Welcome to the third episode of Picking Poppies. If this is your first time reading a Picking Poppies post, please check out the very first episode, to provide context! Essentially, this post is a continuation in a series that strives to place emphasis on living with intention, and always showing love and kindness. To continue the legacy of Ayden Nicole, our little girl in heaven.
I’m just going to dive right into a story I want to share with you all for this month’s post.
The other day one of my 11th grade students asked me why I decided to teach English. She had heard that I originally wanted to teach math. I dodged the question, told her it was a really personal story, and I’d tell her another time. The next day, the same student wouldn’t let it go. I have no idea what possessed her to do so, but she pleaded for me to tell the story. The other 27 students in the room suddenly expressed interest, and so we struck a deal. I’d tell them my story, if in turn they would humor me and work hard the rest of class (yeah, because there is a way to enforce that). They agreed. I made the mistake of saying, “I’ll tell you the watered-down version.” The protested vehemently, begging for the honest truth. So, I left nothing out.
My hands started shaking, my voice was cracking, my heart was pounding. And I told them the story.
I told them how I was supposed to teach math. I told them how I was really good at math, and had taken math classes through calculus 3, and got 4.0 in all of them. I had 3 weeks left in my final course in my Master’s program before starting my student teaching. I was all set. Math teachers are in short supply. I would be able to get a job anywhere.
I told them how 3 weeks before finishing that last course, I was pregnant and I went in for my 20 week ultrasound, when we received a terminal diagnosis for our daughter.
I told them how my daughter passed away, and I lost large portions of my memory. I told them how I couldn’t remember math anymore. Not even basic algebra or geometry. So many memories, completely vanished from my mind. And I lost my ability to think. I could sit and stare at nothing for endless amounts of time. I would have no idea if I had had a real conversation with someone, or if I’d only thought it. I had a hard time distinguishing between reality and what I had imagined in my mind.
I told them how during that time, starting at the time of my little girl’s diagnosis, I had begun to write. I wrote as a way of coping. A way to express what I was feeling, a way to navigate through the most difficult and confusing time of my life. I started writing and I never stopped.
And then I told them how I had decided that if writing had been a powerful, healing tool for me, I wanted to teach others how to use writing as a tool. I told them that if at the end of my career, if I look back and can think of even just one single student who was able to use writing as a way of healing, a way of navigating, a way of becoming a better person, a way of learning how to survive this life, that every minute of my career would be worth it. Even if it only helped one student in that way.
I’d never had 28 students be so quiet for so long. They hung on every word. And then, in that moment, I changed the rest of my lesson for the day. I asked them to get out their notebooks, and write about a memory they have that is important to them. I told them they could take that any direction they wanted.
And all of the sudden, 28 students sat in complete silence and wrote, and wrote, and wrote.
At one point, I was sitting on the floor of my classroom, which was still full of students, reading their stories, their memories, pieces of their lives, doing everything I could not to break down into a sobbing mess as I read pages and pages of their memories. Hard memories. Memories that they had not ever shared before. Memories that have shaped them, haunted them. And good memories. Funny memories. But all memories that made them who they are. And I sat there, so humbled, that they were willing to share these memories with me. That they were willing to trust me with their memories. It is a gift. A true gift to be able to see into their lives in such a powerful and meaningful way.
Eventually the bell rang, and some continued to sit and write. It took me days to read all of what they wrote. And story after story, memory after memory, they poured out their hearts and lives.
And do you know what happened after that? Suddenly I had a connection with my students. Suddenly I had given a small piece of my heart to this room full of teenagers. I’d shared Ayden with them – how much more of myself could I possibly give them? And in return, they shared their hearts with me. They shared their memories. It was an exchange of one of the most intimate types of currency that could possibly be exchanged.
Why did I tell you all of this? How does this fit into a Picking Poppies episode?
This is why. I told you this story, because we convince ourselves that our stories don’t matter. I convinced myself that my little girl would not matter to my students. That part of my life would be irrelevant. I convinced myself of that so that I would not have to share that part of me with them. I let every single bit of fear and doubt cloud my mind and judgement, and I took the easy way out – silence.
If that student had not pushed me, I would have continued to let fear win. And then I would have kept a mediocre relationship with my students, and I would have continued to trudge through each day, wondering if this short story unit was going to impact or influence these students in any way. And it would have been safe and easy.
But a student pushed me. And I took a chance. And I shared my heart, and I shared my little girl. And I wish that I could tell you every good thing that has come from all of this, but there are too many things to list. But friends, it has completely transformed my relationships with these students. And that, in turn, has completely transformed my classroom.
Again, why am I telling you this?
I am telling you this because your story matters. And it is worth telling. Your story is valuable. It is you. And that fear that you have inside you, that thing that is telling you that you don’t matter, that it isn’t worth the effort, that it isn’t worth risking fear and rejection, should just go to hell. Stop listening to that voice. And start listening to your heart.
And listen to me, for just a few more seconds.
Here’s the takeaway. We are all really good at talking ourselves out of things. Talking ourselves out of things we shouldn’t talk ourselves out of. We are really good at listening to Fear and not Boldness. And that inhibits our lives in innumerable ways. But this is the reality. You have a story. No one else has a story like yours. That makes your story invaluable. That makes your story matter. Your story is so unique to you, that no one else can ever reach the same people as you can with your story.
Your story matters.
So here is my challenge to you. The next time you want to say something, share a part of you, share a memory, a glimpse of your story, and you start to listen to the voices of Fear, Shame, Insecurity, and Potential Rejection, I want you to punch those voices in the face, and share your story anyway.
Please never forget that your story matters. If you believe Ayden’s story matters, you have to believe your story matters. Because here’s the thing. If yours doesn’t matter, hers doesn’t matter. If yours doesn’t matter, mine doesn’t matter. If yours doesn’t matter, no one’s matters. And that results in a completely meaningless existence for all of humanity.
So friends, in conclusion. You matter, your story matters, and please share your heart and your story with others. You will NEVER understand the impact you will have on the world by learning how to be real and honest with those around you.
And as usual, here are a list of ways you can participate in Picking Poppies:
- Change your Facebook picture to a picture of a poppy for the day, to spread the concept of living with intention, love and kindness
- Live with intention – show love and kindness
- Write a letter to someone you know has lost a child. Tell them that their child matters. Show them their child is remembered, loved, and cherished (someone other than me, obviously).
- Share a memory that is important to you? Share it with me (comment on this post, email, or send it through the Contact Me page)
- Participate in an act of random kindness – and tell me about it!
- The options are endless. You will come up with something.
Friends. Peel back your layers. Let people see what is underneath. You never know the extent to which your story will impact someone. Be bold. Share your stories.