Reflections:…………Do You See What I See?

Gary Coker

June and I, along with ‘lots’ of other people, gathered atop the mountain where the University of the South is located in anticipation of seeing the so-called “Christmas Star”. Astrologists had told us the planets Jupiter and Saturn would align forming what would appear to be one giant star illuminating from the sky.
As the crowd sat on blankets and stood beneath the large Cross that adorns the mountain there was an array of theories as to how long since the two planets had aligned in such a manner and how long before this phenomenon would occur again. In addition to the stars’ alignment the sunset was in full blaze. If this wasn’t enough, a quarter moon was also visible to the eye, all three events occurring at the same time. The conversations from those in attendance ran the gambit with very little reference to creation or the creator. In jest I turned to the couple standing next to me and said: “the last people to witness such an event were the wise men in Bethlehem”.
They looked at me as if I had leprosy……… “do you see what I see”?
Sometimes I am haunted by the differences in our society and how people ‘see’ things. I am convinced that many of the people observing this planet alignment saw totally different things. Thus, one person can say ‘it’s a miracle”, while another says “it’s a coincidence.”
For you see, what we see and what we hear in life depends not upon the events but rather who we are as people. It’s not what is out there but what is inside of us.
Let me ask you a question. Ask yourself what you hear this Christmas. Do you hear the Christmas carols? When you watch the 6:00 news do you see chaos and strife, or do you see people without a Shepherd? Do you see people dreading Christmas because it accentuates their loneliness? In the midst of the sounds of honking horns and people rushing for parking spots do you also hear the sound of laughter?
It is my opinion that I must hear the cry from the lonely and I must see sheep without a shepherd. I want to see the events that took place in Bethlehem that night. If I lack the spiritual seeing and hearing then I would have been with the 99 percent who were present but who saw or heard nothing out of the ordinary.

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Gary Coker

Meteorologists and astronomers tell us we will experience a “Christmas Star”, an enormously bright celestial event that hasn’t occurred in hundred of years, not since 1226.  For the star to shine as brightly as this one will on December 21st, Jupiter and Saturn will need to align by only .1 degree.  The image will appear as one star.  Scientists tell us that the planets won’t align this closely again until the year 7541,  but you can only see it about 30 minutes after sunset!

I am sure many people will have their binoculars and stand in awe of this amazing, brilliant star lighting up the sky. 

This season of coronavirus has, in a sense, put everyone into a dark kind of wilderness, the likes of which we haven’t experienced before in our lifetimes.  As the word of vaccines begin to emerge, it is though a light has come on and we begin to feel hope.

God knows, we are a people who need light.  We need to live, to work, to function, and to feel alive. Light for us is hope.  Light for us is life. 

May the LIGHT of Jesus Christ shine in your life during this Christmas season and continue throughout your life.

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Gary Coker

Throughout the elementary schools of America students are reenacting the first Thanksgiving between the new settlers (Pilgrims) to America and the American Indian.  Each year this reenactment occurs and after the holiday we return to the regular curriculum. While the historical activity is open for discussion, the behavior of thanksgiving is in need of rehabilitation.

We all understand and appreciate the importance of gratitude.  In fact, this concept begins very early in life.  We teach our children to express gratitude when they receive something, they cherish, for example, candy or other ‘goodies’. “Now what do you say?” And the child learns to say “Thank you.”

In the book, “A Window on the Mountain,” Winston Pierce tells of his high school class reunion.  A group of the old classmates were reminiscing about things and persons they were grateful for.  One classmate mentioned that he was particularly thankful for Mrs. Wendt, for she more than anyone had introduced Tennyson and the beauty of poetry.  Acting on a suggestion, the man wrote a letter of appreciation to Mrs. Wendt and addressed it to the high school.  The note was forwarded and eventually found the old teacher.  About a month later the man received a response.  It was written in a feeble long hand and read as follows: “My dear Willie, I can’t tell you how much your letter meant to me.  I am now in my nineties, living alone in a small room cooking my own meals, lonely, and like the last leaf of fall lingering behind.  You will be interested to know that I taught school for forty years and yours is the first letter of appreciation I ever received.  It came on a blue, cold morning and it cheered me as nothing has for years.  Willie, you have made my day.”

