Living in the Tension

The tension is rising. How long will I last?

I’ve been working about twenty hours a week at the agency and an additional eight hours tutoring on my own. Just twenty-eight hours.  No big deal, especially when compared to what I had been doing before moving to Ann Arbor.  And, I’ve been holding my own.  Kind of.

My family has been helping with laundry, cleaning, and the care of the dog.  I cook dinner two or three times a week and expect that the other nights everyone can forage for their own sustenance, because I often have no interest in food at the end of the day.  I recommitted to walking and minimal Pilates this week when I noticed that my exercise life had all but disappeared. And, I’ll admit that a few symptoms are creeping back in.

It’s nothing serious — a little more fatigue, a little more stiffness, a mild rash on my face and some minimal psoriasis peeking out — nothing that anyone but I (and the people who live with me) will notice. But I’m only at twenty-eight hours.  ,

The agency is just beginning to show signs of the summer crank-up.  A co-worker showed me the “summer chart” yesterday with the names of all the students and instructors that will be crammed into our office suite starting in the next couple of weeks. It’s exciting–and intimidating.  We are going to increase our student and staff load exponentially by the middle of June.  I am expecting to be at full-time status in about three weeks.


I’ve been working from eight to noon, coming home, eating lunch, and resting for a few hours before I head back out to see my second round of students.  Then, when I get home the second time, I shed my clothes, get into pajamas, try to eat a little bit, watch a little television, catch up with Facebook and Words with Friends, then crawl to bed to read and sleep.

Wake up, repeat.

By the weekend I’m pretty wiped.  Last night I slept for ten hours. I am happy to say that it is going on eleven o’clock and I am still in my pajamas on this Saturday morning.

Now, as the work at the agency cranks up, the tutoring is going to slow down.  Many of my tutoring students are preparing for June exams, so they will not continue with me in the summer.  In fact, I think I will only have three or four weekly appointments once I hit full-time status, but do the math and you’ll see that I will be close to doubling my hours.

Yeah, I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, but I’m committed to the experiment.  By the end of summer I hope to know what the sweet spot is — how many hours of work is optimal?  My guess is right around twenty — just a little less than what I am doing right now.

So why am I moving forward with more? Because teaching feeds me. Yeah, I’m tired, but I got to celebrate with a ten-year-old who read ‘discombobulated’ this week. I got to read and discuss The Giver with an eleven-year-old who hasn’t read such a challenging book in his life! I got high-fives from a seven-year-old who spelled a whole bunch of words correctly.  I got to say “Bam!” when a police officer, who is studying for a test that will enable him to work for the DEA, remembered the three ways to punctuate two consecutive independent clauses.  I got to sit next to a Romanian immigrant and answer countless questions about English grammar and usage.

No, I didn’t get a ton of time to blog.  I didn’t make it to the gym.  My face hurts, and I’m pretty exhausted. But, guys, I got to watch people learn all. week. long. And the icing on the cake? I was learning right along with them. The last five months of working one-on-one with so many different students has taught me so much about language, but also so much about how people learn, and so much about what it means to me to be a teacher.

So, for the next few months, I am going to live in this tension.  Thanks, friends and family, for supporting me in my experiment. I know that my decision to live in the tension impacts you, too.

Psalm 90:17

Let the favor of the Lord, our God, be upon us, and establish the work of our hands;

yes, establish the work of our hands.

Cheers for the little guy!

Yesterday morning I woke up to a text from my husband.  He had left the house very early and had had to step over a critter on his way to the car.  Attached to his message was a photo.  I had no idea what it was, but it sure looked like a lizard!

My first reaction was to think, “Michigan sure has changed since I lived here last.” My whole childhood I had chased and captured toads, fled from garter snakes, and been amused by squirrels.  Michigan has so many deer that you can’t take a cross-state trip without witnessing some road-kill, but lizards? I’d never seen one in Michigan.

I walked to the door to see if, by chance, the little guy was still hanging around.  He sure was! I don’t know anything about lizards, or many animals for that matter.  The joke in our house is that it’s pretty amazing that I’ve kept my husband and kids alive, let alone the dog.  Even plants are at risk if I am in charge.  However, it didn’t take a veterinarian to recognize that this little guy was in need of some help.   After all, he hadn’t moved from the threshold in hours. He was tiny; he could have fit in the palm of my hand.

