I left #DENSI2014 nearly two weeks ago. And while I have been ruminating regarding my reflections, my life has taken a sharp turn to the left with regard to family commitments and activities. So I’ve had to postpone the gushing (except on Facebook and to any person who asks me, “How was Nashville?”) and the tears (except to any person who asks me, “How was Nashville?”) that I’ve experienced in the passing days as I attempt to summarize the experience that apparently Porter Palmer, Discovery Education, and God knew that I desperately needed. Let me explain…
If I were asked to present to my faculty and staff on my Nashville and DENSI experience, I would talk about the amazing people that I met. The connections that I made. The beginnings of friendships that were forged in a common experience. The learning – quietly reflective and mind-blowing – that took place over six incredible days. I would laugh about the cafeteria (rules), the DEN-mazing Race (and how we got lost for five minutes but we saw a rabbit – and not a white one we chased down a hole), and the unconference where the third time was the charm, am I right, Parthenon crew? I would tell about how I ended up in front of a room of 150 odd strangers (at the time) to summarize our table’s thinking and how nervous I was – even though I am not usually, how scared I was even though I am not usually, and how worried I would screw it all up, even though I don’t usually… because of whom I represented and the impression I wished to make – and how much it meant to me that Matt Graves would take the time to meet me at the sidelines, hug me, and praise me! I would describe the app smashing and share the information, but I wouldn’t be able to talk about my personal, biggest take-away… because I can’t there… but I can here.
My greatest takeaway was not all of those things, which are incredible and great in and of themselves, my greatest takeaway was this: having a group of individuals care for and about me. I am a caretaker. I am an organizer. I am passionate about my family, my friends, and my students. I am a cheerleader. And I suspect that DENSI and DEN family members are as well. It’s what makes us the educators that we are.
However I suspect that the following statement may be as true for you as it is for me. While I am a caretaker of others, I am not a caretaker of MYSELF. I put my own needs behind those of my family, my students, my school, my organizations, etc. I never realized it until I came home from attending DENSI 2014.
My mother-in-law had fallen several times during my time away (a week prior to DENSI and the week of) and my husband had been running back and forth between our home, his work, the hospital, the emergency room, and her house to care for her and to check up on her and to take her for care when she refused other assistance. By the time I returned to Texas with my children, my mother-in-law had returned to the hospital for an extended stay and my husband was considering rehab facilities for an extended observational stay – and he needed my help.
Rather than being able to gush about my week and the life-changing experience that I’d had and how grateful I was for it, I was thrown into a stormy ocean of decision-making, something from which I’d been free for a week. I stood in my kitchen, prepared food for my family, and then I walked to my bathroom and locked the door… and I sobbed. I grieved. Because my moments of freedom were gone and I felt the enormous weight of responsibility and caregiving drop on my shoulders like a millstone. And I could scarcely draw in a breath it was so heavy. But as I always do, I squared my shoulders and I prayed for help and I wiped my tears… and I returned to my family in the kitchen.
And what does this have to do Porter Palmer, Discovery Education, and God, you might ask? In a roundabout way, I’m getting there. Be patient.
I didn’t understand how my application and video (which I considered to be less than my best work – unless you could chin shots and nose hair views to be excellent cinematography) allowed me the privilege to attend DENSI. All I knew going in was that I was incredibly fortunate, and I probably thanked Porter and anyone else from Discovery Education a thousand times during the week in an attempt to express my gratitude – and probably it drove them crazy! And while I got over my “Jack walking through the land of giants” fears (I will explain that some other time), I still didn’t understand why I had been selected. And now, I think, I know.
Because the Lord works in strange and mysterious ways. 13 years ago, I believe that God provided the opportunity for my family to move to Texas within fifteen miles of my in-laws. My husband and I were the first responders to my mother-in-law who was deathly ill at the time and we helped to transport her to the hospital where she lay in a coma (which began 2 hours after she arrived at the ER) for the next six weeks, including the weeks in which my daughter, our second child, experienced her first weeks of life. God knew we needed to be here to respond to my mother-in-law’s call of distress.
And I believe that God provided again for my family. The two week window that was open during our summer this year has NEVER happened since my children have attended summer camps with Scouting. It had been eight years since my family had gone to spend time at “The Lake” with my extended family in northern Michigan. But somehow, despite all of the insanity of my children’s activities, those two weeks remained open in our schedule, which I usually know six months in advance. God knew that my mother-in-law would need her son’s exclusive attention – and He provided that. God knew that my parents needed time with their grandchildren and that my children needed time with their grandparents – away from their parents’ watchful eyes, and He provided that. And God knew that I needed respite from the heavy burden of caring for all whom I love even though I didn’t know it, and He provided that.
So yes, I am thankful. I am and will be (eternally) grateful for the opportunity that DENSI has provided and is continuing to provide for me. I have already grown personally and professionally, and apparently spiritually as well. And that brings me to my final point… at least for today.
Yesterday, after several days of reflection, I began a commitment. It is a commitment to fulfill what I believe to be God’s calling to me – to pay it forward. Because DENSI gave me respite and healed my spirit, I feel called to do the same for others. I am committing to posting EVERY day an inspirational word or picture to help all of my DEN family remember that respite is there should one need it. I am calling these posts #DENspiriations because it is my sincere belief that each one will be chosen to help to speak to the heart or mind or spirit of someone in the DEN family that day who needs to hear it… even if I don’t know who that person is – God does.
And whether you choose to believe in a higher power, God, Jehovah, or Allah… or even if you don’t believe at all, it doesn’t change my commitment. And I hope that each and every one of you will…