Every t crossed, every i dotted

I’ve been sitting here in my house by the river for seven months.  I have settled into my freedom of sleeping as long as I want, making plans for whenever I want, eating what I like when I like it, and changing plans at the drop of a hat.  If I want to go for a walk, I might go at 10am, or noon, or 3pm, or 7pm.  If I need groceries, I go when I get around to it.  I might stay in my pajamas all day, or be out the door pressed and dressed at 9am.  It’s a life of luxury.

But, guys, I got a job!

I know, I know, I’ve been trying to get a job for most of those seven months.  I have been crying about wanting something to do, something to do.  I have complained about my restlessness and need for something more…and now I have it!!

So, before I start work next Monday, I am trying to suck up my last moments of relaxation and freedom while also tying up the loose ends of everything I’ve started over the last months.

You may remember that I got very excited about a project with Days for Girls (http://www.daysforgirls.org/).  I am happy to report that by the end of this week a friend and I will have completed 10 hygiene kits for girls in Africa.   Many girls miss up to two months of school because they do not have the sanitary supplies that would allow them to attend during their periods.These kits will provide the supplies they need to stay in school.

Last week, the battalion and I finished our study on The Sermon on the Mount — I’m going to have to pass on the next study while I go through my training for my new job, but I am hopeful that I will get to rejoin them in the fall.  In the meantime, I will carry them in my heart right beside the lessons we have learned together.

I put the last few pieces in my latest 1000 piece puzzle last night.  I think the puzzle table might remain bare for a few weeks while I get my bearings.

Because, guys, I’ve got a job!

I was thinking yesterday about how perfectly God chose this job for me:

  • It’s working with students one-on-one.  This is really my favorite part of teaching.  I will work with the same students every day, one at a time, for one hour each.  I will get to know my students, watch them grow, laugh with them, and celebrate our victories together.
  • It is part-time.  When asked in the interview if I would rather work full- or part-time I replied that I would prefer part-time, unless that would eliminate me from the position.  The interviewer replied, “Not at all.” I can determine how many hours I would like to work.
  • It’s a seasonal position.  I only had to commit through August.  This allows me an opportunity to see if I can manage working five days a week.  Since students commit to five days a week and see the same teachers every day, teachers must also commit to five days a week.  If by the end of August I have determined that five days is too much, I can leave gracefully and move on to what’s next.  If I like the position, I will be eligible to apply for regular employment.
  • It’s an entry-level position.  Translation: the pay is not great, but the responsibilities aren’t either!  Someone else will write lesson plans that I will execute.  I will have no grading to take home — no stack!
  • I will be learning.  Before I even start teaching, I will have eighty hours of training that will equip me to help students who have always struggled with reading.  I love to learn.  Even better, I love to share what I have learned with others.  This is a perfect set-up for me.

How did I end up with such an awesome situation? My Headhunter found me this job.  He has known me since before I was born.   He knit me together in my mother’s womb. He not only provided a job that meets my needs,  He provided me with just enough time to finish my projects so that I can enjoy Easter weekend with my family before I start work on Monday.  He crossed every t and dotted every i.

I don’t know why I thought He wouldn’t.

Matthew 6:8

for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

Uniquely Made

I did it!  I got through all seventy days in the book Whispers of Hope: Ten Weeks of Devotional Prayer.  I’m pretty sure it took me closer to twenty weeks….but I did it!  So, what did I do today?  I turned back to day one and started all over again!  Guess what, I didn’t remember a thing from day one — it was like a new experience.  That’s the beauty of middle age.

The message of day one, or at least the message I got today, was that God is creative — He has made each of us exquisitely unique.  We were not created to walk identical paths.  We were each created for our own path.  Isn’t that amazing?  God created each of us for our own path and He alone “knows the plans” He has for us.  That’s why we need to hear from Him every day, because He’s the only one who knows our unique needs — the only one who can give us specific made-to-order direction.

So why have I spent so many minutes of my life checking with others, comparing myself to others, and judging others? I look at someone else’s path and I think to myself — well, that’s a different path than mine — it must be better or worse.  Then, having passed judgment, I try to adapt my path to make it more, or less, like that other person’s path.

I know I’m not alone here.  In fact, our society — schools, businesses, governments — exist to provide equality or sameness to the masses.  They are trying to be fair, or to motivate us to purchase, or to create order.  And, to be fair, I think we are bent toward wanting to be ‘just like everyone else’.  We want to fit in, to blend, to belong.

