With one proclamation, the President would have my unending support

If the President would simply issue the following proclamation, I would support him forever…

“Let it be known that from this day forward, all marching band competitions shall be held on Fridays. All students involved in the competition shall be exempt from homework given or due that day. In addition, students not involved shall remain at school and complete any standardized testing required. Marching band students shall be exempt.”

“Let it also be known that each school district shall provide the competing band with a charter bus – complete with DVR and satellite – and shall provide catered meals for the marching band members and staff for the duration of the contest.”

“Let is also be known that the day following such competitions, practice by any of the bands participating shall be forbidden. If a band ignores this provision, it shall be required to take the standardized tests it missed. Band directors and staff shall be provided with a $500 honorarium to enable them to enjoy this day with their family and friends.”

Hereby signed by the President in the Oval (isn’t a whole note an oval) Office this day of __________ in the year of our Lord ________.

***James currently teaches middle school band and is no longer subject to the long hours and separation from family required by marching band. He did thoroughly enjoy his 13 years teaching marching band, and would happily do it again if that was his only job (just marching band, no classes during the day). He is the author of 5 books, including The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and Tips from my 30+ years in music, and is available for training and speaking engagements. Find out more here. 
Sign-up for my free mini-course “7 Tips To Save 5 Hours This Week and Every Week.” It’s a $20 value but yours free.

I’m Glad My Marching Band Didn’t Make it to State

The 2016 marching band season was the best to date. Our scores were some of the highest we had ever achieved. Our show was the most difficult we had ever attempted. My students were the most committed they had ever been (with lots of room for improvement).

As my students attained higher and higher scores, we all thought for sure we would make it to state. When we competed at regionals and beat a few bands that normally beat us, we thought it was in the bag!

But we didn’t make it.

And we were disappointed.

And I’m glad.

When I told my students I was glad we didn’t make state, they looked at me like I was crazy. Some responses were…

“Don’t you care about us?”

“Why are you glad?”

“Don’t you have confidence in us?”

I DO care for my students. They are like my family.

I DO have confidence in them. They had achieved higher than they ever have.

But I was glad we didn’t make it.

We missed making it to state by one band. One band! You could say we almost made it to state. With being that close, the students were determined to work harder, smarter and achieve more next season. Their talk afterwards included “if we had done this a little better”, and “if we had been a little more focused at rehearsal we might have made it.” Their ideas for how to make the band better started to pour forth.

If we had made state…and if it had been barely, by only one band…you could have said we almost didn’t make state. The students may have gotten cocky,

“We made state, we made state, now we don’t have to work as hard next year.”

Oh, they wouldn’t have said this out loud, but it would have come across in their actions. 

I was proud of that group! The loss caused them to start the next season with more dedication and more commitment.

And if the increased commitment helped them make it to state, great… if not, they could take pride in having done their best. Ultimately that’s all any of us can do.

*** James no longer teaches marching band; he is currently at a middle school. He taught marching band for thirteen years and enjoyed the chance to instill team spirit and leadership into students. He did not enjoy the 20+ hours each week it took. James is the author of The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music, as well as 4 other books. Invite James to speak to your students or teachers.
Sign-up for my free mini-course “7 Tips To Save 5 Hours This Week and Every Week.” It’s a $20 value but yours free. 

Don’t Waste Your Time On New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time! Most of the resolutions don’t last beyond the end of January. They are bound to fail. Resolutions are often not thought out, have no action steps and are rarely written down. They often lack specificity. Here are just a few examples of how to make goals better…

I want to lose 20 pounds by summer
NOT I want to lose weight

I want to earn $12,000 more each year by December
NOT I want to earn more

I will spend every Friday on a date night with my wife
NOT I want to spend more time with my wife

Did you know many gyms sell about 30% more memberships than the capacity of the gym? They know many people are not going to follow through on their desire for fitness.

There is – however – a way to achieve and exceed your goals.

Write them down

When I was young, I had goals and dreams like everybody else, but I didn’t write them down. For some reason, when we write our goals and take actionable steps, we are more likely to achieve them. I have goals in seven areas of my life:

Spiritual

Physical

Financial

Intellectual

Work/Career

Family

Social

Goals give you a starting point and destination. They are going to change as you grow and as you figure out what’s important in your life.

John Acuff, in his book Start, talks about how he has been able to write several books and also help build two schools in Vietnam. He didn’t write that down on a whiteboard several years ago, but as he progressed through his goals those opportunities became available.

Ten years ago, I would have never believed would write five books!

What are some of your goals? Would you like to schedule 20 gigs in the next year? Would you like to finish your master’s degree in the next three years? Do you want to find a spouse and be married with kids in a couple of years? Do you want to move to a better job that fits your skills and talents? These are attainable and will be different for everyone.

EVERYTHING you’ve done – even things you didn’t like – have made you who you are today. For me, the military band was a great experience. It is where I developed my chops. It was my music education. Being self-employed was difficult, but it helped make me who I am today. I learned a lot about marketing, about pricing, about what my audience needs and wants…all things that help me even in teaching.

There are many good books about setting goals. One of my favorite is Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work You Love. My seven goals are adapted from his book. Get a copy of Dan’s book and work through the goal-setting process. Also read anything you can find by Zig Ziglar on goals.

In November, I create my goals for the following year. These big but specific and measurable goals are then translated into action items. I create a to-do list and prioritize the items – always remembering to leave margin in my life.

EVEN WHEN I DON’T FEEL LIKE IT, I begin to tackle items on my list. Sometimes just starting a task is the hardest part. 

JUST START!

Put away all distractions. Turn off your email notification. Turn off your phone so you are not distracted by every text message that comes in.

Multi-Tasking

Did you know that multi-tasking is a myth? We work at only 80% of capacity or less when trying to multi-task. When it’s time to book some gigs, write some music, practice, prepare my lessons or another important task, I turn off my cell phone, close my internet browser, shut down my email, get off of social media and get some focused work in. My rhythm – maybe because I am a public school teacher – seems to be about 45 minutes; then I need to take a short break and stretch or get some water. Others find that two-hour blocks work for them. Others prefer to work in intense 20-minute bursts. Find your rhythm.

Think of the short and long term goals as being a plan for your life. For example, if you want to lose 6 pounds in six months, that’s the big goal. The to-do list becomes the action steps necessary to meet that goal. In this example, you might get up thirty minutes earlier to exercise, prepare your lunch before you go to work so you’re not tempted to eat out, and buy some exercise shoes. Those are your action steps.

The goals that work best are:

Specific

Measurable

Attainable

Realistic

Timely

If you can’t reach the goal, you will only become discouraged. If you are 200 pounds overweight, to lose that much weight in one year is probably not attainable. If you had zero gigs this year, deciding you want 300 in the next year is probably not attainable. If you have no college education at all, setting a goal of finishing your master’s in 18 months is probably not attainable. Here are some examples of good goals:

  • I want to lose five pounds in the next six months.
  • I will call five venues this week and every week.
  • I will book five events this summer paying $200 each.
  • I will save $2,000 this year by saving $200 per month.
  • I will save $50 a month to purchase that new instrument in 20 months.

