Plugged in

I am sitting in a waiting room writing this on my phone. It’s weird.

Why, kids, I remember back in the day when we had to use paper…and number 2 pencils. I remember the manual typewriter I used during high school and the fancy electric typewriter I plugged into the wall in my college dorm room. Then, the big step up when my college work study employer let me stay after hours to write papers on the office computer and print them on the enormous printer.

Two years ago all of my students were given iPads and I made sweeping changes to my instructional methods. I own a MacBook and an iPhone. I am continually connected. Or distracted.

We all are, really. We all talk about it. We get irked when someone who is with us takes a call or checks a text. But we also take calls and check texts.

But hey, people can reach us. And we have gps on us all the time. And Google. Those are useful things.

And we have games and Facebook or Twitter if we get bored in, say, a waiting room. So, technology is good. Progress is good. Change is good. Right?

Assess it for yourself. Only you know you. It’s not all good or all bad. Technology is a tool. Tools are meant to be used to accomplish a task or achieve a goal.

Right now, this phone is allowing me to blog when I am away from my computer. It is helping me achieve a goal. A few minutes ago I messaged a friend about meeting for coffee next week. I used Google Maps to find the waiting room I am sitting in. Right now, I am effectively using this tool.

In a little while I may spend too much time playing Words with Friends. I may be so engrossed in this tool that I ignore someone near me who would really like to chat.

There is a time to put the tool away. I mean, I wouldn’t have walked around with that manual typewriter. I have been known to stick a number 2 pencil behind my ear, but that never got in the way of me looking someone in the eye.

I’m gonna put the tool away for a bit and be present in this moment. I’ll take it back out later, when I need it. Right now, I am gonna try to look someone in the eye.

I Corinthians 10:23. All things are permissable, but not all things are beneficial. Everything is permissable bit not everything is constructive.

Confessions of an English Teacher, numero uno, revisit

I am dusting off this post from August 2014 in celebration of the 1000 English teachers I’m reading with now — June 2019.

My students have helped me keep my secret for years — I’m not really the best English teacher. It’s true. They correct my grammar almost as much as I correct theirs. I misspell words, even on the board! And, to be honest, I always have to look up the correct usage of lie and lay.  

I mean I have the credentials and everything — a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English. I was even magna cum whatever both times. I love English. I love literature. I love words. I’m just not a big fan of rules. 

(I know, I know — obviously.)

What I love about language, actually, is its fluidity, its malleability. I love the way meaning changes over time and according to circumstance. I love playing with language and trying out new words in new contexts.  

When I went to grad school I transitioned from the language of Barney the Dinosaur to the discourse of academia. When I moved from Michigan to Missouri, I switched from pop to soda. I love learning new terms as they emerge, and I especially love trying the language of my students.

One of my favorite parts of teaching is when my students teach me the ‘in’ words of the moment. I like to pretend that I have swag and that I can use their words in appropriate ways, but really I am just providing comic relief for my students who don’t really love language as much as I do. (Sigh.) I once had a group a students who were committed to saying ‘that’s dead‘ at least twenty times per class period. Now for those of you who are not as hip as I am, ‘that’s dead’ means “bad idea” or “I don’t like that” or “no, I disagree”.  So, I would say, “The paper is due tomorrow.” My students would reply, “that’s dead.”  See, now isn’t that fun? 

When I taught at an inner city high school in St. Louis, my students one day spent ten minutes of class teaching me the etymology of the word bird. If I remember correctly bird means a female human. Old bird means my mother. I can’t seem to remember how to refer to a girlfriend, but that’s ok, it was 2005, the words have surely changed by now!

In 2013, for the first time in my career, I taught a class of freshmen. I loved it. They were easily impressed, tried the things I asked them to, played along with my games, and encouraged my love of words. One day we were working on a particularly tough grammar lesson, and one of my students demonstrated that he understood. I excitedly high-fived him and said, “Bam!” That was all it took. For the rest of the year, whenever anyone did something right, we had to have a “Bam!”

Language is a reflection of personality, of individuality. We are not all the same, especially in this country. We are all kinds of people. We can’t all mean the same thing just because we are using the same word. When I say ‘conservative’, I might simply mean ‘guarded’; you might take it to mean a political viewpoint. For me, ‘fresh’ means ‘new”; to some it means ‘stylish’. ‘We negotiate meaning all day long. We have to listen and question to communicate. We can’t assume that we understand just because we hear words that we recognize. We have to enter into dialogue. We have to get to know one another. We have to be flexible, malleable, fluid. 