However, all of our attempts at trying to be the same, blend in, and belong ultimately force us to deny our uniqueness. Now, we don’t seem to mind uniqueness if it comes in the form of exceptional athletic ability, extreme good looks, or undeniable wit.  But what about uniqueness that creates physical challenge, an odd appearance, or cognitive difficulty? We seem to make concessions for ‘those’ people, don’t we?  What about the kind of uniqueness that believes differently than we do, tackles problems in ways we haven’t thought of, or decides to go against the flow of the masses? Do we celebrate that?

Or do we ridicule it? If we are conservative, do we ridicule the liberals? If we are liberal, do we berate conservatives? If we went to college, do we judge those who went straight to work? If we choose simplicity, do we frown on those who treasure extravagance?

My, oh, my.  I do believe we have a tangent (or two, or three) here, ladies and gentlemen. Let me get back to the point.

God created each of us uniquely.  We are not the same.  He has specific plans for each of us — “plans to prosper and not to harm” us.  Sure, sometimes humans point us directly to the plans God has for us, but more often, we get distracted by looking at what others are doing.  Sometimes so distracted, that we forget to check with the Creator himself.  Who knows better what is best for us than He?

If you’ve read my blog for more than a day, you know that I don’t check with God first, I try to tackle everything myself.  However, in this next chapter I am being challenged to turn from my old ways, to turn toward His Word, to consult with Him about my path.  It’s a day-by-day challenge for me.  That is why, kids, I am going to spend the next ten (or twenty) weeks continuing to develop my prayer life.

Once again, I need the bonus lesson.

Psalm 139:13-14

You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I am fearfully, [uniquely], wonderfully made.

Let me introduce you!

Wanna meet some of my kids?  Not my children. My students.  And, oh yeah, they aren’t all kids.

The first student I tutored here in Ann Arbor we’ll call Krista.  Her mom reached out to me around Christmas.  Krista is a freshman with ADHD.  For those of you who know freshmen, that last sentence is a little redundant.  Krista and I initially met to study for her first high school final exams, and we have continued to meet to study and to write papers.   In fact, we recently spent several hours writing an essay comparing loss in Maus  and Night. We followed her teacher’s rubric, we got her thesis approved, we outlined, drafted, revised, and edited.  Then came the email from her mother.  “Krista got a D on her paper.  Thoughts?”  D? Are you kidding me?  I am an experienced teacher, a former English department chair, a former curriculum coordinator!  I walked with her through that paper, holding her hand!  She got a D?! For a moment I thought I had lost Krista as a client.  For over a week her mother didn’t reply to my emails other than one-word responses.  I understood.  She had hired me to help her child do better in English, not to help her earn a D!!  Yesterday, finally, she reached out and asked if I could help Krista with her next paper.  I was so relieved to get another chance!

About a month ago I was sitting on my couch in the evening when I received a tutoring request that went something like this, “I am a high school freshman.  I could use help in my English class.  Would you be willing to work with me.”  A freshman?  Sending his own email? Asking for help? We exchanged a half dozen emails and I met him that weekend.  He is the son of parents who immigrated from India.  In fact, last year, they went back to India for a year so that Saj (fictional name) could study there and experience the culture.  He is very bright.  Our first assignment was preparing a recitation and analytical speech about Oedipus.  We worked for a couple hours on this project –first planning, then writing and practicing.  Yesterday we spent an hour getting familiar with the new PSAT and SAT since Michigan just adopted these assessments after years of using the ACT.  He asked me for homework so that he can practice before I see him next week.

About six weeks ago a mother contacted me.  Her daughter is only in sixth grade, but she is very advanced and has always had an English tutor.  Would I be willing to write a curriculum for her — reading comprehension, writing, analysis, vocabulary, and grammar?  Well, sixth grade is a little young for me, and I would have to drive about twenty minutes to get to this student, but I agreed.  Again, she is Indian.  Her parents are highly educated, as are Saj’s.  And, I will admit, this girl is indeed, ‘very advanced’.  I show up every week with comprehension questions on the book we are reading together, The Book Thief.  I also give her questions about literary elements — irony, symbol, metaphor, narration, characterization.  I keep trying to find something she can’t answer.  I have not yet succeeded.  I’m not sure what she will study in high school — I’m using up all of my material!