Sometimes I have accomplished 10% or more of my goals before the New Year even begins.

James is a middle school teacher, speaker, performer, and author. Check out his book The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music. Or CONTACT JAMES to find out more about scheduling a speaking event.

Just Say No! (So You Can Say Yes). It’s Life-Changing!

Remember Nancy Reagan’s theme from the 1980s to Just Say No to drugs? She was made fun of, but it is an effective strategy. You may not struggle with drugs, but I bet you do struggle with saying no!

Many people miss out on the great things in life because they are doing so many good things. They are not in tune with what the Creator has made them to do. I have been guilty of this many times. Sometimes it’s a matter of learning how to say “No” to all those good things. Believe me, it’s not easy…

People want to put you on a guilt trip when you say no. My own mom has a master’s degree in the guilt trip. She’s a cruise director! My sister and I toured the world several times, and it didn’t cost us a thing (except for damage to our psyche, but that’s such a small price to pay for travel).

My mom in her younger days

Don’t let others put you on these kinds of trips! Decide in advance what’s important to you and stick to that. Will life circumstances and what’s important change over time? Of course it will.

Practice with me for a moment… “No.” Try it again… “No.” Several times now, louder each time… “no…No…NO!”

It feels good, doesn’t it! This is not a rebellious “No” like a toddler might say. Remember, this is a no so you can say yes. Repeat daily.

Say NO so you can say YES
Say NO to overtime so you can say YES to your family
Say NO to overeating so you can say YES to a better quality life
Say NO to going out to eat so you can say YES to your retirement account

Here are some real NOs I have said…

I said NO to helping in the school musical so I could say YES to conducting a community orchestra.
I said NO to playing at coffee houses so I could say YES to spending time at home.
I say NO everyday to the candy bars so I can say YES to size 32 pants.
I said NO to teaching lessons so I can say YES to writing and practicing music.
I said NO to the snooze button so I could say YES to reading my Bible.
I said NO to Starbucks so I could say YES to a cruise with my honey.

Say NO today so you can say YES!

*** James Divine is a middle school teacher and youth speaker. This article first appeared in The Saxophone Diaries: Stories and tips from my 30+ years in music. Order it on Amazon. Also check out Why Don’t They Teach THAT in school.

Teens Today Get a Bad Rap – One They Don’t Deserve

Teens Today Get a Bad Rap

Teens today get a bad rap, one that they don’t deserve. They are accused of many things and often all lumped into the same category rather than looked at as individuals. I work with teens daily. I have faith in teens!

Three Myths About Teens

1. Teens are lazy

Lots of teens ARE lazy. Lots of adults are lazy too. But if you get the right motivational structure in place, the majority of teens will impress you.

In my classes, I have structured my grading system where kids earn points for achieving certain standards. Students have a minimum goal each month that they are required to reach to get an A. Here are some stats from a class of 40 students a few years back:

– 2 did not meet a minimum goal (they have a grade of C or D)

– 16 met their minimum goal (grade of A)

– 17 exceeded their minimum goal by more than 100%, some by as much as 400%

That means half of the class went above and beyond what was needed to earn an A!

2. Teens don’t understand leadership

http://www.jazzysaxman.com/img/leadership.jpg

Simply not true.

A few years ago, my marching band leaders called me to task…

They didn’t have a problem with my high standards.

They didn’t have a problem with me.

They didn’t have a problem with the music or the choice of marching band show.

The problem…I was taking charge too much and not giving them a chance to be leaders, to fail a little, to learn from their mistakes. It was a great lesson for me, and to be honest a little hard at first.

I delegated much more to them. They rose to the challenge. They were full of great ideas and were ready and willing to implement them. Sometimes my three decades of experience come into play and I am able to share with them why a specific idea won’t work.

3. Teens have no morals

http://www.jazzysaxman.com/img/no-morals.jpg

Ain’t true for all teens.

The adults in their lives have not exactly been the top role models in this area. We have top executives who steal, parents who cheat on a spouse, leaders with no backbone who take the easy way, and then we expect a teenager to choose a different direction?

Teens do have morals. Many are committing to sexual purity until their wedding day. Many abhor cheating. 

Four things I do know about teens

1)   Give them guidance. They sometimes seem to not listen, but they are. Especially if your life models bravery and purity.

2)   Don’t put all teens in the same category. I wouldn’t like it if you assumed all Italians were part of the mafia. New Yorkers – most of whom are kind, considerate people – don’t like it when you say New Yorkers are rude (probably 10% are, and in a city of 10 million+, that’s 1 million rude people walking around.

3)   Respect their ideas, even if you are not able to implement them. Ninety percent of the great things we do in my bands started as an idea or thought from a student!

4)   The best advice I received for my book came from a teen. I published my first book in June 2013. Since then hundreds have bought a copy and dozens have given me feedback on my book, including other authors.

Their feedback was along the lines of:

“This story needs to get out…

I couldn’t put it down…

Great story…

People need to hear this…etc.

All advice that I appreciate! However, the best advice came from a teen! 

Her advice: The whole book doesn’t seem to fit your theme of forgiveness…I didn’t feel you opened up enough, that you were holding something back…If I didn’t already know you, it wouldn’t have really moved me.

Tough me for me to hear….Yes

Did I pick up some great tips for improving the book?…Yes!

God bless teens!

*James has been working with teens as a parent and teacher for many decades. He was once even a teen himself! Remarkable that he made it through that phase of life. He is the creator of the course “Adulting 101: Why Don’t They Teach That in School.” Invite him to share his story of forgiveness, redemption, and purpose with your teen group. He can be reached HERE.

Are You a Man or a Boy?

When I turned 18 – way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and brontosaurus burgers were just 25 cents – aka 1984 – I proudly proclaimed to anyone who would listen – and most didn’t – “I’m a man now.” (By the way, that sentence is a homage to my 12th grade English teacher, who hated run on sentences, and who often encouraged us to split those sentences into smaller – what he claimed was easier to read – sentences that didn’t ramble or anything…I guess I didn’t learn much…but then again, my counselor said I would never have a successful career in music, and here I am 37 years later! If I retire from this field, maybe I have a chance to be an English teacher).

Turning a certain age does NOT make you a man! It is often hard to pinpoint exactly when a boy becomes a man. I think it is actually a process. Just like I am becoming a better saxophone player each day, a better Christian each day, a better husband/dad/grandad each day, I am becoming a better man each day. And if I’m not, then I’m becoming more boy-like. There’s nothing wrong with being boy-like when it is intentional and for fun, but not when it means we shirk our responsibilities. I know of a lady who lives with three “boys”, and they are all over 21.

Here are some ways to tell whether you are a man or a boy…

Boys Play House…Men Build Homes

Boys Shack Up…Men Get Married

Boys Make Babies…Men Raise Children

Boys Invent Excuses…Men Put In The Hard Work

Boys Want a Hand Out…Men Offer a Hand Up

Boys Want Popularity…Men Earn Respect

Boys Quit…Men Commit

***James is STILL in the process of becoming the man of God that he is meant to be. It takes courage, faithfulness, and being disciplined in seeking the Lord. Check out James’ books or invite him to speak at your event, www.jamesdivine.net

5 Ways To Teach Kids About Gender

By Summer Stevens

Reprinted with permission from GES. Link to the article online HERE.