Ah, grasshopper, there is a lesson here for all of us, isn’t there? Let’s use our words. Let’s listen to each other, without assumption and without judgment. Let’s try to understand where the other person is coming from. When we aren’t sure, let’s ask for clarification. Someone who uses words differently than I do isn’t necessarily dangerous or less than me. (S)he is just different. And aren’t we glad for the difference? A world full of people just like me, using all the same words that I use, meaning exactly what I mean, would be incredibly dull. 

So I learn from my students, and I break a few rules. I try out words that I don’t really understand, and I talk to people who are different than me.

I make mistakes. I ask for forgiveness. Then I try again.  

Bam. 

let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance”

Proverbs 1:5

He who watches over us doesn’t slumber

I was sound asleep just a little while ago.  Something woke me; I am not sure what. I reached down to check on Chester, my Golden Retriever, who sleeps on a doggy bed on the floor within arm’s reach.  His bed was empty.  I don’t know why I reached under my bed, but that is where I found him.  In his six and a half years of life, I have only found Chester under the bed one other time…shortly after our son left for the Army.  I am telling you, this dog is the barometer of change.  

Finding him under the bed distressed me enough that I decided to check my phone. Maybe one of my kids texted in the middle of the night and there was some sort of emergency…I mean, the dog was under the bed…something was not right in the world.  The dog’s senses are sharp. 

My news feed told me that once again teargas was used in Ferguson, Missouri.  In fact, a ninety-year-old Holocaust survivor was arrested for protesting.  What is happening?  It seems so unbelievable that all this is going on in 2014!

Every August since 2005, I have taught in a small Christian high school, two miles from the QT that was burned down in the aftermath of the shooting of an African American teenager.  That small Christian high school has sixty percent African American students and thirty-five percent white students.  The remaining five percent are Asian, Hispanic, or otherwise classified. The North side of St. Louis is known to be a somewhat violent, racially divided area.  Some people are afraid to go there.  Some people wondered why I taught there. 

I didn’t want to teach anywhere else!  My students and I were able to discuss issues in my classroom with humor and candor that might not be discussed outside those walls.  The school fosters an open dialogue that values Christian unity amid diversity.  My students taught me so much about dispelling stereotypes and respecting difference. 

I am not teaching there this year, the year that many of them go home at night to Ferguson.  The year that some of my grads are demonstrating every night.  The year that neighboring public schools have closed in response to the violence.  I am not there. 

I have started a new chapter.  This morning, in Ann Arbor,  I went to the post office and was jokingly reprimanded by the African American postal worker who didn’t like me calling him ‘sir’.  I smilingly explained to him that I had just moved back to Michigan from a place where using ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ is respectful and expected. He smiled knowingly and we wished each other a great day.  Then, I exchanged pleasant conversation with the African American cashier at the grocery store who didn’t need to check my ID when I purchased some wine because it was her ‘job to know’ who to card. My nails were done in a salon staffed exclusively by Asian American women who joked with me and my daughter and exchanged smiles with us. I came home to a campus that houses a small but diverse population.  I didn’t have a hint of racial tension in my day.  

Before I went to bed I checked the news and saw peaceful protests in Ferguson, an upbeat interview with the new chief of police there, a statement from President Obama encouraging open dialogue and peaceful resolution.  I wanted to believe we were moving in the right direction.  I went to sleep with Chester on his doggy bed by my side.  

But several hours later, I am aware that all is not right in the world tonight. I mean, Chester is hiding under my bed.  The dog who follows me everywhere, did not budge when I came to the living room at two in the morning to write. He, like many tonight, is distressed. 

I, too, am distressed. Like Job, I “weep for those in trouble,” my “soul grieves for the poor.” As I “hope for good, evil comes,” As I “look for light, then comes darkness” (Job 30:25-27). 

But even in trouble, even in darkness, God is still God.  He is in Ferguson.  He is in Ann Arbor.  And “He who watches over us will not slumber” (Psalm 121:3).  I pray that Ferguson, and those that I love there, can get some sleep while He is on watch.

