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Whenever people I meet hear that I am a teacher, one of the most common responses is, “I would never have the patience to do that.”  Of course, when I look at other professions, I know that I couldn’t do what other people do.  I’m too squeamish to be in medicine, too soft to be in law enforcement, not aggressive enough to be in sales, could never wade through the legalese to be a lawyer, not good enough in math or science to be an engineer, and have no visual arts skills to be an artist or architect. I’m glad that there are people out there who are less squeamish, more courageous, more aggressive, and have talent and intelligence in areas that we need in our society.  When everyone uses their God-given gifts and talents well and we all value the service of others, we function as a healthy society.

I wonder what all of these politicians are thinking when they devalue the people who serve in the areas currently under fire.  Four times in the past three months either my sister or I have had to call 911 for some type of incident with one of my parents. Each time a team of people from Orange County Fire Rescue have come out, they have been quick, competent, and compassionate.  I would rate this as a top priority of our government.  We need them to come out and we need them to be good.  I feel secure in knowing that our police department is staffed well enough to keep us safe and competent to provide good service.

Teachers, though, seem to be taking the biggest hit.  Certainly all of these politicians had a teacher that made a difference in their life.  I can trace my love of writing back to Dan Voss, my high school journalism teacher, who had to leave the teaching profession he loved, for a job at a big corporation to adequately provide for his family.  Things have gotten better for teachers since those days, which apparently is making our leaders think that we are on some type of gravy train.  If you haven’t seen Jon Stewart’s segment on this from the Daily Show (Thursday, March 3, Comedy Central) you have to watch this:

Daily Show Clip

I have made a good living as a teacher, although I have also worked a second job for most of my teaching career.   I have taken every opportunity to improve my skills, get more education, and achieve a balance of work and family.  I feel blessed to be in a position to take a leave of absence to care for my loved ones.  I don’t feel greedy about this.  I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle and the most exciting vacation I have ever taken was this past summer, made possible by the generosity of a former student.

This time off seems to be a point of contention as well.  Yes, we have summers off, as well as other breaks during the school year, but this is a long established nature of the work.  As I understand it police officers generally work 2 days on, 2 days off and firefighters work 24 hours, then are off for 48.  But when they are on duty, they are totally on. Most teachers get a lunch “half hour” frequently supervising students or conducting make up tests during it.  We aren’t having fancy expense account lunch hours; for the most part, we are brown bagging it at our desks.  All but one of those 911 calls we made in the past few months have been outside of what we would consider “office hours.”  We want people who take care of our children and our citizens to be competent and well equipped for their jobs.

I have to believe that in general, most Americans value the work of our teachers, policemen, and firefighters, and want to have good people in those positions. I think everyone understands that in the private sector, the more money you generate for a company, the more you are compensated.  Since these jobs have to be done without regard to that kind of profit, we trust the government to compensate us fairly for this good and necessary work.  I don’t know how we got to be the enemy in this.

I’ll leave you with one final video.

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Today was my last day at one of the best jobs in the world.  While it was hard to say goodbye, I am at peace with my decision to take a leave of absence.   This morning I was doing great with checking things off my “to do” list.  I was all business.  While some students brought cake and brownies to celebrate my last day, they seemed like it was just another day –  is it Friday yet? But at the end of second period, they quietly slipped a card onto my desk. What followed could have been one of those Hallmark commercials.  When I looked at the card from the seniors and the heartfelt good wishes from the students in the Symphony Orchestra, it touched my sensie heart and my eyes filled with tears.  The card they got me said this:

It’s a comfort to know there are heroes among us –regular people, just like you – willing to do what they can to make the world a better place

Heroes give instead of take.  They act instead of talk. The step forward and do the hard and unseen jobs, to give the best of themselves – measuring their own success not by wealth or comfort, but by the lives they touch along the way.

That’s what heroes do – and you are one of those people.  maybe you don’t think of yourself that way – but that’s what you are.

And I just want to tell you how grateful I am to know you and to know that there are heroes like you in the world.

(J.F. Peterson)

If anyone ever doubts that our future is in good hands, just come visit the students of Timber Creek and you will be reassured.

