CityReach Reflection: a Maker Remade

This post is long. If you want the summary…cliff notes in playlist version at the end. 

I left for CityReach thinking that I was in a pretty good place spiritually. But this week, God used CityReach to teach me more about His nature and began to remake my heart. You probably know this about me already, but I’m a total problem solver and peacemaker. I have real trouble with unresolved conflict. Even as I type this, I’m worried that some of the people who read my blog for book stuff will be offended by this post. If that is you, I apologize, but I feel like it is important to share a little bit of what I learned this week because it has forever changed me. Maybe this can help someone else who might be struggling too.

For the past year or two, I’ve noticed a real trend in my life that is frustrating and hard to understand. God has opened doors and done AMAZING things, only to then have those same doors shut. Sometimes I know He is the one shutting them, sometimes others, and sometimes probably my own stubbornness. This week that really came to a tipping point with me spiritually.  God had opened huge doors for the makerspace track (I suddenly wasn’t working that week, we got flyers in the public schools/libraries, I was able to get most of our items donated, and we even got a promo spot on the news) but yet this week only about ⅓ of the kids who had registered showed up. Don’t get me wrong. I KNOW that God used it for good, because those who came heard the Gospel and we even had one profession. I just really felt like God had planned so much more, so it made me wonder about this pattern I’d been seeing. This is where my peacemaker heart struggles. It is a constant battle for me not to understand why God does what he does. He doesn’t owe me an explanation, but something in my feels like if I knew why it would be easier.

Here are some other examples that have weighed heavily on my heart.

  • God burdened my heart for several ministries at church, but those didn’t happen. We have had a lot of changes in our church and some of those were painful. I’ve really struggled if I’m where I’m supposed to be. Loss of people means that sometimes people are serving where needed and not where they are called.
  • I love my job, and yet sometimes I feel like God might be calling me to more. Just when those things start to line up, and I feel like God has moved my heart in a different direction the plans change or don’t work out.
  • I really felt a leading towards missions, but other than just doing short term stuff (and depositing some checks for our missionaries) that is all that God has opened the door for at this point. As I say that though, God is reminding me that I have a mission in the kids I teach…and I do love those guys, so maybe this shouldn’t count.
  • Maybe the toughest one is that since I was a young child, I always felt God called me to be a wife and mother. I’d seen good and bad examples growing up and I longed for a husband to partner with and children to raise up to serve the Lord…and yet I’m still single. I know that I am complete in Christ, but I also know the longing of wanting a partner and the emptiness of coming home to an quiet house. This is doubly compounded because I know this is a source of stress/confusion for my unsaved family. They don’t understand how a good God would “keep me single”. They gauge success on a monetary scale/family scale; neither of which I’m doing too hot on right now. LOL.

Then this week, as I was trying to verbalize what I was thinking to someone, and they mentioned to me that my struggle was control. I’m sure part of that is true. When you grow up trying to help everyone solve their problems, and trying to make everyone happy, it is hard to admit when you need help. You feel like you let people down if you can’t do it on your own. This week I really tried to be better about being honest about my concerns and needs. Those people probably didn’t even know what a big deal that was for me. It was kind of liberating. But one night after a broken-hearted text with a friend (sorry about that), I finally realized that this week and these issues really wasn’t about control, it was about trust.  Do I really trust the heart of God? Do I really believe that He wants what is best for me? Do I really know that He hears me when I pray? Do I really believe His word is true? Do I really believe God is good? The answer to all of those is yes… BUT….  It is that but that has been causing me trouble for years…kind of like the man in the Bible who said “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.”

At a base level I know all those truths, but I think God keeps having me practice them because I keep forgetting to apply these truths. God doesn’t want to see me hurt, but he wants me to crawl up in His lap and talk to Him if I do. This week I realized that I don’t need to know why God has allowed (or not allowed) certain things in my life. I just need to know Him better. The closer I am to the center of His will, the less I will worry about trying to see the puzzle box and just allow Him to start connecting the pieces. If I want to see others saved, I have to share Christ and actually continue to pray for them. If I’m hurting or happy, God is able to handle the full range of my emotions, but He still wants me to talk to Him and trust His intentions for me. I think in some ways doing the right thing/churchy thing becomes easier than a genuine relationship with Christ. I want to truly know my Abba Father. 

