Grown-Up Christmas List

As Christmas somehow continues to sneak up on us, I have been asked several times what my Christmas list includes. I can think of a number of treasures that I think I really want, but as I continue to get older, grow in my profession, and, as my marriage ages, I am finding that the things I want, I either buy for myself or realistically talk myself out of.

When it comes to my family’s traditions, the adult couples draw the names of another couple, and then we all buy gifts for the nephews and niece.

As an adult, it is quite easy to sift through my list of possible wants and think to myself, “This is crazy, I could get this for myself, if I really needed it.” Or, “Who am I and what have I done to receive these gifts?”

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Grown-up Christmas List” sung by Amy Grant. In the lyrics, Amy wishes that: “No more lives torn apart/That wars would never start/And time would heal all hearts/Everyone would have a friend/And right would always win/And love would never end.”

I must admit, that just like Amy, these are really the things that I want. So, in the spirit of grown-up Christmas lists, here is mine:

1. I want my students to know they are loved by me and by a saviour who loves them more than anyone ever could.

2. That my students would fully understand that the people they are, who they truly are, is enough. They don’t need to act a certain way, or put up a front. Their true selves are beautiful!

3. That people, all over, would just be nice to each other; genuinely nice!

4. That our world would be a place that isn’t scary and isn’t full of such awful conflicts.

5. And finally, that everyone would get to experience, at some point in their lives, the feelings of 100 percent pure joy!

I am so excited to see and experience the blessings that the Christmas season brings. I know that along with receiving a couple of goodies off my want list, I can be actively working towards checking off a couple items from my grown-up list.

We live in a time where genuine niceness, love, and joy are gifts that anyone would be lucky to receive.

Keep this in mind as you go about preparing for, and celebrating this holiday season with those closest to you!

Kendall Vogts lives and teaches in Central Kansas. She is married to WFM publisher Todd Vogts.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Wichita Family Magazine.

When Play is More Than Play

By Ian Anderson

This morning my son came into the living room and, without a word, began to retrieve the Lego blocks he’d put together the day before. For several minutes he searched, snapped pieces here and there, and laid his buildings and vehicles on the carpet in a very specific order.

Later, I made the mistake of picking them up and placing them in the toy bin; this evoked tears. Even though I hadn’t broken anything, he was sure he’d have to redo what he’d already done.

“If you’re not playing with them right now, they need to be put away,” I told him.

He still wasn’t happy. All that effort — for nothing. He didn’t say it, but he didn’t have to say it out loud because his eyes shot it at me.

I assured him his time wasn’t wasted. He finally moved on.

The summer allows me more time to watch and join my boys in their games, and as I looked over recent Lego developments, I realized what exactly it is they are drawn to: world-building.

Whether they’re acting out the latest drama — “Let’s play ninjas!” “We’re driving to college!” — or constructing boats or forts, they are using their imaginations to feed their creative drives with the worlds swirling in their minds.

It was Tolkien, the maker of Middle Earth and Hobbits, who wrote that world-building is what he did when he wrote, and what we all want to do because that’s how we were made — to create.

In Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water she writes about her young son’s intense feelings about his blocks. When they fell over, he would become fiercely angry and cry. Watching secretly, L’Engle realized that what she was observing in her son was a mirror version of what adults go through when their efforts fail.

Because we act from a deepness within when we do our best work, it’s natural to let anger bubble up when it all comes apart. And it begins at childhood once we are able to create anything, be it blocks, crayons, or story.

Perhaps I should have let the Lego city stand a bit longer. It’s clear that my son, like children in general, plays with a seriousness I should appreciate because he’s practicing for larger play. When he’s grown and he’s chosen the kind of work he will do, he will find deep joy in it when he uses his creativity to its fullest.

And for any of us our joy in work comes when we do the same, and our creative bent turns work back to play; it was this that was intended for us from the beginning.

Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.

In the Asking

By Ian Anderson

Yesterday morning I watched as my sons played Chutes and Ladders. All seemed well in their world: they laughed at the thought of doing the “naughty” things that made them slide, counted how many more spaces they needed to win, and argued about whose turn was up. And then the youngest screamed the scream that makes his oldest brother cover his ears and look at me like, “Are you going to do something here?”

Right before the scream to end all screams, I heard their conversation, which was quickly urgent on all fronts. The older brothers were making the little one understand, in gentle tones of course, that he needed to move his piece to a certain spot on the board. I heard something like, “No! Give me that! It goes here!”

Then, as previously stated, the scream happened.

I talked quickly and simply, and the game resumed. Because of the frequency of this kind of situation, I knew what the little one needed — he had to be asked.