Greg Anderson, in ‘Living Life on Purpose’, tells a story about a man whose wife had left him.  He was lonely, depressed and found no joy in living.  Each day he stopped at the same little diner for breakfast.  On this day, although there were several people in the diner, no one was speaking to anyone else.

In one of the small booths along the window was a young mother with a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting,  “Momma, why don’t we say our prayers here?”  The waitress who had just served their breakfast turned around and said, “Ok, sure honey, we can pray here.  will you say the prayer for us?”  And she turned and looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, “bow your heads.”  Surprisingly, one by one, the heads went down.  The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, “God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for our food. Amen.”

That prayer changed the entire atmosphere.  People began to talk with one another.  The waitress said, “we should do that every morning.”

Thanksgiving is more than a holiday.  It is a way of life. Even in the midst of our problems there is always something for which to be thankful.   The year 2020 has been a year of many ups and downs.  I cannot deny the reality of the problems that exist.  Just remember the change that occurred in the restaurant when the little girl said the prayer.   It is the will of God to give thanks. A cheerful heart is medicine for the soul.

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Name a few moments of ‘Awe’ you have had lately. I recently read an article from Mayo Clinic that indicated having awe-inspiring experiences, especially in times of distractions, worries and distress (as illustrated in the picture of our son Kyle), helps to reduce stress and anxiety. So with this awe-inspiring information let’s begin to keep a portfolio–either virtually or on paper–of awe-inspiring quotes and pictures. I began a folder several years ago and occasionally get the folder and review the many items saved.  I always come away refreshed and many times  with laughter.  We should fill our life bringing a sense of wonder to small daily things that often get overlooked. For example, a bumblebee exploring a flower, a grandchild’s delight or an elegantly crafted piece of furniture. Many times it will only have meaning to you and no one else.

So why do I want to have these moments of awe. Accordingly, moments of ‘awe’ produce feelings of warmth and positivity which flood your mind in a way that doesn’t happen when, for example,  doing laundry. Doctors still don’t understand the underlying mechanisms, but studies show positive effects—reduced inflammation, lower stress levels and improved heart rate and diastolic blood pressure, to name only a few.

Research recommends two overwhelming ways to produce the moments of awe. First, get out in nature. Take a walk, go for a ride in the country, have a flower garden. The important thing is to be observant. Secondly, establish relationships with other people. It is critical for our own preservation to establish personal relationships. I underline the word personal—face to face. Our moments of awe can easily be stolen through virtual relationships…….”do not forsake the fellowship of people with a kindred spirit.”

Therefore, your prescription for the next week is to focus on each day in search of ‘awe’. Try to bring a sense of wonder to small daily things that often get overlooked. Share these moments first with ‘yourself’ and then with someone else….. “You can’t believe what I saw today……..” Have you ever seen…… “I saw a patch of God light today……..”

Grace and Peace



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Reflections…………………………………………….The Bonus Round

The Memorial Cross University of the South Sewanee, Tennessee

Almost daily I am reminded about the ‘good old days.’  This reminder, in addition to my aging body, is usually sent to me via social media with a litany of objects, pictures, and people from the 1950’s and 60’s.  Flashbacks of those times, things and places carry a storehouse of memories. Usually in short order I am brought back to the same unnerving reality.  I am old.

A very encouraging aspect of this kind of ‘gerontocracy’ is, never in our history has their been a stranger time to be old.  How is that, and how do you come to such a startling observation?  I concur with Mark Galli when he reminds me our best hope of unseating the about-to-turn 74-year old in the White House, is a former vice-president who, at 77 won the democratic nomination over a 78-old senator whom young people preferred in the primaries.  If elected, he will, one hopes, work effectively with the 80-year old Speaker of the House, or may be thwarted by the truculent 78-year old Senate majority leader.  Additionally, until then, several crucial rights, including access to health care and abortion, may rest in the survival of an 87-year old Supreme Court justice.  Wow, by these standards the best of my life is yet to come.