This week I also realized that I spend too much time focused on work. I know why-I’m successful there. I think that I’m well liked by most of my peers, and I try to do a job that brings God the glory. The trouble is, that I spend too much time focused on that, and  not enough doing my job as a Christian.  How can I truly know Him if I don’t spend enough time in His word? This week Cory asked who had read the Bible all the way through. I read about 100 books a year, and yet It takes me about 3 years to get through the Bible. Why is that? If I want a closer relationship with Christ, the Bible is one way of getting a glimpse into His heart.

So when I pulled back into town today, I immediately saw it differently because I was changed. I’m making some goodies this week and I’m going to talk to the neighbors I only wave at normally. Hopefully this week I’ll continue what started at CityReach, and allow God to continue what he started in me.

P.S.  Whoever was praying for my ankle not to hurt this week, will you pray for my future husband next? LOL! This was my first pain free (mostly) week post surgery. That was a huge answer to prayer!

Playlist version of this week:

  • Hold my Heart-Tenth Avenue North
  • Psalm 73-Barlow Girl
  • You Tell Me So-JJ Heller
  • King of My Heart-worship chorus we sang at CityReach
  • Need You Now-Addison Road

2nd Annual STEAM Celebration Reflection

2nd Annual STEAM Celebration Reflection

This is WAAAY overdue, but I know several of you were curious about how STEAM went this year.  The answer? Wonderful. It was a rainy day, so we had some no shows, but I think everyone had a great day. A special thank you to all the community members, teachers, and librarians who came to help or just explore!


STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Starting last year, we have a yearly three hour event that focuses on fun activities using those skills. This is a great way to get community and family involvement.  This year we decided to invite our four feeder elementary schools as well. Those kiddos made me miss my elementary teaching days. SO PRECIOUS. It was great to see our students step up as leaders.

Prep Work

  1. Plan the activities for each rooms
  2. Get LOTS of volunteers and community members
  3. Collect the supplies
  4. Promote the event
  5. Pass out flyers (I ran copies and sent to our feeder schools)
  6. Arrange transportation if needed
  7. Set up rooms
  8. Have fun!

Here is the map of the activities we used this year (inside and outside):

Basically, we do activities in almost every downstairs room.  I try to keep costs as low as possible by getting donations when I can. I won’t lie, this part takes a while. In the summer, I usually look on Pinterest , magazines, or books for ideas. Then I start deciding what I can reasonably do in a short time period.  Once I know what I can get donated, I make decisions about what needs modified. This year I had an amazing activity with balloons I wanted to do, but we had a student with a severe latex allergy, so I had to scrap that and come up with another plan. I set the date in the fall and get commitments early.


Here are the videos we showed in preparation:

Video 1 (shown week of 3/21): What is STEAM? 

Video 2 (shown week of 3/28): About the Sh@ck Kn@ck Makerspace

Video 3 (shown week of 4/4):  STEAM Celebration Events

Video 4 (shown week of 4/11): FAQs for STEAM Celebration

This is the flyer we used:

STEAM Poster Shack

Set Up

I have a Google Doc that I keep directions, supply list, and links. Then I stage everything in boxes or bags with the room number on the bag so they can pass out quickly. Make sure to give directions to teachers early so they can practice before that day if needed. I set up as much as I can the night before. This is the craziness that is my office a few weeks before:

What I Learned

It was MUCH easier this year because I had so many volunteers. Over 30 of my staff members donated their time to help. That allowed us to have some floaters who could fill in as needed. Unfortunately, I also learned that duct tape does NOT peel off the floor easily. Caption this photo “When ideas go wrong…” even my principal was cleaning stuff off of the floor.

Photo Apr 30, 12 18 24 PM

We got such high praise from the other schools that my principal is actually going to budget some money for this next year (I’m not complaining, he gave me money this year too, but next year it will be OFFICIAL).

Pics and Videos

I posted a ton of pics and video on Twitter/Instagram @shacklibrary. The district Flickr page has some links here as well:


Questions or Comments?

Add a comment if you have any questions or comments! I’ll share anything I can that will help.



