Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Once I Saw...

The holidays approach.   So here's a tip.
When extended families get together the world will be a better place if controversial topics like politics aren’t served up along with the turkey. 

To avoid contention and indigestion you can play a lovely game called “Once I Saw.”  It’s very simple and all ages can play. 
Everyone thinks of a special sight in their memory bank that will stay with them forever because it was so beautiful or unexpected. Then they take turns sharing it. I’ll give you some examples.

The first winter that our desert dweller family lived in the mountains of Arizona was full of amazing new experiences. Those of you who’ve lived in cold climates perhaps would use a different word. 

We had moved from an almost always sunny city, some have even called it relentlessly sunny, to a tiny, sometimes snowbound fishing cabin in the woods of Forest Lakes.  Everybody we knew thought we were nuts, by the way. And I was pretty sure they were right.  
Annual snowfall in Forest Lakes was about nine feet altogether. Some of us in the family had never even seen snow actually falling before, only patches on daytrips. Our only heat was a wood stove. 
I learned later that locals had bets placed on how many days after the first storm we'd last. I don't know if they meant stay or survive.
Anyhow, the snow thing brought me many “once I saws,” and I’m grateful for all of them. 
One time, after a storm left us over two feet of snow, I pulled on my new Wal-Mart moon and snow boots and began to trudge my way slowly to the road to see if the plow had been by. The clouds had broken up and were clearing, and the sky was that impossible cobalt mountain blue with sunshine so bright it made everything sparkle. Lots of little, puffy, white clouds were drifting by. My cheeks and nose stung with the cold but everywhere else I was wrapped up and warm. Then, I looked up to see that inside each cloud there was a rainbow floating along inside it! An actual, perfect, miniature rainbow in each and every cloud! I suppose the sun was shining through ice crystals or something but it was a beautiful miracle to see. I never saw it again in all the years we lived there.

Surprisingly, that wood stove heating thing brought a “once I saw.” 

It took some adjustment but it turned out that we were never cold if we kept even the smallest fire burning. In fact we often had to open windows a bit to keep from getting too warm. I suppose it helped that the house was so tiny. Anyway, Larry’s and my bed was right under a window and one clear night as I got under the pile of comforters and put my feet on him to keep them warm, I opened the window just a ways for ventilation and high-tech temperature control. After a wonderful, snug night we awoke to the sight of a dusting of powdery, white snow covering the blankets for about six inches just past our noses. A storm had come up while we slept and had blown snow in through the screen where it landed softly while we slept.
Icicles were also an intriguing novelty to desert rats. They grew longer, drip by drip throughout the winter, with all of us watching them finally go from roof to ground by February. Then one morning, after a wet snowfall, we made our way to the car to head the 17 miles to school, and there on all the low branches of the huge ponderosa pines which surrounded the house were perfect little icicles sparkling in the morning light. They were everywhere. It seemed as if elves had come to decorate the whole forest during the night!

Animals make great “Once I Saws” too. 

Once, while walking on a beach in Florida I looked back to see Larry standing on a rise shouting and pointing out to sea.  I turned just in time to see the huge black and white belly of a whale as it made a perfect semi-circle in the air.  Then it crashed with a mighty splash back into the Atlantic.
Another time I was standing on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. We had just visited Cabrillo lighthouse near San Diego and had stopped to see the spectacular view. I stood on the bluff, a strong wind coming off the ocean. I turned my head to the right to find a seagull standing still in mid-air. It was right at my eye level, about four feet away, wings outstretched, not moving a feather, gliding on the strong sea breeze as it moved inland. Then it turned only its head to look straight at me. After several seconds it leaned to the right and flew off into the wind. A brief encounter that will last a lifetime.

Then again I’ll always remember a mama bear and two cubs as they took off in a lumbering run through a ravine as we drove down a dusty dirt road on our way to gather pinon nuts. And a skunk eating cat food on the front porch while a kitten stood on its back legs taking playful swipes at his gorgeous, fluffy tail. Bald eagles roosting on a snag just off the highway next to the Circle K. The herd of mule deer that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. They stood grazing silently in the yard just a few feet away when I turned with the hose to water the irises. They never made a sound. Or the enormous bull elk with the huge antler rack who raised his majestic head from the flower bed just two feet outside the living room window causing a young daughter sitting inside to exclaim in alarm, “Holy Schnickey!”

There are lots of desert “once I saws” too.  I even have one from my brother that I never actually witnessed. He told me about a time when his family was boating up at Lake Powell. He says it’s astonishingly beautiful. They sailed under a red rock arch where water was trickling in a sparkling shower down to the lake below. His boys jumped in to swim under the drops which he said looked like thousands of diamonds. Then they just starting laughing as they dog-paddled under the gems dropping on their heads. Words failed, I guess.

I’ve often wanted to go there to see for myself. But then I know that’s not possible. Moments like that are gifts that only happen once.

