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Time Flies When You’re Having Fun.

Time has felt so strange this past year. I can hardly believe that I’m almost through my first year of teaching, yet is also feels like I’ve been at this vocation for years. When I look back through my lesson plans and all we’ve covered in class, it seems like a full years’ worth! But, time has flown by too. I suppose the old adage applies: “Times flies when you’re having fun!”

For the first several months, I had a constant, low-level of anxiety all the time. There was always something I needed to study and understand in time for an approaching class! Sometime around mid-March, I felt myself settle in and relax a bit. Even though there was still a lot of class content to study and master, I was now familiar with the process and could work smarter to prepare lessons.

During this school year, I’ve moved along a spectrum from perfectionism to surrender, over and over again. It goes something like this: I make a mistake in class or don’t feel as prepared as I would like, so I start berating myself. I then get anxious and try to understand everything before the next class (which is impossible); my mind gets jumpy and I feel disconnected from the process of learning. The feeling of being “in my head” and listening to my inner critique is a great indicator that I’m striving to do and be more than God intends.

So, then I pray… and pray… and breathe. I pray for a growth mindset and to accept my limitations as a human being. I pray to see myself rightly: as a first year teacher who is working hard and trying her best. I ask the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts, my studying, and even specifically my lesson plan ideas!

It’s still typical for me to feel nervous before a class, but an amazing thing happens when I’m well prepared and my students enter the classroom. I’ll ask them how they’re doing and we’ll start chatting either individually or as a whole class, and I instantly engage and don’t feel anxious anymore. I love connecting with the students and getting to know them is the best part of teaching. As the year has progressed, my enjoyment and comfort has been directly related to how well I know my students. I’m not teaching a class of 14 to 16 random students, they are individual people that I know well.

Last weekend, I had about 25 essays to carefully edit and grade for my ninth graders. Before starting, I prayed a lot about the work ahead of me and the attitude I wanted to take toward this marathon of work. Each essay takes me about 45-50 minutes to edit and provide comments. I prayed that I would approach this task with a servant’s heart so I would give each students the feedback they needed to grow.

As I engaged in this work, it felt so different from my experience editing essays the first semester. It occurred to me that I know my students much better now than I did then. So, I connected more deeply to the feeling of editing Jane’s essay, Jonny’s essay, Logan’s essay, etc. My feedback was more customized to their growth, which made it more meaningful and inspiring for me.

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week! Students and parents wrote sweet notes and gave little gifts all week long. I sat down to read through all my notes this weekend and they were delightful. My favorites were from students who told me how they experience class and me as a teacher! It’s hard to see yourself clearly, so this encouragement meant so much.

Once the school year is over and I have time to process it all (and time to write!) I will share my learnings from this year. I may be the teacher, but learning is a lifelong adventure and this year taught me abundantly.

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Your Life is Not Your Own

On Friday morning I went for a walk and enjoyed some solitude and prayer before school. Thinking ahead to my day, a prayer of thanksgiving spontaneously filled my heart: “Lord, thank you so much for this work that so deeply fulfills my interests…” then I added, “… those interests that you also gave me in the first place and then nurtured all these years!”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how everything we receive in this life is a gift from God. Our homes, our food, our shelter, our families, our friends, our opportunities, our skills, our intelligence… none of it is something we can take credit for! It’s a gift from God. This realization brings incredible peace, gratitude, and a desire to use those gifts to God’s glory.

Recently Mateo played in a championship basketball game with his rec team. Their team had already won all their regular season games and first playoff game! As usual, he was nervous before the game so we said a prayer. I didn’t plan to say what came out of my mouth: “Lord, thank you for the wonderful team Teo has enjoyed this season. Thank you for his athletic gifts, which you’ve given him. Please help him to go out and use those gifts to play the game for your glory. We know that, win or lose, nothing that truly matters in life changes. Thank you for your son Jesus and his redeeming grace in our life. Amen.” Mateo went into the game feeling a lot less nervous.

On the topic of basketball, Teo was selected for the All Star team, with games this past Saturday. We’d been planning our annual “NCAA Date” which always falls on the first Saturday of the tournament. We (especially Teo!) were looking forward to heading downtown to watch games together and relive Dennis and my first “date”. Teo decided he didn’t want to play in the All Star league, so he opted out.