I also have a couple adult students.  First is Cherise.  She is an RN who is studying to become an Advanced Practice Nurse.  She works in a pediatric clinic in Ypsilanti and is hoping to be the lead practitioner when her supervisor retires.  She has files of knowledge on nursing, but her writing skills are limited.  I wish I could videotape our sessions — she spends time explaining medical terminology to me; I spend time explaining sentence structure to her.  We are two middle aged women leaning over documents making a way to convey meaning.  She’s a quick study.  I show her parallel structure one time, she points it out in the next sentence.  I remind her that academic writing is in third person, she locates the personal pronouns she needs to delete.

My other adult is Carla.  She dropped out of high school to have a baby fourteen years ago.  She works in purchasing for a manufacturing plant in the area, but she wants a career change.  She wants to work in the criminal justice field.  A community college admitted her and she is taking a composition course online.  But she’s never written a paper before! We met to discuss her first paper, walking through sentence by sentence until she was comfortable with it.  We also discussed her next assignment — a research paper.  She lives thirty miles away, so we have only met once, but she emails me her documents and I make comments and ask questions in the margins.  I coach her — you need more research, make sure you are including your opinion, don’t forget to document your quotes.  She’s doing all this work in the evenings after working all day and while parenting a teenager.

And that’s not all.  There’s  a brother and sister I meet with weekly, a couple of students I met with just a couple of times each to do test prep, and twin sisters that I assisted with a huge research paper.  They contact me online, I meet them in libraries or at their homes.  For a moment or a season we are connected for a purpose.  Sometimes I think I am helping them, most of the time I think they are helping me.

That’s the kind of work I like to do — the kind where I feel privileged to show up and blessed when I leave.  May you have that kind of work to do, too.

Psalm 90:17

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;

establish the work of our hands for us —  yes, establish the work of our hands.

Just a Dot

Once upon a time, way back in the 1970s, I was in confirmation class.  The pastor drew a long line down the length of the chalkboard (Kids, a chalkboard is a pre-historic white board). Then he took his chalk (marker) and placed one dot on that very long line.  He said, “Imagine that the long line is all of eternity and that the dot is your life.”  He wanted us to understand that in the grand scheme of all creation we were but blips. Actually, I think the point was the immensity of God, not the brevity of man, but as an adolescent, my focus was all on me — the little dot.

David must have realized he was just a dot when he said in Psalm 39, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Each man’s life is but a breath.”

Little old ladies echo this sentiment when they approach young mothers who are weary from the endless hours of parenting and say, “Honey, treasure these moments, the years will be gone before you know it.” When I was a young mother, toting three children aged three and under, I could barely control myself in the presence of these senior ladies.  I so wanted to reply, “The years may fly by, but the minutes are killing me!”

Yesterday my father-in-law turned eighty.  Today we are meeting with all of my husband’s siblings to take him out for dinner. He was born in 1935 — before television, computers, cell phones, and the Internet.  I wonder if his years have flown by.

I wonder if when his mother died before his second birthday the year flew by.

I wonder if when his step-mother was abusive toward him the years flew by.

I wonder if when he left home at thirteen the year flew by.

I wonder if his years of service in the Army flew by.

I wonder if his years of working the third shift in an automotive factory flew by.

I wonder if his years of parenting four children, who were born within the space of five years, flew by.

Perhaps I will ask him tonight, because he has never told me.

Here is what he has shown me in the twenty-five years I have known him:

He loves life.  He had his first heart attack in his forties and never expected to make it to sixty, let alone eighty.  He gets out of bed each morning, does whatever exercises he is able to do, showers, dresses, and tackles whatever tasks are on the agenda for the day.

He loves people.  The man spends his days interacting with others.  In his younger days he worked all night and spent his days advocating for other union members and even running for public office.  He still, at 80, spends many days at retiree luncheons, city council meetings, church functions, and family get-togethers.

He loves helping.  He’s served in the Army, worked for the United Way, volunteered for the Red Cross, and serves his local congregation.  He’s done home repairs, provided financial assistance, given advice, and simply shown up for absolutely everything.

He loves family.  He and my mother-in-law have no greater joy than chatting with family — around their kitchen table, over the phone, or wherever they can find them.  Each Monday morning, he writes an email — he calls it ‘the update’ — and sends it to everyone in the extended family — siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins.  He shares the news and often an extra-corny joke to help us start our week.

But mostly, this man loves God.  Maybe it’s because he, like David, learned early on that his life was just a dot — just a handbreadth. Each time I’ve eaten breakfast with my father-in-law for the past twenty-five years, he has started with Luther’s morning prayer, the reading of a devotion, and the Lord’s prayer.  Each time I have eaten dinner with him for the past twenty-five years, he has ended with Luther’s evening prayer and the reading of a devotion. He is at church every time the doors open — often standing at the door, greeting those who enter, shaking a hand, telling a joke, or pulling someone aside to share concern over a life event that hasn’t gone unnoticed by him.  His life is a testimony to God’s faithfulness.