Top 10 Things I Never Thought I’d Say as a Junior High Librarian

In honor of National Library Week I figured I’d take a moment and reflect on my profession. Here are the top 10 thing I never thought I’d say as a junior high librarian, but have said at least once recently.

10. “Everyone look…I got retweeted by an author!” (yes, I’m a nerd)

9. “Yes, that’s my name on a book.” (amazes the kids to see I’ve published a book)

8. “Watch your foot on the plug-they are launching hot air balloons.” (Gateway project that likes my tall ceilings)

7. “Please be careful skipping in the library.” (kid rushing over to find a new book)

6. “Let me tell you a secret…citation bores me too!” (when asked if I dreamt about citations)

5. “It’s really not dandruff; I was sanding the edges off of a book so it wouldn’t look so old.”

4. “Someone plug that into the fruit and let’s see if it works!” (relating to a Makey Makey)

3. “Nathan Fillion just photo bombed my photo!” (okay, it was just his READ poster, but fan girl crush)

2. “Has anyone seen the 3D shark?” (relating to our new 3D printer we got through a grant)

1. “I’m so glad that book touched your heart, and even happier you finished your first book ever. Ready for your next book?”

And this one I didn’t say…but actual conversation this year:

  • Student: “Miss V?”
  • Me: “Yes?”
  • Student: “Ummm…I’m not really sure how to tell you this…”
  • Me: “What’s wrong?”
  • Student: “Well, the student teacher wants to know if you guys can be quieter.” (they were in a corner of the library doing a worksheet)
  • Me (choking back a laugh) “Tell her sweetly that I said that I’m very sorry, but we are doing math stations today. That means we have four stations full of awesome collaborative learning going on.”
  • Student: “Yeah, I tried to tell her we didn’t have a normal library here.”

He he…never thought I’d be told to be quiet in my own library!

Adventures in Makerspacing

Yes, the title is slightly plagiarized. Did anyone see the movie Adventures in Babysitting? This girl is babysitting kids and everything keeps going awry. That is kind of how I feel about my first year with an “official” makerspace. That and the children’s poem, because:

When it was good it was very very good.

When it was bad it was horrid.

The good news? The bad was usually comical and a learning experience. The great news? No one even cared but me. So here goes…my reflections on year one for what they are worth.

  1. I had a makerspace but just didn’t know it was a makerspace. As a group we are too hung up on this name makerspace. Do you have a makerspace already? Ready for the test?

o   Do your students make things?

o   Do you have an area to explore new ideas or equipment?

o   Do you do individual or group projects just for fun?

If you answered yes, the odds are YOU have a makerspace. Don’t worry about the label. They key is the creation. What are you DOING in your library?

  1. Junior High parents don’t come to my activities. Sniff, sniff. My parent events were colossal failures. Am I worried? A little. Do the kids care? No. In fact, they told me they didn’t want their parents there because they didn’t want to share.
  2. You have to cook edible slime…trust me on this one.
  3. The number doesn’t matter. If you make it accessible, eventually they will come. My numbers varied dramatically (rain being the biggest issue). While I’m going to keep reaching for more, I have stopped taking it personal if attendance is low. They are busy too, and some days it is just a scheduling issue.
  4. Food trumps all. My food activities were huge. Duct tape not so much. I know…I was shocked too!
  5. It doesn’t have to just be technology, and when you do, it doesn’t have to be a lot. I only have two arduinos and two Raspberry Pis. Since we all know nothing about them yet, that is enough. We kind of sit in groups and learn together.
  6. I’m in love with MAKE: Magazine. I’ve literally clapped when it came in the mail (yes, I’m a nerd)
  7. Teachers are pack rats-and they share. Ask for what you need, they will help if they can!
  8. You can’t have too much stuff! Don’t get hung up on what you don’t have (cough-3D printer-cough). Focus on what you DO have. Origami is just as popular as learning coding on iPads. Boys like slap bracelets as well as battleship. Sometimes the makerspace voyage is more about the relationship than the product.

So, have I solved all the issues? Hardly! But I know where we are going and know what I still need to pull into my backpack to take with us.

