic passed. I do fail, and my husband’s success is, in some ways, tied to me. However, I am not alone. My success, in some ways, is tied to my husband. I can depend on him just as he depends on me.

Because so much depends on me, I have to rely on the grace of God. I believe that I have a God willing to love me through the mess and help me start again. I try to remember this when I feel like a failure.

I see this in relationship to a famous poem:

so much depends 

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens

-William Carlos Williams

I am a red wheelbarrow, but wheelbarrows can only fulfill their purpose when they are placed in the hands of someone else. There is a lot that depends on me, and I am grateful to be able to put myself into the hands of someone much more dependable than myself.

*My cousin’s blog is http://tworiversblog.com. He has over 13,000 followers, and he produces excellent daily devotions. Check him out if you get a chance. On Fridays, I write on his blog as a guest.)

LEARNING

BE WITH ME

BE WITH ME

I have made an amazing discovery: the world will not fall apart if I do not wash the dishes. It has been a struggle to test this theory, but I have found that every time I do, my hypothesis is correct. This is also true for folding laundry and tidying up the living room. I’m not sure about keeping the clutter off the kitchen table though; I’m still pretty sure my world is falling apart if there is clutter on the table…..

“Mom, can you snuggle tonight?”

Believe it or not, this request occasionally requires effort for me to grant. I am not a cold hearted woman that does not enjoy time with her children. I am just caught up in all there is that must be done. I have a tendency to gravitate towards doing rather than being.

My 11 year old son frequently will ask me to snuggle for a couple of minutes. I have decided that I am going to do this every time he asks. Instead of rushing off to do, I am going to be.

This decision still takes practice because the perfectionist in me is fighting it. The perfectionist in me wants to accomplish the tasks that are visible. However, I am finding out that my chances to be present with my son are quickly running out. He is more and more independent every day.

Being is something I am practicing in my daytime interactions as well. When one of the kids is upset, I am attempting to listen to the hurt rather than jumping to fixing it. It is likely that I started doing this after some counseling or after reading an article on relationships. Either way, at some point it occurred to me that little people need someone to listen to them and understand them just as much as big people.

So, now, I am trying to be in her moment when my middle child, our deep feeler, is crying over something I think she should just get over. I take a deep breath, and I simply hold her. If I am really doing well, I will also add comments such as, “I know it hurts, baby,” or, “I’m sorry this is so hard right now.” I am finding these are far more effective than the responses that come to my head first — “Baby, it is fine. Only think about the good stuff and move on.”

It is easy to get caught up in all there is to do. There is a weight and a pressure I put on myself to accomplish the tasks of living. However, the dishes do not care if I wash them, and the living room doesn’t mind the clutter.

“Mommy, can you watch me dance?…Can you play this game with me? Will you sit with me?”

I am taking deep breathes, blocking out the list of things to be done, and choosing to just be.

PARENTING

TESTING THE STANDARDS

multiple_choice2

My heart broke today as I watched one of my high achieving students grab her hair with both fists and clutch it in panic as she looked at her computer screen. Then, with reddening cheeks, she clenched and unclenched her hands in front of her in frustration. This same young lady, only an hour earlier, had told me she was excited about the test she was about to take because she loves to write, which is natural since she is an excellent writer.

Ahhhhh, welcome to the joys of standardized testing.

Heartbreak was not my only emotion while observing the students today. I was proud because I saw a student that is notorious for blowing of state exams put real effort into his writing. We had talked ahead of time about how much it would mean to me if he tried, and, as far as I can tell, he actually put some energy into his test. Granted, I’m not allowed to see his response, so he might have spent the entire time intently writing about how much he was wishing to be somewhere else. Either way, he looked very pleased with himself when the test was over.

One standardized test- two very different responses. One student, who can easily produce five paragraphs, clearly felt pressure and frustration. Another student, whose writing in class has struggled all year, seemed triumphant and content.

