January 10, 2014, is a day that will forever be cherished in my heart and burned into my mind. It was on this day that we had to tell the children at Bonne Ecole that Georgia Mannino, our remarkable music teacher, had passed away. Just days before, many of them had written her cards and poured out their hearts to her. On this day, even more of them would pour out their hearts and their tears. It was decided that a school wide announcement would be made via the televisions to tell the children. After the announcement was made, the students were given the opportunity to go and see the counselor at our school. All of the third grade classes were on a field trip, so I was able to remain in the counselor’s office with her to talk to the kids. What we witnessed and listened to that day brought tears to our eyes and joy to our hearts.
As the students began to file into the counselor, Stacey’s, office, an open dialogue was started with them. Stacey asked them what they learned from Mrs.Mannino. One 5th grader said, “She taught us to never give up. We watched her continue to come to school and practice with us even though she had cancer. She taught us to be strong.” I was amazed that the first response was not about music or singing, but it was about a life skill of perseverance and courage in the midst of hardship. Children continued to share of Georgia’s bravery and courage as she battled cancer. We witnessed kids hugging one another and encouraging each other. It was beautiful. Georgia’s legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of these students. One little girl called Georgia her “Music Mom” because she felt that close to her. The students also cried out for forgiveness for the way they treated her, and we were able to share with them that they were forgiven. It was a powerful moment and one you never expect to experience at school.
During this time, my students were reading a novel called Esperanza Rising. The literal meaning of that title is “Hope Rising.” What perfect timing for these students to find hope in the middle of heartache. One of the assignments they had was to write about hope and how they saw it demonstrated around them. One of my students wrote the following about Georgia: “Mrs.Mannino was an amazing mother, wife, music teacher, and friend to everyone around her. She will always have a permanent spot in our hearts. She was a brave warrior, but in all cases, all warriors must rest in peace.” She closed her essay with these words: “Faith: have it, hold it, live it. Memories: know them, have them, hold them. Hope for the best. Love.” This young lady has learned lessons way beyond her years…WOW!
On March 20, 2014, Bonne Ecole’s Student Council and SHINE Club sponsored a mini Relay for Life at our school called “Fishing for a Cure.” The morning began with a Survivor’s Breakfast, and then the whole school circled the walking trail for a Survivor’s Lap. Surrounding the track were flags that were made by the students in honor of those we had lost and those who are still fighting cancer. As the survivors began to walk, a roar arose around the track as the students yelled and cheered them on. It was one of those moments you want to freeze in time. One of those walking was our former talented art teacher, Nolan LeFort. He did not think he would be able to walk the whole time, but he said the students cheers kept him going. My father walked the lap too as he is still struggling with the effects of cancer treatments. He had such a smile of joy when he finished the lap. Another precious walker was Mary Jolicoeur. As she walked, students yelled her name because of the stories they have heard of her courage. These students were given a memory they will never forget and the opportunity to bring hope to others. Also that morning, a beautiful sign was dedicated naming our music room, the Mannino Music Room.”
The past few months have had moments of sadness and moments of joy. The most recent for me was watching my daughter, Kaley, singing at the Teen SHE event. She sang the song, “Oceans,” and my mind immediately went to Georgia. She is the one who believed in Kaley and instilled a love for singing in her heart. The last night I saw Georgia, I thanked her for giving this gift to Kaley. Now, Kaley is able to share the gift of music with others, and Georgia’s legacy lives on. This song truly describes her journey and our journey as we continue to trust Father and hold His hand to guide and lead us through this journey.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep, My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand, Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
Becoming Who My Father Sees in Me,
Georgia … my friend, sister in Christ, fellow BEE superstar, inspiration, leader, mother, wife, sister, aunt, Child of God, Who Dat fan, musician, survivor, champion …
A few months ago, I wrote a blog about how our lives impact those in our inner circle and then how that influence spreads into our outer circle. I had the unique experience recently of seeing the power of that in the life of my friend, Georgia Mannino. Georgia and I worked together at Bonne Ecole Elementary for the last 14 years. Yet, it was over the last 3-4 years that we really got to know one another better through a teacher prayer group at school. It was during this time that Georgia shared her heart with me and the others in this group. Being given the opportunity to prayer for another person is a wonderful gift, yet Georgia gave the gift right back to me through her prayers for me. Over these past few years, I prayed for her children, her family, and her battle with cancer. Boy oh boy did she fight! I remember listening to her with amazement as she shared so much about herself from a medical standpoint. She knew more than the doctors knew … I truly believe that. She took amazing care of herself, and I sent numerous people to talk to her about how nutrition can impact your health.