He could have, that is, if I would’ve been willing to pick him up.  But that was not going to happen. I closed the door and went back to getting ready for work.

But I couldn’t get the image of that little guy — using the last of his strength to crawl up onto the cement ledge outside my door — out of my head.  If I didn’t do something, he was going to be a shriveled up version of himself by the time I got home from work.  But what was supposed to do?  I’m no lizard expert!

Since my husband was already on the road a couple of hours away, I texted two members of his team who also live on campus. “Hey, do either of you two want to adopt this little guy? He’s sitting on my doorstep.”

Within minutes, they had both replied.  One of them had the genius idea to contact a campus employee who, get this, just happens to love and collect reptiles!!  No kidding.  So, I found her on Facebook and sent her a message.  Her first response was to say that although he was cute, she already had plenty. She sure hoped someone would care for him.

Me, too!

But as she put her phone down and started getting ready for her day, I think she, too, couldn’t get the little guy out of her head.  She messaged me a few minutes later — “I think he’s a gecko. He’s not native to Michigan, and he won’t likely survive here.”

Before I knew it, she was promising to come rescue him and assess his situation. By last night, he was sitting safely in an aquarium, being fed, watered, and warmed.  I don’t know if he’s gonna fully recover, but I am hopeful.

I’m cheering for this little gecko because, guys, I’ve been there. I have used the last of my strength to crawl to a ledge where someone might notice me and take pity on me. I’ve been in the spot where if someone didn’t intervene, I was going to shrivel up.  I’ve been out of my element, wandering around, trying to find something that looked familiar.  And each time this has happened, someone has swooped in to the rescue.

Maybe it was a nurse who made a phone call.  Maybe it was a friend who delivered a late-night jamocha shake.  Maybe it was a husband who sat next to me in the silence.  It could’ve even been a coworker who dropped into my classroom at the end of a long day to say, “I’m so glad that you’re here.”

Whoever it was, they gently coaxed me into the warmth, gave me a drink and something to eat, and provided a spot where I could recover from the trauma of life.  And, thankfully, I lived to see another day.

So, I’m cheering on this little guy, and all the other little guys who are sitting on the ledge, grasping at hope.

Psalm 104:24

Oh, Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all;

The earth is full of your creatures.

Reflections on Life as a High School Teacher, re-visit

This post, first written in May 2015 (and edited in May 2019) is one of my most read — probably because my Lutheran North people love me almost as much as I love them.

One year ago today I said goodbye to my life as a high school teacher. I graded the last exam, entered the final grade, hugged a dozen or more kids, packed up my desk, and moved on.


No, I’m not crying. Really, I’m fine.


Over the past couple of weeks, former colleagues and students have been posting milestones on Facebook — the last week of classes, prom, senior assembly, baccalaureate, etc. I’ve been smiling as I view updates and click ‘like’ on dozens of pictures each day. And, I’ve been feeling a dull ache in my chest. I miss that part of my life!

Don’t get me wrong — where I am now is where I am supposed to be! I am confident of that. I don’t think I’ve quite landed at my new normal yet, but I am definitely on my way there. I love being back in Michigan where we can see family much more easily. I am reaping the benefits of a slower pace. I am truly enjoying my work with students aged six to thirty-something. But, you know, my life as a high school teacher was a pretty sweet ride.

Here is what I miss: 