Details, details, details

Today is a detail day — schedule the oil change, get the groceries,  call the university, fold the laundry, etc.  I have lots to do…actually lots to do all week long. 

These details were a bit overwhelming last night when we had just returned from dropping off the baby at college eight hours away.  And, I’m a little irritated at the moment that I can’t just lie around and mope.  Already I am laughing at myself. 

It’s all by God’s design isn’t it?  He knew in advance that I would be a little torn up today — worrying, grieving, overthinking — so he made sure my plate was full for a bit.  It’s all good stuff — family visiting tonight through Friday, an appointment with a specialist, some cooking, some cleaning, and definitely some writing.  

I will find some time in the midst of the details to grieve a little, to wallow a little, to mope a little.  But, I will have to wipe the tears and drag myself out of bed to get a few things done.  

After all, one daughter is still here!  In fact, she greeted us last night when we returned from our trip with a warm dinner and lots of energy!  I couldn’t bring myself to write a grocery list, but she could.  I was overwhelmed at the thought of laundry, but she had it started!  God’s design.  He knew that if they were all gone at once, I would be overcome by loneliness.  He’s easing me into the empty nest.  

My niece is coming to visit tonight, bringing more energy into our home.  Two twenty-one year olds full of possibility and promise — they will take a road trip tomorrow!  What fun! They will leave me here to write, think, rest, and grieve for a couple of days, then they will bring their energy back.  

Do you see that detail?  God was setting up the details ahead of time, taking care of me, knowing exactly what I needed.  He knew I needed to do for a little while and then be for a little while.  He knew I needed people in my house for a while.  He knew what I needed before I even asked.  He’s got August taken care of, so that I can face September.  He’s always looking out for me, and for you. 

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer;  

my god is my rock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 

Psalm 18:2

 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, revisit

On Monday (August 26, 2019) I wrote that Change is Constant. Since then, even more change has happened in my everyday life. I’ve unearthed this post first written in August 2014 to remind myself of all the changes we’ve lived through and been changed by as a family — to remind myself that change brings the potential for transformation.

On December 21, 1989, when my husband proposed to me, he said, “Things are going to get busy for a while.”  He wasn’t kidding.  

In the last 25 years we have lived in eleven different homes, parented four children (giving birth to three within three years!), earned three Master’s degrees, taught hundreds of students, driven thousands of miles, and attended dozens of churches. Things have indeed been busy! 

We have experienced lots of change–as individuals, and as a family. At first, I braced myself for change and tried to ‘get through’ it, but I’ve come to realize that change is our constant and bracing myself all the time just leaves me exhausted. 

Although steeling myself against change is still my initial reaction, I’ve learned that when I lean in, change goes more smoothly. It can even be pleasant — invigorating.

In fact, early in our marriage, my husband really enjoyed reorganizing all the furniture in the house. He would get an idea to rotate all the bedrooms — all in one day!  The master bedroom would become the kids’ dorm.  The girls’ room would become the den.  It would be an all-day project. I know it sounds like lots of work, but we always liked the outcome — a fresh start, a new perspective. 

When the kids were in elementary school, we spent many hours investigating and discussing before we decided to move them from a parochial to a public school. One school was not better than the other, but they were very different. It was a huge change. My husband and I felt it was the right decision, so we acted. It was a huge transition for the kids; you’d have to ask them how they feel about that choice now. Each would probably answer differently, especially since the very next year, we not only switched their schools again, we moved them to an entirely different state! A different time zone!  A different — sweatier –climate! 

That move meant not only a change in school, but a change from the only church they had ever known — where they were all born, rocked, sung to, cuddled. We all looked shell-shocked for a couple of years. It was a lot of change.  

While there, in Missouri, we made so many deep friendships. I would not trade that time for anything. But, at times, it was like living through a deployment. We encountered a new culture, we soldiered through difficulties, we sustained some injuries, and we’ve never been the same.

Change changes us.  

I am not the person I was on December 21, 1989. Thank goodness!!  Neither is my husband.  Thank goodness!! All of this busy-ness, all of these changes, have transformed us.  

When we were at one of our first congregations, with all our babies, a dear friend said, “I see you guys as a diamond in the rough–the outside is being chiseled away to reveal that beautiful inside.”  I may have been a little offended at the moment, but I now treasure the fact that she saw some potential under the rough exterior that we wore back in our twenties.  