It took me a long time to realize that to ask is to create relationship, to draw another person toward me. The opposite of asking is demanding, and it is the same as pushing away; when I demand, I step on the personhood of whomever I demand from.

Both asking and demanding are powerful, and it may be that our demands are often granted, but we should know the price. Implicitly, we bind one to another or we cast away.

I’ve observed the power of the request in the classroom, too. I talk openly with my students about the authority I’ve been given as their teacher, especially about how easily that power could go to my head. And it’s because of that authority that my requests, my genuine pleases and thank yous, are even more powerful. By asking instead of demanding, I silently acknowledge the independence and personhood of my students, and I have seen in their eyes a willingness to listen — even when they disagree or would rather resist.

Foolproof? Not even close. Yet, if we really respect the people around us, we give them room to carry out their resistance, to say no. As a teacher, I explain the consequences simply.

And what about more intimate relationships? We’ve all seen marriages in which it’s common for the request to be absent. Inserted is the demand, and with it the attitude that each should know the other so well that asking becomes a sort of an insult — or the idea that each has the right to demand what is due. Maybe too many requests went unfulfilled and demanding was the only way to carry on. Maybe.

However, earnest requests are hard to deny, no matter the situation. This is why we instinctively avoid the friend or neighbor who we know will ask to borrow from us. How can we say no? Asking is so powerful, we are often angry that we’ve been asked because the pull of the request is so strong, even from someone who “over-asks.”

As a parent, it’s difficult to balance my authority with a clear eye on building up my sons. But with an understanding that relationship is more important than getting my way, even as a dad, I’m at least headed in the best direction.

Chutes and Ladders continued without bloodshed because I explained — over the ear-splitting, tongue-wagging, scream — that instead of trying to rip his piece from his hand while forcing their way on him, their brother needed to be talked to like one of them. Once they drew him closer with a request, he gleefully accepted their help.

Perhaps before we learn anything about relationships, we must first learn how to ask.

Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.

What to Do?

By Kendall Vogts

What to do? As a teacher, enjoying his or her summer break, that seems to be a question that comes up often and is usually followed by a smile or smirk and glazed over eyes as they wander off into the world of beautiful, student-free possibilities.

From the months of August through May, teachers are busy with everything school, but in June and July, things are different!

Now, as an auntie of young and school-aged children, I understand perfectly, have seen and have experienced summer activities for children. The goal is to keep the kids busy with fun, adventurous, silly, outdoorsy, educational and time-consuming activities. This list might include trips to the pool, the zoo, children’s museums or the park.

Parents or caretakers plan crafts like painting, sidewalk chalk and making your own silly putty. There might even be that carpooling parent, like my oldest sister, who spends time shuttling kids to library time, swimming lessons, dance lessons and gymnastics.

Needless to say, painting a picture of what students do during summer break could be pretty easy.

But what about the educators? What do we do? For some non-educators, I think they picture us sleeping in, shopping, eating out and watching TV. While those things might happen a smidge of the time, there are many other things we enjoy doing or must do in order to prepare for the next school year.

To start out, on our time off, we travel! We plan vacations with our loved ones, and we let loose a bit. My husband and I will be heading to Kansas City to Schlitterbahn with friends and will take an anniversary vacation. We also hop in the car and visit our family members. By the time summer is over, I will have visited my oldest sister and her family in Minnesota. I will have driven south to Oklahoma to visit my middle sister’s family. And I will have made it to my hometown to see all of the family that live there.

Also, we work on our homes. During the school year, there is a lot of time spent away from our houses. I don’t think people realize this, but most days, I spend more time at school than I do my own home! Sometimes, educators are lucky just to make supper for our families and spend a couple hours with them before we head to bed, only to start the routine over again.

So during the summer, we garden, paint walls, re-arrange furniture, finally complete that Pinterest craft we’ve had our eyes on, de-clutter and enjoy being able to live in our own space and not our classrooms.

Next, we prepare for the next school year. While at the beginning of our summer vacation, we want to be as far away from anything school related as possible; however, we eventually have to bite the bullet in order to be fully ready for our next round of kids. We meet with our partner teachers to plan lessons, we set up our classrooms, we copy notes and forms that each student will need, number our books, set up our progress monitoring tools and so much more.

Finally, this year especially and in the state of Kansas, teachers on their summer vacations have worried about their jobs and the future of education. Teaching is my and my husband’s job. We need our jobs to pay off student debt (which will increase because to make gains in this profession, you must continue your education), to pay for our cars, insurance, our new home and the other means by which we live.