  • working side-by-side with some of the most committed professionals I have ever encountered — The staff at Lutheran High School North in St. Louis is made up of a team of individuals who love kids and are willing to sacrifice time, talent, and treasure in order to walk with those kids on their educational journeys. In my book they are second-to-none; they made me a better human.
  • creating the culture of a classroom –– A magic exists inside the walls of a classroom where a teacher can foster the exchange of ideas and a community of learning. Each room is different; each year is different.
  • watching dorky little freshmen grow into adults — Each year I would be amazed as the seniors entered the building in August so much differently than they had entered three years earlier: more confident, more aware of themselves, and yet, more considerate of others. The freshman who couldn’t unlock, or even find, his own locker, turned into a senior leader who showed the new freshmen the ropes.
  • being surprised by visits from alumni — Sure, I was in the middle of instruction, but a knock on the door and an interruption from a student I hadn’t seen in three years was always greeted with a hug and a brief interview in front of my students. What did you learn at college? What do you wish you would’ve known before you got there? What is your favorite memory of Lutheran North?
  • finding amazing wisdom in the writing of teenagers — It didn’t happen every day, but it wasn’t rare to read an essay written by a sixteen-year-old that used such beautiful phrasing, such vivid imagery, or such concise wisdom that I would be compelled to carry the paper down the hall to read it out loud to one of my colleagues.
  • being challenged by the young people who watched what I did day in and day out and weren’t afraid to enter into dialogue with me — Mrs. Rathje, why do you drink so much coffee? How long have you been married?  Would you be willing to go talk to another teacher with me? Did you ever feel like God wasn’t answering your prayers? My mom is having surgery today; would you pray for her?

Yeah, it was a pretty sweet ride. The teachers, students, and experiences I encountered at Lutheran North have forever changed me. They influence the work that I do today. All those stacks of papers I read over the years gave me the experience I needed to be able to do the editing and proofreading I do for graduate students now. The years of figuring out how best to manage the erratic behavior of students in the classroom prepared me to work with a variety of students one-on-one. My interactions with other teachers made me more sensitive to the ways that I communicate with coworkers and more equipped to receive constructive criticism. My discussions with parents grew my heart and helped me better understand the complexity of family systems and how they impact the lives of students. I was, during all that time, being prepared for what was next.

And now I’m in the “what’s next,” being prepared for what comes after this. It’s pretty remarkable. Life is school; school is life. That’s probably the title for another blog post on another day.

For now let me say my hat is off to you, Lutheran North. I am, and will ever be, proud to say I am part of the Crusader family. I love and miss you all and pray that God prepares each of you, too, for whatever He has next.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

But Weight….a re-vist

Click on the arrow above to hear me read this post.

In Monday’s post, “Off the Couch, at the Table”, I briefly mentioned my weight. As age, illness, and circumstance are reflected in my body, I am often tempted to address the surface issues rather than what lies underneath. In this revision of a post from 2015, I recommit to not falling into this old pattern.

What’s your Achilles’ heel — that one weak spot that, if carefully targeted, can render you helpless.

I know what mine is. No, it’s not my drive to be successful. It’s not my tendency to jump in and do things in order to take charge of a seemingly out of control situation or my ability to turn off emotion in order to get through difficult times. It’s not even autoimmune disease. Those are all things that I battle, of course, but they aren’t what the enemy uses to bring me to my knees. Sure, he can distract me and get me a little off course with any of the above, but I have another weakness he can prey on if he wants to totally render me ineffective. He has been using the same strategy since I was a little girl, and his methods are extremely sneaky and deceptive. I am often nearly in the fetal position in the corner before I know what has hit me.

This weakness I have is hereditary. It started at least with my grandmother, and likely long before her. Somewhere along the family line, a woman believed this lie: “You are fat, therefore you are worthless, therefore you should be ashamed.” She believed it and made it her goal to be anything but fat, and we in her path have followed suit.

Now, the women in my family are very strong. They can handle what is put in front of them — family illness, financial difficulty, and crises of faith. I come from a long line of soldiering women who will not easily back down from a challenge. My great-grandmother, born in 1895, lived to be 95. She was a mother, step-mother, widow, bowling champion, and international traveler.  My grandmother also lived a long life and, after raising four children to adulthood, took a job at a local jewelry store that she kept until she was in her late 70s! My mother raised four children, often single-handedly, worked in a hospital for over forty years, and then began a new career with kindergartners! She raised two very independent and strong women — me, and my sister, who is retired from the Navy and manages the Texas region of a government agency. We’re strong all right, but many of us have wrestled or still wrestle with issues of weight and self-image. And here’s the thing — not one of us could truly be considered over weight.  So why do we struggle?

