#MakeLifeCount

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The following blog was a Facebook post written last year by my friend, Harmony Welsh. May you be inspired to #MakeLifeCount!

Hey friends! As I’ve been reflecting on this last year, I honestly cannot believe another year has come and gone. Did your 2015 resolutions make it all through the year? Or did they dwindle and fade after the first couple months? Life is so short. Different seasons of life can seem like they will last an eternity; however, in the blink of eye, priorities, obstacles, highs & lows can all change. We have to accomplish the day-to-day necessities in order to survive, but do we honestly think about our actions? Or do we mindlessly go about running almost on automatic pilot. Majority of the time, I am guilty of the latter. At the end of the day, what truly matters? Think about the people in our lives—do we take them for granted? Or do we truly prioritize our relationships? Taking time to create memories and treasure moments with others brings fulfillment. Think about God for a moment. Maybe you believe in his existence, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have a strong relationship with him, maybe you don’t. Do we honestly take time to treasure God the way we treasure our human relationships and experiences? Francis Chan (You and Me Forever) phrases it this way: “The God who loans you life sees your every move, hears each word you speak, and knows your every thought. And this is a good thing. You are seen by God. Noticed. Known.” Wow!!! If I truly lived with this perspective at the forefront of my mind, my daily actions would be radically different. God longs to have relationships with us! Regardless of beliefs, at some point, every single one of us will die and stand before God. “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10). This is a profound thing, friends, and not something to trifle with. As we prepare to close out 2015 and reflect on the year to come, may we ponder the brevity of life and the God who brought life into existence. We must live each day to the fullest potential and #makelifecount.

28 Years Later

Colossians 3 13
Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13

You can listen to my interview with Shelley Hitz regarding this story at:

Broken Crayons Still Color Podcast

To fulfill a requirement to earn a middle school endorsement for teaching, I decided to take a necessary class entitled “Middle School Psychology.” It was a sixteen week class packed into eight weeks and strictly on-line. The first week we had three assignments. The first task was to introduce ourselves and post the information. The second job was to think back on our own junior high experience and write in depth what we were experiencing with regards to the social, familial, cognitive/intellectual, personal, and biological/physical domains for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.
That first week I reflected on that time in my life, and many old memories resurfaced. As I pondered about my 6th grade year, I remembered how awful that year was. I wrote, “Intellectual/Cognitive- This was the worst school year. I struggled every night with my math class. I cried almost every night as my parents tried to help me. Their way of doing the homework did not line up with what my teacher was teaching even though they came up with the right answers, and I was caught in the middle. The reprieve came when the teacher had a baby, and the substitute taught in a way I could understand.” On Thursday of that week, I had written my reflections and relived many of the joys and pains of junior high.
On Friday morning, I checked the postings of the other students before going to breakfast with some friends. Shock overcame me when I read the name of another student who was THAT SAME 6th grade math teacher! This person was the one I was writing about, and the one who had caused a year of tears and pain. I immediately called one of my closest friends who knew me then. As we chatted about the unbelievable coincidence, I stated, “I have no idea what God is trying to teach me, but I know it must be something.”
That night I called my mom and said, “You are never going to believe who is also taking the same psych class.”
I repeated the statement to her that I stated to my friend, “I have no idea what God is trying to teach me, but I know it must be something.”
On Saturday morning I finished up the third assignment and began to work around the house before heading to my church’s ten year anniversary celebration. As I walked into my laundry room, I heard two words: “Forgive her.” I immediately knew what they meant. Forgive my 6th grade teacher for the year of pain her poor teaching caused me. In my mind a battle raged.
“I don’t have a problem with her. I have used this hurt for the good. I have used this hurt to be the best teacher I can be to my middle school students.”
I felt God say, “You DO still have a problem with her. This is obvious because you have a problem with her being in the same class as you.”
Then, I felt as though God said to me, “Have you changed in the past twenty eight years?”
I thought, “Yes. I have changed so much.”
God said, “Regardless of whether she has changed or not, you need to forgive her. However, do not put her in the box of your 6th grade wounded view. I have been working in her life these past twenty eight years as I have been working in your life.” I walked down my stairs promising the Lord that I would work on forgiving her.
Before leaving for church, I read the updated postings. One of the postings was from my former teacher:
“Tena,
You had wonderful literary references in your Discussion, and I always enjoy a Mark Twain quote.”
Her name
Had I not admitted my hurt, and my need to forgive her, I doubt I would have been able to freely accept her genuine compliment. I am so thankful for our God, a God, who uses an assignment to bring to the surface the hidden hurts from twenty eight years ago on a Thursday, brings the teacher who caused that hurt back into my life on Friday, and encourages me to forgive her on Saturday. That is a powerful God!

Gracious God, help us forgive. Amen.