Since 1935 my father-in-law has been carried in the palm of the hand of God. And he knows it.  He understands the frailty and brevity of life; I can tell because of the way he squeezes every drop out of every day. I can see because of the way he leans in and listens, the way he looks in my eyes, the way he laughs out loud.

He sees the value in his little dot of a life.  Let’s go and do likewise.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

So many sermons

Since Sunday I have heard four sermons.  I am not sure I have ever listened to four sermons in four days — until now.

On Sunday, we joined our son at the church he and our daughter-in-law are joining.  The pastor spoke about “Tough Truths for Hard Times”.  He pointed out that hard times are normal; they are a gift; they call for hard questions; and they are an opportunity to live by faith. I wrote in the service folder, “Live by the Word of God, even when I don’t know if it’ll work out.”

At home on Monday, after hearing from our pastor that I had missed his “best sermon ever” (wink, wink), I listened to his message “Beauty for Ashes” online.  The message recalled a time when Jesus interrupted a funeral procession to bring a dead man back to life.  He said that God also interrupts us as we live our lives; He enters into our circumstances and breathes life into us.

On Tuesday, I attended a women’s luncheon with a thousand other Lutheran women and heard Dr. Dale Meyer preach about “Life’s Crosses”.  He pointed out that throughout life we have many crosses to bear — illness, financial hardship, relationship struggles, etc. — and that the key to carrying these crosses is clinging to God in faith, trusting that He will bring us safely through.

Finally, on Wednesday night, I attended Lenten service where our pastor spoke about the beauty of grace.  He recalled the parable of Jesus in which the workers, all hired at different times of the day, received the same wages. He painted a picture of God as one who desires to give His best to everyone. I wrote in my notes, “God dispenses gifts, not wages.  The only thing we can do, by His grace, is receive them.”

Four sermons in four days.  I’m sitting here this morning at my computer thinking, “Ok, connect the dots.  What is the overall message God is bringing to you?”  And you know, the sermons are indeed meaningful, but He also has been speaking to me in the spaces around these sermons.

On the drive home from church with our son, we were discussing applying for jobs (my continuing quest) and I heard myself say, “I have applied for so many jobs, I have lost count.  I don’t even get upset any more when I get an email that says they’ve “gone in another direction”.

Riding to the luncheon on Tuesday, I heard my friend, a 72-year-old widow say, “I’m God’s worker.  I get up every morning and see what work He has for me to do.”

Last night after church, a friend asked me, “So how’s the job hunt going?” I heard myself respond, “I have applied for dozens of jobs.  I know God has me where He wants me; I am just impatient.”

This morning, I was updating information on the FAFSA for our daughter.  There was a message highlighted in red that said, “Your parents’ reported income is significantly lower than last year.”  Yeah.  I know.

Times aren’t really that hard in the little house by the river: we are well-fed and clothed, we love one another.  God is providing for all of our needs. Sure finances are a bit tight.  Sure I have to move at a different pace than I ever have before. But we have been given a gift of time and space to ask some hard questions and to sit with some of the answers.

God has indeed interrupted our lives with a career change, a move, a chronic illness, and some lifestyle changes. But in that interruption, He has breathed life through new friendships and new circumstances.

We do have some crosses — some challenges– on our plates.  I am learning that these challenges, the ones for which I don’t see resolution, keep me in a posture of dependence on God.  They keep me near to Him. They have me clinging.

And we have been given so much grace.  Not only at this particular time — but even when we were soldiering through, kicking butts and taking names.

So, the message of the last four days? Life is hard.  God is good. You’ve got struggles?  Yeah, that’s life.  You’ve got God?  That’s grace.  Keep your perspective, Kristin, keep your perspective.

John 16:33

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.

In this world you will have trouble.  But, take heart!  I have overcome the world.

Grandparenting, revisit

We’ve had two consecutive weekends of family reunion. This past Saturday, July 27 2019, my mother and her brothers gathered with their children and grandchildren. As we talked and laughed, I remembered my grandparents, the patriarchs of this crew, and the impact they had on me, so I re-share this post from March 2015 — my thoughts on grandparenting.

