When I teach the elements of literature, I always have to spend considerable time discussing perspective or ‘point of view’. The way a story is told changes dramatically depending on who is doing the telling. For instance, slavery, from the … Continue reading
Well, kids, when it rains it pours.
This Sunday afternoon I am meeting with a graduate student who is looking for someone to help him organize his Master’s thesis — 120 single-spaced pages on academic dishonesty.
On Monday I have an interview to be a part-time English paraprofessional at a charter school for non-traditional students.
Tuesday is my big gig as an election agent.
Whew! I think my days of unemployment may be coming to an end!
Now, I am not saying I am going to be offered either of the positions I am being interviewed for. Nor am I suggesting that I will certainly take either/both positions if they are offered. However, it is nice to know that this chronic job hunter can still get an interview!
Don’t worry, I am aware that Sunday is November 2. I have not forgotten that I have been committed from the beginning to be still until January 1, or, technically, January 5. I don’t consider one night as an election agent to be ’employment’. Do you? How about several hours reading a thesis? Is that really work? I mean, yes, I would get paid. Yes, I would be using my expertise. But, I am pretty sure I could do it in my pajamas, on my couch, with or without an ice pack applied to whatever ache I may have at the moment.
Now being an English parapro? That would count as an official job — regular hours, real humans counting on me, actual skills being utilized. I did mention on my application that I am available for work starting January 5. I still got a call. I still have an interview. So, who knows?
I consider the position I am in to be one of luxury. I am not desperate for a job. We can survive if I don’t work at all. We will surely have to cut corners and go without a few ‘wants’, but certainly all of our ‘needs’ will be met. So, I can be relaxed in these interviews, be myself, hear what they have to say, and honestly communicate whether I feel I am capable of handling the task at hand. Yes, pure luxury.
I have been on the other side. I have been desperate for work before. I have had to step into situations where I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I have had to have on-the-job training. And truly, this will likely happen again, to some extent, no matter what position I eventually land in. But I have crossed enough bridges, and weathered enough storms to know that, no matter what, I’ll be fine.
Years ago at my confirmation, my pastor placed his hands on me and proclaimed my confirmation verse, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9. And, you know, it has proven true. He was with me when I worked in a group home for emotionally impaired girls. He went with me to my first classroom of learning disabled students. He has led me through all these years of parenting. He has gone before me and beside me through challenges, victories, sadnesses, and joys. Even when I thought I was fighting all my battles on my own. He was there.
So, bring on the interviews. We’ll be there together. Therefore, I will be strong and courageous.
I attended a poetry reading by Li Young-Lee last night. He read three poems he said he is ‘working on’. In fact, after the first, he said, “I need to change one word in that one. Next time.” I smiled and thought to myself, “No writing is finished, merely abandoned.”
I can’t remember who said that to me. And maybe they didn’t even say it to me. But it has stuck with me. In fact, I said that phrase to many students who wanted their writing to be ‘just perfect’ before handing it in. I don’t think it’s possible for writing to be ‘perfect’. Revision is always possible. We can always ‘change one word’ or one phrase. We can always have a better introduction, a better conclusion. We can always find a way to say something differently or better.
Also last night, a young writer sent me an essay she just received back from her teacher. I had ‘helped’ her with her process and she had received a 69/100. Ouch. The marks all over her paper were valid. Of course there is room for improvement. She is revising at this moment.
Revision. I do love revision. But it’s so hard! In order to revise we sometimes have to delete our creation! We have to cut out words that were so difficult to find in the first place. We have to make decisions about which of our thoughts get to stay and which have to go. It takes time. And thought. It’s agonizing.
And ultimately, we have to decide that enough is enough. We have labored so long on one piece, revised ad nauseum, and we can’t stand to work on it any more. So, we ‘abandon’ it. We submit it ‘as is’. It’s ‘good enough’. We did all that we could do.
We are not perfect. We cannot produce perfect work. It’s impossible.