I can see how, looking from an outsider’s perspective could be considered selfish. “They are only teaching for the money.” At that I might give a chuckle because of the amount on the paystub I get each month.

But the questions remain: Didn’t I get into education for the kids? To teach them English, as well as how to be contributing, awesome members of society? And the answer to all those question is yes! And that is why as teachers during this summer vacation we are concerned about the future of education in the State of Kansas. We are required to do so much, with students who may or may not even what to be there, with so, so little in the way of support and supplies. Public education is important. School is the safest, most consistent place for a majority of students out there.

Parents and guardians, think about those things while our kids and teachers are on summer vacation.

Regardless of the role — parent, student, or educator — summer vacation is a special time. It gives everyone the opportunity to relax, decompress, make memories and prepare for the upcoming school year.

As you are helping your student get ready for 2016-17 school session, remember their teachers. Their summers are spent doing much more than wondering, “What to do?”.

Kendall Vogts lives and teaches in Central Kansas. She is married to WFM publisher Todd Vogts.

Memories Are Made While Being Outside

By Kendall Vogts

Being married to the editor, you think it’d be easy for me to come up with a topic to write about each month. Sometimes, I even say, “Give me a topic!”, and he will usually come up with something helpful. But as we are both sprinting toward summer and the end of our school year, our minds are going in, what seems like, 15 different directions. So when he gave me the topic “Summer Lovin’”, I repeated my request. “Give me a topic!” To which he replied, “…Had me a blast.” And while I would love to write about Grease or how much I loved watching Grease Live, I wasn’t sure how I would attempt to connect to you through that piece.

Even though his suggestion was less than helpful when it came to writing an entire piece about the topic, his idea did give me a push towards thinking about the things that I love to do during the summer, which brought on more thinking and reminiscing about what my summers growing up looked like.

I’ve been really sentimental lately, as I am entering my summer break.

Now, yes, I went swimming, hung out with friends and went on trips with my family, but there are simple things done during past summers that have made quite an impact on who I am today. The first of those items being a chore done everyday during the summers of my childhood.

Now, my father is outdoorsy. Not in the camping, hiking, fishing sense, but in the mowing, gardening, going on walks, watering flowers, trimming hedges, landscaping kind of way. Each morning during the summer, my dad would call, probably hoping to wake me up, to give me instructions as to what I was supposed to water and when. “Ken, water the flowers on the east side of the house now. Then sometime before lunch, water the bushes on the south side and the bushes on the west side of the house. Make sure you don’t forget!”

So, I would slip on my flip-flops, and go to it; dodging bumble bees and waving at neighbors as they drove by. Then, I didn’t see the value in having these chores. I not-so-secretly hated doing these tasks for my dad, but, as I think back to it and now that I am grown, I truly appreciate the time spent in the beauty that was and still is our yard! He is the best landscaper that I know, and now that the editor and I have a new house that has absolutely nothing of a yard, I have very high expectations for how my yard and landscaping will look. Needless to say, my husband is more than willing to let my dad help out!

Another common, summer activity for me was going to the lake, and it is still one of my favorite things to do. I have such a romanticized view of the lake. I always was and still am more than willing to spend my entire day on the boat! Sit in the sun, talk with family, watch other boats troll by, take the occasional dip in the lake, switch out a cousin for the jet skis . . . Now that is my idea of the best summer afternoon!

Now that I am grown, I look back on times spent at the lake with the same sentimentality as I am feeling now at the school year ends. My heart wells up, and there is that little flicker of excitement mixed with, what seems like, a mental PowerPoint of good memories!

One of my family’s favorite things to do is to play games while we are there! In particular, to play sand volleyball. We get all of the kids, aunts, uncles and grandparents out there. There have been times of so much laughter that we have had to take a break from the game and attempt to come back and finish later after we’ve all calmed down!

Thinking of past memories and the simple tasks and activities that take place during the summer really have me excited! Whether it’s admiring my dad’s landscaping or planning for my own, a cruise around the lake on my uncle’s boat, taking a walk with my mom, eating a meal outside on the patio furniture, or walking through the zoo, those are the things that make summer for me!

So yeah, I am summer lovin’, and I will have me a blast!

Kendall Vogts lives and teaches in Central Kansas. She is married to WFM publisher Todd Vogts.

June Underwater

By Ian Anderson

My parents have a picture of the three of us when I was just a baby; it’s an underwater picture, and our eyes are open, our lips pursed, and we all have that look that’s unique to humans submerged in water — I don’t know how to describe it but to write that we seem out of place.