I remember one day, a year ago, when she came in my classroom and just cried in my arms, telling me how tired she was of fighting. All I could do was hold her and think about how tired I was of her fighting as well. Georgia was always there for me while our family prayed for Henry’s healing. She told others to pray wherever she went. I will never forget the day I emailed all Kaley’s teachers at Slidell Junior High to let them know about Henry’s passing. One of the first emails I received back was from one of her teachers who had been praying faithfully because of Georgia sharing the request with her. She also took up the battle cry for my beautiful friend, Mary, as she battled with breast cancer. Her strength always encouraged me, but I knew WHO her source of strength was. Thinking of her reminds me of these verses from Isaiah:
"Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
29 He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
30 Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31 Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary."
She did get tired, but then a new strength would rise up in her that was directly from Christ.
Right after Christmas, I went by her house and she told me about her problems with breathing and feeling anxious. I began praying for peace for her at that moment and continued on with that prayer. A few days later, she sent me a text to let me know she was at the emergency room getting checked out. I was thankful that she was receiving medical attention to see what was going on inside her body. My beautiful friend, Claire, went with me to go visit Georgia in the hospital on New Year’s Eve. While we were there, we had the privilege of holding hands with her and praying. Yet, what struck me more than anything was what happened the moment Claire stopped praying. At that point, Georgia began to pray for us. It blew me away that even though her needs were great, she took the time to speak to Father about us. Just as she had done so many times, she put her own needs to the side to pray for someone else. What a blessing to go into the New Year with my beautiful friend’s prayers saturating my spirit!
When Georgia was sent back home, I went by again with my friend, April. When we got there she was about to do a breathing treatment and wanted to postpone it, but we insisted she continue on with it. As soon as she was done, I went and sat right next to her and just listened to her as she shared different stories. One story she began to tell was about coming to see Kaley and I dance together at church. God knew I needed to hear her tell this story, since I had no idea how much it had meant to her. I could have sat there all night and listened to her tell stories and joke around with everyone else.
The following week, we had a SHINE meeting and all the students made cards for her. I left the cards at school thinking I would bring them by the next day after school. As I was driving home, Claire called and said you need to take the cards tonight. I braced myself and drove over there. I did not know if the family would want me to visit with her or not, but as soon as I arrived, her sister, Genie, sent me straight to the back with the cards. I again got to sit down on the bed with her and visit. I got to read every card to her and share with her the beautiful sentiments of the students. Some of them offered apologies and asked for forgiveness for their behavior. She just smiled and told me that music was her heart. She shared that gift with my daughter, Kaley, and I got to tell her how much that meant to me. Being able to sit face to face with someone and share how much she means to you is a powerful gift. That was the last time I would get to visit with her, but it is a treasure that I will always have.
At her funeral, I saw countless people from so many different places that she had impacted. I was in awe as I sat back and realized how many lives she touched. Some people who did not attend the funeral thought it was strange when I talked about how I smiled through the whole funeral. It was all about honoring her with music, and it was a concert that she would have LOVED. Her family found a way to honor her and encourage others through their actions. I believe I know who they learned that from … her. As we had a jazz processional out to the gravesite, I thanked God for this friend who blessed my life. As I looked around, I saw all the others she had impacted as well, including her children. If you are reading this, please pray for Jon, Anna, and Wesley. To lose both of your parents at such young age is so hard, yet when you look at them you see a strength that could only have come from God and was modeled by the parents He blessed them with in this life. I pray that all of us can go about our lives and let Christ shine through us to touch and minister to those around us.
Thank you, Georgia, for sharing that Light and Love with me. I am forever grateful.
Becoming Who My Father Sees in Me,
We are in the beautiful season of holidays where we have just honored mothers last month and will honor fathers this weekend. As you probably know from some of my previous posts, I lost my dad last year. It was one of the hardest things I've ever gone through. I discussed in a previous post (LINK) about how to help friends and loved ones who have lost, and mentioned specific days that are hard. While Mother's Day and Father's Day are beautiful times of celebration for many, they carry some expected moments of grief for others. Each year as Mother's Day and Father's Day draw near, the evidence is everywhere. Every advertising email reminds us to get a gift for Mother's Day or Father's Day. Every commercial is full of ideas for Mother's Day and Father's Day gifts. Even Food Network shows offer meal ideas in abundance. Grocery stores will even have manly food on sale as Father's Day approaches. It's everywhere.