Dennis and I had eye doctor appointments on Saturday morning. We love our eye doctor (Dennis has been going to him for almost 30 years!) and usually make a special trip down to Hillcrest on a Saturday for our check-ups. Also, I’d just learned that a beloved member of our old church had passed away, just a couple months shy of her 102nd birthday! Grace Lutheran is just a couple blocks from our eye doctor, and her funeral was yesterday too.

So, Dennis and I spent the morning at the eye doctor and then attended a beautiful memorial service. With my recent eye health requiring extra retinal specialty care, we hadn’t seen our eye doctor for awhile. Turns out, he’s been going through some hard times and shared them with us. Our eye check-ups turned into something more precious and beautiful as we held space for our friend to share his pain. We didn’t know that God intended to use us to minister to someone he loves, but we felt honored to be there.

We didn’t know Lorna very well, but we’d been church family for nearly a decade. The kids and I participated in her “drive-by” 100th birthday celebration back in May, 2020. At her funeral, we contemplated her long life of devotion to God, sang the hymns she chose, including “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and saw sweet friends that we’ve missed from Grace. We experienced another layer of healing from our decision to switch churches with the wonderful realization that we could certainly visit more often and maintain the sweet relationships we have at Grace.

Yesterday felt like such a gift. We chose to do some things that people don’t typically choose to do: listen to someone share their pain and voluntarily go to a funeral. But, both of these things were immensely meaningful. We connected with people in moments that truly matter in life.

In some way, the deeper realization that God has given me everything I need creates a sense of responsibility to do what he calls me to do. My life is not my own. He’s the creator and I’m just one of billions of his creatures! Surrendering to this beautiful reality gives me peace to prioritize moments of service, connection, and love in a world that often tells us to do just the opposite.

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Compassion and Transformation

Some years ago, my dear friend Christina gave me a book for Christmas called Barking at the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Fr. Gregory Boyle. I was captivated by the story this Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries told about the years he has spent ministering to gang members in Los Angeles. Turns out, it was his second book, so I eagerly added his first: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion to my “to read” list.

As reading serendipity would have it, a few years passed as my “to read” list grew and grew and I didn’t get around to reading Tattoos on the Heart. Last Saturday, Dennis and I had a date to the library to find history books for background studying for my second semester. Tattoos on the Heart caught my eye. I started reading it right then and was captivated again.

So many stories in this book brought tears to my eyes. Fr. Gregory’s compassion and affection for the young men he has come alongside is so moving. Here’s one story that touched my heart:

I had a twenty-three-year old homie named Miguel working for me on our graffiti crew. As with a great many of our workers, I had met him years earlier while he wad detained. He was an extremely nice kid, whose pleasantness was made all the move remarkable by the fact that he had been completely abandoned by his family. Prior to their rejection of him, they had mistreated, abused, and scarred him plenty. He calls me one New Year’s Day. “Happy New Year, G.”

“Hey, that’s very thoughtful of ya, dog,” I say. “You know, Miguel, I was thinkin’ of ya – you know, on Christmas. So, what ya do for Christmas?” I asked knowing that he had no family to welcome him in.

“Oh, you know, I was right here,” meaning his tiny little apartment, where he lives alone.

“All by yourself?” I ask.

“Oh no,” he quickly says, “I invited homies from the crew – you know, vatos like me who didn’t had no place to go for Christmas.”

He names the five homies who came over – all former enemies from rival gangs.

“Really,” I tell him, “that sure was nice of you.”

But he’s got me revved and curious now. “So,” I ask him, “what did you do?”

“Well,” he says, “you’re not gonna believe this… but… I cooked a turkey.” You can feel his pride right through the phone….

I said, “Wow, that’s impressive. What else did you have besides the turkey?”

“Just that. Just turkey,” he says. His voice tapers to a hush. “Yeah. The six of us, we just sat there, staring at the oven, waiting for the turkey to be done.”

One would be hard-pressed to imagine something more sacred and ordinary that these six orphans staring at the oven together….