Because we believe the lies whispered so deceitfully into our ears — the lies that a number on a scale or the size of a dress is somehow a measure of value. When I say it like that, it sounds ludicrous. But I am not exaggerating when I say that I have considered my weight and the size of my clothes as a measure of my worth for more than half of the days of my life.

Yes. It’s true. And it’s embarrassing to admit.

In the 1980s I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I underwent treatment at the University of Michigan and began my recovery. I am still in recovery. I had to admit it to myself again last week.

Yes, last week. Thirty years after I entered recovery. Why have I not yet put this to rest? Why can’t I walk away from this issue? I wish I knew. I believe it is hardwired into me. It’s like a computer program that runs on automatic. I have to daily interrupt the program and insert an anti-code in order to hijack a system that is bent on destruction.

The program says, “You’re clothes are too tight. You are getting fat. You are a failure.” The anti-program fights back, “That’s ridiculous. I bought this dress five years ago. I am going to be fifty in less than a year. I am not fat. I am just changing.”

The program says, “You used to look a lot better. You are letting yourself get fat. Everybody is noticing.” The anti-program counters, “Aging is a natural part of life. All bodies change. No one looks like a teenager forever. This is normal.”

This internal dialogue has been running for decades. I was beginning to think it was automatic and that I wouldn’t need to keep working at it so hard, but a friend posted a picture of me on Facebook last week and the anti-code failed. The program said, “Oh, you look terrible. Everyone who sees this will think, ‘she’s really let herself go!'” And I believed it. Over the next couple of days I had to retire two blouses and one dress because they just don’t fit any more. I did the mental work, but it surely wasn’t automatic. “I guess I need to go shopping to get some clothes that fit. I am not the problem; the clothes are the problem.”

This ongoing dialog is exhausting. It’s meant to be. If the enemy can keep me in the fetal position in the corner, he has paralyzed me from doing all the things I have been called to do. He probably doesn’t use this exact strategy with you, but I bet he does something to slow or immobilize you.

If my focus was on the truth, I wouldn’t be worried about my pants getting a little tighter. I wouldn’t be giving myself messages about inferiority and worthlessness. If I was looking at my Creator and Redeemer, I believe I would view my self as created and redeemed.

My identity is not in a number on a scale or in a dress size. My identity is based on my Creator who created me in His own image, redeemed me, called me by name, and established the work of my hands.

I am resolving and committing right now: I will not continue to believe the lies that are whispered into my ears.

I’m not going to spend my life in the fetal position in the corner — this body and I have places to go, people to see, and things to do.

I am one strong woman, from a line of strong women, and the lies stop here.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

Psalm 139:14


I feel like I am conducting an experiment.

Just three years ago I was entering the home stretch of the school year, assigning literary analyses, grading stacks of papers, preparing students for finals, and organizing thoughts for the end of year faculty meetings.  I easily worked fifty hours a week between teaching, preparing, grading, and other responsibilities. My husband was pastoring an inner city campus ministry church; he easily worked sixty to seventy hours each week. Two our children were in college; one of them had just enlisted in the Army and was preparing to leave.  The youngest was entering her junior year and all the craziness that that holds.

I burned the candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle; I had no reason to expect that that would change.

I closed out the school year, cleaned out my classroom, inventoried department materials, attended meetings, and started my summer projects — reading, gardening, lesson planning for the next year, etc.  My pace was slower, but definitely still purposeful.

I’d been doing Zumba a couple of nights a week and running three to five miles, three to five days each week.  I was in decent shape for a fortysomething and anticipated running 5Ks for the foreseeable future.  I used to joke that I would keep running until I won my age group — even if that meant into my eighties.

Somewhere in the middle of all that summer activity, my elbows started to ache — both of them. I already routinely saw a sports medicine doc because of pain I’d had in my hip since my twenties.  He said I probably had tennis elbow. Tennis elbow?  I don’t play tennis, but ok.  Maybe it’s from all the time I spend playing games on my iPad.  No big deal. I kept stepping.

Later that fall I went to see my general practitioner.  I was tired.  So tired.  Maybe I had mono? Or was anemic? I was just dragging!  She ran blood work and reported that I was just perfect — nothing wrong with me at all.