From Tolerance to Forced Approval

There is an intentional attempt to indoctrinate your children to the LGBTQ lifestyle, and your church is likely doing nothing about it.

This indoctrination is evident in obvious ways, such as in the mandatory teaching of LGBTQ history in many states across the country and a push for LGBTQ-inclusive sex education. Last year England made LGBTQ-inclusive sex education mandatory in public schools. A Psychology Today article reported that 81% of elementary and 88% of secondary teachers approved of LGBTQ-inclusive education, and 45% of kindergarten teachers felt comfortable addressing the topic with students.

The indoctrination shows up subtly, too, in the quick embrace of a same-sex couple in a TV commercial, on rainbow-colored kids’ cereal boxes during Pride month, and in the quiet introduction of gay characters in almost every Netflix series or Disney movie. Mere tolerance is not acceptable any longer. People must embrace and celebrate LGBTQ practices or be threatened with labels such as homophobe or bigot and risk losing friends and jobs. And in fact, many people are embracing it. In 2001, 53% of Americans thought homosexuality was wrong; by 2021, that number had dropped to 32%.

“Young people today are more accepting of LGBTQ people than ever before. And as acceptance has grown in this country, so too has the number of young people who describe themselves as LGBTQ,” said the 2017 GLAAD’s Accelerating Acceptance study. That is a fascinating quote by GLAAD. The church should pay attention to it because cultural acceptance equals higher numbers of people embracing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lifestyles. Homosexuals used to comprise a relatively small percentage of Americans, but this number is rising fast. A Gallup Poll revealed that in 2012, 3.5% of the population identified as LGBT; that number climbed to 5.6% in 2020, and the youth of America are leading the charge with LGBTQ identification by almost 10% of teens aged 13-17 and a whopping 20% of millennials according to a GLAAD study.

Mental Health

Let’s put Biblical morality aside for a moment and focus just on the mental health of LGBTQ youth. Every other year the CDC conducts a large Youth Risk Behavior Study that monitors six categories of health-related behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among young people. In 2015, the study began collecting data for those students who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Several surprising facts began to emerge—namely, the drastic mental health concerns for LGB youth specifically. For the 2019 data, those in this group had experienced daily sadness or hopelessness for two straight weeks or more (66.3%), seriously considered suicide (46.8%), attempted suicide (23.4%), and had been forced to have sex against their will (19.4%) at much higher rates than their peers who identified as heterosexual (32.2, 14.5, 6.4, and 5.5%, respectively).

Transgender teens are almost six times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

For a lifestyle that is so prone to hopelessness and suicide, it is a wonder that our culture continues to recommend it to our youth.

Watching the Storm

Sadly, the church has sat back and watched the storm, out of touch with the real struggles youth face, and has done little to affirm God-given gender identity in children. Elementary and middle school children are asking these questions and making sexual identity determinations.

A high school youth group series on waiting for marriage is too little, too late. Satan seeks to steal, kill, and destroy children with precision and calculation (John 10:10). How much more should the church seek to preserve, protect, and guard children against the lies and devastation barreling through our world in the realm of sexual identity.

Christians are not exempt from these statistics. At one of my previous churches, about half of the youth group struggled with sexual identity. Many of these were kids who had grown up in the church. The answer, then, is to start early in affirming biological gender and sexual identity. Because, as the statistics clearly reveal, teens are embracing homosexuality at drastically higher rates than ever before. Sexual preferences are being offered like a smorgasbord, with very young children encouraged to sample whatever looks appealing. Naturally, more and more children are trying out homosexuality and transgenderism with devastating results like depression, anxiety, and suicide. We are told that this is because of a lack of acceptance for these youth, and the answer is simply to celebrate the lifestyle even more, but God’s Word reveals that when we break from God’s design and pursue our own will, we will experience heartache and grief (Rom 1:28-32; 8:6).

The church must lead the charge. We cannot look to another organization. Each week the church has a unique opportunity to teach God’s truth to children and equip youth with firm confidence in their sexuality and gender identity. If you have any influence in your church as a pastor, pastor’s wife, elder, children’s volunteer, or even a parent or grandparent who is willing to schedule a meeting with the leaders, I cannot urge you strongly enough to seriously consider this issue and come up with a plan. Please prayerfully consider what you can do in your home or your church to prepare children to live confident, honorable lives for God.

Action Items

Here are five ideas to get you started.

1 Incorporate sexual identity-affirming statements into Sunday school classes on a regular basis. If you have teachers or administrators who attend your church, enlist them to help create short, age-appropriate lessons beginning with toddlers. That may sound very young, but if your children are watching Disney, then you need to begin these conversations.

These can be very simple for preschool children, like, “Raise your hand if you’re a boy. Who made you a boy? Yes, God! Does God ever make mistakes? No! God meant for you to be a boy, and it’s good to be a boy! If you are a boy, can you ever not be a boy? Nope. You will always, forever, 100% be a boy because that’s how God made you. God made you a boy because the world needs brave, kind boys like you!” And repeat a similar statement for girls.

Elementary students can understand Biblical teaching on God’s creation of Adam and Eve and His design for marriage between men and women, and questions like, “So did God design men to marry other men? Or women to marry other women? No, He didn’t. God calls that sin.”

Many public elementary school teachers read picture books about homosexual families to indoctrinate students to the LGBTQ agenda; the church must indoctrinate students to God’s plan.

2 Affirm the authority of Scripture to young people. I’ve been surprised in recent years how adult Christians whom I considered mature could willfully embrace a lifestyle of sexual sin. I’ve concluded that these are Christians with a low view of Scripture.

As Free Grace proponents, we hold that someone can live a homosexual lifestyle and still be a Christian because our salvation does not depend on our sin; it depends on our belief in Jesus’ promise of eternal life. Homosexuality is not a special sin, though Paul does say sexual sin in general is of the category that is “against their own body” (1 Cor 6:18), and therefore more central to our identity and can be more damaging to ourselves than other types of sin. If a homosexual has believed in Jesus for eternal life, his salvation is secure, just like it is for anyone else.

However, a sinning Christian will miss out on fellowship with Jesus, experience earthly consequences of his or her sin, and suffer a loss of rewards.

This is where the authority of Scripture comes in. A very firm foundation in, and reverence for, God’s Word protects us from sin. Parents and church leaders must model obedience to the Scriptures and do everything possible to extol its value and relevance to speak into our lives. We must not only be hearers of the word but doers (Jas 1:22). Therefore, when youth come across passages of Scripture where God commands abstinence from sexual sin, they will respect and obey it, even if their feelings are confused for a time.

3 Address rebellion, pride, and arrogance in children through parenting classes. I believe there are two primary reasons children and teens veer toward homosexuality or transgenderism.

The first is trauma due to loss, abuse, or neglect, causing the child to fail to make appropriate and healthy connections with parents or peers. This child needs love, compassion, and counseling.

The second is a product of our smorgasbord culture that encourages children to sample sexual identities and choose what feels good at the time.