Photographs have that quality, of course, because they capture people in a moment’s time, but add to that an underwater stillness and the frozen effect is doubled somehow.

I enjoy the memory of that picture and my mom and dad’s fond recollection of that day. It marks the beginning of a long history of swimming both in pools and the ocean, and I still like to play in the water.

There’s a peace about being underwater, too, that I can enter even as I write about it. I think that has to do with the quiet of it all that’s part of the slowing already described above.

Now that summer is upon us, pools open, and we’ll soon observe herds of children migrating to the local watering hole on a daily basis. We call them pool rats. I don’t know how that phrase came to be, but the image of a rat doesn’t fit. I’d like to see more children at the pools every day — and I can’t say I’ve ever wanted more rats.

My point is that children are busy at so many other things; in fact, I have many students who are relieved when school begins in the fall because it’s then their calendar isn’t so full.

Of course the younger generation is judged by the older ones, but this time the actions of the young aren’t altogether their fault. I’m sure in some instances it’s not their fault at all.

I genuinely want to know when — and why — our culture began to believe that our children needed calendars at all. I remember long bouts of boredom during the summer months, and it was great!

My wife and I will soon have to deal with the temptation to shove our children into activities they “need,” and they’re at the age when they will want to engage in sports and other organized events. I pray we’ll give them some underwater time, too — time to be still and let the quiet and the peace of a summer day wash over them. I pray we’ll let them be bored or even let them feel out of place at times because everyone else will be running, running, running. I pray that for us all this summer.

Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.

Wichita-Area Summer Activities for Everyone

By Kendall Vogts

May is finally here, and it seems like even though there were few April showers to bring May flowers, everything is slowly, but surely budding out and blooming. As I’m writing, it seems that the trees, that just days ago were bare, are green, leafy and blowing in the breeze! Spring, to me, is always a time of life. Winter months bring the death or hibernation of things when it comes to nature, but spring is the start and return of life!

As I’m joyous about all that spring brings, the teacher in me is squirming, itching and wondering if my face could sink anymore; if the bags under my eyes could get any bigger. Let’s face it, by mid April, the students are mentally done. The teachers… oh, that probably hits shortly after, if not by the first of May. The school year goes by so quickly. It seems like we have just started, and then it’s Thanksgiving break. And then before we know it, it’s February. After February, however, it feels as though the school year slows down, and by May, it’s as if time is crawling by.

Needless to say, summer break is a big deal, for students and teachers alike. We busy ourselves teaching and learning a year’s worth of content in nine months, and for students who are any bit behind, they have to work twice as hard with their educators. So as school comes to a close, treat your student to something special, something to reward them for their hard work, something totally un-school related.

Here is a teacher’s list of summer approved activities! As I have gotten to know my eighth grade students, I am pretty confident in saying that most, if not all, of these activities could be student approved!

Take a trip to the Sedgwick County Zoo. I am so impressed with the grounds, the animals and the activities they have at the zoo during the summer!

Make a day of it and go to a water park or a swimming pool different than the ones you and your family frequent.

Go on a walk or a bike ride and stop by a local splash pad or spray park.

Take a picnic lunch and head to the lake. If boating or jet skiing aren’t for you, grab some fishing poles and head to the docs, or take your bathing suits and swim near the beach.

Head to the Cosmosphere or Strataca (the salt museum), both located just up the road in Hutchinson, Kansas. Both have awesome opportunities for families!

Take an afternoon and go paint some pottery at Color Me Mine, right there in Wichita.

Plant a garden at home. Make a goal of using home grown produce during the summer or plant your own pumpkins to prepare for the fall.

To free your mind and unwind during the summer is not the huge task it seems to be. I understand that even after school’s out, kids remain busy, and it might seem that they are even busier. However, as a teacher, I see the benefits of taking a moment, slowing down and reconnecting with family. Make new memories and get to know more about your kids! As they grow, they see, hear and experience more than you would imagine. Take the time and make your own summer to-do list, or use mine and cross off a few of my to-dos. You might just see the editor and I on our trip to the zoo!

Kendall Vogts lives and teaches in Central Kansas. She is married to WFM publisher Todd Vogts.

Seasoned Seeing

By Ian Anderson

My wife and I lived in Nashville shortly after we were married, and even though we were there for a brief period, the memories I have of that time are deeply set into my mind. It was there that the spring rain did a work on my senses; it was there that the Second Street blossoms downtown opened my eyes. I began to read more about the outdoors. I discovered an article about the massive California redwoods, and it gave me images of a separate ecosystem that I haven’t been able to shake. Even though I was well into my twenties, it was like I was living my first spring.