So, why was I still dragging?  And, you know, it wasn’t just my elbows, my hips were really bothering me. And my back. And, now that you mention it, my eyes.

The doctor said I was tired, maybe depressed. And that, my friends, will cost you $35.

That whole fall I felt pretty crappy, so finally, on a hunch, I called the rheumatologist that had treated my daughter for a bizarre, but related, health issue the year before. I described to him my symptoms and he shared my concern.  To make this story a little bit shorter, let me just say that six weeks later I was in his partner’s office.

I’ve written about this a lot in this blog, I know.  If you’ve been following, you know that I’ve had a variety of diagnoses, none of which I am fully comfortable with.  What I tell most people who ask is that I have ‘autoimmune disease’.  I think my doctors say I have psoriasis, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and who knows what else. Whatever. The story is that I get tired — really tired.  I ache most of the time. My eyes and skin periodically ‘flare’ up and make life a little more irritating than usual.

And that, my friends is how I got to this stage in my life of conducting an experiment.  After ten years of working at full throttle, I stopped everything.  I took several months off from everything and have been slowly adding things back in.  My family and I are like a bunch of scientists observing ‘the subject’ — me — and noting changes.  “You seem more tired today; do you think it’s because you took those three extra students last week?”  “I’m having a flare; I think I will need to spend the afternoon in bed.” “You’re walking like you are in pain; have you been exercising?”

This week I am pushing the limits a bit.  I am clocking twenty-four hours at the agency and an additional ten hours of tutoring.  As I add each appointment I brace myself a bit.  Thirty-four hours of direct instruction followed by a whirlwind Friday night trip could put me in bed for all of Sunday, but it might not.  I might be ok. I might actually enjoy it! I’ve gotta take the risk.  I have to know what my new normal is.

For the next two months I will clock over forty hours each week. Each hour will be spent working one-on-one with a student. By the end of those two months I might be exhausted, and I may have a better handle on what kind of pace will work best for me and my family.  I hope so, but for now I gotta get back to my test.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, and not men.

Colossians 3:23

At bat

I stood at the plate yesterday afternoon; my bat was in place, my eye was fixed on the ball. I swung and connected. It was a grounder to third, but I ran like nobody’s business and made it safely to first base. Phew!

When I showed up at the home of my ACT student — a high school junior who had just spent seven hours at school — I could see the reluctance in his eyes.  He remembered; so did I.  We hadn’t gotten very far last week.  But we were both ready.  I had come with a plan, and so had he.  I had several strategies for our hour cued up on my laptop, but he beat me to the punch.  “I did a practice test last night and scored it; here are my results.” Bam.  It was a line drive to center field and I advanced to second.

I sorted his missed items into categories and we attacked them one at a time.  I relentlessly tried to get him to understand what an appositive is, how to correctly show possession, and to understand the difference between active and passive voice.  He hung with me.  As the clock turned, his (and my) apprehension turned to satisfaction.  As I started packing up, he said, “I’ll do another English test before I see you next time.”

“Yes,” I agreed.  “That was a great strategy.  Good job taking the extra time to prepare for our lesson.”

I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked to my car.

This morning, I met with the college-level student with whom my faux pas occurred yesterday.  I arrived fifteen minutes ahead of her, I reviewed her lesson plan and goals, I gathered our materials, and I thought through our lesson. She arrived smiling and ready to work.  Together we read and took notes.  She gave me a summary and a main idea then answered questions.  She connected with the ball and all the runners advanced as she safely made it to first.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen.  The bases were loaded.

My last student of the morning came to the plate.  He was a bit distracted.  He’s been working on a research paper for over two weeks — Leonardo da Vinci — and he’s had about enough.  He’s eleven years old and he’s hung in there through research, note taking, MLA documentation, outlining, and even drafting.  All the hard work is done, and he can taste the finish.  He knows that when this paper is done we will move on to reading a novel, and he is ready.  He eye is no longer on the research paper; it’s on the book.  Our task for today was that I would type while he read his draft, editing as we went.  Shoulda been a piece of cake.  The pitcher wound up and threw one straight across the plate. My student was looking up at the stands. Strike one. The second pitch was just like the first, but my student didn’t even see it coming.  He shook himself off, steadied himself and stared at the pitcher, but it was just a little too late to start paying attention.  The curve ball came and he struck out. It’s ok.  He needed a break any way.  He got another turn at bat the following hour.