Today’s philosophy governing the education system is that the child’s unhindered self-expression is the purest and greatest path to self-realization and ultimate happiness. Parents must reject that philosophy and instead promote God’s standards as the path to joy and satisfaction. When Christian parents fail to set Biblical standards for their child in all areas of life, that child learns that her or she has no actual standards. This inevitably crosses over into the child’s sexual preference. “I can be attracted to anyone I want. It’s my choice. I set the rules.”

Parents must teach their children, “You cannot have what you want all the time. Some things are off-limits to you.” When children understand that they must stay within God’s standards, they
will better comprehend this principle as they get older and remain within their sexual parameters, including heterosexual preferences or celibacy. An indulged child is more likely to gravitate toward believing that she is the author of her own morality, rather than God.

4 Affirming Biblical gender and sexual identity is not the same as affirming stereotypes. Certainly, boys can like football and girls can like tea parties and that’s fine. Still, those are cultural expressions of masculinity or femininity that are unhelpful when teaching about sexual identity. God created some men to be bakers and poets and some women to be athletes and electricians. Boys can like pink and girls can like blue; however, do not celebrate a boy wearing nail polish or a girl wearing boy’s clothes. Celebrate the correct type of distinctions.

In our family, we take an annual boys’ camping trip with cousins and uncles. Though we sometimes camp as a family, the boys’ trip is special, and the only requirement is that you be a boy.

This fall, my girls will be old enough to take them out for a special girls’ weekend, and we are already planning our trip.

The church should plan activities and events that intentionally promote friendships and bonding within one’s God-given gender. The goal is not to steer youth toward stereotypes. The goal is to firmly root them with confidence and joy in their identity as a biological male or female whom God created. And if they choose to marry, teach them that God has created men for women, and women for men.

5 Create a positive environment for single people. Singles often feel like the third wheel at church gatherings, and “singles groups” tend to be focused on finding someone to marry. With an increasing number of young people identifying as LGBTQ and with the mental health struggles that accompany that, the church needs to offer genuine community for people who have chosen not to embrace the lifestyle. That situation can be very lonely and often shameful, but it shouldn’t be. The church should be the safest place for those struggling with homosexual thoughts and feelings—a place where they can find friendship, love, and people committed to helping them live a purposeful life that is pleasing to God.

It is honorable for a Christian man or woman with same-sex attraction to choose celibacy, but that shouldn’t mean a life of isolation from the Christian community.

Single heterosexual Christian adults must choose celibacy as well. The church must create an environment where being single for any reason and at any age is acceptable and not deemed socially inferior. The Apostle Paul considered singleness the preferable status (1 Cor 7:7-8), and the church should also affirm this. It is also essential for the teens in your church who may struggle with homosexuality or gender confusion to see a thriving church community where they can find friendship so they are less tempted to pursue a lifestyle of sexual sin motivated by loneliness.

_______________________
Summer Stevens is married to Nathanael and they have five children. She has a Master’s in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and enjoys running (but mostly talking) with friends and reading good books to her kids.

3 Time-Saving Tips for Teens – How To Be More Productive & Accomplish Your Goals

  1. Make Use of “Sponge Time

I’m not talking about Sponge Bob, but about time you already have but maybe don’t know you have. Just like a sponge easily absorbs extra water, if you really look, you will see “extra time” all around you. We all get the same 24 hours in a day. Many teens waste a lot of that time. Soak up the extra time around you.  When I was a senior in high school, I almost never took work home! I used some of these tips for teens to get ALL MY HOMEWORK done at school.

  • Use time riding in a car to study, write, text, email, or even practice an instrument like guitar (I wouldn’t try practicing a wind instrument in a vehicle).
  • When you arrive early to school, use that time to study rather than just “hanging out.” It’s ok to hang out, just be more deliberate with doing that.
  • If you get 40 minutes for lunch, you can eat lunch and socialize for 20 minutes and spend 20 minutes studying or practicing.
  • In most classes, you have a few minutes at the start and end of class. Use that time to get some homework done, make an outline or something.

2. Be more aware of time spent watching Television & Movies

TV is a big time waster.  Am I saying TV is completely bad? No, I watch some TV. It is just easy for TV to distract you from your goals. Record (or stream) and watch a few shows or movies, but beware of filling your days with mindless media consumption. Some stats say the average young person today spends 30 or more hours a week consuming media. That’s too much! How about ten hours or less? That would be better.

3. Don’t give in to the myth of multi-tasking

Studies have shown that when you switch from one task to another, it takes you 20 minutes or more to get back on task. Multi-tasking is a myth. Set aside time – maybe 45-60 minutes – to get work done. Turn off the TV, the phone, log out of Facebook/Tic Toc and spend that time wisely. Then, take a break and text, Facebook, etc. After your break, turn those apps off again.  Not only will you get more done, but when you are texting or talking, you will be more focused on the person you’re talking to, which will improve your relationships.

James Divine is a music teacher who has been a student of leadership, productivity and timesaving strategies since he was a teenager. With God’s help, he teaches full time, makes his family a priority, exercises, reads a book a week, performs, records and writes.  It’s not about how much time you have, but about how you use the time God has given you. Find out more about James at  www.jamesdivine.net. Also check out his course “Why Don’t They Teach That in School.”

What Would You Do If You Saw This Guy in Walgreens

It is SO easy to pre-judge people and make assumptions about them. I have had that happen to me dozens of times, and I know others have as well.

Once I was in Walgreens – the only one there – dressed like this – which is how I dress when I go out for a run on a winter morning. I heard a manager speak over the intercom and I immediately knew she was talking about me!

View more motivational videos at my Youtube Channel. I’d love to come and share stories with your group live and in person. Contact me HERE.

You Will Be Found Saxophone Cover

I absolutely love this song from the musical Dear Evan Hansen! It makes me cry when I hear it and when I play it. I hope you like this rendition of it.

Many of us go through life lost, lonely, confused, wondering what our purpose is. You DO have a purpose. You DO have meaning. There is Someone looking for you, and if you look for Him, You Will Be Found!

Listen to more of my music HERE. Find out more about me at www.jamesdivine.net.

How To Make An Easy – And Cheap – Cup of Coffee

Do you just absolutely have to have that delicious cup of Joe from one of your local chains? I need coffee to jump start my morning, but I don’t pay my local chain $5 for a cup when I can make my own for less than 25 cents. What could you do with that extra money? In just a year, you could save enough to go on a cruise. Yes, a cruise! Save $5/day x 365, that’s over $1500 in a year – more than enough for a Caribbean cruise. Speaking of cruises, once you save enough, head over to www.shiptrip.com and check out the offers my good friends there have available.