All was new.

For about a month I searched for a job. My mornings were spent in the public library so I could use the Internet; before I got to the computer lab, however, I would stop where I knew the books on art were kept. It was there I learned to see Van Gogh again, his paintings and sketches of the poor helping me build compassion for the homeless of the city I just walked through.

When I finally found a job, my eyes were opened once again. I ended up working as a substitute preschool teacher for two and three year olds, and it was exhausting. The long commute only added to the fatigue. Soon, my wife joined me at the preschool, and we shared the work and the drive. In the midst of the new experience we learned a lot about children, and we still talk about the little ones who ran circles around us every day. In fact, it helped us make lasting decisions about how we parent our boys now.

As I saw the trees and flowers, painting, and the needy (both the homeless and the children around me), I also rediscovered Charles Dickens. In high school I detested the one and only novel of his I had to read, but David Copperfield sparked my interest, and since then I’ve come to appreciate more of Dickens.

All these experiences convinced me that not everything we’ve tried once — or even things we’ve seen or heard too many times to count — is done giving us joy.

I climbed trees as a child, but I never knew how breathtaking they would be to me as an adult; I had seen flowers bloom, yet I didn’t know how I would long for them when they wilted in the heat; paint and pencils were things I’d tried and looked over, but seeing Van Gogh’s subjects come alive around me on the streets made me actually stop and act; children, I knew, were always selfish and tiring, but to care for a child made me want to care for my own; books, perhaps, went back with me farther than the others listed above, but I see now that a second try is worth the time.

This spring, look at what you’ve already seen — but see it this time.

Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.

A Culture of Competition

By Ian Anderson

The year was 1986. My soccer career still blazed in all its glory, and at the height of that season my mother snapped a picture of me chasing the ball. Teeth bared, curly locks flowing, I would not not be the reason the Snakes went down. (Jerry might have been the reason; when the aforementioned picture was taken, he was probably on his back counting the clouds as his mom screamed that she was about to take him home.) It’s been a few years, but a small bit of competition still gets my blood flowing. Back then, all it took to get me moving was a simple phrase from my father: “I bet I can beat you.” And even now those words have power over me.

Every once in awhile I catch a glimpse of the boy in that picture, but now it’s in the faces of my children. Each one of them has tasted the richness of winning, and they are often motivated the way I am — and it scares me. I know more than ever why my dad always said winning was “frosting on the cake,” why he never let me compete without telling me he was proud of me before the game even began, why he wanted me to know there was so much more to whatever game I was playing ­— so much more to life in general — and I have begun to repeat those words to my sons.

I’ve taught now for a few years, and I’ve observed for myself what an overly competitive message from home can do to a child. Getting the grades and winning on the court can easily become the only way to measure worth. The joy of learning, the joy of playing, and most important, the joy of relationships can be torn to pieces when being on the top blinds us.

Of course, this competitive spirit runs through our culture effortlessly in the form of a million posts per minute on the social media of your choice. It’s not the Internet’s fault — we’ve been comparing ourselves to one another from the beginning of time — but now we don’t have to leave our homes to be jealous of our neighbors or our crosstown friends.

We say we love independence and freedom, but really we just want what the next guy has, whether it’s his talent, his family, or his new truck. And that’s what competition does at its worst; it reduces what we have in our own eyes and makes us want more, more, more.

I’m tired of it. I want to show my children that I actually love them no matter how well they do in school or on the field. All the wins and good grades do taste good, but frosting is best when had sparingly. At the end of a hard-fought game or a long project, we lose much if we haven’t enjoyed the process. There is joy in the game, even just playing the game for the sake of lying in the grass and counting the clouds.

Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.

Experiencing Childhood Memories with Different Perspectives

By Kendall Vogts

Spring! Most days, it feels like it has finally sprung.  As I’m writing today, there is a dusting of snow on the ground, yet I can clearly see the green buds poking through and the sun is shining a life-giving warmth!

There was a time in my life where a coming spring meant being able to spend hours outside running or cross training, in preparation of my next college cross country season. I needed to be in shape, and I wanted to look good. As I have not been a college athlete for two years now, my mindset has changed drastically. My time spent outside running or walking is done to help me feel human, to disconnect with work, to reconnect with myself, and to admire what my body can do, as well as my surroundings.

One of my favorite places to run and reconnect is a place I’ve been hundreds of times, but there is something new and so special about it that has given this place a new meaning.