I have so many memories of my grandparents. I was blessed to have a great-grandmother until I was twenty-four, and grandparents until I was in my forties. Growing up, these three were central to my life. They were at every birthday and major celebration, and we often visited them since they lived just an hour away. Time with my grandparents was a highlight of my childhood; I eagerly looked forward to every visit.

Now, when my husband and I are anticipating a visit with our own grandchildren, I can clearly remember countless hours spent with my nose pressed against a window waiting for visits with my grandparents.

My husband asked me once, “Do you remember why you wanted to see them so badly?” Without hesitation I responded, “They were always happy to see me!” And that is the truth. Every time we visited our grandparents, they gushed; their faces lit up; and they hugged us exclaiming how much we’d grown — even if they’d seen us just a couple weeks earlier.

My great grandmother, who lived to be 95, would always meet us at the door smiling through the window with her sparkly eyes as she watched us climb from the car. She laughed as she hugged as at the door and welcomed us to come in, take off our coats, and have something to eat.  On special occasions, like Christmas Eve or Mother’s Day, the WHOLE family would visit her — that meant twenty or more people all squished into her small living room — on couches, chairs, stools, and the floor — listening to her share stories of days long past. I don’t ever remember being bored. I remember feeling enveloped in love. And I remember her sour cream cookies — oh, man, such melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.

My grandpa and grandma’s house was about five minutes away from my great grandmother’s. As a young girl I learned to recognize the signs that we were getting close — we crossed the draw bridge over the Saginaw River, drove past the huge houses on Center Avenue, then turned at the gas station on Pine Street. The anticipation built as we drove the last four blocks, and I could hardly wait to burst out of the car and run to the door to ring the bell. My little grandma (we called her that because, well, she was little, but also to distinguish her from ‘great’ grandma) was often already standing at the door, an apron tied around her waist. She dressed better than anyone I knew –color-coordinated and accessorized in classic styles– and was always cooking something fabulous for us. She would open the door, and right behind her would be grandpa. Grandma would give us a kiss and a squish, then we would get the same from grandpa. Whenever my grandparents hugged me, I felt like they had had their noses pressed against the glass waiting for me to get there.

I’ve seen my mother and father do the same thing with my kids.

My mother always fills the fridge and the candy dishes in anticipation of our visits. She has the beds freshly made and something special set on a table for each one — a set of towels, a photo album, a pair of earrings. She hugs each grandchild and listens to every little detail that they are willing to share. She watches at the window waiting for the grandkids get there and is always sad when they leave.

When we travel to see my dad, I always give a call as we leave our house. It has never been less than a four hour drive, but when I say, “We’re leaving now,” he says, “I’ll be watching out the window for you.” It doesn’t matter how long it takes us to get there, he is always standing in the door when we drive in. He laughs his soft laugh as he envelops each grandkid in his arms like he’s been waiting his whole life for that hug.

That’s what grandparents do — they love their grandkids like it is their sole created purpose. It’s innate — a grandparent does not need to be taught this behavior.

We were driving to Cincinnati to see our little muffin when she was just an infant, and I was watching the GPS from the time we pulled out of our driveway. The original ETA was projected shortly before 5pm, but the GPS didn’t know about the rush hour traffic in Dayton. We got stalled for a bit, and when the traffic started moving, I began to text our son updates: “We should be to you in 30 minutes.” “20.” “10.”

He replied, “Come right in, the door is open.”

He didn’t have to tell us twice. We burst through that door to find our sweet girl sleeping on his chest. We sniffed her, touched her, held her, hugged her. No script needed.

For almost forty-eight hours we took turns holding that little girl, talking to her, smiling at her, loving on her. We didn’t need a guidebook, a demonstration, or practice. We knew exactly what to do.

Driving away at the end of our visit, we were already thinking about how soon we could plan to get back. Since then, we take every opportunity to clear the calendar, load up the car, and drive to our girls — to see them, hug them, chase them, and just love them.

Grandparent love is possibly the purest form of love on the planet — it doesn’t expect or demand, it doesn’t judge or condemn, it just loves with no strings attached. It anticipates arrivals, waiting at the window, noses pressed against the glass.

Grandchildren are the crown of the aged.”

Proverbs 17:6

Just Fifteen Minutes

It was just fifteen minutes of my afternoon. I sat inches away from a woman I had never met before as she brushed tears away from her eyes. Just fifteen minutes.