So I’m sitting on third waiting for the next player to warm up.  I’ll see him today at 4:30.  He’s another junior preparing for the ACT — nicest kid you’d ever want to meet.  He’s really my designated hitter.  His eye is always on the ball, he’s always warmed up, he sees the situation and is prepared to deliver.  I’m thinking I’m going to score a run.

And then I’ll be right back up to the plate with another student at 6:00.  Maybe she’ll strike out, maybe she’ll get a hit, heck, maybe she’ll even hit a homer. I hope so, this kid has been putting forth her best effort and has been called out time after time after time.

Maybe it’s good I got a little taste of struggle this week — a little reminder of what it feels like to fail.  I didn’t like it. Nobody does.  I need to remember that parents and students don’t hire me to come help when everything is going great; they call me because they need help.  It hasn’t been going well.  They need an encourager to come beside them and say, “Good job!”  “You’ve got this!” “Stand like this. Hold your bat this way. Relax into your swing.”

“Come on, knock one out of the park!”

Success is so sweet after struggle, but getting from struggle to success takes determination and support.  That is what I am learning from my students.  They keep walking up to the plate because they want to hit the ball, but they wouldn’t get there without their fans cheering them on or their coaches stepping in to give guidance or their teammates believing they can.  I forget that I need that support, too.  I forget that I need my fans, my team,  and my Coach. This week has been a good reminder.

Romans 5:2-4

“…we rejoice in our [struggle], knowing that struggle produces endurance,

endurance produces character, and character produces hope,…”

Play Ball!

I am not too proud of myself at the moment.  I’ve had a series of less-than-stellar performances and I’m starting to feel like I’m going to get put on the bench.

Last Thursday I had a dud of a session with one of my students.  We were working on ACT prep and we just weren’t making progress.  We kept getting stymied and bogged down in words.  When I left him, I was frustrated and so was he.

I left him to go to another student.  She and I worked for an hour and a half on an outline for a research paper she is writing.  We referred to the teacher’s model, we attended to his rubric, and we created a finished product.  Her mom messaged me the next day — the outline earned a 60%.

This morning I worked with a student on reading comprehension.  We were pouring over college-level text that involved math. I am not inept when it comes to math, but I am rusty.  Very rusty.  We each read the text silently creating notes at the same time.  We compared our notes, then I asked her some higher order thinking questions about the content.  Without getting into the gory details let me just say that my student became acutely aware that I was out of my comfort zone.  I could have left it there.  I didn’t.  I asked a colleague, in the student’s presence, to help me understand what I did wrong.  And I didn’t just ask once, I blathered on and on, joking about my inability to set up a proportion correctly. That doesn’t sound like a horrible sin, but I had been told before working with this student that I should not reveal that I was a newbie — the student is very intelligent and needs to know that I am qualified to do this job. I  blew it.

The colleague pulled me aside and reminded me that this student’s success is contingent on the fact that she trusts our credibility. That’s when I remembered the explicit instructions.

It was time for me to go home, so I clocked out and walked to the car feeling a physical sensation I haven’t felt in years.  A dull ache was in my throat and through my chest.  I had blown it.  I couldn’t take it back.  What if this student didn’t want to work with me any more? What hardship would that cause for the agency?  What will it take to rebuild her confidence in me.

Really, I was a mess.

I texted the colleague expressing my grief.  When I got home and realized she hadn’t texted me back, I started to draft an email about how devastated I was at my failure, etc., etc.   That’s when I heard the ‘ping’.  My colleague texted me back! “Don’t worry about it!  It’s all part of this crazy steep learning curve!”

We texted back and forth for a few minutes and I began to breathe more regularly, to release the tension in my muscles, and to prepare for the student that I have this afternoon — the same ACT student that I tanked with last week.