If I could draw any kind of parallel with the previous paragraph and the aging leadership in our country it would be  at the height of their power they are thrust into the most difficult times and decisions facing our nation.  As a country we have never been more vulnerable, especially  when you look at ‘who will be voting.’ we cannot relax our grip.   It is the aged, people like myself who must go the bonus round. It is the aged who must carry the baton and be sure it gets passed on.

 The irony of all ironies occurred this morning in my quiet time. (my quiet time is spent walking usually around 5:30-6:30).  Many people would call this a ‘coincidence.  Except I do not believe in a coincidence, I believe it’s’ God way of speaking to me. The verse that came to me was from Psalm 104:18…” the mountains are for stags; the rocks are a refuge for hedgehogs.”  I must be honest; I was not sure the meaning of such an obscure verse.

According to John Cassian the hedgehogs of the day  gathered in the shelter of the rocks to try to find Jesus.  It was this group who were the spiritual elite of their time, they were also a source of guidance for others.

Is it possible  we, the older generation are now the hedgehogs and have become the spiritual elite?  Is it possible,  for such a time as this we have been called to share the ‘good news”?  Is it possible,  for a time as this we, the senior citizens, are given a ‘bonus round?’  Is it possible we the aged are at the height of our power and cannot relax and allow the moment of greatest power to slip away?


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Reflections…………………………………………………………………………Your Mother

This is a treasure found at the hospitality shop located on the campus of the University of the South.  The paper was found crumpled up inside an old book. It was hand written and as I initially read it over, tears came to my eyes.  Wouldn’t you love to know who loved their mother so much that they would jot this with pencil in a tiny cursive on a scrap of paper.  There was no name on the paper, just some numbers scribbled on the bottom.  I thought we could all enjoy this one  treasure .


                                                              Your Mother

Is always with you.  She’s the whisper of the leaves as you

Walk down the street.  She’s the smell of certain foods you

Remember, flowers you pick, the fragrance of life itself.

     She’s the cool hand on your brow when you’re not feeling

Well.  She’s your breath of air on a cold winter’s day.  She is the

Sound of the rain that lulls you to sleep.  The colors of the rainbow.

She is Christmas morning.

     Your mother lives inside your laughter.  She is the place you

Came from, your first home and she’s the map you follow with

Every step you take.  She’s your first love your first friend, even

Your first enemy. But nothing on earth can separate you, not time,

Not space not even death………………………. author unknown


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Reflections………………………………………Circadian Rhythm

 Gary Coker Ph.D

If you’ve ever noticed that you tend to feel energized or drowsy around the same time every day, you have your circadian rhythm to thank. What is it, exactly? Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.
As a young boy with clearly established bedtime and morning arousal my circadian clock had no difficulty keeping me in rhythm. But just imagine you have spent the day in the house engaged in a virtual classroom due to school closure. In the midst of this process you must maintain your social status with your friends via social networking.
Parents, a major premise you must accept is that teens have an  all-consuming desire to be with friends and this is reasonable and what they should want to do. In fact, you should encourage their social connections and help them figure out how to maintain those interactions, albeit, from a distance. As a college professor who has studied adolescents and peer relationships, I find it helpful to think about the reality of our existing situation from a developmental prospective.
As an adolescent I need to be told that my ‘future self’ will be happier the next morning if I close my laptop, place the e-mails on hold and try not to make the day just a moment longer. “But mom!!” “just a moment longer…….and then another……. until suddenly, it’s an hour past bedtime. The result of this situation is a lethargic, tired individual the following day, not to mention the emotional stress and anxiety produced. The first defense mechanism sought by adolescents  and adults  is to change the circadian rhythm with ‘naps,’ late bed time and a myriad of other activities.
Factor into this scenario the ‘blue light’ emitted by most of the screens we stare into for much of the waking hours suppressing the secretion of melatonin. In other words, our devices are not only a diversion, but they also keep us alert much later than is healthy.
In data collected on Character Lab Research Network the more hours teens spend on social media and video games the less they sleep. This is where establishing the circadian rhythm becomes critical.
As a parent, an effective way for you to triumph over the present massive time your child spends before a ‘screen’ is to manipulate your situation to advantage. Very much like behavioral modification you will practice situational modification.
For instance, you can make it a family rule to keep the chargers for cell phones and the cell phones themselves, out of bedrooms. Better yet, you can go analog by practicing and requiring individuals to curl up with a good book for the last hours of the evening. Bedtime should not be constantly moving and readjusted.
Once the circadian rhythm is established you and your family will have a healthier lifestyle.