If you know someone who has lost their mother or father this year, or ever, I challenge you to pray for them! They (counselors, fellow grievers, grief books and blogs) say the first year of every holiday is the worst. Father's Day for me last year felt like a different kind of worse. It's sort of like waiting for a category five hurricane to hit or waiting for a tornado to pass while hiding in your bathroom when the sirens go off. It's heavy. It's scary. I read this from a blog by someone who lost their dad ten years ago:
"Ever since, I have felt the most raw and exposed on Father's Day and on the anniversary of the day he died, Feb. 15. It's like a wild hunger. No amount of time could ever fully heal the pain. Father's Day, in particular, will always make that hole inside me feel deeper because my loss becomes a lot more obvious. While everyone else is gathering to show their love for their dad, I am in mourning." (from The Globe and Mail)
And he wrote that ten years after losing his dad. So remember the motherless and fatherless in your life this Mother's Day and Father's Day season. Celebrate! Enjoy your mom and dad. Love them. Buy them a gift no matter how silly or last minute it is. Make him or her their favorite cake, even if it's from a box. Tell them you love them. Take a picture with each of them, you probably don't have enough. Call them often. Do anything and everything you can. And when you're done enjoying every possible moment with your mom and dad you can, pray for us - the motherless and fatherless, the widows; the ones without their sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters.
And if my plea and words aren't convincing enough, I'm pretty sure the Heavenly Father is okay with you thinking and praying for us too.
"For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing." Deuteronomy 10: 17-18
"When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow." Deuteronomy 24:19-21
"But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless." Psalm 10:14
"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." Psalm 68:5
"Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed." Psalm 82:3
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27
If you're motherless or fatherless during this Mother's Day and Father's Day season, grieve the way you need to! If you need to skip church and the special service every church will inevitably have, you have permission. Take your Bible somewhere else and spend some time with Jesus. He knows you're hurting. Take at least a moment in the day to let the Heavenly Father love you. Cry, weep, mourn. And then if you're up for it, remember. Remember her. Remember him.
I likely won't be going to church again this year on Father's Day either. Or to Starbucks - too many people that might see me cry. I'll probably go to a coffee shop that's a little quieter on Sundays, spending time with my Heavenly Father on my own. I'll cry. And then I'll remember with people who can handle it and understand that it's okay to be sad and happy at the same time. The mother of the son who wrote the blog post I quoted earlier puts a yearly memorial in their local paper that reads, "My happiness is filled with sadness without you to share it with."
Grieve the way you need to! If that means being alone, it's okay! But if you don't want to be alone, surround yourself with people who will remember with you.
Let's make our own rules,
I have been taking pottery classes with my mom for over a year now. It has become the highlight of my life each week. I thoroughly enjoy the process and the people I have encountered, not to mention spending quality time with my mom. One of the things I love most about clay is that I can reshape the clay if it starts to look deformed or not like what I had envisioned it to be. I have done this many times, which usually results in a finished product that I can be proud of. I can’t help but think about how the Lord has done this many times to me, remolding me over and over again only to see something He is proud of.
In Jeremiah 18:1-4, the Lord tells him to go to the potter’s house to hear His words. Jeremiah says, “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make."
As I read this passage, I couldn’t help but notice that the potter took the same clay and molded it again into something that was good in his eyes. He could have looked at it and said, "Look at you. You're good for nothing. I can't use you. What purpose do you have? How can you be used in such a state?” Or he could have looked at it and said, ”You poor thing. You’re so messed up. If only you would have stayed on the wheel. If only you would have listened to my voice. If only you would have allowed my hands to shape you. Now there’s nothing I can do for you because you messed yourself up.”
How many times does the deceiver send that message your way? How many times does he accuse you of such or make you feel so guilty that there’s nothing that can be done? How many times does he say to you, "You're worthless; you're garbage and need to be thrown away"?