I have had a lot of successes as a teacher.  I know I am capable, but lately I feel like I’ve been falling a little (or a lot) short.  I don’t cut myself much slack.  I expect to hit it out of the park every time I get up to bat, but even the best hitter in the MLB isn’t getting a hit even half of the time.  I don’t expect my students to get a hit every time they are at bat either, but they still get discouraged when they strike out.

They often want to throw the bat, stomp to the dugout and sulk. That is how I felt today.  I was sure I would collapse on my bed when I got home and cry for a while — I know better!  How could I make such a novice mistake!!

And I made another one, didn’t I?  My last post was about trajectory and how success is often related to how well we are able to adapt, bounce back, get back on the horse.

So I’ve had a few rough spots in the last week.  Who hasn’t?  I’ve said from the beginning that working with students is as much about lessons for me as it is about lessons for them.  Why would I be surprised when my learning gets a little uglier than I am comfortable with.  It happens for my students all the time.  And yet they continue to walk to the plate, pick up the bat, put their eye on the ball, and swing. I can learn a lot from these kids.

So, here I am picking up the bat and walking back to the plate.

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed; His compassions never fail.

His mercies are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23


Meet Blain: he wants to be a nurse.  He is currently enrolled at a local university.  He is focused, hard-working, and goal-oriented, but he has a problem.  Although he is fascinated with the human body and has no difficulty at all with medical terms or anatomy, he hasn’t been able to get into the nursing program.  Why?  Because he doesn’t know what a predicate nominative is.

In order to get into his school’s nursing program, he has to pass a standardized test called the Hesi A2, and he has passed it — all the sections except grammar.   His school requires that he get 80% or better on the grammar section of this test.

I know what you are thinking.  You are way back in paragraph one thinking to yourself, “what is a predicate nominative?  and what does it have to do with nursing?” Exactly.

Meet Conner:   He would really like to go to MSU’s James Madison School, or maybe Miami University of Ohio, or even Butler University.  He’s a delightful kid.  He plays soccer on a travel team, is respectful toward his parents, and is willing to engage in four hours of tutoring each week — after he’s already put in full days at school.  Why? Because his ACT score isn’t quite high enough to get into the programs he is interested in.

Then there’s Joe.  Joe’s parents are both career police officers. They have positions of authority within local law enforcement agencies.  He wants to follow in their path.  He just returned from a visit to the US Naval Academy — his dream school.  His eyes are gleaming with hope and possibility.  He wants to do just what his parents are doing — contribute to society by serving and protecting.  When I met him the first time in the foyer of the local library, I looked up at his imposing stature to see a smiling face topped off with a military haircut.  He was at once intimidating and engaging.  He was born for this.

But he may not get into the Naval Academy.  For good reason, the Naval Academy is very selective.  It is a four-year education paid by the United States government to prepare the future leaders of our Navy.  Like West Point and the Air Force Academy, it must select only the brightest and the best.  And although Joe has law enforcement in his DNA, he has experienced some learning difficulty.  He has done YEARS of interventions to improve his reading issues, but still, he struggles to get the standardized test scores that he needs.

Is he discouraged? Nope.  He greets me every week at the library, smiling.  He leans with me over an ACT prep book as we practice item after item, discussing rules and strategies.  He knows he has to work to achieve his goal.  He knows he has to have a backup plan, so he is also considering other military schools and ROTC programs.

Three guys I’m working with right now (names changed, of course) — all pursuing their dreams, all trying to overcome an obstacle in the path.

That obstacle? Testing.

I’m not against testing.  We have to have some way to determine which students fit in which programs.  Not everyone can be successful at Harvard — probably only those who score in the top 1-5 % of everyone in the nation. Not everyone can or should be a nurse.  And, when it comes to national security, I, for one, am glad that the armed forces have high standards for ‘officer material.’   Testing is one way to help individuals, and schools,  determine who has the aptitude or education for any of thousands of programs.  But it’s not the only way.

The three gentlemen I described above are all trying to raise their test scores, yes, but they are stacking the deck in other ways.  Blain works part-time as a pharmacy tech which gives him access to medical terminology and the world of health care.  Conner takes all AP classes at his high school and has worked hard enough to earn himself a 3.5. Joe? He is part of his community’s police explorer’s program.  He is taking every opportunity he can to expose himself to the career he hopes is in his future.

