An Open Letter To My Students

Dear Students,

Ten years ago I stumbled into a classroom with a textbook in one hand and a hastily written syllabus in the other. I had no idea what I was doing or the adventure I was about to embark upon. Most surprisingly I could not have foreseen how you would change me.

It is now time for me to end that adventure. I am walking away from the podium, turning off the lights, picking up my books and moving on.  It is bitter sweet to say the least.  However, I cannot leave without taking a moment to acknowledge the many lessons you taught me.

1.) To be strong in the face of adversity

I met so many students who were facing challenges and obstacles that I could not even begin to imagine. Things that neither child nor adult should face.

The woman who raised two sets of triplets while her husband was deployed with the Air Force, and then discovered she had a brain tumor. After surgery she could no longer work as a math teacher. She decided to return to school and retrain her brain in a different field.

The sixteen year old girl whose mother was diagnosed with stage 4 Ovarian cancer and had to drive her to chemo everyday and then come to class. The same girl who developed Swine Flu that semester and refused my offer of an incomplete and instead soldiered on and got a B+ in my class.

All the soldiers who wandered into my classroom after being deployed in a war zone. Many of whom  were lost, scared and unsure of how to relate in a place that didn’t warrant lightening fast reflexes.

The young lady whose parents had moved away when she was 14 and left her in charge of her two younger siblings. They visited periodically, provided financial support but emotionally she was the parent.

The list goes on and on but each of these very real students, with very real circumstances showed me what real bravery and courage looks like.

2.) Don’t listen to what people say you can’t do

I met so many, many young single mothers. I give each of you a standing ovation. I looked into your eyes and saw fear and doubt, but I also saw bravery, determination, courage and the tightly set jaw of a person who was going to accomplish their goals at all costs.  A person who ignored the “couldn’t” and “shouldn’t” and “can’t”s that were constantly being thrown your way. I watched you waddle into classrooms, run out of them throwing up, and then crawl back in after birth.  You amaze me and inspire me to never given up.

3.) Believe in the future

To all the cock-eyed optimists – which is all of you.  You see careers in front of you filled with success and money and prestige. The world is an oyster and you are thrilled to be a part of it. You are excited and eager to start work, to contribute, to achieve.  You reminded me that there is joy to be found in the future if you just keep looking for it. That the future should always be something welcomed with excitement.

4.) Recognize your accomplishments

I have never considered myself neither smart nor wise. Yet you generously proffered that compliment on me again and again. Until I realized that my years of living – just by having experienced them – gave me wisdom.  I did nothing special to achieve this wisdom, I just lived, but in living I accomplished and that is not something to be dismissed. So thank you for showing me that age is to be celebrated and not denigrated.

I will miss you – my students – very, very much. I wish I could hug each of you, and give you a chocolate chip cookie.

YOU are amazing and I have been blessed that for one fleeting moment I got to be a part of your life journey.

Thank You,

Professor Beth Morley

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“Go Set A Watchman” – A Review

When my copy of “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee arrived I placed it on my nightstand untouched — for weeks.  I circled it like a matador sizing up a bull. Did I want to read it? Was it best left a mystery? What if I read it and hated it? What if it forever changed my feelings about “To Kill A Mockingbird”?  And so the book sat. Eventually I concluded I could not consider myself a person of literature if I never read it and so like one of those Russian polar bear swimmers I plunged.

I wish I could say the reading went swiftly but it didn’t. I wanted to make sure I gave this book it’s best opportunity to shine so I read slowly, meticulously, and thoughtfully.  The chapters crept by and I took the time to reflect on the story, the language and the purpose of the author.

This is really two books that have been clumsily merged into one. The first half of the book is filled with Jean Louise’s memories of her childhood as she wanders through her hometown of Maycomb. We hear of familiar characters – Jem, Dill, Atticus and we meet some new ones – Aunt Alexandra, Dr. Finch and Henry. However, the first half of the book feels like a continuation of “To Kill A Mockingbird”. We see glimmers of Harper Lee’s unique style and the Southern tone that infects all of her writing.  This passage where she describes Atticus sang out as the Harper Lee voice we all know:

“Atticus Finch’s secret of living was so simple it was deeply complex: where most men had codes and tried to live up to them, Atticus lived his to the letter with no fuss, no fanfare, and no soul-searching. His private character was his public character. His code was simple New Testament ethic, its rewards were the respect and devotion of all who knew him. Even his enemies loved him, because Atticus never acknowledged that they were his enemies. He was never a rich man, but he was the richest man his children knew.”