Not long after this, I give Miguel a ride home after work. I had long been curious about Miguel’s own certain resilience. When we arrive at his apartment, I say, “Can I ask you a question? How do you do it? I mean, given all you’ve been through – all the pain and stuff you’ve suffered – how are you like the way you are?”

I genuinely want to know and Miguel has his answer at the ready. “You know, I always suspected that there was something of goodness in me, but I just couldn’t find it. Until one day,” – he quiets a bit – “one day, I discovered it here, in my heart. I found it… goodness. And ever since that day, I have always known who I was.” He pauses, caught short by his own truth, (reteaching loveliness) and turns and looks at me. “And now, nothing can touch me.”

Most of Fr. Gregory’s work is simply loving these young gang members who have experienced much pain, shame, and violence in their lives. Returning men and women to the goodness that God has put in their heart is his life’s work. It’s so inspiring to read these stories of compassion and the transformational work God can do through love.

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Fridays.

Fridays are my favorite in this season of life. For many reasons…

First of all, I feel accomplished and content having completed my lesson planning for the week! I only teach my Advisory Group and one period of 9th grade History, at the end of the day on Fridays. This last week, I felt so engaged, relaxed, and connected with my students as we discussed the consequences of the Black Death/bubonic plague in 14th century Europe and then played a card game to simulate the spread of the plague. They played along wonderfully and I soaked up the fun teenage energy on a Friday afternoon!

I enjoyed little moments of connection with several students, talking about figure skating, witty expressions, and the Senior Night Basketball games the day before. Typically when students leave the classroom, there are a few who say “Thank you, Mrs. Bonilla!” This last Friday, it was a chorus of “thanks yous” as the students left the classroom, and I was moved by the tenderness of the moment.

The main reason Fridays are my favorite right now is the routine Sienna and I have of going for a late afternoon drive. During the pandemic, when there wasn’t much to do, the kids and I started taking long drives through the back roads of Rancho Santa Fe to Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. It’s a beautiful drive through exquisite houses and horse ranches with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean at the end!

Mateo’s sports practice schedule has helped facilitate our drives. His coach is a parent at our school, so he purposely schedules practices on Fridays, to avoid conflicting with the heavy homework load! Dennis and Teo hang out on Fridays after school while Sienna and I grab our Starbucks treats and go for our drive.

Sienna is 14 years old and, right on time, has discovered the joys of pop music. On our drives she plays DJ and introduces me to new songs. I’ve been an Ed Sheeran fan and she loves him too! Lately she’s discovered Ruth B., Ariana Grande, The Weekend and Justin Bieber. I’ve definitely thought “What are kids listening to these days?!” on occasion, but generally I’m enjoying the music. It’s very insightful to hear what she’s listening to and it opens up conversation about lyrics that may not be totally appropriate.

These times, alone with my sweet daughter, are so precious. During the week, she likes to keep a healthy distance from her mom at school. Our agreement is, in exchange for giving her space at school, I get to hug and cuddle her at home whenever I want! (Kind of.) Honestly, we are both quite busy during the school week, so catching up on Fridays feels particularly special.

Lately it feels like I’m watching the kids grow and change right before my eyes. The more I sit back and listen, the more Sienna shares (or, as she says, “talks my ear off”)! Listening to her explore ideas, consider how she behaves, and generally contemplate life is such a joy. Hopefully our Friday drives will be a steady routine through her teen years.

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Accepting My Limits, at Christmas and Throughout the Year

At the beginning of Christmas break, I prayed repeatedly for God to grant me peace and presence to enjoy the holidays with my family and prepare well for the return to school for the last three weeks of the semester.  Knowing myself, I didn’t want pressure to work on school prep to steal my attention away from the joyful moments of Christmas celebration.

Two days after Christmas, as I continued to battle a nasty cold that left me voiceless and tired, I realized that God had answered my prayers!  Ironically, illness had stripped away my constant striving for productivity and cleared my schedule. It quieted all the “shoulds” that typically echo in my mind as I accepted my condition and allowed myself to rest. Gratefully, we made it to Christmas Eve’s Lessons and Carols celebration at church, though my coughing kept me from singing very much. 