In those fifteen minutes I learned that she has a PhD in China, but is studying for a PhD here.  She is forty-five years old.  She moved here, leaving career and family, so that her daughter can go to high school here in the United States and subsequently meet the criteria to attend an American university.  Why is she crying? Because her own mother is fighting cancer back in China and she can not be there to help.  Because it is difficult to do PhD work in your second (or third) language.  Because it is extra difficult when you are 45 and raising your daughter alone in a country that is not your own.  Because that difficulty is compounded when you see your daughter struggling to fit in and find success in her American school — your daughter who is studying in her second language.

She doesn’t know me, but she found me on a website — a website that shows my photo, some of my credentials, and some student testimonials.  She contacted me yesterday and wondered if I would read some of her daughter’s writing — would I help her get published?

I read her request and thought to myself, “Oh, boy, another child prodigy.” I judged her.  She was one more parent who believes her child is amazing. (I am one of those parents, too, by the way.)  I told her I would be happy to meet her, but it is the policy of Wyzant  (the tutoring site I use) that she has to enter payment information before I can meet her.  I stick to this policy because it makes my record keeping simple; I never have to collect my own payment, and no one ever owes me any money.  It is clean.

She countered, “Wyzant won’t accept my Chinese credit card. I would be happy to pay you in cash or check.”

I replied, “I only accept payment through Wyzant, but I am happy to meet you tomorrow to see if we are a good match for each other.”  We set up a time and a place. Period.

Well, Wyzant didn’t like that.  They disabled my account about an hour before I was to meet her.  They sent me a notification saying that “based on some recent email correspondence, it appears that you have violated the terms of use.  We have deactivated your account.”


So I can’t access any of my student contacts?  Yikes!  I called them to inquire and the operator said she would “create a ticket” and that they would contact me within 24-48 hours to let me know if I can be re-activated or not.

Or not!?!?!?!?!?

Guys!  I have a dozen or more students that I see fairly regularly.  Yes, this has been a slow week, but I have six appointments scheduled for next week and no way of contacting these people if my account is not reactivated.

Now, I am guessing that they are just going to give me a stern warning with finger shaking, “Do not under any circumstances meet with clients who do not have payment information on file.”  Right, right, I know.  I have told almost half of my clients that I will not allow them to pay me cash because I have signed an agreement.  I really want everything kept within the boundaries of the website — it’s clean and safe and organized.

I had no intention of circumventing that policy.  I had no intention of charging this woman for a  fifteen minute meeting. In fact, when I met with her today, I helped her understand that she could open a PayPal account with her debit card and link it to Wyzant.  Because of the language barrier, that might have been difficult to convey through email correspondence.  We needed the face-to-face.

But not just to set up the payment information. We needed the face-to-face so that I could get off my high horse, stop judging her based on a couple of sentences in an email, and have some compassion on a mom who is feeling overwhelmed and all alone.

I’d do it again.  Ok, I might be a little more crafty in how I communicate time and place now that I know that Big Brother is reading my emails (or that he at least has some kind of algorithm to identify rebellious rule-breaking tutors).  Sometimes we have to be a little flexible. I don’t typically break the rules, but I do find ways to bend them a bit when needed.  I didn’t know this mom’s situation last night.  I wasn’t really trying to bend any rules.

But today, for fifteen minutes, two women connected without the blessing of Wyzant, and I’m not sorry for it.

I John 4:11

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Same struggle, different day

My calendar is pretty empty this week.  One tutoring session last night, Bible study tomorrow, and a trip to see the grand baby on Friday.   Not a lot for someone who used to have trouble finding time to meet a friend for coffee.  I should be happy, right?

I am, kind of.  But we always want what we don’t have.  Last year when I was working long days, single-parenting, and pondering a move, I longed for days like these when I could still be in my pajamas at 10:30 in the morning.  I dreamt of sipping tea and blogging with the dog at my feet.  And, ok, I am not hating this moment — my toes are tucked under his warm belly; I can feel it rise and fall. But, guess what I did first thing this morning — applied for two more jobs.

Don’t laugh.

Ok, laugh.

I have lost track of how many jobs I have applied for.  Did you know that I can see myself as an administrative assistant, a tutor, an academic advisor, a Bridge Program director, and an editor?  When I tell my husband about the positions I am applying for, he is very gracious.  He says things like, “You would love that position,” or, “I could see you doing that.”  But then, a few minutes later, he says something like, “You know, I am completely content with you not working.  You really need to pay attention to your health.  I think full-time is too much.”

I’ve got a winner, don’t I? He sees that I really want to be able to do some of the things that have fed me over the years, and he also sees my limitations.  Even when I don’t want to see them.