This is just one lesson from my Adulting 101 course. Get more below… Have you ever thought “Why don’t they teach THAT in school?” As a teacher of 23 years myself, I noticed that students had less and less of some of the basic skills they need for every day life. Thus Adulting 101 was born. Get the entire course at Udemy. It comes with a 30 day money back guarantee: https://www.udemy.com/course/adulting… Other mini-lessons include…

How To Write a Thank You Note (and how often) How To Make a Phone Call How to Apologize How to Accept an Apology How To Take a Phone Message How To Write a Check and Balance Your Account How to Decide Between Two Options How To Sew on a Button How to Iron How to Clean the Bathroom How to Vacuum How To Do Laundry How to Operate a Fire Extinguisher How To Boil Water How To Make Easy Peanut Butter Cookies How to Cook Bacon AND MORE! Get the full course at Udemy. There’s a 30 day money back guarantee. https://www.udemy.com/course/adulting101/

I Must Not Be Cut Out To Be A Farmer

Could you imagine someone tilling the soil, planting a seed, watering it carefully, going to bed, then coming out the next morning to see the results. When finding nothing, he declares “I must not be cut out to be a farmer.” Silly, right? Yet this is what many of us do in endeavors in our lives. Anything worth doing requires persistence and endurance. Just like a farmer plants a seed and then often has to keep working for 3, 4, 6 months to see the fruit, we have to do the same in our lives. www.jamesdivine.net ; Why Don’t They Teach That In School Course

Prayer Has Never Been Removed from Schools

I hear Christians lamenting all the time about two Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s that “removed prayer from schools”. This is a distortion of the facts. I decided it was time to set the record straight.

Those decisions did not remove prayer from schools, but removed state-sponsored prayer from public schools, and frankly I’m glad they did!

Christians have always been for the underdog, for the downtrodden, for those whose rights have been taken away, for those who are being abused. After all, it’s what Christ commanded us to do. And with our constitutional right to freedom of religion, this also includes the freedom to reject any religion. God has never forced anyone to follow Him. 

So why would we want to force people to pray? And what would happen if the majority of people were not Christian? Would they then have the right to force us to pray to their god? We should NOT have state-sponsored prayer in our schools, but neither should prayer be prohibited, and according to our constitution it’s not.

The dictionary defines prayer as a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship. Prayers can be out loud, or silent and in our minds. They can be made with eyes open or closed. While standing, sitting, or kneeling. The Supreme court decision in the 1960s did not ban prayer in schools. The constitution demands freedom of religion, which means you can pray whenever you want. 

Here’s why I think Christians have become dismayed over this subject…

Someone “in charge” at a school – a principal, board member, or teacher – has made a decision to “ban prayer.” Maybe the decision is made out of fear (many parents are ready to take every decision they disagree with immediately to the superintendent these days). Maybe the decision is due to lack of knowledge (many people misunderstand our freedoms – read the constitution please). Sometimes Christians have allowed themselves to be bullied in these situations. To be fair, the bully doesn’t always know he’s being one.

I pray daily at school – at my desk before I eat – in the hallway before students file in – while proctoring state testing – every Friday when I walk through the campus specifically praying for the school – and every week I pray for the leaders in my school district. 

Nobody stops me.

If a group of football players wants to get together before the game to pray – THEY ARE ALLOWED TO – and if some players don’t want to join in – they are allowed to refrain. If a group of students wants to meet early or stay late to study the bible – THEY ARE ALLOWED TO, unless the school prohibits all groups from meeting.

There are some things I’m not allowed to do…

  • I’m not allowed to use my music class time to proclaim the gospel
  • I’m not allowed to be disrespectful of other people’s beliefs that differ from mine

But what I’m allowed to do far exceeds that…

  • I’m allowed to pray whenever I want, silently during class or out loud when I’m alone
  • I’m allowed to talk to students about my faith when they ask me about it
  • I’m allowed to say Merry Christmas to students and staff 

You CAN pray in schools, for schools, for teachers, for administrators, and for parents and students. You CAN run for your local school board. When was the last time you prayed for our schools? Will you take a moment to do so now?

*** James Divine is in his 24th year of teaching, which he believes is his calling. Today’s Christian teachers are on a difficult mission field, but they have the potential for tons of impact. Find out more about James at www.jamesdivine.net.  Find out more about Prayer.

How To Pay For College Without Debt and Without Worry

College is affordable

We are constantly hearing all the “woe is me” about our colleges and the cost to attend! Some of those problems are our own doing, but college is still affordable!

My Story

I wanted to go to college for as far back as I can remember. My mom didn’t have any money saved up for me for college, but she did tell me I could live at home for free as long as I wanted while going to college.

I made the same mistakes many young people make…

  • I bought a NEW car (it was a Ford Escort, mind you, but it was still more than I needed)
  • Insurance was expensive on my NEW car
  • I felt like I was working just to pay for things needed for my NEW car (do you see a theme here)

I was taking one or two college classes and working full time at a construction job. It was ok, but I hated the work. Each night I arrived home tired and worn out, ready to eat dinner, watch tv, go to bed and do it again the next day. It looked to me like it would take forever to finish school at that rate, so I talked to a recruiter and joined the Army.

You can join the military and in exchange for three years of your life, you’ll receive about 72k in education benefits, plus you should be able to complete 2 years of college in a 4 year enlistment.

I started attending college while on active duty. I had to pay about 10% of the cost, the rest was covered by the military. There were only a few choices of colleges, it took me ten years, but I completed my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration!

You might be surprised at how many different types of jobs there are in the military. It’s not all about shooting weapons and war. I was in the band. You can be a cook, an admin assistant, work with finance, work in the chapel, shoot people, + a myriad of other options.

The Reality

I’m going to break down some real costs for my area (Colorado Springs)

Example #1: 18 year old student living at home with parents

Tuition at Pikes Peak Community College 3736

Books and Other Fees (you can probably bring this down buying used) 1800

TOTAL 5536

If this student works 40 hours a week at a minimum wage of $7.25/hour, he will earn approximately $15,000, more than enough to pay for college and have plenty to get around, plus some extra for fun.

Example #2: 18 year old student living on his own 

Tuition at Pikes Peak Community College 3736

Books and Other Fees (you can probably bring this down by going used) 1800

Renting a room in someone’s basement 6000

Food (does not include Starbucks or going out to eat; lots of ramen and mac and cheese)

3600

TOTAL 15136

If this student works 40 hours a week at a minimum wage of $7.25/hour, he will earn approximately $15,000. He will need to live somewhere close to the college and won’t have any extra money. However, if he took another part time job the weeks he didn’t have school – working just ten more hours per week – he could make 7.25/hour x 10 hours per week x 16 weeks = $1160. This could help pay for a couple of extra items.

But

  • This doesn’t sound like fun.
    • It’s not, it’s work, but it’s a sacrifice you make over a short period of time.
  • How can he work 40 hours AND do all his assignments.
    • The average college student spends upwards of 30 hours per week on media, social and otherwise.
    • Most wage earners actually stay at minimum wage only a short time. I earned minimum wage from the age of 14-17 – since then not. Once you prove to your employer that you are worth what she is paying you, you will earn substantially more than minimum wage.

Let’s take a look at a state college

In the state of Colorado, state colleges are required to take your transfer credits from community colleges when you transfer into their school.

Tuition at UNC Greeley 10,000

Room and Board 10,000

TOTAL 20,000

Now you have several options regarding work…

  • Continue working 40 hours/week and earning 15k/year; you accrue about 5k a year in debt, times two years. Not much debt at all. Work 60 hours a week during the summer to reduce that amount even more.
  • Don’t work at all during school, but work 60 hours per week during school breaks. Let’s also assume that since you now have your associate’s degree, you can now earn $10/hour. Your earnings would be $9,600/year. Let’s round that to $10k, so over two years you would need to borrow just 20K for your education. Once again very affordable.