Christmas morning, my cold was at it’s worse. My throat and ears hurt. I couldn’t summon up much enthusiasm for my stocking stuffers and asked my family to forgive my reactions!  But, in that moment, I prayed again. Lord, help me to accept how I’m feeling and be present with my family today. Help me remember that the blessings of Christmas abound far beyond today and just rest if your grace.

The inclination to have unhelpful thoughts such as, “I hate that I feel so sick on Christmas morning!” is a very normal, human reaction.  We build up a day or an event and want it to live up to our expectations.  But we’re not in control of so many factors, including how our body feels on any given day.  Letting those thoughts guide my spirit would only make me feel worse.

I am so grateful for these little moments of stillness and contemplation of what is most important.  Our Christmas was cozy. We played with our rambunctious puppy, watched movies, and said prayers of thanksgiving for the birth of our Savior in Bethlehem all those years ago.  I had just enough energy to make Christmas dinner and my family was compassionate all day.  Sienna kept looking at me with concern, asking: “Mom, how are you feeling?”

All this unscheduled time at home has led to a lot of interesting studying in preparation for units on the Peloponnesian War and the Magna Carta when school resumes in January.  Rather than feeling stressed to fit in work over the break, I’ve had fun curiously studying these topics. The fact that I didn’t have much else to do just provided extra motivation to study! 

This has been an intense season of learning and growth as I teach history (to teenagers!) for the first time.  It’s hard and humbling and fun and fulfilling. I’ve been praying for peace and presence over and over again.  God truly gives me the energy and focus I need, when I get out of my own way and cease striving to do it all and do it all perfectly. Admitting my limits and therefore not expecting unreasonable performance helps me remember how needy I am for the grace and guidance of Jesus, our beloved manger king. 

Merry Christmas!

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Embracing my smallness…

Going into this season of life, I expected that my inner critique would be triggered by the stress and uncertainty of starting to teach for the first time. After over 16 years of working at the same company, I’d experienced a level of familiarity and comfort that brought routine and ease into my life.

Doing something so different is exciting! But, it’s also unsettling, disorienting, anxiety-producing, and a minefield of possible mistakes. When you’ve spent so much of your life trying to do things right it’s overwhelming to voluntarily put yourself in a situation where you’re undoubtedly going to do things wrong!

I could start writing about how a growth mindset transforms the statement above into an opportunity instead of something to dread; and it does. But, this ability of mine to reframe everything so that it sounds good and right again, doesn’t actually allow me to feel my feelings and be authentically in the hard stuff. So, I’ll resist the temptation…

I told my advisor yesterday that I’m experiencing a familiar feeling from my days in graduate school. It’s the sense that there’s always something that needs to be read or studied. Even if I’m “caught up” there’s always another book or topic waiting for a lesson plan that needs to be written soon. Teaching new curriculum is a universally overwhelming experience, I’m told. So, there’s comfort in that!

My inner critique voice tells me several unhelpful things about this constant stream of studying, but the most common is: I don’t have time to study everything I need to on this topic. Now, I know full well that no one expects me to know “everything” but my inner critique apparently doesn’t understand the basic limitations of time and human frailty.

When my mind is spinning these unhelpful and uncompassionate stories, I know the only way through is to pray, rest, and trust in God’s provision and faithfulness to me. He knows my frailty and limitations and sent an answer in his son Jesus. Coming back to dependence on Christ reframes my perspective in the most beautiful way. I’m called to model grace, forgiveness and virtue to my students as I connect with them. Allowing myself to receive grace is the best preparation for the work he’s called me to do.

… in my smallness, I find rest, quiet, comfort. Trusting that his provision, not my striving will accomplish His will.” – Sally Clarkson

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A New Meaning of Confidence

Last night I enjoyed a lovely FaceTime call with my dad and stepmom as we caught up on life and we talked about my big transition to becoming a teacher. I shared an experience from back in late August that gave me rich insight into my self-perception.

At the House Retreat, we played a game where everyone sits in a circle of chairs and the House Master calls out certain characteristics, like “Birthday is in July” or “Plays an instrument” – something like that. Then, if the statement applies to you, you jump up and take a chair that’s been vacated by others who also fit the description. Towards the end of the game, the statement was “Is a runner” and I was the only person who got up. As I stood there, I felt a little silly and instantly thought, Well, I’m kind of a runner.