Yet in our imperfection, we are not abandoned.
Do you remember the t-shirts from back in the day that said, “Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet”? Cheesy, yes, but true. We are works in progress. The Creator continues to make revisions, shaping and molding us. He can visualize the finished product, and guys, we will eventually arrive there!
We will not be abandoned. The Creator does not tire of working with us. He doesn’t wad us up and toss us in the general direction of the trash can.
He cradles us in the palm of His hand, gently caressing and reshaping us. He conforms us to His image. And one day….
He who began a good work in you
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
We, my friends, will not be abandoned. We will be completed.
A friend asked me yesterday if I know what I am going to write before I sit down at my laptop. Not usually. I sit down and think “Well, what’s it going to be today?” Sometimes I just start typing. Sometimes I look at a blank screen for a very long time. Sometimes I get two or three paragraphs in, delete the whole thing, lather, rinse, repeat.
On rare very blessed days, I wake up with an idea in my mind, sometimes in the middle of the night, and I can’t get to the keyboard fast enough. I have a start, I don’t know where it will take me, but I know for sure that I have the topic right. In those moments, I feel like I am being instructed by the Teacher himself, as though He is pushing the words through my fingertips onto the screen, because He knows that is where I am most likely to pay close attention to them.
On other days, I get up, drink my tea, eat my oatmeal, skim Facebook, read my emails, do my Bible study, then come to my computer with a general idea of where I am headed. This type of writing is usually an extension of my Bible study, allowing my brain to explore out what I just studied, making it personal.
Sometimes my writing sorts out what is happening in my life — the death of a friend, a change in medication, a potential job. This writing usually reveals the feelings that I typically keep below the surface…the ones that are pressing to be examined…the ones that I really need to process in order to move forward.
And today, I am writing about my writing. Writing allows my soul to breathe. I learned that when I was very young, back in the days of pink diaries that locked with a little golden key. I treasured the time I could lie on my bed and write in my diary. I poured my little heart out into those cheesy little books. Somewhere along the way I discovered poetry and dabbled a little in finding just the right combination of words to cryptically express my innermost emotions. Later, poetry gave way to song lyrics, devotions, and lesson plans.
My students often asked me if I would ever write a novel. “No,” I would say. “I don’t really know how to write what’s not true.” And that’s a fact. The only type of writing I really know how to do is this — putting the ordinary stuff of life on the page in order to make sense of it.
Some people paint. Others dance. Some run marathons. Others garden. We each have to find the language of our heart and use it to say what’s inside of us. We know when we’ve found it because we can’t help but run to it, and getting there, we see that others too, miraculously, are blessed.
It’s a mystery, isn’t it? Someone could be blessed by my fumblings? Your fumblings? But they are! So, I’ll continue to fumble along.
I Corinthians 12:4
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit…
Did you ever feel like a lab rat?
Let’s think about lab rats for a moment. They stay in cages and are given a variety of ‘treatments’ and then are ‘observed’. They really don’t do anything else.
My nephew is a physician. During medical school, he told us about a summer during which he daily practiced sutures on a lab rat. Each day he would take the rat out of the cage, anesthetize it, slice it open, suture it up, then put it back in its cage. Poor rat.
Ok, I don’t really feel like a lab rat, but I do share some characteristics with one. You already know that I love my little house by the river, so I won’t compare it to a cage. After all, I have a lovely view, I can come and go as I please, I make my own food, and I have the steady companionship of my husband and my dog. However, even though I am not currently ‘caged’, I am an object of experimentation.
You may recall that my doctors are unsure of my diagnosis; they don’t think I have Psoriatic Arthritis, which is what my doctors in St. Louis diagnosed me with. So, experiment #1, they discontinued one of my medications — the biologic, Humira, which is used to treat Psoriatic Arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. They are currently observing me to see the effects of that change. Two doctors stood near me last Wednesday and asked me questions about what symptoms were resurfacing, and asked if I thought they warranted taking the medication I had been on. We agreed to do some more observing.