The problem I see is that many students do not want to make the sacrifice needed to go to college. Because the loans are so easy to get and insured by the government, many students don’t work, yet continue to finance their lattes and vacations with borrowed money. Some choose to go to more expensive colleges. Some choose to major in Polka Music History and then wonder why they can’t get a job.

I wanted to get a master’s degree for a long time. I researched and looked into many possibilities. The 50k cost of most of many of them simply was not worth it to me. However, I finally found a small college in southwestern Oklahoma that gave me in-state tuition if I played in the summer band. I attended in the summers of 2010, 2011 and 2012. My total cost for a master’s degree was $9,000, which included room and board for the half of each week I stayed in Oklahoma. That’s $9k total, not per year!

Was it a sacrifice to have to drive each week? Yes. I could have stayed but I wanted to be home with my family. If you add the cost of driving, it would add about $3k to the total price. $12k – not bad for a master’s degree, and it immediately boosted my income about 5k per year as a teacher. There were options available in which I could have finished a master’s degree in 1-1 ½ years. Some cost 80-90k. If I had borrowed money to go to one of those schools, I would still owe the debt.

College is affordable. Don’t let the lies sink in.
*** James is a middle school teacher at a Title 1 school in Colorado Springs. He grew up in Title 1 schools before they were called that. Part of his growing up years was spent homeless – at least by today’s definition (we bumped around from family to family sleeping where we could; when mom was able to get her own apartment, we did not have electricity) – and on welfare. He is a strong believer in life-long learning. Sometimes that learning comes from a formal education, but mostly it comes from reading. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net. Also check out more resources HERE.

I Wasn’t Always This Way

I wasn’t always this way!

People look at me – 55, getting better looking each year, married to my high school sweetheart, parent of four, grandparent of 8, successful band teacher, author, speaker, musician – and they think “Wow, James is so confident and sure of himself. Life has been good to him. I wish my life was like that.”

I wasn’t always this way!

I struggled, really struggled with self-esteem for many years. I know it was related to having an abusive father, being molested and all the damage that did to my psyche. I ALWAYS felt like I had to be dating someone, and my self-esteem plummeted when a girl would break up with me. I would beg her to come back, to give me another chance, to tell me where I failed. By the way, this is the worst thing to do. I should have said, “OK…I was thinking the same thing.”

My friend Amy – after hearing about the umpteenth time of a girl breaking up with me and how sad and lonely I was – she was one of those people who got to the point quickly – confronted me about why I felt like I needed to be dating someone all the time. I don’t think she even realized the impact of her words. It caused me to think. It caused me to change my behavior. I decided to stop being worried about finding the right person. Maybe I needed to focus on me, on becoming a better person! Becoming more Christ-like.

The interesting thing is that when I did that, that’s when I found my soul-mate, my life-long lover, my best friend. I started dating Susan soon after that talk with Amy. I knew in about a week that Susan was probably the one. (By the way guys, after a week is not the time to mention this, even if you know deep in your soul).

Even after I started my adult life, got married, joined the Army band and was a successful husband, dad and musician, my self-esteem was still rock bottom.

I wasn’t always this way!

You see, I am a recovering people pleaser. At first glance, a people pleaser seems to be a really nice person. Everyone can count on them. Need cookies baked, call a people pleaser. Need someone on a committee, call a people pleaser. People pleasers can’t say no. Ultimately for me, this desire to please grew out of a fear of rejection, which had its roots in not being close to my father due to his abuse of my mom. I felt that those close to me might reject me if I didn’t do everything they wanted.

Although I started killing off the roots of what caused me to be a people pleaser, I didn’t totally sever the roots until I went to Next Level Life in 2015. What is it? Two intense days of physical, emotional and spiritual counseling. In the course of the two days, you uncover your roots – patterns and behaviors that have contributed to how you act or react to things – and sever a lot of those roots (the bad roots). I learned to leave those people pleasing tendencies behind.

I wasn’t always this way!

So when you see me – successful, self-assured, confident, willing to disagree, making sure I have my priorities straight – I want you to realize it wasn’t always like this. It is a journey, a process, sometimes hard work that takes you from one point to another. I had the same doubts you have. I had the same struggles you have. I had the same lack of self-esteem as you have.

I overcame and

Now I am this way (but I wasn’t always this way)

And I like that I’m this way…the only one I truly have to please is God

And He’s pleased with me because He is making me into His image

By taking care of me first, it has given me more time

By focusing on my mission and calling, it has made me a better person

And believe it or not, I love others more than I ever have

So don’t look at me and say, “I wish”

But look at me and say, “If he could do it, with God’s help I can too.”

I love you.

I’m proud of you.

You make my life rich.

* James is first and foremost a son of the King. He is also a teacher, musician, speaker and author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net.  Find out more about Next Level Life at www.chrislocurto.com

Advice: Choosing Quality Band Literature at the Appropriate Level

Choosing Quality Band Literature

Here are a few things I have learned about selecting music for wind band…

Ability Level of the Ensemble You Direct: 

A piece of music may be the greatest creation ever made, but if it is too difficult for the students to play, they will become discouraged. I often made the mistake of selecting literature that was too difficult in the early years of my career. Does this mean that there should never be a piece in the folder that is beyond students’ reach? No, there should always be something that we are looking at that would be a stretch for our group. Musicians have never “arrived.” We are always working and striving for better things.

My students still say things like “This is too easy.” I have learned to explain to them that – yes, their individual part is easy, and each person may feel that way about their part, but when we put it all together it isn’t musical yet. It’s hard to make music when one is struggling with the technique. There is good quality music available at all levels. At some levels it will take more digging to find the quality stuff, but it’s there. You might use a resource like the Teaching Music Through Performance series.

Instrumentation: 

This is a difficult one. If you don’t have an oboe/English horn player, it will be difficult to do a piece like Russian Christmas Music. It can be done – and as a professional sax player I have played the oboe and English horn cues in that song – but it just isn’t the same. Likewise if you have no trumpet players or few low brass players, there are simply some things you cannot perform.

I want to thank one of my mentors, Joe Brice, for helping me in my teaching in this area. He came to clinic my band and said “You need another tuba.” Of course I agreed but stated that I couldn’t do anything. Joe answered with a detailed, thoughtful answer that represented his 50+ years of experience. He said, “Did you ask anybody?” At that point I wanted to slap my head in a big “Duh; why didn’t I think of that” moment. I asked and convinced three students to switch over.

My point is that – although instrumentation (or lack of it) can be difficult, we really need to take a long term approach to it. Ask your students if anyone wants to switch, especially if – like me – you have a ton of flute players and less of others. Some of those who switch will become awesome; some of them will go back to their original instrument. That’s ok! Explain to the students why it is important that some of them switch for the good of the band.

Rehearsal Time: 

We are involved in the field of music education. Sometimes I think we forget that…I know I have…especially as we rush to prepare for a concert, festival or competition. A director of a professional symphony may be able to prepare difficult pieces with just 2-3 rehearsals. However, our job is not only directing, but educating. As I have gained more experience, I have realized that the educating part of the job is much more important and has more lasting effects.