The scriptures teach us that Heavenly Father made the beautiful things of the world to gladden the eye and delight the heart of man. Father sends “once I saws” to each of us as reminders I think. Reminders that he’s there. That he loves us and wants us to be happy. That no matter how hard, life can sometimes be incredibly beautiful.

Yes, precious little gifts from God. That’s what a “once I saw” is. I think all of us have been given some of these, and sadly sometimes miss them for one reason or another. We need to appreciate what they truly are. Tender mercies. Love notes from Father.

Once I saw. 

Share some of yours with family and friends this holiday season. Listen to some of theirs. It will make for far better conversation than politics, I promise.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mrs. Wagher's Door

My classes of high school students had been identified as having a physical, emotional, or learning disability of some kind. 
In addition, most of them usually had significant problems with reading. 

This didn’t mean that they weren’t smart, though. 
Many were very bright. Some even truly gifted.  Mechanics, art, people skills, and athletics were only some of their strengths.  
One young man was an absolute genius with engines. "Million dollar genius" I often told him. Students and teachers came by my classroom looking for his help every week.

But reading was a sore spot for almost all of them. This alone made succeeding in school a big problem. 
Try passing history, government, English or science classes when you can’t read the textbook. It’s a challenge I can tell you.

Many of these students became my heroes for not giving up. 
They knew their future would be better if they had a high school diploma so they refused to drop out.
They usually hated school with a passion but they hung in there anyway.

I remember one wonderful kid, a big, strong football tackle, the kind of young man who put his body on the line for his team every week without fear. After struggling with a biology text all period long he put his head in his hands and said in near desperation……“Mrs. Wagher……I just can’t do it anymore! There’s too many words!”
Words on a piece of paper were a far bigger challenge for him than any hulking football opponent.  He stuck with it, though, and graduated with his class.

Other students kept at it long after less determined souls would have given up. I remember a sweet young woman who finally earned all her credits for graduation. She walked proudly up on stage to get her diploma just before her 21st birthday.
Her whole family stood up and cheered.
So did I.

So reading was a big issue.
One thing I did to encourage them to read and process printed language was to post a quote on the outside of my classroom door every day. 

I gathered these from all over and listed the author when I knew it. The thoughts were in large print….in color…...with a border…… at eye level. They usually were about something we were learning in class. 
The kids had to see them as they opened the door and they read them because they knew we’d be having a discussion as soon as the bell rang. Often the door handle would turn and then I'd hear someone reading out loud in the hall.

Well, despite the "best laid lesson plans of one woman,"  some of the most important teaching moments of the school year came from those “Great Thoughts."
I remember a few that caused some interesting comments.

*Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only love can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that,

             M.L. King
               (
Many of my students were well acquainted with gangs. Hatred can not                      drive out hatred was a hot topic for several days.)


* If You Have to Swallow a Frog It’s Best Not to Stare At Him Too Long First.

              Mark Twain
              (I asked a student some months after this one why he hadn’t turned in his                  English paper yet. He said he’d been busy staring at frogs.)

*No Success Can Compensate For Failure In the Home.

  (This was big because it coincided with a sports star's public scandal.)

* We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us.

*They Say That Money Can’t Buy Happiness. 
  But to be happy buy one dollar less than you make. To be miserable buy one           dollar more.
 * Work is love made visible.

* First we shape our homes and then our homes shape    us.

* Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our                      opportunity to choose. In the choice lies our destiny.


* Kindness Is Never a Mistake. Cruelty Always Is.


*No man is an island. 
  Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. 
  Every man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. 
  Therefore never send to  know for whom the bell tolls.....it tolls for thee.
   (Several months after this one a student answered the phone, handed it to me and     said, "It tolls for thee, Mz Dub.")


*The Best Way To Get Rid Of An Enemy Is To Make Him A Friend. 

* We have met the enemy and he is us.

* Hold the door for everyone you meet. All are carrying a heavy load whether you can see it or not.



Once I posted this two pager after a 16 year old, unmarried student became a father……again.
On the top sheet it said….

*Sex is one of the most powerful forces known to mankind. 

When done properly sex can bring the most complete joy that life has to offer. When done improperly sex may bring pain, misery and death. 
Not only to you but to innocent people around you.

Lift This Paper To See What Can Happen When Sex Is Done Properly

 (Under the first paper was a picture of 10 of my grandchildren gathered together at a family celebration. 

 At the bottom it said, 
“Your children and grandchildren will come into your life because of this                 powerful force. Are you ready to love and take care of them now?
  If not……….it  might be better to wait.”

I’m telling you about my door because of the great discussions it started. 

Do you suppose it might do the same at a dinner table with your teenagers or in the car on the way to practice?

I came to know what was in the hearts of many of my students because of their responses to those thoughts. I was often very surprised. 

Is there someone you’d like to know better? 
Ask them what they think about a great thought.