Still glowy from the student love, I drove over to Tampa to get my students registered for All State and I was hit unexpectedly with all of these sweet memories from being there with David last year.  I remember him learning to say “Bravo” when an orchestra was especially good and writing his congressman after hearing the speaker in the general session talking about the importance of music in the schools.  I remember how cool it was to have my handsome husband out there supporting me, when I was nervous about a session where a master conductor worked on my technique in front of a large roomful of people.  When those memories first hit, I started to be sad about being alone this year.  I wondered if this was going to snowball into missing my students and job, turning this into some type of emotional meltdown.  But, instead, my heart was filled with an incredible warmth and gratitude like I have never felt before.

If my time on earth ended right this minute, I would go out as a person who knows that she has been generously blessed.  I have had a great career, amazing colleagues, the greatest principal that any teacher has ever had, the most amazing, talented, bright, funny, and wonderful students…I’ve had the big love – a love affair with a guy that could melt my heart with his blue eyes…I got paid, back in the 80’s to sing and play keyboards while wearing a black leather skirt…I have felt my heart expand with love for my two absolutely gorgeous and intelligent daughters…I have connected in my life to a huge community of students, parents, church members, choir members, and Facebook friends..I have felt the unconditional love and acceptance of family and friends…I have grown with each passing year in my walk with God…I have written a book…and I have been given the gift of being able to tune in and listen for God’s will for my life.

It’s funny, we want the good things in our life to last forever and we don’t want even a moment of one bad thing.  But I am grateful for every minute of every good thing and also for the way that every bad thing has shaped me.

Thank you God, for blessing my earthly life with Heavenly love.

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After 16 years of teaching I am taking a leave of absence for the rest of the school year to stay home and take care of my dad.  At this point I plan to pursue seminary full time in the fall, so I don’t know if I will return to teaching or not, but I am totally open to God’s leading.

I am reading the book Let Your Life Speak by Park J. Palmer, for an upcoming class at Asbury.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a more thoughtful way of looking at their vocation.  A lot of my students choose careers based on how much money they will make.  Others sometimes pursue their interests with no plans for how that will evolve into a money making venture.  The problem with both of these approaches is that they make either money or desires the thing we follow.  But, God knows the perfect vocation for each of us.  If we go out in pursuit of money, we may find financial success (maybe not in this economy) but not necessarily  fulfillment.  Following your heart, puts you in charge of your destiny. This assumes that we have more control than we actually have about our future.  The only way to explore our God given gifts is to let God be the one to call the shots.  When we open ourselves up to His leading, things turn out more beautifully than we could ever imagine.

The first time I ever really heard God’s call was when I was called to teaching after volunteering in a Vacation Bible School program.  I had been unhappy in my job playing in a hotel piano bar and wanted to do something more meaningful with my life (no offense to piano bar players).  Teaching has been a wonderful place for me to develop many of my gifts.  Students generally love me or hate me for my trademark story telling.  I don’t seem to be able to describe any musical concept without a story that starts with, “You know what it’s like?  It’s like…..”

But I think God likes us to be ready to move, not just geographically, but to move into different areas when He calls us.  A few months ago, I wrote about being called to ordained ministry.  While I am pursuing that, I have found another call – to care for my parents.  My sister and I had to make a decision pretty quick last month when my dad was in the hospital for 11 days over the Thanksgiving break.  He seemed to get worse with each day he stayed there.  When he woke up one morning and pulled out all of his IV’s he seemed to be telling us as clearly as he could – “get me out of here.”  Over the past year and a half, my sister has arranged for part time caregivers to be with him so that he could live alone in his own home, but after this latest development, the only clear choice was to bring him to live with me where there is a bigger medical and emotional support system.  Taking the time off will allow me to be here with him and also to spend more time with my mom, who is content to be in assisted living right now.

I am fully prepared for 2011 to be bittersweet.  Some days seem lazy and frivolous, watching The Price is Right and reading the newspaper.  Other days involve incredible amounts of intuition to know whether he is hungry, in pain, in need of physical activity, mental stimulation, or just a big hug.  From a super independent, retired military, depression-era guy, it’s hard for him to accept help and he sometimes resists.  But when I tuck him in at night and kiss his forehead, he tells me he loves me and squeezes my hand, I know that God indeed has a hand in making my life to speak in a way that is filled with this wonderful sense of rightness.