Seven More Reasons to Memorize Scripture


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We are instructed by God to meditate on His Word. This can be difficult especially when we are going through the busy days of life. Can we add meditation and memorization into our packed-filled lives? Are we blessed when we learn God’s Word? The answer is yes. I have found that when I combined my activities with meditation, I can change my thought process while still going about my day. What are some of the blessings and benefits of memorizing Scriptures? Here are a few:
8. To transform our hearts.
Accept instruction from his mouth
and lay up his words in your heart. Job 22:22
9. To develop our prayer lives.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7
10. To have Godly guidance.
Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path. Psalm 119:105
11. To share our hope.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15
12. To share the Good News.
So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11
13. To increase in success.
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:8
14. To remind us of God’s Character.
Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Proverbs 30:5

Father God, thank you for the many blessings when we know your Word. Amen.

9781512726978_COVER.indd

With our fast-paced lifestyles today, it is often a challenge to make time to read God’s Word. Hidden In My Heart was designed to make the most of small fragments of time to reflect on verses of Scripture. You may keep this book on your nightstand, on the kitchen counter, or in your car. Regardless of where you read it, it will always remind you to meditate on a verse each day. There is an insightful daily verse beginning with Genesis in January and ending with Revelation in December. Hidden In My Heart walks you through the Bible day by day with at least one inspirational verse from each book of the Bible. This collection of daily Scriptures and accompanying space for personal journaling will enrich your daily walk with God by providing structure for your own reflection and meditation on God’s Word. May this book become as meaningful to you as writing it has been to me. And may you always be aware of God’s truths and His constant love for you. Tena

http://tenadegraaf.com/site/book-shop/

Seven Reasons to Memorize Scripture

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We are instructed by God to meditate on His Word. This can be difficult especially when we are going through the busy days of life. Can we add meditation and memorization into our packed-filled lives? Can we move from frustration to peace as we focus on God’s Word? The answer is yes. I have found that when I combined my activities with meditation, I can change my thought process while still going about my day. What are some of the blessings and benefits of memorizing Scriptures? Here are a few:

1. To become more like Jesus.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11
2. To receive blessings.
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night. Psalm 1:1-2
3. To have peace.
You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3
4. To learn His Word gives joy.
When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight. Jeremiah 15:16
5. To have hope.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. Romans 15:4
6. To stay safe.
The law of their God is in their hearts;
their feet do not slip. Psalm 37:31
7. To transform our minds.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2

Lord, help us to memorize and meditate on your Word. Amen.

9781512726978_COVER.indd

With our fast-paced lifestyles today, it is often a challenge to make time to read God’s Word. Hidden In My Heart was designed to make the most of small fragments of time to reflect on verses of Scripture. You may keep this book on your nightstand, on the kitchen counter, or in your car. Regardless of where you read it, it will always remind you to meditate on a verse each day. There is an insightful daily verse beginning with Genesis in January and ending with Revelation in December. Hidden In My Heart walks you through the Bible day by day with at least one inspirational verse from each book of the Bible. This collection of daily Scriptures and accompanying space for personal journaling will enrich your daily walk with God by providing structure for your own reflection and meditation on God’s Word. May this book become as meaningful to you as writing it has been to me. And may you always be aware of God’s truths and His constant love for you. Tena

Hop over to the Book Shop to order your copy of Hidden in My Heart.

Living in the Moment

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I took several week’s off from my blog and FB Live to attend family events. One of those events involved my oldest son marrying his sweetheart. On that day, God graced me with another incredible gift besides gaining a lovely daughter. It was the present of living in the present moment.
As I prepared to get dressed, I added several needed items in my purse, one being my phone. My plan was to have it on hand in case there was a special moment I wanted to capture. What I learned on that beautiful day was that every moment was a beautiful moment. Because I wanted to be in each beautiful space, I never took out my phone. From the moment the marriage ceremony began to next day, I never checked my messages. I never went on social media. I never even thought to check my email. Instead I savored every minute, fully experiencing each one. Part of the reason I was able to be completely engaged on the wedding day was the confidence of knowing that Dan and Casey, the groom and bride, had hired a wedding photographer who was being paid to capture memorable moments. My mind was at rest not worried about what I was missing on my phone.
It was not until the next day that I realized God had also graced me with several friends who also had taken fantastic pictures and sent them to me via text messages. Friends had taken pictures of the wedding couple and of me with friends, and of me with my family members.
Oh! And as for the emails and social media posts, I didn’t miss anything while fully engaged in the wedding day. As for the pictures that friends and family posted that day on social media, I was able to easily add my “likes” and comments the following day. I also had time the next few days to respond to my emails.
As I reflected on this wonderful gift God had given me, I thought about how often my thoughts are often distracted by technology. I have been thinking about being intentional about being fully present in lots of different situations not just the really big events. How much am I missing out on because I am not fully committed to the conversation or situation at hand?
To help us check our own practice of being present, I am asking some probing questions about what keeps us from being thoroughly engaged. May these questions help us better to be wholly present!
Do I text or email while out to dinner with family or friends?
When someone calls and it is not an emergency, do I ask if I can call them back because I am in the middle of a face-to-face conversation or do I have the phone conversation in front of the other person?
Do I put my phone on silent and put it away during sacred occasions such as church ceremonies, funerals, etc.?
Am I distracted by television when eating dinner with my family?
Do I try to have a meaningful conversation with loved ones with my eyes on the computer or phone screen?
Do I put my phone on silent when I go to bed?
How often am I checking my phone for text messages, emails, and social media notifications?
Do I use good eye contact when speaking to anyone letting them know I care deeply about what they are saying?
Is there any form of technology such as phones, radios, televisions, or computers that I can use a little less to be in the moment, or to take in nature, or to enjoy being with family or friends?