Somewhere around chapter 7 the book shifts and we discover what Lee really wanted to tell us. And this second story, well, it has left me itchy.  During this time in our American history, when we struggle to make sense of race relations, or to discuss difficult topics respectfully,  this book seems particularly relevant and important.

Lee shows us a Jean Louise struggling to be comfortable in her own beliefs and the beliefs of others.  She comes back to Maycomb only to discover that she’s changed, or Maycomb has changed. In the end she realizes neither has changed but they are just seeing each other truthfully for the first time. And that stripped down nakedness is uncomfortable, enlightening and a bit disappointing.

One of the more poignant sections of the book comes when Jean Louise is challenged to define the word bigot and realizes that perhaps even in her enlightened state she too is a bigot – a person incapable of even entertaining or considering an opposing opinion or belief.

“Jean Louise rose and went to the bookshelves. She pulled down a dictionary and leafed through it. ‘Bigot’, she read. ‘Noun. One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion.’ Explain yourself, sir.’

“I was tryin’ to answer your running question. Let me elaborate a little on the definition. What does a bigot do when he meets someone who challenge his opinions?” He doesn’t give. He stays rigid. Doesn’t even try to listen, just lashes out…”

As the reader I sat there stunned by the accusations being laid at my feet. My Facebook feed is filled with opinions so strong, so staunch so contrary to each other that we are all bigots. Every single one of us and Lee forces us to face that in ourselves.  This country is young – like Jean Louise – and before we reach adulthood we must face the bigotry inside of all of us and only then can we mature.

In the end, I’m glad I read the book. Harper Lee has once again provided us with an avenue to talk about race relations. She has shown us the power of humility and the importance of respect.  And it feels like we needed to hear this more today than ever before.


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A Christian’s Challenge

My grandparents were East European Jewish immigrants.  One fled persecution in Russia and the other escaped the growing Nazi threat in Austria. They came to this country for religious freedom.  They witnessed atrocities that most Americans cannot imagine and the emotional baggage that came with them did not disappear.

It has been my experience that Jews fall into one of two categories. They either believe in talking about the Holocaust  because it should never be forgotten or they NEVER want to talk about it.  My family is part of the “we never talk about the bad and the horrible” category.

My paternal grandparents came from West Texas. One Baptist and one Methodist, and as you can imagine it was quite scandalous when they married.  My grandmother’s family played cards which was strictly forbidden in my grandfather’s family.

So my Methodist father married my Jewish mother and they had three kids, whom they moved across the country. We lived in a variety of states but within communities that were all dominantly Christian, and in many cases Catholic.  Out of respect for both religions my parents neither went to church nor temple.  We were told as children when asked about faith to NEVER tell anybody that we were Jewish.  Keep it secret.

For years I obeyed this command and my life, as a result, was simple. I made friends, went to school and things moved along like most childhoods. Sometimes little hiccups would happen. I would mention a gift I had gotten for Hanukkah and a friend might ask me what that was, or I might mention that my mother was Jewish and a playmate might ask what a Jew was.  Simple, innocent questions asked by young, innocent children.  In high school things took a serious turn and this is when I first began to understand Christians.

I was in ninth grade standing outside of the band room talking with friends when the question of baptism came up. I had long since shed my inhibitions about my religious heritage and felt quite proud of it – especially after learning about the Holocaust.  I shared that I had never been baptized because my mother was Jewish. The young man standing next to me, with blond tousled hair and small town good looks, turned to me and said, “You’re damned to hell. You’ll burn for that,” and returned to his conversation as if he had stated the most obvious fact of all. I was silent.

This passing conversation would occur again and again and turn into more overt slights and judgements. The parents of boys I dated would discourage them from dating me – I was a non-believer, a sinner, a bad influence (which in many cases was ironic considering their son’s own lustful longings).  Girls were discouraged to be friends with me because I would tempt them away from being believers.  I had one set of parents tell my boyfriend at the time, a good natured young man whom my parents liked very much, that when we died he would go to heaven and I would burn for eternity.

None of these “Christians” took the time to know me, to talk with me, to share their own beliefs or even offer to take me to church. l was dismissed, labeled a “sinner” and quickly cast aside.  The message was clear, “The church does not WANT you! You are NOT welcome.”

I grew to view Christians as hypocrites – quick to pass judgement and label people as sinners without owning their own sins. If this was what Jesus stood for then I had no need of him in my life.  Who would want to join a club where it was obvious none of the members wanted you. And yet, I longed for a spiritual connection. I yearned for that relationship, and would pray alone in my room asking God for guidance.  By the time I was twenty I had attended over a half dozen churches – not once welcomed.