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My favorite commercial of all time is this one for Enjoli from the 70’s.  Click in this – it’s only 30 seconds long.

I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan

And never never never let you forget you’re a man

I love this because in other versions of my life, this has been me.  Okay, so there’s no particular man in my life with masculinity amnesia at the moment, but still, I love the way it portrays the strength of women.  Of course in the 70’s women had to make sure they did everything that was required of them at home if they were “allowed” to work outside of the home.

I’m on a little bit of a rant about this after seeing a wonderful and amazing movie with my friends a few weeks ago.  Secretariat is totally my kind of movie.  I cried all the way through, but good, inspired, heartwarming tears, as opposed those tears of pain that have fallen out of my eyes so frequently this year.  The movie was about events that took place, probably around the same time as this Enjoli commercial.  The woman in the movie had to live by those rules – if you can take care of your husband and children, make sure the laundry is folded and you don’t miss any school plays, then maybe you can have a few days to go off and keep your parents’ farm from going under and raise a legendary race horse.

Watching this with 2010 eyes, I just really want the husband to value his wife and all of her insight and intuition and be part of it, but he doesn’t get on board until she is already in the height of success that she has had to fight for alone, in a man’s world.

So, when I listened to the Christian radio station, they had a movie reviewer that rates movies in crowns instead of stars for how family friendly and Christian friendly they are.  My jaw just about dropped to the floor when he said that this was a pretty good movie, but it lost a crown because the mom chose her work over her family.

I’m sorry, but I’m just not a fan of this one way submission.  I think it is a misinterpretation of the Bible that it only matters what men want. Ephesians 5:21 talks about BOTH partners in a marriage submitting to each other out of reverence for Christ.  Shouldn’t the man love his wife enough to truly want her to find her calling?  I met a really nice couple on my quest for a seminary this past weekend.  The wife has already been working as a minister, but is now seeking ordination.  Her husband was totally supportive of her.  To me, they were a beautiful demonstration of this passage.  He wants her to be everything she can be and he wants to be the one helping her, supporting her, and loving her as she follows her calling.  If he has to relocate for his job, he will.  She loves and respects him and they have made a very happy home for their five year old son.  If only every child could grow up in that kind of harmony.

I would love to rely on a man’s strength and would love to have a partner that was so strong and so righteous that I could exhale and trust him to take care of me.  But that doesn’t mean being less than I am, it means being there to help each other become the true fullness of ourselves that God calls us to be.

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I have this girl in my class who is a cheerleader.  The first week of school, she was a little sassy, a little bit of a slacker and I was thinking to myself, “How can this girl be a cheerleader?” Then I went to one of her games.  When she is out there cheering, she shines like a superstar.  It is amazing when we find the thing that makes us feel so totally alive that we glow when we are doing it.  But it doesn’t happen by accident.   Those girls out there earn that glow with hours of sweat and hard work.

2010-2011 Timber Creek Regiment

Another group of people that shines out there is the band. Both of my daughters were in the Timber Creek Regiment all four years of high school.  Their director, Rhett Cox, had a vision for the band program before the school even opened.  He completely defined what he wanted every aspect of the program to look like, then worked hard and inspired the students to make it a reality.  When I was talking to members of the Marine’s Drum and Bugle Corp in Washington, DC, they had heard of the Timber Creek Regiment and knew about the band’s reputation for excellence.  While Rhett has created and developed this legendary performing ensemble, he remains one of the most humble people I know and is great colleague.  He has endured great tragedy in his life, but has allowed it to strengthen him, not disable him.  (By the way, Stephen Colbert would play him in a movie.)

Stephen Colbert...or is it?

When the band marches out on the field, the crowd cheers.  In some football games, yes even my alma mater, the University of Miami, the crowd leaves to get something to eat at halftime or else sits there and talks through the band’s performance, but at TCHS the crowd is on their feet cheering for the band.