I have many thoughts on the effects of standardized testing on our students, but that isn’t what this post is about. It is about not allowing standards to hurt us. Standards are not innately bad or good. It is our interactions with standards that determine their impact.

Our society judges us, and we judge ourselves, against standards: standards of living, standards of behavior, standards of beauty, etc. etc. We have standards we place on ourselves, and we have standards placed on us. We also expect others to live up to our standards. You get the point- standards, and lots of them….

Some standards are great. They help society to function by creating order. They can also push us to reach new levels of achievement. However, sometimes standards can be harmful.

It is time to reconsider the standards we judge ourselves against if they are so low that they prevent us from excelling or so high that, regardless of our efforts, we are left feeling inadequate.

Lately, I have been reevaluating my approach to standards. I’ve been attempting to view them through the lens of my faith. I don’t think you need to have the same faith system as me to apply the principle of it.

If you are not familiar with the Christian faith, or have had a negative experience with people who failed to live it out, you may not realize that, unlike standardized testing (which promotes the production of standardized people), God’s standards leave a lot of room for diversity. (You know, that whole “For God so loved the WORLD…” bit…as in the entire world and everyone in it.)

God’s standard is all about loving people enough to accept them where they are and giving them the instructions that help them to become the best versions of themselves. There is also a ton of grace provided for the times people fail. Sometimes there is correction and grace, and sometimes there is just grace.

The Bible is full of God loving some pretty messed up people in the manner I just described (and instructions for us to do the same).

Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, this is an excellent approach to the standards you set for yourself and for those around you.

I’m going to try to apply this approach by loving and accepting myself (with all my imperfections) and investing in the areas where I need growth. I’m also going to try to remember to leave plenty of room for grace- grace to mess up and grace to try again. The real application will come in doing the same for those around me.

As my children’s Bible says, “You see, no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love his children- with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” This is the kind of love that can help us approach standards with a healthy perspective.

If we love ourselves, and we love our neighbors, our standards will not become a source of pain, but a source of grace.

I’ve had my fill of standardized testing, but I’d love to see people test this approach to the standards we hold for ourselves and others.

* The quote used comes from The Jesus Story Book Bible published by Zonderkidz.

LEARNING

THE POWER OF ONE

THE POWER OF ONE

After an intense round of UNO tonight, my 9 year old daughter told me I should write a post about the game. I asked her what it should say, and she said the message should be to not let something small block your way. Although I love that she had a great moral, her desire for me to write a post made me think of the impact our actions have on others.

I absolutely love that she enjoys my posts and wants me to write more. I especially love that she instantly began to view the world with ideas of how to communicate a positive message.

The title of this blog comes from my time as a teacher at Moravia Middle School in Moravia, New York. This small Title I School places a huge emphasis on the impact one person can have on the world, and the theme for the 8th grade year is “The Power of One.”

This is a wonderful lesson for students, but it is something I occasionally need a refresher course in as well. Sometimes I forget how much my words and actions affect those around me.

Sometimes the world seems big and full of complicated problems, and that is because it is. I can’t solve the problems of the world, and you can’t solve the problems of the world. We can, however, solve some problems in our little worlds.

***************************************

I interrupt this post (since my 7 year old daughter literally just interrupted my writing of it) to bring you a child’s perspective on what one person can do.

photo (7)

photo (8)

The main point is that she wants to help poor people who don’t have anywhere to live, but she doesn’t want them to just live in a run down hotel. She wants them to have nice rooms, and she wants to pay them for their work.

She heard about people in our community living in run down hotels, and she believed something could be done.

I love that she thinks like this, and I love that she went to write about it because mommy was writing. What I am doing is impacting my daughters. They see me sharing my life, and they understand that their words can have an impact.

I know a hotel for the poor is not going to magically appear because my 7 year old wrote about it, but her words remind me to be generous and kind to those around me, just as I hope my words will do for you.

We each have a purpose. Your purpose is not to create world peace, but to create peace in your piece of the world.

LEARNING

WEARY WOMEN

WEARY WOMEN

I am tired. I am really, really tired.