My hometown is Minneapolis, Kansas, and if you aren’t already familiar with our claim to fame, I’ll fill you in! Just east of Minneapolis, there is a park called Rock City that is quite the landmark. There are hundreds of rocks throughout the park ranging in size. There are some to stand on, jump up to, crawl through, climb up, scale, and jump from the high peak of one rock to the next. Seriously, some of them are huge!

Now, this has been a special place to my family for quite some time as my grandparents were board members, and now my dad has joined that crew. When the nice weather would come, we would go climb on the rocks! As I’ve grown, it has become known as the place where my dad spends hours each weekend, and even most weekdays, once the weather turns warm. My dad has dedicated so much time to caring for the landscaping, mowing, weed eating, building fence, painting, and, most importantly, dreaming. For years he had been secretly dreaming about what this place could be.

Small side note: my older sister and I both ran cross country in college. Our dad was always very involved in our training, being an encourager and coming to as many races as he could. Little did we know, our sport meant more to him than we ever imagined. A while back, I got a phone call from him, and he informed me that he was as building a cross country course around the grounds of rock city. He wanted my opinion on things and wanted me to come check it out to see if it was hard enough, if the paths were wide enough, and if there were good places for spectators. His dream was for my home high school team (where I got my start) to host a cross country race. I was immediately excited!

On the same lands as the rocks, there are open fields of beautiful rolling hills. It was quite the process, but my dad has done it and is ever working to improve it! There is a classic 5k course, complete with signs directing where to go. There are also several different one mile paths to choose from. I am one proud, impressed daughter!

That course, the paths, the rolling hills looking out at the horizon once you reach the top of Donovan’s hill, those are what take me back there, even though I’ve already been there hundreds of times.

So, as everything turns green, as the breezes become warm, and as the sunshine turns sweet, I recommend packing a picnic and taking a trip to Rock City. Climb through the donut-hole rock. Climb up and sit in the bathtub rock. Take a hike on one of the freshly trimmed paths, and if you’re brave jog up Donovan’s hill. If you’re lucky enough to see a man on a mower, flag him down and have a chat! Tell him the editor’s wife sent you his way!

Kendall Vogts lives and teaches in Central Kansas. She is married to WFM publisher Todd Vogts.

This could have been about Banana Cream Pie

By Kendall Vogts

keyboard-3-1195697As the wife of the editor, I am asked to write a short article every now and then, and for past articles, it was very easy. I would match my topic to my feelings, memories, thoughts, or personal experiences about whatever major holiday happened to be in the month. For example, in November, my article was Thanksgiving related. In December, it was Christmas related. In January, I brought in the New Year with all of you. And now that the holiday season has passed, I am finding it difficult to decide what to write about. The time between February and early March seems to just pass slowly; one day at a time without any holiday excitement.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I recently found out that March 2 is National Banana Cream Pie Day, and I probably could write a cream pie themed article. However, I will spare you!

This month, I’m straying away from my normal writing themes and would like to dedicate this article to my oldest sister: a rockstar mom (about to bring her third baby into the world), a master chef, a woman of God, a member of her church praise team, and a blogger who always seems to know what to write about.

Now, you might be wondering why I will spend the rest of a magazine article talking about someone none of you know. But as a stay at home mom and a very strong Christian woman, I feel as though her story and life are very relatable.

My sister felt called to use her heart and her skills as a writer to start a blog. At first, I think it started out as a an outlet; something to do and a way to share how God was working in her life through her experiences, quiet time, and through her family. If you look at the “About Me” section of her blog, she gives a very good description of who she is and why she writes.

I can truly say that as an accidental article writer, I am blown away by her talents. She brings a liveliness to her posts by sharing stories and events from her daily life, ways that God is working on her heart, and by adding humor into the text. But what is most impressive to me is that her message always comes out so clearly. Her theme and purpose for each blog post captivates her readers and many times, I see comments telling her that what she has written is exactly what they needed to hear!

If you are a mom, wife, teacher, lover of good stories, in need of a good laugh, or in need of encouragement, I urge you to check out my sister’s blog!

Being 8 years younger, I have been so inspired by her as I have grown up. She has been my encourager, a listener, a prayer warrior, an example, and a friend. I truly believe that through her posts, you will find exactly what you need! If you are someone who is searching for an outlet, I encourage you to start writing a bit each day. Write down your joys and praises, your fears and concerns, the stories of your children saying or doing funny things. Just write!

Please feel free to join my sister and many other women at http://aquestforabundantlife.blogspot.com/ as they search and seek to live their busy lives abundantly in the love and shelter of Jesus. In what seems like season of monotony, my hope for you is that joy and peace start to bud within you as a beautiful spring makes its entrance.