This doesn’t happen by accident.  The kids in this band program work hard for this excellence.  They commit their time and their talent and  put everything they have out there on the field. Their director has instilled in them the qualities of discipline, pride, and sportsmanship as they are always supportive to the other team’s band.  The school opened the year of the September 11 attacks in 2001.  I remember, especially that year, valuing the simple freedom of going to a high school football game to watch my daughter perform, having my heart stirred by the fight song that Rhett wrote, and watching the cheerleaders bring their enthusiasm and life to it.

My top two violinists this year are both Asian students.  The other students in the class were under the impression that just the fact that they are Asian is what makes them such amazing players. So after they blew everyone away with their playing test, I asked them why they thought they were successful with the music they played.  One student said that she drilled it for an hour every day.  The other said that  she goes over it in the morning before school, when she gets home, then again before bed.  In other words, this doesn’t happen by accident either.  It takes work and commitment to be good and to shine when the spotlight makes its way to you.

All of these students have inspired me.  They have learned the value of doing purposeful work.  I had coffee with a friend who is a retired police officer.  He is in his second career now working for the school system.  He could be retired now, but enjoys his job.  He gets it.  People think that they would be happy if they won the lottery and could quit their job, but for most people, it takes away that  simple satisfaction of life – doing meaningful work.

This year I am renewed in my job and excited about going to work every day.  I get to work with some very talented students and enjoy being a partner with them in the creative process of making music.  I’m working harder than I have over the past couple of years, but finding that the hard work is a part of what is making my heart glow.

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On one of our first dates, David and I were sitting on the beach snacking on apples and almonds that he had thoughtfully packed for us.  As we sat there enjoying the sun, he asked me what the common thread had been in all of my previous relationships that caused them to fail.  I was probably thinking more about how amazing it was to be sitting at the beach with a guy who not only knew how to ask deep questions, but truly listened to the answers (and also brought healthy snacks). I told him that I thought that I usually gave up too much of myself too early.  I asked him what his was and he said it was trust issues.

I didn’t realize at the time how deep that conversation really was, but we both really nailed our core issues that day.

Our therapist, Tim, recommended a book called Reinventing Your Life by Young/Klosko that lays out several “lifetraps” that prevent many of us from having the healthy relationships that we want.  My core lifetrap is that of a subjugator – the trap being that I do things out of guilt or obligation that I don’t really want to do, then have this simmering layer of anger under the surface.

A classic example is when I go out with others for pizza.  I am a “less is more” person, but when everyone discusses what to get on it, I always say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter to me.”  Then I will sit there and pick off every piece of greasy disgusting pepperoni, sausage, or any other things that I don’t like on my pizza.  Initially, it is more important for me to solve the problem of what to get by putting everyone else’s needs first.  But then, later on, I have that whisper in my head, “But what about what I want?”

This attitude is pervasive in my life and has affected my work and all my relationships.  It intensifies when I am in a romantic relationship, because I think that I have to be self-sacrificing to be a good partner. While that is true to some degree, the self-sacrificing has to be out of strength and joy, not out of guilt and obligation. It has to be a gift that doesn’t expect anything in return. I will eagerly volunteer to do things that I really have no desire to do, then become angry because the person I’m with won’t do the same thing.  I basically punish that person for not having my lifetrap.

My students got a blast of my reinvention with both barrels today.  I felt great, with a new attitude and a new look.  I can always count on my hair stylist Hyle to perk me up with a new haircut when I need it.  The students noticed the new look, and the change in attitude.  Basically, it was a nice version of, “I’m mad as **** and I’m not going to take it anymore.”  That’s right, don’t pluck your violin when I’m talking, don’t tell me what you think we ought to be doing in class today, don’t tell me that you think you should be first chair, even though you bombed your playing test, and my name is not Ms. Harding anymore, I got married and my new name is Mrs. Burdick.  Get used to it because even if things don’t work out, this will continue to be my name!  And music appreciation kids – don’t even think about trying to be slackers today!  I have been letting EVERYONE walk all over me.  In choir rehearsal at church, they frequently miss my directions because they are talking.  But do I take control?  No, I just go home mad that they behave like my students sometimes.  We recently had our spring FOA meeting and I have never seen a meeting where so many people felt comfortable just chatting about things in the course of the meeting.  Did I take control and implement the Rules of Order?  No, I just went home feeling like  the late Rodney Dangerfield– I get no respect.  Even our orchestra banquet – while I was giving out awards, some guy at the bar decided that the middle of my presentation would be a good time to have a loud drunken conversation on his cell phone.