It takes a lot of energy to be a woman. I am tired of hating how my butt looks in my jeans, worn out with wishing for bigger breasts and drained by considering how every bite of food will effect my thighs. I am exaggerating, but only a little.

A woman is expected to be feminine and beautiful in every way. Her nails, hair, make-up, shoes, and clothes must all work together to create a picture of perfection. However, even if a woman does all of that right, she is not gorgeous unless her body is sculpted to match a Victoria’s Secret catalog model. So, yes, we are tired. We are running on empty, some of us literally.

After a conversation with a friend today, I was encouraged in my writing and slightly discouraged with life. She had read my post “Imperfect Perfectionism,” and appreciated it because it helped her to get some perspective on some of her self expectations. This woman is an incredibly attractive female. If a woman as gorgeous as her can feel unattractive, what kind of goddess would one have to be to feel justified to be confident in her own skin?

Actually, the sculptures and paintings of the goddess of beauty would not pass today’s standards of perfection. She would be considered to be a plus sized woman.

Our self-criticism is created by our natural need to be viewed as beautiful. In a world in which beauty is crafted on photo editing programs, how do we find rest? I don’t have the magic answer; I am just as tired as you are.

Here is what I do have:

Believe those who compliment you. Don’t convince yourself people are lying to make you feel good. Don’t put your own qualifiers on the compliments. Your shirt does not look good for a chubby girl; your body does not look good for a mom; and, you are not pretty for someone your age.

This is one I’ve been working on. My husband is always telling me to accept his compliments for what they are. I hate it when he is right, but I’ll admit it in this case.

Focus on the things you truly like about yourself. Don’t look in the mirror and see the one tooth that is slightly crooked to the left. See the thing, hopefully things plural, you like about yourself. If you don’t know what you like about yourself. see my first piece of advice, and choose something you’ve been complimented on. Put your energy into finding the positives. When you are tempted to criticize yourself, force yourself to focus on the positive. Say it out loud if you need.

I have a friend who writes positive affirmations, quotes, and scriptures on sticky notes and posts them around her house. Her mirror is a prime location. I have wise friends from whom I can learn.

Believe the deeper truth. You are beautiful. In Psalm 139:14 (NIV) King David says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Even if you don’t believe in God, the truth is that you are a wonderful creation. 

Please, believe the deeper truth of who you are.

Well, my weary friends, I hope these tips will help you find some rest. I am going to be attempting to put them into practice right along with you… after I take a nap.

LEARNING

IN DEFENSE OF NOTHING

Mother Bear

I recently received an email from the mother of a student in one of my Honors English classes. It was a venomous attack on everything she wholeheartedly believes I did wrong.  It was an email crafted in the heat of self righteous indignation. The mother bear was rearing up because her cub had been wounded.

I have somehow managed to lose several of her child’s papers. You know, the ones that are collected by students lining up in alphabetical order to turn work in–directly to their class period bin….. Yes, for some reason, her papers jump out of the bin and disappear into thin air. It is interesting, too, that it is only her child’s papers being lost. I’m  sure that it has nothing to do with the fact that her child is frequently seated with empty hands when the other students are lining up to turn the work in.

Also, I never replied to mom’s numerous emails that were sent earlier this year. These too, have somehow escaped either the inbox or the parent email folder on Outlook where I keep all electronic communications with parents. I even keep the emails informing me a student will be absent the next day. However, I must have ignored the emails from this mom and deleted them rather than replied.

Every petty inch of me wanted to defend myself in a sarcastic manner similar to what I have done here.

When I read the message a second time, my eyes were opened to the heart of the message. The message started with the statement that I had made a comment in class that had hurt her child’s feelings. This is the only thing that mattered to me in the email. I do not care if the mother continues to believe I am the worst teacher ever.

The perfectionist voice in my head is screaming that I must prove I was right and the child read the comment incorrectly. However, the God given love in my heart for my students is winning the fight. I do not need to defend myself.