I’d never had such a clear experience of what people call “imposter syndrome” and it was fascinating. By all empirical reasoning, I AM a runner. I typically run about 20 miles per week and have completed several half-marathons and one full marathon. Running it a big part of my life and I love it. Why then did I not identify as “a runner”?

A week or so later, I was at school one morning and noticed an anxious thought: I don’t feel confident. I should feel more like a confident teacher. Quickly, I reframed my thoughts: Really?!? It’s your second week of teaching, Kels. Why would you feel confident already?

Then it hit me. I’ve been running regularly for about 15 years and, on some level, I don’t “feel” like a runner. Maybe what I’m actually doing is more important than what my inner voice tells me about my identify.

As I shared this all with my dad and Moni, my dad had a great insight for me. He asked, “Do you know the Latin roots in the word confident?” With some prompting, I recognized that “con” means “with” and “-fident” comes from the word fidelis which means “faithfulness”. Thank you Marine Corp motto! Dad went on to explain how it works as a legal description of holding someone’s information in “confidence” or “with faithfulness”.

I LOVE this reframing of the word confident! Instead of trying to feel self-assured, being a confident teacher could mean approaching my teaching vocation with faithfulness.

In the best moments over the past several weeks, I’ve been focused on connecting with my students and engaging with interesting historical information. In other words, I’m fully present in “doing” the activities of teaching instead of analyzing and judging how I feel about my performance as a teacher.

Words have power. Our mind’s ability to fuse with words dramatically changes our experience. Praying for confidence takes on an entirely new and richer meaning when it means acting with faithfulness. Amen!

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Gabriel’s Oboe

In one of my favorite movies, The Holiday, Jack Black’s character tells Kate Winslet’s character about the amazing soundtrack from the film The Mission. It was a scene I watched over and over but never thought much about the composer that’s specifically mentioned: Morricone.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of studying and often need to drown out the noise of my family or students (in my shared office/classroom). I’m listening to classical music on Amazon Music and Pandora daily at this point and have discovered many beautiful songs. My favorite though is Yo-Yo Ma’s performance of Gabriel’s Oboe which is from The Mission and was composed by Ennio Morricone.

Take a few moments to appreciate this beautiful song… Enjoy!

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The Messy Middle

I suppose I knew life would feel unsettled during my first year of teaching. That’s totally to be expected, right? I don’t have any established and practiced routines for lesson planning. Everything is new to me: taking attendance, classroom routines, software programs, you name it.

But, my ability to suppress unwanted feelings is incredibly strong. It’s a gift, really. I’m able to reframe situations and circumstances so I don’t feel the anxiety of the unknown, for awhile anyway. This typically takes the form of avoidance of reality. Then the ensuing panic hits and I hit my knees in prayer as I recognize my control strategy has backfired.

The irony isn’t lost on me. While I love history and enjoy the process of studying and preparing lessons, my desire to teach well combined with inexperience triggers anxiety. However, when I’m able to make room for my feelings of anxiety and engage in the work, both with students and the preparation beforehand, wonderful feelings of joy and purpose pour in!

First Day of School – August 25, 2021

My mindfulness strategies from The Happiness Trap have served me very well lately. Likewise, lessons about embracing a growth mindset, which our school deeply values. The harsh inner voice that whispers that I’m not capable, don’t know enough, or will not measure up gets louder in times of stress and anxiety. Being able to accept these feelings and defuse these thoughts allows me to fully connect to the present moment. Then, in the present moment I can connect with my students, the class content, and whatever needs my attention. I then make room for growth: for them and for me.

God has equipped me for this vocation, in this place, for this time. When I rest in this truth and trust that God will daily provide for my needs, the harsh inner voice gets a lot quieter. God isn’t asking me to be a perfect teacher. He doesn’t expect me to confidently know what I’m doing in my first full week of classes! My job is simply to use the gifts he’s given me and the passion he’s put in my heart to engage in teaching his beloved children.

At lunch after church today, I shared my feelings of anxiety with Dennis, Sienna and Mateo. Getting out of my head by talking about these feelings brought such relief. I needed to be honest with myself and my family by saying aloud that I would be working a lot this year. I want to study and be well prepared for teaching. It’s not a burden, but a gift. This vocation is what I’ve prayed about for years. Growing in my skills as a teacher will take devotion and effort, but it’s so worth it. They were completely supportive and tears prickled my eyes as I realized, once again, that I can ask for help and rely on my family for support.