Father God, help me to be entirely present in each moment you give. Amen.

dan-and-casey The happy bride and groom.

steve-tena-mitch Me, the best man and brother, Mitch, and my husband, Steve

Surviving & Serving

This story was first published in the Herald News of Joliet, IL. These are Village President Mary Latta’s own words as to what happened on August 28 1990, the day a tornado ripped through my hometown of Plainfield, Illinois. May her words inspire you do your best whatever the circumstances are. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” Colossians 3:23

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This is a picture of the memorial. You can see my mom’s (Mary Latta’s) reflection in the picture.

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In her own words…

As I reflect upon the last ten years and events that have change my life, I wonder if any of the events are of interest to others but, I know that it is time for me to remember and accept the things that I did that were helpful and also accept those decisions I made that may not have been the best.
August 28, 1990 was a hot, sultry day. The air was so still and heavy that it was difficult to breathe. The sky was clear and blue with an unrelenting sun shining down upon the world. I spent the day at a teacher in-service at St. Mary’s School in Plainfield. Because of the incredible heat and humidity we spent most of the day in one of the mobile classrooms that were air-conditioned.
By 2 p.m. the heat caused the principal, Sister Mary, to allow the teachers to leave early to go home or do some last minute work in classrooms. These classrooms would welcome excited students the following day. The classrooms were decorated, floors were shining, and the expectations of the children and teachers were high. My deepest dreams and worst nightmares could never have created the scene that would rise before me and surround my life for the next two years.
At about 2:45 p.m. I was covering brand new English textbooks with brown paper bags. The new books were beautiful and I was enjoying the smell of the clean and pristine pages. I was thinking of how the children would enjoy being the first person to use each of the books. My third grade classroom was almost ready for the students and this was the last of the “getting ready” tasks that I needed to complete.
I was somewhat irritated feeling the pressure to complete the task because I was waiting for the village administrator to pick me up and drive to the city of Joliet. I had been Village President of Plainfield since 1985 and had managed to merge the job of an educator with the leadership needs of a growing community with ease in addition to being a parent of four daughters. Ironically, the meeting with the attorney probably saved my life and this particular day would provide a challenge to maintain the merging of three dissimilar jobs.
It started to rain by 3 p.m. At that time, my administrator arrived to pick me up. The rain suddenly became so heavy and thick that we were unable to leave the school parking lot. Mark, the administrator, managed to get the car back near the school so we could make a mad dash for the doors. Mark, Penny, a church employee, Sister Mary and I found ourselves standing together inside the double doors at the front of the school.
We stood chatting and looking across the vast parking lot of the church towards Route 59. It was eerie and strange when the heavy rain stopped and quarter-sized hail started to fall. I ran outside to pick up a few pieces and then returned to the building. The wind had calmed down and the hail was falling in a straight line from the sky to the ground.
About 3:30 p.m. the wind began to pick up and the sky cleared to the bright blue it had been earlier in the day. As we looked to the west, I noticed massive clouds rolling over the church as if they were waves on a beach moving toward the shore. The clouds were puffy and white buy had unusual items within them. I peered more closely and noticed that over the church and its tall steeple were clouds filled with 2x4s, 4x8s, sheets of wood and other rubble. As the clouds moved closer to where we stood, they became darker and thicker with trash.
3:30 p.m. arrived and so did the first wave of the tornado that would continue for many more miles. “It’s a tornado,” I screamed. We raced down the hall to an area that should have provided more shelter than the double glass doors. Sister Mary ran into her office to warn the other people in the building. The last words I heard her say were, “It’s a tornado, take cover.” I hear the crackle of the speaker system, or could it have been the beginning of the crackling of the building and windows. I just do not know! I landed on top of our school secretary, Vicki, in a corner next to a set of new fire doors. My administrator, Mark, was lying on the floor next to me clutching my right arm. I am not sure where Penny sought cover before the tornado hit.
While lying on top of Vicki and holding on to her with a vise-like grip, I heard the cracking of glass and the sound of wind. (I do not recall hearing a sound like a freight train, though years later, this common sound of tornado would make my body shake and heart palpitate in a rapid manner. I recall hearing the horrendous wind, felt the pounding of the rain, and the bite of the sand blasting against my body. The sand felt as if I was in a desert being sandblasted from all sides. I assume that as my heart began to pound and ears began to pop that I blacked out for a period of time.