They also decided to add a new medication, Neurontin, which they said is used for fibromyalgia, to see if it alleviates some of these symptoms. Experiment #2. Well, since I am not currently working, and am not in danger of missing work due to illness, I agreed to give it a try. I mean, maybe they are right. Maybe I do have fibromyalgia. And if I do, doesn’t it seem that Neurontin would help with my symptoms?
Well, here’s where I differ from a lab rat. I have a computer and am quite adept at doing my own research. I do have a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, after all. So, my research shows me that Neurontin is used to treat epilepsy and the nerve pain associated with shingles. Let me assure you that I do not have epilepsy, nor have I had shingles. Now, I have been around doctors long enough to know that medicines can be helpful to treat maladies for which they were not originally designed. So, I did more research to see if people with fibromyalgia had any success with Neurontin. The results I found were overwhelmingly, ‘No.’ In fact, it seems that Neurontin is great at causing sleep, lethargy, dizziness and weight gain. Great.
So, I am supposed to take 300 mg at bedtime for one week to see if that ‘helps’. Then I am can, “if you want” take 300 mg in the morning and 300 mg at midday. Really? They are letting the rat decide if she wants to sleep more, be more lethargic, dizzier, and heavier?
I have been taking it for four days. No, I don’t feel better. Yes, I sleep very well. I sure hope I haven’t gained weight in four days. Lethargy? I mean, we may or may not have watched ten episodes of Criminal Minds this weekend while lounging on the couch. But, I did also go to the gym on Friday, walk on Saturday and Sunday, and yell loudly every time Michigan State scored against the University of Michigan.
This rat is skeptical. But, two years into this thing, nothing has really alleviated all the symptoms. No tests exists to definitively diagnosis what I have. In fact, all my labs say I am ‘normal’. [Insert laughter here]. Actually, if I was truly a rat, no doctors or scientists would be doing anything to me. From the outside, I look just fine.
But I am not a rat. And I can tell you that I am not just fine. But I can also tell you that what I have is not life-threatening, it just slows me down. It makes me uncomfortable, and it forces me to rely on others. Because I hurt, I have more empathy for others. Because I am slowed down, I have more time to listen.
Do I want a cure for that? I think I need more time for observation.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Is it possible to have the spiritual gift of tears? I have often thought I could get a gig as a professional wailer for funerals. When I was a child, I could be counted on to cry at any given occasion, usually because I wasn’t getting my way, but also because I was sad, or tired, or hungry, or one of my brothers had poked me one too many times.
As I grew older, something changed, and I don’t always produce tears on behalf of myself. I might get a little choked up at a goodbye, but rarely do I really sob because of something that is happening to me or about me.
But let me see someone I love hurting, and look out! I don’t even really need to know what they are hurting about. If someone dear to me has a tear in her eye, my eyes will well up to match it. If someone I know has lost someone dear, I will weep with them. But what’s really weird is the fact that I can see a total stranger sobbing and I, too, will feel overcome with emotion. Does everyone do this? Or is it just me?
Yesterday, I had a good reason to cry. I attended the memorial service for a dear friend who died almost one month ago. I hadn’t seen her in three years, so it’s not like I will miss our daily interactions. She holds a dear place in my heart because of her impact on my life, but I am actually thanking God for taking her after eight long years of battle with breast cancer. My body sighs relief to match her relief. But, despite the fact that I am happy for her, I sobbed yesterday.
And, not really for myself. I think I can be honest about that. The service was at the church she had belonged to for twenty years — where she and her husband had raised their daughters. Many friends had come to share in the celebration of a woman who certainly beamed joy into every room she entered. All the music was up-beat praise music, which is what my friend and her family loved. It all proclaimed the hope she had in Jesus and the certainty of her salvation. None of this made me cry.
