Some of us are experiencing life-altering twists, and things are far from the hum-drum routine. My dear friend Leslie is one of those people. A Utah native, Leslie traveled to Chicago to become a teacher. I had the pleasure of working alongside her. It has been about five years since we last saw each other, but she has left a footprint in my heart. I especially feel very connected with her since she has shared her heartbreaking, truly inspiring story on A Sunday Kinda Love. Without further ado, here is Leslie’s story…
The Work of Healing
I told one of my friends the other day that I feel like I’ve aged 100 years in the past few months. I’m only 29, so why do I feel like this wise old grandma these days? In one word: Loss. You see, my daughter passed away this summer. It’s a long story, one in which I document on my blog, but my daughter, Hadley Grace, was born 10 weeks premature with a very serious blood infection due to Group B Strep. To say it has been a shock is an understatement. This week was my due date, I had plans to take maternity leave at work, a room in our home is a beautiful coraland aqua nursery created just for our baby girl, she had a closet full of clothes, drawers full of diapers, and a prominent space smack in the middle of my heart. I’ve always been a woman of faith: a lapsed Episcopalian who attended Catholic school for 10 years, I now consider myself a non-dominational Christian. I believe in grace, love, and faith. I believe following Christ impacts one’s life on a daily basis in the form of thousands of little decisions that say “yes” to God. But on June 18, 2016, when my sweet baby girl died in my arms, suddenly that beautiful, peaceful, often convenient faith become raw, distorted, and precarious. My heart and mind repeated the questions “how?” and “why?” over and over again. We believed in the power of prayer. We believed in miracles. But our prayers weren’t answered. We didn’t get our miracle. How do you sit comfortably with that type of pain?
In the days and weeks following Hadley’s death I began to furiously study loss, grief, faith, and prayer. I read countless books, spoke with wise people of faith, attended counseling, and most of all, I talked to God myself. Why didn’t you listen to me? The truth is, He did listen to me and He still does. But listening doesn’t always imply that God will be doing exactly what I ask. I’ve gone back and forth over whether God has a “plan,” if it all “fits together”. I’d be lying if I told you I had it all figured out. I cried out on the way home from her funeral, “I will never ever understand.” That still holds true and it always will be. What I have discovered, though, is great wisdom and the pockets of grace that emerge in the wake of great loss. Jerry Sittser writes in his book “A Grace Disguised,” that “The screaming pain I feel over loss reflects the pure pleasure I felt in knowing her presence.” Being a mom was my greatest joy and unlocked a well of happiness I didn’t know I had in me. But even in sorrow, I know I will feel that again one day. I received my gift: I just didn’t get to keep it. I have found that life is short and wildly precious. I hope I always have a strong sense of life’s fleeting nature and what that means for my daily life.
One of the most significant things I have learned is that you have to put in the hard work of grief by being proactive. The following are some steps I have taken (along with my husband) to keep Hadley’s memory alive and help heal our hearts. The wisdom that accompanies loss can be accessed fully if one is active in the process. You must take responsibility for grief and healing and channel it in your life. If you let the pain simply happen to you, it will knock you off your feet. You must, instead, relentlessly pursue healing and wholeness. That cannot occur, I have discovered, by running from the pain, but by diving in and working with it.
1) In our home: We have a vase of flowers on our dresser and in the bunch of flowers, there is a single pink lily that represents our sweet girl. Another item is a beautiful blanket with her name crocheted on it. I slept with this blanket during my whole ten day hospital stay before Hadley was born. Once she arrived, she had the blanket with her. We keep this laid out on her nursery rocking chair which we have moved into our master bedroom. It’s one of my favorite reading and journaling spots. We also have a printed canvas of her hand stacked on ours and it hangs prominently in our bedroom. It’s the first thing I see when I get up in the morning.