The first real Christian I met was Sister Dorothy. She was a Catholic nun who served Western Michigan University where I attended classes.  Western is a mid-size liberal arts campus sitting close to the shores of Lake Michigan. She didn’t wear a traditional nun’s habit but did wear a large wood cross around her neck as if proclaiming that she was the sole property of Christ.  Sister Dorothy was wonderful. She was funny, kind and generous. She would bring us snacks, talk with us about our classes and was a warm figure always close. She NEVER asked me for my religious heritage. She NEVER asked to what church I belonged. She didn’t judge me. She loved me and you felt it from the moment you met her.

After college, and one class short of a minor in world religion, I started attending The First United Methodist Church in Brighton, Michigan.  People looked me in the eye at that church. They shook my hand. They welcomed me even though I was a 25 year old single female coming to church alone. One Sunday rolled into several Sundays and then suddenly I started volunteering.  I felt like an impostor and feared that soon the truth of my background would be found out and they wouldn’t allow me to attend. Feeling the need to “out” myself I met with the pastor one on one.  I fought back tears as I explained to him my Jewish mother, my mixed heritage – I knew he was going to tell me that I could never return until I had been properly baptized. I held my breath.  And then the most amazing thing happened, he smiled, and he said this to me, “Every person has to walk their own spiritual journey and I can only meet you where you are at. Come when you want to come. Volunteer when you feel the calling and when you are ready for more I am here. Until then, you are welcome at our church.”

I moved to Texas and met David. I was still a non-believer, still unbaptized, and still a sinner.  Then the second most amazing thing happened – he fell in love with me anyway.  Unlike the parents of my boyfriends before, my in-laws loved me too. They didn’t discourage David from dating me because I was a non-believer, instead they encouraged me on my faith journey – they respected my religious heritage and background. They embraced me as a child of God, inherently good and already forgiven of my sins.

David and I were married in my first church home in Brighton Michigan in 2000.  Five years later David and I would be baptized – TOGETHER – for David a recommitment, for me a first commitment.

Up to this point this story has probably seemed like a happy tale of redemption and the testimony of God’s love but it isn’t. It is a story about the pain, desolation and sinfulness of judgement.  Because when I look at this story I see hundreds of missed opportunities of discipleship. I see people so buried underneath their “Christian” beliefs that they no longer see the children of God but instead see categories of people – the believers and the non-believers, the sinners and the saved, the right and the wrong, the accepted and the abomination.

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5

Everyday I see Christians building fortresses – concentric circles of believers in an effort to never have their children or themselves interact with non-believers — with sinners – in case the non-believing might wear off.  As if their faith is so fragile that it couldn’t withstand the questions or challenges of a non-believer.

I’m sure many of you are saying, “but I do love everybody, even non-believers.” How many of your children are friends with children who are non-believers? When was the last time you invited a non-believer over to your house? When was the last time you told your children they could date anybody, unless of course they weren’t Christian? It is easy to play disciple to those who already believe – to those who are already baptized – but God doesn’t ask us to do that.

“When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Mark 2:17

Judgement, my friends, is a slippery rock to hatred and too many Christians like to throw stones from the fortress of judgement.

This is my challenge; seek out a new friend, a non-believer – don’t judge them, don’t change them, don’t invite them out of pity, or out of a desire to show them the “right” way to live.  Instead I ask that you love them. Love this non-believer as the child of God that they are and see the powerful transformation that can happen in the lives of people when all you do is share the love God has given you.

“Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.” Matthew 9:10


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A Mother’s Day Battle

We learn how to be a mother from our own mothers. Everything from the simple, how to kiss a boo-boo to serving up tough love is all first taught to us through example. Our mother teaches us about love, nurturing, and kindness.

My grandmother was the product of war and oppression – an immigrant who fled her own country out of fear. Who witnessed atrocities of injustice and inhumanity at the young age of 8.  These tragic events created a woman, who in her own turn, transferred those fears and anger onto her own child.  My mother, out of the strongest of desires to not repeat the errors of her mother, went in the opposite direction.

My mother didn’t know about unconditional love, safety, fearlessness or warmth but she did her best to give my siblings and I that very kind of childhood.  A childhood from the pages of a magazine. We had homemade costumes, and cookies. She hosted themed parties that would rival anything you saw on Pinterest. She packed lunches and drove us to activities, and helped with homework and hired tutors and attended concerts and ALWAYS picked up the phone. My friends would often collect at my home and tell me that they wished my mother was their mother.