My wish list for next year: (what I know I can do both with time and financially)

  • 20% increase in participation
  • Weekly events
  • Monthly events
  • 2 Parent/student events (I refuse to give up on this)
  • Doodler Pen-would love more than one but this is a budget thing
  • Robotic legos
  • More board games
  • Barbies (we are going to make zombies thanks to a great idea I heard from Justin Hoenke at TLA)
  • eTextiles supplies (sewing machine, LED lights, etc)

My dream list for next year: (what I probably won’t get, but would in a heartbeat if money was no object)

  • LittleBits
  • LiliPad Kits
  • 3D Printer
  • New Furniture-I really want the makerspace area to be visually appealing and more functional, but this is a huge expense and not sure how to make it happen.
  • One day a week dedicated to making in the library so kids could come anytime during the day (don’t see this happening due to testing, but I’m working some angles)

So that’s it. Nothing new or overly profound. Here is the advise I gave to librarians recently in a training. I believe as 21st century librarians we now fall into two categories

  1. Those who say I can’t
  2. Those who say you can’t stop me.

I choose to be the latter. How about you? I dare you. I double dog dare you to MAKE this year. Doesn’t matter where you start…but try this if you need more info:

My Mother’s Day Gift to Myself

Mother’s Day always comes as a mixed bag of emotions for me. I’ve never really sat down and blogged about them, but have been feeling burdened for several weeks to write this post. It has taken me that long to get up enough courage to write this. It is painfully honest, and maybe a little too raw, but maybe someone needs to read this as much as I needed to write my story.

First, I should say that I have the best mother in the world (sorry for those of you who thought you did). She’s been loving and supportive, brutally honest, and always my biggest fan. I don’t know what I will ever do when the day comes that I have to live without her. Maybe that is what makes being childless so difficult. I know that both of my parents would make awesome grandparents, and as much as I long to have my own child, it breaks my heart that I will never get to see them play that role in my child’s life. My grandmothers are (one is 93)/were two of the most amazing women I’ve ever met in my life. They taught me about giving of myself, loving God, and finding peace in a world that doesn’t make sense. My heart is sad when I realize that my mom will never have that opportunity to love my kids in the same way. The love of a grandmother is unequivocally one of the fiercest loves I know.

I’ve learned a lot about myself this year. It has been painful to admit that this year marks the year which probably means I will never have my own children. It has been equally healing to realize that even though marriage and children don’t seem to be in my future, that I get to mother kids every year. They are the kids I teach, the kids at church and Museum School, and the extended family I have. Some biological mothers aren’t mothers at all, so knowing mothering comes in all forms gives me peace that I am still fulfilling some part of God’s plan. I’ve had several people suggest I adopt or even find a sperm donor, but don’t want to deprive a child of the awesomeness of a dad. Right now I want to give 110% to loving those precious kids that I can. Yes, they are loaners, but I really do think it does take a village to raise a child.

This year I will not hide from Mother’s Day. I will not sneak out the side door when they pass out flowers to the mothers, or take a restroom break when they ask all the mothers in Church to stand. I will not get my feelings hurt when someone unintentionally says something insensitive, but rather ask them to pray for me if they feel lead. This year, I will cherish all those mothers who are fortunate enough to fulfill a sacred job that God hasn’t given me. I know that far too soon the day will come when some of the mothers in my life will no longer be around. I don’t want to miss a minute of their love or wisdom.

Being single and childless isn’t a punishment from God. It just is. I don’t have to understand it, I just have to crawl into His lap and let His love be enough. Because it is. That is the gift of Mother’s Day that I’ve finally given myself.

Trip to Russia

This is way overdue, but I had some serious jet lag after returning from Russia, my allergies have just been nuts, and the shoemaker just won’t loan me his elves.  The meanie!  Not my normal type of blog, but easier to do this here than somewhere else.

Behold: the epic journey that was my trip to Russia.

Tuesday/Wednesday: Flying and lots of flying. I watched Thor and Cloudy 2 on the plane. Thor was hard to watch because it was so dark on the little TV monitor on the plane, so I actually re-watched when I got home so I could tell what was going on in some of those darker scenes.  When we arrived the missionary family we stayed with welcomed us warmly and had a wonderful potato soup. It was so nice to see everyone, but the best part was seeing Holly. Holly started as one of the kids I taught in Bible Clubs, so how cool to see her now out serving others in Russia!

