Christine Gough is a mom, a fellow resident of Northern California, and a kindred who is learning how to be, in her words, “one who comes alongside people to help them remember God’s love for them.” I admire her wisdom and I will be enternally grateful that she shared six of her 365 free(!) loaves of bread from Boudin Sourdough Bakery with me. So happy to share her with you today.
During my first few years of teaching, I happened upon a little book called Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year. Among many good tips, Esmé shared a ritual that she did with her students each day before excusing them. It was a “call and response” format where the kids filled in the blanks and went like this:
“See you in the __________ [MORNING!]”
“Watch out for __________ [CARS!]”
Whispered, “Don’t say _____________ [‘shut up’]”
“I love _________ [YOU!]”
As the newbie teacher I read about this idea and realized I had happened upon a little trick of the trade I could start using right away. It was a little daunting to introduce it the first day. Non-failingly, before the peer pressure had subdued the squirrely ten years olds, one kid would scream ‘shut up’ instead of whispering it. Eventually though, it became a marker, a mantra for Room 18 and later, Room 29. Hundreds of fourth graders reciting in unison the lines together everyday at 3:05pm. My favorite realization was how a daily practice began to change their behavior and thinking. If “shut up” was uttered in a moment of frustration during math, the class became dead silent as if a cuss word had been released. Someone would insert the preverbal “OOOOOHHHH, you’re gonna be in TROOOUUUBLE!” and everyone would look at me as to how I’d respond. Even if we’d had a hard day together, despite small group communication trouble or disappointing multiplication timed test results, we always joined together, as a class, and ended our day with “I love…YOU!” Many afternoons, I gritted my teeth through that chant and I’m sure there were students who sarcastically uttered, “I love you.” No matter what, every day for 180 days, August to June, we shared those phrases.
When I first became a parent in 2007, I don’t think I had a clue how my teaching & professional life would impact my parenting. As a spouse of a minister, and a educator myself, much of our family life is lived publically and communally. In some ways, I entered parenthood hoping to keep everything neatly and tightly separate. The kid(s) would be perfect, obedient and quiet in church settings and intrigued, engaged & yet disciplined when visiting my classroom or in school themselves. We can all guess that things didn’t unfold as I’d imagined—-and in many ways, that was a pleasant surprise.
Early on, I knew my firstborn wasn’t going to be doing the “goodbye chant” as I turned out the light and he went to bed, but I felt the need for a signature closing. A phrase that was a tradition. Words that would shape me and bring me back to homeostasis after a rough day. A blessing that might also ground my child after turbulent emotions ruled. I tried various phrases and nothing seemed to stick until my son was almost three. A friend shared with me about how each night, she would mark the sign of the cross on her kids’ foreheads and say, “God Loves You and So Do I”.
I remember repeating it to myself over and over letting the truth of it and the possibility sink in, shaping me. Just like in my classroom, I tried it out with my eldest and he giggled a bit. But after a few nights, I remember him sitting up to reverse the practice and try it on me. Soon after, our second son was born and from day one, the phrase and corresponding signing of the cross has been a nightly ritual. Sometimes my youngest yells back, “JESUS!” as he is learning the song “Jesus Loves Me” and I guess assumes I am saying the phrase incorrectly. Other nights, he might stubbornly respond, “NO!” I take this all in stride, though, because similar to my classroom, some days you just don’t feel the truth of the words. At times, we want to spit back, “NO! God DOESN’T LOVE ME and NEITHER DO YOU!” Or maybe, “No, it’s not about GOD, it’s about JESUS.” We argue about the particulars and lose sight of the message of deep love.
Through this phrase, I am molded and shaped, despite what has transpired during the twelve hours prior, to call out my love for my boys. To declare the fact that God deeply loves them and that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is marked on them, a sign on their forehead and truth to be trusted.
Today, as we mark Ash Wednesday, many will attend services at which a sign of mourning and repentance will be similarly traced on foreheads. An ash cross is often marked as a sacramental sign of sorrow for sin; ashes typically gathered from burned palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. In the same way, it is a reminder, like the phrase, “God Loves You and So Do I” that an act of unimaginable love and devotion was poured out for us. A word and sign of healing and wholeness despite the missteps of the past.
No matter the day that has unfolded. No matter the sins committed. In spite of the rage let loose, the mistakes made in broad daylight, each night, I have the chance to remind myself and my boys that “God Loves Them” and “So Do I”.
You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.
~Deuteronomy 11: 18-19
Christine is the author of These Stones where she writes about the joys, trials, fun and events of everyday life and faith. She also contributes at Practicing Families, an on-line ministry that seeks to support families in their efforts to follow the way of Jesus. Christine lives in Silicon Valley, CA and currently her days are filled with 2 energetic boys and keeping track of her husband’s busy pastor schedule. Formerly, Christine has spent over ten years as a 4th grade teacher and also co-led the ministry programming with her husband at Westminster Woods Camp and Conference Center. When she is not chasing her own boys, throwing in loads of laundry or unloading the dishwasher, she loves to capture everyday life behind her camera, write, read, experiment with vegan/gluten free/sugar free meals, or spend time with friends and family.