I need to meet the needs of a child whose feelings I hurt. It doesn’t matter that my comment was not said in spite or with malicious intent. What matters is the child’s response. I have no defense because if she was hurt, I was wrong. Defending my comments, my classroom organization, or my responsiveness to parent communications would amount to nothing if my student still walks away feeling hurt.

So, instead of poking the mother bear with the stick of self defense, I will humbly bandage the wounded cub.

TEACHING

TALES FROM THE DINNER TABLE

DINNER PLATE

Last night at dinner, my children asked my husband to tell them the ranch dressing story. This is a story he has told them many times before about accidentally pouring ranch dressing all over himself when he was a kid. When the story ended, the kids asked for another, and another, and another…. My wonderful husband regaled them with the numerous mistakes of his younger years.

During one car ride with their grandparents, he and his older brother annoyed his grandmother by saying things like, “Did you know about the Hoover DAMN? Look over there at that DAMN. Beavers are good DAMN builders….” (Children have an amazing ability to find the line and dance on it.)

Here is a real gem: My husband (about age 7), his brothers, and some older cousins decided that they were going to establish a new order during a family get together. They were tired of all the adult rules, so they forged a plan. This plan included using an old sword from the basement and a 22 from their grandpa’s room. My husband was sent by the older kids to retrieve the gun. He sneaked past the adults into his grandpa’s room and came out with a gun down the leg of his pants. He was stopped by his father, and the plan was foiled. (Every boy dreams of world domination.)

My husband’s mistakes continued as he got older:

-He got kicked out of a class as a freshman in high school, so he walked to McDonald’s for a snack and came back with a soda. (His teacher never noticed the soda.)

-He was using a knife with an apple, and he accidentally cut the tip of his middle finger off. (The kids thought it was so funny that he had to hold his middle finger out while he waited to get the tip sewn back on.)

-He accidentally hit his mother’s car, and he drove away without telling his parents. He was so upset with himself that he pulled the steering wheel off his own car in his frustration. (Hulk smash!)

You get the point. My husband did some crazy things.

I loved the stories last night. 1. There is nothing that makes me happier than the sound of my children laughing. 2. My kids learned that we all make mistakes. 3. My children could see that although their dad made some big mistakes, life went on, and we were all able to laugh about those mistakes.

Mistakes make the best stories because we can learn to laugh at ourselves and see that life carries on. No one is perfect, and there is no point beating ourselves up over every mistake. In the big picture of life, most of our mistakes are reduced to funny stories at the dinner table.

Uncategorized

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE

TO END ALL ESSAYS

Today’s blog was going to be about the daily grind. I was going to make a photo collage with a picture of my laundry baskets, full of course, and my stack of papers to grade. However, the top essay stole the show. It is titled, “The Essay to End All Essays.”

Oh, God, please let it be true! Let this essay end all other essays.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to teach English without grading an endless stream of essays. Unfortunately, there are some English teachers that live in a world without essays. I, however, am a strong believer that students should leave my classroom capable of forming a decent, if not mind blowing, five paragraph essay. Thus, the gigantic stack of papers to grade.

I say stack singular because I swear the stack never ends. No matter how many papers I grade, there are more. There are always more. It never ends…..seriously, never.

I only say this because my blog is about my incessant need for perfection. There is no perfection in teaching. Every day I fail. I cannot do enough.

I can never spend enough time to complete all that I want to accomplish. There are more lessons to create, more papers to grade, more parent emails to answer, more meetings to attend, more papers to grade, more standardized tests to prepare non standard students for, and, of course, more papers to grade.

When I grade the papers, every error I mark is either me failing to teach well enough or the students failing. If the students are failing, aren’t I still failing?

This is why I need to find grace for myself and grace for others. I could literally, and I am using the word literally correctly here, go insane if I don’t allow myself and others room to fail a little.

I know there are many jobs with a lot of pressure, but do me a favor anyway: give a teacher a little grace today. While you’re at it, give yourself a little grace too.

LEARNING
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