At some point, I felt Mark let go of my arm and blow away. Later, he stated that he felt like Superman. Due to the strength of the wind and its howling noise, I thought that the world had ended and that I might as well let go of the person underneath me. But, I felt pressure on my arm and I distinctly remember saying to myself, “If the person I am holding on to wants to stay, I will continue to try to hold on.”
The next thing I remembered was hearing the wind die down and the soft sound of rain. I struggled to my feet and said, “Vickie, are you alive?” Of course, I remember saying it in a calm voice, but Vickie said she remembered hearing me scream the question. Vickie stood up and began to search for Sister Mary.
After looking around in a 360 degree circle in slow motion and realizing that the school and most of the structures within my viewing area were smashed, crumpled and flat, I knew that, as a survivor of whatever just happened, I needed to help locate anyone who might be alive and needed help. I could only hope that if my family was injured, that someone would be there to assist them.
Sister Mary had disappeared along with her office and may not have been found till the next day. I found Penny on a sidewalk surrounded by rubble. She was unable to move, but kept saying when asked if she was okay, “I’m fine, just don’t move me.” Mark was located under the glass doors we had been standing near minutes before with a window air conditioner unit on top of him. I manage to remove the air conditioner unit, but was unable to help him get from under the doors. Our eighth grade teacher was found wrapped in a carpet with severe bleeding. Because the paper towels, which had been stashed in lockers, were wet and destroyed, I pulled off my slip and had another teacher apply pressure to stop the bleeding. This decision and emergency first aid may have saved her life, but at the same time, the sand imbedded in my slip caused other problems.
I kept moving from one injured person to another to be sure that they were being cared for as well as possible and make sure that the most severely injured had someone with them at all times. It seemed a lifetime later that I heard the sound of an ambulance moving up Route 59 from the south.
Because of the wonderful sound of the ambulance siren, which to me meant that people with lifesaving experience were on their way, I found myself running toward Route 59. As I was racing across the parking lot in my bare feet, I saw an injured man sitting in the parking lot of the church. I stopped, looked at him and made the decision not to talk or render first aid, but to continue on my quest to grab that ambulance, I believed that getting the trained ambulance people to come for the welfare of all the injured was more important.
Traffic was totally stopped in the northbound lane and there was no traffic going south. The sound of the ambulance was getting closer and closer. Suddenly the ambulance was in front of me in the southbound lane traveling north. Like an apparition, I appeared in front of it and would not let it pass. The driver had a choice, stop or run me down. Fortunately, he chose to stop. “We need help at the school,” I yelled. The driver stated that he needed to go to the fire station. “No, you must turn here, I’ve got injure people,” I yelled. He made the turn; I ran back to the school to ensure that the injured people I was aware of would be getting professional help.
Once I believed that I had done all I could at the school site, I started off again toward Route 59 determined to go home to check on my family, take a shower because I was covered with dirt and blood, and then return to town to declare an emergency.
As I crossed Route 59 with tattered clothes, shoeless, and full of holes from the blasting sand along with some gashes from some unknown items, I could see that the high school, school administration building, and surrounding neighborhood were destroyed. I found a police car and commandeered it to be taken home. The three-mile ride home was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. With tunnel vision, I could only focus on each building we passed and acknowledge in my mind if they stood or were destroyed. As we travel up my street, I felt my head dart from side to side looking at the buildings. When the squad pulled in my driveway, my family ran out of a standing house and I focused on counting noses. When I reached the magical number of five, which meant one nose each for my husband and four daughters, I breathed a sigh of relief.
My daughters helped me shower and rendered any needed first aid. I returned to the high school area and again grabbed a vehicle. This time, as I traveled up north on Route 59, I rode in a tow truck with one of my trustees hanging off the side. With a local tow truck driver and my trustee within hearing distance, I declared a state of emergency, the very first step needed to begin cleanup.
The sky was clear and blue, the wind was gone, homes and businesses were destroyed, and my community and I were about to embark on a journey that would take years to complete. I can never say thank you enough to the people of my community for the spirit that carried us throughout the journey and to the people that came to help. So again, ten years later, thank you to all the people who cared and helped our community from the bottom of my heart. “Thank you.”