I think it is better to do one or two high quality pieces and play them extremely well than to perform 4-5 pieces and not have really learned anything in the process. It is important to dig deep into the music, the history and even some analysis of the songs being performed. So often we are so busy with the need to get through the music that we forget to instruct students about the music.

Select Quality Literature: 

Now we arrive at probably the greatest challenge in selecting music. How do we define quality? For me, the definition has changed a lot over the course of my teaching. There are many pieces I regret having wasted money on in my early years of teaching. I know quality when I hear it, but I don’t always recognize lack of quality (if that even makes sense). There is quality literature at every level. There is junk at every level.

Here is my definition of quality music…

Quality music moves me emotionally. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, not a cover your ears and run out of the room uncomfortable, but uncomfortable in the sense that my thinking is challenged. It is expressive. It is melodic. Although it may contain repeating motifs, it is not the same two measure repeating motif for 120 measures.

Now do you feel qualified to determine whether music is of quality or not? Me neither. We need something more. Frank Battisti in his book The Winds of Change says that many directors have stopped attending concerts and listening and studying great music. We must expose ourselves to great music so we can know when we hear it. Battisti likens it to a wine connoisseur whose tastes improve as he becomes exposed to more wine. I liken it to a little kid who thinks a fast food burger is the greatest thing on earth, until she matures and realizes that there are burgers ten times better than the fast food variety.

I encourage you to listen to great music, attend your state conference and listen to the groups selected to perform, and when you go to contest, schedule some time to listen and observe other groups. As Battisti states, your taste level will be elevated. You will become better equipped to know when you hear poor quality music.

I will end with a quote from Battisti, “We are what we consume! If one wants to become an artist conductor/teacher – one must consume great Art.”

***James has been a performer and educator for over 30 years, teaching band and orchestra at every level from 4th-12th grade. He also hosts the music ed podcast, delivers keynote speeches using music, and has written several books on music and life in general. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net. 

Are you burned out? Take this test to find out.

Burned Out

In 1998, I started my first teaching job with passion, dedication, love and joy. I gave my all to my students, but I neglected myself and – I’m ashamed to say – at times my family. I became extremely burned out. When I left that school for another in 2005, I promised myself I would never let that happen again! I set boundaries, I took better care of my health, I left for home at the end of the school day.

As my own kids grew, I found myself starting a marching band and devoting more and more time to my work. I didn’t mind. My responsibilities at home had changed, I had more time, and I saw what a difference marching band was making in my students’ lives. I had overcome the possibility of burnout!

WRONG!!!

I succumbed again. It wasn’t quite as bad as the first time, but this time I didn’t recognize the signs until I heard a presentation by Dr. Frank Tracz of Kansas State. He shared the burnout link with us that you will find below.

I left my position for a new one teaching middle school with no marching band. Sometimes – not always – one must leave a position to regain balance. That’s a whole blog post of it’s own.

Are you burned out? Take this Burnout Self Test from the good people at Mind Tools to find out. If the results come out positive, make the changes necessary to prevent burnout. You’ll be glad you did.

I just took the test again recently. Even though I am not burned out, I am in the danger zone – probably because of Covid. I address those thoughts in a recent podcast HERE.

11 Ways to Lose (and Keep) a Band Student

11 Ways To Lose (and Keep) A Band Student

Nobody wants to lose a band student. Sometimes it’s inevitable – you get a student who doesn’t want to work at all for example. Other times it may be our own fault.

Here are 11 ways to lose a band student for sure (and 11 ways to keep them).

1. Have Roving Eyes

Instead of focusing on the here and now and what students you do have, always look for the next Miles Davis. Never be content with who you have.

Make the best of who and what you have. Develop them to their fullest ability. Miles Davis could be weird at times anyway.

2. Don’t Answer Calls and Emails

Answering these takes time, time away from preparing the music. Just delete/erase these before they clutter up your inbox.

If a student takes the time to call or email you, it is generally because he wants to do well and improve. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, you are showing lack of concern for them. Many times students have told me I’m the only teacher who responds to their emails.

3. Don’t listen to feedback

Some of my directors growing up were “My way or the highway” types who really were not interested in becoming better people. Ignoring the feedback from your students means you won’t have as great of an opportunity to improve.

Listen to student feedback, even if you disagree. Maybe there is a compromise in there somewhere. Listen carefully if it’s coming from your leaders.

4. Don’t Get To Know Your Students

After all, music is the most important thing, so why would we ever ask them about their families, future plans or other activities. (Caveat…I DO make sure my students understand that our short rehearsal together is going to be focused on music).

Before, after and during breaks in rehearsal, get to know about your students’ families, jobs, dreams, interests and hobbies.

5. Focus only on your wants and needs

Who cares what songs the students want to play. It’s all about winning the competition and making me look good.

Isn’t it ok to play a Disney song once in awhile? Let the students pick some of the repertoire. I usually ask them to send me a www.jwpepper.com link so I can review it. If it’s not suited to our group, I tell them why.

6. Argue over little things

After all, what type of tread is on the bottom of the marching shoe has won and lost championships, right?

After 23 years of teaching, I quit being so strict about footwear at concerts. Do I want the kids to look nice? You bet. Does a percussionist wearing black sneakers instead of black dress shoes affect anyone’s enjoyment of the music? Not really.

7. Ignore The Little Things

I know Sally doesn’t have music yet, but there’s just no time for such trivial things. I’ll update the grades at the end of the semester. I know Brian took a retest weeks ago, but I don’t think he will mind having a D as long as I change it before the end of the semester.

The little things add up to big things. I am not perfect in this, so I write EVERYTHING down. I don’t want to forget the small details.

8. Don’t show appreciation

The students have the privilege of being in my class.

The students have the option not to be in your class. It’s your privilege to get to teach the best and brightest in the school.

9. Don’t Apologize

Rule #1: The director is always right.

Rule #2: When the director is wrong, refer to rule #1.

Saying “sorry” when called for is one of the best things you can do. I’ve lost my temper at a kid. I’ve said something that humiliated them or done something I shouldn’t have. I ALWAYS apologize. It makes an impact on the students.

10. Poor care of facilities

Hey, the music is the most important thing, so why do the room and instruments need to be taken care of.

Put away piles of stuff. Organize. Throw away. Make the facility look the best you can with what you have.

11. Don’t care

Look at the players as people who fill a need for an instrument rather than as people.

Show concern. Call when a student is away for extended illness. When they return, tell them how much you missed them.

A student doesn’t care how much you KNOW until they know how much you CARE.

James Divine – Youth Success Speaker

Poverty
Abusive Father
Homelessness
Sexual Abuse

I’ve lived through all of these. I had to overcome them as I realized that I could have a better future than what my life had dictated. I love sharing my story of experiencing all these things, but more importantly, sharing the steps I took to overcome and leave these events in the past where they belong.

In the past 20+ years, I’ve shared this message with tens of thousands of people to help them change their mindset, overcome their past, and move to their best future. You can count on me to be humorous, interactive, and an engaging speaker, full of insights and stories, and music, and humor, and different characters even.