I’d like to think that the changes we have endured have chiseled away some stubbornness, some judgmental attitudes, some close-mindedness, but we aren’t done yet. Change is our constant. And, even today, as I find myself in the midst of great change, I lean in. I know that these changes, too, will be transformative, and I am not afraid.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

2 Cor 4:16

Fairy-tale life

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, a young mother, looking frazzled and exhausted from caring for her brood of small children walked into church carrying an infant and being trailed by two toddlers.  A wise, older woman smiled at her tenderly and said, “Treasure this time, dearie, the years will just fly by.”

The young mother, being polite, smiled and nodded, but on the inside she thought to herself, “The years may fly by, but these minutes are exhausting!”

Indeed they were exhausting, and lovely.  Many years have passed, and that infant in the mother’s arms is packed and loaded for college…five hundred miles away. The toddlers?  One is a soldier, seven hundred miles away, the other a college-grad, launching a life six hundred miles away. Their older brother?  A soon-to-be father, dedicated husband, and businessman two hundred and fifty miles away.  

And the mother is remembering that smiling older woman, thinking “she was so right.”  The years have flown by.  The babies are grown.  They are leaving the nest. 

And as I sit in this soon-to-be-empty nest, I am filled with thankfulness for these loud, crazy, brilliant, beautiful children that God has loaned to me for a while.  It hasn’t all been hearts and flowers, but it has been rich and life-changing.  And it’s just beginning!  

We are all starting our next chapter — college, career, service, parenthood, and whatever else the Lord has planned.  It is a very exciting time, filled with so much emotion.  We are excited, anxious, sad, happy, exhilarated….

Last night we had a rare moment where five of us were connected by Skype, laughing and smiling.  I drank it in.  I have been so blessed to have these amazing humans inhabit my nest.  I know they will periodically land here.  I look forward to it. 

Children are a heritage from the Lord. 

Psalm 127:3

On a soapbox

I was going to write about the fact that we are still going through changes here in Ann Arbor, but then I got to thinking about the news feed and all that is going on around the world and I thought to myself, “your life is pretty mundane and insignificant in comparison.” 

The media has got it pretty good right now, don’t they?  They seem to feed like buzzards on the physical, spiritual, and moral death in the world.  And we eat it right up with them.  Extremists trapping the helpless faithful.  Nations at war in the Middle East.  A celebrity takes his own life.  Racial unrest in the heartland. We read and click and read and click.  They’ve set their bait carefully, and we have nibbled.  The more we nibble, the more bait they throw out.  The more they throw out, the more we ingest.  It’s a feeding frenzy!  

As I read, I begin to wonder if bad news begets more bad news.  How much power does the media have?  Does a reporter’s ‘take’ on a situation influence the outcome of the situation?  And, if so, do reporter’s take that responsibility seriously?  Do they frame their reporting in a way that will cause resolution?  Or in a way that will generate more news?  

They are just questions.  I am not saying I have the answer.  I am saying that I, like others, can’t seem to look away when I see the suffering of others.  I am ashamed by that.  Ashamed that I am not really working toward resolution, either, I am just watching to see what happens next.  Like it’s a movie, and not real life.  

But it is real life.  People are suffering.  And they are not suffering for our entertainment.  They are suffering.  Period. 

I have a very cushy life. I get to wake up when I want, write whatever words I want in my blog, eat whatever I want in my kitchen, watch whatever I want on my TV, read whatever I want on my computer.  I have no one aiming a gun at me, no one telling me how to live my life.  I have all kinds of free time.  

Today I am not going to use that free time to feed on the misfortune of others.  I am going to pray for those who are suffering, I am going to pray for resolution to crises, I am going to pray that God, who is still God, will bring order and peace to our world.  He alone is able.  

With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible. 

Matthew 19:26

Going with the flow

Imagine me lying on an inflatable raft and floating down a river on a beautiful Michigan day.  That is how life has been the last couple of days.  With this full house, I have refrained from creating my everyday to-do list. And I have been trying something different — going with the flow. 