What made me cry was watching the back of her tall, broad-shouldered husband of forty years, standing in the front row without her, singing the words of the songs, nodding his head in agreement. What made me leak tears was seeing her daughter embrace her granddaughter, sharing tears of loss and sadness. What made me sob was watching her other daughter stand erect and sure, dabbing at her eyes, then walking to the front of the church to share beautifully her mother’s legacy which she challenged friends and family to carry on.
My day to day life will not be changed because my friend has changed addresses. The lives of her family will never be the same. For them, I wept. For them, I pray for comfort.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,
neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more…
It came this morning — my first rejection notice. “Thank you for taking the time to apply. We are contacting you to let you know that the position has been filled.” I should have kept every letter or email like this I have received over the years. You can’t be addicted to applying for jobs without experiencing the rejection letter. And, just like with parking tickets and library fines, I take rejection letters in stride.
I actually was not surprised by this one at all. The position needed to be filled as soon as possible, and I recorded that I would be available starting January 5. This letter didn’t sting. Actually, it spurred me on to look for more openings and to put in more applications. You know, improve my chances. So, I checked all my usual spots for jobs, to no avail, and then said to myself, “OK, on to blogging.”
The fact is, as much as I am looking forward to finding a position, I know I will make an exchange when I am actually hired. I will exchange availability for schedule. I will exchange boredom for activity. I will exchange rest for work. I will exchange energy for pay. It’s math, guys. 24 hours – 0 working hours = 24 Kristin hours. Right now I spend each of those hours virtually as I please. I sleep for 8-10 of them. Yeah, I know — luxury. I cook for 1. I read for 1-2. I exercise for 1-2. I socialize for 1-2. I do Bible study and blog for 1-2. I rest for 1-2. I clean or run errands for 1-2. And pretty soon, my twenty-four hours is used up!
Now, one thing I know about math (besides the fact that I am lousy at teaching it) is that it is consistent. It always works. So, if I work for 4 hours a day and sleep for 10 hours a day, that leaves for 10 hours for everything else — exercise, cooking, cleaning, shopping, socializing, spending time with family (including my husband, of course), and resting. That might work. If I spend 8 hours a day working and 10 hours a day sleeping, I have six hours left for everything else.
Before I slowed down due to my physical limitations, I was spending about eleven hours a day with work-related activities — travel to and from work, actual time at school, grading and prepping, and extracurricular activities. I started to realize that something needed to change when I would drive dazedly (I think that’s a word!) home from work, collapse onto my couch, and then crawl off to bed before I started the whole cycle again. After all, 24 minus 11 hours at work minus 10 hours of sleep = enough time to shower, eat, switch one load of laundry, and respond gruntingly to the people I love the most.
I can’t go back to that. I would exchange too much. I am not willing to trade time on the phone with a daughter or son for time in the car. I am not willing to trade dinners with my husband for supervising a hallway. I am not willing to trade time blogging for time grading papers.
But I think I am willing to trade a couple hours of Netflix for a couple hours in a library, or teaching a community college course, or editing a dissertation. I am willing to trade time spent hunting for jobs for doing an actual job. I am willing to let my husband cook dinner occasionally so that I can use my God-given gifts to connect with others.
I am close to the time when I will be ready to make an exchange. But I won’t trade time with my son who is coming home on leave next month. I won’t trade the Christmas holidays with my daughters who will both be here. I won’t trade meeting my new granddaughter. I won’t trade walks with my husband. I won’t trade time re-connecting with Jesus.
This gift of time, of being still has allowed me to appreciate the value of time with those I love the most. It’s worth more to me than any job, any title, any paycheck.
I won’t trade it for anything.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Guys, I have a couple of problems — parking tickets and library fines. (I am not going to mention jury duty at the moment, because I don’t currently have a summons.)
I do realize that these are first-world problems and that I could have it much worse, but perhaps I need an intervention.