Thursday we saw so much my head was spinning. The buildings in St. Petersburg are amazing and everywhere you look there is something new to gawk at architecturally. The Hermitage was amazing. We probably only saw about 10% of what there was to see, but the paintings and the sculpture literally took my breath away. As we walked the marble halls of one of the rooms I got all choked up wishing my mom could be there with me. I am bound and determined to find a way to take her to London for an “all things Jane Austin trip”. I can’t wait for her to experience the joy that comes from experiencing such true beauty in person

Later that day went up about a stone spiral staircase of about 100 (felt like 1000000) stairs of St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The view of the city was spectacular and well worth the climb.  On the way to lunch we passed where Holly works and I was so excited I forgot to take a picture. Boo! For lunch I had Borsch for the first time and chicken Kiev. Both super yummy. I will have to figure out how to make Borsch at home.  In the afternoon we saw a ton of other sights, one of my favorite being these 12 chairs that represented each of the 12 tsars. Interesting that they don’t always showcase their best features.

That evening we got to see Holly’s apartment and she cooked dinner; yes, she really cooked. We had Pelmini (no clue how to really spell. It’s kind of like a tortellini) and veggies.

Note to everyone who didn’t go, when you walk in St. Petersburg you walk fast…I mean very fast. I now call this new treadmill workout Holly speed…it works. I guess when it is really cold what else can you do?? You certainly can’t stop and smile at people.

Friday we met a local pastor for lunch and then got to see the church. It was amazing to see where they worship each week. We took another train at a metro station. It is amazing to me how different each station looks. One station was kind of beat down and one was all marble. Like going from District 12 to District 1 for my Hunger Games friends. That night we at burgers and watched the opening ceremonies via laptop. Loved the incorporation of Swan Lake, as that is one of my favorite pieces of music. Love this pic because it was so cold I photo bombed it with my breath!


Click here for all my St. Petersburg pics

Black SeaSaturday we flew to Sochi and checked into our hotel; well really Adler right outside of Sochi. For dinner I had Chankana. It was like a traditional stew and hit the spot.  Sunday we picked up our spectator pass and got to see the Black Sea for the first time. So strange and yet magical to see dolphins in Russia. We stayed in Adler that day and started witnessing. Not really sure but think I only shared with about 10 people that day.

Monday we picked up the tickets for our hockey game and started passing out pins. Had a divine appointment with a girl at McDonald’s of all places. I gave her the pin and the scripture and she looked up the words on a translation app and asked a few questions. Sometimes it is hard to get out of my own way when we take these trips, so the first time you make a real connection it always makes it easier the next time. I got to share the gospel a total of 35 times Monday. And…I got sunburned.

ImageTuesday I had disgustingly undercooked eggs with delicious ham, so I just mashed them up and tried not to think about it too much. We went back to Sochi’s Coastal Cluster and passed out more pins. I shared the gospel a total of 65 times on Tuesday as well as having the best hot chocolate I think I’ve ever had. At lunch I oopsed and ordered beef stroganoff not realizing that it wouldn’t come with noodles. Augh…well the meat was flavorful.

Wednesday we went to McDonalds hoping to get an American breakfast, but got there right as they changed the menu to lunch…literally…we were in line. Boo.  We did get to hold the Olympic torch though, so I’m not complaining too much. We rode the train that day into Olympic Park and got to pass out more pins. On a break I had sweet fig ice cream that rocked! We almost started drama while trying to ride the gondola because we didn’t realize we had to have an event ticket.  It really upset one of the people and he started following us around, so we decided to go ahead and go to a different area. Fun pics by the tulips were taken in this area. I was amazed how many tulips we saw in Sochi. They are my favorite flowers, so I was thrilled. In total, I passed out about 45 pins that day. For dinner I had a wonderful Shepherd’s pie with lamb. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure if it would be greasy, but it was great.

On the way home I prayed for a divine appointment and sat by myself on the train with an extra seat next to me. I sat by a new friend Aleana and we talked about Russia and where we’d been so far. She was amazing. I got to share the gospel with her in detail and learn more about her life. She schooled me on still being single, and instructed me that all the single men are in St. Petersburg.  Sigh…even in Russia I get lessons on being single. Her heart was totally in the right place though, and you can’t blame people for wanting you to have happiness; after all, I want it for myself, it just hasn’t happened.