Do I believe they will succeed?  In one way or another, yes, if they are willing to accept that the definition of success is not fixed.  Certainly Blain may become a nurse, Conner may get into his top choice university, and Joe may go to the Naval Academy.  However, some or all of those goals may not be achieved.  Each of these guys may experience trajectory. And, I’m learning, the vehicle for that trajectory may be a test.

A score that is earned during four hours of testing on a Saturday morning can make the difference between attending the University of Michigan or attending Central Michigan University — both are great schools, both have thousands of success stories to their credit.  That score could also determine the difference between $10,000 or $1,000 in scholarship money — substantial to almost every college-aged kid that I know. The score could force choices that each of my students can’t right now imagine they are going to have to make. That score could cause — trajectory.

Will they be able to navigate that trajectory? My gut says yes.  Why?  Because each of these guys has not settled for the initial test score.  Each saw the score and said to himself, “OK, what now?” He didn’t curl up in a corner and decide that his goals were unattainable.  He made a decision to take action.

That decision tells me that he will take future bumps in the road with finesse.  If he doesn’t get into his desired program, I am confident he will research and find one that better fits his needs.  If he gets into his program but somehow determines that it wasn’t a good match after all, he will regroup and prepare for a transition. If somehow he gets into the program, completes it, and then discovers that his interests lie in a different field altogether?  No problem — he will have navigated difficulty in the past and will be prepared to ride the next, if bigger, wave.

What a joy it is for me to join these gentlemen on their journey, to watch their resilience, and to learn from them how to navigate trajectory.

Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds,

because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James 1:2-3

The Solid Word

It’s my day off.  I slept well. My house is clean and I am sitting at my desk IN THE MORNING!

I have been scurrying around the little house by the river this morning taking care of all the things people typically take care of on their days off — laundry, vacuuming, dishes, bills, cleaning — and finally I am sipping tea at the keys.

I’ve got a few things on my mind.  We live in a world that is saturated with information.  All day long we receive messages through text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, television, and radio.  We tend to filter those messages through our own personal preference.  I don’t typically listen to country music radio or stations that play rap music — but I have. The Facebook posts I read are from people that I know and (mostly) love. My television station choices are usually limited to a very few channels that play sports, crime shows, or movies.  The very limited views I get of Twitter and Instagram are very benign, indeed.  And to tell you the truth, I watch and listen to very little news reporting.


Because I don’t truly trust it.  I have become very jaded.  I operate under the assumption that most news reports are driven by viewership and the almighty dollar.  I believe it is mostly packaged to promote an agenda.  I believe it cares more about hype than it does about truth.

But I do care about our world and the people in it.  I do want to pray for the oppressed, help where I can, and make a difference in the world.  So, I can’t choose to live with my head in the sand. I do want to be aware of what is going on in the world.

So how do I remain informed?  It’s a challenge.  I skim news reports — usually in print format — for facts and figures.  I look at multiple sources since we know that bias exists everywhere. I try to listen to what people have to say.  And, I try to pause before I react to news of any kind.

It’s not easy.  And I’m not good at it.  I do react.  I rush to judgment.  I vilify innocent people. I throw my hands in the air and say, “it’ll never be better!” And it’s pretty easy to stay there, wringing my hands and shaking my head.

But why should I “grieve like those who have no hope”? Yes, the world can look like a hot mess, but our Creator is in the business of restoration.  Can he grant healing? Yes!  Can he cure diseases? Yes!  Can he depose tyrants? Yes!  Can he bring sight to the blind and set the prisoners free? Yes!

And I should just sit here in my jammies at my keyboard and wait for it to happen, right? No!!

On the pages of my Bible study this morning were these words, “More than anything, God’s people need to know His Word and be willing to give Him the freedom to adjust our lives to its precepts.” Am I willing to let Him change me on his path to change the world in which I live?  If not, than I better go back to wringing my hands.

I don’t trust news reports or Twitter feeds or Facebook posts.  I trust the Word of God.  And in His word this morning I read, “…He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him.  Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:26-28).

On Christ the solid Word I stand, all other sources are sinking sand.