Kendall Vogts lives and teaches in Central Kansas. She is married to WFM publisher Todd Vogts.

Waiting for Spring

By Ian Anderson

spring-1569544My six year old boy is famous in our house for his great ability to anticipate what’s next: the next game, the next show, the next event. He looks to what’s to come, and even though it’s not healthy to live in a constant state of anticipation, I’ve recently learned some things from him and from the changing seasons.

Spring is the season of great anticipation after all. The ground finally softens, and new, thin branches turn colors so we know the sap has begun to move. Light increases and moves north. Birds return. The promise of sweet, warm air prepares its arrival ­— if only in our minds.

In his poem “To The Thawing Wind” Robert Frost writes:

“Come with rain, O loud Southwester!

Bring the singer, bring the nester;

Give the buried flower a dream;

Make the settled snowbank steam;

Find the brown beneath the white…”

Now, when the chills still threaten, I say those lines with him and look forward to the thaw.

And I watch my little boy play in the warming air, and I know his heart. He is a bundle of energy, and he prepares himself for what he can’t yet see. He hopes and waits. What I can’t seem to shake lately, however, is all the times I’ve failed him, all the times I should have taken joy in his presence and instead sought my own rest or agenda. I can’t help but imagine how sorry I’ll be if I don’t change something. But what?

Then, just like the subtle tilt of the earth, I know it: I have to anticipate giving to him, I have to imagine how I’ll set aside what I want for what he needs. And it’s true for my whole family, too. I wait for the trees to bud, and I see in my mind’s eye how they unfold and produce their fruit. So I should wait and see the moments to come with my sons, with my wife. I must hope and wait. That way, when the season is right, I’m there to reap a harvest.

Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.

Love’s Languages

By Ian Anderson

communicationI earn my living trying to teach high school students how to use language. This includes lessons on grammar and mechanics, but mainly my message is this: they must know how to communicate well.

In other words, if they can use English effectively, they will be better for it in their professional and personal lives.

This is especially true, I tell them, with regard to what they meant to say or write and what they actually said or wrote.

Often we think we’ve been clear — it’s in black and white in our own heads, after all — when what we’ve actually communicated is something different. Tone is a whole other matter and complicates things further. And if these things are true about the words we use in everyday language, that they can communicate in ways we don’t intend, what about love languages?

Every so often, I’m reminded that I need a refresher course in foreign language: how to speak love to my wife.

English may be our first language, but we’re from vastly different lands when it comes to communicating love. We’ve been married over a decade, so it might be easy to assume that I’m skilled in getting to her heart. Alas, I’m a slow learner, and I need constant teaching.

Words are important to me, and I receive love in the form of encouragement — or at least words are the main way — and my wife likes the occasional compliment, too. However, words are not what sink down and stay with her; she hears love most loudly in a different way.

Of course, as in any misunderstanding, the difficulty is that I can’t wrap my mind around her perspective. Because love has to do with losing my appetite for myself, indeed, with placing myself behind my wife, I have to realize that speaking my own love language communicates a weak message to her. Sometimes, the message I intend is not heard, and the most painful part is that I think I’ve given love when I have not.

I’m still better at speaking my own language. I’m just like my students, who, upon writing a sentence they’re sure is clear, continue to argue they’ve presented content that simply isn’t there.

Intention isn’t enough.

Clarity is only valuable when it’s universal, not just in my own mind.

The lesson I need this February is the lesson of diversity of language — that my wife is different, and that I must relearn how to best love her. I must unravel first myself, and then widen my narrow concept of communicating.

Perhaps each time I have to correct a student’s paper I’ll remember: it’s not just in grammar we need practice. Love’s languages are also many, and they’re worth understanding and refining.

Ian Anderson is a teacher, a husband, and a dad. He lives with his family in Central Kansas. Occasionally, he tweets here: @ian_writes.

February from a Teacher’s Perspective

By Kendall Vogts

supportI am one blessed teacher! I had a long Christmas break and was able to spend time with my family and friends, make many wonderful memories, play with my nephews and niece, and get in some much needed relaxation time. I slept in, lounged on the couch, and binge-watched a show on Netflix with my husband. It was fantastic! But, I must admit, the time leading up to Christmas break is sometimes difficult on students and teachers, as is the time refocusing, once our break is over.

Coming back from Christmas break is an adjustment. Rules and expectations must be retaught, lessons start back slowly, and interruptions from students are many, but finally we get rolling again.

All is well through January!

We hit that last week, in stride, and glide into February, but then that itch comes around again. It’s a, “Haven’t we been here for a while?” itch. Yes, by mid-February, the teachers feel it too. We see students squirm in seats. We see a growing lack of enthusiasm, and we see glazed over eyes, as our students search for the light at the end of the tunnel that comes in the form of Spring break.