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Reflections……………………………………………………………Sand Traps

When playing golf, my worst nightmare is getting into a sand trap. Invariably, my instincts take over and fear prevails. Many of my golfing buddies tell me to have patience, that  I act too quickly.   It was one of these ‘good’ sand trip golfers who reminded me  to consider the trap an ‘opportunity.’ What a novel idea, akin to: ‘by the time this is over you will have taken advantage of a perfectly good crisis.”
Recently I wrote to a group of e-mail friends and asked for their comments and feelings concerning the coronavirus. Their replies were enlightening as many discussed the frustrations surrounding their everyday life. I surmised from their general attitude they had acquired the essentials such as milk and toilet paper, however, the one essential giving them the most difficulty was ‘patience’.  Could it be the virus is creating sand traps in our game of life?
One of the observable behaviors in our Christian lives is the lack of spiritual goals. We have goals in other spheres—-career goals, vacation goals, weight loss goals—which we pursue with ongoing action. I hasten to add I am very aware that in some Christian circles formulating spiritual goals is considered taboo.
Have you heard anyone discuss their spiritual goals during this crisis? It is somewhat odd that many people do not have concrete goals in spiritual improvement. They go ‘with the flow’ and make comments, “God is going to take care of me.” Or they answer, “I go to church every Sunday.”
We Christians have an endless capacity for improving—“-I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Maybe we  should we  go back to the  previous comment: ‘by the time this is over we will have taken advantage of a perfectly good crisis’.
In golf you Identify the sand traps and learn the basic procedures to get out of them or to stay out of them. In life the sand traps are the areas where you need to improve your daily behaviors and spiritual foundation and establish goals to avoid them.
Sand traps tend to occur in the same predictable spots every day.  So be smart and target these places in your behavioral analysis and “be conformed to the image of Christ”.
Look at the sand traps that are giving you difficulty and develop a Christ-like approach. You will discover to your surprise how good obedience feels—that instantaneous lightening and strengthening that accompanies putting the flesh to death.

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Reflections…………………………………………..School Make-Up

Gary Coker Ph.D

The Coronavirus has caused schools to close throughout the United States.  As things begin to return to normalcy, the question is: “How should students make-up the time missed as a result of the virus”? Obviously even with the best schooling at home, there is likely to be some loss of learning.
Research is conclusive— students learn less with online classes than similar peers in traditional face-to-face school learning.
This makes sense, because learning is a social activity. The evidence shows positive effects are stronger where technology is a supplement for teaching, rather than a significant replacement. Technology is a tool for learning and should not replace the teacher.
Special students or disadvantaged students will be hardest hit. Children from poorer households or households that do not embrace the learning process in an organized manner or where parents do not give adequate help when problems arise are at a tremendous disadvantage.
Before the school closures, children who were struggling academically were  placed at risk. Asking these students to work independently through large parts of the curriculum on line can create stress. Many of these students function below their grade level and when the process requires them to regulate their own learning pace a formula for disaster is created.
I hasten to add this is not an argument against on-line learning. Digital learning offers much potential for schools and students. Computer-aided tutoring shows positive results when used to support learning.
It cannot be considered academic equivalency to shift teaching online to large populations during a pandemic and expect equal results as to the teacher in the classroom.
So, what should school systems do when they re-open to help students bounce back.