So, this is where I am right now. In the messy middle of learning, growing, engaging, and praying.

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My Constant Companion for 28 Years

Today is the 28th anniversary of my diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes. Thanks to Facebook, I had the opportunity to review my many postings each July 27th over the past ten years. Exactly a decade ago I celebrated 18 years of living with diabetes and shared my joy of being complication free. Today at 28 years, I’ve now dealt with my first complication: diabetic retinopathy. Though difficult at times, I’m now familiar with the laser treatment and it’s not so scary.

Diabetes is a constant companion in my daily life. Whatever else is going on, each day I test my blood about ten times, deliver an injection of long-acting insulin, calculate and inject fast-acting insulin for meals, and gauge my activities from exercise to water consumption based on blood sugar management needs.

Fortunately, I tend to enjoy routine (and diabetes loves routine!). Also, I’ve long ago resigned myself to eating healthfully and enduring the blood sugar results when I choose to indulge! So, while diabetes is relentless in its presence, I don’t find it particularly bothersome. Most of the time.

So, on this anniversary, I’m going to focus on my precious life as I celebrate that diabetes hasn’t adversely impacted in (much) over the past 28 years.

I’ve been in a huge period of transition the past couple months! My last day at CBIZ was June 11th and my family promptly hit the road for our annual Northern California trip just two days later. Dennis, me, Sienna, and Mateo left our sweet dog Claira in the care of neighbors and drove up to Dennis’s hometown of Marysville first. We spent a few days relaxing with family and our dear friend John, including a fun day in Old Town Sacramento before the high heat hit. Next we spent two nights at my cousin Pam’s horse ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It’s was lovely to visit and get the kids on horses, even though the heat was oppressive! Finally, we traded the hot temperatures for Humboldt fog as we enjoyed a couple weeks with my family. Dennis and I spent most of the trip at our family ranch, making daytrips into town for activities.

Having this prolonged trip away provided a great transition period for me to adjust to life without a corporate job and time to embrace my new vocation as student and teacher. For the first week or so, I experienced this nagging feeling that there was something on my phone I needed to check. I realized that it was my old CBIZ email that was giving me these phantom pangs of responsibility. Instead of responding to inquiries and solving a seemingly endless string of management issues, my job was now to read a huge stack of historical texts.

While on vacation at the ranch, I got to finish a book on the Byzantine empire and start one on the Peloponnesian War while sitting by the pool. “I can’t believe this is my job right now!” I kept exclaiming to Dennis who lovingly sat beside me with a book for hours at a time. During this season we also enjoyed watching our Phoenix Suns in the NBA playoffs. They had a great run which was really fun for us!

Back home, I’ve been able to embrace my scholarly life and am learning the rhythms of my body (i.e. reading between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm is impossible!) so I can structure my days efficiently. Dennis and I had about 10 days at home sans children as Sienna and Mateo stayed up in Humboldt with family before my mom (aka Gaga) brought them home in the middle of July. During that stretch, we had a lovely ladies reunion with my friend Melinda and I got a lot of studying done. When Gaga and the kids got back, we had fun shopping for “school clothes” for me and exploring San Diego in the summer time between study sessions. Next week starts full-time training on campus and I’m so excited to dig in!

Several years ago, I realized that one thing I never prayed about was my diabetes. I quickly changed that and started praying for God’s wisdom and guidance when blood sugar management became overwhelming. Through God’s grace in teaching me acceptance, my perspective on diabetes has become more flexible. I can see how routines and habits can be helpful for a season and then need to be adjusted as life or my body changes. I expect there will be some diabetes routine tweaks in order as the school years begins and my daily life looks different.

Sienna asked me the other day if I would tell my students about my diabetes. I paused, since I hadn’t considered it at all yet. Considering my desire to be open and transparent I replied, “Yes, I definitely will”. I want to be authentically present to my students and diabetes has been a part of me for 28 years.

Diabetes is a constant companion and it will be along for the ride as I start this next chapter of life.