Are all of these people bad people?  No, they are just reacting to how I expect to be treated.  When I stood up for myself, my music appreciation students had the most productive day that they have had in weeks. The biggest change was that this was the first day in a long time that I left work feeling GREAT.  I realized that most of my struggles at work this year have come from my own weakness.

I now understand that this is one of the reasons David became so unhappy.  He was always sensitive to what kind of mood I was in and always wanted me to tell him everything  I was feeling. He would listen to me for hours if that’s what it took.  If I was with someone who had a blanket of anger and resentment under the surface and blamed me for it, I wouldn’t be very happy either.  I’m not saying that it was all my fault, just recognizing my part in the unhappiness.

When I humbled myself and stopped trying to get what I wanted last week, God turned my anger and sadness into a powerful state of renewal.  Watch out for the new and improved version 2.0

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I just spent the past three days at our district Music Performance Assessment, otherwise known as the dreaded MPA.  It has sometimes been referred to as the FCAT of music.  For you non-Floridians, FCAT is high stakes testing that determines everything from student’s graduation eligibility to teacher bonuses to school funding.  MPA doesn’t carry any of that pressure, but in the music world it is known as somewhat of a pass or fail performance where you either soar on top of the world or fall into a deep pit of despair.  The top rating is  “superior,” which is supposed to be a flawless performance.  Many directors (and students) base their reputation on the ratings they get at MPA.  If a performance has problems, such as being out of tune, playing wrong notes or rhythms, being out of balance, or about a million other potential performance problems, the rating gets lowered.  A rating of “excellent” is still a respectable rating, but of course, it’s not a “superior.”  When ratings dip below excellent – directors sometimes talk of leaving the profession or never returning to MPA again. Keep in mind that this success or failure, happiness or despair, all depends on the single  performance of a group of teenage kids.

As District Chair I have the privilege of interacting with each director.  It concerns me that this event is sometimes destructive to the director’s self-esteem.  I believe that hardship shapes us and helps us grow in some area of our life, but ultimately, I think that God wants us to lead happy, productive, and abundant lives.  How do people of faith deal with the setback of low ratings or other perceived failures in life? How do we keep  it from stealing our joy?

Both of my groups scored an excellent this year.  Respectable, but the past few years, we always received superiors.  Do I think we were robbed and deserved a “superior?”  No, our performance wasn’t flawless, as it was in years past. Does that mean it was terrible?  No, it was actually quite good, but there were some things that we can work on that will make us all better musicians in the future.  Another director who received an excellent rating said that her students played better than they have ever played, they did everything she asked them to, and she was incredibly proud of them, no matter what their rating was. I loved her attitude.  She is doing a great job teaching and  has built a wonderful orchestra program. She is also a helpful and supportive colleague, volunteering her own personal time to help me with administrative tasks. Her students will absorb the feedback from the judges, learn from it to improve their performance, and be even better next year.

The ones I am praying for today are the ones who feel like they have been kicked in the stomach by a lower rating than they expected, the ones who have a sense of entitlement and refuse to see any problems with their performance, the ones who experienced disappointment based on a technicality, and the ones who have made huge sacrifices of time with their own families to work with students who may or may not appreciate a gift that valuable.  I will also say prayers of gratitude and celebration for my colleagues who have worked hard and have achieved superior ratings with their students.  It is a good feeling to have the sense of accomplishment that comes with setting a goal and seeing it become a reality.

Above all, though, I pray that we can all remember that whether we are slaying the dragon, or getting our britches singed by his fiery breath, God is with us.  He is rejoicing with us in our success and crying for us when we feel that we have failed. If we keep an open mind, He will lead us into new depths of understanding by helping us continue to learn and grow.  Bask in the love of God and know that He is with you through it all.  Thank him for the many blessing He has given you and then ask him to guide your steps.  The dragon doesn’t stand a chance.

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