I have paid so many library fines and parking tickets in my life that I no longer get upset by them. Sure, I feed the meter like everyone else. Yes, I observe the due dates stamped inside my library books (which, by the way, the Ann Arbor District Library does not supply). But, you know, stuff happens.
Like yesterday. I was meeting some friends for lunch and a cooking class (which were both fabulous by the way). I asked in advance (I have witnesses) what the parking options were and if I could avoid feeding a meter. Turns out we were in the very popular Kerrytown area, on a Wednesday, which happens to be market day, which happens to be extra crowded. The only parking lot was crammed full. I drove around figuring out the one-way streets for close to ten minutes before I found the perfect spot just steps from our lunch destination. Woo-hoo! I had combed the bottom of my purse earlier in the morning, collecting all the loose change I had — a few dollars’ worth, so I fed ALL of it into the meter. That bought me enough time for lunch. I told myself that I would get change for the few ones inside my wallet before we headed to our class.
Well, you know, we had such a nice time talking over our delicious lunches that I forgot to get change. Once outside, I glanced at my dear, Suze Cruze sitting in her perfect spot next to an empty meter and thought to myself, “Oh well, probably going to get a ticket today.” But, one of the other, more responsible, ladies said, “Oh, I better feed the meter,” so I said, “does anyone have any change?” Of course one of them did. I asked if she had one dollar’s worth, or two. She only had one. So, I said, “That’s ok, I like living on the edge.” Yes, I seriously said that out loud.
I may never learn.
I fed the four quarters into the slot, and headed to the class. I was gone just over one hour and returned to find the lovely white envelope along with the curled up citation pinched ever so daintily under my windshield wiper. Ah, yes, I thought. The world is as it should be. I was past the time, I got a ticket. I have finally arrived at home in Ann Arbor.
But I am telling you, St. Louis misses me. Right in front of our home in St. Louis was a sign that read “No parking, first Tuesday (or was it Monday) of every month. Noon to 4pm (or was it 8am to noon).” We lived there six year, folks. And I couldn’t tell you which day or time we weren’t supposed to park there. Even after paying who knows how many $10 parking tickets. But here’s the thing. In my heart of hearts I believe that those fines are serving some noble purpose. (Don’t burst my bubble.) You know, all of that money I ‘invested’ in St. Louis parking probably financed a couple of handicapped parking spots. Right? Or re-surfaced a road downtown. It’s possible.
And as for those library fines? They are purchasing much needed books for all the children in the world. Yes, I currently owe $3 to the Ann Arbor District Library. I borrowed a DVD, and you can only keep those for one week. Of course, I forgot about it. And every day you are late costs $1. But while other people might be upset by this, I feel welcomed by the Ann Arbor District Library. It’s like they were notified by the St. Louis Public Library who said, “Hey, Rathje’s moving to town, and she’s good for lots of fines. Keep your eye on her.”
This morning I went online to pay my parking ticket. Tomorrow I’ll stop by and pay my library fine. (I’m still waiting for the jury summons to show up.) Hi, honey, I’m ho-ome!
“…a time to laugh…”
It’s Wednesday. You know what that means — Bible study.
I am not sure why I feel such a draw to this group, but I do. Perhaps it’s the sequence of events that led me to these ladies (see “One Thing Leads to Another” if you are interested). Maybe it’s the fact that this is the first group in Ann Arbor that is ‘mine’, not my husband’s. Maybe it’s the fact that the actual study we are doing is pretty spot-on relevant to my life at the moment. But I want you to know that after five weeks I am scheduling trips, appointments, and (potential) work around it.
Twenty-one ladies if we are all there. That’s a pretty large group, so I don’t know everyone yet. There are typically 16-18 in attendance, and we had been keeping our discussion time all together in one large group, so some people didn’t speak (or have a turn to speak). Last week we broke into two discussion groups and that allowed for more of the ladies to speak and be heard. We decided to shuffle the groups each week so that we could all get to know one another.