You see, the potter could have thrown the lump of marred clay away, but he didn’t! He looked at the clay and saw good! God looked at YOU and saw good! You see, the Lord God is the potter of our lives. If we let Him, He will reshape us into good. He created our vessels for good. Sin marred our vessels for evil, but God looked at us and said, ”You are beautiful! I can see what you can become. I can take what was meant for evil and turn it into something meant for good. It will be painful. I will have to take you off the wheel and knead you several times to re-form you so that I can put you back on the wheel to reshape you. If you trust Me, I will make you a vessel to be used over and over again … a vessel with a purpose.”
How many times have you heard the Lord say that to you? Are you listening to Him or have you turned a deaf ear to His love for you? I can testify that listening to God is not easy. My flesh is so used to sin. My flesh is comfortable being marred. It’s hard for my selfish ways to be reshaped. Many times my mind is in a battle, being kneaded either for good or for evil, depending on whether I trust God or I trust myself more.
Who do you trust more?
Is it worth it?
Trusting God is a decision YOU must make. It isn’t going to be easy. You will be uncomfortable as you allow the Lord to mold you because your flesh will fight against you. Your selfishness will complain; your greed for the lusts of this world will moan and groan, and your mind will whine like a child with phrases like ... "I don’t want to. Give me what I want. Give me what I want!" The thing is, the potter will not force you. You have to be moldable. You have to be willing to be kneaded His way; otherwise, the Master Potter cannot mold you.
The reason why the kneading process is so necessary is because the potter is trying to get all of the air bubbles out of the clay. The air bubbles can cause deformity in the clay as it is shaped. It can cause a vessel to be marred as it is molded. You see, that is why the kneading process is so painful. The air bubbles represent the sin in our lives. When the Lord kneads us, He is trying to knead out the sin with His gentle hands and loving words. This only happens when we come to Him and say, "Forgive me, Lord, of my sin. Forgive me of my selfish ways. I want to live a life for good and not evil. I want to be reshaped into a vessel of purpose. I trust you to do that. I give you my marred vessel. I am willing to be kneaded no matter how painful it may be. I give You my life and ask You to form me into a beautiful piece of art.”
A beautiful piece of art … that’s what I want to be. I know you do too. Would you do me a favor? Would you examine your heart? What state are you in right now? Are you moldable or unmoldable? Would you meditate on those questions for a while and then talk to the Lord about them? I know it’s not easy thinking about really uncomfortable, hard questions like this, but I can testify that it is worth it. In fact, to be honest, I’m doing the same thing right now. You’re not alone in this. I too am struggling. Together, we can come to the Lord, lay it all down, and allow Him to make us into something good ...
into a beautiful piece of art.
From my heart to yours,
Not long ago, it was prom time at the Lockwood Lair. Two of our three daughters headed out for a night of fun with their friends. I think one of the hardest parts of preparing for that night was dress shopping. Abbie and Alex tried on close to twenty dresses each, several during a trip to Missouri. They both have different tastes, but for fun they would try on the same dress. What looked great on one made the other one look like they were playing dress up. As I was watching the dress picking process and giving my humble opinion as a mom, I couldn't help but think of the verses in Colossians 3 that talk about our spiritual wardrobe.
When we become Christians, Christ-followers, we are given a new wardrobe. Our old sinful nature doesn't fit us any more. Paul says in Colossians 3:9-10 (The Message) "You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you are dressed in a new wardrobe." God strips us of that old life and gives us a new one. We undergo a transformation. I love the illustration of throwing our ill-fitting clothes in a fire. It means we are completely getting rid of it never to wear it again. Besides, who doesn't want a new wardrobe?
Paul continues in verse 11 saying, "Every item in your new wardrobe is custom made by the Creator, with His label on it. The old fashions are now obsolete ... from now on every one is defined by Christ ..." I can just imagine the label saying "Made especially for you, handcrafted by the Father." We are no longer defined by the world, but by God. We are chosen by Him for a new life of love.
Paul even tells us the items that are in our new wardrobe. In Colossians 3:12-14 he instructs us to "Dress in the wardrobe God has picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear LOVE (emphasis mine). It is your basic all-purpose garment. Never be without it." As I write this, I'm being convicted. Am I always "wearing" love? Do I show compassion? Humility? Am I disciplined? No, no, no and NO. Why not? I think sometimes I try to pull out my old wardrobe. I look in the mirror and see my new clothes through the lenses of my past. I let the past dictate what I will wear, sometimes trying to mix and match the two wardrobes. Ill fitting clothes DO NOT go with custom made, tailored ones. I think that is why Paul instructs us to "burn" them. We can't wear them again and shouldn't want to either.