It’s true… The time between Christmas and Spring Break can seem extremely long and strenuous. But while your kids might seem very “blah” about this point of the school year, remember, there is also the side of your child’s educators to consider. Let me shed some light on it for you!

In February, we are trying our hardest to engage your children! We are preparing for and carrying out parent/teacher conferences where we truly want to see you and your children show up! We are going to our students’ ball games! We are trying our best to help your students solve problems at school (because even when they don’t tell you, they are there). We are entering grades. We are staying after school in order to help our students. We are taking time to work on interventions, in order to help your children become more successful. We are greeting your children in the hall and by the door! We are laughing with, high-fiving, fist-bumping, and hugging our students as they come into or exit our classrooms. All the while, knowing that our students are slowing down; hitting the wall of boredom or anxiousness as the next break away from structure, learning, and friendship that their teachers work very hard to provide.

So why do it? As teachers, why do we constantly put ourselves out there to only sometimes be well received? Why work to help your kids make connections with the material they are learning? Why work to make every single one of our 125 students feel valued and successful?

Well, because we love what we do. We love our students. I can truly say that I love each of my students. I pray for them, and I care about their success and well-being. I have a common response that I tell everyone who asks me, “8th graders, how’s that? Aren’t they difficult?” Here it is: I love my job, and I really do have the best group of students. And even when they are jerks (because let’s face it, teenagers can be jerks sometimes) they are mine. For this school year, they are my students and I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else.

So as your students slow down, hit a wall, or become very “blah” in the month of February, help their teachers by encouraging them.

Send them to school with the reminder that you love them, and so do their teachers. Tell them that you are proud of them for all they have accomplished. Send them to school with a note of encouragement, and pack an extra for their teachers!

You see your kids every day, and so do their teachers. There are two sides to the story, when it comes to school and even when it’s hard or monotonous, your child’s educator is working to help your students love and be successful at school!

Kendall Vogts lives and teaches in Central Kansas. She is married to WFM publisher Todd Vogts.

New Year, New Resolution

By Kendall Vogts

KendallEssayEvery New Year’s Eve, I start the evening with the plan of making and carrying out a resolution for the new year. My resolutions have been things such as: losing weight and getting more active, reading my Bible more and getting closer to The Lord, and being a better friend by making a conscious effort to be more communicative.

Now, we all know that when making a resolution, we are committing to do or not do something for an entire year. However, when looking at the definitions of the word resolution (as an English teacher, I do that sort of thing, often), I found another definition: “The action of solving a problem.”

For me, resolving to do or stop doing something for a year has never worked out. I either forget or become noncommittal. However, this year, I think that working to solve a problem is very realistic for me, as everyday, I see problems walk in and out of my classroom.

No, I am not referring to my students as problems, but the slumps of their shoulders, their down faces, their curse words, and rude gestures are the results of the problems they face. I know what you’re thinking, “There is no way this lady can solve every problem for each of her, 125 students.”

And I agree. You are right. But I can work to change how I act toward them to bring peace and hope to situations that, for them, might seem like or actually be problems.

This morning, as I was driving to work, I knew there were going to be tough events that would and had to take place. I had to respond to emails where people were not necessarily in agreeance with me. I had to explain a recent decision I made. I had to talk to a young lady about the consequences of her actions. And all of this because two of my students had not made good decisions while at school.

As I was playing out the scenarios in my head, before I even arrived at school, I knew I had to stop right in my tracks. The nerves had woken me up, kept me awake, and were giving me anxiety during my drive. I knew this was a far bigger ordeal than I could handle on my own.

I prayed for the right words, that my actions would not be my own, that I would speak (and email) words of grace to the people that I had contact with throughout the day.

I have been shown so much grace before, during, and after the things in my life that have seemed like and have actually been problems. And I have felt a peace and hope be restored.

So, that is my resolution, or my vow to work towards ending problems; to stop, take a moment before I speak, respond, or act, and attempt to see their troubles the way that they do and try to show as much grace as possible to the people and the problem at hand.

In this season of joy, family, togetherness, and the hope of positive, future change, I hope that you can come up with a resolution that you can commit to for the year of 2016. Maybe you will vow to help end some problem that you see in your life, or the lives of those close to you. If resolutions aren’t for you, I hope that 2016 treats you well and that you experience so much peace and happiness.

Kendall Vogts lives and teaches in Central Kansas. She is married to WFM publisher Todd Vogts.