2) Jewelry: I love wearing jewelry to remind me of my sweet girl. I have an “H” necklace from Kate Spade I wear everyday that my husband bought me after we returned home from the hospital. On the back it reads “One in a million.” She never got to wear her monogram so I wear it proudly for her. It makes me think if each word I speak, action I take would make Hadley proud. I also have some angel wing necklaces and a cherub Alex and Ani bracelet I wear sometimes.
3) Photo Album: Looking at pictures of my angel baby is such a comfort to me. I made a Shutterfly photo album for all members of our family. I truly think I healed in the creation of it. I poured over every picture and carefully selected the perfect images and words. I treasure this book and I am so looking forward to sharing it with our future children one day.
4) Good words as decor: Good, soulful words have really soothed my heart this summer. Just as everything I see reminds me of Hadley, it seems everything I read can connect to our experience. I found two of my favorites this summer in small shops and both are featured in our home. One reads, “I believe hope rises up to meet our biggest struggles” The other is a quote from L.R. Knost that says, “Life is amazing and awful and then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living: heart-breaking, soul-healing, awful, ordinary life and it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” I connected with this quote instantly!
5) Books: I have poured over many books about grief and loss. They have been tremendously helpful to me. They include, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner (this was a gift from my incredible doctor who delivered Hadley and it has flipped my faith life upside down in a good way. I cannot sing its praises enough), “Through the Eyes of a Lion” by Levi Lusko, “Ended Beginnings” by Claudia Panuthos, “A Grace Disguised” by Jerry Sittser, “Tear Soup” by Pat Schwiebert, and “Fight Back with Joy” by Margaret Feinberg. This loss thing was so very new to me and I have loved relying on the wisdom of those who have forged this path before me.
6) Talking: Whether going on a long trail walk with my husband, crying my eyes out in counseling, or sharing our story with a college friend over the phone, talking has been greatly beneficial for me. My husband and I have reached out to two different families who have experienced the loss of a child. These meetings and conversations have been life changing and have helped to stitch up my broken heart. I have discovered new realizations and connections through conversation.
“I no longer pray like I used to…”
7) Praying: I no longer pray like I used to. I do not ask God for specific actions to be performed outside of myself. Rather, I pray for God to be with me and for my spirit and attitude to be positive and enriching for myself and others. For example, I would not pray “Please let me stay healthy this school year.” I would instead now pray, “Please be with me and give me grace to endure your will with courage.”
I am no expert on healing after loss. This is a whole new world for me but I have found the above items helpful to me as I navigate a world of questioning God’s plan, discovering a new sense of faith, and healing my spirit after profound loss. It is possible to have an aching, longing heart and a deep well of wisdom at the same time. Pain and wisdom go hand in hand. It takes work, though–tear-filled, gut-wrenching, mind-numbing work to make connections and achieve wisdom. But it is so very worth it, my work of grief will never end. My dream in life now is to rise from this experience and help others heal.
There are no words that can express my gratitude to Leslie for gracing us with the greatest gift of all, Hadley’s story. If you would like to know more about Leslie’s journey, you can connect with her on her blog A Sunday Kinda Loveor follow Leslie Steele on Facebook.My heart goes out to you Leslie and AJ. I will never understand why either…
Today was the first day back in my classroom after the summer break. I walked into a room with chairs piled on the counter and the students’ desks clustered in the center of the room. My floors were glistening, so I am not complaining. I was looking at a clean slate, and it was time to reconsider the layout of my classroom. It had been in the same general formation for years, with the exception of the students’ desks. Like many teachers, I would play around with different seating arrangements. For the first time, I decided to use all that I knew about energy flow when designing my classroom.
I laid the bagua map (see image below) on my classroom as my guide. Now, when you walk in my room, you will see a round kidney table in the Children/Creativity section which is enhanced by circular figures to represent the Metal Element. Imagine all the creative ideas the students will have working together in this area! A large rectangular (horizontal) table is in the relationship corner with an even number of chairs to promote partnership and collaboration. My desk is located in the wealth corner. Since the wealth and relationship guas are the “power positions” on the bagua map, these are great spaces for the teacher’s desk. Although I spend little time at my desk, it will be good to occupy the wealth area and welcome in abundance in all of its many forms!