But, come on, maybe I really could still direct a program for provisionally admitted students at the University of Michigan.  I won’t know unless I try.  And maybe they won’t even call me anyway.  And if they call, I can at least go in for an interview, right?

I say all this as I sit in pajamas and a hoodie — the hood pulled over my head, wearing glasses because my eyes hurt too much today for contacts. But maybe if I had to get up and go to work I would feel better, right?

That’s the unanswered question.  So, I continue to ask it.  I continue to fill out job applications like that is my job. And I continue to tutor.

Last night I met with a high school freshman and his little sister, a seventh grader.  They are children of Indian heritage whose parents’ first language is not English.  They have high aspirations — big goals.  So together we worked through test prep and grammar games.  We struggled and laughed together.

I got home and was working on my puzzle when a different high school freshman, another son of Indian parents, messaged me in a panic.  The assignment we poured over on Saturday is all wrong.  It is 9:30pm. Is it too late to help him re-work it before his presentation tomorrow.  The messages went back and forth until midnight. Poor kid had himself all stressed out.  But the stakes, for him, are high.  He, too, has big goals.

If I’d had to get up this morning to go direct a program at the university, I would’ve been in bed by 8:00.  The kid would find someone else.  I would have other kids to interact with, too.  But right now, we have each other.

I know.  I see it.  You don’t have to tell me. My husband is not the only one who sees my need to do the things that feed me while also seeing my limitations.  He’s allowing me to interact with students and stay in pajamas until 10:30am (ok, it’s 11:00 now).

He’s answering my prayers and I am still submitting my requests.  It’s ok.  He gets me.  He understands that I am used to doing so much more.  He knows that it is hard for me to rest, hard for me to be still, hard to trust that He’s got our situation under control.

So, I’m sitting here blogging, and my husband sends me a text.  He’s sitting in chapel and hears 1 Samuel 2:2.  He says it’s a comfort to him this morning.

“There is none holy like the Lord; for there is none beside you;

there is no rock like our God.”

No one else understands my needs before I ask.  No one else knows the plans He has for me, plans to help me and not to harm me.  No one else is holding me in the palm of His hand.


Ok, no more job applications today.  I’m gonna go work on my puzzle.

Change is in the air


I am pretty excited about this.  Yesterday, my husband and I took our dog to the park to walk after a long winter hibernation.  We were not alone.  The paths were crowded with prisoners set free from the bondage of subzero temperatures.  We sprung the clock forward and were launched into spring, or so it seems.

My husband announced this morning, “I packed my winter coat away.”  I walked across campus in just jeans and a sweater.  The sun is shining and it looks like we’ll hit the high forties and low fifties most every day this week.  Yippee!

Spring is so hopeful.  I just know that under the thick crust of snow, some daffodils are waking up and thinking about breaking the surface of the soil.  As the dingy whiteness melts into the river, fresh green grass will sprout and blanket the yard outside our home. It’ll be fresh and new.

I could use a little ‘new’.  Could you?

Some friends and I are meeting once a week to talk about turning, repenting, resting, renewing, and re-setting. It’s a pretty Lutheran/Lenten thing to do, really.  We start with Ash Wednesday acknowledging that “dust we are and to dust we shall return.”  We enter the Lenten season contemplatively, acknowledging the truth about ourselves and admitting — “I’m getting it all wrong.” So, these friends and I are really opening ourselves up to one another and inviting one another to ask, “How can I turn from this? How can I rest in this? How can I be renewed? How can I re-set?”

I didn’t really give anything up for Lent, but the addition of this weekly community of confession — of agreeing with one another that we don’t have it all figured out — has provided a space for me to be ok with my insufficiencies, to openly admit that I am a work in progress.

Now that may not be revolutionary for you, but for me it’s a space that I haven’t always allowed myself. I have spent a lot of energy over the years thinking I was right, justifying my actions, and plowing over (or simply ignoring) those who didn’t agree with me.

I mean, as long as I’m confessing, why hold back, right?

Over the years in my classroom, I often taught my students that “anybody can change.”  This was one of my many “mini-sermons” I gave to teach life lessons.  I would give the “anybody can change” sermon when students were annoyed with coaches, other teachers, each other, or their parents.  I would say, if we expect that people will never change, we don’t allow them the space to make changes.  I sometimes cited as an example a former student who prided himself on being the class clown.  He disrupted almost every class he attended and found himself meeting with the Admissions Review Board on more than one occasion.  We would say, “You are a natural born leader.  Please, use that power for good!  Lead your peers positively, not negatively.” For four years, we encouraged this student to change.  For four years we believed he could.  Yet, as he walked across the stage at graduation, we were still witnessing the immature disruptive student.  Three years later, the student showed up at my classroom door — shirt and tie, freshly cropped, and somewhat sheepish looking.  He wanted to let me know that he had become the captain of the football team at his university and that he had made the dean’s list.  “You were right, Mrs. Rathje.”  Anybody can change.