A new spiritual wardrobe is ours for the asking. God is waiting to dress us; all we have to do is trust Him and let Him do the work. We are the most beautiful version of ourselves when we are dressed in Christ's love and righteousness.
Embrace life to the fullest,
You may or may not have noticed (hopefully you did!) that we took a little unannounced, seemingly unintentional break from blogging and social media. I (Kasia here), wish I could tell you the break was for some super fancy reason like fasting from social media, visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (I seriously have GOT to make that happen in my life), going on a European vacation, writing a book, meeting the man of my dreams (we've gotta make that happen too), or something of the sort, but that's definitely not the case here. Anyone with kids or anyone who works in education knows that April-May is insanely busy. I don't have kids, but I do work in higher education. In the midst of normal end of the school year craziness, April and May also involved finishing a job I've worked at for the last 3 1/2 years, packing up and moving out of an apartment I lived in for 3 1/2 years, starting a new job and all the transition that comes with that (being the new kid, feeling like you'll never know anything related to your new job, etc), moving into a house, and adjusting to life with roommates (I've lived by myself for roughly 5 years). Oh and I turned 31. 31 somehow sounds a little less magical to me than 30, but 30 was the best year of my life thus far, so high hopes. But 31? It doesn't sound as cool as 30. Sometimes I think transition should be a four letter word. Anyone with me?
I reluctantly made the wise choice to take a break from blogging on any blogs until I was somewhat transitioned. The TWU faculty and blogging team was so supportive and covered me in prayer and encouragement through all the changes. That was huge considering that taking that break meant not managing and posting their posts here either. So thankful for those ladies! I'm not transitioned fully or anything (are we ever?), but my house is enough unpacked, my new sleep schedule feels somewhat normal, I know a few things at work (emphasis on few, as in three or four, no more), I'm a little less sad about the wonderful chapter of life I finished by leaving my former job and apartment, and all my free time is no longer occupied by packing, unpacking, moving, reading policy and procedures, and freaking out about all the change happening.
As I thought about transition and coming back to this writing space to write and post things, I was also reminded of how often I have to come back to Jesus. I had a whole Starbucks day planned to find my writing rhythms again, get organized, prep posts, etc. I made myself start with Jesus, knowing He inspires my words, but honestly, I wasn't very excited about it. I've been feeling the weight of my sin and how the lack of a good outlet, like writing, was manifesting in finding it harder to resist sin, and, full disclosure here, NOT resisting sin.
I'm gonna chase a quick rabbit here and say, let's stop being afraid to confess that we sin to one another! I don't think we should brag on our sins by any means. Confession isn't bragging; it's brokenness. But I think decades and decades of "proper" Christian women (and men) pretending they are perfect, sinless, and have it all figured out and together has done a lot more damage than good. [End rabbit chase.]
I've been reading through Nehemiah with the She Reads Truth community. I was a bit behind so I decided to catch up before I started writing. As it normally happens when I feel the desire or reluctant need to pursue Jesus again, I was utterly and painfully broken. Stories about the Israelites always have that power for me. They surrender to God, things are good, things get bad, they blame God, they turn away like whoa, things get worse, they come back, God rescues them, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. Nehemiah tells a similar story. Things are bad. God rescues them. Things are good. And again, they forget. Nehemiah ends with them forgetting again and turning away. It doesn't end with them coming back.
I'm sure there is a lot of theological insight to be discussed here and tons of commentaries written about it, but the way it affected me today wasn't complicated at all. It was simple. I was shattered. Psalms 16:2 says, "I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.'" As I was being mad at myself that I always have to come back and frustrated that I can't just simple stay, I was reminded that I have no good apart from Him. I have no good in me apart from Him. I could list all the things I'm good at and that He's gifted me in, and those are real; He does and has made me "good" and good at things, but I NEED Jesus. Though I get frustrated with my human nature and its ugly tendency to wander, I am so thankful for my desperation and need for Jesus that always brings me back.
So all that to say ... we're back! Physically writing here again and spiritually always coming back to Jesus again and again and hope you will too. Be patient with us as many of our team members have kids that are home from school, summer vacations, transitions, and less time to write. Our goal is to continue to bring you two posts a week on most weeks. Feel free to let us know some topics you'd love to hear our ladies write about too.
Let's make our own rules,
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