Bagua Map (BTB Feng Shui)
Shape: Vertical Rectangle
Colors: Green, Gold, or Purple
Colors: Red, Bright Orange
Shape: Square or horizontal rectangle
Colors: Pink, Skin tones, Earth tones
Shape: Vertical Rectangle
Colors: Green, Brown, Gold or Purple
Shape: Square or horizontal rectangle
Colors: Yellow, Earth Tones
Colors: White, Bright And Pastel Colors, Grey
Shape: Square or horizontal rectangle
Colors: Blue, Green, or Earth tones
Colors: Blue, Black or mirrors to represent water
Colors: White, Bright And Pastel Colors, Gray
FRONT DOOR ENTRANCE LOCATED ON THIS WALL
In addition to placing the furniture with intention, I used my bulletin boards to enhance the different guas. Purple paper covers the large board in the Wealth Gua, while a calming blue takes over the board in the Career Gua. Since there are boards all around the room, and all the guas are represented by different colors, it makes for a very colorful classroom with variety and, most importantly, balance.
On the first day, the students will proudly unload their brand new folders and sharpened pencils. We will organize their desks and go over everything’s “home” (because “everything has a home.”). Yet sixth graders are bound to throw loose leaf paper in their desk without a folder or leave random capless dried-out pens sitting in their pencil pouch. That is why every Friday we take 10 minutes to clean out our desks, even dust them. Students who finish early bring out the broom and help sweep the floors. Others dust the bookshelves and wipe off the surfaces of the countertops and tables. The students love the extra responsibility, and they feel so much better when their space is organized and well tended to.
Adding Yin Energy
After teaching for a decades, I have learned that it takes a couple of days for the students to warm up and come out of their shell. Once we get into the school year, kids tend to get really comfortable in their home-away-from-home and talk a lot more! This is why I pull out my “feng shui bag of tricks” everyday to keep the classroom calm when it needs to be. Remember the balance of yin and yang. The classroom already has a lot of yang, or active energy, by nature. Children, computers, and the fluorescent lights produce a lot of energy that needs to be balanced out.
Add yin, or soft energy, to the environment by playing soft classical or new-age music in the background during work time, especially if the lights are on. Consider turning the lights off during direct instruction time. If your school allows, use aromatherapy with a diffuser. Lavender will calm everyone, and citrus scents encourage alertness. If you don’t have a diffuser, you could place a bowl of fresh orange peels on your desk. Once they wilt, they not longer have a potent smell and you could replace them.
Just like at home, you can conduct mini space clearings in your classroom when the students are out of the room. Sage lavender spray smells delightful and it clears the energy after any stressful situations. You can go around the classroom and clap your hands from low to high to break up the stagnant energy. Open a window to let in fresh air at least once a week. However, with twenty to thirty pupils in a room everyday, it is probably best to let fresh energy in daily.
You can protect your own personal energy and prevent yourself from feeling drained as well. The feng shui faceted quartz crystal is very powerful. It can clear any negative energy and deflect harsh energy from computers or people’s negative vibes. You could carry the crystal in your pocket for protection. I have even put a crystal on the computer cart in my classroom so that it breaks apart the harsh energy from the tablets. If you wanted to hang a crystal, cut a nine inch red thread and loop it through the crystal. Hang it in any area of your classroom (or office) that you would like to see improvements. If you are located near a busy road, you may consider hanging a crystal in the window, or placing it on the ledge of the window, for protection and to calm the energy of the room.
I hope you have a wonderful beginning of the school year! I will be here all year to answer questions or address any specific concerns that come up throughout the year. We are entering Mercury Retrograde which means electronics may act up! Try to have a sense of humor about it, even though this may be the most inconvenient time for your SMART board or e-mail to go haywire. Join me on facebook for daily tips and positive inspiration!