I have been teaching middle and high school students for more than 20 years. I know their struggles. Their pains. Their insecurities. I was exactly like them. I suffered from “I Can’t” syndrome, but finally found the process to break free. I wish it was just a little magic pill, but it’s not. It’s a process. I’ve helped hundreds on their own journey.

Now I’m a veteran, husband, dad, teacher, musician, author, and grandad! Contact me today and let’s discuss your needs.

A Glimpse of my (Italian Widowed) Mom in Heaven

Dealing with a family member who has had a stroke is very difficult. There are so many things to attend to, not to mention wondering if your family member will even survive! My mom had a stroke in May of 2016. At first we thought she was going to die.

When she made it through the first few days and was in recovery, we got to see a glimpse of what she will be like in heaven. It was a wonderful gift…one that I especially treasure now.

Looking back on my life and seeing how my mom acts now, she is sometimes a real PITA (rhymes with her name). No, not an eastern style flat bread. This is a very different definition of PITA.

A lady I know used to occasionally call her grandkids PITA when they were acting up. She said it so sweetly that I thought it was a pet name for them. I asked her what it meant. She said it meant Pain In The ***. My mom can be a real PITA at times.

My sister and I have always lauded her as the master of the guilt trip. We were used to it growing up. We often had interactions like this…

Me: Mom, I’m sorry I talked back to you. Will you forgive me?
Mom: You’re not sorry.
Me: Mom, please forgive me. I’ll never talk back to you again.
Mom: You don’t appreciate anything I do for you.
Me: Mom, I DO appreciate you. I love you.
Mom: You don’t love me. People who love other people don’t talk back to them.

Let’s just say there were times when there was not a lot of grace. If anything, mom has gotten worse about this with age. She is 76 but constantly talks about how when she was 5, one of her sisters stole an orange from her. When you try to reason with her, it backfires and comes back to “Since you are arguing with me, you don’t really love me.”

It has become somewhat of a family joke that all these bad things happen to her because people are prejudiced against Italian widows.

“Jimmy, they got my order wrong at McDonalds on purpose.”
“No, mom, they’re just incompetent. They get everyone’s order wrong.”
“You don’t understand what I’ve been through. They are doing this because I’m an Italian widow.”

Sheesh. They must get my order wrong because I’m the son of an Italian widow!

We all do things wrong in life, including mom, and we all need God’s forgiveness and grace. Mom has somehow lost that grace for others in her own life. However, for three wonderful weeks in June of 2016, we got to see what she will be like in heaven.

A stroke normally does change a person’s behavior, but it is often for the bad. In Mom’s case it was for the good. She became very gentle, charming even with the hospital staff (she normally berates hospital staff. When I apologize for her, they tell me they only have to live with it temporarily while they acknowledge I have had to live with it for life). She ate food prepared by others. As usual, she insisted it wasn’t as good as her own, but she was cute and charming about it (normally she won’t even eat ANY food prepared by others). She was very grateful for life, for the hospital staff, for everyone who came to see her, for the hospital food, for all the well-wishers who came by to visit, for my wife (who was there EVERY day…our Friday night date nights became dinner at the hospital cafeteria for awhile…I am so grateful to have a beautiful woman like that as my soul-mate).

Alas, as her brain healed, she went back to being normal, which for her is depressed, condemning, judgmental and unforgiving. I truly believe the untreated depression contributes to this, as well as undiagnosed mental illness. I have asked my wife to watch me for any mental illness as I know it can be hereditary, but so far nothing has shown up (shhh, the government is looking over my shoulder as I write this).

I hope that reading this article doesn’t give you the impression that I’m ungrateful. My mom was a single mom. She gave up a lot in life so she could purchase a saxophone and music lessons for me, and I’m extremely grateful. We never went hungry. Despite the guilt trips and being chased by a wooden spoon often, we knew we were loved. She taught me about God, probably the best gift she could ever have given me. Mom is racked by a lot of guilt and regret. I wish she would accept the lessons she taught me. God forgives her. He has wiped her past away. He still has plans for her, despite her poor health.

I write this to give you encouragement. Maybe you were raised by someone who was the master of the guilt trip. Maybe you are dealing with mental illness, or stroke, or cancer or a multitude of other things. These issues have to be faced with grace, forgiveness, humor and support from others. With God’s help, I’ve become the person I am today, and I am grateful that for three weeks I had a glimpse into heaven of what my mom will really be like when “God will wipe away every tear” from her past and heal all her wounds.

James Divine is a musician, author and music teacher. His latest book “A Stroke of Bad Luck: A survival guide for when someone you know has a stroke” is available on Amazon. James tries to share truth, grace and love wherever he goes. One of his main goals in life – besides running away from the ever-present wooden spoon – is to act his shoe size, not his age. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net.

Tube Socks, Giants, and a Teacher’s Trust

Have you ever had a teacher say or do something that had a huge impact on you for your entire life? I have had many of these opportunities.

Some teachers affect you in a negative way. I’ve had my share of those. Most of my teachers had huge, positive impacts on my life. My seventh grade band teacher was one of them.

I went to a rough school in seventh grade. Remember tube socks from the 70s? On the last day of school, it was not unusual to have some of the teens in the neighborhood surround the school bus – tube socks in hand – but with the addition of a large rock in the bottom of the tube sock. These teens would swing their rock-filled tube socks with the expertise of David swinging his slingshot at Goliath – except instead of using their rock to slay evil, they were intent on causing evil by smashing the windows of the school bus. I was a terrified 13 year old about to wet my pants.

Within the school I felt very safe. We were kept safe by a group of three security guards who were very tall – they seemed like Goliath to me in the heights they reached – and well-muscled – but the friendliest giants you ever knew! They made me feel safe. They developed relationships with students. I had my share of getting in trouble in seventh grade, but these giants loved me all the same…as did my band teacher.

The band teacher played saxophone like me. I can still see his face. I remember his encouragement as I learned saxophone for the first time. I remember his praise – his gentleness – his push for high standards – not just musically but morally too. I even remember when he lost his temper at the drummers one day, flung his conductor’s baton at them, only to have it bounce off the bass drum and come back and hit him in the head. We all had a good laugh, including him. I can’t for the life of me remember his name.

One day we were taking a trip to a local music festival where we would perform, receive feedback, and listen to others perform. Those of you who took band may remember this event as Large Group Festival. As our teacher prepared us, he reminded us that we were stopping for lunch and we should bring some money. He informed us that if we forgot our money, he would be glad to loan us some, but we would have to repay it. Then he said something I’ve remembered my whole life…”And if you don’t pay me back, that’s ok. It’s worth a couple of dollars for me to find out I can’t trust you.”

That teacher’s trust meant a lot to me – and it taught me an important lesson… Trust everyone unless they show you they can’t be trusted. Thank you Mister!

***James is a music teacher at a school very similar to the one he went to as a 7th grader. He is in his 23rd year of being an educator and attributes his success to all the wonderful teachers he had along the way. James grew up in poverty and abuse, but now shares his story of Your NOW doesn’t determine your FUTURE as often as his schedule allows. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net. Get his book on amazon Forgive: One man’s story of being molested…and God’s redemption.