Ice StadiumThursday we went to the Olympic Village for the Germany vs. Japan Women’s hockey game. I’d never been to a hockey game before so it was a blast! There were so many things to see there, but we just didn’t have enough time. The flame was beautiful and it was the first time I’ve ever been that close to one before (or attended an event for that matter). We at a wonderful veggie stir fry and in total I shared the Gospel about 30 times.

Click here for all my Sochi Pics

Friday we were up at 2:30 for the flight to Moscow. Moscow was cloudy all day and we saw so little, but our tour guide was amazing and tried to squeeze in as much as she could. We saw in passing the river that inspired Swan Lake, the Bolshoi Theater, the library (whoop), and many other wonderful buildings. We got to go into the Kremlin. I honestly thought the Kremlin was one building but it is actually a whole bunch of buildings surrounded by a wall. Inside we got to see several churches and other sights as you’ll see in the pics.  Had nachos for dinner…well they called it nachos but it was a bowl of chips with a cup of sour cream, ketchup, and guacamole. Weird.  The apple streusel was mouthwatering though.  The hotel was the Aquamarine and it was fabulous. I slept so hard I didn’t even move.

MadridSaturday was all flying. We had a long day to Madrid (where pics prove the rain in Spain does stay mainly on the plane-ha ha ha) and then an even longer flight back to the states. I only watched about 1/3 of a movie because I wanted to get back to the audio book I was reading. I hate that I can’t read a book other than audio on a plane. Audio books are nice, but sometimes they just aren’t fast enough! Mom and sister waiting at the airport to take me home to a steak dinner and family. I was exhausted but so glad for their hugs.

Click here for all my Moscow pics.

General Thoughts:

I was amazed at the openness of the Russia people. In St. Petersburg no one smiled except for at the children, but that wasn’t true in Sochi. There people were very friendly. Everyone seemed receptive to the Gospel and would even look up and ask questions on a translator app when they had one.

Heaters run all the time in Russia. My hair usually takes 2 hours to air dry and it was dry in 15 minutes…it was really too warm, but people there can’t adjust their own heat.

I kept calling pigeon’s penguins. On accident…it got to be pretty hilarious.

We never got the Bibles released from customs. I’m excited to see what God has planned for those Bibles. Who knows, maybe the will be used by missionaries or a new church.

I’m a little concerned about our media’s need to paint Russia in such a negative light. I felt very safe the whole time we were there, felt that they had done a lot to prepare, and generally felt welcomed. Some of the issues we focused on in the states seemed weird to me. Not sure what the real agenda was there. One thing for sure, I guess it’s good to remind me not to blindly assume that what I hear is the truth.

I found out I was doing the whole dating thing wrong by the way. At the airport, I realized you could schedule your pickups:

Airport Sign

All kidding aside, the trip was amazing, and a gentle reminder I can and should do more here for Christ. As always, God is good…all the time!

Be Still…

On Monday I had staff development so I got out of work earlier than normal. Couple that with the fact that the training was on my side of town, and I was headed home about an hour earlier than normal.  Then it happened…traffic happened.

Here I was, sitting in the car utterly frustrated at the people who kept swerving around and making up lanes, while us rule followers were waiting our turn. Finally giving up, I took a side street only to find that everyone else also had the same idea. Needless to say, my 10 minute commute home ended up taking almost 45 minutes (like four blocks).

As I sat in the car feeling my blood pressure rise, I noticed a little boy playing in the playground next to me. He was happily making up his own games. It reminded me of the times as a child that I turned Tupperware into cars and other magical creations. How quickly we lose that ability to just be present in the moment. Deep breath. Deep breath. It was then I realized my focus was totally off. Not only did I not really have anywhere I needed to be, but I was missing a great opportunity to just be still.

The Bible says Be still, and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10. This is something I continually struggle with because when you try to squeeze so much into a day at work, it is easy to think that all of your life has to be filled with the same amount of hustle and bustle. That isn’t the way we were originally designed though. I’m not saying I’m going to start smelling roses, but maybe just stop driving by them without noticing them. 🙂