What’s weird is that the group has been going for, I don’t know, eight or nine years and I don’t feel like a newbie or like I don’t belong. I was welcomed right in as one of the family. That’s it. That’s why I am so drawn to this group. They didn’t look at me suspiciously and wonder how I was going to change the group. They embraced me. Literally and figuratively. And I like it!
I’m not the only one who is drawn to this group, of course. Some of these ladies have to overcome enormous obstacles just to attend every week. One is caring for her husband who has Alzheimer’s — she has to arrange for someone to come into the house and stay with him while she is gone. Another had a major car accident last summer and is just now beginning to walk with just a cane; she has been there every week except the week of her brother’s funeral! Another has some kind of problem with her eyesight; she has to arrange a ride each week. One dear woman drives herself, parks in the spot marked with handicapped sign, and then takes ten minutes with her walker to get to her designated spot around the table. One has three school-aged children. You get the point. These women are committed to getting to this group!
And you can almost feel the “Ahhhhhhhh!” each releases as she walks through the door and finds her place at the table. Our leader makes a point to spread a tablecloth over the two plastic folding churchy banquet tables. Sometimes someone brings a bouquet of flowers to put in the center. One gal brings cookies or muffins to share; another brings some type of fruit. We have decorative paper plates and mismatched napkins. An urn of coffee and another of hot water are at the ready.
We pray collectively, with each given an opportunity to lift her burden or the burden of someone else. We discuss the study we have completed through the week inserting relevant (or not so relevant) commentary. We watch our video lesson. We chat and hug and say goodbye until next week.
It’s a refueling station. Each woman determines to get herself there by 9:30 am so that she can leave refreshed 11:30 am, ready to face whatever is in her path for the next six days and twenty-two hours. And although I am not facing much in my own path at the moment, I definitely need the refueling. Ahhhhhhh….Wednesday.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,
but encouraging one another…
Once upon a time there was a girl. She really wanted to be a teacher. She often lined up all her friends in rows and stood in front to ‘teach’ them in the yard, or the basement, or the garage. In fact, when she was in the second grade, her teacher, Mrs. Anderson, assigned her the task of working with a classmate who was struggling to learn how to read. The little girl loved showing him how to sound out the words.
Learning came easily to her, but she was drawn to those for whom it didn’t. It was a challenge to figure out how to explain things in ways that they could understand.
Her experiences as she grew included babysitting, teaching Sunday school, working at a day care center or two, more babysitting, student teaching, and finally a college degree and teaching certificate. As a young woman, she took her first teaching position as a teacher of learning disabled students in a little classroom in an old building in Detroit.
She moved on to resource rooms at two high schools and then a residential school for emotionally impaired teenagers. In each of these places, she had the title ‘teacher’, but she was actually a student. She was learning so much about herself, about her students, and about learning. Yes, she had taken methods classes in college. She had studied Shakespeare and Faulkner, Piaget, and Maslow. But the real learning began amidst countless adolescents who would become her teachers.
And it didn’t stop there. Her intensive training started when she married a man with a four-year-old son. It continued when she gave birth to not one, not two, but three babies in three years. She began an adventure in ‘homeschooling’ which again taught her more than it did any of her students.
The master’s program she enrolled in introduced her to topics like hegemony, code-switching, and mushfaking, sure. But her time in the trenches, two community colleges and two high schools, ingrained in her the knowledge that relationships are more important than curriculum, that process is more important than product, and that being is more important than doing.
And, now? Now is the advanced individualized course in self-awareness and reliance on God. Some people take introductory courses in this topic, but this girl has been pretty darn busy in her other educational pursuits. Alas, it is never too late for a girl to learn the basics.
She is learning them from The Teacher through His Word, yes, but also through experience, relationships, and the learning method that works best for her — writing. It’s a multi-modal approach, designed specifically for this learner. It takes into account the other lessons she has had and allows for multiple assessments with an eye toward mastery. Failure is not an option. The Teacher has ensured it.
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.