For 37 years my mother held her emotional breath – not allowing any of the negative thinking or abuse seep out of her mouth or her behavior. She held it in. All of it. The pain, her mother’s voice, the negative cloud of her own upbringing was kept sharply at bay until all of her three children left the house.

My mother has grown weary of fighting the demons. She has faltered and now they nip at her heels — they crowd her.

As a mother myself now – sometimes struggling with the right things to say or do for my kids. Hearing words come from my mouth that I wish I could take back – seeing and doing things that I wish I hadn’t done I can’t help but admire my mother even more.

How did she do it? How did she fight her most basic nature for so long? How did she not allow those demons to pass?

My mother spent several days in the hospital this week – she’s older, more frail, her weaknesses all raw and exposed. Her nerves frayed and easily agitated.  But I think I admire her more now than I ever have. It is in her weakest moments, when the demons raise their heads,  that I recognize the strength that she carried for so long.  The battle that she waged within herself.

And I want her to know, on this Mother’s Day, that she won.  I know she hurts and has regrets and I know all that pain is with her everyday now.  But she raised three children who know about unconditional love, and kindness and charity and nurturing and friendship. And we in turn are raising seven children who are growing in love and kindness and charity.  So perhaps her life was sacrificial, but those same demons will no longer follow our family line. They have been stopped. She might have lost her own personal fight, but she won the war.

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Love Letter To Millenials

Dear Millenials,

You have unwittingly launched a societal hand-wringing over the future. Generation X, Generation Y, the Baby Boomers — they all feel that you are the harbingers of doom. That your generation will be the cause of our demise.  You are selfish. You have a sense of entitlement. You don’t believe in hard work.  Well, at least that is what all the “experts” are telling us.

I disagree.

I spend approximately 12 hours a week with millenials and I’ve grown to love you. To respect you and I’m excited about how you will change society.

It is not that you don’t believe in hard work, it is that you believe in balance.  You don’t believe that success should come at the sacrifice of everything else in your life.

It is not that you are selfish (well, no more than any other 20 year old) it is that you are used to being in a world with social media where at any moment the spotlight can be focused on you.

You are not entitled, you expect and demand more from society. You demand better work/life balance. You demand equal treatment between the genders. You demand fairness among the races and have little tolerance for digressions.

You also are scared of the future. You are worried that you will have a job. You are worried that you will keep a job. You are worried about the environment. You are worried about your food. You are worried that the political system is broken.

You live at home not because you want Mom & Dad to take care of you but because the cost of school is so high you can’t afford to live outside of the home. You work a part time job and go to school full time. You work over the summers. You take internships and mentorships and volunteer at a surprising rate.

What I love most about you is your belief that you CAN change things. That you will force the world to bend under your will. That things like peace, equality, and tolerance are achievable goals. My generation is filled with skeptics and cynics and non-believers – a whole generation that “gave up” on the system.  But YOU – you bright faced millenials are the cock-eyed optimists that we need right now. You are the face of good things to come.

I love you.


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Annual Birthday Wishes

I have just completed the last party of the birthday season. I have gotten in the habit of writing a blog post every year acknowledging the fleeting time that I have with my children, acknowledging their blossoming personalities.

Dear Lucy,

This year has been one of metamorphosis for you – both physically and emotionally.  About a year ago you began having panic attacks. These panic attacks grew increasingly more frequent until we – you, Dad and myself, agreed to seek outside help.  Mental illness runs long in our family and I saw the signs of an anxiety disorder early. While some people have criticized our decision for early intervention I don’t regret it. I don’t regret it because I’ve watched you blossom under the guidance and wisdom of these outside helpers.  And I could not be more proud of you.  You have embraced every offer of help, every book, every piece of advice, every technique. As a result you have become MIGHTY and STRONG. You faced your fears, and demons and you beat them.

And my darling girl, I want you to remember that. I want you to forever remember that at 10 years old you were strong enough to face your irrational fears and beat them back into submission. Because some day those fears are going to feel bigger and stronger than you can imagine and I want you to pull from this tree of strength that you planted this year and blossom. I want you stand in the warmth and sunlight of your inner courage.


Dear Max,

Your growth sneaks up on me every year. Every year you get bigger and more grown up and I watch in wonder and sadness. This year you really began to shed your “little boy” appearance. You’ve grown tall and muscular. Your speech is clear, your thoughts more complex.

I have relished in our bedtime routine which has evolved into nightly reading. We’ve read the first five books of The Percy Jackson Series and have now begun the next series. We have shared thousands and thousands of pages.  We have discussed characters and settings and what we think will happen next and what we hope.  Every night you call down for me to come up and read a chapter and by the soft glow of night lights we share another world. A world that only you and I are allowed.