Going with the flow has meant staying up until 1:00 am or later — two nights in a row.  It has meant that yesterday I woke up at 10:20 am!  I have written my blog in the middle of the night.  I have eaten a warm kale, cilantro, black bean salad created by one daughter and black bean (gluten-free) brownies created by the other daughter.  I have gone on a walk with Chester, started a Grisham book, and watched Sabrina. I took a walk on campus which equated to a walk down memory lane.  

Sounds pretty lovely, doesn’t it? So, I wonder if I will allow myself to go with the flow a little more often. 

This goes back to my doing v. being still theme.  I am trying to explore the fact that doing and being still do not have to be in opposition.  The two can co-exist.  In fact, in all my floating around yesterday, I did get my migraine-suffering daughter in to see an acupuncturist and also discovered that two miles from our new home is the leading migraine headache clinic in the nation.  Yes, while floating, we got her a comprehensive appointment for next week. 

But I didn’t really accomplish anything else.  This is new for me, the one who has measured my value by the number of things I get done and how well I do them.  It is new for me to see the overgrown flower bed and acknowledge that I want to do something to it without jumping right up and tearing out the weeds right away.  It is new for me to be comfortable co-existing with the unfinished, unsettled, unpolished.  

But floating is nice.  See how sparkly the water is?  Hear the wind blowing?  

Right now I am sitting in my adirondack chair on my porch, looking at the scene in the photo above.  Coffee was just delivered to me. Tomorrow we pack up our daughter to move to college, but today I am going to continue to float.  

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 

Matthew 11:28

 

 

 

Not quite full…

Even though my house is full, I am very aware of those who are missing…my sons.  Thankfully, we were able to see our oldest son and his wife over the weekend, but our younger son serves in the military and we haven’t seen or talked to him in a while.  He let us know on Sunday that he is fine and that we’ll hear more in a couple of days, but having seen the other 3/4 of our kids this week, I am feeling his absence.  

Each one of our children is unique, aren’t they?  Even if they are close in age, and raised under very similar circumstances, each one has his or her unique DNA, unique expression of that DNA, unique self.  And when all of that uniqueness combines, it is magical.  I often say that dinner with our whole family is not for the faint of heart.  It is a fast-paced, laughter-filled, exchange of information that few can track for any length of time.  You kind of have to grow into it.  

Spending time with any one of our children, or any particular combination of two or three or more is a blessing.  And each combination is different — the oldest alone, the older two together, the youngest alone, the younger two together, the middles together, the boys together, the girls together — and fabulous in its own way.  Each solo or combination is like a favorite song — I love to hear it and want to play it over and over. 

But of all my favorite songs, my favorite-favorite is the song of all of my kids together under one roof, making all their particular sounds together.  

I imagine that is what heaven will be like for God.  He will have us all together — all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses — and he will rejoice to hear us all together.  

And just like I am thinking about the one I am missing, even while the others are with me, God pursues those who are missing, and desires them to come home and be under His roof, joining in his favorite-favorite song.  

For this reasons, He is likely to ‘leave the ninety-nine, and go in search of the one.’ He loves each one.  I am one.  You are one.  

Fullness

This momma is pretty content this morning.  After a weekend of travel, we returned to a full nest.  Two daughters and an extra friend are joining us this week. It took some maneuvering to find spots for everyone and all of their things in this smaller place, but they are in, and I am happy.  

Last night there were voices and laughter.  Sweet Chester cuddled everyone and soaked in the love.  I am soaking it in, too.  These days are precious. 

I spend a lot of verbal energy spouting about being an ’empty nester’ and how I am looking forward to this ‘season of rest’.  But, truth be told, I love my kids, and all their friends.  I am never more content than when the house is crammed, there is food to be eaten, and laughter fills the house.  

So, I am soaking in the fullness.  

Tonight we are taking this show on the road to see two sets of grandparents and a few aunts and uncles.  Multiplying fullness.  

I think the only way I could be happier is if all my children were here together.  There is nothing like that. When they are all together there is so much talking and laughing and eating.  And I am filled with joy and contentment. 

It baffles me to think that this is how God chooses to describe us — as his children.  We bring Him pleasure. Really?  I bring God pleasure?  He is filled with joy in my presence?  Come on, that can’t be.  But it must be true, because when humanity tried to pull away from him, He sent His only Son.  For us.  So that we could all be together one day — talking, and laughing, and eating. 

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.  And that is what we are!  

1 John 3:1