Now, I usually tell that story to point out the fact that anybody can change, but also to show what an amazing teacher I am — see what an impact I had on that student!  But really, the object lesson is for me.

Anybody can change.  Anybody can turn.  Anybody can re-set.  Even me.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

The old has passed away; behold the new has come.

The Sweet Battalion Strikes Again

So, yesterday I was sitting around the table with the other members of the battalion (To meet the battalion, check out https://kristinsnextchapter.com/2015/01/14/my-sweet-battalion/).  We are one week short of finishing our study on The Sermon on the Mount.  In discussing the section on Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7-8) the question arose, “If God does not need to be encouraged, convinced, or coerced, why might He not answer a request made only once?”

Right?  I mean, seriously, why can’t it be like a work-order system.  I log-on and enter all my requests in the system and God just answers them ‘in the order they were received’ or even ‘the order of most importance’.  I told Him about our financial issues.  I told Him about my health.  I told Him about my desire to work just a little bit more. So, He knows. He’ll get to it when He gets to it.

When I was teaching in St. Louis that was the system for getting things done.  Our building supervisor wanted everything submitted through the system.  He would clear it from the system when the issue was ‘resolved’.  Why can’t God work like that?  Why can’t I just wait for the email that says the problem has been ‘resolved’?

Well, let me tell you.  I really appreciated our building supervisor.  He did take care of issues that were entered into the system.  He was also gracious enough to come ’emergency style’ when there was a spill or some other urgent matter. He did not complain. He came, he saw, he fixed.  But I’ve got to be honest and tell you, that unless I had an issue, I didn’t really spend a lot of time talking to him.  Sorry, Bob.  I mean sometimes we ate lunch at the same table.  His kids were in my classes.  We went to the same staff functions.  But I think Bob would agree that he and I were not best friends.  I went to him when I had a specific need; he did his part to meet that need.

Is that the kind of relationship I want with God? Do I just want Him to respond to my needs?

One member of our battalion is Chinese.  We were having this discussion yesterday and she said that our conversation reminded her of a Chinese tale.  I will try my best to repeat what I heard.  She said there were three brothers who were all doctors.   The youngest of the brothers was the most famous doctor because he was known to cure patients who were near death.  Many patients who had no other options came to this youngest brother doctor and were healed.  His fame grew and grew.  So one time he was taken (to the emperor?  to the news station?  I can’t remember.) Anyway, someone asked him who of the three brothers was the best?  Certainly he was, right?  The youngest brother doctor said, “No.”  Certainly he had healed many people who were near death.  And the second oldest brother had also cured many illnesses.  But his oldest brother, he said, was the best because people came to him when they were still healthy, before they had a need, and he could tell them how to live in ways that would prevent illness and premature death.  He, the youngest brother said, was certainly the best doctor.

My sweet Chinese friend said, “When we follow God’s Word, we avoid the consequences.”

I really wasn’t going to go to Bible study yesterday.  I have been having a bad week.  I am emotionally drained, physically struggling, and not up to interacting with others.  But, it was my day to bring the fruit.  Sigh. So, I stopped at the store to buy fruit and grudgingly carried it into the little classroom where we meet.  We watched our video and discussed prayer, then as we closed, a woman across the table, who really doesn’t know the details of the internal storm that is raging in my head, offered prayer on my behalf.  A melting occurred inside of me and my body began to sob.

I hadn’t put in that work order.  But I have been going through my routine of Bible study and prayer for what I hope will one day amount to ten weeks (and then some).  And in this position of need — in this posture of dependence on the One who knows what I need before I ask, I received peace in the midst of this ugly storm.

That, I think, is why God doesn’t always answer a request made only once.  He knows that when we take this posture of dependence and need, He can meet us and heal us.  He can lead us around situations that may otherwise lead to dire consequences.

I want to take that posture. I want to be dependent in a way that requires moment by moment acknowledgement of the One who cares for me so much that He is carrying me around in the palm of His hand.

Isaiah 65:24

Before they call, I will answer;

while they are yet speaking I will hear.