Please, don’t ever leave me alone in that special world sweet boy. You will grow more independent of me, need me less, but I want us to always have that special world that we have so meticulously built together.

Dear Harper,

Who are you? Where did you come from? At times you are a complete mystery to me. I don’t see hints of my personality or Daddy’s. You are your own person – a gift that I wonder at.  You turned 5 this year – but the number is irrelevant because you like to run with the big kids. Anything they can do, you can do better – and nobody, and I mean NOBODY can say “no” to you. It is not part of your vocabulary.  You are self-sufficient in all things except one…….you refuse to go to the bathroom by yourself. EVER.  I’m writing this down now because someday you will have your own children and one of them will refuse to be potty trained and you will be frustrated and when you call me to complain I will laugh at you. I will laugh and laugh and laugh and then I will say, “God is just”.

However, I am wallowing in your childhood. I snuggle you and bend to your whim because you are my last. Do I spoil you? Probably. Do I care? Nope. I still love the way your breath smells in the morning and I still nibble on your toes and I will until it seems weird.  I sit in wonderment of you and most days I just shake my head and shrug my shoulders at the amazing person standing in front of me.

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Ebola: No Truth To Be Found

As David left for work this morning I shouted, “Have a good day! Don’t catch ebola!” We both laughed but living in the suburbs of Dallas – ground zero for ebola in the United States – it is a weak laugh.  Friends and family have asked if I’m worried and I suppose I’m less nervous than some, more than others. I work at a university with a heavy international population so I’m probably at a bit more risk than some but not as much as a nurse or health care provider.

The real problem though is the lack of truth. Depending on who, or where or what you read, the truth about ebola is ever changing and that is the problem. A problem that is infecting our democracy, our political system and our society.

If you think that the ebola outbreak is nothing to worry about then you could read this article in the New York Daily News, or this piece in the New York Times, or this article from Forbes news which clearly state that there are far larger threats than ebola and that we are all over reacting.

However, if you think ebola is a huge problem and that the CDC is doing a horribly botched job of handling it then I suggest this article from USA Today, which states that the situation is far worse than we can imagine or this article from Forbes (which counters their other article).

If you think ebola is just a political football that both parties are using to control the upcoming elections than you could refer to this article from NPR or this piece from MSNBC.

And it is this very moving target of absolute truth that is the scariest thing of all, because we have dissolved into a country not based on facts but on opinions.  Even something as cut and dry as science has now become open to debate.  With each citizen feeling the need to voice and defend their opinion there are no universal truths behind which we all stand.  A friend recently told me that China will be the next super power because they have a billion people who all think and believe the same thing and Americans can’t even agree on what color the sky is.

We no longer watch the news, but instead gravitate to the information source that supports and justifies our already existing opinions. We don’t challenge our own thinking but instead look for ways to support it.  This idea that we are all individually correct in our opinions and can point to an article to prove it does not make us well informed but instead makes us mindless sheep who fear everything that is new and different from ourselves and that is the most frightening thing of all.


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Fears & Failings

I started speech therapy in second grade.  We lived in Seattle Washington at the time – the land of perpetual green trees and misty rain.  I had a lisp, and I couldn’t say my “r” sounds.  I would continue in speech therapy until sixth grade.  Seeing a speech pathologist way past the time that most of my friends had moved on and had mastered speaking. To this day there are still words or sound combinations that hang me up – “hamburger” is my personal nemesis or “calvary” – forget it – I can’t say it.  The legacy of struggling to communicate orally was the source of  my passion for the written word and a desire to prove to the world that I was smarter than I sounded. That the words that came out of my mouth were in fact not a reflection of my intellect.

Your greatest hope as a parent is that your children won’t face the same struggles that you faced. The amount of time I have spent praying that my children will be smart and that they won’t have speech problems is countless. When Max started showing signs of a stutter my heart broke.  There was my only son picking up the journey where I had left off.  Struggling to communicate, grasping to achieve at school, knowing he was smarter than people thought. Max has made much faster progress than I did. He has faced his stutter with courage, embraced his struggle, and is improving by leaps and bounds.  I suspect he will be done with speech therapy by the end of this school year – a whole five years earlier than myself.

Today I came across this TED talk from a singer in Sydney Australia.

I’ve never experienced the frustration and uncertainty of a “fluency” issue but there on that stage stood my son. On that stage stood me and I couldn’t help but shed tears of acknowledgement.


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