When school re-opens students are likely to be behind. Some will be far behind. Many students will have a lot to catch up on to move up a grade in 2021. Local schools have several options. Getting students to repeat a year should not be one of them.
Acquisition of pre-requisite skills necessary for advancement to the next grade or level is a priority. Without these skills a domino effect can occur with social promotions and a student losing interest in school and simultaneously adopting a negative self-image.
So called catch-up programs offer the school system the opportunity to access the academic level of students relative to their grade level and provide intensive instruction in small groups before and after the normal school day. These sessions should be targeted at the most disadvantaged and struggling students in groups of two to five students. Positive results have been noted for co-operative learning with students who are advanced leading small groups.
Another option is intensive face-to-face academic programs delivered over a few weeks. This should be similar to what we once called ‘summer school.’ These programs have a strong academic focus and target struggling students.
The school calendar could be adjusted to incorporate the month of June as make-up time. Research indicates intense programs during the summer can help students gain two months of extra learning compared to similar students who do not take advantage of the ‘summer school’ learning. The impact of this type of approach is greater when academically focused and delivered intensively with small groups by experienced teachers.
No doubt schools and teachers will do their best to continue student learning while schools are closed. Through this process we will also learn a lot about how to implement on-line learning for large populations and improve along the way.

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REFLECTIONS…………………………………………Home Schooling

Gary Coker Ph.D

Home schooling has, heretofore, referred to children as those who did not attend school away from home but were taught at home. The coronavirus has changed this definition as schools have closed and many children are now taught at home. This change in environment from school to home requires a change in the behavioral approach in your home and to your child and represents something quite different.

May I encourage you to go to and design a daily schedule. This will take patience primarily due to the behavioral aspects your child has learned at home. For example, most likely he/she will want to lay on the bed, the floor, or somewhere he/she has traditionally studied. It is important to have a place conducive to learning- preferably a straight-backed chair at some form of desk or table, a place not surrounded by visual distractions such as wall posters, etc., and absolutely no television or audio devices. Your child needs to understand this is a time of learning and is free of distractions. If your school provides online classroom learning you will need to monitor ‘time on task’. Your schedule should provide for an orderly transition between classes and other activities. Remember, the greatest predictor of learning is time engaged with a specific learning objective.

Tips for you during this time of home schooling.

  1.  Start with a weekly schedule for yourself.  Time-blocking or scheduling chunks of time for certain tasks will net you the most productive use of your time.  It will not be uncommon for your child/student to want to assume a more casual time schedule.  It is important for the learning process to be organized with a specific schedule at a  specific time.
  2.  Do not forget important family activities;  lunch or breaks.  It is easy to lose track of time especially if your home becomes a virtual classroom.
  3.  The amount of free resources, tools, plans, etc. being offered are overwhelming.  In a virtual world you are going to make a few choices….Kahn Academy, probably the most reputable home school program, is readily available and has great reviews and recommendations..  Scholastics offers an array of lesson plans  and programs that are easily followed and tailored to the child’s academic level of functioning. Your child’s school will provide you with lessons and experiences needed during this time.  An important question for you to ask is :  “what is the essential learning in this lesson.”  It should not be ‘busy’ work but the acquisition of “essential learning”.  In the Elementary grades the answer will most likely be skills or knowledge.  In the Middle and Upper School, skills, knowledge,  concepts and higher order thinking will be the focus.
  4. Online learning or classes at home can be flexible, but must have a set of routines and procedures.  You will want to be flexible, but still have expectations so your child will know what to expect. Students aren’t the only ones who need routines and procedures.  Make yourself a checklist of tasks that must be completed each day.
  5.  Discuss with other parents, even if remotely, practices you are doing and share ‘how to’s’.
  6.  Don’t forget to give yourself breaks in an orderly fashion.  Home schooling can quickly start encroaching on family and relaxation time.  Separate home from school.

Be of good cheer and remember…………..“when they grow old, they shall be like their teacher.”



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